9/27/2020 – 10/7/2020
The last blog entry, provided a brief list of things that have made the trip from the red dust of Utah to the stink bugs of Ohio. We have found a new entry to the list which now includes ticks. As of this writing, Toohey has become host to about 6 but they keep turning up and Lysette keeps removing them. Her method of killing them after removal is by heating them to the point of explosion which is honestly quite rewarding watch. This tick thing has us needing to plan not only tick and Lyme disease prevention but flea prevention as well, as these occur in the same climate and from the same prevention technique. You just never know where the complications of travel will rear its difficult head.
Our tick prevention strategy at this point is to go into full combat mode with over the counter remedies and try to make it to Savannah where we know veterinarians who we can hopefully schedule a thorough exam for the old guy and get him hooked up with all the good stuff needed to keep him healthy and happy. UPDATE AS OF THE POST: We got into see a veterinary in the town of Wyetheville, VA and now have him on monthly treatment with a follow-up scheduled during our time in Savannah for Lyme disease test and whatnots.
Having enjoyed our time in Ohio with friends, family, and stink bugs, we were now both jonesing for some low technology, remote beauty, and industrial strength silence. Our hope was that we will find this early on in Pennsylvania. We also knew we badly needed showers and provisions, so a town with resources to accomplish this before we got there was the target.
We made the decision not to visit New York or the New England states based on COVID laws mandating quarantines. Combining that with some travel fatigue, the team has decided to slow it down a bit for the month. We now have the month of October to get to Savannah so our thought is to stick the home in places for a week at a time, giving us the opportunity to relax back into the slow pace and silence of travel. At least that’s the plan.
Pennsylvania will also be the first time since spending days along Minnesota’s north shore that the journey will be moving south and permanently away from the Great Lakes. We enjoyed the lakes, getting to know them geographically and culturally was fun and interesting. But as for the now, we enter one of the original thirteen with slightly deeper roots into our one nation. From here, and as we travel south through the Allegheny and possibly the Appalachian Mountains to the coast of Georgia, we will hopefully find new and interesting cultures, foods, industry, and architecture.
The Travels With Toohey team jumped the state line with no fanfare, along the most northern Pennsylvania roads passible by such a rig, getting as close to Lake Erie as we could before our final right turn and push south. The drive remained along smaller rural roads passing through quaint townships, fields of fall row crops, and the ever changing fall leaves, keeping the views pleasing to the eyes and friendly to the photography department. Our destination for this night was a warm shower at a KOA just south of Erie, PA.
KOA in Erie PA
An early check-in was welcomed by the Kamp staff providing the team access to spot No. 60, sitting just across the small lane and split rail fence from the play ground, an inflatable bouncy pad, and a small pond with water feature. Not quite the quiet nature scene we craved, but a good needed transition spot, and a KOA, which was AOK.
The area in the back of the Kampground where they had cabins and tent sites appeared shut down for the season, yet, and unlike the last few we’ve stayed, they seem to maintain a full staff and keep all facilities opened and well maintained. This was nice to see as the KOA brand had taken a hit based on the team’s experiences with the last few we’ve stayed where the impression was they stopped caring for the season.
We quickly unhitched and set up camp before hopping back in the Tacoma to make a supply and grocery run in Erie. We found the Target and did our thing there before making the next decision to drive out to Presque Isle State Park.
Presque Isle Sate Park is a narrow peninsula that broadens as it extends into Lake Erie forming a land mass that includes three bays, Presque Isle Bay, Misery Bay, and Thompson Bay. The entry to the state park is full of all things cheese trap tourist, to include an amusement park and a brightly colored diner with all the corn sweeteners, gluten, GMO, and fried items advertised on the marquis and being consumed by the many patrons. In contrast to this, were all those out running, biking, and walking that we would passed along our drive out the state park with miles of roadside trails, beaches, boat ramps, and other public spaces. Surely these folks were burning off the calorie buzz received from their entrance stop.
We made the entire drive through the park of about 40 minutes at speeds under 25 MPH with nature highlights being a wild gobbler turkey who seemed to enjoy having his picture taken and an illusive alligator snapping turtle, which seemed odd this far north, and who didn’t like being seen as by the time we turned to give the photography department a chance it was gone. The main structural feature of the park is the Commodore Perry Monument representing him and his victory over the British 1812 and his strategic use of Misery Bay. There were lots of cars with kayaks on the roof and certainly more that we didn’t see enjoying the beautiful day on the beach.
After leaving the park, the team made one more stop at a grocery store to pick up a few more odds and ends (beer) before heading back to camp for the day. We organized, cleaned, prepared for a departure the next day, showered, and worked on the blog.
The vehicle maintenance department of the Travels With Toohey Team got up early the following morning, shot down a cup of coffee, and headed into Erie for an oil change at the 10 minute oil change place. The first place was having computer issues so they sent me away and the second place opened 30 minutes later. The wait though was a small price to pay for maintaining the mechanical foundation of our journey. The 45 minute, 10 minute oil change, provided the needed lube and most important, the drain plug as this 20 year old trusty steed returned to camp for us to load and hitch up the rig to continue our journey.
There were several conversations with staff as we were hitching up that were good. The first was a gentleman who looked fit and enjoyed hiking the Allegheny National Forest in the area we were planning to go so we plugged him for information. The second was actually the brand new owner of the KOA. We provided our assessment of the KOA experience and how this one exceeded most we’ve stayed in recently, if not the trip. He provided us with lots of good information but none better than the name of an RV park east of Asheville, NC that caters to dogs.
With the rig hitched, we made a right out of the camp and onto the highway, headed east and south with a destination of the Hearts Content Campground in the Allegheny National Forest. This camp has been highly recommended by other travel angels along the way, sits in a national forest, and is some place we can hopefully relax for a few days. In hindsight, this would be the place we’d spend the majority of out time in PA and enjoyed most.
