Two Border Runs

These two runs in early April skirted the Pittsburgh border. RATS run #00389 tickled the Munhall boundary, while run #00390 hopped into Penn Hills briefly.


https://www.strava.com/activities/5063866562
Route of Run #00389

I started this one in Munhall, along Main Street. I suppose I could have parked closer, but I just wasn’t sure. Apparently Pittsburgh hasn’t cornered the market on steep hills, as Munhall has a few of its own. Right off the bat, I climbed a long hill and then coasted down to West Run Road. With cars zipping by and no sidewalk, West Run Road terrifies me. This slightly recolored photo sums up my impression of that road.

Busy small road with no sidewalks
Argh! Hell for Road Runners

Once I entered Gates Drive, a pleasant residential road with sweeping curves and large trees, the running was less heart-pounding. In a block or so, I was welcomed into Pittsburgh and only had to contend with dodging the Amazon delivery truck. These days, I see more delivery drivers than residents.

Gates Drive and Mapledale Drive were very similar. However, once I got onto Marina Drive, the character of the houses changed. Where Gates Drive had houses built in the 1960’s or 1970’s, the houses on Marina and Cassabill are much newer, built since 2009 or so. Also, while the houses on Gates Drive were decent size, the houses on Cassabill were extraordinarily large. With large houses comes large dogs, or at least one. He did an excellent job of casually woofing at me casually as I passed.

Behind these houses is a large undeveloped area, but not for long. It looks like plans are in place to keep expanding this subdivision. One thing I’ve noticed is that there is more new development in Pittsburgh than you might think.

Signs of further development

So, while maybe this road will eventually connect with Mifflin Road, or East Circle Avenue in New Homestead, for now the only way back was to return through Gates Drive and tempt fate on West Run Road again.


https://www.strava.com/activities/5076462706
RATS run #00390 in Lincoln-Lemington and Belmar

RATS run #00390 was a quick excursion into Lincoln-Lemington along the border with Penn Hills. In contrast to the previous run, there are dozens of ways to reach this area, mostly with sidewalks. However, parking can still be an issue. As a visitor, I’m hesitant to park on sidewalks, like many people do along Lincoln Avenue. Just a bit into Penn Hills, I noticed a nice large lot, but when I got there, stern “No Parking” signs warned me off. Eventually I parked on Paulson Avenue, near the playground, which was buzzing with kids and parents.

The goal of this run was a little section of Verona Boulevard and a few streets which stick into Penn Hills. Again, Munhall and Pittsburgh haven’t cornered the market on steep hills, either, because Penn Hills apparently got a good stock, too. They even put “Hills” into the name!

Methinks they over-use “boulevard” here, as both Travalla Boulevard and Verona Boulevard are rather modest streets. By the way, Verona Road is a different thoroughfare, as confusing as that is. Anyway, the housing stock on Travalla is good-old Pittsburgh four-square, circa 1900-1920.

Crossing over Lincoln Avenue, I continued on Verona Boulevard, which quickly dwindles to a driveway. Off of Verona is a small subdivision, Broadcrest Drive, of modest homes, 1960’s vintage.

I did venture a bit up Lincoln Avenue into Penn Hills. PAT buses zoomed past and made a grand u-turn in the gravel lot I was eyeing earlier. Good thing I didn’t park there, as I would have been towed immediately. With that I made my way back to Paulson Playground, still buzzing with kids.

March 2021 Catch-Up

Summary

March 2021 was one of my most productive months in terms of mileage and streets covered. Among my 162 miles and 20,000 feet of elevation gain, I completed 192 more streets in Pittsburgh in 15 RATS runs. I even completed the “Take The Stairs 50k” course I published last year. That course, a small revision of Lamar’s original course, took me on roughly 78 sets of steps throughout the city, but, alas, did not cover any new streets.

Blogging-wise, March was less than stellar. I only published four posts and it has taken me all of April just to get this summary out, touching on three short runs in Carrick, Brookline and West Liberty.


https://www.strava.com/activities/4979989103
Route of RATS #00384 in Brookline

I had grand plans for this run, but was out-of-synch and got frustrated by small ‘streets’ just being driveways into hills. Argh! Just took one picture, before it all went downhill. I did end up with over four miles and several alleys covered.

