Ridgemont and Westwood

Three of my runs in January completed 99% of the streets in Westwood and Ridgemont. These two western neighborhoods perch atop hillsides on either side of Greentree Road. I’ve run extensively in Westwood, but Ridgemont was a whole new area.

https://www.strava.com/activities/4649360974
RATS #00358 Westwood

Run #00358 in Westwood was a “just get out there and do it” run. My intention was to complete Rydal Street and a couple of neighboring streets. In the darkness, I missed Sedley Way, but was otherwise successful. Nothing beats snowy steps at night!

https://www.strava.com/activities/4702189987
RATS #00362 – Ridgemont

Continuing with the evening running, my next run took me behind the Giant Eagle in the former Parkway Center Mall. Merely minutes outside the Fort Pitt Tunnels, Parkway Center Mall is torn down. Shadowy parking lots with feeble fences lead toward the bright Giant Eagle. The ubiquitous asphalt undulates, as if the land itself is trying to throw off the abomination of acres of paving.

I took a quick shaky selfie and headed on down Greentree Road and up Hamburg Street. The blue ice filter captured the temps appropriately. This, I must say, is the first the skull-decorated, smoking-moon outhouse I’ve found. I stayed on the hilltops, where the sun’s light lingered until the dazzling city lights came out.

It was a short, exploratory run in a new neighborhood.

https://www.strava.com/activities/4707540599
RATS #00363 – Ridgemont and Westwood

RATS #00363, a daytime run, pretty much completed the last two runs. I finished up lower sections of Ridgemont and in the end, even covered Sedley Way in Westwood.

With the knowledge from the previous run, I started right into Ridgemont along Springfield Street. This time, though, I made my way down New York Street to the dead-ends of Junius and Journal Streets. On the map they look like fork tines sticking into the hillside.

In real life, Junius and Journal are narrow streets clinging to the steep hill. A set of derelict steps gave me access to Journal without backtracking too much. On the farther side of Journal, the steps, now truly overgrown, fall off the hill. According to maps, they look like they go down to a railroad track. I’m not sure if they originally went further, for there’s a set of steps off of China Street below which look like they should meet. It’s all a rather moot point, though, because the steps are in bad shape and go nowhere. In the bottom picture, you can barely make out the steps and a few green rail posts still standing.

Just as a footnote, Junius continues on the map to Greentree Road. However, from the Ridgemont side, Junius ends in a veritable graveyard of cars in front of a narrow house. Journal Street, has a renovated house on the end, but also has ruins of houses along its course.

With Junius and Journal out of the way, I went to find the other side of Junius, off of Greentree Road. Junius does go up a bit, but Verna, a smaller road, is just blocked off from the street. While the bareness of winter allowed me to see everything, there’s not much to see. Steps, all twelve of them, took me from Ridgemont to Greentree. This rusty truck is hidden away at the end of an office park.

Now I explored the higher side of Westwood. Like Ridgemont, it has sweeping views. I daresay I can see the smokestacks from the Cheswick Power Plant! That’s about 14 miles away, as the indefatigable crow flies. I’m pretty sure that blue water tower on stilts is in the Upper Hill. That’s closer, only five miles away.

After such heights, I returned to lower Westwood; once again made my way up Milnor steps and finally ran Sedley Way.

Finally making my way back towards my car, I had to wait for a moment to cross Warriors Road. Looking down, I noticed gravestones at my feet. I think they must have originally been in Mt. Pisgah’s graveyard, across the street. Usually roads aren’t built across cemeteries. The picture below is a composite picture of two of the graves I saw.

With these three runs, I’ve covered most of Westwood and Ridgemont. I know there are a couple of alley’s I’ve missed, so one day I’ll be back.

Three December Runs

I had a pretty good December this year. So good, in fact, that I’m STILL blogging about it, a week into the new year! I had many significant runs towards the end of the month, so that whole “catch-up” thing will have to wait. My running tends to be done when the opportunity arrives, while my writing is more of a record than an instantaneous news feed.

