GAP Ride Part 1

Spoke-en Out

Preparation, planning, and the ride from Pittsburgh to Connellsville went smoothly, hindered only by the mild heat and sore seats. We rode a substantial distance, 52 miles, but encountered fairly low elevation gain. We rode under a clear sky with high humidity but with temperatures only in the mid-eighties. Some of us were able to wash off the grime in the river from time to time, a nice way to sooth aching muscles.
We started near the Waterfront in Pittsburgh, and the majority of the days’ hills were comprised of climbing above the multiple overpasses and train tracks, crossing bridges and cutting through hillsides. There were some holdups between the Waterfront and McKeesport, causing us to get off our bikes and walk around the construction flagging, manholes, and building rubble. This was the least scenic and probably the most dangerous of the ride. During some sections you must dismount with only the busy road on which to walk your bike. Of course, this was just a momentary lapse of safety and scenery, which will hopefully clear up as soon as the construction does.

Once we got through that area we followed the river a little more consistently, and the wind off the river was pleasant and refreshing. The rabbits became more plentiful, along with the numerous wildflowers, including Lilies, Deep Pink Daisies, and Queen Anne’s Lace. It became more and more rural, but public restrooms, picnic areas, water pumps, and campgrounds were still fairly prevalent.

Our lunch break at the Trailside in West Newton was refreshing and tasty, and justly named as we barely needed to step off the trail to satisfy our hunger. Decently priced with accommodating options, it was easy to meet everyone’s needs. After filling ourselves and hydrating for the second half of the ride, we set out once more.

One of the more common complaints we have heard among trail users this summer is the lack of water along the trail. From what we found there wasn’t an incredibly distant stretch of trail between these rest stops. Of course many variables are involved in this, such as personal health, trip preparation, temperature, humidity, and the amount of water you bring with you. There are many accessible hydration calculators free online, and I found that according to the weather, my weight, the fact that if was fairly humid, and that I wasn’t sick at the time, that I should have drank 107.5 ounces or 3.2 liters of water for every ninety minutes that I was riding. I personally only ended up drinking approximately three liters of water while riding between five and six hours that day, not disproving this online calculator, only showing that hydration levels vary person to person, and to be over prepared is your best bet. As a friend once told me, “safety’s no accident” (Sources: CDC: Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness. http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heattips.asp).

Along the way we spotted some Cardinals, Monarch Butterflies, hummingbirds, and heard the chirping of many subsequent species throughout. During our swim breaks, swallows and dragonflies would surround us swooping and skimming the water’s surface. The lush and distant mountains seemed hazy with the humidity blurring their distinction with heat waves.

Signage in these rural towns was very helpful, and whether it was a business or someone’s backyard, for the most part they were well kept and served as a pleasant foreground to the backdrop of dense green forests. With numerous waterfalls often discolored by the plentiful minerals and remnants of acid mine drainage, the scenery became reminiscent of a once booming economy centered on natural resource extraction industries. Seeing this we realize how the needs once met by these plentiful resources have had to be met in other ways as time has progressed and resource accessibility has dwindled. As we finished riding, the imprint of the landscape and its future became embedded in my mind as the minerals were in the rocks and clay of the cascading red, white, and blue waterfalls.

~ Joe Crumbley