Brookline Alley
Brookline Alley

RATS run #00386 Around South Side Cemetery
RATS run #00386 Around South Side Cemetery

In this run, I inadvertently circumnavigated South Side Cemetery. I started on Brownsville Road and took the steep West Meyers Street to Oakhurst en route to Newett Street, one of the steeper roads I’ve been on. I took Plateau Street to its dead-end above Volunteers Park, then came back to Newett, expecting to see Plateau on the other side. However, Plateau falls off of Newett so quickly that the other side looked like a driveway which disappeared over the hillside. Once upon it, though, I found my way down Plateau and was pleasantly surprised to find that Volunteers Field was an active hubbub. It looked like a fire department team was practicing on one field, while on another field, a younger group practiced base-running under the tutelage of a barking coach.

Moving on, I dodged cars on my way down Colerain to Noble Road. No sidewalks and not much of a shoulder made it tricky running. Then I peeled off and went down Denise Street. My internal map had Denise going a little way and dead-ending. It seemed to go on forever, but afforded nice views of the T tracks. Returning, I came across some steps which took me to Noble Road.

Once up on Noble, I backtracked a bit and went up Glade Street. The few streets up on that hill are tucked into a corner of the cemeteries looming above. It was a nicer area than I expected. Some kids were playing basketball in the street and others were riding bikes. Along the Montrose Steps I heard a rustling and noticed a deer in the woods. I took a picture and continued to Cloverdale Street. Only after looking at the picture more closely did I realize there were four deer there!

Cloverdale Street completed the southern border of the cemetery, bringing me back to Noble Street. This short, three mile run certainly had a lot to see.


Route of RATS #00387
Route of RATS #00387

This was an evening run in West Liberty to catch some alleys. I caught several in my alley catcher, but some were only paper alleys (here’s looking at you, Mascot Way!) Overall it was a pleasant, hilly run with over 400 feet of elevation in only three miles.


So that was it for March, 2021. I’m still chipping away at the streets. At the end of March I had a little over 800 more to complete. I’ve come a long way considering there are over 4,800 streets in Pittsburgh. I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Epic Eighteen To Fairhaven

https://www.strava.com/activities/4987052124
Route of RATS run #00385 from South Side to Fairhaven

On a bright Sunday morning in March, I undertook one of my longest RATS runs ever. I had a couple of goals. First, see how much of Beck’s Run Road I could traverse without getting run over and second, explore Fairhaven, nestled in the corner of Library Road and Saw Mill Run Boulevard, without getting run over. I was ramping up mileage in preparation for an April 50k.

First off, I decided to climb into the South Side Slopes in order to catch Parkwood Road, which I could take to Beck’s Run Road. While using East Carson is the fastest way by car, that whole ‘without getting run over’ idea convinced me the steps were a better idea. And of course, I would get to enjoy the great views.

Oakley Street has an impressive step-mosaic where it begins on Josephine Street. It does continue, however, for several more flights. I wonder about that handicap parking, though. It must be difficult for anyone with mobility issues to live in a spot surrounded by steps.

At any rate, now on the crest of the South Side Slope, the views were amazing. on breaks between houses, you could see across the Mon to Oakland, with the Cathedral of Learning prominently displayed. On the far side of the crest, the neighborhood forms a steep bowl, with steps on each side.

Once past Arlington Avenue, I made my way to Mountain Avenue and the long, one lane road known as Parkwood Road. On the left side of Parkwood, a ravine deepens and water drips down the cracking rock on its way to becoming a creek. Parkwood is blocked off about a tenth of a mile above Beck’s Run Road, due to erosion. Just before this, two small streets on the left are lined with houses. The creek has grown to a significant size by now and the city, I suppose, has built quite an impressive retaining wall to keep one house from falling in. It is very isolated, but the ten houses are all nicely maintained.

Once at Beck’s Run Road, I ran toward Paige’s Dairy Mart and then up towards Carrick. Even though it was a 40 degree day, people were lined up to get ice-cream goodies from that venerable establishment under a bridge. Beck’s Run is the name of the small creek alongside the road. The road is a major thoroughfare, but doesn’t have many buildings along it. The hills coming down are too steep to build on. The flat areas probably flood.

So, I made my way up Beck’s Run Road, then explored a little along Agnew Road. Not far from its intersection with Beck’s Run, there’s a heavily fortified water filtration plant.

