First Day on the Ohio – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Kennedy Marina, West Virginia

So I’ll start my “catching up the blog” extravaganza on my rest/slack day at Kennedy Marina campground with an easy one – what I did yesterday. That way I can get away without looking at my notes. Always good to ease into this sort of thing.

I expected that there would be a bit of a transition challenge as I moved on from on unpaved trail riding back to being on highways and roads all day. You will recall that I set my trip up averaging 30 miles/50 kilometers a day on trails like the C&O Canal Towpath and the GAP. Back on pavement this jumps up to 50 (80 km), and often 60 (96 km) or somewhere over.

I knew it would be raining this morning and I wasn’t let down. So I waited until about 10:30 in the morning to leave my Warmshowers host’s home. The rain had stopped by then but I expected more later in the day. I wasn’t let down there either.

My host’s house was located in a neighborhood about five miles/eight km east of the central city up quite a large hill. For that matter though, unless you are right on one of the three rivers, everything in Pittsburgh is up quite a large hill. Having climbed the hill yesterday to get there I had the pleasure of coasting back down this morning.

I crossed the Allegheny River on the 40th St. bridge.

This choice of routing gave me the opportunity to pick up what quickly became the North Shore Trail, my intended way out of Pittsburgh to the west.

At the end of the bridge there was a complicated stretch of crosswalks and sidewalks intertwined with freeway ramps.

But I figured it out, ducked under an ancient railway overpass, and was on the trail headed west.

I think I’m getting used to this “wrong side of the tracks” stretch that you have to transit to reach a river or shoreside rail-trail from city streets in many urban areas. That’s why these trails are there, I guess. In many cases the shoreline has been disused for decades. I’m just glad folks seem to starting to sort this out.

The North Shore Trail was well kept up and almost a tunnel through the surrounding greenery and soon the downtown came in to view ahead to my left.

I began passing old iron suspension bridges painted yellow. They are probably classed functionally inadequate by the streets and roads people but they are gorgeous and iconic.

On one I spotted a bright blue sign. Looking closer…

I’d forgotten Mr. Warhol was a local boy.

I’d have given just about anything to have had the time to go through his museum, which was adjacent to the trail.

but I had places to get to, so that was just not going to happen. The trail passed a beautiful natural fountain,

ducked under I-279,

and passed Heinz Field, which is where I believe that the Steelers football team plays.

I was at this point on the shore opposite Point State Park, and the confluence where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers flow together to form the Ohio.

I decided to dip my front tire in the river to the extent I could find a place to do that. Shortly, I did.

I had done this before last fall at the source of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca, Minnesota at the start of my ride along its length. Like I had done last year as well, I picked up a small stone at the edge of the Ohio River that I would throw back into the river at its confluence with the Mississippi out on the point at Fort Defiance, Illinois just past Cairo.

I know that rituals like this don’t really have any point, but that’s the mood I was in so you will just have to deal with it. I took the obligatory “Bike at the start of the trip” photo and I was off!

In short order passed a submarine.

Seems like everyone is on the Ohio River these days.

One stop I’d planned was at Aero Tech Designs [link], the place that big guys like me shop for bicycle clothing.

Alas, this was not going to happen.

This was a disappointment, but stuff happens. I wish I’d known, though- I probably wouldn’t have taken a pass on this place, which was nearby.

The bike trail, which was growing less scenic by the minute- this is a warehouse district and the area is pretty blighted, ended as I passed a former state prison.

A fairly ominous place. It appeared to be closed, though. Alcatraz on the Ohio.

When the bike path ended I turned away from the bank of the river and headed up- you guessed it- a very large hill. I used neighborhood streets to gain about 250 feet/75 meters in elevation in about half a mile/800 meters to get on the approach to the McKees Rocks Bridge and cross the the south bank, where my route would shortly continue up a nice flat island for several miles/kilometers down the river to the wonderfully named. Coraopolis. Just as I started up it began to pour.

The storm passed quickly, though, and I was on the bridge looking forward to a long level stretch ahead.

The cycling Gods just were not smiling on me right then, though. The bridge out to my nice flat island was completely closed for repairs. No way to sneak around this one.

so I stayed on Pennsylvania state Route 51, which almost immediately became a death grind up a couple of miles long 400 foot/120 meter hill. The road had no consistent shoulders, was extremely busy with heavy truck traffic, and the roadside was littered with junk.

At least it had stopped raining. Oh, wait…

after what seemed like forever, but was actually, well… pretty much forever, I crested the hill and started the long downhill coast into Coraopolis, where I drowned my sorrows in the first of a number of McDonald’s one dollar all you can drink fountain Cokes.

While I was at the restaurant a friend on Facebook commented that the stretch of Pennsylvania State Highway 51 ahead of me to where it crossed the river at Beaver was really a challenging and dangerous road for cyclists, and I should avoid it by crossing back over the river not too much further up and taking State Highway 65 instead. I followed this advice by crossing the Ohio on the Sewickley Bridge.

State Highway 65 prove to be a really nice ride north, albeit on a wide shoulder of a busy four-lane highway.

The road just rolled on over very low hills with nice views of the river every so often. Pleasant little river towns came and went and it all looked very midwestern in appearance. The only indication that this had once been a far more industrialized area was the frequent appearance of century or more old railroad infrastructure.

