Henry Clay Frick, the noted industrialist from Pittsburgh, Pa., donated 151 acres of property to the city in 1919 at the request of his daughter Helen who saw the vision of green space in the growing industrial sprawl. In 1925, the city officially created this beautiful park with 190 additional acres. The park opened to the public in 1927 and has been a gem for the city ever since. Henry or Helen would have never imagined that their park would also serve the current growing population of mountain bikers who would create, ride and maintain a network of challenging trails right in the city limits. But that is just what has happened and our group of Saturday morning enthusiasts from the suburbs enjoyed a most challenging but culturally fulfilling day last Saturday as part of the continuing adventures of the 59 year old kid.
As the group assembled in the pouring rain, we were reminded by Bert, one of our tour guides for the day, that the trails would be treacherous due to the roots and rocks that become soaked and extremely slick on days like last Saturday. Undaunted, we all proceeded as the weather improved to a steady drizzle and the merry band of elder statesmen attacked the first rooty hill climb with style and panache. As we reassembled approaching the midway point on the ride, we were guided into some of the newer sections of trails that overlook the Monongahela River. This tight singletrack is somewhat off camber and if you look to your right, the view of the treetops and the railroad tracks and river way below tend to make you hug the hillside and hope that you don’t lose your mojo and plunge into the trees with a following bounce onto the tracks and bounding into the river. This might be a slight exaggeration but not too far off. The 59 year old kid is conservative most of the time and lives to ride another day along with his pal,Bob Bannon who is also on the same game plan. We dismounted in several sections and ran the trail until we reached a more reasonable spot. Our group split because of some mechanical issues in the very steep chicane of switchbacks and as we reunited and made our way down some incredibly steep pitches which we rode with great caution, we all were happy to end that section in one piece. Pretty challenging for a park in an urban setting.
Finishing this ride in improving weather helped the traction and as we approached the “Bradema” trail, we were treated to the story of the trail and the resultant official naming and sign installed by the city. Apparently Brad who is a friend of a friend, crashed rather significantly on this trail and as he was recovering in the hospital, one of our jokester mountain biker friends suggested to the nurse in the hospital that poor Brad needed an enema. Lots of laughter ensued but the city apparently didn’t get the joke and named the trail officially ” Bradema.” Hilarious. Exiting on the “Roller Coaster” trail, we climbed back to the street where our cars were parked happy to be in one piece and happy that the weather had improved from a rather dismal start. It is amazing to note that when you ride Frick, you would never expect that this piece of wilderness is right in the middle of a very busy urban setting. If you did’t hear the dull roar of the Parkway East, you would think you were in a rural setting in Vermont. But as we exited, we were treated to another wonderful experience of riding in the city.
Frick borders Squirrel Hill which traditionally is the Jewish section of our city which has many culturally divergent neighborhoods of note. As I watched couples walk to the synagogues on the Sabbath in anticipation of the first high holiday or Rosh Hashannah, I was reminded of how much I appreciated the culture of the Jewish tradition. In college, I was the only gentile on my floor and I was cordially invited to all the high holiday celebrations at the community center on campus. I became familiar with the traditions of the ancient culture of Gods chosen people. After the ride, I felt I had to participate in some way so I suggested to the group that we hit the Smallman Street Deli on Murray Avenue for some great traditional deli food. Wow- were we amazed at the size of the sandwiches and had I seen the potato latkes in the cooler, I would have ordered a few of those bad boys too. I did however order the matzo ball soup with chicken which took me back to my college days of sporting the yarmulke at the high holiday celebrations. I love tradition and our group was not only beaming with the conversations and recreations of the rigors of the mountain bike ride but also beaming through faces full of cole slaw, turkey and corned beef.
All in all, these are the kind of days that you always remember. It is a reminder that there are great opportunities right under your nose in your local town that can really rival all the stories of traveling to other locales to ride, ski and eat. Sometimes the best trails, eateries are right in your own neighborhood or city if you take the time to look. It amazed me how challenging the trails are in Frick Park right in the middle of the city. Who would ever think that? Coupled with a hunger killing meal at a great deli, and spending time with friends, ………………….now that makes for a great day. Thanks for reading.
Photos courtesy of Jon Pratt and Smallman Street Deli.