No Wrong Plan: Day 1 – Pittsburgh to Connellsville via the GAP Trail

You could ride from Pittsburgh to DC on roads. Since none of us is named Contador or Chiapucci or Lemond, we decided to do our tour on the car free trails of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal National Park.

Before we started we headed out for breakfast with Earl and Anne, my old Boston friends who relocated to the ‘Burg, Earl’s hometown. It being Mother’s Day the line at Pamela’s, our restaurant, was long so we didn’t get rolling until noon. We began at Point State Park directly across the street from our hotel. It’s the Point because the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers forms a point where the form the Ohio River. It has nothing to do with Harry Nillson or a dog named Arrow.

After some picture taking we headed out and immediately came to a disagreement about where the trail was. Ryan insisted it ran directly along the Monongahela River. Kevin and I recalled that Dave, our shuttle driver, said that it ran up the Boulevard of the Allies and then turned over the Hot Metal Bridge. Ryan insisted he was right but followed us up the Boulevard. We followed signs and soon cross the river, on the wrong bridge. What a way to start a tour!

Fortunately, we found a trail on the southside of the river, cleverly named Southside, and rode toward DC. After many bumps and a few odd detours we found the Hot Metal Bridge and signs for the GAP. Yay!

And we were on our way. Earl had given us a blow by blow of the ride out of town. Condos, a waterpark, big box stores paying minimum wage with no benefits now stood where steel mills with good paying steel worker jobs once lined the river. Soon we were clear of Pittsburgh and on our way to McKeesport about which I know next to nothing other than a goofy comedy routine by a comedienne named Donna Jean Young. (If you get that cultural reference you are hopelessly old.)

McKeesport featured abandoned mills and factories with weed filled parking lots lined by chain linked fences. So sad. In odd contrast, at one point on the trail we came upon a traffic light for bikes.

Once out of McKeesport, the paved trail gave way to an unpaved surface covered with a thing layer of finely crushed limestone. The ride began to take on the character it would have for the next several days. Trees and shade. Rivers. Train whistles. Mountains, often with rock faces and waterfalls. The crunch of our tires in the limestone grit on the trail. The chatter among us abated, replaced by reflection.

Pedal, pedal.

Breathe.

Feel the breeze on your face.

Hear it in your ears.

A bright orange songbird flits across the trail in front of me.

So relaxing. Later I write in my notebook: “Pure meditative bliss.”

We pull into West Newton hungry and eat at the Trailside Restaurant. It’s a good name because it’s right on the side of the trail. Clever.  It has a bike shop beneath it and a liquor store in back. We eat sandwiches and then head back out.

We roll with little effort up the gentle grade to Connellsville, about 200 feet above and 60 miles from Point State Park. We move with purpose to make sure we score a free camping spot near town.

Not only do we get the camping spot but it has Adirondack shelters, three sided wood structures. A pit toilet is also provided but no showers. I take the floor of a shelter with my sleeping bag and pad. Kevin hangs his hammock tent across the opening. Ryan sets up his new tent on the ground alongside.

A homeless looking man who coughs a lot occupies another shelter. A creepy guy riding with a backpack and a water bottle hanging off his side occupies yet another. He has a small thick cross on a chain hanging on his chest. Creepy guy comes over to chat. Asks us, “What’s the weather like tomorrow, brother.” We get an uncomfortable vibe. We decide he is a meth addict who will kill us in our sleep. He becomes “Meth Man”.

After he leaves Kevin and I head to the shopping center next door for pizza, ice, and several gallong jugs of water. We use the water and ice to fill our bottles with much needed cold water. Some of the water becomes bath water, much needed with so much limestone grit all over us. The pizza disappears without much effort.

We sleep an honest sleep despite noisy birds and trains clanging together into the night. Meth Man doesn’t kill us. All is well after our long day of riding.

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Lots more pictures in my Flickr album.

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5 thoughts on “No Wrong Plan: Day 1 – Pittsburgh to Connellsville via the GAP Trail

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