Apparently there used to be large railroad yards here between the road and the river. It looked like a lot of that area had been redeveloped.

Almost as if it is having a hard time containing it’s exuberance in beginning, the Ohio River, like the Mississippi, starts its journey towards its mouth soaring in a great arc that heads at first to the north and then turns and bends in the completely opposite direction. For the Ohio, the top of this arc is at Beaver, Pennsylvania, where the river of that name flows into it.

It is the western side of this artwork that creates the little spike that sticks out of the top of West Virginia.

It turned out that Beaver has a very nice riverfront, with several bridges across the Ohio visible around the sweeping curve that the river makes to its south.

On a bike path that runs along the river at the foot of the bluff on which the town is situated I passed under what perhaps is the most magnificent lease sited railroad bridge across a major river that I’ve ever seen.

I could see people walking across this bridge- it would be amusing to know the reactions of those late 19th century folks who built it substantially enough to carry the massive steam locomotives of the time if they somehow could’ve been told that their creation would have wound up as a pedestrian crossing.

The bike path gave way to a local lane that climbed the bluff back into the residential part of Beaver.

The view of the river from the lane is particularly nice.

I stopped at the top at a McDonald’s for my third, or was it my fourth fountain Coke of the afternoon. The rain had continued to hold off, but the humidity was way up there.

I was now headed west and then southwest on Pennsylvania state Route 68, which would take me over to the border of the state of Ohio. Route 68 was a two lane road that gave me a couple of views of the Ohio, but mostly wound through alternating villages, farmlands and woods. I endured another rain shower and passed under I-376, which I last encountered in downtown Pittsburgh and which here forms maybe the outermost partial beltway in the entire country.

It was getting to be late afternoon when the gigantic cooling towers, five in all, of the Shippingport, Pennsylvania nuclear power complex loomed ahead.

If I recollect correctly this facility is the oldest commercial nuclear power plant in the United States and has been completely shut down for years as

It had reached the end of its operational life. There is another nuclear power plant adjacent to Shippingport that continues to operate today.

Power’s gotta come from somewhere.

The final point of interest in Pennsylvania was, well… Ohio. Or rather, the border with the state of Ohio. It wasn’t marked in any way, there were no signs in either direction welcoming me to either state. I got a sense that Route 68 and Ohio State Route 39, which the road becomes in that state

are very, very lightly traveled roads.

But back to the border for a minute. There was a monument, just not the one I expected. I stopped for a few moments to read it and the plaque next to it and it dawned on me that I had reached the original survey point of the Northwest Ordinance- the 18th century governmental decree that established the “township and range line” surveying system for what became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.

This was the “Point of Beginning” for all the land surveys to come, ultimately out to the Rocky Mountains.

And here I thought “Northwest Ordinance” was just the answer to a test question in my high school U.S. History course. I wonder if the teach kids about that sort of thing anymore?

Now in Ohio, it was just a couple of miles/kilometers ride to the city of East Liverpool- a sort of down on its luck-looking place with an amazing freeway system that seem designed for a much larger urban area.

Don’t get me wrong, I generally love freeways. But these, except for the one to the north, don’t connect to anything except minor roads a mile/couple of kilometers past the center of the city.

They were apparently built with 90% federal money and the backing of the state 60 years ago, with a plan, never realized, to run a fourth freeway into the city from the west along the Ohio River. The 2010 population of East Liverpool was 11,195. Just saying.

Ay. oh. Way to go Ohio

I struggled- there is no other way to put it- up what must have been about a 12% grade into the center of East Liverpool and turned left headed for what was marked on my map as the Newell Bridge into West Virginia. It was nearing dusk and threatening rain, and I still had about ten miles/16 kilometers to go to reach Tomlinson Run State Park, my destination for the night. I rolled up to the bridge and, I can’t help saying it, my jaw dropped.

The Newell Bridge is apparently from the day when Billy Bob could go into the bridge business if he felt like it. It is probably the most rickety looking bridge I have ever had, err… the pleasure to ride over a major body of water.

Its steel grating deck was up and down and all over the place the length of the bridge, hopefully not reflecting the state of the supports underneath it. For my part, I was waved onto a wooden walkway that hung from the trusses.

“Bikes ah free,” the tollgate guy said with a smile and a wave. Yes, I though, but does that include coming to fish me out when this whole contraption falls into the river?

The view from the bridge, of course, was the nicest that I’d seen all day, and there had been some fine ones before that.

Welcome (back) to West Virginia.

I burned about 15 minutes I didn’t have marveling at the view from the bridge. Safely across, I turned right on West Virginia State Route 2 and headed south.

I could tell that the rain was coming up really fast, but I had a fallback- a campground about five miles/eight kilometers before the turn off to Tomlinson Run State Park. I rode through the town of Newell, West Virginia (the home of Homer Laughlin China in case you’re interested) and was at Kennedy Marina campground dry and comfortable in my set up tent dry and comfortable when the first drops hit.

4 thoughts on “First Day on the Ohio – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Kennedy Marina, West Virginia

  1. Next time make sure to stop at bicycle heaven. It is without a doubt, the most impressive collection of bicycles and bicycle related things on the planet. Tens of thousands of bikes if not more. Some are over a hundred years old.

    Liked by 1 person

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