Days 16 & 17: Resting and reflecting in Pittsburgh

Marie had to get to work early and wasn’t able to put me up an additional night, so I left early to make it into downtown Pittsburgh to finish the GAP and get a hotel room for much needed rest. The ride into town was flatter than expected, which was just fine by me. The few short hours of sleep I got weren’t nearly enough to make me feel rested, and a day off the bike was sorely needed.

It was a 45 minute ride that felt twice as long. I really needed to get off the bike to stretch and rest. But before I could I got glimpses of Pittsburgh’s intricate, industrial infrastructure and the treacherous cliffs surrounding downtown…

…and a reminder that I wasn’t too far from the end of the trail in Point State Park.

I made it to the marker that functions as the beginning (or end) of the Great Allegheny Passage and met several groups of cyclists that were beginning their journey to Cumberland. Many of them had little more than a trunk bag on their racks, not big enough for more than a jacket and some food. I asked them why, and they said that they had support vehicles giving them supplies as they made their way south. I asked how long they expected to take, and they said four days, one group said five. I felt a tinge of pride at having done it fully loaded in two, but no arrogance. If these cyclists wanted to enjoy the trail that way, then right on.

They offered to take my picture, which I happily accepted.

The sun clearly wasn’t working out though, so it was 180 degrees for take 2:

After that it was over to the Wyndam, which I was able to get for a steal. It was still more than I wanted to spend but I didn’t have the luxury of time or energy to make it to another place further outside of town.

After I dropped the bike and gear in the room I made a beeline for the hot tub and pool. The relaxation factor was off the charts, and then I went back to the room for the first of several naps I took that day.

But there was business that had to be done. My Sinewave Revolution USB charger had a split wire since day one of the C&O, and charging my devices had been problematic because of it. I called up the nearest shop to the hotel, Kindred Cycles, and asked if they had any experience fixing these things. They assured me that soldering the wire and resheithing it would be a piece of cake and that they could squeeze me in given my journey. It’s another great shop that’s done right by me. I’m finding that if you need your bike work done fast, all you have to do is ride it across the country.

I dropped off the bike and headed out for a quick stroll around the neighborhood, which was vibrant:

After about an hour my charger was as good as new… Or better, because now it has a story.

Back at the hotel I tried to relax more and the realization was beginning to set in that a day off wasn’t going to be enough. I pedaled so hard to make up for the additional day I took off in DC, and while I made up for it, it took its toll. I decided to extend my stay in Pittsburgh another night.

Time off the bike gave me time to think about all that I have done so far and all that’s ahead of me. I’ve heard the first two weeks are kind of dealbreakers for cross country riders; some decide to quit and others wonder what the hell they’re doing. I’m in the latter group. The willpower and endurance I’ve had to call upon to come this far has been life changing and incredible and more visceral than I could have imagined, but my time in Pittsburgh is somber. The lonliness of the tour runs far deeper than I thought it would. For better or worse I’ve gotten fairly good at being alone in the past few years, and I’m a good (and happy) solo traveler. But the depth to the solitude of solo touring is becoming such that I’m going to have to find a way to deal with it. The ironic thing is that I probably talk to more people in a day than I did when I had a “normal” life, but I’m constantly moving, constantly leaving those conversations and interactions behind me. My endeavor is all consuming, and whatever interaction I find myself in is brief and fleeting.

Another two-week issue has to do with fitness. I’m still adapting to the strenuous riding and not as fast as I’d like. I’m a strong rider but definitely not the fastest or the lightest. In all my loaded bike riding leading up to this I could average about 12 miles an hour and could handle a 50 mile day several times over just fine. But my days have been longer and my load is bigger, not to mention that despite rest days the riding days don’t end. I’ve heard cross country riders that start in the east hit peak fitness around the Mississippi River. We’ll see if that happens for me.

I dozed off last night watching Bill Maher interview Bernie Sanders on HBO. It made me realize that my tour is my world right now and I don’t really know what’s going on in the news beyond the headlines. On a certain level I’m just fine by this. On another it adds to the isolation.

*** *** ***

This morning I made another trip to the hot tub after breakfast and then took another long nap. I started feeling more like myself and less like a wet noodle after that. I then took a stroll through downtown Pittsburgh to make it to a juice bar to suck down a kale/ginger smoothie. I’ve always appreciated the architecture in this town. It fits the city – rough around the edges, industrial, imposing. 

I appreciated the Pittsburgh County Courthouse especially, and I knew it to be the work of H.H. Richardson immediately. 

I love his buildings. I have ever since I started paying attention to architecture. Hannaford borrowed heavily from him for Cincinnati’s City Hall, which made me realize I’m as close to my hometown as I’m going to be on this ride. I’m surprised I haven’t thought about Cincinnati more while here, but the lack of nostalgia tells me that Cincinnati isn’t where I need to be right now. I need to keep truckin’ west.

Back at the hotel I played the ukulele a bit in the room (since picking it up in DC it’s become a sanity maintainer for me rather than a mere corny, plastic musical instrument) before hanging out in the lobby for a while. Saengerfest is going on at the hotel right now and it’s full of very enthusiastic German singers that are fun to watch. 

There’s also a wedding going on tonight and I like watching the sloppiness an event like this brings out. I briefly thought about crashing it after chatting with some attendees but decided against it. I’m not in the partying mood and I have to be fresh for the road tomorrow.

And now it’s back to the room to pack up the gear (which has exploded all over the tight confines) and get my last night of rest in that huge king size bed. Despite the troubled thoughts of the past few days I’m ready to get back in the saddle to ride on. After the frenetic east coast and the gorgeous, relentless isolation of the C&O and GAP trails I feel content to start the next Midwestern phase of this adventure.


One thought on “Days 16 & 17: Resting and reflecting in Pittsburgh

  1. I know the isolation is a burden, Jeff, but we are with you all the way. Several of us at REI are following you. You are not alone. I make up songs when I ride long. I pick a melody and fit words to it. Usually the songs are about the ride, terrain, weather, etc. You could do that on the bike and play the uke at night with the words. I’m loving your trip journal and pix.


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