I found one section of Beck’s run a bit too tight for running and went up Madeline Street instead. Crossing over Brownsville Road, I took Maytide to Saw Mill Run Boulevard. This is car heaven. Car dealerships of all shapes and sizes line the road. Luckily there is some thought to pedestrians, as there are walk signals. You just have to be willing to wait a long time. At least I could recover a bit.

Finally making it across, I came to the Fairhaven neighborhood. It is wedged between Saw Mill Run and Library Road. From this intersection, one lonely road and a set of steps lead you there. Once there, I was, actually, pleasantly surprised. Medium and large houses stood on large lots. The subdivision backs onto “Fairhaven Greenway”.

Hillview Street is steps in two sections, the one coming up from Saw Mill Run and another one, just slicing up the hillside between yards.

The far side of Fairhaven abuts Castle Shannon and Whitehall. I came down Elwyn Street and made my way along Transport Street, a half block behind Library Road. Transport Street had much more character than I expected.

At this point, I started heading back to the South Side. I went along Saw Mill Run until I could go no further. Luckily, a tiny section of steps became Dartmore Street and led me up into Carrick. From there, I just plodded along Brownsville Road and cut-through Mt Oliver along Amanda Street. I was surprised to find Amanda actually stopped and was separated from Hay’s Street by a barrier. It turns out Hays, at that point, is so steep, it is hard to even walk down. Still, those hilltops can see the downtown buildings peeking over.

With this, I made my way down South 18th, Mission Street and back to my car on the South Side. Whew, that was a long run!

Shadow Selfie

Short March Runs

Here are three short runs I did in mid-March. These were “squeeze-them-in-runs”, where I had only a short time and planned out a very limited route. Though perhaps not as epic as some runs, they still took me to interesting places.


https://www.strava.com/activities/4947105503
Route of RATS run #00381 in West Liberty

This run started at Moore Park along Pioneer Avenue. I had mapped out a shorter, “nearly flat”, route for my girlfriend to run while I tackled the longer hill on Dunster Street.

Dunster is pretty much suburbia up near Pioneer Avenue, with a long straight stretch rolling east. After reaching the sunrise, it drops precipitously. Large lawns spread out and the bottom cross-street, Timberland, ends in trails. (The trails, incidentally, go back up to Moore Park.)

Following Timberland away from its trail end brought me to Edgebrook Avenue. At this point, Ballinger Street ascends as a staircase. This area was a bit more junky. I did spy what must have been an elf playhouse off the stairs. Also, I garnered more evidence for “Boat Theory”, as a speedboat was right next to the stairs.

I continued all the way to Whited Street before turning back. It is a neat area, off the beaten path but literally a quarter mile to Saw Mill Run Boulevard and overlooking the South Busway.

Returning to Moore Park, I had the pleasure of running up Dunster. Turns out that is a Strava Segment (“What a Dunster Fire”) and for the moment, I’m 4th overall! I also had the pleasure of getting some feedback for the “flat” run I had planned for Naomi. Ha! Perhaps it wasn’t as flat as I remembered.


Brook Street Route
RATS #00382, Brook Street in Carrick

Nestled between South Side Cemetery and Saint Georges Cemetery, a handful of streets and an amazing number of houses cling to steep slopes. This run, #00382, was a rare morning run and I just had enough time to do a couple of miles. I parked along Brownsville Road and ran north on that dusty road to Cedricton Street. Between the houses on the left, it was a long way down.

Once at the end of Cedricton, I jigsawed my way over to Brook Street, which flowed downhill, an amazingly far way downhill. There was actually a turn-around at the bottom, where all the views were up, up along fallen vine covered trees. A brook did emerge at the bottom.


https://www.strava.com/activities/4965153998
RATS #00383 in California-Kirkbride

This was a short run I tried to squeeze in before my regular City of Bridges Wednesday night run. I managed to catch Sigel Street, which has recently been repaved then ascended the Hyena Street Steps. No pictures, I suppose I forgot my phone.

Turns out I misjudged my timing as well, for by the time I got back, the COB runners had already left. Whoops! I had the map and tracked after them. However, with a ten minute head start, I only caught up with a couple. At least Modern Cafe was open and I got to enjoy some post-run libations with them.

