New Steps and Wabash Tunnel

After checking I had my Garmin, the phone, a flashlight and two alternate sources of light I emerged from my auto-cocoon and pressed the button to initiate satellite linking. While waiting there…

https://www.strava.com/activities/4139483554
RATS #00308 – Duquesne Heights

I had heard through the grapevine populated with cats that certain steps in this area had been redone and I was encouraged to go out and be the first one to run on them.

That, my friends, is the genesis of this run. It didn’t hurt that I had a couple of lingering streets to cover here (looking at YOU, Crooked Way). So, as October 1st was coming to a close, I found myself parking along Shaler Street in the early evening.

After checking I had my Garmin, the phone, a flashlight and two alternate sources of light I emerged from my auto-cocoon and pressed the button to initiate satellite linking. While waiting there, cooling my heels, I noticed an urban deer emerge across the grassy lot on the hill above. Now, being an urban deer, it knew to cautiously wait at the stop sign for a chance to cross.

Urban Deer
Urban Deer

Then, all of a sudden several things happened at once. A woman driving up Shaler slowed and stopped; asking me if I thought she would hit the deer by continuing. Glancing at the deer and the other traffic, I figured she could proceed slowly. About the same time, a couple in their mid-20’s approached the intersection from the other direction. They were walking a white, terrier-like dog on a long leash.

All of this time, the deer stood waiting for everyone to clear out.

Then, Mr. Scotty, the dog in his red plaid sweater, spied the deer.

“Yip, yip, yap!” he pulled the leash taunt.

At that, the young man, six feet tall with a long stride, started racing the dog towards Mr. Urbane Deer, now sipping some chai and nibbling grass. Startled that such small slow animals would be chasing him, Mr. Urbane spilled his tea and galloped across the field. Flash Gordan and Mr. Scotty actually started to gain on him, blurring in the twilight. But as the field narrowed toward two houses, Urbane elegantly leaped over a tall fence and disappeared.

Agog at this display of speed and agility, I turned back to the woman and suggested that it was clear to go now. Shocked as I had been, she just nodded.

In the interim, I had finally acquired satellite and proceeded up Rutledge.

Unfortunately, the steps weren’t complete. However, they look like they’re doing a thorough job, so these should be here another hundred years.

Crooked Way wasn’t the only street here I needed, but several, like Wyola, led into Emerald View Park trails in the dusky light.

Wyola Street going into trails

From here, I bounced over to Woodruff Street as it fell towards Saw Mill Run Boulevard. It only had sidewalks about a quarter way and from there it was gutter running. At the end, though, the Wabash Tunnel emerged from underground like a fiery oven. Shortly after, Saw Mill Run goes under an overpass. It probably wasn’t meant for pedestrians, but there I was. A bit on the spooky side, I must say.

With this, I made my way up Wabash and back to Shaler Street. All the excitement was gone, no deer, no dogs, just a couple of other runners in the cool night.

Turning 300 in Lincoln Lemington Belmar

https://www.strava.com/activities/4088625359
Route of run number 300

Whoo! My 300th time covering new streets on a run through Pittsburgh! This run was rather adventurous for me, covering streets from North Homewood to Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar. It is a residential area, with a few churches and small businesses. The houses tend to be older, occupied and in decent shape. There are big yards and lots of open spaces. There are also crowded streets, alleys used as dumping grounds, broken staircases and testy drivers.

My intention was to ascend the steps going from Lincoln Avenue to Arbor Street. Unfortunately, they were severely overgrown, so I ended up just running up Arbor Street. It was a steep one and there were several men in the street, cleaning brush and arguing. It was a little uncomfortable running past this group but happily they ignored me. Arbor Street makes a steep, sharp turn to the top of the hill where it becomes Pointview Street. There’s a small square of streets on this hilltop, which I had visited the previous day, working with Allegheny Cleanways, a group that is cleaning up illegal dump sites around the county. Pointview intersects Bower Street, another side of the square. One end of Bower Street are steps leading to Lincoln Avenue.

The other devolves from a decent residential street to a back-alley strewn with trash and cars. I continued along the alley until it started to curve closely around a house, like a driveway. I scooted back the way I came, noticing deer among the derelict cars and trucks.

Making the right onto Hyatt and then Hedge Streets, I noticed a driveway into that alley. Skull-decorated “Do Not Enter” signs adorned the entrance. Glad I didn’t go all the way around that building! While many areas I cover are empty, deserted streets, this area was alive with kids riding bikes, men walking home from the Dollar Store and people putzing around their yards. I got more than one quizzical look, as I suppose old white men don’t run up there too often.