RATS #00337

RATS #00337

It was a dark and stormy night…

Actually, it wasn’t stormy, just cold. I’m pretty comfortable running through the alleys of the Strip District and Lawrenceville at night. While they look creepy, they are typically deserted. Darkness and narrow streets are harmless without people. OK, upon recent news (fork-lift getting caught in a sinkhole), I guess I should be more worried about sinkholes. Those would, indeed, be a problem in the dark.

This run covered some alleys and streets I had missed in my previous jaunts. Outside of the quickly gentrifying areas marked by condos and bars, old Lawrenceville still exists. It’s an area of warehouses filled with products that people need. Above is a picture of A.R. Chambers, a construction supply company. There are tire stores, wholesale food warehouses and many more. The wide streets and flat land are rare in Pittsburgh and are perfect for these businesses.

RATS #00342 – With South Park Trail Runners:

Filthy Five Plus One Minus One

Filthy Five with SPTR
Filthy Five with SPTR – RATS #00342

The South Park Trail Runners is a local, down to earth, trail running group in Pittsburgh. Friendly and energetic, they run all over the area. For this day, they, meaning Suzanne, organized a run on the “Filthy Five” course – five of the steepest and toughest hills in Pittsburgh. Actually one of them was in Wilkinsburg, but it was really, really close to being in Pittsburgh.

At any rate, I joined this lively group of runners as we made our way from Frick Park to the East Hills, where most of these hills were.

Most of these roads I had already done, but taking a detour on Cassina Way made it a RATS run. Narcissus used to have a better place, I think; more like that Point Breeze mansion.

As is often the case on group runs, I got separated from the pack. I had raced several runners up the wrong hill and then completed the street. By the time I got back, the other runners were off on their merry way, voices echoing across the empty, snowy East Hills landscape. Luckily one of the residents told me “those marathoners went down the hill”. I pulled out the phone, found the maps and navigated to Ferndale Street, Dornbush Street and then to Hill Street, now in Wilkinsburg.

At this point I had finished Hill Four, and made my way back my car in Frick Park. I had forgotten all about the Fifth Hill, in the park itself. Oh well, counting the wrong hill, I ended up with five hills after all.

Big snowfall still hanging around

RATS #00343 – Arlington

RATS #00343

The day after the Filthy Five Plus One Minus One, I embarked on an efficient RATS run in Arlington. I had carefully mapped out the route and was pretty happy how it turned out. I saw the Cathedral of Learning from the high hills, as well as Santa nestled between two cattywampus houses. Were they wishing for a level lot?

Arlington is on the “back-side” of the South Side Slopes. It undulates wildly, with streets dead-ending at a steep ravine. It has it’s share of steps. The Dengler Steps are set back from the street and, it was only after seeing the boat that I thought, “there MUST be steps nearby”!

Speaking of dead-ends, I’m always disappointed when they are blocked off. However, I can read and don’t really want to see any dogs up close.

So that’s it for these three runs. I still have more of December 2020 to write about, but it’s almost done.

Sunset Run To City Views

https://www.strava.com/activities/4287269570

A run after work, this run quickly went from a jaunt through leaf-covered streets to picking my way through the dark on a closed road. Closed for good reason, it turns out.

I started near Heinz Lofts, apartments where once ketchup oozed. Who knows, perhaps ketchup is still oozing somewhere up there. I made my way through the Northside, eventually turning right onto Marshall Avenue, as it ramps up to the top of cemetery hill. I’ve sometimes wondered if the two huge cemeteries, Highland and Union Dale, has killed off normal urban development in the area. The sun was setting as I got to the small streets at the top of the hill. After snapping that pic, I crisscrossed the few small streets back there, then popped out onto North Charles, via Crispin Street.

North Charles rises like a ramp then jumps over I-279 on the Swindell Bridge. From the bridge, I glimpsed glowing towers downtown. With all the hills and ravines, effective darkness falls at strikingly different times.

Shortly after crossing the Swindell Bridge, I had planned to come down Gershon Street. I found it blocked, but decided to venture down it anyway. Sometimes, it is only bad for cars and pedestrians have free rein. That was the case here and a short internet search revealed some answers. It turns out that Gershon has been closed since February 2018, when landslides made the road unstable. Apparently the no-nonsense Jersey barriers were installed a few months later, after a driver drove past the police sawhorses and subsequently had to be rescued. I can see why it’s still closed. Yawning gaps on the right side disappear down the hill.

