Back From the Shades of Death
Friday was a beautiful day with an empty schedule, so I hit the road for a solo century. It was a good opportunity to visit a destination I’ve mused about since moving to Pittsburgh: Shades of Death Road, near the West Virginia border.
The most dangerous part of the ride was getting out of Pittsburgh, so I saddled up at 6am to beat rush hour traffic through the triple threat of high-speed arterials (W. Carson), ridiculous urban climbs (Steuben), and highway cloverleafs (I-79).
Bethel Church @ Shades of Death
Pittsburgh's West End Overlook
Shades of Death Road
Once past the I-79 interchange, things calmed down nicely. For 20 miles I followed Noblestown Road, which was surprisingly relaxed and free of traffic. After a construction delay and refueling stop in Burgettstown, I vectored off into completely uncharted secondary roads—no Street View here!—eventually hitting the West Virginia border. There I turned south and headed onto even smaller and nearly-unpopulated State Line Road, along a shady, heavily-wooded rill.
48 miles into my ride, I reached the church—and cemetery, of course—that marked my destination: Shades of Death Road. Aside from the churchyard and the deep shade provided by dense tree cover, the most ominous thing I saw was a woman wielding a weed-whacker. I was disappointed that there were no street signs, so no good selfie opportunities.
More pressing, however, was the fact that the “road” had degraded into extremely loose and coarse gravel, making the 2-mile traversal very slow, treacherous, and hazardous to a fragile road bike. Upon completing the necessary passage, I followed a big loop (with a little more gravel) back to the secondary road toward Burgettstown, where I grabbed a cola and Funyuns.
Instead of returning home via Noblestown Road, I opted to take the Panhandle Trail that parallels it. The weather was absolutely ideal, and the trail was very nice and quiet… even the third of it that was crushed limestone, rather than asphalt. With about 65 miles in them, my legs were very happy to stick with the gentle flatness of the former railroad bed.
The trail dumped me out right by the I-79 interchange, so I had to traverse all the dangerous bits of getting back into the city, with added fatigue and afternoon traffic. Having a couple miles to spare, I detoured to the West End Overlook to get a shot of the city on my way home.
I finished my third century of 2019 in a gentle 8 hours clock time. My legs were good, but I was losing a little power toward the end—and would have lost more were it not for the Panhandle Trail’s welcome flatness. I had a few minor twinges in my right knee—understandable doing a century two days after the Alpe du Zwift—but nothing I’ll trouble over.
It was an exceptionally beautiful day on the bike, a good warmup for my upcoming MS ride, and the realization of a long-anticipated plan of riding the roads leading to the Shades of Death and back again!