Prologue I: Blastoff

by davidharries

Mileage: 43
Miles so far: 43

Today was the day — time to leave on this trek. Had a very nice — small — Memorial Day cookout (as required by law: blame the charcoal lobby) with Sara, Christine and Christov. Lots of good food. Was important to spend time with folks before heading off — solo — for most of the summer. It’s going to be lonely sometimes, so might as well stockpile some camaraderie, right? Had a great French toast breakfast (La Gourmadine!) with Sara, then said goodbye as she went to work. That was hard. I’m excited for the trip, and I know she’s excited for me (and to have some time and space to herself), but it’s still a long time to be apart. Hopefully we can orchestrate a visit somewhere along the way.

Took me a while to get moving –there are lots of odds and ends to deal with when leaving your home for the better part of three months, but I finally schlepped my stuff (and there’s too much of it) down around 11:15 a.m. and took off — had to stop by the post office and drug store for ear plugs and M&Ms to complete my monster trail mix (read: candy/oat)bag.

The GAP/C&O trip serves as a shakedown for my TransAm tour. I hope to answer (a) do I really want to ride my bike this much, (b) what do I desperately need and not have, and (c) what deadweight did I pack? Plus, I have to get to Virginia somehow, right?

The GAP starts in Point State Park, where the Allegheny and Monoagahela rivers form the Ohio. I left from Lawrenceville and enjoyed a few looks from folks in the Strip District and downtown as a heavily loaded bicycle rolled down Penn Avenue toward the Jail Trail (more correctly the Eliza Furnace Trail). From there, over the Hot Metal Bridge (obligatory photo: hey, it’s no. 10 on the list of official photo ops, per the official trail map and guide.) and on to the GAP.

Note to self: this bike handles way differently loaded. I know I’ll get used to it, and ditch some gear and figure out the best way to pack everything. But still. Whoa. Curious how a purpose-built tourer would go down the road and react to inputs.

The first half of today’s ride was ground I’ve covered before — the roughly 20 miles to McKeesport — the second 23 were new. Another now thing: Homestead’s Burgatory’s open! Blatant promotion aside, I did go in, I did have a tremendous coffee-donut milkshake, and it may have been divine intervention. Not five minutes after I sidled up to the bar, formerly sunny skies opened up. Luck? Either way, I soaked up the A/C and let the storm pass. I would be chasing rain the rest of the day.

Past Boston, the clouds grew dark, with thunder, lightning and the pregnant still right before A Big One hits. I took shelter at Dravo Cemetery for an hour or so under a very generous pavilion. I met a guy from Youngstown, Ohio, who started in D.C. and was finishing his tour in Pittsburgh today. He said the canal wasn’t it great shape. Yikes. The canal is always rougher than the GAP, and all this rain won’t help. Its bumps and ruts ought to serve as a torture test for my wheels — if I don’t lose a spoke, I oughta be OK on paved roads.

He also mentioned staying at Ohiopyle State Park over Memorial Day and that — at $21 and a tough uphill from the trail — at steep and steeper, not really worthwhile. I’d planned on staying there tomorrow. We’ll have to see.

I also had a chance to catch up with a twosome I met at the Hot Metal Bridge. Brother/sister team from Chicago and L.A., respectively, they’re headed to Washington, too, but plan to call Connellsville home for the evening, about 20 miles farther than I’m going, so I may not see them again.

My camp tonight is in Cedar Creek Park, and it’s mostly all mine. Big and free for trail users, I found flush toilets, electricity and cell service. Living large. Finishing this up from my tent — it’s storming something fierce outside, but I’m dry so far. Service is spotty, so I may have to post tomorrow. No worries about CSX trains keeping me up tonight — that’s the thunder and lightening’s job. Hope I don’t float away. Life is good.