Listen to: Hurst Reading and Riding


As a cycling enthusiast who enjoys all three of the
“disciplines” of riding offered within this region – road biking, mountain
biking and rail-trail riding – I occasionally consider their special
attractions and differences.


Roadies love the scenery and embrace the challenging hill
climbs that are unavoidable here. Mountain bikers test themselves and their
equipment over rock- and log-strewn terrain. Devotees of both groups consider
rail-trails to be boring. (These are generalizations, of course.)


Other than tending to agree that road- and mountain-bikers
are a little crazy (another generalization), rail-trail riders are rather
difficult to categorize. Some love long-distance riding experiences, others use
a local trail daily, while many are very casual riders out for an outing with family
or friends.


But rail-trails do offer one very special attribute that
makes this riding experience unique among the disciplines: interpretive


Because they are built upon old railroad beds, rail-trails
cut through our Allegheny Mountains terrain in
ways that roads and single-track do not. They tend to follow river and creek
valleys, provide access to relatively remote places and reveal much about our
natural heritage.


These same rivers, creeks and railroads were the primary
transportation ways for centuries, so they also connect a lot of history.
Rail-trail operators and fans know this and have produced a pile of
interpretive signs and guidebooks that explore some their trails’ natural and
cultural heritage.


Yet even amid the growing number of trail guidebooks, Ben
Moyer’s “The Observant Visitor’s Trail Guide to the Youghiogheny Gorge” is
worthy of special consideration. That’s because Moyer, who lives in Farmington, is a skilled
and engaging writer (frequently published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and
national magazines) who also is quite knowledgeable about nature and history.


Going against the grain of cyclists who focus upon how fast
and far they can ride, Moyer challenges bicyclists to slow down and experience
the stories that rail-trails can tell. Picture, for example, this scene at mile
marker 65 of the Great Allegheny Passage:


The rocky slope above
the trail here is like a battlefield after a violent clash, except that this
battle has “raged” for hundreds of thousands of years – and continues even now.
The boulders, some big as cars, are casualties in the long “war” between
hardened bedrock and the persistent power of water and weather.


Long ago, these
jumbled rocks were part of a solid bed of stone that lay within the innards of Laurel Ridge
somewhere far above your head. Over thousands of years, the river gnawed at the
rock bed, while rain, frost and thaw wore at its edges and widened its cracks.
As the river cut deeper it scattered the bedrock fragments across the slope in
its wake, like fallen heroes after a fight.


In addition to narratives keyed to mile markers, Moyer adds
thoughts and perspectives to existing interpretive signs. There also are
full-color photographs showing certain wildflowers and characteristics of a
tulip poplar, which is a common tree within the profiled section.


Sadly, Moyer’s “Observant Visitor’s Guide” only covers that
portion of the Great Allegheny Passage between Ohiopyle and Confluence from
mile markers 62 to 71. However, Ben told me the 16-page, pocket-sized
publication is an experiment – if it sells, perhaps more will follow.


Priced at $4.50, “The Observant Visitor’s Trail Guide” is
available from stores and shops around Confluence and Ohiopyle and from the
author, by writing to Raven Rock Books, P.O. Box 223, Farmington,
PA 15437.
For more information, e-mail


Our ridges offer plenty of challenges for those who want a
good hard ride, whether on the road or single track. But to really experience
all that the Alleghenies have to offer, sometimes we need to stop, get off the
bike and read a good booklet.