September 13, 2018
It is pertinent to mention at this juncture, that a week prior to our trip, the entire area, especially Western PA—more specifically, the northern reaches of the GAP trail—had been inundated by the remnants of Hurricane Gordon (made landfall as a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico on September 4). By the 7th, 8th, and 9th, heavy rains had flooded many of the Westernmost GAP trail neighborhoods. We witnessed the aftermath of the flooding all along our route, primarily our first 4 towns, starting with Pittsburgh.
We rode straight along the GAP trail until we reached downtown, and we turned onto a busy city street that took us to the Convention Center and our tour guide, Dave of Bike the Burg tours. Allen and Mary probably knew this, since they set the whole trip up and did a lot of research beforehand—but Dave is an ex-Williamsburgher who had worked at Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and so there was much playing the “name game” amongst the Williamsburg folks. Since Jack and I had left the ‘Burgh long before Dave had gotten there, we didn’t know many College of William and Mary or other folks in common.
Anyway, he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Pittsburgher now, and was an excellent guide for us.
Much of what you might guess was on the tour were architectural and cultural buildings and areas. So I’m just going to show you a montage of our sights and sounds in the big city, and mention briefly what we saw in each area.
Our first stop-and-chat session was at a city park, across from a very posh hotel (The William Penn, built by Andrew Carnegie during the peak of the Steel Industry in Pittsburgh). The area was an interesting mixture of the old and the new, including one 1960s “futuristic” building that was being converted to apartments for more downtown living space.
Next we rode to the arts district where we saw an elderly cinema that has been renovated as a live theater venue, the opera house, and (most unfortunately) the building that houses the owner of the Mountain/Valley pipeline, EQT Corporation, at EQT Plaza in the deep downtown. Some of our group, from the western reaches of the Commonwealth of Virginia, had a mind to go over and take a leak on the structure, in visible protest of the pipelines running through our area of VA. But we restrained ourselves.
Near the center of town is the Downtown Market, which was alive with booths, fresh vegetables, truck vendors, and food of all styles and stripes.
There was one area Dave took us that appeared really quaint and artsy, like a Soho or Brooklyn before they became gentrified. It was called “The Strip.”
Dave assured us that the name had nothing to do with nudity or red lights—but he also said that whenever his brother came to town, they always came down to The Strip to check out the newest happenings in the most interesting part of the city. I’d go back there to spend some time, for sure. The photos I have of the area (we only stopped to get doughnuts from the sweet “Little Doughnuts” shop, and there was lots of construction going on around the church) don’t convey any of the interesting action we rode our bikes through, unfortunately.
The old Heinz buildings are near The Strip, and they have been renovated and restored, and are turning into more downtown living areas, hence the “Heinz Lofts” sign, bridging two of the buildings.
Pittsburgh also has a “thing” its doing with dinosaurs and fossils, to celebrate one of the many contributions to the city that the Carnegie family made: The Carnegie Museum of Natural History, whose core exhibition surrounds dinosaurs, 75% of are original fossils from one of the finest paleontological collections in the world. Several of the skeletons, including Diplodocus carnegii are holotypes: the original specimens upon which their species are based.
As with Berlin’s Bears and Blacksburg’s Turkeys, artists were invited to take a sculptural representation of a dinosaur species and decorate it. Because Heinz was another iconic name in Pittsburgh, one artist decided to turn a Triceratops into a Heinz ketchup bottle.
Pittsburgh has many may bridges — not only those spanning waterways, but also counting those carrying interstates across and around the city: 446 to be exact. More than any other city in the world, including Venice.
We crossed many on our bicycles, some twice, but did not cover them all (thankfully). Our next stop took us across the Allegheny River to view the city from the opposite side, and to visit the Pittsburgh Pirates home field, PNC Park. When the team isn’t practicing or playing in town, they open up the park for visitors and fans to just stroll or ride their bicycles through. It was a pretty impressive showcase for America’s Game.
We crossed back over the river to The Point, which is actually a PA State Park. It usually sports a fountain and a whole lot more folks enjoying the open space where the two rivers (Monongahela and Allegheny) join forces to create the Ohio. But remember Gordon? The storm had layered the entire Point with mud, so they had to shut down the fountain, and they were still working to clear out the mud when we were there. The plaque reads: “Point of Confluence; Point of Conflict; Point of Renewal.”
From there, we could see the Steeler’s stadium; a strange circular monument to Mr. Rogers (another famous Pittsburgher); and the 1877-vintage Duquesne Incline (also closed due to Gordon), which many of us had hoped to ride up to Mt. Washington (on the other side of the Monongahela) to view the city from the highest point around.
At the literal point of the city, the State Park is a favorite lunch spot for the many business people working in the downtown area, at least in good weather and without the mud. But we had fun wandering around.
Our final city stop, besides grabbing lunch with our guide, was another center-city square, busy with shoppers, tourists, and business people. It was obviously a more modernized section of the city, with interesting buildings sporting reflective surfaces. The square was dotted with globes and a central fountain area where visitors (children?) could actually walk in the water if they so desired, which seemed a strange contrast to all the folk in business attire. We also saw more of the decorated dinosaurs. We were close to the convention center where the tour business was located, and over lunch we discussed our next plan (since so many of the options that Allen had researched for us to choose among were closed up) and the route homeward.
Of the many options Allen had painstakingly researched for us, many were closed, others rather too far away, since we’d taken quite a long ride around the city already (see bike stat totals below) even though Dave had suggested we’d only ride about 8 miles (it was more like 16 in town). So the majority elected to see if we might be able to find the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, even though it was close to 3PM by this time, and it closed at 5.
After getting thoroughly lost several times, we finally followed a kind Pittsburgh cyclist who was going our way, and climbed and climbed and climbed some more up to the spot.
As a quick aside, we found the majority of city residents and drivers to be very kind and accommodating to our group and our occasional lack of cohesion and direction. The folks we met were unvaryingly patient with us, and I feel this is somewhat unusual for city dwellers. Another gold star for Pittsburgh.
Anyway, we at last made it to the Gardens, but due to the late hour we elected not to pay the entry fee to get into the Victorian Glass houses where all the tropicals and unusual specimens were. Still, it was a lovely respite and well-appreciated after all the climbing.
We rolled back downhill and zipped back across the “Hot Metal Bridge,” so named because in 1901 when it was built, it allowed transport of hot iron from the blast furnaces on the northern side of the Monongahela River to the open hearths on the south side; then for the movement of steel ingots back to the rolling mills on the north side. Today, after a $10 million renovation project to allow bikes and pedestrians safe access along with the traffic below, it is the major artery connecting GAP trail tourists to downtown.
Once we got back out of the city and on the GAP trail proper, we motored on back to West Homestead for our final night at the terminus end of the GAP—we raced (and beat) the rain that was threatening what had been a beautiful day.
Tomorrow: From Homestead to West Newton, PA.
- Ride time: 2:22
- Distance: 28.2 miles
- Average speed: 11.9MPH
- Fastest speed: 23.75MPH
- Ascent: 660
- Descent: 666