Monday, August 3, 2009

There and Back Again on the Pa Turnpike Bike Trail

There and Back Again
Up and Down the Pennsylvania Turnpike Bike Path.

Well, one thing folks have emailed to let me know is that the images are too small.
So, if you want to see bigger images then click on them to go to the gallery.

Anyway, A while back I heard that there was a section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike up near Breezewood Pa that had been abandoned back in 1968 or so. The folks at Pike 2 Bike are attempted to turn this into a real bike trail recreation area. Currently it appears to be under the aegis of the Pa Game Commission who is being nice by allow folks to access it, though the area is officially closed. Please take note, this is not a safe area for biking, road hazards exist and lord only knows what horrors lurk in those tunnels.

We chose to begin the 8.5 mile ride at the eastern end. This would allow for more out of the way parking and a mostly uphill start to the ride, and conversely a mostly downhill finish. When we pulled in and started unloading and putting together the trikes, a local fellow came out of his driveway and drove up to see if he could be of any help. Seems the way we were parked with the back door open looked to him like we had our hood up. Nice fellow. This is a good parking spot, be nice if folks would pick up their trash.

The ride itself begins inauspiciously enough, just a jersey barricade barrier with some notifications and safety tips. When they say helmets and lights are needed, they aren't kidding. Say what you will about riding with or without helmets, in this place, if you are going through the tunnels, don't kid around. There are big chunks of debris on the tunnel roadway that all started off in the roof. We met a wise hiker who was wearing a hard hat in the tunnel. Other hikers not so wise.

Starting off

Around the eastern terminus barrier, the ride begins with a very gentle uphill climb of about 1 mile. During the climb, I could feel an occasional gust of cool moist air on this otherwise hot and dry day. Cavers know the feeling, and soon coming around a bend, the entrance to Sidling Hill Tunnel, which is just about 1.3 miles in length.

Doesn't show up well in the pic, but there is a mist rolling out of the tunnel

We were just getting into this tunnel, when we had our first flat. The road surface is in terrible shape. Ridable, sure, but really torn up. In the tunnel itself, the roadway is littered with chunks of concrete that have fallen from the ceiling, and who-knows-what in the way of broken glass and whatall that has been tossed into the tunnel by the roaming hordes of vandals, cannibals and vampires that frequent the area.

We turned around and rode back into the light to patch a tube, and then began the trek back through the tunnel. My headlight immediate failed. Yeah, it had been a while since I charged the battery. Oh well, my fault. I had a back up Petzel micro, and that was barely sufficient, but it worked. She was using a Petzel duo headlamp, and we just took our time.

Western end of the Sidling Hill tunnel

Heading west, we kept moving from the east bound lanes to the west bound lanes and back again trying for the best road surface. Yeah, in the after-times, the interstate road surfaces aren't going to hold up as long as one might think. For a while we conjectured as to which held up better, the more shaded vs the more exposed road surfaces. Studies seem to show that the shaded roadways hold up better because they have fewer freeze/thaw cycles, but we weren't really able to determine much difference.

Some fellow intrepid explorers east bound

Wildlife not quite as threatened by trike as truck traffic

A Peeper?

Mystery Spot

As you can clearly see in this picture, we are going downhill. Everything visual says 'you are going downhill'. Yet, stop peddling, and you will slow to a stop, and back slightly. I've heard of these places, and this one is about a quarter of a mile long. There is a mystery spot that is well known not too far from here. I was very surprised to find this one, as I've never heard anyone mention it before in blogs that i've read. But here it is. Go there and see for yourself. West bound lane about midway between Sideline Hill and Ray's Hill. It's bizarre, and oddly, kinda irritating.

More explorers. All in all, I think we saw about 40 out there.

Heading into Ray's Hill. Note you can see the far end

So, onward thru Ray's Hill tunnel, to get to the other side. Once to the other side, it's a downhill run into Breezewood. Honestly, Breezewood gives me the creeps. So we just turned around and started back.

East Bound and Down.

Pssssst! Psssssst! Pssssst!

Flat Number 2.
Just exiting the second tunnel, she flatted. From the thorns we pulled out of one of the non-flat tires, looked like Multiflora Rose that was beginning to grow into the roadway.

Cruz'n on back east bound. Actually had a mile or so that was pretty relaxing. Did we ever pass this way as children? I'm quite sure we did. This road was closed in '68, so there's a good chance. The 'Bump, Bump, Bump, Bump' of the old Pa Turnpike becomes pretty evident at 20+mph. But I stopped taking pictures by then. I guess we probably touched 30mph or so at one point. Fast enough that her flag blew off. Just a naked flag pole by the end.

Once more back into Sidling Hill tunnel. Again, coming up the grade one could feel hints of moist cool air well before the tunnel came into view.

And once more into the light. Good ride all in all. I liked Mud Fish's graffiti the best, by far. I'm sure Mud Fish knows what I mean. Most of the rest of the stuff was just a waste of time and paint. Some of it was good. But a lot of it was the same old tired stuff. I used to creep a lot of places like this when I was young, never saw the point of all that though. Unless I had something of note to add. Very few here did.

It was a fun ride. Properly equipped, one could easily make a full day of it. The tunnels beg for more and deeper exploration. The road sides don't yield much for 'shoulder combing', pretty picked over. But the plants and critters abound, and it's a quiet and peaceful place.

There is more to it than we did here. Bridges have been removed which isolates this into the more popular and interesting stretch. But there are other abandoned sections, and other tunnel to the east. Perhaps for another time.

Breezewood, The Horror, The Horror How many logos can you spot?

Parting Shot


Life With Dogs said...

And a great parting shot at that. This make me miss PA for the open, rolling terrain. Biking in Vermont is not quite so easy. :)

nthdesign said...

Thank you for taking the time to post this blog. I really enjoy reading about the abandoned sections of the turnpike. Yours are the best recent photos I've seen of the tunnels.

Charles Rinehart said...

A really nice and informative blog. Great photos. I live in Florida and I'm dying to ride here. I'll make sure I get better tires beforehand. Take care.