I made my way to the start of Olivant Street, which has a long and meandering path. On one side, glass filled steps made their way from Olivant Street to a rather nice ball field. On the other, houses shouldered up the slopes.

From here, I crossed Paulson Avenue and explored the dead-end remains of Olivant Street on the other side. At the end of Olivant, as far as publicly accessible roads go, was a Duquense Light Power Substation. It’s desert-like gray gravel contrasted sharply with the surrounding lush green woods. Here, too, people were out; weed-whacking and taking in garbage cans. The streets up here are all dead-ends. Some are marked “Private” well before the end of the road. While frustrating to me, I don’t go down those roads.

I did manage to get to the end of Olivant Place, a narrow lane which became more and more grassy. I was awarded by the sight of a flock of wild turkeys, five or six large ones and maybe six smaller chicks. (Of course, turkey ‘chicks’ are rather large as well.) Startled, they abruptly scooted down the slope and flew into the trees. I only caught a fleeting photo of them. Usually the only Wild Turkeys I see are empty bottles. Must say, from the hilltops you get a pretty good view.

From here, I just ran a few more, flatter streets, before completing Paulson Avenue and heading back to my car. Eleven miles in the bank and some new areas covered.

More about the 300 runs

Pittsburgh Streets I’ve Run

I use a couple of methods to estimate how much I have done in Pittsburgh. The “golden standard” is my map of the Pittsburgh, where I color in each run as I do them. When the map is incorrect, I make notes. Streets that don’t connect are stricken through in black, additional streets are marked. In my ‘rules”, I state that doing 1/2 of a dead-end is acceptable. That is a bit weak, though, and generally, I’ll go to the end unless it becomes a private drive. I’ll be done when my “golden standard” is complete and anything I’ve ‘missed’ has an explanation such as “doesn’t go through”, “is a private road”, “not safe for pedestrians”.

Another method is CityStrides, which processes Garmin route data to determine which streets are completed. It uses a concept of “Nodes” to determine if you’ve completed a street. Do all the nodes, you’re done. Miss a node and and you’re not. With that being said, CityStrides has me at 58% of Pittsburgh streets completed. If this were all linear, that would mean another 217 runs. Of course, it is not.

I estimate I’ll need 90-110 more runs to complete the city. It depends greatly on how much I cover per run and how efficient I am at covering streets. Either way, it looks like I’ll be done sometime between New Years and Easter, 2021.

Winding Thru Windgap

https://www.strava.com/activities/3890197520
RATS #00277 in the Windgap neighborhood of Pittsburgh

Whew, another hot summer run! This time I sought out Windgap and Chartiers for a rather flat run in Pittsburgh’s western neighborhoods. I started from Chartiers Playground. As I waited there for my Garmin to synch to a satellite, I noticed an elderly man slowly walking a little fluffy white and brown dog up the street. I figured I would be long gone before he passed. As the satellites blinked overhead, refusing to connect, the man passed, chatting away on his cell phone, significantly younger than I had thought. While I stood there, getting old myself, he turned up the street and continued on. The effect was, that once Garmin did actually tune into the mothership, he was on the street I had originally intended to run. I felt awkward running by him now, so I decided to go around the block.

On this, my two-hundred and seventy-seventh run in Pittsburgh, I should have known you can’t just “go around the block” here. I dabbled a little on the other side of Chartiers Avenue, then found myself in the far end of Windgap, where large yards contain sprawling ranch houses or small two story homes. It’s rather remarkable how wide open this area is and I think it is on the Chartiers Creek floodplain.

At the upper edge of this plain, long streets such as Summerdale and Isolene provided some shade from the withering sun. Isolene has the distinction of being the first street you come to when hurtling down Middletown Road, which has about a quarter mile of nasty turns before hitting this flat area.

There wasn’t too much to see here. As it was garbage night, people were starting to bring out their trash. I seem to have a habit of running on garbage night, wherever I go. I liked the baby blue house below. Most houses were actually in better shape than that one. Large yards are the norm, many with large, flourishing gardens.

Approaching four miles, I finally made it around the block and called it a day. According to Strava, it was 88 degrees, but it felt hotter.

Chasing Deer and Climbing Steps

RATS #00269

Getting out of my isolation bubble for a bit, I ran Friday night with George, exploring the streets of Perry South. It was good to have the company and George got a taste of winding in and out of streets like true RATS. Hanging out before the run, I noticed this marker buried deep in the ground. It was a hot evening but we quickly made it to the Norwood Avenue steps, a harbinger of the remainder of the run.

