I had a great time on the ride, although I had one regret. This guy seemed to be a regular rider on the trail, and I overheard him say how he’s improving his health and losing weight using cycling as exercise. He also spoke about the various species of birds he’d seen along the trail. I regret I wasn’t bold enough to introduce myself and strike up a conversation with him. As a fellow fat guy, albeit a guy a lot less fat and a lot healthier, I like to meet other people on their trip of self-improvement. Also, he was the only other hefty guy sporting Lycra, so we had that in common as well. Its been nearly three years since the ride, and I hope this guy saw success in his weight loss and lifestyle improvement.
In August 2010 I and my friend Judy took part in a group ride on the West Penn Trail. The WPT is a 17 mile patchwork of trail segments along the Conemaugh and Kiski Rivers between the towns of Blairsville and Saltsburg. Having just visited Johnstown the day before, I was curious to see where the Conemaugh went to, so we met up with the group on a warm afternoon at the Newport Road trailhead west of Blairsville. The sun had come out after a rainy morning, and the ride promised to be good.
The ride was led by three rangers from the nearby Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site and the Johnstown Flood National Memorial. The dozen or so riders traveled 4.5 miles to the end of the Conemaugh River Lake segment of the trail, ending at the now-closed railroad tunnel. Our guides stopped at each bridge and the tunnel to allow the group to catch up and to talk about the history of the river and the railroad. At the turn around it was everyone at their own pace, but still most of the group stuck together.
The tunnel is an impressive structure, but to prevent flooding of the Conemaugh Dam area on the other side of the mountain the tunnel is sealed at one end. For safety’s sake the Blairsville side of the tunnel is blocked off. The trail continues as a steep mountain bike/hiking trail for two miles as it crosses the mountain.
During our ride on the flat, gravel covered trail, we crossed four stone arch bridges built by the Pennsylvania Railroad a century ago. One can’t get a good look at the bridges when riding across them, but there’s an overlook, partly overgrown, you can ride to for a view of one of the spans. The bridges have a gravel trail surface because, as a guide said, “gravel is easy to replace after a flood.” Despite the dam and other flood controls in place, the Conemaugh is still a flood prone river, as any resident of Johnstown can tell you. Seeing the lazy river at a low level, I found it hard to believe the water occasional laps the surface of the bridge.
The West Penn Trail was a lot of fun, and I hope to be riding it again soon.