Finishers From Stanton Heights to Windgap

Here are a couple of runs I did in early March, 2021. The first, a short evening run in Stanton Heights, finished up that area. The second, an epic wandering run through Corliss, Chartiers and Windgap was in the blinding sunlight and pretty much finished those areas as well.


https://www.strava.com/activities/4921240664
Route of Run #00379 in Stanton Heights

Starting in Upper Lawrenceville, I clambered up Stanton and finished off a few streets and alleys for run #00379. Previously I’ve pictured this pleasant, residential area. This evening, dog walkers were out and kids played in the streets. The end of Downlook Street has an unexpected view of Sharpsburg across the Allegheny River. I finished up in Dinian Park, skirting a baseball field overlooking Morningside. It was cool to see the sparkling lights through the bare trees.


https://www.strava.com/activities/4941383592
Route of RATS #00380 through Corliss, Windgap and Chartiers

At the start of most every run, I have some anxiety about part of my route. For this run, I was worried about the area near Hollywood Cemetery as well as Alora Way and a confusing section of streets Windgap. I was also worried about how safe it would be to run on Windgap Avenue. Let’s see how my worries played out.

Off the bat, I screwed up my route coming out of Ingram. Instead of going on West Prospect, I went on East Prospect and ended up coming into Pittsburgh along Steuban Street instead of Berry Street. This turned out OK, as I made sure to complete Charlton Street coming into Berry right at Jenkins Street. I’m not sure if you recall, but in an earlier run, I came across the Jenkins Street steps and through internet sleuthing, found that they go nowhere. Today, emboldened by the bright sun, I battled the scrubby brush and went to the top of the stairs. Nothing, nada, zilch. And, on the way down, I stepped on a nail protruding from an overturned plank. Luckily, it missed my foot and toes. But it was a hassle stepping into the street with a three foot piece of wood attached to my shoe. Once on Berry, I was able to remove it.

The next stop was a little cul-de-sac, Kathy Drive. Looks like a nice residential street. From there I made my way to Evanston Road, winding around Harrisburg Road to Clearfield. Clearfield went right into Hollywood Cemetery. The map show Clearfield continuing through the cemetery to Windgap on the other side. The road does not clearly go through. At the far end, though, I was treated to a neat view of Windgap and the Windgap Bridge.

I traced my way through the streets and alleys here off of Middletown Road then took Middletown Road’s curvy dive down to Chartiers. The far side of Chartiers Avenue has a number of small residential blocks and with some roads leading right up to an active railroad. Down here, power lines towered above the houses.

Now, I had to face my fears and venture to the steps on the end of Alora Way. The first time I saw the steps from Chartiers Avenue to Alora Way, a large dog was yelping at me from the bottom of the stairs. I was concerned he would still be there. But I was in luck! No dog. The steps were an adventure to get to, but led straight up to Chartiers, as expected. Flushed with this success, I decided to see, one last time, if I could find the steps which were supposed to come off of Moyer Street in Sheridan. From the end of Moyer, last summer, all I could see was gardening debris at the end of the street. This time, though, on this sunny, leafless day, I found them! Shallow red brick steps climbed alongside a Jewish cemetery until they were buried under branches near the top.

Now I needed to face some more uncertainty. Alora Way also has steps which rise on the other side, towards Oltman Street. I had run on Oltman before, and only saw a rundown house at the end, no steps. From this direction, though, the Oltman steps looked good. Well, they looked good until I came across a fairly large broken section. Sometimes, I stop when I see steps like these, but not today. I made my way on the edges and fought my way through the new growth to the other side, on Oltman Street. While there was a lot of trash and dumped appliances, there really wasn’t much to be afraid of.

From here, I wandered around the streets and alleys of Windgap. I found an amazing scene, ferocious deer cornering a wild T-Rex. Poor T-Rex, he looked scared to death.

With this, my exploring was done. I decided to run straight up Windgap Avenue. It wasn’t pretty or particularly safe, but I made it without a problem. I was so close to a half-marathon, I ran an extra block just to get in that last tenth of a mile.

Downtown, Carrick and Fairywood

A fantastical journey awaits! From the snow strewn, narrow alleys of Downtown to the slick streets of Carrick to the wondrous wilds of Fairywood, I covered lots of ground the first week of February. Grab a hot chocolate, coffee or toddy and enjoy!

RATS #00365 – Downtown and Duquesne

https://www.strava.com/activities/4730557135
Route of RATS #00365

Nothing is more magical than Downtown Pittsburgh on a cold night. While pushed aside, the recent snow wasn’t giving up just yet and lined the route. This run was generally about traversing alleys I had missed, then going up to Duquesne University.

