Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Commendation and Thanks

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) commends the Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA) and its seven trail organizations for the monumental accomplishment of building the Great Allegheny Passage, named on June 27 RTC’s initial inductee into its Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. We are pleased to have been the first group to organize a mass ride on the Passage after its connection to the C&O Canal at Cumberland, Md., which has created the longest multi-purpose trail in the nation.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and Greenway Sojourn 2007 salute their sponsors, hosts and partners. Without their generous support this “Grand Opening Ride for the D.C. to Pittsburgh Trail” would not have been possible.

Our major sponsors: PA DCNR, FedEx Ground and Station Square

We especially thank our overall sponsors, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR) and FedEx Ground.

We also recognize Station Square, who provided our staging area in Pittsburgh and parking during the event for all Sojourners who left their vehicles in Pittsburgh.

Our supporting sponsors: Eat'n Park, Columbia Gas of Maryland and Pennsylvania, Heinz Endowments and REI

We thank Eat'n Park for their in-kind donation. They provided the delicious lunches for all Sojourn participants who rode the shuttle bus from Pittsburgh to D.C. on our first day. Eat'n Park's Smiley mascot helped deliver the lunches and gave us a great send-off!

We thank Columbia Gas for their support of our evening meal at Cumberland's Culinary Cafe, where they literally rolled out the red carpet!

We thank Heinz Endowments for supporting our youth scholarship program, which brought nine youngsters, age 11, from Pittsburgh's Helen S. Faison Arts Academy to join us the last four days of the Sojourn. The Heinz funding purchased new bikes (which students will keep) and covered other expenses for the kids. Here some of the crew check out the view from the Salisbury Viaduct on the Great Allegheny Passage.

REI supported the Sojourn in a variety of ways, including providing camping gear at no cost for our Pittsburgh youngsters and their mentors. Thanks, REI!

Columbia Gas funded the welcome arch for our entrance into Pittsburgh June 30. REI provided the venue and helped with planning the arch. Kudos to Columbia Gas and REI!

Our contributing sponsors: Cortaid Poison Ivy Care; Tourism Council of Frederick County (Md.), Washington County (Md.) Convention and Visitors Bureau, Allegany County (Md.), Jewish Healthcare Foundation and Dick’s Sporting Goods

The Tourism Council of Frederick County, Md., was a partial funder of our lunch at Monocacy Aqueduct. They also arranged for volunteers to open Lander Lockhouse for us. Thanks for the welcome!

Thanks to Washington County Convention & Visitors' Bureau for partial funding of our dinner in Williamsport. The CVB also arranged for State Senator Munson to talk to us about repairing the C&O Canal at Great Slackwater.

Cortaid Poison Ivy Care supported our evening entertainment at Little Orleans, where we listened and danced to the music of Tres Gauchos. And the samples of Cortaid's individual "toxin removal cloths" helped us defend ourselves from poison ivy! We thank you.

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation also helped to support our youth scholarship program. Many thanks!

We thank Dick's Sporting Goods for their funding support and discounts provided to Sojourn participants.

In-Kind Sponsors

Clif Bars and Bear Naked Granola

Hosts and Partners

RTC also thanks host and planning partner, Allegheny Trail Alliance, as well as its host on the C&O Canal Towpath, the National Park Service and Department of the Interior. And we thank the trail towns, organizations and individuals along the route who came out to meet and welcome us. They are too many to name here, but we know that they are ready for more visitors!

RTC is grateful to the Center for Minority Health of the Graduate School of the University of Pittsburgh and the Major Taylor Cycling Club for their assistance in piloting the youth scholarship program with Helen S. Faison Arts Academy in Pittsburgh. We are thrilled to have been able to introduce these young people of Pittsburgh to the trail that will soon be completed into the center of their city.

Susan Weaver

Photo of D.C. Sendoff Arch by Linda Young

Photo of Smiley Mascot by Linda Young

Photo of Red Carpet Treatment in Cumberland by Linda Young

Photo of Lander Lockhouse by Linda Young

Photo of Williamsport, Md., campsite by Linda Young

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Pittsburgh Youngsters Tackle the Trail

When nine youngsters from a Pittsburgh intermediate school agreed to ride bikes and camp out with the Sojourn for four days, they never dreamed they’d end up at City Council. But that’s where they were on July 10, along with their assistant principal, Anthony Pipkin, and their other coaches, listening to a proclamation in their honor. RTC’s first “youth scholarship” participants, these eleven-year-old boys and girls from Helen S. Faison Arts Academy had just proved to themselves and several hundred new friends what they could do.

