Everything seemed to go a little faster today. Over the past week, I was one of the earlier risers, getting in morning prayer and breaking camp early so that I could get out on the trail. Today, I woke up at the same time, but there were many others who had already started breaking down their tents and getting ready for the ride. I suspect that the excitement of finishing the ride was the motivator.
The agenda for today’s ride took us about 22 miles for a brunch celebration in McKeesport PA, a few miles outside of Pittsburgh. Then after brunch, the final 16 miles took us back to Station Square in downtown Pittsburgh.
It didn’t really make any sense to get started very early today, so I took a slightly more relaxed pace. We needed to arrive at brunch at a fixed time, and that would only take about 90 minutes of pedaling. So, Jim and I took our time getting a light breakfast and set out at a moderate pace for McKeesport.
These first few miles took us past West Newton and a few neat things to see. We saw two different interesting waterfalls: one deep-red with iron, and another that is white liquid full of aluminum (I think?). There were many interesting rock formations along the sides of the path. We passed through some older small towns along the way.
A few miles before McKeesport, the scenery started to change. As we got closer to Pittsburgh and its steel industry heritage, the path became less forested and more open. We also began to see direct evidence of industry: buildings, roads, traffic, and such. The peace and quiet of the trail gradually gave way to more traffic and noise.
Finding our way through McKeesport could have been a bit confusing if we had been on our own, as GAP signage was a bit hard to spot. If you are considering a ride through there, plan carefully and carry a good map of your path. Fortunately, for us, there were volunteers at each corner directing us to our destination. They were a welcome face for our last few miles.
Just outside of McKeesport, we entered an industrial area and had a short set of climbs and descents to go around some business areas. Then we were on surface streets for the first time since our detour on the C&O. Not much traffic, but we did ride over a couple of streets that might have been busy at another time of day.
A mile or two later, we arrived at brunch and waited for the rest of the riders to join us.
The town put on a nice lunch with music and a few brief welcomes from local dignitaries. I ate a good amount and was ready to roll! We had to wait until 11:30 to leave, though.
We left en masse, all bunched together like the start of a race. I was anticipating some major pileup, but we avoided it by some grace. A police escort led us through McKeesport and the group slowly re-sorted itself with stronger riders to the front. It took several miles to allow the fastest riders to make their way forward since there was not much room or opportunity to pass.
We wound toward downtown along the rail path, up and over a couple of bridges.
Normally, you can’t follow the GAP all the way to downtown yet. The trail doesn’t have right-of-way through some key pieces in Pittsburgh. However, the tour organizers were able to arrange a special time to allow this group to go across some of these properties that normally are closed off. That’s why we needed to be bunched up and go through together.
Our last few miles took us along the riverfront. We passed right next to the roller coasters of Kennywood park and along a water park that looked really appealing in the warm afternoon sun.
Sadly, I couldn’t really stop to take any pictures because I had a zillion bikers lined up right behind me.
Arriving in downtown, I had wanted to get my final snapshot at some iconic place in Pittsburgh. I talked to some folks who were going to go to the park with the fountain at the confluence of the 3-rivers. This would involve departing from the group at the Hot Metal bridge and going a little different path. When I arrived there, the ride organizer insisted that I must follow the prescribed route.
Another mile took me back to Station Square and my waiting car where this adventure started a week ago. I found a couple of my new friends for some last snapshots before we each went our own ways.
With a little sadness, the trip came to a pretty uneventful conclusion.
I totaled 360 miles over the week and really enjoyed the ride. I’m glad to have made some new friends and glad to have seen a new slice of our great country.
I’ll put together another post with some final thoughts and links to my GPS tracks soon.
Thanks to all who sent me fond wishes and prayers this week. I really appreciated it!
Peace & Blessings,
– Dc. Matt