Norwood Avenue plunges from Marshall Avenue to North Charles Street. Unfortunately, we had to keep going up and down that hill. The neighborhood was active, with people out on most of the porches, a few Friday gatherings, dog walkers and kids on bikes. Along one alley, we surprised a doe and a fawn out for an evening walk.

Along another street, an older woman swept the sidewalk as a little boy played with rocks, while across the street, large butterflies had been caught in a chain-link net.

And then, there were steps. It started slowly, with the gradual steps at the bottom of Norwood. Then it picked up a bit Delger Street. Those wooden steps were in pretty good shape, except one missing tread. It also was a convenient shortcut to the Delger Street, really an alley. Mayfield Avenue had a long series of street steps as it bucked up the hill like a horse.

Finally, as we rounded out one Quartz Way, we came to the Hawkins Street steps. They rose, block after block, from the ravine floor at Leland Street to their apex at Veteran Street, crossing Shelton Street, Ellis Street, and Perrysville Avenue.

Scooting down Veteran Street, we made our way back to the park. It was a solid run on a hot Friday evening.

No Shortcuts in Westwood

https://www.strava.com/activities/3656397341
RATS #00258 in Westwood

There it was! My Goal! I could see the Shop ‘N Save through the trees. It was RIGHT there! I checked Google Maps to make sure, for, to paraphrase Dean Karnazes “It doesn’t matter how fast you go if you’re going in the wrong direction.” Yes! Just go on Manley and cross Noblestown Road. My rather jolting evening run would be done!

But no, nada, zip; it was not meant to be. Even if my rule following self could manage to ignore “Road Closed”, “Construction Zone Ahead”, “DANGER, DO NOT ENTER”, “!! DANGER !! NO PEDESTRIANS” and “Street Closed Ahead” signs, the orange mesh construction fence drove the point home. No doubt there were land mines and sinkholes on the other side, too.

Road Closed? Are You Sure?

So, why the rush? Honestly it wasn’t too urgent, I was just trying to keep my mileage down. The evening’s run through Westwood was very productive, but a bit longer than planned. I have extolled the virtues of Westwood before. It is convenient, the area is well maintained and there’s a variety of houses. Unlike the east side of Noblestown Road, this area isn’t extremely hilly; except for Barr Avenue, and Mueller Avenue, and Brett Avenue, and…

But at least there weren’t many stairs. Just a couple from Clearview Avenue to Crafton Boulevard and that overgrown set of street stairs on Mueller.

Overall, the neighborhood was fun to run in. Mileage piles up quickly on the gently winding streets. At times, it’s quite the puzzler to figure out if you’re in the Borough of Crafton or the City of Pittsburgh. Sometimes a telltale diagonal line across a street indicates a change of jurisdiction. Otherwise, it is the blue City of Pittsburgh street signs which, once again, show the way. There are some very impressive homes and there are housing projects. The housing project I went through was teeming with children of all ages, from toddlers trying to kick soccer balls half their height to bicycle-riding tween girls zipping between the parked cars. Families were taking neighborhood walks; whole caravans of mothers, fathers, grandmothers, strollers and kids.

I also saw this box of magic, a brightly lettered Little Library.

Eventually, I found my way around the construction detour, finishing with over five miles. It was the longest run in ten days and portends good things for the rest of the summer.

Noble way to Crafton Heights

https://www.strava.com/activities/3447167472
RATS #00238 – Into Crafton Heights from Noblestown Road

This was a pretty well-planned run in Crafton Heights. Instead of approaching Crafton Heights from Steuben Street, I approached it from Noblestown Road. Honestly, a big draw was the availability of parking at the Shop ‘N Save on Noblestown Road. I wasn’t familiar with the area and didn’t know what to expect. I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised and look forward to running more in this area.

To get to my designated parking spot at the Shop N Save, I actually went out of the city on the Parkway West, exiting at Greentree. A few minutes and a few turns later, there I was, pulling into a rather empty parking lot. Social distancing and Covid19 fears has certainly made traffic lighter!

Noblestown Road, at this point, is a broad avenue crossing street after street of modest two and three bedroom houses built in the 1950’s. It sweeps down to Crafton Boulevard, where I took a left and caught Stratmore Street as it climbed steeply. I turned around at Steuben Street, which is the border between Pittsburgh and Ingram. From there, I went back and forth on the grid of streets between Stratmore and Arnold. Much of the area resembled Hollywood Street shown above.

