I promised to continue the account of my trip, so here it is. If you missed the first part, you can read it here.
So, on the first day, we got as far as River Bend Campground. In the morning, we all packed up and got ready to head out for the rest of the way. The weather was sunny and it looked like it would be a warm day.
We start out near the bottom of this map and go nearly to the top. Our destination is Dravo Cemetary Campground. It’s convenient that these map segments seem to fit our day’s travel!
The group quickly spread out along the trail again. I rode most of the time alone or with one or two other Bikepackers, but once again, we leapfrogged each other quite a bit. If you stopped for even a few minutes, someone else would come along, or you’d pass someone else as they stopped.
The faster riders, though were soon gone. I am a strong rider, but was carrying a bit more of a load than most (not all) of the group. I realized it was taking a toll on my speed as I seldom was getting out of single digits in the MPH department, especially on the soft trail. Occasionally, I’d get the benefit of a long downhill grade and I’d try to take advantage of it.
As I rode, I became aware of a loose feeling in the back end of the bike and a popping/snapping sound as if something was loose and shifting. At first, I thought it was my trailer. I had picked up quite a bit of trail dust and I thought the point on the trailer where it could pivot to tilt side to side was sticking. I gave it a squirt of chain lube and it seemed to quiet down.
A bit down the trail, it was back again, and even worse. I stopped to check it out and found some loose spokes. Oh, no! Could I have broken a spoke on my new back wheel?
I had replaced the back wheel with a new, supposedly much stronger, back wheel just before the trip. I have always been concerned about the amount of weight on the back wheel of the trike. It takes most of my weight as well as the weight of the panniers. It’s the main reason I chose a trailer to get more of the weight off the back wheel and onto other wheels.
Someone had told me there was a bike shop in West Newton, which was still about 15 miles ahead, so I decided to limp on ahead until I got there. But I stopped and took both panniers off the bike and laid them on top of the trailer. The solar panel would have to suffer today. I had plenty of bungie cords, so I just tied them down on top and continued along. It didn’t cure the noise, but it felt better with the weight off of it.
By the time I had ridden about half the distance to the bike shop, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and had to do something, even if temporary, about it. I stopped at the restrooms at the Roundbottom Campground. There was a low wall I could sit on and work on the bike. I had basic tools, even a spoke wrench, so I was going to take a look at the wheel myself.
Before I could even get started, another group of cyclists came along and asked if I needed help. I explained my problem and one of them said he owns a bike shop and would be glad to look at it for me. As quickly as I could get the wheel off the bike, I gave it to him. I know even though I could do some of the work, in less than ideal conditions, I’d take advantage of the expertise of a professional when available!
He looked it over and decided that every spoke was loose, not just a little, but a lot. He took a spoke wrench and began tightening every spoke, going around the wheel until it tightened up.
There is something about a brand new wheel and it’s the reason that new bikes come with a 30-day checkup. As the wheel is used, the spoke nipples seat into the holes in the rim. The spoke heads settle into the hub. I suppose even some stretch happens in the spokes themselves. After a period of time, the wheel needs to be tensioned, or the tension of the spokes fine-tuned. I knew this. I should have anticipated it, but the loaded conditions I put the wheel under accelerated the process and here I was with a wheel that was unscrewing it’s spokes as I rode it!
We then put the wheel back into the dropouts and as I and one other rider held the back end up, my benefactor used the forks as a truing stand to tweak the wheel into something the closely approximated true. He actually did a very good job. Only a real truing stand could have made it better. The tension on the spokes was now where it should be, uniform around the whole wheel and you could pluck the spokes like a harp and get a dull twang. Perfect!
I’ve read a lot of journals about bike touring and heard stories about the camaraderie among travelers and trail-angels who help when you need it. This was my first experience of that sort. I’m terrible with names and those details, so I can’t thank him here by name, but I appreciate it just the same. I could have muddled along and done the same job, but it would have taken me longer, probably not done as good a job and needed far more correction than it did when I finally got to the bike shop in West Newton. The guy there charged me $10 to true the wheel and probably had to do very little work. I asked him to correct the slight out of roundness it still had and he gave me a lame excuse of the only way to do that was a new rim. (Not true.) I should have given the $10 to the guy on the trail!
