Snowy Run from a Month Gone By

(January to be exact)

https://www.strava.com/activities/4632494430
Route of run #00356

Once again, I’m reaching back into last month’s runs. There were so many of them! Several of my posts delightedly spoke of ice-free streets and sunny days. This day, however, looked more like January. The wind was howling, the snow was blowing, the skies were gray. (Much like today, the February day I’m writing this.)

At any rate, I ran in the Corliss section of Sheraden; a sub-neighborhood, if you will. This is roughly between Chartiers Avenue and Middletown Road. Chartiers Avenue is rather urban. Middletown Road, on the other hand, has a wide-open, suburban feel. Like tectonic plates colliding, these two visions collide in Corliss, yielding steep streets and tortured steps; a land of broken steps.

Getting started right off the bat, I noticed these steps for “Jenkins Street”. I was surprised because Jenkins Street did not appear on my map. Turns out, Jenkins hasn’t been a real street for decades. Most of the “lots” along that papery street are owned by the City of Pittsburgh. I took a screenshot of the Allegheny County Real Estate Portal and added the red arrows where Jenkins is supposed to be. The steps there are in surprisingly good shape and the street sign for this nonexistent street is top-notch.

Moving on, I crossed Middletown and slogged up a long alley. The recent snowfall made everything more picturesque. It went all the way to Chartiers Avenue, where you can see the West End houses rising high towards the overlook.

This high-side of Chartiers has many nooks and crannies. Tybee Steps look pretty official, but when you get to the other side, you’re trekking on a grassy slope between houses. Those steps with the nice white picket fence could be part of Newcomer Street, or they could just be a poorly maintained walkway to someone’s house. Newcomer Street is another street destined to exist only on paper. The one section is a little used section off of Emporia. The other section is now a personal driveway, all fifty yards of it.

While most of my pics are of steps here, there are a few houses. These two, in particular, struck me. The 1920’s red brick house, in particular, is very impressive. That balcony! That wrap-around porch! The octagonal tower! The creamy yellow house is more modest, but is a bright spot on a dead end below Fadette Street.

Speaking of Fadette, Fadette is split into several sections and shape-shifts into stairs for a bit. Unfortunately, the Fadette Steps are tattered and torn. I’m always critical of closed stairs. Are they closed for reason, or just because someone got annoyed with them? These are closed for good reason with missing treads and wonky wooden handrails. Hopefully they will get repaired before nature reduces them to urban artifacts.

These broken steps seriously messed with my planned route. I had to detour along Faronia Street to get to the bottom. Along the way, I came across another impressive, and closed, set of steps; Jeffers Steps. I went up a bit, but could not make it to the top in the swirling snow. Later, Fire Way, above, afforded me the view of the top. It was getting chilly and a fire didn’t sound bad.

I suppose there were enough steps to keep me warm. Pritchard Street and Mutual Street had step-assisted paths from Chartiers Avenue. There were steps down to Tuxedo Street, with its skate park, but they, too, were broken.

Pritchard Street

Not far from these last steps, I turned back toward my parking spot in Ingram, running back along Ladoga, continually looking for the other end of Jenkins Street.

Sunset on California

https://www.strava.com/activities/4621577990
RATS #00355

This was a very targeted run after work in mid-January. I started out in Brighton Heights and worked my way down to Ireland Way in Marshall-Shadeland. My first street was Lee Street, which took me past an old-folks home. It also bordered some sort of day-care and ended in the City Growers Community Garden. After a bit of ducking in and out of those streets, I found my way to Kalorama Way. Kalorama Way is a rather long alley and is broken into at least three parts. This part took me past the schoolyard of Morrow Elementary, with its towering smokestack.

This area has a mix of houses and apartment buildings. I liked the archways and balconies of this one on Fleming Avenue. In spite of the dense urban feel of Brighton Heights, there’s always an alley that takes you back to the countryside. I’m wary of such back-alleys, worried that I might trespass on someone’s property, and worried that they’ll take exception to it. Look what happened to the last trespassers here!

