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Bikexchange logo, link to Home   That Mountain Wasn't So Bad      Bikexchange logo, link to Home

A Review of the Great Ride, July 14, 1996

Pittsburgh, PA

By Jim Joyce

I couldn't make up my mind. Ah, Mt. Washington. No, take Carson Street. Long, killer climb. No, take nice--flat--old fashioned city street. C'mon, ya wimp, climb that hill. Are you crazy? Go straight and enjoy yourself. Hey, think of the view--take the challenge. Never mind those sadists, savor this flat jewel in this city of massive hills. You'll feel great when you get there! Right, this is the "widow (and widower) maker" of the Thrift Drug Classic. Why in the world would I...We're here! Hurry, bear right at the light, follow the brave ones up the hill. I can't decide. Help!

Despite all of my waffling, I decided to take that Mt. Washington son of a gun, that "road less traveled," and indeed, as the great Robert Frost said, "it has made all of the difference."  The climb proved strenuous but much milder than I expected. The dreaded Sycamore Street of Thrift Drug fame was avoided and the McCardle Roadway, gradually switching back and forth along the ascent, provided many excellent views of downtown. Traffic was fairly light. This is a classic climb and was worth extra carbos it cost. Once on top, the cruise through the neighborhood provided more spectacular views of downtown. The descent was fast, a bit winding, and pure pleasure.

The ascent of Mt. Washington was my personal highlight of The Great Ride, the annual tour of the many neighborhoods of this unique city. I've heard it said that Pittsburgh is just a collection of small towns with a big downtown in the middle. Nowhere is this more evident than in The Great Ride, sponsored annually by the City of Pittsburgh. This years ride benefited the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Youth Hostels.

During the course of this ride, I cruised through enclaves of mansions built by former industrial tycoons, through surprisingly large and very green city parks, through working class neighborhoods, through some parts a bit down on their luck, and through a downtown just awakening on Sunday morning. The tour reportedly hit a dozen neighborhoods in all, too many for me to keep track of. This has got to be one of the most interesting and scenic tours of any. Pittsburgh is a city of hills and one cannot avoid them. But the course was flat through most neighborhoods with a spinkling of a few gradual grades and many quick, steep ones. The optional Mt. Washington section provided the nuts and bolts for the more seasoned while the abbreviated versions of the course were appropriate for all levels.

I missed the brisk cruise down the HOV lane of the Parkway North that was removed from this year's ride but was wary of it after hearing of a recent, deadly pileup there due to a gate closure failure. The neighborhoods I especially enjoyed were the South Side--the working man's Georgetown--and Squirrel Hill/Point Breeze. Downtown and the old Smithfield Bridge were also a blast. Since my ride was only about 30 miles I was not too disappointed by the lack of food at the rest stop (home to another spectacular view of downtown). But there was plenty of room for improvement over the menu of  bananas, chips and bagel pieces. One bonus at the rest stop, however, was a booth set up by Power Bar where they were literally handing out pieces of bars of all flavors with no apparent limit. I kept passing by and snatching pieces and was never even caught!

Traffic control and road markings were all very good on my route. The site was easy to locate and there was plenty of parking in the Strip District's Boardwalk waterfront development. Afterwards, I landed there and wet my whistle at the open air, patio bar.

Reserve me a stool, I'll be back next year.

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