Sobriquet 99.1: Riding the Great Allegheny Passage and C & O Towpath, Part 2

 Note: The following entry was part of a short-lived side-blog called The Ride.

Day One: Pittsburgh, PA to West Newton, PA
Our first day on the trail began at Golden Triangle Bike Rental, located at 600 1st Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh, where we picked up our bike rentals, purchased a few last-minute supplies, and topped off our water bottles. Once we had loaded our panniers, adjusted our saddles, and set up our GPS devices, Danesh and I decided to ride to Point State Park, which would allow us to start our ride at the GAP's Mile Marker 0. Although we had a bit of difficulty navigating the city streets where the GAP was not a dedicated bike path, we managed to find Point State Park relatively quickly, snap a few self-aggrandizing photographs in front of the fountains to share on Facebook, and head out on our way.

The first few miles of the trail were paved and took us from the concrete and glass towers of Pittsburgh's modern downtown, over the Monongahela River via the Hot Metal Bridge, and through some of the area's iconic industrial corridor, before delivering us to the suburban community of Homestead, where we stopped for a predictably mediocre fast-food lunch.

Heading southeast out of Homestead, the landscape quickly turned rural and would remain so for much of the rest of our trip. The farther we pedaled, the more I began to notice the high-pitched trilling of what I would eventually realize were cicadas. Due to some uncannily-timed traveling and relocating, I had never actually heard or seen cicadas previously, so the whole experience was pretty special. When Danesh and I stopped for him to pick up a bite to eat at the Yough Twister Buena Vista, I noticed a bunch of strangely beautiful insects crawling around and on our bikes and, for the first time in my life, saw the legendary insect. When we returned to the trail, I began noticing the carcasses of the bugs, which seemed to become more and more plentiful with each mile. 

As the industrial and suburban sprawl gave way to thicker and thicker forest, Danesh and I eased into the rhythm of the trail and the miles passed beneath us in a blur. We enjoyed the occasional break in the foliage, which gave us an opportunity to stop and look out over the river. Although we occasionally encountered other riders and would often hear trains passing on the tracks on the other side of the water, we spent most of our time alone, soaking up our surroundings and getting a glimpse at what the Alleghenies might have looked like to travelers more than a century ago. These sensations only intensified with each day, prompting me to reflect on aspects of American history that I had not anticipated being particularly central to my experience of the trip.

By the time we rolled into the small town of West Newton, Danesh and I were ready for dinner. After checking into the Bright Morning Bed and Breakfast (which is actually a complex of several neighboring Victorian homes that the proprietors have converted into a small community of B and Bs), we walked to the Trailside Inn and enjoyed a nice meal overlooking the river. It was at the Bright Morning complex that we first experienced what would become one of the more special aspects of the trip: meeting fellow long-distance cyclists. 

West Newton, like many of the small communities through which we passed, prides itself on being a trail town and local businesses, which benefit greatly from the constant flow of tourists, are eager to welcome cyclists and hikers. As a result, the patios of restaurants and places like Bright Morning teem with friendly conversation centered around cycling and travels. The free-spirited, easy-going atmosphere we encountered around the campfire at the B and B would reappear nearly every time we stopped in a small town for a bite to eat or a break from riding and we learned a good deal about local history, the cycling community, and regional customs as a result.


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