Day 1: GAP Trail, Pittsburgh, PA to Connellsville, PA

Departure day was here. Today we would pedal into places we had never been before. Today we will became men. 

John, Kevin, and I scurried around our hotel room gathering our stuff and organizing our panniers. I think we were ready to get started. I know I hadn’t slept well the night before because of the anticipation mixed with excitement and anxiety. I knew once I got out of the trail and felt the flow of the ride I would be just fine.

Before we pedaling toward certain death, we planned to meet a couple of John’s friends from college, Earl and Anne. They took us to breakfast at a place called Pamela’s Diner. It was Mother’s Day so the diner was packed with families taking “Mom” out of breakfast. I’ll be honest, I was feeling like the morning was getting away from us a little bit. I was getting anxious as time ticked away as we waited for a table. Eventually, it was all worth it. Pamela’s Diner is the type of old school diner I love. It’s doesn’t try to look old, it is old. It just had a vibe that settled me down once we sat down and ordered food.

Earl and Anne were excellent breakfast hosts as they told us about how Pittsburgh had changed over the years, bike lane wars, and what we could expect to see on our way out of town. Once my crepe pancakes, bacon, and coffee were placed in front of my pie hole I was even happier. The breakfast was fantastic!!!! After finishing breakfast I think everyone realized it was past 11 AM and we still needed to check out of our hotel so we hightailed it out of there.

We said our goodbyes to Earl and Anne, grabbed our bikes, and applied chamois butter to our sensitive parts. So long Wyndham Grand, next stop The Nation’s Capital.

We pedaled out to the fountain which sticks out where the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela Rivers converge. This was our Mile 0. We found a nice couple to take our picture before we rolled out.

Mile 0 of the #nowrongplan journey

Mile 0 of the #nowrongplan journey

I had heard that the first parts of the trail were difficult in terms of wayfinding. I had looked at the trail guidebook the night before and knew we supposed to run along the near side of the river and across the Hot Metal bridge. As we left I intially took a couple of wrong turns but at the last second I saw the unmarked turn which took us right down along water just like the guidebook showed. However, true to it’s name #nowrongplan continued on through a gap, into a parking lot, and onto the Pittsburgh streets. I knew we were headed the wrong way. As I protested our current course and my anxiety rose I suddenly realized this is #nowrongplan.

Are we generally headed in the right direction? Roger.

Do I see signs on the street pointing us towards the trail? Affirmative.

Would we figure this out eventually? Yes.

So I rolled with it. There was no point in anxiety, this was supposed to be fun. We followed the signs pointing us toward the trail, crossing the Smithfield Street bridge. Now on the south side of the river, we took the very rough and difficult to navigate Three Rivers Heritage Trail until we ran into the Hot Metal Bridge. We have found the trail!!!

Hey Pittsburgh, if your listening, you need to put some better signage on the Great Allegheny Passage Trail. If you could do that, it would be super helpful, ok. Thanks.

We found the trail!!!! Photo by John Pickett

We found the trail!!!! Photo by John Pickett

As we headed out of town we experienced what this region used to be and what is it now. During the peak of this country’s industry output, the steel industry lined up along the Monongahela River, as well as others, to utilize its resources. The prosperity of our country was built on the back of this region. Today, thanks to cheaper competitors and feckless politicians, the steel industry has largely disappeared in this area. Today, it is lined with chain restaurants, apartment housing, sparse offices, and the decaying remnants of the regions history.

The industry remains on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. Photo by The DCyclist via GoPro

The industry remains on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. Photo by The DCyclist via GoPro

After leaving Pittsburgh, the first town we passed was McKeesport. Evidence of failed industrial redevelopment experiments with half finished warehouses and vacant gravel fields were everywhere.