When they were chosen in mid-May, a few of the kids wondered whether they were up to cycling 25 miles a day. But immediately Mr. P, as they call him, put a stationary bike in his office. Each day he brought the kids in one by one during recess and some of their classes. They started riding 10 minutes apiece and gradually increased. Once they had their new mountain bikes, they hit the trail, with coaching from Mr. Pipkin and five members of the local Major Taylor Cycling Club.

But would it be enough? It was a little like a reality-TV show. With just four trail rides under their belts, were they ready for back-to-back days on the Great Allegheny Passage?

Ready or not, they boarded a bus with Mr. P and the other coaches and headed to Maryland early on June 27. Beginning with a 10-mile warmup that day on the Western Maryland Rail Trail, a visit to historic Fort Frederick and their first night of camping in Cumberland—not to mention joining several hundred strangers—the kids had plenty of new experiences to digest. Some had never been to Maryland before, and none had ever camped out. No wonder they seemed a little keyed up that first night.

After they rode the scenic train from Cumberland to Frostburg, Md., I joined the group to share their experience of the Passage. Excited to pedal across the border, they posed for pictures at the Mason-Dixon Line, where a friendly Sojourner explained its history. On the Salisbury Viaduct we paused for sweeping views of the valley with the highway stretching away below.

The plan was to cycle 16 miles to lunch and another 14 to a fossil dig where a geologist was to meet us. Could they do it? One girl joked dramatically about calling her mother to come get her—“I’m gonna kiss the ground!”—but they all kept turning the pedals. By mid-afternoon they were looking for fossils. They had energy left over for ice cream in Rockwood before piling into their bus for the ride to camp in Confluence.

After a rainy night we set off through Ohiopyle State Park with its rocky outcroppings and trailside waterfalls. It was a drippy, overcast morning, and they were to ride 27 miles to lunch. Wearing their plastic ponchos, the kids rode quietly in single file, moving along well until—the last thing I wanted to see—two girls collided and went down.

Luckily the trail provided a soft landing and neither girl was hurt. After that, their leaders had them spread out a bit. At Ohiopyle we crossed the High Bridge with great views of the Yough. We parked our bikes and hiked to the falls, where the youngsters clowned around and posed for a photo with Mr. P.

It was still a long way to Connellsville, with a stop at the town’s stained glass factory when we did arrive. Among the last to the lunch site, we ate and then the kids hopped up to play on the merry-go-round and make friends with the locals. That’s when I was sure they would go the distance.

And they did. The next day, June 30, was our last, and their smiles said everything at the celebration brunch in McKeesport. Two of the boys even rode an extra nine miles on road with the other Sojourners and the police escort.

And so, in the words of Pittsburgh City Council, I “applaud the students”—Devin Brown, Ronald Coker, Jamie Fultz, Layfayette Goode, Melaysia Henderson, Alyson McAtee, Whitney Owens, Tamon Russell and John Spell—as well as Mr. P’s daughter, Taylah Pipkin, who also participated. I hope these great kids are enjoying the rest of the summer with the new bikes they earned by completing the ride.

RTC and I also thank the coaches—Brian Funk, Holly Hudson, Marylou White and Bruce and Shelia Wood, along with Anthony Pipkin. Dr. Stephen Thomas and Mario Browne of the Center for Minority Health (CMH, in the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh) shared our vision of “embracing diversity” and helped organize the youth program. Heinz Endowments and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation helped fund the program.

Susan Weaver

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Tool for Trail Building

At Cedar Creek Campground beside the Youghiogheny River near West Newton, Pa., it was the last morning of Greenway Sojourn 2007. On June 30 the sun was shining, Sojourners were loading luggage onto 24-foot rental trucks or munching bagels. Carl Knoch, back from an emergency run to buy toilet paper, loaded a CD into the staff Prius and cranked up the volume: “I like to ride my bicycle! I like to ride my bike…”

“Yeah!!!” somebody called, “Carl’s jammin’!”