Allegheny National Forest, Hearts Content Campground
The drive south and inland produced fall colors well ahead of others we’ve seen but still appearing a few weeks from peak. The hills were short, steep, rolling as the Google girl confidentially barked out orders, which our Research and Travel analyzed for correctness, all while the Photography Department with appropriate aperture and shutter speed settings, fired off pictures. The scene, an amazing coordination of efforts to say the least, making my sole responsibility of simply driving the rig pale in comparison.
As we approached and entered the national forest, we navigated the 15 miles or so of the drive along the small, narrow, yet nicely paved road. The roadside was filled with leaves ranging in color from mostly greens and to fading greens and yellow leaves attached to thin hard wood trees backed by the ever darkening dense forest. As we made our right turn into the campground, the trees became tall white pines. The pines quickly faded as we were greeted into the campground with an open grass field with a gravel drive that circled it, a playground on the far end, and a wood carving of an eagle sitting on the back of bench all carved out of a tree. As most good American drivers do, we stayed right along the circle as we passed the camphost trailer with firewood and ice for sale and then the information and self pay fee station where the accounts payable manager for the team grabbed a few envelopes to take with us as we made our decision on the piece of land.
At the end of the grassy circle, the camp road extends into a larger loop that goes through the trees, now smaller hardwood and evergreen mixed. On the backside of the loop, there are trees on the inside, left, with the campsites and a large grassy field on the outside, right, of the loop backed by the forest. The area was used as a group campsite before cooties. We circled the campground once to get a big picture of options before deciding on site No. 14. It sits furthest from the entry on the backside of the loop, backs into a nice wooded spot with views of the open field that was once used as a group site and hopes of deer and wildlife sightings at dusk along the treeline.
Our immediate plan at this point was to quickly set up camp with an added piece of equipment, the large Slumberjack truck awning we’ve had on our roof rack but have yet to use. This awning is designed to attach to the rear of the truck, which we did on occasion back when we slept in the bed of the truck on our weeklong camping trips out west, but is needed now to help improve camp comfort during the rain forecasted for several days.
The next order of business if we are to stay here with no electricity, rain and colder temperatures is to make sure the battery stays charged so we can run the heater. This would prove to be a moving solar farm as our camp was sitting in the cover of trees with spotty sunshine reaching the array.
The camphost drove up in his golf cart during our set up. We had a nice conversation with him learning that the spot we chose had been occupied by a guy tent camping with 2 dogs for about 6 weeks. He had left just before we drove in. You’d never know it based on how clean the place was. He also talked about the large amount of wildlife in the area to include deer, turkeys, and black bear and that of the 8 campgrounds he oversees in this area of the Allegheny National Forest, this one is known as the most quiet one. All great news. His bonus offering was the electrical outlet next to the maintenance shed that we are welcomed to use to recharge stuff if needed! Sold.
The only downside of this place is the large number of pesky gnats that came out in mass the first few days. They didn’t bite as much as those from the heart of SEC football land but they did on occasion and they were as annoying. We covered up and kept moving, at one point we retreated to the truck for some needed time apart from them. After a while and with a slightly lower temperature, they moved on. We took the opportunity to set up chairs with views of the field and sip chilled adult beverages.
Our closest neighbor was two sites down. We first encountered him as we were strolling through the open field across the street and noticed an apple tree with apples still hanging too far up to reach. He, obviously watching us from his camp, yelled that he could help and quickly moved in our direction. He explained as he hurriedly walked over that he made an extension device he called his homemade apple picker just for this occasion. He extended it and yanked a few large nice apples down for us. We followed this by sharing a brief conversation.
He, being much more familiar with the area gave us some great information, reinforcing what others had said and even took time to spoil some of the places we have yet to go with photos on his phone. We did learn that he retired from Giant Eagle Food Stores where he worked as a union employee in the warehouse. He and his wife have always enjoyed travel and that she recently passed away due to cancer. His son, who we’d later learn is 26 and disabled, now travels with him. He is passionate about traveling and camping in his trailer. He would stop by camp later to share maps he had and tell us stories of his trips into Canada and Alaska. He pans for gold, and he reports there is still lots of gold out there to be panned. A very friendly neighbor and good to have around if you need an apple, a map, or someone to generate easy conversation.
With the sun down we decided on turkey burgers and a salad. Under headlamps, I cooked the burgers and we sat outside under the awning with low light provided from the small solar lamp. We capped off the meal with a few pieces of dark chocolate and red, Ohio produced, wine.
The last thing was a walk up to the front of camp with low light now provided by the almost full moon as it rose up and over the tall white pines. When we reached the front grassy area where the dumpster, overflowing from the past weekend traffic, sat. Lysette quietly got my attention to look towards the grassy field to see the night shadows of deer that were silently moving through the grass and into the woods.
We returned to camp, made final preparations for the forecasted rain and to sleep.
The rain dripped on the roof all night with the awning only needing a small adjustment around 2AM, but otherwise worked perfectly. Also as forecasted, the rain ended by the time we woke but left lots of low clouds in its path. We did our morning thing then decided on a run along the interpretive path in the old growth forest. This trailhead is located out of the campground in the day use area of the recreation area. There are also other hiking and cross country ski trails that begin and end here.
If you haven’t seen an old growth forest then I highly recommend you Google one and if you are lucky enough to have one close by, go check it out as they are rare, yet a spectacle. Old growth, or ancient large trees that have been allowed to grow naturally through the years, having been spared the wood industries sawyers for whatever reason. This small one was lucky to be on the homestead of the lumber family who harvested much of the area surrounding it for profit, but thankfully for us, wanted a buffer of uncut trees.
The forest is packed with old hemlocks up to 400 years old, white pines equaling in trunk size, huge red oaks, red maples, beech, with some old trees standing tall while others with tops missing and still others on the ground covered in green fuzzy moss and healthy nasty little colorful mushrooms growing as they lay in decay. Some fallen trees provide host to other life such as the sprouts of new trees and ferns. We ran this trail stopping frequently to marvel at the special sights and sounds, listening to the pure wonderful sounds of nature to include Toohey’s panting. The place was indeed beautifully alive, interesting, and will likely get a return visit from the Travel With Toohey photography crew later in the episode.
