Canoe Vibes | Kayaking PNC Park | Mark Vlaskamp

Pittsburgh, PA: Unconventional Catch in the Steel City

I have a friend from Baltimore and a friend from Cleveland. One pushes for the Ravens, Natty Boh on Federal Hill, and Old Bay crab seasoning while the other pulls for LeBron, Great Lakes Brewing Co., and the Best Damn Band in the Land. When it comes to sports, beer, and everything else under the sun in once-industrial, poor air quality, rust belt cities, the two can only agree on one thing: Pittsburgh is the worst.

Luckily, they weren’t there with me at PNC Park to let their stubborn hometown pride drown out my unbiased good time in the Steel City.

Best Seat in the House

I left Cleveland in time to make a quick bar stop and batting practice in Pittsburgh after 1) watching the hometown Cavs win the city’s first major sports title in the last 52-years and 2) a small couch incident that may or may not have been triggered from my championship MVP celebration the night before.

At the ballpark in Pittsburgh, the people were friendly, the cheap food was surprisingly delicious, and the urban paddling on the Allegheny River rivaled that of any Rust Belt wilderness paddling I’ve done.

If my two friends ask, you didn’t hear that from me.

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For five dollars, I left my car at a city kayak launch on River Avenue, paddled under the Andy Warhol Bridge, and parked my Old Town NEXT about 450-feet from home plate – thanks to slow moving water and recurrent sculling draw strokes.

Every once in a while, my new friends boozing on their anchored power boats and I would get a glimpse of a batting practice ball flying seemingly straight up, rocket ship style, just center of the PNC Park sign. These had the height, but they didn’t have the distance needed to take a swim.

That’s when one hung up a little higher and tried to push the setting sun back up into the sky. Everyone knew I was the out-of-towner when I furiously splashed my paddle to get to the ball first. They had been there before. They had their fair share of PNC bombs. They hardly flinched when the ball splashed and I made my uncontested sprint.

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I got funny looks from the booze cruisers but I got the ball.

There hasn’t been a fish caught on this trip that has been more rewarding. I got the ball, batting practice ended, and I listened to the radio broadcast on the Allegheny after some nice-to-meet-you brews with my new boater friends.

The laughable Pirates bullpen came in to put out the raging Giants dumpster fire that rookie Wilfredo Boscan left them with in the fourth inning, only to let the game get more out of control. After 19 total runs of offense, nine-innings of play-by-play from Greg Brown, and an Allegheny sunset, I paddled back to the car with my now-dried catch.

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I don’t care what those two guys say. Pittsburgh isn’t so bad.


This geographically inefficient stretch from Toronto, to Cleveland, to Pittsburgh was filled with baseball: little league bleachers, stadium seating, whiffle ball games in the backyard, and canoes on the river. Thanks to everyone who helped pack the baseball into my canoe trip:

  • Buffalo, NY Toll Roads – I’m fully expecting a bill for that when I get back home.
  • Jordan Suydam – ///
  • Bae Jaros – Oops. I blame LeBron.
  • Colby Jaros – I’ve never met a dog that barks more than you. You’re going to have to get over that. See you soon, man.
  • Pam and Bob Suydam – Thanks for the burgers, beers, and cupcake fastballs down the middle. It’s always a good time with you two. Hopefully, we will see more of each other a little further south soon. PS – A Mississippi River source-to-sea trip is next, Bob. Let me know when you’re ready.

canoeing, editorial, road trip, trip reports

Mark Vlaskamp

After four years as Marketing Director for Yak Gear, Mark now partners with creative outdoor brands and pursues the gray area between freelancing and (f)unemployment. Currently, he is floating between Austin and Houston, TX - still searching for new water, cool people, and cheap beer.

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A Long Portage:

We're back after a really long portage. What used to be a roadtrip-centric canoe blog is now a bit more settled in the Texas Hill Country. We still believe canoeing is dated, not dead. And we still chase high CFS and sticky situations.

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