With the endless bitching we’ve been doing lately on OMT, it occurred to us that maybe what we needed was a day to get away from it all and do something that we really love. We haven’t taken much in the way of vacation days yet this year (only one out of the 20 we get), so we took one today (Monday) and spent it riding the bike along the Clarion River in the Allegheny National Forest.
We hadn’t been out of the city for a bike excursion all year, and the idea of a non-urban setting was really starting to get under our skin. We left the city at 6:30am, which got us to the Cook Forest ranger station right around 8:30. We took River Road all the way from the ranger station to its terminus, 24 miles away on the far side of a little cluster of houses called Hallton. The 48-mile round trip along the river covers 4 counties and some beautiful scenery. Add to this a cool, sunny day, and it was just the thing that OMT needed. The fact that our cell phone was “searching for signal” the entire trip was just icing on the cake.
It had been at least three years since we’ve been up in this neck of the woods, and possibly four. And even though this is an extremely rural area, there’s no stopping progress. The town of Clarington, population 517, about 9 miles into the trip, has gotten a brand new bridge across the river. And that’s not all. There are only about two dozen houses in main part of town (the others live in outlying areas), and many of them are older wooden structures. The last time were were here, a lot of them had fallen into disrepair. Those that weren’t were being used as camps. We can remember thinking that all that was left of what was obviously a nice little town at one time long ago were just a few ghostly shadows.
Since that time, the town was apparently discovered by people who wanted to have a home away from home, and who obviously have money. Three formerly very shabby houses have been transformed into beautiful, and in one case, positively stately, homes. Also, the former post-office/general store/gas station, which has been closed now for at least 10 years, is in the process of being transformed into something, but it’s not clear at this point what that might be. We were thinking that it would be nice to have another little store, something this community certainly needs, but also something that would be handy for us when we do these bike trips. We’ll just have to see.
Millstone, about 14 miles into the trip, is more of a former town than a current one. There are only three houses left where the Millstone Creek enters the Clarion River. The last time anything changed here was about 20 years ago when a new bridge was built across the creek. This is little more than a crossroads now. Sometimes, after we cross the bridge, we turn left onto Millstone Road, which follows the creek up the hollow for about 5 miles up to Loleta, another ghost town in the middle of the forest, that the US Forest Service has made into a campground.
Years ago, we used to load up our tent, sleeping bag and minimal supplies onto our bike and make the trip to Loleta and camp overnight. Then the next day, we’d pack up and head north, past Marienville, to another US Forest Service campground, called Beaver Meadows, spend another night, and then work our way back, spending another night at Loleta, before heading back to the car.
But not today.
Today, we turn right at the bridge, and head for Belltown, 16 miles out, a scary little town that is the home to the “Millstone Rod and Gun Club of Pittsburgh, PA”, and which prominently flies a Confederate flag, along with the stars & stripes, at the boat launch by the river, so that it’s visible from all points in town. We suspect that there are not many OMT fans around here.
There is evidence that Belltown will be hosting a “regatta”, later this month. One of the houses has a sign giving a phone number where you can order a regatta tee-shirt, but you have to have your order in by August 23d. No indication when the regatta will be. We figure it will consist mostly of canoes.
After Belltown, the final eight miles don’t have much to offer, beyond the beautiful view of the river, now getting distinctly more narrow as we move upstream. It’s been at least 5 years since we kept going past Belltown, and we can remember coming to a one-lane bridge at mile 23, right near the end, that had a wooden deck (which was rotten to the point where you could see the river below), and whose steel supports were being held together with ropes (we have pictures of this which we can show you). Amazingly, this bridge was still open to traffic at that time, and we even have a picture of a car coming across. This bridge was the twin the bridge at the end of our run at Hallton. Both bridges were in absolutely dreadful condition.
We were expecting the bridge to be closed this time, much like the Millstone bridge was for about 5 years while they raised the money to replace it. Instead, we found a bridge so new that we could still smell the linseed oil that they had spread to seal the concrete.
Five years ago, on the other side of this bridge, there was a small cemetery in the woods, no more than about 30 graves, and most of those from the 1800s (although there was one grave from 1976), which had been abandoned, and overgrown with trees and weeds. Today however, and much to our delight, the cemetery is being maintained again, with the grass cut, headstones repaired and replaced, flags flying on veteran’s graves (from the Civil War), and even flowers on a couple of graves. Someone probably noticed the forlorn graveyard in the woods when they were replacing the bridge, and they started tending to it.
When we finally got to Hallton, however, the twin bridge still hasn’t been replaced, and it’s condition is five years worse than we saw it the last time. While we were there, someone actually came across in an SUV. Talk about guts. We were concerned crossing it on our bike. Of course, that didn’t stop us.
We hope the next time we’re up this way, the people who live up here won’t have to take their lives in their hands just to get from one place to another. New bridges seem to be working their way up the Clarion, so it might be just a matter of time before the people around Hallton have a new bridge.
We got a lot of pictures today, and most of them came out all right. We got back home right around 5:00, had a nice supper, and now we’re just jotting down some thoughts before we head upstairs to read until we nod off. Already the cat has come around asking why we haven’t gone upstairs yet.
Maybe it’s time we listen to him. We suspect we’ll sleep soundly tonight.
We’ll resume our regularly-scheduled bitching tomorrow.