If the Queen song was an answer, perhaps the question was: Why do we organize the Greenway Sojourn? Why does RTC’s Northeast Office spend considerable energy over nine months, planning to shuttle, route, feed, encamp and entertain several hundred cyclists, not to mention hauling their bicycles and luggage?

Partly it is because we like to ride our bikes—this year with 500 of our closest friends. We wanted to offer an active vacation while celebrating the opening of the D.C. to Pittsburgh trail. The Great Allegheny Passage rail-trail portion is so scenic and popular that RTC has inducted it as the first trail in its new Rail-Trail Hall of Fame, with a presentation by RTC president, Keith Laughlin, to ATA president, Linda Boxx, in Cumberland on June 27 during the Sojourn.

Primarily, however, the Greenway Sojourn is a tool for trail building. Where there is a gap in the trail or some other need, the Sojourn allows us to heighten awareness. Collaborating with local organizations, ride organizers took the opportunity to inform Sojourners and the media about the work remaining to be done.

As Sojourners discovered, riding the C&O Canal Towpath is a trip through the past. You see canal locks, lockhouses and other remains from the time when mules pulled boats carrying tons of cargo, and entire families tended the locks. But it’s easy to overlook the cost of maintaining these historic structures.

Sunday, as we neared Brunswick, Md., we were reminded. Participants were invited to tour Lander Lockhouse, the only locktender’s dwelling on the C&O that’s been restored and furnished to represent the period. Local advocates did the interior renovations and now maintain it. A half-mile up the trail, some of those volunteers have a new project that they pointed out, Catoctin Aqueduct. Built ca. 1832-1834, the stone aqueduct carried the C&O Canal over Catoctin Creek. Often called the most beautiful of the eleven on the canal, the aqueduct suffered the collapse of two of its three arches in 1973. Slated for repair by spring 2009, it will be faced to look like the granite original, with a stronger, poured concrete interior, according to Pepper Scotto, treasurer of the Catoctin Aqueduct Restoration Fund. Cost of the project will be $3.4 million, and fundraising is still ongoing.

On Monday detour signs sent Sojourners around a 2.7-mile gap in the C&O Canal Towpath at Big Slackwater, so called because there the Potomac is widened and flattened by a dam. This stretch has been impassable since a flood eroded the bank in 1996. Some riders groaned at the climbs on the several-mile road ride while others liked seeing more of the countryside.

Regardless, when Maryland state senator Donald Munson joined us for dinner at River Bottom Park in Williamsport, he cited a swell of support on the state, federal and local levels and asked all Sojourners to write their congressional delegates urging funds for repairs of the only break on the C&O. Greenway Sojourn ride director Tom Sexton presented a check for $2,500 to Tom Perry, chair of Big Slackwater Restoration, to further funding efforts. Perry and volunteers, including his young grandson, had personally handed out cold water at the top of a hill on the detour. At dinner he asked for signatures on a petition supporting the project.

For a change of pace on Tuesday from the sometimes rough surface of the C&O, the Sojourn took advantage of the Western Maryland Rail Trail. About ten miles before the Hancock, Md. lunch stop, cyclists picked up the smoother, asphalt-paved trail. In Hancock Tom Sexton presented a $2,500 check to Penny Pittman of the Western Maryland Rail Trail Supporters to further their advocacy. Twelve miles up the trail the group’s 80-year-old “chair emeritus” Emmie Woodward pointed out the Paw Paw Bends area, where the WMRT group plans to build another 14 miles of trail. According to Woodward, the new rail-trail will cross and recross the Potomac on six high trestle bridges and pass through three tunnels in a magnificent wilderness.

From Cumberland, Md., where the C&O Canal Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage were joined last December, the Sojourn had clear cruising all the way to McKeesport, Pa. There the “grand opening ride” for the two combined trails paused for a final celebration of the accomplishment to date. Hand-painted trail banners lined the trail at the Palisades.

Inside, a sumptuous brunch awaited under swags of lights. Exuberant karaoke singers had Sojourners dancing, while others helped artist Ann Rosenthal and her volunteers paint trail banners. Mayor Brewster proclaimed June 30 Greenway Sojourn Day in McKeesport. Likewise, the county made a proclamation. Tom Sexton presented a check from PA DCNR and the National Park Service for $10,000 to the Steel Valley Trail Council in support of the trail banner project and the funding push to finish the “gap in the GAP (Great Allegheny Passage.”

