Too many weeks have passed since our last real biking adventure, and our lack of conditioning is starting to show! Our next Acadia Adventure, which will involve plenty of riding just like in the past, looms before us in less than a month. Deciding that we had better get back into shape and quickly, Rich and I headed south today to ride at least half of the 26-mile Lehigh Gorge Trail.
The weather forecast called for a completely dry, breezy, and sunny day — “Fall-like,” I believe, was the phrase. The morning began cloudy and murky and much more humid than a typical Fall-like day, but we knew it would clear up. It was just a matter of time, as it always is around here.
We parked at the northern access area in White Haven, just south of the shopping center, and rode easily toward Rockport. The trail is wide, nicely surfaced with fine gravel, and in this direction slopes very gradually downhill. The river flowed further down in the gorge to our left, and spring green vegetation lined the trail on both sides. Every now and then we passed massive rock ledges on our right, and deep, cool grottoes that smelled of musty air and coal and damp earth. Small wooden signs at stream crossings indicated our current location — say, Sandy Run or Leslie Run — and gave mileages to the next, which was pleasant way to break up the trail into more manageable sections, and may be a good motivator for those less excited about a long ride or hike. We read about the railroad accident at Mud Run in 1888, learned about the locks that operated along the river as far back as the 1830s, and saw their stone remnants hidden among the trees.
Clouds dominated, though the sun was in and out of them all morning. We had originally planned to ride only to Rockport, almost the halfway point to the trail’s southern terminus at Glen Onoko. We could get a good feeling for the trail while leaving some for next time (and easing back into condition!). But we were still feeling strong and ambitious upon reaching Rockport, so we decided to continue on southward to the next interesting feature on the map: Penn Haven Junction. While we rested alongside the railroad tracks, we found a benchmark and enjoyed the sunshine, which was now strong and warm. Sixteen uphill miles waited for us on our return journey, and we were ready.
Somewhere along the seven-mile stretch back to Rockport, I heard thunder rumble softly. I said nothing, but Rich had heard it too. The sunny sky had turned dull silver in all directions, and soon I felt three distinct flecks of rain on my wrists and nose. It was drizzling by the time we got to the Rockport comfort station. We huddled underneath for cover, next to the foul-smelling lavatory, as the rain came down harder. It showed no signs of stopping, but the rain was still light enough that we could ride easily. That didn’t last long. Within a mile or so, the rain came harder than I have ever seen before. Even the trees offered no shelter, and we were soaked through to the skin. I could wring my gloves out every two minutes. My eyelids were brimming with rainwater and we had nothing dry to wipe it away. And it just kept coming and coming, harder and harder. When we didn’t think it was possible to rain any harder, and were about to set out again, there it came! It only took a few minutes for the trail (typically a very well-draining trail) to become covered with 2-3 inches of water.
We stayed beneath trees alongside the trail for a good half-hour altogether, eventually walking up the side of the trail in order to make some progress, but we finally just decided to ride through the rain. We couldn’t possibly be any wetter, and we didn’t know how long this storm might last. Riding actually felt slightly better than standing, except that the cold breeze (accentuated by the wind chill caused by riding) gave us leg cramps, so the last five miles or so were painful.
Of course, as soon as we got back to the car, the rain stopped and the sun came out. We started to clean the sand and clay and grit off our clothes and equipment and figure out how we were going to change into our fresh clothes, when it started to pour again, though the sun was still out. I recall sitting buck naked (halfway in the car, but in full view of the parking lot, trail, and the I-80 bridges, though I didn’t care) just trying to dry out enough so that I could pull my damned underwear on.
Could it be that karma again (see Mayhem at Blue Marsh Lake)? I can’t be sure, and I’m not saying another word.
We saved the best part of our day for last. What’s the best part? Well, typically it’s dinner, but this time it was dinner and an investigation into a very interesting tri-station — and these two activities turned out to be more intimately related than we could have expected.
Last night, a five-minute Google search yielded an interesting possibility for dinner in the White Haven area: a place called the Powerhouse Eatery. Reviews were excellent, for the most part, but what really intrigued us was the fact that the restaurant is housed in an old power station. We vowed to, at the very least, drive by and investigate.
A similar five-minute search for benchmarks had yielded something of interest to me: GREEN. I knew it was near White Haven, but having had no time to pore over the maps, wasn’t aware just how close it was to both the Lehigh Gorge Trail access point and the Powerhouse Eatery. I was thrilled to discover we were already in the neighborhood.
