Friday, October 11, 2013

GAPCO - Pittsburgh to Cedar Creek Park

40 Miles

I will use the phrase "GAPCO" to refer to both trail systems, instead of "Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Trails" or "GAP, C&O". They are both distinctly unique adventures, but now that they are linked, it makes sense to capitalize on GAPCO as an appropriate acronym for all 335-miles. Plus, "GAPCO" rolls off the tongue with ease.

Patty's bike, heavily loaded. Notice license plate with my name. I loaned her my Trek
with front panniers. We were allowed to store bikes in our hotel room. Photo credit: Patty
After 11-12 hours of driving, we arrive in Pittsburgh. We're all tired, but my husband is wired and can't be bothered to rest with us for several hours. His duty is to fly from Washington, D.C. at 11:30 the following morning, back to Pittsburgh, then we'll all start cycling GAPCO as a threesome. He's too keyed up, afraid to sleep with us, afraid of D.C. traffic, afraid he'll miss his flight. So off Andy goes while Patty and I eat a peaceful dinner, then scout something called the "Bates Sidewalk", which all makes sense on foot. It's, quite literally, riding a sidewalk along busy, narrow Bates Street for a half mile to intersect with Eliza Furnace Trail. From there is appears to be a straight shot, 3 miles to The Point, our official beginning of GAPCO.

I've packed lightly for this trip. I have an 8 lb. tent on front rack. Unlike Patty and Andy, I prefer to add food on top of rear rack in lieu of additional panniers - not that I could use front bags with mini rack.
Meeting and hang out place near Wood and Liberty Streets. Photo credit: Patty
Friday morning, Patty and I leisurely get ready, and cycle downtown. It's easy; traffic is light. For a big city it's not intimidating. We pedal over several bridges, stock up on food, notice the Pirates stadium, big green bike graphic on side of building, and where Point State Park is located. Patty hangs out, watching our bikes while I walk back to hotel. It's a hefty 45 minute walk and the day is sultry, but I retrieve Andy's bike and pedal downtown. Andy steps off bus 30 minutes later, having taken an express bus from the airport. We're delighted that all transfer plans went off without a hitch. Initially, the difficult part of planning was figuring out how and when to shuttle bikes. If and when Amtrak allows roll on service, it will open up a welcome option for future travelers on GAPCO.

(Big thanks to the Pittsburgh bike community for helping locate hotel, directions to Eliza Furnace Trail, and bus information from airport. It was a tremendous help!) 

Photo credit: Patty
We roll towards The Point.

Photo credit: Patty
Admire the amazing fountain.

Check out the special marker, indicating the confluence of three rivers, site of former Fort Pitt.

Photo credit: Patty
Take the obligatory group photo.

Going the wrong way. Photo credit: Patty
Then, it's our cue to start rolling. Except the compelling way to begin is along the water, but sadly it ends a couple blocks later under a concrete parking garage without an exit. Instead, we backtrack, ask a pedestrian and discover we have to ride through busy downtown because we can't take the more direct route which Patty and I rode in the morning, due to one-way streets. It's a minor letdown, though. Thank goodness we are fairly comfortable negotiating a little traffic.

It was amusing to me to see Patty riding my bike. She drastically rearranged the handlebar
 setup to make it more comfortable for her.
A few miles later we cross the Hot Metal Bridge and stop to admire Pittsburgh's skyline.

Photo credit: Patty

Photo credit: Patty
We ride all afternoon, drinking lots of water. It's humid and we expect rain, but it never comes. 

Andy on one of the many bridges crossing the Monongahela River. I'm blown away by the amount of work that went into making these structures safe for pedestrians and bicycles.
The sound of trains becomes the sound of the trail, here in the Steel Valley section, and also for many more days of our trip. I'm intrigued by mountains of steel pipes, amazingly long steel structured bridges—and we crossed over many, admiring the Monongahela River below—a roundhouse, and old steel industry buildings and train stations renovated into restaurants, housing, and incubators for small business.

Dravo Cemetery. I loved reading the dates and epitaphs on the gravestones,
At McKeesport we leave the pavement behind and roll on smooth packed stone dust. It's pleasant, even for my skinnier tires. We follow a smaller and seemingly more wild Youghiogheny River. We spy a few rafts, alerted by excited yells coming from the river, but mostly the trail is flanked by trees, providing shade. This will turn out to be the most tree covered ride I've ever been on. I didn't need to pack sunscreen.

Photo credit: Patty
At Dravo Cemetery we spend a few minutes walking the grounds. It's a campground too. We thought we'd stay overnight here, but the weather remains dry and we decide to push on and aim for the next spot ten miles down the trail.

I fill my bottles at the hand pump while my husband talks with a guy we chatted with for a couple miles. Jerry's a regular rider of GAPCO. His love and enthusiasm shined through his constant chatter. He handed us so many pointers that his good intentions became too much to recall later on. However, it was a pleasant visit and Andy took Jerry's recumbent out for a spin.

A park with hiking trails.

We make it all the way to Cedar Creek Campground. It's deserted, but that means we have a lean-to all ourselves. It's welcome because of tomorrow's bleak forecast. However, only one more bad weather day and the rest of our vacation looks dry.

We cook tortellini and have salad for dinner. 

Bikes are under shelter. We set up bedding, but before going to sleep mosquitos buzz our heads. In the dark we erect tents inside the lean-to. Unfortunately one of our tent poles breaks, but we can do without it for the night. I crawl inside the nylon and I'm uncomfortable, panicky even because the zippered entrance in perched on the edge and I will need to get up at least once during the night. The tent easily adds ten degrees warmth. But we are all tired. There are frequent trains, thundering and squealing across the river. Thank goodness I can wear ear plugs.


  1. He has good reason to fear D.C. traffic. I think we all do who live here. :-)

  2. Sounds like a fun trip you guys are beginning! Keep them pics coming!


Due to increased Spam, I am moderating comments. Thank you for your patience.