While there, another of our group, Jim, caught up and stopped. He’s another trike rider with a trailer. He wanted to get word to someone with our group that he wasn’t going to make it all the way to Dravo, but was going to camp somewhere else and catch the group on the way back the next day. He was thinking about staying at Round Bottom, but decided against it once he saw it. The grass was in need of cutting and was knee-high. It looked like mosquito heaven! He turned around and headed back towards the direction we came.
Once I got back under way, tentatively at first, listening for any more problems with the wheel, I got back into the groove of traveling down the trail. I was still anxious to get to West Newton and get the wheel looked at, but it really gave me no more trouble. I didn’t put the panniers back on the rack, but probably could have.
It seemed to take forever to get there. It really was a very scenic section of the trail with a lot of history. There were old mine entrances here and piles of coal still lined one side of the trail. A sign told of a mining disaster at one of the mines. The path exists today thanks to the railway that once took the coal from these mines to the steel plants near Pittsburgh.
Still, I was impatient and didn’t enjoy this section as much as I should have. I couldn’t seem to make any decent speed. Was I going uphill? It didn’t look like it, but looks can be deceiving. There were some spectacular views as well. One old railroad bridge was especially scenic, but between the trees and the closeness of the trail, I just couldn’t get a shot that captured it’s impressive size. No matter what I did, I could only shoot tiny parts of it.
Nearby, a modern bridge carried an expressway over the river as well, contrasting the old with the new. I later learned it was Interstate 70.
But eventually, the trail wound it’s way into West Newton. It seemed like I came out of the trail and without warning, there was a little park-like area and a parking lot on the right with the bike shop. Better yet, above the bike shop was a restaurant and bar with an outdoor patio and a bunch of our group were there to greet me!
I got my wheel trued, had lunch and a couple beers, hung out with the gang, stopped around the side of the same building at the convenience store for Gatorade and was ready to head out again. Talk about one-stop-shopping. I didn’t see much else of West Newton, unlike those in our group that made a beer-run detour, but it seemed like a decent-sized town. Across the street that crossed the trail at the bike shop, was a tourist center in an old train station. Like many of the towns along the GAP and C&O trails, West Newton has invested in facilities along the trail to capitalize on it’s tourism dollars. It was a pleasant and welcome effort from my point of view.
The rest of the ride was uneventful. The trail was more open with grassy areas on both side for much of it. I passed through a series of small towns, or villages, where you would often cross a street and see houses and small businesses on either side. They were mostly pretty quiet. Some streets ran parallel to the path, so it was like riding through someone’s neighborhood.
I wanted to find a grocery store to pick up some food items. I had missed the supermarket in Connelsville the day before and the little convenience store by the bike shop didn’t have what I wanted. I didn’t see any from the trail until I got to Buena Vista, where the trail practically ran through the parking lot of a small store. I picked up some bananas, some rolls and a gallon of iced tea. I knew I was close to the campground at this point so I just bungied it to the trailer!
Dravo Campground was nice. Totally unattended. Totally free. I took my time before I decided where to set up my tent, but almost anywhere would have been fine. Once again, we had a central fire and socialized well after dark. I drank my iced tea and made some sandwiches with the rolls I bought.
The cemetery was for real. There once was a little church there, but it burned down many years ago. The cemetery still remains and some of the graves are quite old, going back to just after the Civil War.
There is no road access to either the cemetery or the campground. Our “sag” vehicle had to meet one of our riders at the nearest cross road back towards Buena Vista to drop off some items. The only vehicle we saw was the maintenance crew in the morning before we left. They came in to check the restrooms.
Jim, the rider that turned back, met up with two other riders, Peter and Judy, and they decided to all camp at another campground that night.
Since Dravo was the end of the trip, distance-wise, the next two days was a repeat of the first two, just in reverse. We stayed another night at River Bend and I was glad to have use of the showers there again! The last morning, it threatened rain and was overcast most of the morning. By Connelsville, I put on my rain jacket and felt a few wind-blown drops, but it never did rain. By afternoon, it had passed and it was sunny again.
We rolled back into Ohiopyle and did what any bikepacker would do, looked for food! We chose the little bar across from the Wilderness Outfitters, which I don’t remember the name of, to unwind over a few beers and sandwiches. The sun was out in full force, no sign of the rain that threatened earlier and we sat outside and enjoyed it all!
You can see all the photos I took on this trip in full resolution at MyOpera or at lower resolution on Facebook