Then riders poured out of the Palisides to follow a state police escort over nine road miles that represent trail still to be completed. Led by ten motorcycle police, Sojourners filled a full lane on the roadway and sped through controlled intersections a bit like a bike race peloton. The pulse-quickening ride highlighted this stretch, which the Allegheny Trail Alliance (coalition of seven trail organizations building the Passage) intends to complete by the end of 2008.

Regrettably, getting back on the trail did not go as smoothly as planned because our signage crew was stuck in traffic. Sojourners had gotten strung out, and some disconcerted riders had to find their own way to the trail. Fortunately everyone did and finished safely. But with just a few miles to go on a hot day, cyclists were reminded in a way we did not intend, that, without a preserved rail corridor, some of the most challenging trail building on the entire Passage still remains to be done.

Susan Weaver

Photo of Williamsport campsite by Carl Knoch

All Kinds of Bikes, All Kinds of Riders

Part of the thrill of the Greenway Sojourn is being together with all these folks who love trails and cycling. Almost as exciting is seeing all their mounts together in one place, and especially the various sorts of bikes.

Among the 500 bicycles on this year's mostly off-road tour were the expected hybrids, mountain bikes and a few road machines beefed up with wider than normal tires. But, more exotic, there were also folders and tandems and recumbents—with and without fairings for streamlining. The head-turner among all of these was one couple's semi-recumbent tandem, customized to be hand-powered on the front. And then there was the equipment for cycling with kids. With children as young as five participating daily, we had mountain bikes of all sizes, as well as trailers, tag-alongs and kid-back tandems—a rolling demonstration of how to cycle as a family.

Every rider's bike suggests a story. Here are a few I want to share.

I must say, I was impressed by the kids—all the kids. I didn't hear any whining from the youngest in their trailers. And among those old enough to pedal there must have been a lot of personal bests on this eight-day tour. Whenever I saw them, they were churning along cheerfully or, at least, stoically. I met Carter, who was turning ten the next day, riding his mountain bike with his granddad (shown above). On tag-along or tandem I met stokers Tatyana (with the long blond braids) and Sarah (with the bird on her helmet) and others—all learning something about themselves and accomplishment and observing nature from the seat of a bicycle.

In celebration of all the youngsters, here's the story of the Lubas and Schellings, who keep returning to the Greenway Sojourn because they like the traffic-free cycling and near level grades—and maybe the fun most years of having the tours' youngest participants.

This year on day two Doug Luba and Costin Schelling just about doubled their previous longest rides and were still going strong. Both boys are seven and ride REI K-2 seven-speed mountain bikes. That day between Riley's Lock and Harpers Ferry Doug did 31 miles on his K-2 and Costin, 29. In between stints on their own single bikes, they were turning the cranks on tag-alongs.

As we stood in line for breakfast pancakes Monday at the KOA in Harpers Ferry, Doug's dad Mark seemed slightly surprised. "I was going to pull him up the hill to the campground, but he wanted to pedal up himself," Mark said, smiling. "And he had plenty of energy afterwards to play in the pool and on the playground." Here's Doug on the tag-along.

Kate Hughes, Costin's mom, sounded equally proud of his achievement. "The other half of that," she said, "was that he had a good attitude all the way."

The attitude must have carried over. "I had a good day yesterday," Costin summed up his Sunday on the C&O. "I saw trees, trees and more trees. I liked seeing all those bikes, and I saw ten turtles and a heron."

For all or most of the tour, the boys' younger siblings, Josie Schelling and Eric Luba, both five years old, rode in trailers pulled by their moms. Eric cradled a stuffed bear that, by the looks of it, has already had many adventures. When Josie wasn't napping, I heard her singing and talking with her mom. She was still smiling in the rain. It was great to see the pleasure of cycling being nurtured with these kids.

As for the semi-custom tandem with the recumbent, hand-crank front, it belongs to Mike and Anne Kruimer. The $8,000 bicycle was the Edison, New Jersey couple's courageous response to an accident in 1992, which paralyzed Anne from the waist down. While cycling, she was struck by a car, went into the windshield and broke her back.