Nature is always at work. In a few more years, the straggly vines will cover that shed. Add a couple more years and the shed will be gone. I had already done the Rankin Steps, but they were a great shortcut to the third section of Kalorama Way. They also point to the amazing ups and downs of Pittsburgh. This house, with it’s high turret on a high hill likely has a better view even than I did of the Alcosan Plant far below. Everyone wants a view of the Alcosan plant, right?

Richardson Avenue and its side-streets dumped me out onto California Avenue. From that high bridge over Eckert Street, I caught the setting sun and then made my way down California to Halsey Place, not far from Marshall Avenue.

On the return trip, I scouted out Ireland Way and its two sections of steps. One, along the street, is just overgrown and crumbling. The other, shown on Google Maps as “Pickle Way”, is wildly overgrown and disintegrating. It doesn’t go very far until nature takes over. Hey Red Shed, see what’s in store for you?!

Further on, there was a set of steps which had eluded me on earlier runs. Supposedly, it ran from Toberg Street to Woodland Avenue. Aided by careful pre-run sleuthing, I finally found it. It was masquerading in plan sight as a side-yard. I went up to them, but those wooden steps were completely overgrown.

Side-yard Steps
Steps to Toberg

With this little mystery uncovered, I ran back to my car as the dusk turned into night.

Sandcastle And Beyond!

https://www.strava.com/activities/4600869666
RATS #00353 in Glenwood, and Glen Hazel

Water slides in winter are silent reminders of summer. Sandcastle, on the edge of the Mon, is a bubbling madhouse on hot August days, where lines of sparkling wet bodies, lathered with sunscreen, wait to speedily spill down the slides. Now, running past in early January, not a soul was to be found. Like Kennywood, an amusement park a few miles upriver, Sandcastle reminds me how work and play are so closely intertwined here, with an active railroad, a biking path and a water park within fifty yards of each other.

At the far end of Sandcastle is the Glenwood Bridge. I’ve never run across that bridge and wasn’t sure how to make it to the sidewalk across. It’s a large bridge, with ample room for floods. (Sandcastle, on the other hand, periodically gets flooded.) Fortunately, I came across several staircases which got me to the bridge. I’m thankful that the designers of these roads took pedestrians into account.

Once past Sandcastle, metal recycling facilities dominate the scene, a far cry from the steel factories which once were here. The Glenwood Bridge crosses the Mon and is a major roadway for South Hills commuters. On the far side of the bridge is Glenwood. Prior to poring over maps of Pittsburgh, I would have called that area “Hazelwood”. It is actually Glenwood, Glen Hazel and Hazelwood. Some do consider it “Greater Hazelwood” and it is encouraging to see community involvement as a part of recent urban planning. For a PDF of their recent neighborhood plan, click HERE.

I’ve recently done many runs in Glenwood and its companion, Hazelwood. With this run, I pretty much have completed the area. It has stunning views of the Mon Valley and a mix of houses, from hard-knock alleys to large houses wrapped with porches. Recently a fire gutted this house on Cust Street. The adjoining house was also damaged by the heat. It is likely that this house will just sit here for years, slowly falling apart.

Of course, there are stairs. Cust Street steps take you from Second Avenue all the way up the hill on two flights. Off the second flight are orphan houses – houses which front the steps and do not have direct road access. The Sunnyside steps take you from Glenwood Avenue up to Sunnyside Avenue. Further on, tiny Steelview Avenue steps took me down to Brownsville Road right above the Homestead Highland Bridge.

Finishing up in Glenwood, I made my way through Glen Hazel to the Homestead Highland Bridge. Glen Hazel’s Kane Living Center is a senior care home and had scary Covid numbers this past year. Generally, Glen Hazel has newer houses than Glenwood and Hazelwood, probably built in the 1960’s or 70’s and is largely subsidized, I believe. However, there’s lots of unused land and a few blocked-off streets. It seems typical for publicly owned land in Pittsburgh for housing – it’s mainly vacant (see also Arlington Heights and Saint Clair). Nonetheless, changes are in the works here as developers start work on the area. What will they build? I don’t think anybody knows.

At any rate, in times past there was a set of steps from Johnston Avenue to Broadview Street. Right now, they are hidden behind a bus stop and blocked off by debris. However, I found them. As they are built into the hillside, rather than soaring above it, I was willing to go up them.