We made it back to camp about the same time our camphost was cruising by in his camphost golf cart and our neighbor was heading out on a hike. We all converged at the end of our drive while Toohey smelled stuff, then lay at my feet for the blah blah. We learned from these two travel pro’s about camping opportunities down through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and North Carolina. All travel gold stuff that was documented closely by the Research and Travel Department for further investigation.
Now with midday having approached, we cooked a brunch and hung out for a bit around the home. We read, the Photography Department worked on photos, and Toohey napped. After a while, we decided to escort the camera gear back over to the old growth forest for some more detailed photos. While in route, we stopped by the outside power outlet that the camphost offered as a way to charge gear if needed. He came out of his trailer while we were getting the device ready and offered to let us use the inside outlet, of which we did. While I was setting up the phone and plug on his reported future camp toilet bucket, he handed me a map with a list of all the camps down the Blue Ridge Parkway, again gold standard information. We talked a bit longer before heading on to get the work accomplished.
The old growth forest, now three hours older since we last saw it, yet amazingly enough appeared mostly unchanged. This time the team walked and analyzed it for interesting things as seen by the Photography Department. Lighting is a challenge for photographing this place based on the lush canopy and the thick overcast skies. But the brains behind the camera went to work. We walked, stopping to gaze, study, and photograph various interesting things. Some spots appeared in the forest were illuminated as though the thick canopy above let in glimpses of light that shone down on areas of rich green ferns and mosses growing out of a decaying tree. Those decaying trees also serving as host to batches of mushrooms of various sizes, some more symmetrical while others grotesque, some bland while others colorfully mixing in with the rich green mosses providing a soft texture as background. We discussed and imagined water flowing through the now dried up stream beds as we crossed over them, wondering how this would change the experience in the spring or after a big storm. The sounds in the background of birds and small squirrels, at times barking at us, other times scurrying around in the fallen leaved, the ground cover making the crackling sound. The hike, the slow version of the run, was full of details we missed earlier but now take in using all our senses.
We returned to camp with charged phone and a camera full of new photos. It was now pay time for Toohey as we filled his bowl with food, compensating him on just being a good old doggy. About this time, our neighbor with the apple contraption rode up on his bike with a volt tester, wanting us to check our battery health through plugging this device into the interior cigarette lighter, of which I did and it showed a healthy charged 12-volt battery. He then discussed more about this and the way the solar works, which information I never requested, retained, or really cared that much about. We, with open beer and wine sitting on the table just out of arms reach and feeling rude to drink in front of him, encouraged him to go get his beer and join us for more conversation. He did.
Our neighbor is a thin, short, fit looking man of 57 years, not because he wears the age but because he told us. He enjoys travel, especially with his camper and family. As mentioned previously, his wife died this year of cancer and he seems to be the sole caregiver for his son, in his mid-20’s with some type of autism. He wears his camouflaged hat, t-shirt with 3 quarter zipper sweater, and cargo style pants ripped along the right rear pocket, all fitting the lifestyle he enjoys. He is a smart fella full of information that he loves to share on managing this lifestyle to include all the tools, parts, and equipment. He would be a great edition to the team as we know so little about any of that and have so few expectations.
He returned with his can of lager and we chatted. He told us more of his skiing, managing annual ski club trips to Colorado, gold panning exploits, showed us many photos and videos of himself working the riverside operation, brought over more gear that he uses to include a butane device that helps keep flying insects away from camp and a solar charging device for phones. We shared our bug killing wand of death machine that he, unimpressed, said his son would enjoy as he does not like flying bugs ever since being stung by a bee as a child . The conversation rolled along with him sharing more stories about working for the grocery chain, the union, his brothers machine shop business, and his work in the cafeteria of Ohio ski resorts now owned by Vail. We soon found all the bottles, cans, and glasses empty which is when he departed. With the team members now full of more information and hungry, we went inside to fix a quick salad for dinner followed by discussions on the next day activities, preparation for the night, rain, and bed.
The rain arrived as forecasted bringing with it the sounds of large drops hitting the trailer throughout the night, sporadic burst when the winds would blow those water drops sitting high on the leaves of the tree canopy above to the ground. Around midnight, I got up to check the rig and awning to find a large puddle of water that had accumulated near the out edge of the front side of the awning, furtherest away from the home, taking time to dump it to take the strain off the tie down system.
The morning came with the rain gone and the prospect for some good Allegheny National Forest exploration. We started it all with the foundation of a good breakfast followed by the appropriate trail attire and gear. With the Tacoma loaded, we departed in search of Minister Creek Trail which we have heard lots about. The trailhead sits at the intersection of CR 2002 and SR 666, the latter bringing thoughts of bad spirits but since it wasn’t a Dead End, we felt okay. On the east side of the road was the Minister Creek Campground and trailhead and on the south side, land occupied by the parking lot. We turned right at the intersection and an immediate left into the parking lot. We grabbed our gear and crossed back over the street, just left of the campground entrance, and onto the Minster Creek Trail.
The trail has various options and is well marked. We opted to take a part of the south loop that ties into the north loop in a clockwise direction. This strategic methods gets us to the reported trail gold (the best scenes) of this hike sooner. The trail immediately climbed up at a slope preventing a full run, but more a power walk. While looking down as we trudged up, we noticed the barrage of leaf colors below our feet, conceivably just about every color you could image.
We continued up, turning left at the option for the south loop. The lighting darkened with the thickness of the forest, then after awhile, lightened up and flattened out as we reach a plateau of sorts. Along here is when we started to see the large boulders, rock structures that were reportedly delivered by the receding glaciers a few years back. They are massive and now with green fuzzy moss appearing to look like hair on the top, some even with large trees growing out of or around them and many with ferns mooching off the nutrients. The main trail overlook is off one of these large rocks and allows your view over the valley below, across to the hills along the other side, and to enjoy the early leaf change and colors.
