Day 4: Monaca, PA (64.8 miles, 295.43 total miles)

I woke up this morning and didn’t feel awful. 800mg of ibuprofen at bedtime will do that, I guess. I got on the road around 8:50 a.m. and headed toward Irwin, PA. It was cool but more humid than it had been the last couple of days, and a little overcast. I took a road called Arona Road which tended to follow I-76 and that highway’s general downward slope, except when it dropped suddenly into the town of Arona itself and required a steep uphill out of town.

I made it the 9 miles to Irwin in about 45 minutes where I met Faith, the mother of my friend, alum—and now colleague—the Rev. Lindsey Kerr. We shared breakfast and caught up for a bit. There was a Target next door so I decided to go over and see if I could find some bike gloves there. As we were leaving, it began to rain, and rained pretty good. Now, people have asked me, “What do you do when it rains?” I can tell you: I get wet.

By the time I got out of the Target, it was raining steadily. Faith offered to have her husband Bob come pick me up if I wanted to just spend the day in Irwin, but knowing how many miles lay before me, I opted to head out. I began by continuing down the Lincoln Highway which led to a mile long steady incline. The rain was coming down really good now and I was soaked. At the top of the hill I stood under the awning of a local business and waited until the rain let up a bit. When it reduced to a drizzle I headed out. As I turned off Lincoln Highway, I realized that I had turned one turn too early and was on the road that would take me right past the Kerrs’. As I went along, I began to think I should just keep going, but as soon as I negotiated a steep S-curve hill, the skies started to open up again. At one point I could hear the rain making its way through the trees toward me and stopping at the Kerrs’ seemed like a good idea.

I waited out the storm there for over an hour, using the opportunity to dry my road clothing and my sneakers. The panniers I bought have a “secret” compartment on the bottom where a bright neon yellow rain cover is stored. I hadn’t deployed them quickly enough and some things inside the bags were a little wet, but they do a really nice job in general. Once the storm let up, I said goodbye and thanks to Bob and Faith and headed on my way. The weather was drizzling a little bit but ultimately cleared. Better still, the road was all down hill.

It took me all the way down to the river and then my path became a bike trail that crossed the Monongahela River on an old rail bridge. The view was fantastic and the route continued along the south side of the river, past the famous Kennywood amusement park. As it was a river route, it was also wondrously flat. There were the occasional rises—to a ramp to cross over the railway, for example—but they were manageable, and after yesterday, nothing at all. This ride continued for the next 10-15 miles and was incredibly enjoyable. I was making good time and within an hour or so, I was approaching downtown. The route took me past an REI and so I used the opportunity to stop and buy a pair of bike gloves–I bought the exact same pair that are sitting on the back of my couch at this very moment.

Within another 15 minutes I was on the river walk across from downtown Pittsburgh. There was a restaurant with outdoor seating right on the waterfront and so I stopped there at a table where I could keep an eye on my bike and got some lunch, all the while afforded a scenic view of the city. I left about about 45 minutes; I was already far behind schedule because of the rain and, to be honest, the easy pedaling today did not require long stretches of recuperation. My legs still felt fresh and I was raring to get back on the road. I stopped to take one last picture of the city before putting it behind me.

The trail continued along the river where I was afforded a nice view of the city and to my left the famous incline built in years past to get people to the city from the neighborhoods atop this steep hill. I will say, I was very glad to have been biking along the ridge rather than over it. The Ohio River is not unlike the Hudson in that it has steep cliffs along some of its reaches. After yesterday, I was glad to be running parallel rather than perpendicular to those cliffs.

The Duquesne Incline
The Duquesne Incline

That’s not to say the day was totally free of hills. While the overwhelming majority of today’s ride was on nice, flat paths and roadways, there were a couple of notable exceptions. At one point the highway I was taking north, Highway 51, veered off to the left and went up one of the ridges in fairly steep fashion. Fortunately, MapMyRide had selected an alternate route across a bridge and along an island (either Grand Island or Neville Island, I’m not sure) that was nice and flat. The island was filled with industrial sites, some still in use, others long abandoned. It was empty and not clear whether anyone lived on this island. Toward the north end, there were some residential areas right where the road turned back toward the mainland.

I continued on through the town of Coraopolis, again, mercifully flat. But as I rode on the skies began to look more foreboding. It began to rain right as the road suddenly veered inland and up a massive hill. I biked up the hill in really low gear, my legs still tired from yesterday, and I was starting to get wet. At the top of the hill, I briefly considered waiting under the awning of a church as I had done that morning at a bank, but decided that the rain was not that heavy after all. I rode back down the other side of the hill and continued on 51, once more on level ground.

But then the rain got heavier. At first, it was manageable. But as I saw lightning strikes off in the distance and the rains got heavier, I began to look for shelter. I stopped briefly under a bridge, but there wasn’t much room at the side of the road and cars were flying down the roadway. I didn’t feel comfortable standing there, so I got back on the bike and rode forward. On a wide open stretch of highway, the rain got even heavier. Up ahead, I could see a light; some kind of building was up there and so I pressed forward. The rain was starting to sting it was coming down so hard; it made me think it was hail.

Right as I pulled up to this building, which had a towing service sign on the side but appeared to have once been an apartment building, the skies opened up. I ducked onto the sidewalk and passed under a waterfall coming off the eaves of this building. I parked my bike under the awning and stood in a space on the porch and watched the deluge in front of me. Sheets of water were coming down and I had gotten out of it just in time. Oh, I was soaked already, but navigating the roads in those torrents—there were rivers flowing over the pavement—would have been impossible. The best way I can think to describe this storm is that it was pretty much right out of the 4th movement of Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony. In fact, I’ve spared you the trouble of going to your record collection and you can listen to it right here (especially the strings at 1:45).

Eventually, the storm cleared up and I made my way, but not before some [expletive deleted] drove by at 50 mph and splashed me with a sheet of water as I was getting out from the awning. I rode along with only about five miles left to go. Soon, I came to Monaca, where I knew there would be hotels. However, in a classic case of misreading the scale of a map, I thought they were right around the bend of the road. They were: up a mile and a half long 5% grade. At this point, I was too tired to care; and too grateful for the mostly downhill and scenically flat day. And so I pedaled up this massive hill in low gear, sopping wet, and deciding that if the option were available in this hotel, I would get the room with the jacuzzi for my sore legs.  I got a room and grabbed dinner from a neighboring bar and grill, where I got a burger Pisttsburgh style: with coleslaw and fries on the burger itself..

But to be honest, even with the rain and the long uphills at the very end, it still beats yesterday.

The map of today’s trip, with elevation chart.

– Originally posted using BlogPress from my iPad