Fallingwater…And The Kindness of Strangers

While we were in Confluence, we discovered from the map that Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, was nearby. According to our calculations, all we had to do was ride 12 miles on the Great Allegheny Passage to Ohiopyle, then just another four miles to get to Fallingwater. We knew it would be hillier than the trail, but how bad could it be? HA!

I got tickets online the day before and the day after my birthday we headed out, giving ourselves plenty of time for our 3:00 PM tour and a picnic lunch. It was a Saturday and the trail and the river were busy with bicyclists and kayakers.  We got to Ohioplye just fine and headed up the road to Fallingwater. The first uphill stretch wasn’t too bad and we persevered. The next hill was longer and steeper uphill as we should have realized by our drive in to the campground with the eight and 10% grades. Doable in the bus, not so much on the bikes. We pushed the bikes uphill and then started to descend. OH. MY. GOD.

I have been down plenty of steep hills on my bike before but they didn’t go straight downhill for miles on end. You can’t use your brakes too much or you will heat up the rims and give yourself a flat. Jim said he didn’t let himself get over 30 MPH but I was too terrified preoccupied to even look at the speedometer. Just trying to stay upright, not go too fast and not kill myself or get a flat.

By the time we made it to Fallingwater, I was shaking all over. 35 MPH downhill for what-seemed-like miles was a little disconcerting. We walked the bikes into the parking lot and started investigating the grounds, which were extensive.

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There was a beautiful cutting garden and rhododendrons everywhere! Supposedly no photography was allowed inside the house but we saw people doing it anyway. I would have liked to but respected the rules. For once.

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Above pic from the Interwebs, scaffolding and people when we were there, above. Interior pics from the web too.
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We had a very good guide who explained the history and design of the house in a knowledgeable and unhurried manner. The descriptions of the way Frank Lloyd Wright dealt with the Kaufmans, the owners, was interesting. Apparently he was very dictatorial, positioning the house in a completely different place than the clients had anticipated. They thought they would have a view of the falls; instead he positioned it so the falls became an integral part of the house itself.  Steps from the living room descended into the stream above the falls, forming a little pool. The rock floors and walls brought the outdoors in and integrated the building into the site.

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Large boulders in the mountain itself anchor the back of the house, snugged into the rock face.  Wright had the furniture built right into the house, per his style, and dictated the colors of accessories throughout the house, although it was up to the Kaufmans to choose the textiles since they traveled extensively. Wright refused to build a garage, all practicality aside. Garages were pedestrian and not in his vision for his grandiose crowning jewel of 1930s architecture.

The guest house above the house appears to be part of the main house upon approach, sort of a spire or topknot. This was deliberately planned by Wright (of course!) and gave a taller, grander appearance. The whole afternoon was completely enjoyable and took our minds off the fact that we would be riding back on the bikes the same way we came. The downhills would just be in the opposite direction this time.

In the parking lot, on the way back to the bikes, we saw a couple and I said to the guy, “I don’t suppose you have a pickup truck, do you?” He said he did and was heading to Ohioppyle and would be happy to take us and our bikes back to the trail. WOO HOO!

But then his girlfriend reminded him that they were in her truck and it had two kayaks in the back. Oops! Back to the road. We were able to ride a little ways then had to start pushing the bikes uphill again. That is a lot of work. Not sure which is worse, plodding uphill or flying downhill. At almost the top of the first big hill, I looked back and an empty full size pickup approached. I stuck out my thumb just for the heck of it; I was resigned to walking and flying by this time. He drove by. Oh well. A few minutes later, we saw him coming back! He pulled off, turned around for us and said “You guys broke down?” I should have just said Yes. I’m sure these western Pennsylvania folks think it’s crazy to not ride the hills. Maybe if I was Lance Armstrong…

Anyway, he gave us and the bikes a ride back to the trail which took like two minutes, it seemed after the long slog in the other direction. We tried to give him some money but he refused. I was very grateful.

The 12 miles back to Ohiopyle were easy and uneventful. Mostly.
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3 comments on “Fallingwater…And The Kindness of Strangers

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