From the overlook, the trail drops through narrow rock hallways between them making us call them the slot canyons of the Allegheny’s. The trail continued a downward, rolling path direction for a few miles as we passed a stream, through a thicket area with few trees but lots of thorny shrubs, and then back into the forest. The trail eventually led us down to Minister Creek and the bottom of the valley. We followed this for a while, a few creek crossings before the trail combines with the North Country Trail, the same one we have hiked parts of since North Dakota. Around this time the trail turns back, now following the blue blazes until it departs the NCT and again, the white blazes reappear as does a bit of a climb out of the valley and through the forest.
On two occasions along the trail, Toohey yelped in pain as he lowered his back beneath fallen trees and limped on his hind leg for a few minutes, concerning us enough to stop and check him out. But he’d eventually get back into his normal gimp and flow of the trail so we decided to keep on with an eye on him to make sure he was okay. We also tried to choose where he went over, around or beneath fallen trees as to try to prevent further pain. At one point, we stopped at the creek, sat and let him rest a bit. It is hard to look at this guy as an old dog but his yelps help remind us of the added care he needs and the need to limit stress and add rest to his body, of which he won’t choose on his own.
We moved along, passing a few more of the massive rock features before making our way back to the Tacoma. The trail was awesome with the highlights being the massive rocks with their seemingly mystical appearance, the way nature has assumed its hold on them with trees whose large roots wrap around them like an octopus’s tentacles grabbing a crab before devouring it.
The decision was made to leave the parking lot and drive the SR 666 out towards Warren, the largest of the towns in the area to get a few things. The drive was along small roads with light traffic. We stopped to enjoy the hills with leaf changes, small rivers, and cute mountain cottages. The leaf change is early for this place and what we are seeing isn’t the brilliant colors of red, yellow, and orange of the north east but more subdued earthy colors of yellows, reds, and browns at times with the evergreen backdrop. It is pretty though and likely to get better as the new month of October appears tomorrow.
We drove into the small town of Sheffield first stopping into their small grocery store to grab a few things one of which is more beer and wine. While there, we remembered the state has funny liquor laws around purchasing beer and wine. Apparently, grocery stores can’t sell beer so you have to go to a beer distributor or a bar. Some grocery stores have a separate beer distributor business set up inside who sell beer, wine and spirits but none around here. With the spirits store closed and the distributor only having a 30 pack of Coors, which is way too big for our refrigeration systems, we opted to continue the drive to Warren to see what they had.
The road, now a full two lanes wide had views that were still mountain pretty and enjoyable. We crossed into Warren first noticing the large gas refinery occupying much of the town skyline. At about that point, we also noticed a strong odor. As we continued into town the odor became more pronounced with us both wondering how anyone could live here with that smell. We then recognized that the odor was, in fact fumes coming from the battery pack we had charging in the car’s cigarette lighter. We immediately unplugged it, rolled down the windows with expectations for it to potentially flame up like the videos of the scooter batteries. With the thing still smoldering and now, us parked in the beer distributor parking lot, we made the risk management decision to place it on the ground away from the car and went in for beer and ice. They too only had a 30 pack but the price was right so we purchased that figuring we can manage this extra beer and then set off to the wine place. With each stop, we made sure the device, now just hot to touch but no longer smoldering was under constant fire watch.
Our drive back to camp was about 15 miles along the scenic back roads remained enjoyable. We passed and discussed the frequent oil jacks sitting off in small clearings in the woods used to pump oil from beneath the ground. We spotted the Hickory Wilderness Trail, turned into the parking lot to grab some information as we want to get this hike in during our stay. Camp was dry but cool so I dropped Toohey and Lysette off and rolled back up front to purchase six logs for an evening fire. As with every fire there is prep time before lighting it. After some fire time, we started cooking and eating about the time a rain shower showed up so we enjoyed it all dry beneath the awning. After dinner, we retired inside for a few hands of gin before a little bit of reminiscing about our journey.
Lysette has been keeping a handwritten list of every camp, where it was, cost, number of nights we stayed, and a grading of 1 to 5 stars based on many factors. We decided to go down the list and discuss each one. The conversation progressed to our camp at Sparks Lake in Oregon before sleep hit. It was fun and helped us appreciate what gets blurred into the memories our journey, that of the amazing things we have seen and done while sloverlanding this amazing country, meeting amazing folks, camping in some amazing places.
We woke to cool morning temperatures, mostly overcast with some sunshine. Lysette, with no charge on her computer quickly readied for a run around a trail called Tom’s Run, mostly designed for cross country skiing. She and Toohey headed out as I was still typing words, all but encouraging me to get ready and catch up. But my leisurely morning pace didn’t allow that to happen. I did connect with the trail about 15 minutes or so behind her. The trailhead is located across the street next to the hike of the old growth trees we did several days before. The trail loops out and returns to a different point in the same area. I entered the right side of the trail for a counter clockwise loop. The trail was quiet, single track but wide cut through the woods to support the cross country skiing. Outbound, the trail slightly descends through the forest requiring high knees and good concentration with lots of roots and small rocks that blend into the ground cover and can easily trip you up. I stopped at one point when I heard cracking of ground cover off in the woods catching a glimpse of two deer bouncing through the dense forest of trees.
The trail intersects with two other trails named Ironside and Tanbark. You run past large boulders, covered in mosses and trees much like those we saw on the Minister Creek run the previous day, but not as large. There were a few stream crossings with little water and an area where the trail seemed to split a brown hemlock or evergreen forest from a much more green hardwood forest. At one point, I was moving along and in my head thinking about a bear attack at the exact moment a turkey, pheasant, or some other ground bird fluttered loudly from the brush beneath a tree next to me sending me into a defensive position while letting out a noise I wasn’t sure I’ve ever made before. Basically, it freaked me out.