Half finished and decaying warehouses in McKeesport, PA. They are don't want you leaving the trail. Photo by The DCyclist via GoPro

Half finished and decaying warehouses in McKeesport, PA. They are don’t want you leaving the trail. Photo by The DCyclist via GoPro

As we got outside of Mckeesport the trail turned from pavement to a crushed limestone surface. The trail surface wasn’t the only thing changing. The landscape had gone from city to industry decay to picturesque rural setting. The Great Allegheny Passage Trail is built on old railroad beds. Consequently, it avoids steep grades, choosing the land along rivers as it’s route. This also means it often runs close to and/or across the river from very active existing rail lines. While the steel industry may have died, the rail transportation network is alive and well. The sound of train whistles was often heard. At first it was a strange sensation to hear these whistles. Quickly, the sound of trains whistles and the clickety clack sound of car passing down the tracks became comforting as if I was traveling through time.

The city gave way to this!!! Photo by The DCyclist via GoPro

The city gave way to this!!! Photo by The DCyclist via GoPro

About halfway to Connellsville, we stopped for lunch at the Trailside Restaurant in West Newton, PA. As the name suggests, the restaurant was next to the trail along with a bike shop for any of your repair needs. John, Kevin, and I discussed how we were doing so far over burgers and chicken wings. All systems were a go!!!!! With late afternoon approaching we quickly finished lunch and got on our way.   

All alone with nothing but my thoughts. Photo by The DCyclist via GoPro

All alone with nothing but my thoughts on the GAP Trail. Photo by The DCyclist via GoPro

The early part of the week was usually hot for May with temperatures reaching into the low 90s. Since we got a late start, we ended up riding during the hottest portion of the day. I had yet to experience this kind of heat this year and it really started to effect me. The another thing that hurt was my butt. This would become a theme of my ride and a game I would play but more of that topic in a future post.

As the day slowly gave way to night, we pedaled into Connellsville exhausted from the heat. As we came into town we found what I had seen in the guidebook: Adirondack shelters. This would be our home for the night.

As luck would have it, this camp was located behind a shopping area with a 24-hour grocery store and a pizza place. John and Kevin went to pickup some much needed water and sustanance with cheese while I stayed behind to watch our stuff and setup my tent. It was at this point I realized we were not alone. There appeared to be a homeless man with a really bad hair cut and a bike in one shelter. About 10 minutes later, other gentlemen on a mountain bike showed up and took the other shelter.

The gentlemen on the mountain bike came over and chatted with me briefly. He was a strange fellow. I couldn’t put my finger on it but something was just “off” about him. Pony tail, tattoo, and a huge cross hanging around his neck. I noticed huge burn scars on his hands from past, or present, drug use. Not sure if he was high or just strange but I was somewhat uncomfortable. Soon after, Kevin and John returned with two gallons of waters and a fresh pizza which was devoured in minutes. Our strange neighbor came back over to meet John and Kevin. The strangeness continued. At one point he asked me about Washington, DC and if it was worth visiting which I really didn’t know how to answer. It turned out he was not a townie, in fact he was heading northward after crossing Pennsylvania but I can’t remember where. When he asked me about visiting DC acting like he might just make a quick detour to check it out. Dude, its about 280 miles away!!!! This guys was definitely the epitome of #nowrongplan or #noplan. I’m not sure which.

After our visitor left, Kevin, John, and I discussed our take on our temporary neighbor. Hence, the Legend of Meth Man was born!!!!! Meth Man would continue to reappear for days but more on that in future posts.

John and Kevin's home away from home in Connellsville, PA, Day 1. I pitched my tent nearby. Photo by The DCyclist

John and Kevin’s home away from home in Connellsville, PA, Day 1

Overall my ride for Day 1 was fine. I was tired and hoped I would begin to feel stronger as the tour progressed. Maybe tomorrow I would remember to put sunscreen on above my knees which looked like a ripe tomatoes. Only 275 more miles to go as long as Meth Man doesn’t try to kill us in the middle of the night.


Day 2: GAP Trail, Connellsville, PA to Meyersdale, PA and the Return of Meth Man


One thought on “Day 1: GAP Trail, Pittsburgh, PA to Connellsville, PA

  1. Pingback: Day 0: Getting to Pittsburgh to Start the GAP/C&O Tour | The DCyclist

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