Scouting Trip to the Panhandle Trail

October 23, 2020
37.54 miles
South Side

On October 23, 2020, the weather was surprisingly gorgeous for this time of the year (think high 70s), and it just so happened that CMU was having mid-semester break. Even better, I had just taken all my midterms over the past two days, which meant that I had little work to do over the weekend. As such, I decided to head out for what might prove to be the last major ride of the year.

I had originally intended to do a roughly 80-mile round trip along the Panhandle Trail to West Virginia and back, possibly padding it out to 100 miles if I was feeling up to it. However, I ended up oversleeping, so I didn’t have nearly enough time left before sunset for such a long trip. I decided instead to turn this into a scouting trip out to the Panhandle and back, in preparation for a potential future ride there. (Most people just drive to the trail head, park there, and directly bike onto the trail. However, I don’t have a car, so I am limited to the places I can actually get to by cycling.)

My original idea was to actually head up north to Neville Island and take the Montour Trail south until it intersects the Panhandle Trail at roughly mile marker 18. This was a route that I’d done before on a previous trip, so I felt fairly comfortable doing it. However, this approach is not very direct; I would prefer to be able to go straight to the Panhandle trail head instead. I decided that a direct southwest route would have greater value as a scouting trip.

Things went fairly smoothly through the South Side; I’m quite familiar at this point with the Monongahela riverfront trail. Things got a bit sketchy in one section just beyond Station Square, where I had to get on West Carson Street (a semi-highway) in order cross over to Mount Washington. It’s a segment that I dislike riding but have done a few times before, so it didn’t concern me too much.

However, all of those previous trips had been in the opposite (downhill) direction; I usually go up Mount Washington to the east on 18th Street, which is not in the direction that I was heading but is better for cycling in general. In an effort to avoid major streets as much as possible, I decided to take a detour on Greenleaf Street. Let’s just say that going up Greanleaf is substantially nastier than going down. Taking into account both length and grade, this was probably the worst single climb I’ve ever had to do. Luckily, I was still fairly fresh, so I managed it without stopping.

Unfortunately, there was more climbing in store after this, as I went up another street that I’d only gone down before: Greentree Street. This was less steep (I think about a 7% grade) but much longer than Greenleaf. Next, there was a somewhat sketchy section where the road suddenly turned into a highway for maybe five hundred meters. I just stuck to the shoulder, but this wasn’t always possible due to some construction. I was also quite annoyed by this one segment of road through Carnegie with stop signs like every fifty meters.

Finally, I got out into more a more rural area, where I could relax a bit. To my pleasant surprise, the road had recently been resurfaced and wasn’t very steep. Combined with the golden late afternoon sun and the fall foliage, this made for some very enjoyable riding. The first time around, I actually missed my original target—the trail head for the Panhandle Trail—but I didn’t really mind because the road was nice enough. I kind of regret not taking a picture, but I guess some things you just have to experience without worrying about capturing a perfect photograph.

Okay, there was one not-so-nice incident on the road: I got “attacked” by a dog. It didn’t scratch or bite me (or at least didn’t break any skin), but it was quite a surprise to suddenly get impeded by a large animal. Fortunately, a kind passing motorist honked his horn to momentarily scare off the dog, and I biked away as fast as I could. I did not see the dog on the way back.

Over the course of the day, I overslept, missed a turn three times (twice it took a couple of miles before I noticed), and got attacked by a dog, so you could say that this trip didn’t turn out exactly how I’d envisioned it. It also ended up being quite a slow trip, I think because of both my bike’s mechanical issues and all of the climbing: it took 3 hours and 28 minutes to cover only 37.5 miles, although I did register 2,356 feet of elevation gain. Still, I’m grateful for the beautiful weather and the chance to take a real trip on my bike for the first time in over a month. Maybe if we get another day of nice weather on a weekend when I’m not so busy, I can actually explore the Panhandle Trail itself, which I’m told is quite pretty.