Looking down from the top, I noticed the tops of the handrail posts were shimmering with light. At first I thought someone had put crushed beer cans on top of the posts, or someone had put LED lights there. The real reason was much cooler. These were ice caps. The recent snows and fluctuations of temperature left little hockey-pucks of ice in the slightly recessed pipe-ends. These icy pucks caught the fading sunlight and shone like beacons.

Ice cap shimmering
Ice cap shimmering

After this off-road and otherworldly experience, I made my way to the Homestead High Level Bridge. Formerly the site of Homestead Steel Works, it is now a shopping center.

There are still a few reminders of the days when 10,000 workers crossed the bridges and worked in mills, like these smokestacks.

Smokestacks

Brought to You by the Letter ‘g’

Strava Route of Run 349
RATS #00349 – Carrick & Overbrook

Continuing the seize the day with ‘warm’ January temps, I got out and ran in the Carrick and Overbrook neigborhoods. I had planned it out fairly meticulously and was rewarded at the end.

I started out on Brownsville Road and headed for the streets south of Maytide. Here Pittsburgh borders Brentwood. You would be hard-pressed to tell the difference from the look and feel of the neighborhoods, with the biggest evidence being different colored street signs and paving lines across the road.

Once up from Maytide Avenue, the houses have decent sized yards as the streets undulate over the hills. After laboring up a steep hill, I got a kick out of seeing the houses across the street sitting far below street level. I did cross over and look. Those back porches stretching nearly the width of the house have a great view of the retaining wall.

I also saw a couple of Pittsburgh chairs, ‘working’ to keep parking spots safe from intruders. Now, when there is a heavy snowfall, and you have to shovel snow for hours, putting a chair out is a time-honored tradition to make sure no one pulls into your spot when you leave for work. Woe be unto those who steal spots! However, there was no heavy snowfall, so I think this chair was working overtime.

I came across a back-alley garage around here, emblazoned with a “g”, like on Sesame Street. Finishing the grid of streets around Stewart Avenue, I continued along Stewart as it plunged 200 feet down the hill toward Saw Mill Run Boulevard. It’s a wild road leaving behind the orderly neighborhood above and going back in time as it approaches a “cemetery zone”. The houses tell the tale.

As Stewart twists and turns before hitting Saw Mill Run, it passes Saint George Serbian Orthodox Cemetery on the right and Shaare Torah on the left and eventually Shaare Zedeck.

I touched my toes outside Pittsburgh where Stewart hits Saw Mill Run Boulevard. Then I clambered back up to Horning Avenue, where I took the Horning Steps past the St. Norbert Church building, now for sale.

Rounding out my run, I started up Overbrook Boulevard, but decided to catch just one little alley I had previously missed. Tyro Way leaves Overbrook and hits the Antenor Way Steps. In an earlier, dark run, I had stopped at the top of the Antenor Steps, warned off by a barricade. This time, starting in the middle, I was pleased to note that the steps were actually pretty good, all the way from Maytide to Antenor. Oh, there may have been a missing tread or two, but nothing horribly wrong. Strangely enough, barricades at each end had been knocked over. I’m now including Antenor Steps as a very doable section, preferably in daylight.

And that was that! “G” that was a good run!

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.

Finally! A Monthly Wrap-Up for November 2020

Summary

This November, I kept up my streak of 100 mile months and 10k+ elevation gains. I did hit some road blocks. While totally predictable, early darkness wreaked havoc on my running habits. Not so predictable was a week of quarantining due to Covid-19 exposure. Either way, I had sixteen runs in November, of which thirteen of them covered new streets. I am closing in on completing 70% of Pittsburgh’s streets. I wasn’t too good at blogging, though.

RATS #00328

https://www.strava.com/activities/4348197882
RATS #00328 in Brookline

This was a short run starting at Brookline Memorial Park covering Oakridge and Freedom Streets. The brilliant sunset gave way to just the slightest sliver of the moon. I caught the hippo in dusk, but the flag was still up when I returned in the dark. Aren’t flags supposed to be taken down or lit at night?

