Waking up, I realize something. This is not the lean-to the signage directed us to. It’s a covered bandstand. Pretty much the same effect of getting us out of the downpour, but the actual lean-tos (theres 4 of them!) are 1/4 mile up – away from the highway and the train and the truck stop which woke me up at 2am and kept me up all night. I’m grateful we found anywhere at all to get out of the rain for the night, but wish there was more specific signage for bicyclists caught in storms. Aside from my sleeping bag and spare clothes, everything is thoroughly soaked. It put dry socks into wet sneakers. Wet shorts over dry cycling shorts. Makes it slightly chilly at 7am. That and no sleep make getting moving difficult this morning. I drink extra coffee and say hello to local passers by, who are probably wondering why in the fuck these two crazy guys slept on their bandstand.
The woman care taking the garden mentions the same desire for specific signage as I talk her ear off while she prunes and cares for the beautiful greenery in Connellsville. The entire section of trail through this town is managed by a large group of volunteers. Most of the other sections are the same. They see the benefit those traveling on it bring to their local economies.
It’s getting hot again and the trail has leveled out a bit so it’s no longer a easy cruise along. We’re straddling the Youghiogheny River, which is apparently only one of four rivers in the world that flows south to north. I haven’t fact checked that, but it definitely is flowing in the direction we’re riding, which is generally northbound. Little towns come and go, we don’t stop because there’s not much there.
West Newton is the breakfast goal. Until, in the middle of nowhere, we find a trail side refrigerator. Then a patio table and chair and a little outdoor cooking area. This is all next to someone’s house and their small farm. Then the owner walks up and confirms to Daniel that he can provide us an egg and cheese sandwich. We sit. Soon a dozen other bicyclists have joined us at what he tells us is known as “the refrigerator on the trail”. I’m blown away on two fronts: #1 this guy is seizing the opportunity being on this trail brings. There’s nothing else around, not even much of a road for vehicles. So this is his business model. He’s adapted and found a way. It’s impressive. It reminds me of the lack of innovative adaptation occurring elsewhere. Second – and much importantly – this is the epitome of farm to table. The man cooking our food tells us that those are his eggs from his chicken from this morning. Alongside the sammich is a sliced cucumber and scallion he “picked 5 minutes ago”. Upon our compliment on the cukes, he carves up a kohlrabi, harvested moments early, and delivers a slice on each of our plates. He points at the corn and lets us know how delicious it will be in about two weeks. Amazing guy, amazing food, and amazing experience to say the least. So good I forget to take a picture, so I steal one from the internets.
As I close in on the end of the tour, I’ve gotta make some decisions. I’m 260 or so miles out and have to be back to work in 2 days. Goddamn real world. I’m not gonna make it at this pace and I can’t pedal 200 miles tomorrow. I come up with the genius plan to take the Amtrak from Pittsburgh to Erie PA, which would leave me with only 90 wonderful miles along Lake Erie tomorrow. It’s a beautiful section I enjoyed riding last year and I’d love to finish up the same way this tour. The train leaves at midnight, stops in Cleveland and arrives into Erie at 7am. That is perfect. Ride. Sleep on the train. Ride. I call Amtrak to make sure it’s the train that I can roll my bicycle on. Shit. All good to Cleveland, but the bike rack car from Cleveland to Erie is all booked up. Fuck. From others I’ve spoken with, this is a common occurrence. Amtrak if you’re reading this, install more bike rack cars!
So that plan, as awesome as it was, is now shot. I try to figure out another way. A way to pedal it out. Some way somehow. But there’s nothing. I resign myself that Pittsburgh will have to be the final destination and it’s gonna be a car ride home from there. Not my preferred ending, but then again this GAP Trail is so enjoyable that going back to hills and motorized vehicular traffic would suck right now. I can live with this.
So now that we’ve only got 60 miles left, the tour kicks into a different gear. We hit West Newton. Theres an amazing bike shop with bar above it. We have a beer. The next town up, we have a beer. And the next town up as well. It’s become a pub crawl sort of finale. We’re stopping anywhere we can. Visitors centers. Little historical fact boards. I buy a pin. I buy a top tube bag. We are now tourists. We find a strange waterfall where the water is crystal clear and cold, falling down alongside some red rocks. It reminds of the rock out in Utah or Arizona. We cool our faces off in it. Then we read the fact board. Woops. It’s iron and acid from an underground mine that has turned it all red. Toxic for the environment. Oh well. I think we’ll live until we die.
Daniel has secured a hotel in downtown Pittsburgh, which coincidentally had to fight the US government to spell it that way when the feds told every Burgh in the nation to drop the h. But Pittsburgh PA didn’t wanna be Pittsburg PA. True story. I’m exhausted from lack of sleep. But with a solid amount of beer calories behind me and a shower and comfy bed ahead of me, I put pedal to pavement (the trail is actually mostly crushed stone) and motor into the Steel City. Lots of bridges. Lots of industry. I like Pittsburgh.
Entry back into the normal world is always rough, but our landing is even more abrupt. The hotel is a ghost town. Their bar and pool and everything is closed. Pittsburgh has had to close back down after reopening too soon. So stores are closed. A few restaurants are open for take out only. Museums are closed. I can’t be much of a tourist. It’s disturbing. I’m reminded how I can’t travel anywhere anymore. No overseas flights. No family reunion in Montana. No weekends in Toronto or Montreal. My entire lifestyle and sanity revolves around travel. But the luxury of the hotel room is enough to curb my agitation for now. And who knows, maybe I’ll do a second bike tour in The fall or winter. Southern Tier anyone?