I have a certain love for exploring abandoned man-made things. I think they are fascinating—rusty metal, crumbling concrete, smashed windows. The ruin, the decay, and most importantly, nature once again taking over. One of the coolest “abandoned stuff” experiences I’ve had occurred yesterday, when my friend Jeff and I rode our bikes along a section of the old Pennsylvania Turnpike. This 13-mile stretch of road near Breezewood was bypassed in 1968 in favor of a newer route that did not require the use of tunnels, which had been causing a lot of bottlenecked traffic issues on the old road.
Approximately 9 miles of the old turnpike are accessible to ride/hike/explore. The other few miles are on private land and are blocked from access. A Pike 2 Bike friends group has plans in the works to repave part of the old highway and put some form of lighting in the tunnels to create a “safer” environment for users, but I’m really glad we got to enjoy and experience this unique area in its current, raw state, before those changes take place. The fact that it is currently completely unimproved and all has been left to nature and graffiti artists is what makes it so interesting.
Jeff and I headed to Breezewood in the mid-afternoon, after I was done with work. It was a dreary day—perfect weather to accompany the post-apocalyptic landscape. We parked in a pull-off along Rt. 30, climbed a small hill, and found ourselves on the old turnpike.
It was all I had imagined—crumbling asphalt, grass and trees growing in the median, faded white and yellow pavement markings. It was hard to imagine cars whizzing by on this strip of land. Before long, we were at the first tunnel. We started through without our lights on, and could already see the light at the end of the tunnel, a tiny dot in the distance. We still didn’t turn our lights on. It was a very odd and thrilling feeling, to ride in the darkness towards that tiny dot of light. I had no idea what was in front of me. There could be an enormous pothole, an animal, an obstacle, a dead body. I’d never know until I hit it. But there was none of that, and we made it out the other side without incident.
After the first tunnel, we entered into Buchanan State Forest, and noticed several trails crossing the old road—opportunities for more exploration on a return trip sometime.
At the second tunnel, we took a side path up to the top, above the ceiling of the actual roadway, into rooms that housed enormous fans that provided ventilation in the tunnel. From there, we discovered another tunnel on the upper level, running directly above the roadway. There were remnants of a rail line on one side, presumably used for the transport of building materials or repair supplies into the depths of the tunnel.
This second tunnel, known as the Sideling Hill Tunnel, was considerably longer than the first—our guess is that it’s at least a mile long. When we entered, we couldn’t see the light at the end. In fact, we couldn’t see the light at the end for quite some time as we pedaled our way through it, once again without lights. For a little while, there was a tiny bit of illumination from behind. But then it disappeared, and we couldn’t see a thing. With no light ahead to act as a frame of reference, I felt myself beginning to swerve from side to side. Jeff said he was doing the same thing, and it’s a wonder we didn’t collide into each other, or into the walls of the tunnel. I almost freaked out and turned my light on a number of times, but with encouragement from Jeff, I convinced myself not to. Finally, we saw some strange lights ahead, and realized we were seeing the reflection from the light at the other end on the roof of the tunnel. The passageway was slightly convex—uphill for the first half, downhill for the second—and that’s partially why it took us so long to see the light at the other end. That too finally appeared, and we once again emerged unscathed.
The end of the rideable portion of old turnpike came shortly after the long tunnel. We got to a large mound and a small wire fence, which we hopped over to take a look down at the other side. There was a steep drop down to a newer back road, but the old roadway continued on the other side. However, it was blocked off with “Private Road” signs—-we were bummed. So, we turned around and headed back the way we came as the sky grew dark and the air grew cold.
This time, we turned our lights on in the tunnels, illuminating walls of graffiti and a smooth road mostly spared from the elements–which was a good thing considering our previous light-less adventure. We also discovered one of the most interesting finds of the day—an opening in the concrete wall of the tunnel through which we could see the bedrock of the mountain.
As we continued back to the car, we could hear the deteriorating asphalt moving ever so slightly under our bicycles, a sound that was similar to that of riding on a flat tire. I kept looking down to see if a tube had been punctured on a bit of broken glass, but no, it was just the asphalt. We finished quite some time after dusk, riding in the dim twilight for a while before turning our lights back on again for the last stretch.