Point State Park, Pittsburgh.

Day 11: Pittsburgh to Cleveland

6/13/15: 117 miles, Pittsburgh, Pa., to Middlefield, Ohio

Awoke to a steady drizzle coming through downtown Pittsburgh. Last night was the first night I’d partied like a rock star on the trip, and boy I felt it. With nothing else to do but pack and go, I made coffee and waited for the rain to stop. Got out early before my Airbnb hosts got up, about 8 a.m.

Saturday morning in Pittsburgh, post-rain. Silence and hills. And there it was, emerging from the fog, to remind you of all the well-educated brain cells you’ve punished: The Cathedral of Learning at University of Pittsburgh.

Cathedral of Learning.

Cathedral of Learning.

I made my way downtown to Point State Park, where the three rivers converge. Grey sky didn’t make for the photos I hoped, but I ended up talking with a dozen or so separate couples preparing to ride to DC. Including a couple from Chicago, who noticed one of my water bottles and asked if I lived there.

Point State Park.

Point State Park.

I rode by Heinz Field and PNC Park where the Steelers and Pirates play, and plodded along the Ohio River on one of the city’s trails. A few miles later, it spit me out on Pittsburgh’s streets near a big jail—Riverside Community Corrections Center. That a bike path squeezed by this massive, ghostly compound suggested the city’s determination to extend the Ohio River Trail, which only had so many options. On one side is a river, and industrial neighborhoods on the other.

Inmates shouted at each other inside the jail. I could hear them standing outside. Hungover, marveling at this place, grateful I wasn’t there, it seemed like an oversight that I could just easily ride up to this place and into the parking lot if I wanted.

The slammer.

The slammer.

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The guys I met at the bar last night advised me on the best route out of Pittsburgh, and somehow I remembered: Follow the McKees Rocks Bridge over to PA-51, onto Neville Island to avoid a big climb, and follow PA-51 to PA-18 into New Castle. Much of the ride laced me through a few nasty climbs through old Pittsburgh neighborhoods, not all unlike Cleveland’s Flats with an Appalachian flavor. Once I got out of downtown, the riding wasn’t bad, considering the industrial Rust Belt landscape along the Ohio River.

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I stopped near the towns of Aliquippa and Coraopolis, industrial towns clinging to life, and caught some shots of this abandoned building on the side of the road.

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The route brought me into Beaver County, Pa., which I have to give a big thumbs up. The roads weren’t great, but the views of all the Ohio River communities from bridges—Monaca, Rochester, New Brighton—were worth it. Towns that could easily be in a Normal Rockwell painting.

Bridges.

Bridges.

And just like that, I found myself in the middle of the Happy Days Car Cruise hot rod show in Beaver Falls, Pa. I got few weird looks as the loaded bike riding among choppers and classic cars, but once I stopped for a gyro and lemonade, a few folks asked me about the bike and where I was going.

Happy Days Car Cruise, Beaver, Pa.

Happy Days Car Cruise, Beaver, Pa.

I don't know much about cars, but these are sweet.

I don’t know much about cars, but these are sweet.

It was about 2 p.m., humid, in the mid 90s. I wasn’t much for putting in a long day, though it got to the point when I had to start figuring out where I would stay tonight. Looked at the map, and Ohio was within striking distance. Most of the campsites near Youngstown were a good 20 miles into the state and not really on the way to my folks’ place in Geauga County. Meh, I thought. Let’s get to Ohio and figure it out.

PA-18 took me north to New Castle, where the road looked like this for 15 miles. Not bad.

Once in New Castle, I stopped at a gas station for Gatorade and gummy bears. A guy named Jeff in a truck asked me about my trip, and he said he was a cyclist, too. Had done some touring, but as a local truck driver, he lamented his long days and lack of momentum to get on a riding schedule. I encouraged the guy to get back at it, that he’d be beating everyone on the couch even if it’s one day a week.

The last 10 miles from New Castle to Ohio were on a paved bike path I never heard of, according to the fellow Drunkcyclists from last night. And after a bit of meandering through idyllic rolling farm country, indeed, they were right.

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Welcome to Ohio.

Welcome to Ohio.

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As I expected, the trail condition turned from smooth pavement to unmaintained asphalt with weeds and tree roots buckling the path. Couldn’t wait to get back on a road, even if it was a shitty Youngstown road.

I’d never been to the first town, Lowellville, Ohio, where people were playing corn hole and hanging out in the town square.

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Now that I was in Ohio, about 6:30 p.m. with 70-some miles covered, with plenty of daylight, I decided to pull the trigger and make it a century to my parents’ farm, about 45 more miles away. Yeah, I’d be coming in at dark, but with a set of dynohub lights I had’t really tested at night, this would be a good chance to try them out. Once I’d get within 20 miles or so, I would be on familiar roads, so I wouldn’t need to navigate. And with almost two weeks off the bike coming up, I wanted to see how I’d feel (and see if I could ride) after 100+ miles. So I did.

I won’t wax poetic on how run-down Youngstown is, except that it gives Detroit a run for its money. But there are signs of life downtown with bars and restaurants. There was even a Pride street fest going on.

Youngstown.

Youngstown

Sunset over Youngstown.

 

The roads through the rest of Trumbull County—Niles, Girard, Warren—didn’t offer much in terms of smooth pavement, until I hit the Western Reserve Greenway. The WRG runs north-south from Warren to almost Lake Erie, and it’d shoot me north enough where I could navigate home in the dark.

Running from rain in Warren, Ohio.

Running from rain in Warren, Ohio.

About 9:30 p.m., I had 12 miles to go. Visible light drained from the sky, and I turned on the lights. In pitch dark, the Busch & Muller lights work splendidly. The downside? The headlight turned on the bug machine. I pulled my cap brim down and tried to keep the bugs out of my eyes.

Once I got on OH-87, I rode in the shoulder that’s occupied by Amish buggies in daylight. At 10:30 p.m., I rolled down my folks’ driveway.

117 miles in on the day. The trip resumes on June 24.

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