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June 23, 2019 / bikesbytesbites

GAP+ Tour – Part 2

Saturday, June 15 (Pittsburgh to Connellsville)

This morning over coffee, I met Paul, one of the co-owners of the inn. He has been involved with the Allegheny Trail Alliance since its beginning. He reported that two of the three founding members are still active. The third now works for Dero.  He sells bike racks at wholesale price to local advocacy organizations, so they can promote them to local governments.  Hmm, maybe he can promote some to Amtrak.

I got started riding around 8 AM, intending to stop for a quick breakfast. That quick breakfast turned out to be coffee and a fantastic waffle at Waffles INCaffeinated.

IMG_0336Also had a talk with a fellow cyclist, active local advocacy (wearing an Allegheny Trail jersey).  Seems like some of the difficulties they’ve had with getting bicycle infrastructure improved here are the same (surprise, surprise) as those found in Washington DC.  I hit the road around 9 AM.

The first part of the trail system — between Pittsburgh and Boston — is newer than my last trip on the GAP. These miles alternate between former industrial sites and suburbs.  There are new bridges to go across the still-in-service railroad tracks and busy suburban roads.

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I was very impressed by the signage (on the trail and on the bridges) and the tributes to mining and steel industries that were built alongside the trail.

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In McKeesport, there are two trails: the GAP and the Loop. The Loop only goes 4 miles, to the GAP trailhead in Boston. I decided to take the Loop, since it promised to go through old industrial sites  and towns which I’m curious about. Near its end, the Loop crosses the Youghiogheny (shortened to “Yough”, pronounced “Yock”) River. Looking down from the bridge, I saw what looked like a party on the GAP, at the Boston trailhead/trail headquarters. Of course, I had to check it out.

I couldn’t have planned this better: it was Yough n Roll Bike Ride and Youghiegheny Trail Day. Volunteers offered free food (contribution requested and given) — well-timed since I had just started thinking about where I could stop for lunch.

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I got to talk to more people on the Yough and Steel Valley Trail Councils. They explained that the GAP consists of several trails, maintained by volunteers, whereas the towns of McKeesport and Versailles maintain the Loop. The Loop is particularly useful because the parallel portion of the GAP is prone to being closed by land slides, trees down across the trail, or other facts of nature. The Loop provides an alternative route.

Part of the trail had signs commemorating the Historic Braddock Road. It turns out Braddock was an English general who created the road during the French-Indian War.

Glimpses of the river throughout the day included many kayakers. The campgrounds also rented kayaks (and some bicycles). At the more developed campgrounds, RVs predominated. Hmm, I don’t recall seeing many tents at all.

Connellsville (mile 88) has definitely seen better days. Murals on old buildings in the part of town across the river from the trail testified to some of the previous industries, as well as to the town history. IMG_0342(Edited)

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Sunday, June 16 (Connellsville to Ohiopyle)

This was planned to be a short day.  Just opposite my hotel, I noticed an imaginative trailside sculpture.

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Less than a mile down the trail was another example of combining art with industrial artifacts. These two towers (usage?) were painted and had 3D effects on them.

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The next section offers an excellent view of a traditional power plant, supporting evidence for the warnings I had received a few days back about the bad air quality in Pittsburgh.  And a contrast to wind farms I had heard about and would soon see.

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There’s not much on the next section of trail between Connellsville and Ohiopyle  except scenery. That’s partly because the final few miles are in Ohiopyle State Park.

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The last time I was in Ohiopyle (mile 71) I intended to visit Kentuck Knob and failed. It was in the middle of the day’s ride, so I thought I would just ride to Kentuck Knob on the fully loaded bike. I got to the first hill and decided … no … and went back to the trail.  This time, I got to Ohiopyle, left my luggage at my hotel (the Falls Inn and Lodge), and was sure I’d be able to ride up the hill. Well, almost: I rode the three miles to Kentuck Knob … except the steepest (11-12+% grade) portions where I walked next to the bicycle.  There are no racks for bike parking at Kentuck Knob, but for once, I was not upset or surprised: you’ve gotta be an idiot to bicycle there.

Kentuck Knob is magnificent — both the house and its history. It was built for the Hagan family, who lived there for 30 years. It was financed by the family’s dairy and ice cream business. In honor of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Hagans, I had some Hagan ice cream before walking from the house through the sculpture garden (an addition by Lord Palumbo, the current owner) back to the Visitors Center, where I’d left my bike.

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It was only 2 PM in the afternoon, and I was re-thinking the plan to stay in Ohiopyle when I went to get a cup of coffee at Backyard Gardens Market… There I met the owner of the store and Marci Lynn McGuinness, an author of guides to Ohiopyle. The owner has been thrilled at the pick-up of tourism lately.  In 2017, she logged visitors from 34 states and 17 foreign countries.  The top reasons for visiting were (in order): “boats, bikes, and Frank Lloyd Wright”.

After checking in and cleaning up, I went for a walk in the park and ended up across the river, at Wilderness Voyageurs. I had checked out the outdoors store on a previous trip, but had not had a chance to eat at The Falls  Pub. Great place for dinner — best grilled veggies I’ve had, and the burger was good. For vegetarians, they also have impossible burgers.

 

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