Cemeteries are truly the perfect place to sleep for the night (or forever), what with the peacefulness and access to water pumps, but Dravo Cemetery steps it up to make your night in the cemetery truly complete with providing space intended for “rustic” camping. If only more cemeteries would follow their lead to allow us to channel our inner metal/goth/zombie obsessed selves- but maybe it’s more of an adventure when you aren’t supposed to be there. (This is that moment where I wish I had access to my high school senior photos- but just try to imagine me in 2000 with hair down to my ass, wearing all black and sitting on the leaf covered ground in the cemetery with my cat or climbing the walls of a mausoleum barefoot in a dress. Apparently not much has changed.) If this set-up doesn’t already sound perfect, now let’s add this: it’s only accessible by bike or hike, it’s next to a river and it was established in the 1800s. There are vault toilets, a hand-pump for water, a few fire rings and tent pads. A dozen or so picnic tables are scattered around, a few of which are under a pavilion- perfect for hazardous weather.
I didn’t search “cemeteries to camp in” but rather I was looking for somewhere on the GAP trail that offered free rustic camping and was around 50 miles away, allowing me to get in a nice bike ride and camp for the night. It seemed all too perfect when I read:
Dravo’s Landing Primitive Campground
Mile post 124
Dravo’s Landing is directly behind Dravo Cemetery, six miles south of Boston Trailhead, one and one-half miles north of Buena Vista Trailhead – it is for trail users only – the campground is NOT accessible by car.
Free. Room for several tents, two fire rings, and two picnic tables. Permanent restroom facilities. Pump for well water.
I currently live near Mile Marker 72 in Ohiopyle, PA so 52 miles and getting to camp in a cemetery was perfect. So if you are looking for a fun ride to do from Pittsburgh or Ohiopyle and want to dream of zombie attacks- this one-two day trip is perfect.
I set out in the afternoon, loading my bike up with more than what was needed for a short trip to help train me for my bike tour to DC at the end of the month. En route I passed a dozen or so people, some out just to ride for the day, others on extended trips- their bikes loaded down with panniers, shoes and sleeping bags strapped down to racks. We nod and say hello and just keep riding. I spent my last 15 miles riding with a middle-aged couple (also from Michigan but spending their summer in Ohiopyle as campground hosts). Within a few minutes our similarities were stacking high. One of which included that they were also biking from Ohiopyle to the cemetery that day. The miles passed quickly as we talked about Michigan, bikes, bike touring, adventures in PA and their kids (who were around my age). It gives me hope for my future when I meet people a couple of decades older than me but still very active- they white-water kayaked almost daily and were doing this ride to the city.
All of the cliché things that are expected to happen in the cemetery made my night- well, no Night of the Living Dead scenes took place. Within an hour of arriving, the temperature changed drastically. The breeze ceased to exist, humidity began to rise and in with it came heavy fog that draped across the tombstones. The air became damp and thick with a storm following just behind it. The sun was close to hiding behind the horizon but still casting just enough light to see the bats flying above me. I stretched out across a picnic table and watched the bats swoop and dive for insects- their flight looks sporadic but it’s so tuned in, allowing them to hunt each insect down with their advanced echolocation. Nearby an Eastern screech owl began to call, it’s long whistle rising above the steady rhythms of the katydids. I felt accomplished and my surroundings were casting a serene display.
It didn’t take long for me to fall asleep, my slumber was deep and filled with complicated dreams. I awoke near 6am to the sounds of thunder and a demanding bladder. I scrambled out of my tent to quiet my bladder’s demands just before the clouds decided to empty their fluids as well. I was in no rush to return home and had planned for a ride in the rain for most of the day so I thought it best to at least wait for the thunder and lightening to pass. I drifted back to sleep and awoke with just enough time to pack up my tent and supplies before the heavy rains began again.
While filling my water bottles at the pump, a trio rolled up on their bikes, two men and a lady all in their 50s. We exchanged “good morning”s and they asked if I had slept here the night before. Enthusiastic about their ride, they told me that today was the annual That Dam Ride. I knew nothing of it, but it was a 69 mile ride most of which covered my route for the day. They then camp at the Dam in Confluence and ride back the next day. They encouraged me to to ride with them and pretend I was a part of the event so I could get lunch and snacks along the way. Perfect! Had I of known about the ride, I would have actually registered and participated but I couldn’t deny that this was a pretty solid arrangement. I didn’t ride with this trio, but within 10 miles, under the pouring rain I found myself chatting with another middle-aged rider. He told me he was doing the Dam ride as well and gave me some more details. We ended up riding the entire way to Ohiopyle together and covered various discussions on politics and the environment. He, too, had kids my age and was quite proud of their accomplishments as he should be. I always find that I get along with many of my friends’ parents really well and as we were riding it almost felt like I knew one of his kids and I was just hanging out with their dad. Conversations passed the time under a steady rain with the crushed limestone coating our bikes and ourselves. The conversations were both thought provoking and filled me with more knowledge of cycling in the region. We stopped in Connelsville for their lunch. They didn’t have as many people riding as expected due to the weather, so I didn’t feel bad snacking on bananas and peanuts while filling up my water bottles. (Let’s think of this as an exchange of me promoting your ride for the snacks that you fed me along the way, ok? Thanks!) As soon as I stopped riding, I started shivering. The steady rain and mid-60s temperature was ok for riding in, but stopping brought chills. We jumped back on our bikes, collecting more limestone grit and mud along the way. I waved goodbye in Ohiopyle, anxious to get home to a hot shower and a big bowl of vegan kale and white bean soup to warm my core.
The ride was an excellent taste of what I’ll be adventuring on starting this Wednesday as Jason and I bike from Braddock (Pittsburgh) to DC.