Out of the Woods: Ohiopyle to West Mifflin

Friday was cold enough that most of the people I ran into remarked about the weather. I had been able to clean off the bike, which had been covered in some of the falling snow, overnight and get the chain and cables ready for another cold day. Even with my tempered expectations about potential downhill speeds the mileage ahead did not seem especially daunting; I was mostly worried about my brake or shifter cables freezing stuck.

I headed back down the trail from the campground to the GAP and made a right, heading back into Ohiopyle proper and seeing the falls. A bakery was open so I grabbed some iced tea and a muffin to go and then it was back over the two bridges away from the town and on my way alongside the river bends. In Connellsville, PA the trail turned into a protected bike path on the roads. Having regained cell reception I checked in with my aunt’s parents, who would be hosting me that night. I ducked into one of the few open places in town, a pizzeria, to thaw a bit: the descent to Connellsville from Ohiopyle was what I had originally been hoping for after crossing the divide, so I had some time to linger and wait for the sun to come up a bit more. They mentioned the weather and “wondering what I was doing out there in this cold on a pedal-bike.” (Wouldn’t it have been sillier/colder to be on a motorbike, though?)

After Connellsville the descent became a bit more gradual and there were some more stretches of the slower trail conditions, but for shorter durations. At times the riverbank would widen and the trail ran down the middle of what must have been old company towns or vacation developments: small towns of silently occupied houses but seemingly nowhere providing goods or services. Some of them did have shops catering to trail riders but they were inevitably closed for the season. With most of the denizens wisely staying inside from the cold it did feel eerie rolling through among the silent streets.

More structures, often abandoned, started appearing near the trail and across the river. I stopped briefly next to some old buildings next to mile marker 100. 49 more until the end. I also stopped next to the serene sounds of a waterfall coming down orange rocks. A park sign explained it was all due to acid mine drainage.

The map showed a fair amount of food options in West Newton. The visitor’s center was of course closed. Right across the trail from it was another franchise of the place I went to with the cursed hoagie, so that was out as well. I decided to just grab some snacks and a sports drink at the nearby Rite-Aid. A few of the customers had questions about the bike: though they may have been a bit jaded to GAP trail riders due to their proximity through the trail (similar to how those who live by the Adventure Cycling routes are just used to coming across cross-country cyclists all the time), my making the run in December was a bit of a novelty. One man offered very heartfelt congratulations and wished me Merry Christmas with an enthusiastic handshake.

Nearing the end of my ride for the day I decided to top off my water bottles one last time in Boston, PA. I had wanted to stop in at a bar at one of the trailside or canalside towns so I walked in with all my cycling layers. The bar was pretty busy for an early afternoon: the looks I got suggested I was nothing special. A bit dumber than the other cyclists who came through in warmer times of the year, maybe, but otherwise not worth a second look. I had a soft drink and headed out.

Coming in towards McKeesport development was denser. The trail meandered through a neglected-looking riverside promenade and through industrial parks, up and over the train tracks and rivers alongside overpasses and bridges. I crossed an old metal bridge into Duquesne, following the river and active train tracks to a grade crossing where I turned off the trail and up the steep roads into West Mifflin where I would stay the night, having good food and company with family and setting the stage for a final push to Pittsburgh the next day.

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