I make it nearly two-thirds up the hill of Rialto Street and the cheering keeps me moving onward. "Go! Go! Go! You got this! You own this street!"
"Yes!" I tell myself. I can do this! The cheers truly help my cause of making it up one of Pittsburgh steepest streets for the annual "Dirty Dozen" bike ride. The loud cheers echo even louder as I near the top. I am out of breath, but I see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Or in this case, the bridge that goes over Rialto Street near the top I'm out of breath, but I've almost made it. I'm almost at the top of what used to be called "Pig Hill."
Only thing is... I'm walking!
Yup. And at a much s-l-o-w-e-r pace than the 230-some cyclists who are riding up Rialto on two wheels and zero motors. I am in awe at the spectacular spectacle in front of me. There is no zig-zagging back and forth as you may expect. No, no room for that maneuver on Rialto Street, which requires that Dirty Dozen participants first must go DOWN the steep street only to turn around at the bottom and cycle BACK UP. It seems like bicycle pandemonium. With a view.
Given that it's raining and a chilly 47 degree Fahrenheit, I would call this year's event an even dirtier Dirty Dozen. It's miserable outside, but the crowd of people cheering on the riders doesn't seem to mind. Like at all. Heck, even the riders don't seem to mind. It is Hill #6 (of a baker's dozen), and the atmosphere is downright festive.
"Good job! Nice! Whoooo! Whooooo! Good job riders! Go man! C'mon Patrick! You got this! You OWN this street!"
At the top, I weasel my way around the tangle of bicycles coming up and going down in an effort to cross the street to get a better view from the bridge up above. It's drizzling and I'm walking on wet leaves as I cautiously make my way down the other side of Rialto Street to access the bridge above. The very last thing I want to do is fall in the path of a rider who is nearly at the top of Rialto. I cling to a tree near the side of the road, praying I don't fall to the God of Schwinn or Trek or whatever manufacturer that makes these bikes that can climb the steepest streets in Pittsburgh - without zig zagging.
I make it without falling!
Another triumph for my own bad self. I climb the steps to the overhead bridge and at the top is a view unlike I have ever seen. From this vantage point, there's a hodgepodge of people watching, too: local residents on their way to work, photographers, curiosity seekers (I'm in that camp), family and friends of riders, and riders who are stopping for a look-see and photo before trekking on to Hill #7.
This annual ride-now in its 33rd year-is getting quite the national reputation. The Washington Post proclaims that the event (which is held the Saturday after Thanksgiving) helps Pittsburgh "live up to its quirky reputation." Uh yeah. The WashPo reporter interviews a dentist from Austin who said this steepest streets' ride is on his bucket list. His bucket list.
For me, I'm a sucker for the unusual. I love watching these crazy and athletic souls who have the guts, muscle and stamina to bike up 13 of Pittsburgh's craziest hills. I love listening to them grunt as they pedal up and up and up.
And, then, in what seems like a blink, it's over. After everyone else has gone, I love walking slowly back down the sidewalk steps, only to step aside so that one last person carrying a bicycle down the hill can pass me by. I ask: "Are you going to do this hill?" To which he responds: "Oh yeah. It's just safest to walk it down, I've found." As he pedals his way back up the hill, I am the lone cheerleader on Rialto. I holler: "You can do this!"
Silently, I say to myself: Next year, I'll do what's believed to be the steepest street in the world-Canton Avenue. They'll be cheering me at the top, no doubt.