Tuesday, July 5, 2011

She'll Be Comin 'Round the Mountain

I was looking forward to titling this post "A Flood of Good Times" or some such play on the great Johnstown Flood. And it was a good time, don't get us wrong. And we did get to the site of the breached dam, and all the historical exhibits about that fateful day in 1889. But...

We go to these bike week things to party, yes, but we don't wake up at 11 and start drinking. We are there on the bikes, so we're gonna ride 'em. Take in the sights, do the tourist thing, and do some cruising around on our days off. Then, we always pay the premium (read: price gouging) rate for the hotel room in town, so we can park the bikes, and *then* act like idiots.

Which we do pretty well.

Anyway, back to the "but." Once again, we had the rainsuits on during the ride out. Not the whole way, but still... We got the lay of the land, then came back and worked our way into a bottle of Jose Cuervo, and danced to some good music between showers. The next day (Friday) was looking like more rain than Saturday, so we decided to stay "close to base," and did the flood stuff (actually 15 miles out of town) before moving on to some transportation history where the "way west" in the early days was blocked by the mighty Alleghenies. The South Fork Dam, which broke to flood Johnstown, is tied into that history as well, along with the Portage Railroad, Gallitzin Tunnels, and Horseshoe Curve, all of which we also visited Saturday.  In the rain.  Ended up wet and 40 miles from "home" instead of 65. Way to take the safe route.

Interestingly, we happened upon something that railfans come from all around to see but rarely do. Horseshoe Curve has 3 sets of tracks that carry trains up the long grade over the ridge. Pusher locomotives based in Altoona help them up and then brake them down the other side. If you visit long enough, you'll probably see a train.  Since we paid to get in, we decided to climb the steps to the viewing area, and within 2 minutes, a train was heard climbing the grade. Then, lo, along the downward slope came another. Wouldn't you know it, they met head-to-head directly in front of us at the center of the horseshoe, where your valiant reporter snapped a photo. So, two bikers who couldnt have cared less happened to record something that probably would have made a rail buff's whole vacation but will never get to see. Then, while those two trains were clanking by, a heavy coal train came around the bend, slowly and deliberately making its way down the grade. Trains on all three tracks. Neat.

So, we spent the day seeing what an ordeal it was to cross the mountains in days gone by (the Portage Railroad shortened the trip from Philly to Pittsburgh from 26 days to nine!), something you never think about as you zip through the tunnels on the turnpike at 70 miles per - or fly over them at 500. We got back kind of late, and found ourselves with some partying to catch up on.

Which we did pretty well.

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