I started off by cutting through the PPG buildings along Delray Street. Delray continues as a small dumpster-lined alley to 5th Avenue Place. Crossing over Liberty took me down Cecil Place, with its lone couch.

From there, I trotted up Barkers Place, then caught McRrea Way with its large Frenchy’s billboard as it heads towards 6th Street. I hope they aren’t paying much for that sign, as it is behind a building. Crossing 6th took me into a small driveway and then out award-winning Mentor Way, which is half the width of a car. The award? “Creepiest Alley in Downtown Pittsburgh”.

Shaking that off, I headed up Third Avenue. Passing PPG was, actually, kind of magical. There was Ketchupsaurus, uniquely found in the Tomato layer of Pittsburgh Seam. (Read more about the dinos here.) Skaters were laughing as they swished along the ice at the PPG Skating Rink.

Leaving such frivolity behind, I crossed over from Third to Fourth Avenue. Now, Downtown is guarded from Duquesne by the Great Wall of Transportation. The electrified tracks of the T, the massive piers for the Crosstown Expressway, the ramps and tunnels act as a barrier between Downtown and points further uphill. The Hill District is up there, as well as Duquesne University. Duquesne occupies “The Bluff” which overlooks the Mon and stretches into Uptown. I was fortunate to find steps leading from the end of Fourth Avenue to Forbes Street.

I climbed up to the bluff along Shingiss Street, which had been closed, presumably because of the snow. The Duquense Rock patiently waited for me to take its picture while I fumbled with gloves.

Winding among the buildings of Duquense took me in and out parking garages and past dining halls. The views were great.

With this, I circled back downtown and hopped in my car, grateful for the quick warmth.

RATS #00366 – Slick Carrick

https://www.strava.com/activities/4746361457
RATS #00366 Carrick

This run took two tries. The first, on a Friday evening, I cut short because my shoes did not have enough traction to handle the ice and snow. The next attempt was done in trail shoes on a warm day; it topped out at 30 degrees.

Headstones in Snow Covered Concord Plot
Headstones in Snow Covered Concord Plot

Here’s the challenge: Myron Way. Slightly shaded and never salted, it was mostly ice. Luckily, I was able to find patches of untrammeled snow to keep going. The East Cherryhill steps were pretty tricky, too.

This was the most challenging section of the run. Afterwards, the alleys, while snow filled, had centers of deep snow, which I could easily tromp through.

I ran up and down the alleys and streets, eventually making it to the border with Mt. Oliver, the Borough, before sliding back to my car. Here are a couple of pictures of the frozen people out that day.

RATS #00367 – Fairywood

Route of RATS #00367
Route of RATS #00367

Here’s the run you all have been waiting for.

“Fairywood? Is that real? Where is that? I’ve lived in Pittsburgh all my life and have never heard of it!”

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Fairywood.”

The large, now abandoned site of Broadhead Manor looks pretty sunny in this 1945 pic on the Historic Pittsburgh site. But, things change and this 2016 blog post by Pittsburgh Orbit captures the modern Fairywood very well. Now, four and a half years later, that blog post still applies. I started my run from Ingram, a bordering neighborhood. The weather had continued to improve and it was Super Bowl Sunday, 2021. Climbing out of the Ingram Bowl, I contended with a set of steps along Creston Street then continued along West Prospect Avenue as it left Ingram and dropped into Fairywood.

Fairywood was quiet and mostly flat. There are a couple of small subdivisions and a a few abandoned properties, notably Broadhead Manor and less well known, a distribution center off of Broadhead Fording Road.

But distribution is the big business around here. In spite of this impressive driveway and gate, apparently this is NOT an actual entrance. You get here by going through the OK Grocery Gate on the other side. Over there, dozens of tractor trailers line up to pick-up and deliver. That area is not built for people, only trucks. Just down Industrial Highway is an Amazon Distribution Center and a ModCloth warehouse.

I was hesitant about running down Industrial Highway. However the alternative was just to retrace my steps or to try out the no-sidewalk, no shoulder Windgap Road. So, I put on some speed and quickly ran on the Industrial Highway shoulder. With only two cars in five minutes, it turned out to be pretty safe.

Summary

So, that was it for the first week of February, 2021. With inclement weather (read extreme cold and ice) on the way, I only ran a couple of times in the next few weeks. Which, my friends, will be the subject of the next blog.

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.