Monday, July 1, 2013

The Great Allegheny Passage

Sunrise over Maryland rest stop high in the mountains on way to start of ride

Riders organizing their stuff in Cumberland before we are bused to Pittsburgh

Two trails start here: the CO canal goes 200 miles east and south to DC (thus the mule used to pull barges) and the GAP going north and west. This is the train station for the eastern terminus of the Western Railroad whose path we will take

Pittsburgh as we crossed the Monongahela on the Hot Metal Bridge

Hot Metal Bridge  Yes it was very hot

One of the many bridges we crossed that day over the Youghiogheny. I think this is in McKeesport

Waterfall along the trail once we got into the green area. Should have stopped for the all rust fall
The official name for this ride was The Greenways Sojourn, not very catchy. We left our cars in Cumberland MD and were bused up to the start in downtown Pittsburgh at Point Park in the Golden Triangle where all three rivers converge. Old Fort Duquesne is there along with a very nice water fountain which I wished I took a photo of. I was antsy to finally begin the ride after numerous delays.

I had a hard time sleeping the night before. Did I pack everything? (No you didn't Sue: one pair of sox for the week ? Where was the razor for the rider stimulating growth?) Will I wake up in time? (yes and even earlier). Will I get lost again? Will the car break down?

I took off at 4am for a 140 mile ride. Soulmate had packed me breakfast to go and all I had to do is hit a button for coffee. Alas when I went down to retrieve my coffee, it was just clear hot water and I  had no time to start over. Maybe somewhere on the way I could stop? As I did have a time cushion, I stopped at a hotel lots of riders stayed in with  coffee in the lobby and a nice bathroom. There was no place else (and I looked).

Our buses were late. Between packing them and unpacking and loading up trucks, it was high noon when we finally started our ride in Downtown Pittsburgh. They provided a sack lunch. I opted to eat it a bit at a time at rest stops keeping in mind the 90 degree heat was causing it to go bad fast.

I hadn't been in Pittsburgh since Soulmate was in med school there. It has a pretty downtown with lots of bike paths along the waterfronts, which led to confusion as to which of the many paths should we be on anyway. I went to my first opera there at the ornate Heinz Hall. Many happy memories! We rode on city streets for a mile then onto a river path then over the river to where the GAP, 4 or 5 miles later, officially begins. I was riding The Fatty, my rental bike for the week. It is much nicer than my own bike but it had fairly narrow tires that did not do well in loose gravel and through thick mud. Also the seat was very high, which I could not gracefully clear dismounting. I guess I could have lowered it. Maybe my inseam wasn't 32 inches as I told them. Also no odometer and very little mileposts so I had no idea how much farther I had to go other than to ask other riders. Really good brakes (that I had taken some extra hard stops with during the learning curve) and much easier to shift gears using the thumb to downshift and the next finger to upshift. But on pavement, I was speedy, which we had for the first 20 miles. Downside: no shade and it was incredibly hot. Along the south shore of the M river, birders gather to watch for eagles. A lady had one in her scope. Should have taken a picture of that.

We were now riding in Steel Valley, home of shuttered steel mills. I had gone there in the 60s to stay with a pen pal I had met in Florida in McKeesport. I remember being driven through Homestead, which was dark with steel mill activity during the day, home of the Carnegie Steel Mills and site of the Battle of Homestead where 16 deaths occurred to labor unrest. We went by Kennywood, which my hosts took me to for my first rollercoaster ride. And we probably went by a water park on the Yough that we also had visited with zip lines going into the river. It has since closed but there were several places it might have been. Steel Valley was unbearably hot and stinky. Going by decaying mills was not that interesting. But soon the trail morphed from Steel to Coal and we were in the shade and on gravel. Plaques discussing coal disasters instead. Waterfalls by the side of the trail and some weird rock formation, called The Post Office in which the cliff was left with honeycombs. I was too tired to stop as I now had been up 12 hours with miles more to go.

We eventually made it to Whitsett, a 'coal patch' town filled with company housing (not deluxe) and not much else.We camped on the edge of a dusty baseball field.  I was tired. On gravel, there is no coasting. We were also going slightly uphill the first day (all uphill the rest of the trip increasing the slope each day before we were treated to a screaming downhill on the last). We showered in a shower truck which was late to open as the Fire Department was out dealing with a fatality. So to dinner all sweaty. Some had jumped in the nearby river. But dinner was a tasty BBQ and my companions were friendly and we just had that joint adventure. Extra bonus: free beer! All was good. I fell deep asleep well before sunset. My new sleeping pad is especially comfy. Below are not my photos of the Post office and the Rust falls.As they are from the GAP website, hopefully I won't get some nasty cease and desist notice I got before

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