Bike trip day 3/7: Black Moshannon to Bonnell Flats

This is the third of a series of posts about the recent solo bike tour I did from Pittsburgh, PA to Utica, NY.  It’s partly to share for those who are interested, and partly for me to record things so that I’ll remember.

I was looking forward to day 3 because after an initial climb there was lots of down-hill followed by fairly flat roads.  Also, it was only 58 miles (route can be seen here).  I was hoping for a less strenuous day, and my hopes were fulfilled.  It did turn out to be the hottest day of the trip and I was mostly on wide roads without any shade, but nothing’s perfect.  Since it was a short day mileage-wise I was able to take longer breaks as needed.

Click on an image below to see larger images with captions.

I got my camp packed up faster the second time around, but since I needed to do some chain maintenance (cleaning and re-lubricating) I still didn’t leave the campground until 9am.  While I was working on the chain near the campground’s water fountain, a small child came to get a drink and patiently explained to me that she had a cold and therefore felt like she had something stuck in her throat whenever she ate anything.  I acknowledged that that sounded unpleasant.

Black Moshannon State Park is quite nice from what I saw of it (just the length of route 504).  It looked like there were a number of hiking trails with potential, and there’s a fairly nice looking small lake with boats available.  It would be a nice place to go back to sometime.  No cell reception at all though (much like most of north central PA).

After the first climb (which wasn’t so bad since I was well rested) I biked along a nice ridge line through the state forest.  There was a wonderful breeze and a fair collection of flowering plants of one type and another.  Much of the ridge looked like it had been recently logged.  There was a lot of small timber and brush lying about and there were signs saying not to take any wood from the area.  Once the forest ended there was some sort of crazy looking weather station.  The best part though was the long down hill that I had earned with all the climbing the day before.  The signs warning trucks of steep grades ahead are always nice to see on a bike.

There was a pull-over spot part way down with pretty amazing views out over the hills and valleys, but the view was mostly blocked by trees.  They should have summoned whoever had been cutting trees up the road a ways and cleared it out.

As I was nearing the bottom of the hill, two different groups of serious-looking road cyclists came fairly speedily up the hill the other direction.  They all said hi as they went past, and I was very glad I was going my way (down) instead of theirs.  Unfortunately the ride down hill was over too soon (they always are), at which point I was back in pastoral farm country.  This farm country actually looked like it was doing better than the farm country on the other side of Black Moshannon.  Just in case you’re thinking of starting a farm in rural PA and want to know where to start looking.

Most of the rest of the day was along highways with good shoulders that were not exactly flat but not too hilly either.  It was easy riding, but it was quite hot and completely sunny.  I stopped at a large convenience store type place to add a bit of air to my tires and decided to grab a hamburger while I was there.  Walking into the air conditioning made the outside seem even worse so I didn’t spend much time inside.  At one point (in Milesburg) I wanted to get off of route 220 because it got larger and busier (and divided).  Though MapMyRide refused to plot it on the route, I actually jumped from 220 to Front St, which don’t actually connect but do come within about 10 feet of each other.  There are some distinct advantages to being on a bike.

By a bit after noon I was really feeling the sun and had gone through most of my water.  Quite fortuitously I happened upon another state park where I spent over an hour sitting under a tree in the shade.  It was very restorative, though it wasn’t really that much cooler when I started off again.

I was passed by one bicyclist out for a ride who kept pace with me briefly to ask where I was coming from and going to before speeding off ahead of me.  It turned out I was on one of the designated PA bike routes (though I didn’t know it while I was planning) so I guess it’s not too surprising I saw a fair number of people riding.

At one point, while going through a town, I ended up in the middle of a swarm of motorcyclists who were turning right (I was going straight).  Since I was actually in the lane at the time in order to go straight through the intersection, they pulled up around me like I was another motorcyclist.  When the light changed, they followed all the appropriate traffic flow conventions, I went straight, they turned, and we all went on our way.  Still, I couldn’t help thinking what the scene must have looked like from above: “one of these things is not like the others”.  Actually, in general I found motorcyclists to be very respectful of me the whole trip.  Larger vehicles were much more unpredictable.

I took another long break a few hours later when I passed a Dairy Queen.  That milkshake tasted a whole lot better than I suspect it actually was.

Slightly dazed from all the sun, I eventually found the southern end of the Pine Creek Rail Trail.  There was a water source and another shady grassy spot, so I stocked up on water and took another break in the shade.  I was aiming for the Bonnell Flats camping area along the trail, which is free (though it requires a permit which was easy to get) but doesn’t have reliable water.

Bonnell Flats turned out to be quite nice and peaceful since I was the only one there.  I set up camp and then biked back along the trail a couple miles to find cell reception (barely) to check in with my parents who were keeping track of my progress.  Biking with an unloaded bike seemed almost like flying.  Once I was back to camp I jumped in the stream in my biking clothes in lieu of a shower and washing machine.   As  I was coming back into camp after changing out of my dripping clothes I met a couple who had come down to the stream with their dogs.  We chatted for a while, and as they were leaving they said “Oh, we just thought you should know, there’s a REALLY BIG bear in this area”.  I’m not sure whether they were attempting to scare me or what.  I hung my food (as I generally do), but saw no sign of any bear big or small.

As it was getting dark a group of three men wandered into the camp.  I was a little unsure of what they were doing until they asked me where the access point for the stream was and explained that they were guiding a group of 40 or so people who would be arriving at the camping area the next night (by boat, I think).  Apparently they had overshot their last campsite by half a mile or something and were not eager to repeat the experience.  They told me if I wanted to stick around for another day I could share their dinner.  They seemed like nice people, but it still didn’t seem quite worth it.  The peaceful campsite would have been a lot less peaceful with 40 additional people.  The peace was already slightly ruined by the nearby road that turned out to be rather busy, but if it weren’t for that the spot would have been quite idyllic.  I recommend it if you are ever traveling the Pine Creek Trail.

Bronwyn Woods