RATS #00329

https://www.strava.com/activities/4362738815
RATS #00329 in East Liberty

This four mile run also embraced the dark. I started with a few Shadyside streets and then ventured into East Liberty and Larimer. Missing my turn, I went up Lincoln Avenue instead of Lowell Street, seriously disrupting my planned route. Yet, with only 88 feet of elevation, I enjoyed this, the flattest run I had done in awhile. Eventually though, beyond the stores and street lights of East Liberty, the poorly lit streets and unfamiliar area got to me and I skedaddled back to my car, using the steps down to Ellsworth Avenue as a shortcut. It turns out, even those steps are “official” city steps.

RATS #00330

https://www.strava.com/activities/4370938579
RATS #00330 in the West End

Ah, the West End. The overlook has my favorite view of downtown. It also has a little parking lot, so it’s a great place to start. Balloons and candles remained for “KMB”, whomever that is.

I had visited this area several times already, but had missed some streets. The West End is unrelenting in its hills. Streets going toward the river are extremely steep, but even the cross streets bounce up and down. I ran up to St. Martin Cemetery crisscrossing the neighborhood on little streets and alleys. These unofficial steps on Navajo Way were a lucky break. Otherwise I would have had to run around those blocks again.

I headed downhill and ventured out Chartiers Avenue a bit; going up Litchfield Street. This “street” consists of several impressive flights of stairs. The streets are less impressive, generally winding up hills to arrive in someone’s garage. None of those streets are thruways.

RATS #00331

https://www.strava.com/activities/4377247944
RATS #00331 in Highland Park and East Liberty

A portrait of alleys in Highland Park. I amazed that it took nine miles to wander up and down all those alleys. Some were brick, some were asphalt. Mostly they were straight, while a few zigzagged.

Along the alleys were some immense houses and a few apartment buildings.

And, of course, I can’t resist a Little Library.

RATS #00332

https://www.strava.com/activities/4395003449
RATS #00332 – Homewood

This was a Thanksgiving Day run. I started in Swisshelm Park and went up Braddock Avenue to find its northern terminus, passing one of my favorite stores, 3 Rivers Outdoors. It is a small business specializing in outdoor gear. They also sponsor a trail running group and fun community activities. Going south, Braddock Avenue goes to Braddock, of course. ( Actually it veers east, trails past steel mills and winds up in Turtle Creek, if you must know.) On the northern end, it just stops unceremoniously in Homewood at a playground.

My previous run in Highland Park was mainly in alleys. Homewood has its alleys too, a bunch of “f”ing alleys; Formosa Way, Fleury Way, Finance Way, Forrest Way, Fuschia Way, and Fielding Way to name a few. I did a couple of these alleys, then climbed Calway Street. Calway Street struggles up a steep hill for a few houses and then is blocked off as it wanders into the woods. Turning around, I got a neat view of Homewood, its bowl filled with homes as downtown buildings peeked over the ridge. Returning down toward Braddock Avenue, I came across another Little Library, this one in purple. By the time I returned to Swisshelm Park through Frick Park, I had run ten miles.

RATS #00333

https://www.strava.com/activities/4398743439
RATS #00333 – Homewood and Belmar

This run was something of a continuation of the previous run. I pushed further into North Homewood and Belmar. Right off the bat, I roused two deer from their Homewood bed under a stairwell. There’s a confusing mix of streets here, where Pittsburgh collides with Wilkinsburg. The older warehouses and buildings are mainly deserted. After crossing off a number of small streets and alleys off my list, I headed up Brushton Avenue and Stranahan Street.

After crossing several streets and alleys off my list, I headed up Brushton Avenue and Stranahan Street to a small subdivision. Water authority construction workers were busy digging and putting down pipe. Their store of fire hydrants looked like an arsenal of rockets. It was a rather chilly day and no one was playing hoops when I passed by.

Completing the loop around Tilden, I went up Oberlin Street. At the end, a ragged set of steps took me up to Somerset Street. Somerset Street was high and wide, but I was ready to find my way home again so I found the Toga Way steps. Toga Way took me down steps littered with monkey balls. What are monkey balls? Check this Incline article for the full story, but they are the fruit of “Maclura pomifera”, commonly known as the Osage orange tree.