Gershon Street

I wasn’t the only one on the street. A middle-aged man walking his dog waved as I ran by. Actually he challenged me to run up it! Maybe another day.

It was now fully dark and I simply ran along East Street, following the faint residual ketchup smell back to Heinz.

Dusky Hill Run

RATS #00290 across Upper Hill to Lawrenceville

This day’s run was more about distance than making sure every street was new. I did, however, have a few target streets on my mind and covered most of them.

I started in Oakland. While it was moderately busy, it was nowhere as crowded as normal. The city has closed a number of streets so that restaurants can spill out into the street.

Forbes Avenue in Oakland
Forbes Avenue in Oakland with Cathy in the distance

I progressed up to Centre Avenue, doing the steps which go from Centre Avenue to Ewarts Street. Saw some attractive butternut squash along the way, as well as mysterious gates and doors.

Ewart Street brought me to Iowa Street. From there, I did a few cross streets. These were long residential streets, very typical of the Hill District.

From this point, as dusk settled in, I found myself on dim steps and small roads. From Webster Avenue down to Ridgeway and then to Bigelow Blvd, the steps are a very direct way down. The roads were quiet and empty.

Finally I crossed over Bigelow Boulevard on the pedestrian walkway. While it looks a bit threatening, it was well used and much better than dodging cars. I crossed over the Bloomfield Bridge and sailed down 42nd Street.

The return up Fisk was easier than I expected. Actually, with all the hills I’ve come across, I didn’t feel it was too bad. I finished out by returning to Oakland. A nice eight mile run! It’s been awhile since I just popped out a longish run on a weeknight. Yay!

Sunset views in Spring Garden

https://www.strava.com/activities/3938468063
Route for run number 00283

This run, in Spring Garden, and the previous one , in Spring Hill, were both in the “Spring Hill /City View” area of Pittsburgh according to Google Maps, but each had a different feel and, quite literally, a different view of the city. Spring Garden seems more 1950’s residential than Spring Hill. While still boasting huge hills, Spring Garden’s main streets seem a little tamer than Spring Hill’s.

At any rate, I started as before on Vinial Street, due to its convenience for parking. I ascended the Arcola Street steps as a short-cut to Damas Street. So, let’s take a short aside here. I pronounce “Damas” as “dah-MAHS'”, with soft southern “ah’s”, stressing the “mas”. The first time I was on Damas Street, I was lost and a little late and mentally christened it “Dumb-Ass” Street. This time, though, I found it a delightful little street. At it’s entrance, Steel City Boxing has set up a ring in an old building fire station. Right across the street is Voegtly Spring. I like to think this put the “Spring” into “Spring Garden”.

Moving on, I found Admiral Street, Noster Street and the intervening alleys to be quite nice. It was a pleasant evening, so people were in their backyards having gatherings around their fire pits and playing in their pools. Along Admiral Street a small flagpole and a simple cast statue stood as a personal memorial along an empty lot overlooking the city. I found it touching.

Many of these streets dead-end into hillsides. I was surprised to find there’s actually a “Spring Garden Greenway”, with its own official sign. Curious what a “greenway” is? Here you go!

In 1980, the Greenways for Pittsburgh program was established to consolidate steeply sloped, unbuildable land for the purpose of protecting hillsides and preserving passive open space resources.

http://www.pittsburghpa.gov/dcp/greenways/

I was not surprised to find deer. Of course, I didn’t find them on the greenway. I found them in a side yard, where I cornered a doe and fawn munching on yummy landscaped flowers.

As the evening became night, I finished up on the tremendous hill of Donora Street. Not far behind it, a radio tower stood dark against the sky.

Coming back to the rather flat Rockledge Street, I considered covering “just one more street”, but thought the better of it and headed home with over four miles in, and another 600′ of elevation. Looking at the map later, I’m really happy I called it a day when I did. I would have had a two more miles of small streets, alleys and dead-ends; but in the dark.

Go West, Young PBRs!

Starting in the West Side of Pittsburgh for a change. RATS #00119

Today’s run was one of four possible group runs, all with their own attractions.