As I entered the trailhead parking lot I looked up to find what I was searching for mostly on the entire run, Lysette and Toohey standing at the information board looking as great as always. Toohey charged me to say hello and we all turned and walked together, then ran back to the home.
We did the breakfast thing and hung around home for awhile before making the decision to drive back over to the Minister Creek trailhead that we hiked the day before to see if someone had left our leash that I dropped somewhere along the trail. We got there and checked the trailhead, information board, and campground, but nothing. We then proceeded to drive the opposite direction on SR 666 from the previous day to see what would unfold. More small cottages they call camps, small townships, villages, and buroughs. We finally connected with the main travel artery, Highway 62 which follows the Allegheny river, until we reached the small township of Tidioute. We turned left, drove across the metal bridge into the small town sitting on the banks of the Allegheny river. We drove the Main Street before turning back, and again back over the bridge. The town of Tidioute had older Victorian style homes and few businesses but seemingly not much going on.
We drove out of town turning back towards a sign directing us to Tidioute Lookout and Hearts Content Campground. The left turn moves you quickly up a steep hill before turning left into the lookout parking lot. We did the short, really short, walk to the river lookout, then across to the town lookout. Not spectacular as far as views go but interesting. At the town lookout, we read about the history of oil in this town which had the first flowing oil well in the world in 1860 and was the city where Standard Oil Company was founded. Oil production was significant in the area where they used timber from this abundant resource to construct wood barrels, floating the crude down river to Oil City and Pittsburg for refining. Floating crude was the main transportation until the railroad in the late 1800’s took over. From what we have seen with the refinery in Warren and the many small oil jacks sitting in cuts all along the forest, there is still money to be made in oil and gas in this area.
We returned to the Tacoma and headed for home. We watched about 6 or 8 small bands of deer along the road, one startling us as it ran directly at the passenger side before turning at the last minute to avoid hitting us. They were definitely out so caution was the order for the drive. As we approached Hearts Content Area the rain started and by the time we reached camp, small pea-sized pellets of hail were bouncing off the hood. My thought, please send some of this moisture somewhere else where it is needed as the ground, if not saturated before, is now much like our rain soaked souls.
The rain ended and sun filled blue skies occupied the void where clouds once hovered. Lysette decided to walk up to the campground maintenance shed to charge her computer and do some work. I grabbed a beer, my chair, and with Toohey wobbling behind me, headed for the large grass field across the camp road, passing the apple tree and to a rounded cut section of grass to sit and type this section of the blog while getting some warm sweet sunshine.
While I was typing, our neighbor and his son came over to pick some apples from the apple tree using his apple grabbing device. It was nice to see the father son team working the tree for the largest and best remaining apples. Toohey, uneasy with Lysette not being here paced and sniffed stuff requiring me to occasionally call him back. After a while, Lysette, with computer bag hanging off her right shoulder and carrying several other objects, rounded the corned. Toohey looked up and made a slow approach with head down and tail wagging, to greet her.
At this point in the afternoon/early evening, the sun is positioned behind another set of approaching clouds so we slow walk back to camp, passing the apple tree, crossing the gravel camp road, and into No. 14. With it still being moist and cool, we decided on a fire. I prepared the fire by using my hatchet to break up the burnt logs from the fire pit remaining from the previous fires knowing they are drier and will burn better if exposing the inside of the dense wood. I also used my hatchet to shave thin pieces off the log kept dry from the rain, to aid in starting the fire. And finally, staging all that in the fire pit, dousing it with the little remaining lighter fluid I had combined with the trigger of the Bic lighter, we made fire. As the inward self satisfaction of this event was unfolding, the large thunder from the now darkened sky was heard. Ignoring it is the best thing to do, so I kept creating fire and coals by applying as much of the dry log pieces I could shave off with my hatchet. The thunder rolled more and sounding closer. This rhythm would continue to alas the first drops of rain fell on me and the youthful fire.
Now, with thoughts shifting on preserving the hot coals, I started building a fire box around my small fire pile using rocks in the area. As we finally retreated to the home with fire now mostly covered but with vent holes, we marveled at the flames that maintained throughout the brief storm. We enjoyed the success and fire for only a short time before heading into the home for a small dinner and nightly events to include bed.
The Allegheny National Forest in Northern Pennsylvania is a great place. The forest is more rolling hills than large mountains with large pieces of rocks that make for interesting eye candy and a great place for trail runs. There is a great sense of remoteness here with small wilderness areas, a bunch of trails on which to play and my guess is, fishing if that is your thing. Bike riding these rolling hills, some steep and curvy roads would be an awesome experience as surfaces were good, well maintained and extremely light use. The roads are narrow with no bike lanes, or any lanes at all for that matter but they still feel okay and safe.
As mentioned at the beginning of this section, there is a wooden bench at the entrance to Hearts Contents Campground complete with a painted wood eagle (we would later learn it is currently splitting). The back of the bench seat has the name Anderson engraved. Our new neighbor is the first wave sent here to hold sites and prepare the area for the annual Columbus Day Anderson Family Reunion where family and friends of the Anderson’s reportedly take over the campground. Apparently, and unbeknownst to us, our site is big piece of the puzzle for the whole shebang. Our new neighbor is the scout team sent to prepare the place and nicely approached us to ask when we are leaving so he can set up camp on number 14. No pressure as long as we are gone by Sunday, when he officially needs this site, which we believe will work.
The campground being early in the week is quiet with no sounds of industry or interstate, a peaceful place where deer are frequently seen and not heard, a pretty place with lush healthy forest and the splatter of leaves changing, and a place that we have enjoyed our reprieve back into the silence of nature. A place that provides ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors without high city crowds. And a place where the campers who occupy it seem to respect the earth where it sits as it is clean with few signs of trash.
