I was visiting my friend Judy in Western Pennsylvania during July. I was five months out of surgery, and still so weak I’d fall asleep BEFORE I went for a hike. However, I knew I wanted to ride my bike on a trail for my first rides, not only because I wanted to be surrounded by nature but because I expected I’d be safer if I fell or had another problem. And I knew the Montour Trail was opening two new bridges July 28, so Judy and I headed out to the celebrations.
The Montour Trail is one of the great successes in Pennsylvania rail to trail conversions. The trail uses the former Montour Railroad route, and runs in a 46 mile curve between the Ohio River west of Pittsburgh and the Monongahela at Clairton. It connects to the Great Allegheny Passage via the on-road Steel Valley Trail at Clairton.
I’ve twice ridden large stretches of the Montour, and its a fun trail, with bridges, tunnels, scenic views and slag heaps and artifacts of the railroad days. Its also very much a work in progress, with six miles of trail yet to be constructed, and workarounds for unfinished segments. When I previously rode it in 2009, I joked it should be called the Detour Trail.
Among the most irritating of those gaps on previous rides were grade crossings at Morganza and Georgetown Roads. The crossings were steep, rocky, and came one after the other in less than a fifth of a mile. They were tough when hauling a trailer.
Fortunately the Montour Trail Council and the many volunteers working on projects accomplish great things, as shown by the morning I went to the bridge dedications. The grade crossings at Morganza and Georgetown Roads were no more, and shiny new bridges connected the isolated two tens of a mile of trail between the two roads. I took some photos of the opening ceremonies. They aren’t great photography, but I post them as a modest contribution to the historical record…
My riding wasn’t very long or very impressive. I’d ridden a stationary bike in physical therapy, but as anyone can tell you stationary bikes aren’t ‘real’ bicycles. The biggest problem I had was getting my right foot onto the pedal when I pushed off. Having lived with my right leg knocked since childhood, the muscles weren’t used to moving the leg in a different manner than they had. And when I put my right foot down, it was landing in a place I wasn’t expecting it to. It took about two minutes of fumbling to get under way. Once I was in motion I found out that riding a bicycle is like riding a bicycle – you never forget.
When I stopped to turn around, I went through the same fumbling for the pedal. At one point I spent a couple of minutes perched on the side of one of the bridges, holding the railing, as other cyclists rode past me. I wanted the area around me to be clear in case I was wobbly or had to stop suddenly. Also, my confidence was elsewhere that morning. But again I eventually was moving and once I was moving I was fine. I rode a little more than one mile, but the longest journey starts with a single step. Or pedal.
One side benefit of attending the trail opening is that I rode, for a minute at least, with my friend Troy. The actor and organic farmer lives in Western PA and so I rarely get the pleasure of his company.