In another confirmation of boat theory, I saw several, nestled in the woods near the steps.

RATS #00334

https://www.strava.com/activities/4409006976
RATS #00334 with Rich

My friend, Rich, came with me on this adventure. Once again, I explored North Homewood and Belmar neighborhoods. We covered lots of ground and Rich made the miles go by easily. Here’s Rich, out standing in his field. He has a good eye for photography and takes nice pics.

A surprisingly sunny day, we made our way to the entrance of the VA Hospital grounds. Unfortunately, it was blocked off with vigorous “No Trespassing Signs”. With that route blocked, though, we found our way to a rusty water tower high above the Allegheny. I convinced Rich to NOT climb it.

From the top there, you could see way up the Allegheny River Valley. There was another water tower, but with its light blue paint and the sunny skies, it was actually hard to see.

In planning this route, I was using Google Street view to verify that streets went through. I was shocked when the street view took me from a rather derelict Ferdinand Alley to a sweeping country vista. Whoops! A glitch in the Matrix.

Ferdinand Way vs Google Street View

This is not the only street in North Homewood that does this.

Nonetheless, we ran by the quickly deteriorating Negro Opera House, took in the Laporte Street Steps and just meandered. Rich is pretty friendly and by the time we were done, he had waved to the black ladies going to church, some guys fixing their cars and just about anyone who showed their face.

It was nice to run with company to end this month.

What’s Next to Your Steps?

https://www.strava.com/activities/4338392163
RATS #00327

In this long journey to cover all of Pittsburgh’s streets, I have found it very difficult to completely search out every nook and cranny of a neighborhood on just one run; sometimes it takes two, or three, or even more runs. In the older neighborhoods, especially, there are often small streets, alleys and steps which somehow eluded my attention on the first go rounds. Eventually, however, I have to go back and do them. This was one of those “go-back” runs. I’m also going back in time for this run which happened three weeks ago.

I got started down in Bloomfield, not far from Sonny’s. I like those cats. Before long, I was scaling the Cedarville steps next to Sanchioli’s Bakery.

This first stage, which finished Bloomfield, took me down Juniper Street, while the next stage required me to go over the Bloomfield Bridge. Luckily, the Ella Street steps provided the necessary lift. I’ve done these steps before, but only now did I notice the “Try” messages on the way up. Up there, perched on a corner of the concrete, a tiny chair set took in the afternoon sun.

Crossing over to Polish Hill, I came to the Apollo Street Steps, incongruously placed next to an auto repair shop. I wonder how much business that shop gets, perched as it is underneath a bridge on a small street well off the main road.

Now I was in the midst of Polish Hill. I needed to get to Hancock Street and made my way through this warren of houses built on top of each other, small streets and dead-ends, while avoiding drunk pumpkins and admiring Little Libraries

Eventually, I found it, Hancock Street. I also got more “Boat Theory” evidence along the way (see this blog). Hancock Street steps took me up to busy Bigelow Boulevard and Bethoven Way, a small alley. Now Polish Hill was complete, too.

As you approach Bigelow from the streets all fall away steeply. Bigelow is a busy, rather ugly roadway, but there is a pedestrian walkway under it, decorated with old-school graffiti. Not a place to linger on a dark night.

Continuing up into the Upper Hill, I came across another incarnation of Hancock Street, still going uphill. The corner lot with the flag is also strewn with “Polish Only” parking signs.

As much as I had climbed from Herron Avenue, I still had a way to go to get to stage three, the Upper Hill. I took the Orion Street Steps. It’s a fairly impressive set of steps with a great view on top.

View from Orion Street Steps
Orion Street Steps

I continued around the Upper Hill, surprised to see a cemetery there, “Minersville Cemetery”. It actually has a Facebook page these days and was the subject of an article by Diana Nelson Jones back in 2017. Diana interviewed me for an article earlier this year. On the backside of the cemetery, Shawnee Street comes down in a nice set of sidewalk steps.

I found the World’s Greatest Candy Bar! Across Herron Avenue, Granite Street falls off of Orbin as steps. You can see Pitt’s athletic bubble on the hill rising in the background.