Thick fog blanketed the camp when we woke, drips from the leaves above us in the tree canopy all provided by the extreme moisture in the air. As I am stepping out of the home, I look to the fog covered, wet field and see two deer standing on the edge of the grass field, alerted to me as ears were standing up, they stare at me waiting on the first signs of danger to trigger their sense of flee and they soon do.
We get up and do our morning thing and decide on laundry today as we are both cold, damp and don’t have the energy for a wet run, hike and the bikes are definitely out of the question. Lysette pulls the sheets, towels and small carpet from the home, we organize the dirty laundry, and decide to drive into Warren for the laundromat.
The drive requires a steady windshield wiper swipe to keep the water droplets off the window for safety reasons. The view is pretty as colors are now saturated with the wet grey lack of sunlight. The road, as we’ve come to expect, is narrow, windy, and slow. We see the same oil jacks sitting off the road just beyond the cover of trees reminding us of the oil country we are sharing this beauty with, eventually arriving in the town of Warren. Lysette does a quick google search for laundromats finding one, and with terrible reviews of broken and dirty machines. We pass through the nice downtown area before finding this place sitting in a parking lot across from the local grocery store where we had been a few days before. We go inside to check it out only to confirm all the reviews were accurate and not worthy of our dirty laundry.
We search again and find good reviews on a laundromat about 15 miles up highway 6 in Sheffield, a much smaller town that we had passed through on an early drive. The decision was made to go there but first we grab some provisions from the grocery store here as selections seemed to be more larger based on the size of the town and square footage of the building.
The laundromat in Sheffield was better and only being used by one other customer. He was friendly giving us what we’d later determine as bad advice on which equipment was best. He enjoyed conversation asking us great starter questions such as where are we from, what are we doing in the area and so forth? We learned from him that he had a terrible accident while working as a ranger on the North Country Trail based out of the Hearts Content camp. He had a tree fall on him while trying to clear the trail, crushing his leg, requiring 6 years of hospitalization, and being told he’d never walk again. He spoke well, even though he only had a few teeth remaining that I could see. He had taped up his left black shoe with a white duct tape (Lysette did the same with her running shoes, but used silver on gray which is much classier), but despite all that, he appeared happy and smiled a lot. He went on to tell us of a trip he made with a lady friend out west, loved Montana and in fact owned a small 5 acre piece of land there. And he enjoyed hunting big game. He said he now falls a lot so walks mostly in grass to prevent further injury with my terrible thought of, “please, not on my watch.” Just before he left, a gentleman walked in who apparently was his ride, he went on to say, “this guy right here is a life saver and if not for him, I’d be dead.” High praise.
Driving back to camp, with everything clean, was nice and sunny, providing a great mood lift to the team and time for Toohey’s num-nums. We put camp and home back together as I started preparing the fire pit for the night, and Toohey split time wobbling and sniffing between the two of us.
After the fire, dinner and sundown, we retired to the home to figure out what we were going to do tomorrow and the remainder of PA. Our plan, one more night here as the weather is forecasted to be good tomorrow. The Research and Travel Department was able to secure reservations at the Ohiopyle, Kentuck campground for three nights. There, we will have electricity and warm showers while enjoying what that area has to offer.
One thing we did to combat cold this evening was to pull out and heat up the red hot water bottles. This is something we used to do when cold weather camping in Utah in November with no heat as a way to warm the sleeping bags. With the hotties, as we call them, nicely placed under the clean sheets and blankets, we set off to a wonderful, quiet night sleep.
The last thing on our to do list for this area was to get acquainted with the Hickery Wilderness Area trail. The trailhead is located about a quarter mile from the entrance to the Hearts Content Campground on the same side of the road. Many use this 13 mile loop as a backpacking multi-day excursion. We chose the first few miles as an out and back morning hike to see if we could get the feel of this wilderness area. The morning sunshine was out as we set off on the single track hiking trail. The trail split through the forest of hardwoods with only a few patches of ferns as ground cover, giving lots of visibility through the trees. At several points along the trail, sun rays would shine through the canopy highlighting the foliage below, whether is was a bunch of ferns of maybe a fallen, decaying tree covered in green moss. The trail was somewhat soft with attention needed for roots and rocks that could snag a toe and trip you.
The trail leads out on a single stem meeting up with the much larger loop. We got to the intersection and chose right for no other reason as it turned away from the direction of camp. Soon the trail became encapsulated in large hemlocks making the area more brown and dark than green and colorful. At one point, and out of the hemlocks, the trail led us between some large rocks giving the impression they were laid there as a halfway curving us through the forest. Along the way we’d stop and listen to the quiet nature sounds, the singing of birds, the crunching of small animals through the leaves, and things falling from the canopy to the forest floor. It was a beautiful place, full of quiet nature, nicely interrupted only by itself.
We returned to camp and ate a nice brunch, or lunch by this time. The afternoon brought a few more clouds and a few more people to our once quiet camp. By the evening, folks would be doing loops looking for open spots, those with reserved spots wondering why someone had set up in their spots, and the camphost eventually opened up a closed group area to allow a few more in. One set of new campers was a father and his young son. As Lysette and I stood at the end of our drive soaking up a burst of sunshine, he walked down to ask us how long we’d been there and to apologize in advance as this was going to be his son’s first night out, hopefully, and he might be a little loud. This got me to thinking about first camping experience through my life.
My first camp was with my dad on an island called Dutch Island outside of Savannah that is now fully developed with water front property and docks. He and a friend took me and his son in our 13-foot McKee Craft boat to this place where we anchored off a crushed oyster shell and sand beach and set up camp. Things I remember include skinny dipping in the water, the bathroom experience over a log, sleeping on the hard ground with my dad in a 2-man pup tent, and finding an old wooden bateau that was stuck in the mud and which I really wanted to tow home.