  • Steel City had a later run going at 8:30 from the garage.
  • Perry’s group had a 20 miler going from Market Square. The last time I ran with them, it was pretty fun.
  • HPRC, another fun group, was running from a Point Breeze coffee shop, nice and close.

What tipped the scales for the Pro Bike Run from Chartiers Avenue? Well, I’ve been running Pro Bike’s Saturday run somewhat consistently and enjoy that 8:30-9:00 min/mile pace group. Not too much chatter, but a couple of good leaders and some very quick feet! Next was the allure of running in an area which would contribute so much to covering new streets of Pittsburgh. My first “official” RATS run was from Esplen, but I hadn’t gotten back out here again. Even though it was a bit far, mileage-wise, it still only took me ten minutes to drive to the Chartiers Ave starting point, no longer than any other option. Finally, the run planner, Kelly, was collecting teacher’s supplies, a good cause.

There I was, at 7:29 and fifty-five seconds screeching into a on-street parking spot on Chartiers Ave, just up the street from The Education Partnership. I grabbed my phone, clicked on the Forerunner 220, hoping the satellite would lock in before the run started. Kelly was just finishing her pre-run pep talk when I got to the group. The faster folks bolted out and then my group.

The first mile was steep, with grades up to 12.7% grade before we got to the top.

I start slow. Not super duper slow, but usually I’m the last person in the pace group at first. It takes some time for me to warm up and get all the muscles, sinews and joints in gear. This time was no exception and steep start was no help. We immediately went up Chartiers Ave, on our way to the West End Overlook. Once we got to the West End Overlook, it was time for pictures and a little water break. The downtown skyline looked magical as the sun broke through the fog. We lingered for a little, got a group pic and plunged down the hill. The sun picked up strength as we crossed West Carson Street en route to the West End Bridge.

Downtown and long shadows waiting for the light to change

The route showed that we would have a water stop on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail after crossing the West End Bridge. So, we expected to see some tables with beverages after we trundled across the bridge and down the stairs on the far side. And we were not disappointed! There was table after table of beer and pop. There were people grilling hot dogs and hamburgers. We were temporarily stunned at this extravagance, until we realized these were Pitt fans gearing up for the 11 am football game! After a little exploring, we crossed a gravel lot, found the break in the chain link fence and found our own water stop – a five gallon jug of clear, crisp water. Ahh!

From here, the group broke up a little. The folks doing seven miles went one way, the folks doing ten or eleven went another. Eventually I ended up in a group of four. We cruised along, promising the joking football fans that we’d be back for a beer. Our route did take us into the heart of the football revelry, right past Heinz Field then over the Fort Duquense Bridge. As we circled the Point, we could see the band marching and hear the oompahs of the tubas, the blare of the trumpets and the boom of the bass drum.

Soon after, I split off from the group. I had an idea I might be able to meet up with a friend at a coffee shop across town and didn’t want to wait for a pit stop. Turns out, the coffee shop plan didn’t pan out, but by the time I got that message, I was already zooming up West Carson St.

I had twelve miles on my feet when I got back to the run headquarters. Busted coffee shop plans meant I had more time and I resolved to get in sixteen miles. Gobbling a Honey Stinger Waffle and sloshing down water, I took off for more hills. I went up the other direction on Chartiers; strangely enough, still uphill. This section of Chartiers Ave is a wide, busy, curving street. On the left was a steep green hillside going up. Across the street on my right were several large parking lots and various business warehouses. Further along is a Comcast antenna facility, with a dozen large satellite dishes pointed at the heavens. Chartiers Ave keeps turning to the right, but I stayed straight and went up Straka St, which becomes Berry St. This was my first time in the Crafton Heights neighborhood. Berry St was directly uphill, again, and none too picturesque. As I wandered in the streets off of Berry I discovered it was a cute neighborhood with lots of tree cover and medium sized houses. Finally calling it a day, I was lucky enough to find that the Litchfield Street Stairs went back to Chartiers Ave. I made my way back to the start. Sixteen miles done!

That was quite a run. It had hills. It had flats. It had photo ops and it had boring sections. There was camaraderie and there was solitude. It had lots of new streets. Thanks Kelly and Pro Bike for getting me out there!