Round Top Street dives down a particularly steep hill. It also has one of the newest set of steps I’ve seen in the city.

Round Top Street Steps

Eventually, I got to Clairhaven Street. For cars, that’s where you have to turn left onto Norwalk Street, but people can take steps from Clairhaven Street to Arnold Street. These stairs are a little wonky. The wooden top section is a work-around. Older concrete stairs, having fallen into disrepair, were simply bypassed. There are two “orphan houses” here. An “orphan house” only has entrances on the stairs.

Crossing Crafton Boulevard again, I came across this, the busiest front yard in the ‘Burgh. They had at least a dozen shiny mannequin heads on stakes.

How many lawn decorations can you count?

Making my way back to the car, I was happy with this nice run in the sun in a pleasant part of Pittsburgh. I’ll be back.

Sheraden Grid to Windgap

https://www.strava.com/activities/3351885713
Taking RATS #00225 to Windgap

“Sheradenia est omnis divisa in partes tres” – to loosely copy Julius Ceasar. (No worries, legions of Romans aren’t set to invade it.) There is the generally flat plateau overlooking the Ohio River; the flat grid between Sheraden Park and Chartiers Avenue; and the hilly section south and west of Chartiers Avenue. Most of today’s run was in the second section, between Sheraden Park and Chartiers Avenue.

Division of Sheraden into three parts

I parked near McGonigle Park and started the crisscrossing streets. Almost every yard had a dog. And every dog had something to say, starting with the large old black and brown dog who “woofed” at me vigorously, but didn’t bother to get up. Finishing up Universal Street, a young brown dog had lots to say as he breathlessly barked and leaped against his fence, trying to take a bite of a me. At least we both got our heart rates up.

Typical Sheraden Street.

But the people were nice, greeting me as they worked on their houses. Near the parks, the streets are pleasantly sheltered by tall trees. There’s supposed to be a set of steps which go from Moyer to Chartiers Avenue but the top is blocked by fencing. On the other end of the grid, Jean Street dissolves into broken steps descending to Adon Street.

The grid of streets, with a little duplication, covered six miles. Then I crossed Chartiers Avenue, planning to go up the Universal Street steps into the hillier section of Sheraden. However, the lower section of Universal is overgrown, so I went up the very steep Emporia Street. The top section of steps was OK, and I went all the way to Chetopas Street, where I got this broad view.

This hillier section Sheraden is riddled with steps, as streets cross Chartiers Avenue and run into a bluff. Huxley Street and Adon Street, for example, continue across Chartiers and meet as a step intersection.

Huxley and Adon Intersection

Then I made my way to Middletown Avenue. I had done portions of Middletown before. This time, however, I was intent on following it to its bitter end. Turns out, it lands in a flat, wide-open suburban area.

I crossed the Windgap Bridge which briefly took me into McKees Rocks. That is out of the City of Pittsburgh, so I returned to explore more of the Windgap neighborhood.

Traversing the big wide open streets of Windgap, I found the end of Chartiers Avenue. It just stops at the intersection with Mayfair Street, a residential, suburban street. I made my way back to Sheraden along Chartiers Avenue. I was a little short of my intended fifteen miles, so I wandered a bit in the center of Sheraden, where I saw this bold butterfly mural.

Criss-Crossing the Hill

RATS #00217 – Hill District

Recently I have been traveling to different areas of Pittsburgh to find new streets and run them. Today’s run was closer to home, in the Hill District. The Hill District has several long parallel streets which roughly go from the hilltop above the University of Pittsburgh to Downtown Pittsburgh. These streets, Bedford, Webster, Wylie and Centre are the main thoroughfares which people take through the Hill District and I’ve already run them. Today’s run was about the smaller streets crisscrossing those major roads.

I had parked in West Oakland, so from this perspective, the small streets begin at a low elevation along Centre and rise to the cliffs off of Bedford Avenue. This is properly called the Middle Hill. Over the years, many of the structures in this area have been torn down, so now, there are plenty wide open grassy blocks.

I started with Junilla Street Steps, which come off of Centre Avenue. It continues, sometimes as a street and sometimes as steps, all the way to Bedford Avenue. Along one stretch of Junilla Street, I saw a few turkeys and heard their gobbles. Groundhogs were freely roaming in the vacant lots.

Morgan Street starts rather wide-open and then closes in as you reach Elba Street. From previous adventures, I call the flight of steps from Morgan to Centre the “Who’s You!” steps.

