Day 8. 354 Miles. Hot Metal Summer.

Our night in Cedar Creek hiker/biker campground is highlighted by overnight trains and invasive raccoons. The first instance all ride that the fuzzy intruders come close to getting into our shit. We must be close to Pittsburgh, because these little fuckers were ballsy, knocking over bikes and searching through bags for food. Another crew reports that they got into their dehydrated chili mangos, though they didn’t like them much. I can see Chad take mental notes on it.

The last of my coffee and oatmeal and wet wipes takes its place in the ever after. Actually, food wise all I have left is some beef jerky and the emergency trail meals that I’ve now carried for about 5,200 miles — happy I still haven’t needed them. Though I should probably check the expiration date. It’s a pleasant morning, warm and sunny. I expect that the script will flip by late morning — highs are forecasted to be in the mid nineties so the July sun is gonna cook us on our way into the ‘Burgh.

One of the most impressive aspects of this C&O + GAP trail is that it runs downtown to downtown. Typically on a long ride, I’ll avoid cities like the plague. (I wanna say like corona, but I failed at avoiding that one last year). Navigating through the suburbs of most any American city brings forth more than a few of the six million ways to die. No bueno. No me lo gusta. Rarely does both city and suburb present an opportunity and means to safely cycle in. 40 miles ahead of us, the GAP into Steel City offers us just that.

Much of the trail is volunteer maintained, and the signs along the way remind me of this fact. As I’m reflecting on all the work that goes in, a gentleman rolls up on my left. He asks if I’ve come from DC, how I like the trail and where I’m from. He tells me at some point the trail will continue up to Erie, sadly adding, “probably not in my lifetime”. We chat a bit more and he cruises ahead, which is when I notice he’s got a “trail volunteer” plate on the back of his bike. Well done, sir.

Betsy’s Shoppe provides us with the last countrified stop for breakfast, as well as the best breakfast of the tour. Afterward, now late morning the heat is downright oppressive. Like colonizer level oppressive. As we move toward the city, we lose tree coverage.

The heat is getting to me. I’m already feeling lightweight sluggish, probably a combination of too much coffee and too little water — but now I’m really dragging ass on the keep-it-movin’ tip. We’ve got 20 miles left and the remnants of rural PA completely roll away, leaving no trees to even pee on, spiraling into suburban enclaves and eventually down “steel valley”. A version of this still exists back home, but WNY hasn’t done nearly the job to rehab and revitalize the industrial wasteland that dominated both regions until the 70s and 80s. Bridges start piling up; the sharper inclines remind me that I’m on the lesser-geared Space Horse — missing the Sojourns easy breezing granny gear.

My head is pounding and I’m running on fumes; we’re about ten miles out. Fred comes down to join us and ride in the last hour, stopping to give tour guide info on the city. He really knows his shit; I’m trying not to pass out in the heat. We hit the terminus and I celebrate by standing close enough to the fountain to gain some misted relief.

Fred has also arranged for us to stay at the guest suite in his apartment/condominium complex. Superb accommodations for which also include a pool. We dip, shower, enjoy a beverage, hit REI, and finally grab some Thai food on Carson. All of it is amazing, though despite chugging water after water, I’m still out of it. Headache, cramps, blurred vision. I’m pretty certain I’m in heat stroke. Between this and the hearing on the Space Horse and the fact that Kara and Chad are driving back to Buffalo, I pull the plug on riding the 260 miles back home. I was 50/50 on it the entire time and it will now have to wait for another day. I pass out on the couch, hoping to feel better in the morning.

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Day 7. 313 Miles. The Gawd Day.

Ohiopyle State Park provides the quietest morning yet. Fewer angry chirping birds even. And some light fog. Peaceful as fuck in the morning. And the evening before too. We have the ridiculous climb to the highest campsite to thanks. Meanwhile down below, the party of RVs and yurts goes late into the night and likely restarts early too. I’m good.

The morning commences with the typical: jetboiled coffee and oatmeal. Packing up. Pooping. We’ve got this down to a science now. The process is precise. None of this feels mundane, quite the opposite really. Then, down the hill we go. Harrowing in its own right, but much less physically exhausting. Back on the trail, I’m needed on a Slow Roll call — revolution back in the homeskillet has the previous generation a bit shook. Ain’t no such things as half way crooks. Chad rolls on out; Kara and I discuss non-profit issues with corporate lawyers in the middle of the woods. Gladly, Slow Roll’s office is and likely always will be the bicycle. Take that zoom.

After a productive conversation, we finally get moving further along the GAP. The trail is gorgeous. Shoutout to J Dilla, Kool and Together, and Blondie on the playlist. There is a wonderful array of people out riding. Young and old. Day-riders and long haulers. Kitted out MAMILs and borderline obese moms. It’s feel absolutely energizing to see how many folks are getting active and being outside. I’ve been told bicycling surged 3000% during 2020 and is still climbing this year. Here in this trail, it’s a lot more people than last year. Four or five times the amount. And thats about the only futile comparison on my mind as we merrily roll into Connellsville.

This little town is the definition of a bike trail town. Kickstand Kitchen is the name of the cafe around the corner from the bike shop, called Bikes Unlimited. Population 7,411 and there’s more miles of separated bicycle facility here than in Buffalo. They really know their market here. Go where the dollars are. The shop is closed but the cafe is open. We dip in for coffee and lunch.