My sons’ first camping experience and one we’d do frequently was to a little state park in the county where we lived called Skidaway Island State Park. I remember night time hikes through the marshy trails, seeing deer, and raccoons all while being feasted on by mosquitos and gnats. We played flashlight tag and had to frequently reset the tent stakes as my younger son was constantly tripping over them.
We would later include my daughter when she got a little older. The funniest memory of her was after a camping trip while she was showering when I suddenly heard a blood curdling scream. I ran into the bathroom to find her in tears, I said what it wrong, and her response was a spider was eating her. Sure enough, the correct amount of drama for a tick that had attached itself to her.
My favorite of all camping trips was when we took the boat out to Little Tybee, a remote uninhabited barrier island off the coast were we beached the boat at low tide and set up camp. Along with us were two other dads and their kids and a friend and fellow soccer coach. The night was full of fires, carving sticks, and having camp fun. The morning came and we walked everything back to the beached boat where we all sat as the tide came in around us until we were floating, at which point we started the boat and headed home.
One of the dads who we frequently camped with when the kids were young created the kids camping group name, The One Eye’d Raccoon Brigade and even made a flag out of an old t-shirt. Great stuff.
All fun quality memories around camping that came rushing into my thoughts as this dad was apologizing in advance of his son’s potential noise. My response to him was let him be loud, make noise, and have fun.
With that, we decided to make some noise by pulling the bikes back off the racks for a ride. Our choice was to locate the forest service road that circled the Hickory Wilderness Area we hiked earlier in the day. With Toohey on duty in the Tacoma to protect the assets, we set off, first a right at the camp entrance then the second right off the main road which I assumed was the correct road. After a downhill, then a right turn by several small camps, and a steep uphill climb, to a dead end, we decided it wasn’t, in fact, the road. The other quiet disturbing thought came after passing some of these small camps some of which seemed a little sketchy in the, “I might never be found alive” category. One had a trampoline set up with its base enclosed with chicken wire, and of course full of chickens. There was another pen of sorts with large domestic fat white turkeys gobbling around and a few more pens with something alive for now. The pick up truck in the grass between them had a license tag H88TR. We respectfully moved along avoiding the possibility of falling into the category.
Back on the main road and a few more miles, we came to another right. This one much more promising as it had the brown forest road sign with 116 posted. A quick turn then we saw 119 off to the right and we were now sure we were in the right place. We rolled down this gravel road, past some gorgeous forest with a blend of hardwood and hemlocks. We saw only a few other pickups, certainly hunters of some sort, none with threatening license plates. Somewhere around mile 5 down this stretch of road and as we approached a large mud puddle crossing the road, we decided to turn back. The return trip was fun, rolling back along all the roads we came out on except the one with H88TR on the license plate. It was a nice ride, great to get out on the bikes, and breath the air a little more on our final day here.
We returned to a campground, now with lots of camp fires in full bloom and people fully enjoying the place of which we were about to leave. Our time here at Hearts Content filled our souls with an experience we both needed, one remote enough to hear the nature and experience it without lots of travel. This place delivered in all that along with meeting several nice folks and learning of the Anderson Family Reunion. We enjoyed the views of the leaf change and the small communities along the Allegheny National Forest. We feel we got the best of this place, hiked, and ran the trails, and got on the bikes to play a little. Our last event was to drive the Tacoma on the same roads we just biked but to follow it on the full loop of the wilderness area near dusk. We did and it gave more of what we had experienced earlier capping our time here perfectly.
OHIOPYLE, PA, Kentuck Campground
Ohiopyle was first mentioned to us in a text message from a friend and past work colleague who lives in eastern PA. The area sits in the Laurel Mountains, shows several ski hills, and has a glossy publication indicating more tourist friendly accommodations. There are reports of access to a rails to trails bike path that runs all the way from Pittsburg to Washington DC and has plenty of hiking opportunities to boot. We booked 3 nights at the Kentuck State Park with an electrical hook up so we could run the systems while charging the computer battery and were now on our way.
Our route followed Highway 65 and 66 out of the national forest dropping us down at one point passing what appeared to be a juvenile black bear popping out, then quickly back into the woods along the road in front of us. We then passed through the nice looking town of Brookville and into Punxsutawney where we got out and walked the town.
Punxsutawney is best known for a fat furry ground hog named Phil who has insight each year into the length of winter. Phil is on full display through town with the actual Phil stored just off the park behind a glass window for the public to view. There are larger than life painted Phils along the main streets and parks, murals of Phil on parking lot walls, and little Phil feet painted on the sidewalk entering participating merchants. Beyond that, the most active thing occurring in downtown was sadly the McDonalds drive through window with no sign of anything Phil.
Leaving Phil with some weather advice for ending next winter and continuing our move south, we flowed through the hills east of Pittsburg, past Indiana where we spotted a rather large coal burning power plant, grabbed a few smaller backroads that wound us through farm country and finally into the small river gorge and tourist town of Ohiopyle. We passed by what appeared to be the main attraction before a right turn up a steep hill and into the campground. The drive into the park was so up and steep that we both commented that it could be a day’s bike ride in and of itself.
Lysette went to the registration window to gain our pass and access to our camp on Ivy Rd, site No. 195. The site sits in the back loop of the short road next to three cabins. Behind us appears to be a large ditch with steep and deep banks but otherwise dry. Beyond that appears to be forest which I can see no end. There is one camp site being used in the grassy tent area across the road and a few other electric RV sites, all with dogs as this area is designated dog friendly. The entire campground is large with other sites to include more electric, tent, walk in sites, those that allow dogs and those that don’t, cabins, and full bathrooms with showers. There is access to trails and to the bike ride we want to do while here. All in, a nice place. But be forewarned that if you like your chilled adult beverage around camp, all Pennsylvania State Parks forbid alcoholic beverages on any camp sites. It is a good thing we didn’t read this rule until we were gone. 😉
We quickly set up camp to include the awning as rain was forecasted for the evening. We plugged in our electronics and went for a warm shower, and how nice that warm shower was. We hung out inside before the rain front blew in around bed time sending us off with the acoustics of the rain hitting the roof and bubble.
