THIS IS PART 3 OF A 5 PART SERIES
Ensuring that I’d updated the Zumo’s options to avoid highways, we let it plot a route to Pottsville. It selected, among other roads, US 209 that runs through the heart of coal country, through towns like Nesquehoning, Lansford, and the aptly named Coaldale, all separated by a few miles. If you didn’t know which one you were in, you certainly wouldn’t know. They were carbon (pardon) copies of each other. One major street (US 209) running through the middle of town, multi-family houses with front porches, placed close enough together that when you sneezed, someone three houses down said “Bless you”. No driveways, everyone parks on the street. And, most starkly, they were clear indicators of the state of the coal business in a 21st century society. Run down, boarded up, dilapidated, sad. Like the mill towns in the northeast, one can see what was once a proud town with well manicured lawns, kids playing on the sidewalks, bunting hanging on the 4th of July. Definitely early mid-century Americana. Mixed with the undeniable smell of coal ore, defeat here could be felt through the mesh in my First Gear jacket.
Pottsville is one such town, saved from quite the similar fate no doubt by the brewery that has been there since 1829. David Yeungling emigrated to the United States from Germany and settled in the Pottsville area where he started Eagle Brewery in 1829. In 1831 the brewery was destroyed by fire, so David built a new one just up the hill where it stands today.
After a brewery tour, tasting and gift shop visit, we continued west from Pottsville, skirting north and west of Harrisburg and Carlisle. Eventually though, we had to turn south and hook up on to I-81 to get to our Monday night campground in Falling Waters WV, Leatherman’s/Falling Waters Campsite. Nice place, not the quietest but clean, friendly. It was here that I got my first glimpse of Gilly’s Jet Boil Genesis dual-burner stove. When your panniers are the size of carry-on suitcases, you can be generous with what you pack! Gilly whipped up a delicious sauteed sausage and veggie concoction and I introduced him to pre-cooked Uncle Ben’s rice and we ate and drank well into the night.
We packed up Tuesday morning with the intent on hitting more falling water – the Frank Lloyd Wright house “Fallingwater” in Mill Run PA. But first, breakfast and a Walmart run.
Pulling out on to US 11, we turned south a few miles to the Spring Mills Diner in Spring Mills. While the breakfast was hot, fast, and good, (the big piece of deep fried Scapple I had was probably NOT just what my doctor ordered!) the basket of HOT, FRESH, HOMEMADE, GLAZED DONUTS they bring to your table put it over the top, along with Wendy’s blood sugar! I kid, she only had a few bites.
After breakfast, we continued our combination of highways and back roads as we made our way north and west the approximately 130 miles back up into PA. Fallingwater lived up to its billing. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of FLW’s designs will recognize it. His use of the surrounding waterfall and stream as it intertwines with the house and grounds is simply inspired. His use of cantilever construction with a central structure from which the floors emanate create beautiful open spaces. Up the drive a bit from the main house was the guest/servants quarters along with a 4-car garage. The house was originally built for the Kaufmann family, department store moguls from Pittsburgh, on land the family maintained as a retreat for their employees. The house and grounds are now part of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, a non-profit responsible for its upkeep.
Our destination for Tuesday night was the Blackwater Falls Campground in Davis WV. Having the girls take the lead proved fortuitous as Kathy’s GPS found us PA 381 out of Mill Run which turned into the Brandonville Pike in WV. In the little hamlet of Terra Alta, we connected with the Aurora Pike. Both roads definitely lived up to the billing of WV riding with sweepers and elevation changes! We’ll call these “Wendy roads”. We finished out the day on US 219 right to the campground.
Truthfully, up to this point we’d been extremely lucky with the weather. Aside from the occasional light showers we hit on Sunday, the only real rain we saw was a Monday afternoon thunderstorm while we were on our brewery tour. As we emerged from the brewery proper to head over to the bottling area, we could see it starting. All our gear was lying on our bikes parked just up the road. We asked the tour guide if one of us could go up and tend to it - Gilly, Kathy and I all had our helmets hanging upside down! – but she insisted that we needed to stay together. Thankfully, the shower ended, the sun returned, and we weren’t long down the road when all dried out.
That luck ended Tuesday JUST as we arrived at the campground. A steady, pesky drizzle made setting up camp a challenge. We were fortunate that the sites were somewhat shaded and we managed to get the tent up and the fly on without too much issue and I headed over to help Gilly and Wendy with the Keilty shade. The rain ended enough for us to collaborate on a delicious meal of grilled chicken thighs, garlic broccoli and an Asian salad. The morning broke overcast but the rain had stopped. Until we got up. Then it started in earnest. As we had really no place to be, we lingered under the Keilty, occasionally stoking the fire and munching on leftover chicken. During a break in the rain, we quickly packed up and got ready to ride the 12 miles to the Caanan Valley Resort. The skies were brightening so no one bothered to don rain gear. Naturally, about 5 miles down the road we ran into a downpour. You know the kind that you can see coming 500 yards down the road? It lasted about a mile.
We arrived at the resort main lodge around 12:30 to be greeted by a smiling Jill Ververka who said “Nik, I need to talk to you…”