The tri-station description mentions the (now politically-incorrectly named) Pennhurst School for the Mentally Retarded. I mentioned this to Rich, who looked confused. That name didn’t ring a bell, he said; he had thought it was called the Jefferson Hospital. Idly looking at the topo map he had printed out, I suddenly understood where he had seen that name. So the establishment was a hospital in the 1940s, when the map was made, and had been turned into a home for the mentally challenged by 1958, when the mark was set. What would it be now? And, the thought crossed my mind, wouldn’t it be neat if the powerhouse had served the hospital complex?
After finally drying off and pulling on our fresh clothes, we drove to Powerhouse Road, just south along Route 940 from the trail parking area. It’s the first right after passing through the I-80 interchange. Signs guided us straight, toward the Eatery, but first we wanted to check out the roads up on the hill to the south. What organization now guards the tri-station? Since 1993, it’s been the Holy Protection Monastery. A drive along the lane circling past the complex revealed crumbling pavement but a collection of beautiful white buildings with red Spanish tile roofs, and a tall slender white cross on the hillside behind. (Could this have been the spot of the wooden star referred to in the benchmark description?) We were in no condition to make the trek today, nor to spend the time searching for the station and reference marks, but we have made it our goal for the near future. The thought of asking permission from the monks doesn’t bother us, particularly if they are the kind of monks who make beer.
But what was the connection to the powerhouse? All became clear when we finally arrived at the restaurant. Rooting around in the corner of the foyer while the hostess was trying to lead us to our table, Rich surfaced with a few cards inviting us to “Experience Our History.” I was glad to have our own copies, even though the restaurant provides a copy on each table, and the waitress drew our attention to it as soon as we sat down. We learned that the White Haven Sanatorium, the first establishment up on the hill, was founded in 1907 to help halt the spread of tuberculosis. Over the next three decades, as more patients entered the sanatorium, demand for electrical power rose to the point where a dedicated powerhouse facility was needed; in later years, Pierre Dupont himself donated an impressive sum in order to expand the plant. In the early 1940s, the sanatorium was donated to the Jefferson Medical College; hence the label “Jefferson Hospital” on the topographical map from that era. In 1956, once the threat of tuberculosis was all but over, the complex was sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was renamed Penn Hurst, and was used to provide care for the mentally challenged. Two years later, the tri-station was set.
The powerhouse, therefore, like the tri-station, is intimately connected with the history of the area. What a fabulous place for dinner! And we haven’t even gotten to the food yet.
Every single item we tasted was superb. Though no beers are available on draught, we found the list of bottled beers to be extensive. Rich chose the Black Dog Ale while I went with the Honey Raspberry. The oblong slices of homemade bread, still warm, were a delicious delight with a thin, crispy crust and chewy interior. Rich enjoyed the beef stew, thick and filled with meat and vegetables, while I chose the salad of mixed greens (no iceberg lettuce!), grape tomatoes, and a few thin slices of red onion, with balsamic vinaigrette and blue cheese crumbles. Our appetizer was next. We shared a portabello mushroom stuffed with sausage and red pepper, with a light coating of mozzarella cheese and just a touch of sweet marinara sauce. Then, with perfect timing, our waitress arrived with our entrees. My boneless duck breast with Bing cherry demi-glace was delicious, and it came with a very simple but flavorful portion of rice, couscous and barley. We both agreed that even the vegetables were outstanding! Instead of the typical waterlogged, microwaved baby carrot and cauliflower medley, we enjoyed a buttery mixture of fresh bi-color corn kernels, slices of lightly sauteed white onion, and fresh green peppers. Rich’s twin filet mignons with gorgonzola crust and marsala sauce were more than he could eat in one sitting, but we both agreed that they, too, were simple and deeply flavorful. Dessert, because we were stuffed, was a simple cup of espresso.
We talked and laughed quietly together about our day, and before leaving we examined the old postcards and photographs framed on the walls. The day was a true adventure, and I’m so happy that Rich and I could share it.
At night, all I recall before we collapsed in bed was sitting outside on the patio sipping another beer, when a ferocious wind suddenly began swirling the tree branches all around. I could feel more dampness in that wind, and we ran inside before it soaked us a second time. I couldn’t handle seeing one more drop of rain!