Sunday, December 25, 2011

50-mile bike ride: McCandless-Moon-Downtown (May 24, 2009)

Current mood: adventurous

I'd planned for a while to go out to Robert Morris University, in Moon Township near the Pittsburgh airport, this weekend. The trip Downtown was an unexpected, and very long, side trip. My supervisor texted me Saturday morning to say there had been a power interruption at the office, so I checked and sure enough, my work PC was down, not good news in the event we needed an emergency build done. (It's what I do there.) Nothing short of an in-person visit would get the thing restarted.

Here's the link to the route, on

Leg 1, I got underway just before noon, stopping at the bank before starting out in a big way. This brief trip, though, required I do something I had heretofore not attempted: a double left lane change on six-lane McKnight Road, plus a left turn. Easy in a car, not on a bicycle. Fortunately traffic was light, so I was able to make the dash from Perrymont to Peebles, about a quarter mile, without much difficulty. Of course I made sure both rear blinkies were working, and I was wearing my blaze orange vest.

Leg 2, left out of McIntyre Square onto Peebles, crossing McKnight, and heading down Babcock and up Three Degree to Perry. This is a busy, suburban road with no shoulder, very unfriendly to cyclists. Worse, Three Degree has a right curve on a hill with tall grass on the shoulder, possibly the most hostile and dangerous environment possible for cyclists. This type of road design should never again be constructed!

A quick rightleft wiggle put me on Sewickley-Oakmont Road, a nice downhill glide. I took the lane, as I was easily at or above the speed limit, and for cars to pass me would have been illegal for them and dangerous for me. They don't teach you to do this in (non-existent) bicycle school.

Side note: I am of the strong belief that driver's education classes include a section on getting around on a bicycle and on foot. Up here in North Allegheny land, I would have potential drivers learn how to -- and actually carry out -- an on-road ride from one to another non-adjacent NA school, and walk back. Up here, that'd be damn courageous, but as I see it, absolutely necessary, if we want to educate future drivers as to how to handle cyclists and pedestrians when behind the wheel. I'm sure that if I was to suggest this at a school board meeting, I would be shouted down, but in so doing, I would have to point out that their objections merely make my point stronger. Damn the danger, they have to learn how! how! to get around without an automobile, and how to treat others who do not. If the road rules are not being enforced, enforce them. If the roads are poorly designed, change them. Make it possible to get around in anything but a car.

Back to the ride: A right onto Rochester, and I was on a rolling, but not particularly hilly road that heads straight northwest. It does have one huge hill, downhill going NW. First, though, I was getting thirsty, and, looking for a water fountain, discovered seven adjacent fire hydrants behind the Franklin Park Water Authority building.  Never seen that before!

A left onto Campmeeting Road, a very hilly road crossing the ridge east of the Ohio River. There were easier hills and tougher hills, but very little of that road is level. Going west, the biggest hill was a downhill, the one descending into Leetsdale. (Caution: Stop sign and T intersection at the bottom!)

I was seriously thirsty, but could not find a water fountain anywhere. The park at the bottom of the hill had not one but two broken fountains. Fortunately, a young woman filling water balloons offered to get me a bottle from her party's stash. Much appreciated, even though I was willing to take a squirt from the hose itself. (Note to self: Get a bottle holder.)

Back onto Beaver Street (after getting slightly lost in a small maze of one-way streets adjacent to the park), I head into Sewickley. That town was very busy, preparations for the Sunday parade, so I ducked onto side streets, en route to the Sewickley Bridge. The bridge could be a little more bike friendly, but it wasn't impossible. A right off the bridge onto University Boulevard, however, put me on a 45 mph four-lane highway. Worse, the shoulder was grooved with SNAP depressions (sonic nap alert pattern), the little rumble strips that wake you up if you drift off the road. They're horrible to hit on a bicycle! Fortunately there was a wide enough shoulder to avoid them, though there was no avoiding them in trying to get across them. Another difficulty was the 51/UnivBlvd split, a wye taken at some speed, and I needed to take the left fork. Very dangerous on a bike in busy traffic, because those cars are flying, and they're not expecting to see a bicycle.

Climbing the hill from 51, there is a very wide shoulder. Cars are going up the hill full throttle, but with a 15-foot shoulder, they really were not a big factor. Then, a quick left across light traffic, and I was at RMU.

At the event, I actually ran into a neighbor, who offered to drive me and the bike back home. I politely declined. He and several others questioned my sanity in even attempting a trip to Moon Township on a bicycle. They all assumed I would take the exact path they would drive -- which, of course, I carefully avoided if possible. One wondered how I would handle the stiff hills. (Answer: Downshift, pedal harder, and don't expect to get up the hill quickly.) And how to handle suburban traffic? A more difficult answer: It's not so much how to do it as that I am making a statement in simply being out there. The less likely one would expect a cyclist, the more that cyclists need to be in those places. Being assertive, following the rules (mainly), taking up space, and being conspicuous -- that's how we train current drivers.

