Pittsburgh Is For Bikes

Three pounds. That’s not much. A pineapple weighs three pounds. So does a jar of Crisco. The human brain weighs three pounds.

That doesn’t seem like much weight, but think about it. Human brains have built modern society, fed starving nations, cured deadly diseases, and given us the U.S. Tax Code.

The human brain came up with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Einstein’s three-pounder proved relativity. And once, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, two brilliant young men combined their three-pound organs to create Delta Airlines.

I’m thinking a lot about the human brain right now. Because at this moment I am cycling on a busy Pittsburg super highway with a plastic helmet covering my brain.

My wife is pedaling behind me. Vehicles speed by, traveling 120 miles per hour. Drivers honk horns. Motorists flick cigarette butts out windows. A semi-truck blows his whistle.

How did I get here? What led me to this profound life moment? That’s when it hits me. My three-pound brain.

The reason we are in Pittsburgh is because this is where the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail begins. And our brains thought this trail would be fun.

The Allegheny Passage is a very long trail that starts in Pittsburgh and runs through the Appalachian Mountains. It crosses the Eastern Continental Divide, the Mason-Dixon Line, and the Maryland border.

Then the trail runs into the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal trail which lopes hundreds of miles across historic waterways, forests, rivers, farmland, covered bridges, and small towns. It snakes through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and finally peters out in Washington D.C.

So that’s why I’m on this busy highway. We are going to ride this trail.

I’ve never been to Pittsburgh before. And to tell the truth, I visualized my first experience going differently.

On the highway, I see a police cruiser parked near the curb. I pull over to ask for directions to our hotel. The policewoman glances at our cycles and notices the backpacks strapped to bike racks.

“Follow me,” she says.

Soon my wife and I are biking through the heart of the Steel City, following our personal escort—Pittsburgh’s Finest.

When we arrive at the hotel, the friendly police lady says, “You’re doing the trail, huh?”

“How’d you guess?”

She smiles. “We get a lot of bikers. Watch out for copperheads on the path. I hear they’re everywhere.”


Soon, my wife and I are riding sidewalks and I can relax a little because this is safer than highways.

The city is spectacular. This place has it all. Skyscrapers, mirrored towers, historic buildings, good restaurants, and a guy breakdancing outside the CVS without any music. Or clothing.

At one intersection, we meet two more cyclists. They are from West Michigan. They’re wearing brightly colored cycling clothes that fit their trim bodies like latex paint. There are tin pots and skillets dangling from their backpacks.

“You doing the trail?” he asks me.

“We’re gonna try,” I say.

“We are too,” he says. “We’re starting tomorrow morning.”

They go on to say their adult son died four years ago from an unexpected heart problem. He was an avid mountain biker and outdoorsman. Their son always wanted to bike the Allegheny trail, but never did. His forty-first birthday would have been in a few days.

“We’ll be celebrating on the trail,” says the woman. “Probably in a tent, eating dried noodles. But we’ll be celebrating.”

I ask how many miles they’re biking.

“Oh,” says the guy, “we’re gonna do the full three hundred and fifty.” He pats his pack. “Got almost enough noodles to last until D.C.”

When the light changes, we part ways and they pedal off like a couple of professionals. I can’t help but notice their calves look like overinflated footballs.

I look at my own pitiful lower legs. My shins resemble bones from a boiled chicken carcass.

Before we check in to the hotel, my wife and I pull over at a small eatery to get supper. People are standing in a long line, wearing surgical masks. I am told the food is good here.

“The sandwiches are SUPER good,” says a lady in line, wearing a floral-print mask. “You’re gonna love it.”

I can’t believe how friendly people are in this city. Everyone has been so nice. I guess I’ve always assumed Pittsburgh would be like New York City, where people mug each other at family reunions and steal their granny’s insulin money.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The ‘Burgh is a mild city, with a cozy feel. And people will actually talk to you.

My wife and I eat messy foil-wrapped sandwiches, sitting on the curb with our bikes parked beside us. When we finish, the daylight is gone. The streetlamps begin to glow. A neon theater sign lights up the dusk with multi-colors.

Hundreds of headlights roll the downtown streets like an army of lightning bugs. We ride toward our hotel in the dark like a couple of starstruck tourists.

When we walk into our hotel lobby, I see the Michigan couple from earlier. They are pushing bikes through the main area toward the elevators. They board the elevators then remove their helmets to reveal sweaty mops of gray hair.

He leans in to kiss her on the forehead. He puts his arm around her. I can hear him say, “The trail will be fun.”

She closes her eyes and presses her head against his chest. Her face is a little sad. And I bet I know who she is thinking about.

“It will be fun,” she says back to him.

The elevator doors close.

Lord help my three-pound brain.


  1. Rogers - September 8, 2020 8:35 am

    Congratulations Sean! It seems you have learned to ride a two wheeler at long last! Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?!

  2. TrixC - September 8, 2020 10:07 am

    I’ve not heard of this trail but you have inspired me…again! Get the bike out!

  3. Helen - September 8, 2020 12:14 pm

    You must have been eating at Primati’s!

  4. Patricia A Schmaltz - September 8, 2020 1:41 pm

    Make sure you see the Cathedral of Learning… and have a perogi. It is an awesome city. Glad you didn’t say “yinz”. I’m still trying to convince my 68 year old sister that ‘burg speak isn’t as universal as “ya’ll”

    Safe travels.

  5. tina swinson - September 8, 2020 2:20 pm

    We are riding this the trail from Pittsburgh to Cumberland 10/5. Two old folks at 62. We are going the cushy route, staying at B&B each night.
    So excited to see your post today! Post some pics!

  6. Gary - September 8, 2020 2:49 pm

    We had a very similar experience in Pittsburgh. The western part of Pa. is filled with nice folks who want to help you out. Now the eastern corner of Pa. (Philly) might be a little different (according to the nice folks in western Pennsylvania)!

  7. Patricia Gibson - September 8, 2020 3:01 pm

    Pittsburgh is beautiful and friendly. One of my favorites places.

  8. elizabethroosje - September 8, 2020 3:03 pm

    I am so glad you are out and biking, it’s good for the soul!

  9. Lynn - September 8, 2020 4:28 pm

    What a wonderful idea! I can’t wait to read your stories from the road.

  10. Linda Moon - September 8, 2020 5:10 pm

    Steppwenwolf’s words are almost as good as the ones you’ve been sending our way. Head out on the Highway, Lookin’ for Adventure. Some of us are born to be wild. Wild adventure often leads to profound loveliness, too, in the people we meet along the way. And, Lord preserve the brain (Sean’s) that comes up with stories of profound life moments for us readers!

  11. MAM - September 8, 2020 6:07 pm

    Keep that three-pound brain well helmeted! And watch out for copperheads! But have a GLORIOUS trip. How far are y’all going?

  12. Prof. Quincy Adams Wagstaff - September 8, 2020 7:39 pm

    Sweet tale and lovely as usual but Pittsburgh is not without the racial/social disease breaking out in Democrat Cities


  13. Tommy - September 8, 2020 7:40 pm

    “ She closes her eyes and presses her head against his chest. Her face is a little sad. And I bet I know who she is thinking about.
    “It will be fun,” she says back to him.”.
    The subject of a sentence is often easy to identify. The subject of a story sometimes…..harder.

  14. Helen De Prima - September 8, 2020 9:22 pm

    Best of luck! Not for me — maybe on horseback . . .

  15. cronkitesue - September 8, 2020 11:42 pm

    Good brain work in this one.


Leave a Comment