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Connellsville and West Newton: The best screaming downhill of my life, and wine in the cemetery

Connellsville and West Newton: The best screaming downhill of my life, and wine in the cemetery

53 miles (85 km) – Total so far: 344 miles (554 km)

We did NOT want to go back down the hill-from-hell this morning. Going down the hill would actually be more difficult than trudging up the hill was yesterday. The trail is covered with large loose rocks; if any of us (likely ME) were to lose control of our heavily loaded bikes, we’d all go tumbling and skidding down the hill. No thanks.

So we decided to take the road around to Ohiopyle instead of going back down the trail. The road was longer but the campground is at the very top of the mountain ridge. Surely it would be all downhill to get back to Ohiopyle. That was my logic.

About 10 minutes later as I was dragging my bike upwards I realized the serious flaw in my logic. Craig and Gerry we able to pedal up the first hill. I tried. I really did. I pedaled until about 10 pedals after my heart felt like it was going to explode and I was wheezing like a steam engine. Then I had to get off my bike and started trudging. It was really steep. It was one of those twisting hills that never stop. Every time you turn the next bend, you hope beyond hope that you’ll see the summit. But instead you’re confronted with another precipitous chunk of concrete continuing its heavenward ascent. It took me a loooooong time to get to the top. Not a nice way to begin the day.

We enjoyed a nice downhill after the first hill, praying all the way down that our early morning climb was finished. No such luck. More uphill trudging.

But then it was payback time and it was oh so sweet. After those two hills we spied that sign that all cyclists love so much the downhill grade sign, you know the one with the truck going down a black triangle. This sign said 8% grade next mile.

Yes that’s right. We went down an 8% grade hill that was a MILE long. Holy COW!!! I’ve never flown that fast for that long on my bike in my life. I topped out at 30 mph. Craig and Gerry (who are much braver than I am) hit 40 mph. It was freezing at that speed on the bikes. My eyes were stinging. Tears and snot were streaming down my cheeks off the sides of my face. It was AWESOME!!!

We careened on down to Ohiopyle and back onto the GAP trail. We had a LOT of distance to cover today. At least 50 miles. We weren’t quite sure where we were going to spend the night. Information I found on the internet about possible campsites in this area was confusing. We had a couple of different possibilities and so we were just planning to ride as far as we could and see what we could find.

The trail is getting less and less remote. Today we passed through a lot of little towns and saw a lot of people on the trail. Most of the towns seem to be embracing the trail with lots of trailside cafés and bike shops. I love to see that.

Several people warned us that the trail was being resurfaced at Connellsville and that we’d have to take a detour through town. It wasn’t a fun detour, beginning with a hike up a steep ‘goat trail’ and then through the middle of town amidst heavy traffic. But we were glad to see all the work Connellsville is putting into the trail, paving a large section of it. We stopped at a Sheetz service station for snacks and a bathroom break and had a great conversation with Mary Beth who is a member of the chamber of commerce and the trail committee. They are working hard to improve and promote the trail here.

We stopped at the Trailside Café in West Newton for dinner. All of the menu items were named after towns along the trail. The food was fantastic and I was able to charge up all my electronics. Big plus! My life has become one long hunt for available electrical outlets.

We shared the large dining deck overlooking the trail with two gentlemen in suits and ties who were drinking martinis. Before they left they came over to chat with us about our trip. Very friendly guys! They both cycle the trail often and they suggested that we camp at the Dravo Cemetery Campground when we told them we weren’t sure where we would be spending the night. We didn’t know if we felt like trekking the eight miles to Dravo but they insisted that it was a fabulous campground. And if we camped there tonight, one of the guys told us, he and his wife would meet us there later with a bottle of wine. What kind of wine did we like? ‘Reisling!’ I told him, playing along with the joking.

We all laughed and said goodbye and took off down the trail. We did make it to Dravo afterall; the Café guys’ insistence about how great this campground was gave us the motivation to go the distance. And they were correct. It was a beautiful campsite next to an old cemetery. There were nice bathrooms and a water pump. Best of all, there was a picnic shelter. Rain was in the forecast for the evening and we wanted to set up our tents under a shelter if possible. And that’s exactly what we did.

Well would you believe it, while we were setting up our tents, who should cycle up to the shelter but our Café guy, Mike, and his wife, Dawn!! He got off his bike and pulled a bottle of chilled Reisling and three wine glasses out of his saddlebag. I kid you not! We shared the delicious wine and talked for about 45 minutes. Mike and Dawn are one interesting couple and we had a lot of fun getting to know them. And they brought us WINE! Thanks Mike and Dawn!

The temperature dropped dramatically as the sun went down. The three of us did some star gazing and I used my new iPhone app to find Jupiter and some constellations. Gerry found an orbiting satellite. It was a nice final evening and we all turned in early. Tomorrow we only have 10 miles to pedal to the end of our tour.

Packing up camp in the morning at Ohiopyle State Park.

Packing up camp in the morning at Ohiopyle State Park.

Pedaling over one of the many bridges on the trail.

Pedaling over one of the many bridges on the trail.

It was a gorgeous day!

It was a gorgeous day!

Here's how I felt today!!!

Here’s how I felt today!!!

Three long haul truckers all in a row.

Three long haul truckers all in a row.

The trail was closed here before Connellsville for resurfacing. They are paving this section.

The trail was closed here before Connellsville for resurfacing. They are paving this section.

The beginning of the detour included a hike up a steep "goat trail"

The beginning of the detour included a hike up a steep “goat trail”

Snack stop at Sheetz in Connellsville.

Snack stop at Sheetz in Connellsville.

This is actually the GAP trail through Connellsville. It is a separated paved lane. Very nice!

This is actually the GAP trail through Connellsville. It is a separated paved lane. Very nice!

Neat stained glass arch entrance to Connellsville.

Neat stained glass arch entrance to Connellsville.

Beeyootimous!

Beeyootimous!

Lunch at the Rivers Edge Campground.

Lunch at the Rivers Edge Campground.

Pedaling

Pedaling

Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.

Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.

 

Pedal. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.

Pedal. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.

We went through lots of little towns today. This is Whitsell.

We went through lots of little towns today. This is Whitsell.

Fantabulous!

Fantabulous!

40

40

Another little town and a great old church building.

Another little town and a great old church building.

Little town

Little town

and another little town...

and another little town…

Buena Vista

Buena Vista

Camping at the Dravo Cemetery Campground.

Camping at the Dravo Cemetery Campground.

Dravo Cemetery

Dravo Cemetery

Sunset in the cemetery

Sunset in the cemetery

Craig's Surly Long Haul Trucker

Craig’s Surly Long Haul Trucker

Old Dravo

Old Dravo

Drinking wine with Mike and Dawn.

Drinking wine with Mike and Dawn.

Thanks Mike!!!

Thanks Mike!!!

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