Cape Gazette

SEA TO SHINING SEA: Headed for the Allegheny mountains

By Dennis Forney | Jul 25, 2013
Here's a picture of a picture of industry along the Monongahela River near Pittsburgh in the early 1900s. Through much of the 20th century, the banks of this river were lined with coke furnaces and steel mills.

WEST NEWTON, PENNSYLVANIA — DAY 73 – July 25, 2013 – Between yesterday's 54 miles and today's 42, our trip total has now hit 2,958 miles. Lots and lots of long bike rides every day start to add up. (PS - I'm finishing this blog Saturday morning.  At the campground in the gorge Thursday night, poor connection.  Couldn't stand watching that wheel go around any longer.)

We headed out of Pittsburgh, up the south side of the Monongahela River, and past the last working steel mill in the area: the Edgar Thompson Works. Pedaling on the Great Allegheny Passage, I reflected on how much of this nation's infrastructure was manufactured with steel produced in Pittsburgh plants. Mike, a trail volunteer, speculated that thousands and thousands of feet of natural gas pipeline stockpiled along the railroad tracks – destined to carry gas from the Marcellus shale formation in Pennsylvania to Texas processing and distribution facilities – are being manufactured with steel from the plant. I started thinking about skyscrapers and bridges and automobiles and everything else made of steel. Pittsburgh was a very busy place.

Tomorrow we'll continue pedaling along the Youghiogheny River toward Ohiopyle, a great outdoors town and home to two nearby Frank Lloyd Wright residences including the internationally famous Falling Water.

Yes, I love architecture. Pictures to come.

Tonight our architecture is back to the three-person Kelty tent. Camping in the Cedar Creek Campground along the Great Allegheny Passage and beside the Youghiogheny. Just over the river are train tracks. Active train tracks. I don't get excited about tractor trailer rigs rolling down the highway but there's something about trains that fascinate me. Maybe by morning, when 10 or 15 more trains fill this river valley with the powerful sound of their big diesel electric engines, rumbling through the gorges, couplings cranking and their steel wheels on iron rails screeching through the night, I won't be so intrigued.

The forecast is for rain on Saturday.  A gray day, in contrast to the brilliant sunshine of the last few days after the weather system brought in cooler weather. Eugene's disposition was that way.  Met him at a stop along the trail today and he was beaming.

"Isn't this the most beautiful trail in the world? I've bicycled on the Emerald Island and this rivals anything there. Isn't it great?"

The trail is beautiful.  Fine surface, plenty of restrooms along the way, and it passes through lots of tiny towns and bigger towns.  The people of Pennsylvania have invested a lot to make the trail an important attraction for tourists and residents.

"My wife called a little while ago and asked where I was," said Eugene.  "I told her I was taking a mental health day on the trail.  This day's too nice to be inside.  I'll pay for this when I get home."

"I guess you're going out to dinner tonight."

We met Eugene again an hour later, further along the trail.

"You know, I wasn't taking anything away from Ireland when I was talking about this trail.  The people there are wonderful, but this is so green and beautiful too. I am a son of Pennsylvania!" (Sylvania.  Penn loved the endless trees, the lush green, of his newfound country.)

Then the magic sifted into our conversation.  I could just hear the faintest notes of an Irish jig - and they grew louder.  "The leprochauns are listening - saying 'Be careful what you say.' You might end up with a spell cast on you."

Then I realized it was an ice cream truck announcing its arrival in the little town.  But the song coming from its speakers was Turkey In The Straw which I'm sure has its roots in an Irish jig. It reminded me of the tin whistle Chris gave me for the trip. The whistle has a beautiful tone. I played O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing on it and the creatures of the woods didn't scatter.  Charles Wesley hymn.

If you consider how powerful a beautiful little melody can be, especially connected to a sunshiny disposition like that of Eugene, just think about the power of a cathedral, reaching to the clouds. We should build more cathedrals.

On to Fallingwater.


Yins be good! Talk with you tomorrow.

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This is what the Edgar Thompson Works looks like today - just a small portion of it - from across the Monongahela River. In the background are the homes occupied for so many decades by millworkers in the area - and Pittsburgh Steeler fans.
When first invented, railroad locomotives were called iron horses.  This one north of Pittsburgh echoes that name. It stood at the head of a mile-long train with cars loaded with coal.  Coal and iron ore coupled with the ingenuity and diligent effort of of humans: the result is mind boggling. My Friend B works for General Electric in Erie building these massively powerful engines.  The plant, he said, is going full tilt.
Eugene along the Great Allegheny Passage trail.
You know those CAUTION: FALLING ROCKS signs? Here's an example, on the trail just east of Pittsburgh.  Mike, a trail volunteer, said the slide blocked the trail two days before it was to open officially, meaning lots of people had to scramble.  You don't just sweep boulders like this out of the way. Maintaining trails like these takes lots of effort and lots of people volunteer time and money to help out.  Mike's in the next photo and the one beyond that shows a plaque frecognizing a generous donation that helped pay for a trail bridge near the Edgar Thompson Works.
Miles and miles of natural gas pipeline are stockpiled along the railroad tracks near Pittsburgh, earmarked to eventually transport natural gas from the Marcellus shale formations in western Pennsylvania and Ohio to the processing and distribution facilities in Texas. Mike speculated that the pipe could be manufactured with steel from the Edgar Thompson Works, shown here in the background.
You can go lots of places from the Great Allegheny Passage.
The Great Allegheny Passage, finally fully completed this year after more then a decade of work - and still a work in progress - has won national awards for its contributions to the quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of people who walk and ride it each year.
Comments (1)
Posted by: Dave Frederick | Jul 27, 2013 15:27

"I started thinking about skyscrapers and bridges and automobiles and everything else made of steel."

Remember the line from esteemed sportswriter Dan Jenkins "When I was a younger man I fell asleep every night thinking about women. Now I think about killing people. "

You think of things made of steel. Perhaps you do?

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The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.