USA 2019 Day 8 from Pittsburgh to Wheeling

Until I had packed everything and sat on my bike, it was already 09:30 am. But that’s okay, I’ve set myself a little less than 100 kilometers for today and therefore have no time pressure. The weather is great, the roads rather less. As in so many cities in the USA, most of the roads are run down and full of potholes, cracks and sometimes even ten centimeters lower-lying manhole covers, because they are constantly mended around. This is also the case in Pittsburgh. Using pothole slalom I follow the instructions of my bicycle GPS on the way out of the city.

After half an hour I reach the West End Bridge over the here still very young Ohio River, which is formed only a few hundred meters upstream by the confluence of the Allegheny River and Monongahela River. I will have to cross the Ohio River a second time on my journey, but not today. Directly after the bridge, I see the first big ascent coming towards me. I’m about to climb 120 meters with a 5 % gradient for breakfast.

So early and just started I’m not really at my feet yet and have to make a lot of effort. But then follows a descent of 100 meters in altitude and the end half an hour of placarding brought just 20 meters in altitude. That’s life. But I don’t have to worry, these were certainly not the last ones and they don’t guarantee the most difficult altitude meters of my journey. They will come, I can bet on it!

For the next 30 kilometers, the direction is clear: Up! But relatively relaxed with 1-2%. I even manage to get into a rhythm and find my kick. Everything still looks very urban, even if it is no longer Pittsburgh itself. The city and its suburbs merge into each other. The fact that I have already left Pittsburgh and am now in Carnegie, I notice only coincidentally at a setup advertisement.

I need one and a half hours for my first 20 kilometers. Uphill, even if it is not very steep, is quite exhausting. But after these exactly 20 kilometers I am happy because I can leave the busy road at Walkers Mill and drive the Panhandle Trail from here for some time. Again a former railway line, which was converted to a very well developed bicycle path. There are many signs and benches every few kilometers. They are otherwise very rare in the USA because the Americans like to drive around with their own (motorized) benches. I like that there are always mobile toilets. This trail is not asphalted but graveled, but not very coarse and rather fine. It’s rolling quite well and I’m now looking forward to making good progress on my way without cars for the next few hours, with little uphill gradient.

After only five kilometers, at a point where the trail passes a road, the gravel road ends and from here on the trail is perfectly asphalted. Despite the trees on both sides of the trail, I can’t see any root damage. Now it rolls even better! Although it goes uphill and I have headwind at 28 °C I can drive relatively fast. Thanks to the fact that it is a former railway track and trains don’t come up steep passages, the gradient here is rather moderate and good to drive. Fortunately. Because it is obvious that during the construction of the railway line a lot of earth masses had to be moved. Again and again, I drive through sometimes more, sometimes less deep cuts. If these incisions had not been made for the railway, I would have to drive up each hill individually.

The disadvantage of such a route is its monotony and uneventfulness. Especially when it’s a weekday and there’s hardly anyone on this trail. During the almost three hours on the trail, I only see two or three other people. At least better than if it were Sunday and I had to drive on the trail slalom around the whole families. After the first kilometers on the busy road, I like the loneliness of this trail.

I’m on the road for a good four hours now and it’s starting to trickle. At that very moment, my mobile phone is ringing. As luck would have it, I just passed a bench under a tree. Fits nevertheless! The tree protects me from the rain and sitting on the bench I can hear from the hotline that my booked hotel in Wheeling has a technical problem. All air conditioners are out of order. I could still stay there and get a discount or I would be transferred to another hotel without extra charge. There would still be free rooms in the Super 8, just a few miles outside. Without air conditioning in this heat and high humidity? When I shower thereafter the tour, I am sweaty again seconds later. It’s enough for me to sweat like crazy all day long. In the evening I want to have it comfortable. After all, it’s my holiday. But I did not want to agree yet. First I have to find out how to get to the hotel by bike and how far it is overall if I can do it at all. So I arrange a callback in ten minutes.

I begin my research sitting comfortably under the tree on the bench. I find the hotel on the map and can also find a bicycle path there. All in all, almost exactly ten kilometers further on. I think I could still do that today. But it’s the opposite of my route tomorrow, which has been planned for a very long time with 133 kilometers. That would be 143 kilometers for tomorrow, as I have to return the ten kilometers tomorrow. Violently. But I still decide on the air conditioning. Also because I know that there is always a (rudimentary, but at least) breakfast in the Super 8. I wouldn’t have had that in the booked hotel. The callback comes after 30 minutes. Now the booking has been changed. Plus ten kilometers. Well then, let’s go! At least, unnoticed by me, the small rain shower stopped and the sun burns again as if it had not been interrupted.

After 59 kilometers in total, 39 kilometers of which on the Panhandle Trail, I, unfortunately, have to leave it. A few kilometers further on it would have been over anyway. Now I can enjoy almost three kilometers of almost flat road, then I turn onto a small side road and the gate tour begins: On the next three to four kilometers the climb is incredibly steep! And when I say incredibly steep, then I also mean it: 19 % gradient! What a torment with my heavily loaded bicycle! Sometimes I manage 100 meters, sometimes only 30, then I stop weakened and suck on my water bottle like crazy. Fortunately, I have enough water with me! I can watch as the water enters my body through my mouth, only to reappear on my skin a few seconds later and evaporate into a haze. The Gotthard Pass in June was ten times higher but also ten times easier!

For this tour I have a motto: Keep Going! So, of course, I don’t give up but fight my way up meter by meter and eventually, after a felt eternity, I made it. For about five kilometers I stay at about the same altitude, then a rapid descent follows. I first shoot past a turnoff, which I have to take, but my Garmin reports immediately with wild peeps and only a hundred meters later I can turn around and continue downhill at 60 km/h. Unfortunately, the fun of the descent is only extremely short compared to the torture of the high crank.

At the end of the descent, I land Follansbee at the Ohio River. Wait a minute, Ohio River? It certainly doesn’t flow up such steep mountains! Would I have followed the river better? I look and quickly see that it makes a very wide turn to the north and I would have had to drive more than twice as far. All right, the posturing wasn’t for nothing after all. After all, I now have all the relevant gradients behind me and the last 42 kilometers are flat. Via Wellsburg and Windsor Heights I cycle to Wheeling on my bike path between the river and the highway. According to the sign, a part of the way was closed, but the gate was open and so I drove anyway. That was good because on the highway it would have been more unpleasant. Some time ago there was some forestry work done here, the road is partly covered with sawdust. But the work was all finished, only the final cleaning of the road had not taken place yet. Its quality was, by the way, the first ten kilometers under all sows. Then things got better and better. So I reached Wheeling after 106 comparatively uneventful but exhausting kilometers.

But I wasn’t in the hotel yet. Through Wheeling through it was quite easy. There was a good but luckily very short ascent in the city, then I landed on the Greater Wheeling Trail on my way out of the city. Another former railway line, which is now an ingenious cycle path. Including a tunnel, which saves driving over a hill with at least 100 height meters. The trail then leads after a bend directly along the Interstate, where a huge advertising poster elicits a smile from me: Leadfoot Tire Service. I don’t have to explain, do I?

I follow the trail to its end in Elm Grove on the National Road. There I quickly see my Super 8 Motel, in front of which a great vintage car from the 30s or 40s is standing. I don’t know it that well, but I guess it’ll work. A nice conclusion of the day. I am finished. In several respects. Goodnight…

🕑 Ø
5:40 114 km 20.2 km/h 1’140 m 1’200 m


Written on August 21, 2019