Now that the last snow and ice of April are finally behind us, we can fully embrace the season of outdoor living with biking, hiking, porch and patio sitting, music and food festivals, al fresco dining and more.

One the greatest recreational and outdoor amenities available to Pittsburghers is access to the Great Allegheny Passage.

Trading the convenience and comfort of his car, New York Times writer Matthew L. Wald chronicles his seven-day ride along the Great Allegheny Passage, inspiring us to get out there and explore a route where topography, nature, history and community converge along the way.

In his article, Biking a Trail of History from Pittsburgh to Washington, for The New York Times‘ Travel section, Wald begins:

“As we zoomed up the gentle hills of the Interstate between Washington and Pittsburgh, we passed forests, farms and urban sprawl, the kinds of vistas that usually lull you to sleep. But I was wide awake, overcome by a feeling that you usually don’t have at the start of a vacation: fear. The plan was to make the return trip on bicycles, trading a cushy four-hour ride with all the comforts of a car — cup holders, FM radio, heat and air-conditioning — for a seven-day ride over gravel and dirt. Three friends and I hadn’t chosen this route by happenstance. The bumpy, 335-mile-long ride draws cyclists from around the world because it is almost entirely car-free, weaving through terrain that forms a tour of American history.”

The first 150 miles of the group’s trip follows the Great Allegheny Passage from Pittsburgh to Cumberland. Describing his time in Pittsburgh and the ride from Milepost 150 to Milepost 77, Wald writes:

“One of my fellow cyclists drafted a son who had recently graduated from college to ride in a minivan with us, drop us off and drive back to Washington. After unloading our bikes at Point State Park, a green triangle where the Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers come together to form the Ohio River just beyond the office towers of downtown Pittsburgh, we watched him drive away. It was like a reverse Cub Scout trip, in which the fathers were left to fend for themselves in the wilderness, or, in this case, a Monday afternoon in Pittsburgh.

We circled past the 30-story aluminum building that used to be the headquarters of Alcoa, and the massive pile of stone that is H. H. Richardson’s Allegheny Courthouse and Jail, and headed for the trail. Following it for the first mile is a bit tricky, but it runs reasonably well beyond that, through an amazing landscape that ranges from defunct 19th-century steel mills and other ancient factories to upscale riverside restaurant-and-condo complexes.

One area of steel mills is designated as an eagle-viewing area. A bit beyond, you are in the woods, glimpsing the river below and enjoying nature until the rumble of a train, unseen but close, reminds you that you are in the land of iron and steel, once the industrial heartland of the United States, in a swath that has partly reverted to nature. The plan was to make it to Buena Vista, about 30 miles down the road, before sundown, but we’d spent too much time gawking at the architecture in the city.”

Wald goes on to document their trek to Buena Vista, PA, located on the Youghiogheny River, their B&B lodgings at the John Butler House and reaching scenic Ohiopyle.

To help make the ambitious bike trip a success, Wald recommends the Golden Triangle Bike Shop located downtown at 600 First Avenue, and the Yough Plaza Motel in Ohiopyle.

Ready to hit the trails? Read Matthew Wald’s entire account of Biking a Trail of History from Pittsburgh to Washington and view a slide show of his bike trip.