GAP Bicycle Tour 2013 Day One

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I awoke refreshed and ate a hearty breakfast. I usually have sausage, eggs, and chocolate milk. The meal was finished with a couple of sweet rolls and a cup of coffee.

The weather outside was very rainy. I loaded the bike, donned my rain gear and headed across the street to the park. I spent some time there enjoying the park and the rivers. From one corner of the park I could look back toward the hotel. I thought that I knew where the GAP trail started. My initial plan was to ride the eastern bank of the Monongahela from Point State Park since some of the maps seemed to indicate there was a trail there. I rode along the river and found that the path lead through stadium parking and came to an end. There were two or three homeless men wandering down there, which made me a bit uncomfortable. I doubled back to the park.

From the park I rode back toward the hotel and bore right on the surface streets toward the Monongahela. There are signs on the streets for other trails, but not for the GAP. I rode toward  the river until I came to the street that followed the river to the Hot Metal Bridge, which was referenced by some of my research material. It isn’t very far from Point Park and you can’t miss it. It is the first pedestrian bridge that you see and it is a major bridge. Cross the bridge and you see a nicely groomed trail and the first signs for the GAP.

As I rode south out of Pittsburgh, there was a lot of evidence of the past steel industry along the Monongahela. There are remains of docks and cranes that ones lined the edges of the river to support the steel mills along the banks. Various types of housing and condominiums occupy some of the old mill sites. The Homestead Labyrinth marks the spot of one of the mills near the location of a clash between the Pinkertons and steel workers in 1892 over labor rights. There are several artifacts and markers in this area that are interesting reading. Many of them document the historic beginning of the labor movement.

The GAP crosses the river in several spots on railroad viaducts that are converted to pedestrian paths. I stopped on one of them to watch a barge pass underneath and steam up the river. Long ramps lead to the bridge roadways so that it is convenient to pedal up, even with a 50 pound load.

Some of the trail in southern Pittsburgh and through McKeesport goes through industrial areas. I did not find these parts of the trail as intimidating as some of the trail reviewers. These are signs of past and present industry along the Monongahela. While these areas appear run down and shabby, the ride through them does not take very long. At McKeesport the trail turns to follow the Youghiogheny River. The rain stopped and it was just cloudy at this time. The trail disappears for a while and you ride city streets through residential and industrial areas. Just stay along the western bank of the river and you eventually come back to the GAP trail.

Once back on the trail, the scenery becomes very quiet and wooded. In many place the wooded hills rise to the right side of the trail and the Youghiogheny is on your left down the river embankment. Occasionally you pass a small stream flowing down the hill toward the river. There are many of these and the major ones are called “runs”. It’s a Pennsylvania term for a creek that runs down toward the river. There were several places where there was mineral rich seepage still coming from defunct mines.  That’s not necessarily a good thing since much of it ends up in the local rivers.

There was a group of GAP volunteers near Boston, PA, just south of McKeesport. They had tents set up with refreshments and t-shirts. The volunteers were all cyclists who live locally and work to maintain the trail in their spare time. The rains this year caused some wash outs and mudslides that have been repaired by this dedicated team of people. I lingered there because they were nice local people with some great stories and lore about the GAP and the railroad that once traveled the route. They talked about the coal mines south of Pittsburgh. The GAP trains carried the coal from mines along the Youghiogheny River to Pittsburgh to fuel the steel industry.

I stopped at a pretty park south of Boston to have lunch. There is a clean restroom and water there. It was a comfortable place to spend some time, eat a can of beans, and rest before the leg to the campground. I passed the Apache Springs Campsite where there was a hand pump with refreshing cool water. Another park that is worth a visit is the Cedar Creek Gorge. The creek flows down to the river through some interesting rock formations. The park opens up along the river and there is a great view of the Youghiogheny there. There were a number of rest stops along this segment of the GAP and I stopped frequently to rest and hydrate.

Early in the evening I arrived at the River’s Edge campground. When I made my reservation for the tent site they told me that there was a small store and a place to buy hamburgers on the grounds. That turned out to be a big hit with me. I was able to shower, relax, and eat a hamburger just a short walk from my tent. The facility caters mostly to recreational vehicles, but the tent site was great. It is on the river and the only downside was the train on the other side of the river. Trains rumbled through all night every hour or so. They were loud, but I didn’t have a problem sleeping. Sometimes you need to reset your mind in the middle of the night because it sounded like you were right next to the tracks.

In my efforts to prepare for Day 2, I caused a flat tire on my bike. I was checking the tire pressure on the rear tire and somehow punctured the tube near the valve stem. I took the time to change out the tube. I carry two spares for this kind of event. The puncture was near the stem and I didn’t think that a patch would work anyway. I pumped the tire up to 85 psi and reassembled the bicycle.

I was camped among a troop of Boy Scouts. They were very busy and noisy, but controlled. One of the adult leaders apologized to me and I told him that they didn’t bother me. This is part of the camping experience. Besides, they were not unruly or mean, just young boys playing.

I also met a pair of men from Detroit, Jeff and Ron, who were riding from Pittsburgh all the way to Washington DC. They had some mechanical problems. Ron had a bike rack with a bent frame. The frame was rubbing on the rear tire. It looked improbable that the rack could bent this way. He had two heavy panniers hung from it, but this type of rack is built for the load. He needed to find a way to temporarily mount the rack so that it was clear of the tire and hang the panniers on it for a trip to a bicycle shop. He deferred that job until the next morning.

As darkness fell, I retired to my tent for sleep. It took a while to fall off to sleep: the Boy Scouts were playing and there was a band playing in the RV park. The campsite fell quiet at around 11 PM.

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