Last weekend, my girlfriend and I took a trip to Pittsburgh. She had lived there before and we stayed with her friends “C” and “H”. On Friday I was fortunate to meet one of the Statistics PhD students at Carnegie-Mellon who showed me around the campus. I chatted with the amiable department secretary who explained that Pittsburgh folks are mostly from Eastern Europe, while the Scots-Irish people settled closer to Cumberland, MD. “H” took us to the top of the University of Pittsburgh “Cathedral of Learning”, the second tallest academic building in the world, and explained that peregrine falcons nest on its spires. We saw evidence of this in the form of a bluejay carcass in one of the window sills.
On Saturday, we parked near an imposing, multi-story jail building and walked around the downtown area. We saw the confluence of the three rivers that surround the city, and passed by the famous Heinz Stadium. We ate lunch at former Steelers halfback Jerome Bettis’s “Grille 36” sports bar, which was excellent (if you go, be sure to try the Turkey Burger!). I was impressed by the tall skyscrapers everywhere, and H explained that at one point in history, Pittsburgh was one of the largest and most economically dominant city in the United States due to the importance of coal and the steel industry. Now, however, the health and technology industries dominate, and the former headquarters of US Steel is inhabited by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which is one of the best places in the country for organ transplants. I rented a bike and rode up and down the Monongahela River, observing giant cauldrons that once poured molten iron, and long barges filled with coal coming down the river from West Virginia. It’s amazing that a barge could navigate all the way from there to New Orleans uninterrupted by whitewater rapids, while merely 20 miles or so from DC, the Potomac is blocked off to river traffic by Great Falls.
Later that night, we took the Duquesne (pronounced “Doo-kayn”) Incline to the top of Mt. Washington to get a night time view of the city. “H” explained to us that the inclines were constructed in the early 1800s and would transport steel workers back to their homes at mid-day for lunch with their families. We were extremely fortunate to meet one of the engineers, “L”, who had spent 40 years working in a gear factory. While gleefully expounding on the relative merits of plastic versus wooden cog teeth, he showed us the underground system of cables and enormous spools that was running the incline car up and down the steep mountain. In one of the rooms, a wide area was fenced off with a “high voltage” sign. He said sometimes the wall of fuses and switches throws off showers of sparks, and to him that is “when the fun starts”.
On our final day, we tossed a frisbee in the vast and verdant Schenley Park and had lunch at the one of the famous Primanti Brothers restaurants. Their sandwiches are notable for having coleslaw and french fries BETWEEN (rather than beside) the bread. We also stopped by the Conflict Kitchen, a stall serving food from different countries in opposition to the US (to raise awareness, I suppose?). On our way back to DC, we took a detour and drove up to Mt. Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania. There was a spectacular view from the observation tower at the summit. On the road down the mountain, we passed by numerous Amish folk driving around in horse-and-buggies. I am continually amazed at the wonderful diversity of the people of the United States. We are truly fortunate to live in a land where one can choose to live with however much technology they wish. Whether I find myself seeking solitude or cheery companionship, I am sure I will find myself drawn again in the future to Pittsburgh and the beautiful Allegheny Mountains.

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This weekend I went on an awesome bike ride in Washington, DC through Rock Creek Park and back down to Georgetown via the Capital Crescent Trail. If you’d like to try it, here are some notes I sent to my friend about the ride:

  • I had no trouble parking on Water Street near Jack’s Boathouse even though there were a ton of other people out shopping in Georgetown.If coming across the Key Bridge turn on M Street going east then right on Wisconsin Ave.
  • From there I rode down the street to the Rock Creek trail which basically runs parallel to Rock Creek Parkway. It was narrow and crowded with pedestrians at first but after ~2 miles there wasn’t any problem.
  • Beach Drive through the park is closed on Sundays to cars, so it’s ideal for biking. I followed it all the way to Maryland.
  • Beach Dr turns into Jones Mill Rd. after crossing East West Hwy. I followed it to the intersection with Jones Bridge Rd. and turned left (South/West) onto Georgetown Branch Trail/ Capital Crescent Trail. Up to this point, the trail was paved and relatively flat with a slight uphill trend.
  • The first couple of miles on the Georgetown Branch trial were gravel but posed no threat to my very narrow road bike tires
  • After going through a giant tunnel, it empties out right in the middle of Bethesda row. You have to go across a tricky intersection but then the trail starts up again with pavement and is basically downhill the whole rest of the way.
  • You can then follow the Capital Crescent all the way back to Georgetown. It runs parallel to the C&O for the last several miles.
  • I think the total distance is a little less than 20 miles and it took me about 1.5 hours.
  • You could also do the loop in reverse, in which case it would be a long gradual uphill for the first half and then a slightly hilly flat/downhill the second half.