During what must have been a difficult time of recovery and adjustment, they ordered this tandem that seats Anne comfortably in front where she can see. A year after the accident they received the bicycle, and they ride it. In 2004 they took the bike from Maine to Florida on a tour promoting the East Coast Greenway.

Advocates for the Middlesex Greenway rail-trail, the Kruimers said they heard about Greenway Sojourn 2007 and were eager to travel the D.C. to Pittsburgh trail. "It's a very important link," Mike said. Besides that, he added, "The Sojourn is about the people."

Anne agreed that she found Sojourners interesting and sociable, and she enjoyed wildlife along the trails. The highlight for her, though, was the Paw Paw Tunnel on the C&O and the Big Savage Tunnel on the Great Allegheny Passage. "I like going through tunnels."

"Once she heard about the tunnels, we had to come," said Mike, admitting that he is claustrophobic and tunnels are not his thing. In fact, he wouldn't have made it through pitch-black, 3,118-foot Paw Paw Tunnel, he said, without the encouragement of Sojourn staffer Paul Simpson, who followed them on the narrow walkway. The two men bantered back and forth: "Hey, Mike, don't fall in the canal! There's a lot of hard rocks down there..." "Yeah, Paul, I don't think there are any soft ones!..."

Off the bike, Anne and Mike had to be creative since the Sojourn is not (and doesn't claim to be) fully wheelchair accessible. By using the shower truck during dinner, for example, Mike found privacy to help Anne bathe. "The most difficult thing for me," Anne said, "was going over the pedestrian bridge at Harpers Ferry," which requires ascending a spiral stairway. "A couple of guys carried me up the stairs. One of them, a very nice guy, wasn't even a Sojourner."

As we said goodbye in Pittsburgh, both were pleased to have gone the distance and to have enjoyed it. "For medical reasons, she couldn't train for the last seven weeks," admitted Mike. "I wasn't sure she could make it. But," he grinned, "we did."

Yeah, Mike, it’s the people.

Susan Weaver

Photo of Josie Schelling and Mom Kate Hughes by Sally Gerdes
Photo of Brief Rest on the Bench by Linda Young
Photo of Sojourners on the Low Bridge at Ohiopyle by Carl Knoch

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Trail Tales

I have enjoyed the shaded towpath, rolling along easily, with the Potomac often visible through breaks in the trees. On Sunday especially, many cyclists and the occasional dog-walker or jogger passed us going the opposite direction, visible proof of the popularity of the C&O.
Some days I’ve ridden chatting with friends from home—Rosanne, John and Hiram—and taking time to investigate points of interest, like White's Ferry, the last operating ferry on the Potomac. Other times I’ve ridden alone, open to whoever or whatever I might meet.

My favorite encounter Sunday was with a local family, the Beaulieus, that I passed. Mother, father and son were biking with their Jack Russell terrier, Bug, riding alertly in a milk crate attached to Dad’s rear rack. They were nice about my taking pictures. They do it often, they said, and Bug is used to being a celebrity along the towpath.

Many of us have seen deer. One rider, M.J. Veverka says that Sunday she saw a small fawn curled up right beside the trail. Monday, not far from Williamsport, Md., I saw a doe leap across the path well ahead of me.

A little later something low-slung with a long tail scurried across the trail. When I reached the spot where it had disappeared into the underbrush, I looked for an otter since it seemed more slender than a groundhog. I was surprised to see a raccoon, probably a young one, run up a tree. It stopped about 20 feet off the ground and looked right at me. Then it climbed around the back of the trunk and peered around the other side. Then it went back around and looked again. I must have been pretty entertaining, because it kept this up for about ten minutes, alternating positions and watching me—plenty of time for me to pull out my camera and alert two riders behind me to approach quietly so they could see too. Of course, once I put my camera away, it climbed down into an even better pose, but I missed it.

Others have reported seeing black snakes crossing the trail. Last night at her safety talk, Sojourn staffer Linda Young was telling a funny account about seeing what she thought was a tree root in the shadows. When she discovered she was about to ride over a snake several feet long, she uttered (more or less), “Ooh! Aghh! Eeekkk! Ack!” which she later translated as “Watch out, there’s a snake on the trail!!!”

