My first day on the Great Allegheny Passage out of Pittsburgh was Wednesday, 13 August. The drive from Boston to Pittsburgh in the rental car yesterday was awful. It rained heavily along the way, making progress slow. Late in the day I had a cup of coffee and a couple of donuts to keep me going until I arrived at the hotel at about 9:30 PM. I stayed at the Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham at 900 Chauvet Drive in Pittsburgh.
With the coffee buzz, it was difficult to get to sleep, but easy to get out of bed at 6:30 AM. It was raining lightly and I was concerned that I would be riding in the rain. The plan was to get something to eat at the hotel and drop off the rental car in the center of Pittsburgh. The hotel was comfortable and reasonably priced, but the breakfast was not enough to keep me going all morning. They offered no protein sources like eggs or yogurt. I packed up and left the hotel.
Plan B was to try a restaurant nearby. I found a Bob Evans and had breakfast. It was now 8:00 and still raining lightly.
Traffic into Pittsburgh center was heavy and moved very slowly. I kept thinking that I couldn’t live like this with a job in Pittsburgh center and a terrible commute. I arrived at the rental place at about 9:30. Of course, after I took the bike out of the car trunk and remounted the wheels, the fenders were out of alignment and I needed to make adjustments. I left the rental car place by bicycle at about 10:00 AM. The rain had stopped completely.
I returned my rental car to Hertz in Pittsburgh center near the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue. I began my ride by crossing the Hot Metal Bridge from the north side to the south side of the Monongahela River. The bridge is not the easiest thing to find. I asked directions several times before I was satisfied. People kept telling me to ride downhill on Bates Street toward the river. I didn’t like the prospect of riding downhill, finding that the directions were incorrect, and having to ride back uphill. Finally, I had faith and rode down. The bridge was there and had a ramp up to the pedestrian walkway.
Some people like to start the ride in Point State Park where the Allegheny, Ohio, and Monongahela rivers come together. It is an interesting oasis in the middle of the all of the streets and highways that seems chaotic at times. Besides getting to see the park, another advantage is that you get to a bicycle trail and off the Pittsburgh streets sooner. I tried to start there last year and couldn’t find the trail that crosses to the south side of the Monongahela on the Fort Pitt Bridge.
Since last year, I had forgotten that the first 20 miles of the ride out of Pittsburgh is largely industrial or post-industrial. I don’t feel that it is dangerous, but it is not scenic or peaceful. Many of the sites are post-industrial in the sense that there are many abandoned structures along the Monongahela and the northern part of the Youghiogheny. There is an information stop with a picture that shows what the Monongahela looked like in the early 1900s. I thought to myself, “We don’t clean up well after ourselves.” Businesses come and go and many times when they go we are left with their detritus because there is nobody left to clean up.
The weather turned partly cloudy and cool with no rain. Once through the town of McKeesport, the GAP trail follows the Youghiogheny River and offers some nice places to rest along the way. The slightly uphill grade is not noticeable on this segment of the trail. As you ride the trail you are treated to the sounds of the river rapids and the frequent waterfalls and runs flowing down the steep cliffs that line the river banks.
I arrived at the River’s Edge Campground near Connellsville at about 4:30 PM. There is another camping choice on the northern edge of Connellsville about 1.5 miles down the trail. It is a small park with a chemical toilet and a lean-to. I preferred the full-service campground. Besides, the River’s Edge has a small diner and tent sites near the Youghiogheny River. The diner has a limited menu, but adequate for a light dinner. I was able to set up my tent, shower, and eat comfortably.
In camp I met Ted and Becky, a retired couple riding a tandem with a trailer. Another couple, Scott and Delinda rolled in as I was pitching my tent. I first encountered them on the trail in McKeesport where they were having lunch. There was another solo adventurer, Brian, who was looking for a good place to hang his hammock.
I was in my tent by 9:15 and fell asleep. At about 10:00 there was a lot of rustling and whispering nearby. I didn’t think much of it and went back to sleep.