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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.