The morning was another wet, damp morning after the full night of rain so we went into slow start mode. We blogged, did some other necessary stuff you do with unlimited electricity and good connectivity, making the most of our time. Around noon, we decided to go for a trail run from camp to explore what this place has to offer. We set off with a quick stop at the ranger station to ask a few questions. He showed us the unmarked trailhead sitting just across the street. The female ranger then asked if we wanted a trail map with the male ranger encouraging it, so we did. We started walking while unfolding it, saw the dashed line indicating the trails we thought we wanted then set off. About a half mile in we got to an intersection with two names pointing in opposite directions, neither of which were on the map. So with no further information, we chose right for no particular reason and headed off. This trail wound through the woods, up steep short hills then down steep short hills, along hills, around curves and on until we got to another intersection with a name that didn’t exist on the map. The trail showed, Thorpe Fitness Loop. We had seen the loop on our previous review of the trail so we kind of expected it. There were four metal workout stations along the loop where you could add some fitness stuff of which we really didn’t. It was also the most unused trail we’d see based on the overgrown plant material hanging into the trail. About halfway around it opened to a large grassy field with a great overlook of the Ohiopyle town and valley where the river runs, cutting it into the surrounding hills. The trail then took us on a brief loop along the picnic area before heading back. We passed the intersection of the loop and continued on until we reached the first unknown intersection where two hikers were approaching. We all discussed and laughed at the terrible trail markings that don’t match the maps before heading in separate directions.
After returning to camp and regrouping, the travel team made the decision to scoot down into Ohiopyle to locate the bike path that we want to ride tomorrow and see the rapids and water feature that draw many to the area. The Tacoma, in low gears, wound down the steep descent into town. We drove to the old rail road depot which serves as a parking lot for the Great Allegheny Passage Bike Trail that runs along an old rail road bed from Pittsburg to Washington D.C. Locating that was goal one and now having checked it off the list, we moved the truck and its passengers to the visitors center parking lot in front of the rock falls and water features of Ohiopyes. They are wide with water levels being low but still sending a good volume through the cut. We then moved just short distance to see several others that include Cucumber Falls that were interesting but likely more so with a heavier springtime volume of water. It was pretty with the splash of fall colors and leaves along the rocks.
Returning to camp was num num time for the dog so we fed and entertained him for a few minutes before Lysette went inside to do work while I experimented with lighting a fire with wet wood coinciding with me sneaking a few beers all the while watching for a ranger truck to approach, which none did. We finally showered, retired to the home, had a light dinner, and bed.
With another slow start to the day planned, we woke, did some needed life things like prescriptions and appointments, spent time on the travel journal, and made breakfast. Around noon we were prepared for a bike ride from camp.
Leaving out of the back of the campground was a trail with, as we were told, a steep descent that you can walk. As with many presented with challenges such as “steep” and “walk”, we approached with the mindset of the challenge of riding the descent. The descent was steep in a few parts, but non-technical beyond a few roots and loose rocks, and completely ridable for this risk adverse cyclist.
At the bottom of the hill, we met up with the featured trail, the Great Allegheny Trail. Our direction was to the small town of Confluenceville which at first, provided images of our nice small town of Golden which is in the process of being over developed by a company named Confluence.
We set off in the direction towards that town, following the railroad bed, passing over an extremely high bridge that was supported by the old railroad trusses with a dizzying drop to the moving river below. The river, named Youghiogheny River and its gorge is the base of the ride keeping it consistently to the left on our outbound route. To our right was the uphill side with a big forest, mostly of hardwoods still green but showing some signs of yellowing fall colors. At several points we’d ride past large rock outcroppings draped with mountain laurels, darkening the already shady cool trail. The trail, being a railroad bed, had the slightest grade but nothing that really impacted the pace. More impactful and closer to the towns, were the other cyclists, some walkers and runners who’d we pass on their left as we approached. After about an hour of steady pedaling, we rolled across the river and into the small town of Confluenceville. There were several cafes, small markets, rentals, and a cute underdeveloped town square sitting in the middle.
After riding through the town, we decided to head back following the same trail, now with the river to our right. We approached the final hill to the camp which is what I was waiting for the entire ride as an attempt to ride it all the way. In the end, a small section of long straight, steep uphill with loose rocks won the day requiring me to walk about a 10 yard section before remounting and finishing. Defeated but feeling good about the ride, we pushed on up a few more hills through the campground before arriving back at home.
There, with Toohey having successfully protected the assets, we gathered for what’s next. Lysette went to shower while I fed Toohey and made some phone calls to family. Still on the phone when she returned and me not paying attention, Lysette fed Toohey a second time of which he cleaned his bowl a second time. Dogs.
We set in for the night with Lysette doing some more work on the photos and blog and me, chopping and cutting some wood for the night fire. We prepared and ate dinner, lit the fire, burning all the remaining wood, and retired to the home with some final preparation of our move the next day and for the night.
Pennsylvania provided the team a nice southerly turn with enough wilderness to provide a reprieve from humanity while sitting in the stillness of the sometimes wet, Allegheny National Forest. This national forest is what we’ll remember most about the state as it is where we spent most of our time enjoying the area and all it had to offer with remoteness, trails and beautiful surroundings.
Ohiopyle was a good recharge station with amazing rock and river features but not really the overwhelming experience we might have had had we dug deeper into it. The other areas of the state, east to the Appalachian Mountains, would surely bring more mountain experiences had we chosen to move in that direction. So fully recognizing that our time in the state was only a small sliver of the western part of Pennsylvania, feeling quite sure with more time and effort, the state would provide way more mountain fun and beauty. But the momentum of time, the cooling fall temperatures, and the need for more provide us the energy to move on in our southerly direction to the state of West Virginia.