Briefly put, I had been accompanying a friend along these steps when she decided to go down to Centre Avenue to take pics. For some reason (perhaps because I had run a long way), I just hung out on the sidewalk in front of the porch in my black hoodie and woolen Army beanie. Turns out, a tall dude in a black hoodie and a woolen Army beanie hanging out in front of your porch in the Hill District can be a concern. After a few minutes, I heard some shouting. From the street above, a big black guy in a brown jacket was yelling:

“Who’s You? Who’s You?”

I had just realized he was yelling at me when my companion sprightly sprang up the steps, gave some big smiles and whisked me away. Whew! Even now I muse, “What was the proper response?… I am me?”

But I digress.

Francis Street was interesting. Starting from Centre, it is a rather broad avenue heading up the hill. Then, as I crossed Wylie Avenue, it became a cul-de-sac of newer, rather suburban housing. I did the big circle and went out the way I had come. Later, as I started down Francis Street from the other direction I spied some steps, took them, and again landed in the suburban cul-de-sac. Surprise, surprise.

Coming down the Watt Street steps provided a nice view of Christian Tabernacle Church. I gradually made my way towards the Upper Hill, aka Sugar Top, where the big blue water tower lives. I finished off Milwaukee Street and a few little streets before heading down Herron Avenue and headed back to my car. No one shouting at me today. Thank goodness for social distancing.

Take the Stairs Fatass 50k – DNF

https://www.strava.com/activities/3255634085
RATS #00213: Take the Stairs Fatass 50k (DNF) Got 17 miles in

Last Saturday I decided to take a shot at the 50k “Take the Stairs Fatass” route. The weather was pretty good, but I got a late start (it was close to noon) by the time I got out. Now, treating this more seriously than I did the 25k route, I suited up like I was doing Hyner. I dug into my ultra gear box where I found treasures such as TP and hand wipes.

Much of the route I’ve documented already, but I did hit a number of new streets and stairs. I also had the good fortune to meet up with Sherpes Hasher, who was doing the route in the opposite direction. There were a couple of snafus – Vista Street steps are under construction, which I had forgotten. Early on, I added in the steps from Howard St to Compromise Street, an effort which likely contributed to an overall DNF. But, I’m not too sad about this DNF, I covered seventeen miles with over 3,500 feet of elevation and traversed at least 37 sets of city stairs before calling it a day on Wyoming Ave.

Here are the pics. Take Dramamine now if you have vertigo…

Spring Hill City View Area

Rising Main and Fineview

Perry South/Marshall/California-Kirkbride

West End & Elliot

Duquesne Heights & Mount Washington

That’s all, folks! One day, I will persist!

elliot

RATS #00203 – Elliot and West End

A day after running around the city and taking every stair I could, I was ready for the flat lands; no hills, no steps, no views. I just wanted the horizon to disappear in front of me, an unreachable challenge. Then I woke up and remembered that I was living in Pittsburgh!

For today’s run, I decided to check out the neighborhood around West End Park. Last Fall, I had attended an outdoor fashion show in the West End, off of South Main Street on Sanctus Street. That area seemed flat and I figured this area would be similar, I mean how much can things change in a mile?

Turns out, a lot. I parked near West End Park and ran down Kerr Street. Immediately, I came upon a very impressive set of steps leading far down. Their siren’s song drew me in and shortly, I found myself at the bottom, looking way up. I would have to ascend that eventually, and for now, went up Walbridge Street.

This twisting, steep street has some remarkable houses perched on its edge. Branching off of Walbridge, several small streets transform you from an urban runner in Pittsburgh to a wandering soul in the back roads of West Virginia.

My run planning had just set general boundaries – don’t go past Steuban Street or Route 60; leaving the exact route up to life’s realities. So, I just went back and forth on small streets and alleys. As it was a nice Sunday morning, people were out and about. Many were working in their yards and houses. Others were walking their dogs.

I was surprised at a few things I found. First was the back street full of boats. Next was the amazing view of the Ohio River near the Casino. Then, there were some really large and beautiful houses up here.

Of course, there were more stairs. The Hassler St Stairs off of Wymore are marked on my OpenStreetsMaps but not on Google. Usually Google is more accurate. I’d have to check again, but I at first glance didn’t see them in Bob Regan’s book, either. Also of note are the Lorenz Avenue stairs, which start slowly, just one step every ten yards before plunging down the hillside like proper steps. Elbon Street was surprisingly long. At one section, it bordered on an artifact of urban redevelopment – former Mayor Tom Murphy’s “Project Picket Fence”.

All in all, this was a cool area to run in. On a sunny Sunday morning, it couldn’t have been better.