Let Isaac Newton Work for You
We are lucky enough to actually live on the Greater Allegheny Passage trail. This trail is primarily an old railway that has been converted to a crushed limestone path that goes from downtown Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD. At this point it hooks up with another trail that follows the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal which can take ambitious bikers all the way to Washington, DC. We see these intrepid cyclists coming past our place every weekend. Either they are at the start of their trip (as we are about 25 miles from Pittsburgh), or at the end, as we are about 300 miles from DC. Whatever the case they all look the same with saddle bags on the front and rear, and some even toting trailers. These are either a) crazy people that don’t work or b) crazy people who do work, but have a ton of vacation time. In either case, this group does not include me or my lovely wife Denise, she of MyLifeCookbook fame. While we admire the crazy people, we keep our travails to about 20 miles a pop.
Needless to say, our bikes will never look like this. We might have a water bottle and a lock so that we can keep our bikes safe while we go into the restaurant and eat. Don’t get me wrong, I really admire these folks, but I’m never going to get my wife to ride 30 miles a day for 10 days and camp out at night. Yeah, that’s right, it’s HER fault. Besides, God made cars for trips like that, and it’s no good going against God’s will.
However, it is fun to get out and do a few miles for exercise and communing with nature. Provided you keep it reasonable.
High School Physics
All good engineers had a great high school physics teacher. Mine was Patricia Zober who taught at Ringgold High School, and may still be teaching for all I know. I’ve had lots of engineering instructors in all my years at school, but she was the best. The class loved me because I could always get her off topic by discussing nuclear weapons detonations. I’d get a look from a few of the other students when we were about 10 minutes from the end of class, and,……boom.
So the things Mrs. Zober taught us were classical Newtonian Physics. This is all the stuff Isaac Newton came up with back in th1600s, and it’s still pretty relevant today. A big favorite of mine is the concept of potential energy. Basically what it says is that if something is at it’s lowest possible energy state like at the bottom of a hill, it has zero potential energy. However, if it is at a state above this, like at the top of the hill, it possesses potential energy that it can convert into movement which is kinetic energy by rushing down the hill at break-neck speed.
There is, however, no free lunch. To get to the top, you have to put in work. Work is another one of those Newtonian physics concepts that says if you raise something from a low potential energy state to a higher potential energy state (i.e. climb up the hill), you have to do work. And if you’re fat and out of shape, you have to do a whole lot of work.
Which brings us to the Greater Allegheny Passage bike trail.
Now we live very close to McKeesport. And you can see that if you go east from were we live, sooner or later, you’ll be going up about 1500 ft into the Allegheny Mountains. Typically, we keep ourselves right at the 700 ft level and ride along the Youghiogheny (The Yough to the locals) River. 700 ft when we start, and 700 ft when we get where we’re going. Crazy people (see above) have no issue going up and down, and some go out of their way to go up. Then there are the sane (read “lazy”) ones.
A few years back, we joined a bunch of other lazy people to ride from the Eastern Continental Divide to Cumberland. We all met up in Cumberland, MD and hired this big van to drive us and our bikes to the top of the mountains. We then basically coasted 25 miles down to Cumberland. It was a blast, and we vowed we would do it again sometime. Last fall, Denise and I did 12 miles down to Frostburg, then found Widerness Voyagers, who, for a price, hauled our bikes and us back up to the top where our car was parked. We were smiling just like the guy with all the potential energy.
This spring, we figured we would try the other side of the mountain starting from Ohiopyle, and going down the Yough gorge toward Connellsville.
The Yough Gorge
We met up with the Wilderness Voyagers van on the Yough River in Connellsville. He was dropping off four riders who were going to be biking back UP to Ohiopyle. I didn’t get a chance to explain the potential energy thing to them. Probably business majors in college anyway. After they went off on their merry way, we loaded our bikes on the van for the 45 minute drive up the mountain. Ohiopyle is a very nice place, and is best known for white water rafting. When I was a kid, my parents brought me there to watch the US Olympic kayak trials. In those days, two railways came down the Yough, one on each side. Since then, they have converted the tracks on the south side of the river to a biking trail. We started our ride at a converted train station.
The trail follows the Yough Gorge which is where all the cool rapids are. Immediately out of Ohiopyle, you cross two high bridges. Denise did not like these. Then you plunge into forests with the river far below on your right.
There are lots of waterfalls that cross under the trail. Some are very pretty.
We set a leisurely pace and after about 2 hours we found ourselves back in civilization again as we entered into Connellsville.
We had one last piece of excitement as Denise left her phone on a bench about 5 miles from the end of the ride. This added another 10 miles, and we never did find it. However, a good Samaritan picked it up and brought it to the bike shop in town.
Packed up the bikes and headed home. We had a great time on our trip and would highly recommend it.
If you enjoyed it, thank physics! And thank a physics teacher.
Daytripping with Rick