Folgers coffee. That’s what they have. Snobs turn their nose up, I’m enjoying it right now. This is why I’m an addict and not a connoisseur. I’m also loving the AC in here. The kid at the counter says to have as much as I want. The coffee thermos which he just placed on the carafe bar, not the AC. Though I imagine I can have as much of that as I want as well. I’m inside and happy to be wearing my last truly clean shirt. After this everything is all mixed up a bit, making a more or less degree of cleanliness situation. Beyond this moment it’s smell me if you dare.

A few more lovely miles up and we hit the famous refrigerator on the trail. It is quite literally a refrigerator on the trail. And yet also so much more. A family run farm fresh cafe of sorts. Outdoor seating. I think there’s also a B&B as well. Really a superb experience. We grab a couple Body Armors (also not paying me to say their brand) and chat with the woman who runs the operation. Last year I met her husband, she tells me her son makes a better egg sandwich than hubby does. Both of them tell me I gotta come back in August for corn. great spot. Chad offers how remarkable he finds the resources all along the trail, “you can’t swing a dead cat around without hitting a bike shop”. I can’t make this shit up, and would be too tired to if I could.

Cedar Creek hiker/biker site is nothing short of astonishing. Kara says “amaze-balls”, though that could have been just the dip in the river we manifested before my hammock becomes a gawd. Like G. O. D., gawd. I’m into full on relaxation status quite quickly. Hanging there, I’m using my belly as a cup holder for coffee and almonds and beef jerky. We’ve got daylight to burn like my man Al B Sure is in effect mode.

Hours later and the sun is setting as cyclist after cyclist cruises by our laundry hanging in the gentle breeze, freshly “washed” in the Youghiogheny River. Kara and Chad and I, enjoying the extended off-bike tranquility, sit around chatting for hours. They’ve got camp chairs; I’ve got my hammock. We realize it’s now dark and we’re sitting around a fire but there’s no fire. We’re too tired to make that happen, and eventually peel off one by one into our tents (Kara into her camping hammock) for another slumber under the stars.

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Day 6. 273 Miles. Yinz Better Recognize.

Morning in the tent city that is this GAP trail town campsite. Weird little park with a greasy spoon diner, pizzeria and a Sheetz across the street. Lots of folks riding and camping here, without much else to do or see. Small talk with a few. One of them, Michael, is a hiker turned biker from San Antonio. He and Kara may or may not be distant cousins. He’s planning to get in 100 miles today. Our quartet makes us the last ones out of a dozen or so riders to leave camp. He bids us adieu with a monotone “well… I’m off to Sheetz”. His bland allusion to the 250 feet-way destination prompts chuckles. Moment later, we’re on the trail, heading west north west.

I had honestly forgotten today is Independence Day here in the good ole US&A. Aka the Fourth of July. I’m on vacation, here. What yinz what with me? I have no clue as to what day of the week it is, though I already knew it was holiday. One of my favorites to be off duty for as well. Aka America’s birfday. Time isn’t real, so I prefer to celebrate the anniversary of my first moment on earth for two weeks in both directions, twelve times a month. Let that sink in. And celebrate no matter what.

FYI, “Yinz” is western PA speak for the second person plural. Like y’all, you all, yous guys. Grammatically proper (or is that properly grammatical?) would be “you”. Whatevs. I love regional dialect like a fat American loves guns and Jesus; I believe this qualifies as a pronoun, and yinz gotta know the intense value of correctly utilizing your pronouns matters nowadays.

In case I haven’t already said it — because I haven’t — unless of course you simply read my words from last year on this same route: The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) is a rail trail running from Cumberland, Maryland to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Advertised as “150 spectacular miles” on their map, it is the first rail trail to be inducted into the Rail Trail Hall of Fame. So clearly this HOF was created to honor the GAP, right? … also, there’s a fucking rail trail hall of fame? Huh? What? Are we giving halls of fame to everything and anything now? I want a hall of fame to honor participation trophies and standardized tests! Let’s go down in flames. Pronto, yinz!

Nonetheless, it is indeed spectacular. It’s mega. Huber. Ultra. Whatever superlative hyperbolic phrase one can muster. No cars. No ruts. No puddles. No ungraded hills. Bridges. Tunnels. Water. Bike repair stations. Camping. Benches. Picnic tables. Everything I want. Nothing I do not want.

Calming down. Coffee in Confluence, currently. Tissue Farm has great coffee, and an interesting name and backstory. Apparently it goes back to folks shirt-cocking (be sure to look that up) at Burning Man. Add in some innovation in the form of a “pants cannon”. Then just a meeting touch of Sasquatch imagery. All of this creates a coffee shop in rural PA. Kara tells them I’m a coffee connoisseur, I relay that I prefer the word addict. Yinz better recognize.

Another 15 miles up the trail and we’re locking up on the main corner in Ohiopyle. Ohiopyle is like the outdoor adventure capital of at least western Pennsylvania. Lots to do and see, all with the 22,500 acre Ohiopyle State Park as it’s backdrop. Playground. Wonderland. Shit is rather outstanding, yinz. We came here to take a short day of riding and enjoy shot in honor of Lady Liberty.

Ohiopyle Pennsylvania brings more coffee followed by river tubing followed by more coffee followed by shop walking followed by checking out the waterfalls followed by burgers followed by this dumb steep climb into the state park Campground. We legit got the walk-up tent site at the top of the mountain. After all that climbing, I’m exhausted again; I wish for a second burger but none appears. A second night in a row with showers does appear however; that makes it all worth it. Plus there’s an outlet outside the showers. And if y’all don’t know what comes next, yinz better ask somebody. Portable palace pop up. Y? Why not? IN the tent I go. Z is zed, zed is dead and I am zzzzzzz. 💤

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