Leg 3, I headed back down University Boulevard, rejoined PA51, and continued past the Sewickley Bridge. Here too, the SNAP pattern keeps cars separate from bikes, and a very wide shoulder makes cycling at least possible. It narrows at Coraopolis (for non-natives, that's pronounced cor-ee-OP-olis), not a bad place to own a bicycle. The main street is two one-way streets, very pleasant.

Just beyond Cpls is the trailhead of the Montour Trail, a very long rails-to-trails project. However, it does not head where I need to go, so while I looked at its start, I got back on 51. This road isn't real pleasant; not much shoulder, lots of big trucks, fairly hilly. I actually contemplated jumping on the I-79 bridge (bicycles are explicitly allowed), but toughed it out on 51 into McKees Rocks. Traffic was fast. I didn't realize how fast until the one car went zipping past me, blue and red lights flashing. ooooKAYthen!

Cresting one hill, I could finally see the skyscrapers of Downtown Pittsburgh. Boy they looked far away. Seven miles, maybe?

Another left wye, trying to get onto the McKees Rocks Bridge, had me messed up, because I was really trying to get to the sidewalk. I needn't have bothered. The bridge isn't all that bad, not much worse than 3/4 of the two-lane roads I'd been on all day. I paused for a drink and to check my blinkies near the eastbound Helen Street on ramp, and shortly a woman in a PennDOT truck put on her yellow flasher to check on me. Nope, I was OK, just checking things, I told her, and she went on her way. It felt nice to be checked on, though.

At the end of the bridge, what to do? I sure didn't want to tackle PA65, and wasn't really sure how to get down to the river trail. Solution: Continue across 65, up to California, a quick right, and a left onto what-I-hoped-would-be-Antrim but I turned a block too soon. Easy enough, Kalorama Way is narrower than some driveways but got me over to Antrim, where I could easily enough drop down to Woods Run and from there to Beaver Avenue and then pick up the trailhead. [Update: There are two easier ways to do this. One is the Davis Street steps, visible from the intersection with 65 and the bridge. The second is to continue up to California, cross it, bending but not turning right, turning right onto Fleming, then left onto Antrim. Ideally, Davis St steps to Davis St to Fleming to Antrim.]

What a pleasant relief to be on a proper trail, especially after so much distance on hostile roadways! Just breeze along, alone, quiet, smooth, carefree.

Then came the orange sign at the casino construction. Not real helpful. My choices were a torn-up street, or drive off a ledge into the river. Or go back to...what? Where? I opted for the torn-up street. This led to another unsigned, torn-up street. This ended with yet another large orange sign saying "no bikes or pedestrians", with no clue as to what to do or where to go. I stood there a minute and saw not a single car go by. Screw it, I thought, and pushed on through. This got me even farther into the construction. The only real way to go was to jump a median and head upstream on a one-way street; I took the sidewalk. It helped that I'd worked right there for most of a year, commuting by foot or unicycle a large part of the time, so knew the sidewalks.

Eventually, though, I made it past all the torn-up streets, and got out on Allegheny Avenue. From there, I dropped back down to the river and picked up the trail, now a wide, paved sidewalk.  At one point near Heinz Field, I had to thread my way through a post-wedding photo session. Very fun! It's 80 degrees out and sunny, a perfect day for a wedding. A second photo shoot with the dresses and tuxes was going on behind PNC Park. People swimming in the fountain pools. Bikinis. Kayaks. Kids running around. Geese on the river. A perfect scene.

Popping up onto the 6th Street Bridge, I wiggle my way through Downtown Pittsburgh, and chase on down the Jail Trail on my way to work, on Technology Drive, parallel to Second Avenue a couple miles east of The Golden Triangle. To this point, I had had no real trouble all day. Then an irritation and a tragedy: Exiting the trail at a ramp to the street, I lost my balance and plastered some paint off the railing onto my shirt. Then, not 30 feet from parking my bike after 47 miles, two birds fly out of a bush, one getting mangled in my spokes. Damn, I hate killing wildlife. It couldn't have been a worthless starling or house sparrow, either, it had to be a robin. I like robins. Dammit.

I ended up staying at work an hour, trying to get my recalcitrant PC restarted, and then restarting the long-running processes that had croaked along with it.

Leg 4: It was almost sunset when I started back Downtown, and my headlight wasn't working. Further irritation; I had hoped to ride the rest of the way home. But discretion is the better part of valor, and riding 12 miles in the dark on public roads without a light is stupidity defined. I opted to wait for a bus. Leg 5: Eventually the 12A showed up and had a rack. An hour later, I was in the shower and getting some long-overdue nutrition.

All in all, it was a wonderful day, all that salt plastering my very-overdue-for-a-haircut mop to my forehead, knowing I'd managed not to dump almost three gallons of gasoline's worth of crap into the skies. And at times it was just plain fun!

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