About midday today several people were lucky enough to see a large beaver in the watered canal a mile before reaching Cumberland, Md. Sojourner Carl King said it would surface and nibble grass in the water.

Today was a hot day, and while riders were doing what they could to stay cool, turtles were loving the sunshine. We saw lots of turtles sunning themselves on logs, nose to tail, some bigger than dinner plates. Sojourner Jay Garvin says that’s because turtles, being cold-blooded, need the warmth of the sun to aid digestion. Egrets, blue herons, frogs (well camouflaged) sounding from an algae-covered canal—probably everyone has had some back-to-nature experience.

Susan Weaver
Photo of recumbent rider by Linda Young

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Youngest and Oldest

The youngest and oldest Sojourn participants are often the subject of media interest, and other riders too want to know about them. So I thought I’d share a bit here.

This year’s Sojourners range in age from 14 months to 87.

Dark-eyed, often-smiling, and just starting to walk, Sofia is experiencing her first Sojourn with her parents, Keith Dickerson and Teresa Keating, two of our volunteer staff. Sofia is traveling some of the time on the towpath in a bicycle trailer pulled by one of her parents. But for the most part, she has been lulled to sleep in our support van. Teresa and Keith take turns driving the van while the other cycles. I caught Sofia on camera curiously inspecting the stuffed giraffe on the back of one Sojourner’s recumbent bike the first day. I shared lunch with the threesome Sunday and observed as she practiced her first major athletic accomplishment, learning to walk. Today, which was a hot one, she was laughing as Teresa let her play under a hose in the park in Hancock, Md., our lunch stop. It looks like she’s off to a great start on a healthy, active lifestyle.

This morning during breakfast I had a chance to chat with Bill Grun, 87, our oldest rider. Bill, who has cycled with us on all our Greenway Sojourns, has a delightful wit, an interest in others and a compelling story of his own. Not surprisingly, I heard from someone that he’s working on his autobiography. He confirmed that he is, “but the problem is I’m so busy! I only allow myself an hour on the computer a day.” At six single-spaced pages, he says he’s about half through writing it and that he’s “had a wonderful life.”

A retired industrial arts teacher, Bill is hardly resting on his laurels. He still volunteers one day a week teaching mechanical drawing and technology at a middle school near his home—which he built himself 53 years ago in Warrington, Pa. He’s made several 3-month trips to Florida to help rebuild homes as disaster relief and still goes a week at a time to Mississippi for the same purpose. And he makes time to indulge his love of cycling.

“When I retired from teaching in 1980, one of my objectives was to do bicycle touring,” he says. “I got my first ten-speed and took it on tour in Acadia National Park. I went on my own at first; later my daughter joined me." His longest tour was a present to himself for his 75th birthday. He joined a supported bike tour for seven days and rode from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. “It was glorious! At the end the ride leader, who’d been watching me the whole trip, said, ‘You really surprised me. When I heard a 75-year-old was coming on this trip, I thought I’d have to be babysitting you.”

Bill says he’s “always had a bicycle…” He earned his first one at age 13 selling magazines door-to-door in 1933. “The magazine cost a dime, and from that dime I got three cents and also earned coupons toward prizes. I saved them up. The bike was 973 coupons.” It was a single-speed, and he must have ridden it a lot. “I wore that bike out,” he reports. It had soft soldering and eventually the frame fell apart.”

Certain themes run through Bill’s life—being proactive and self-sufficient, among them. “My mother died when I was fourteen, which was a disaster. But I realized from that, that the buck stops here. Even as a kid I always had a job. It was the Depression, and my dad didn’t have extra money to give me.”

He offers the story of his World War II navy years for an example. He wanted to be a carpenter’s mate because he knew he wanted to teach industrial arts after the war was over. How he did it is a story of speaking up about his ambition and not being afraid to offer his services to the officer in charge, of honing his skills and finding ways to put them to use. But I’m running out of space and time. You’ll have to ask Bill, if you meet him, or read about it in his autobiography.

Susan Weaver

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Greenway Sojourn 2007 Rolls Out

In the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., it was the kind of Saturday when everyone seemed to want to be outside—sunny, warm but not hot. A few blocks over, a canal boat was snugged up beside the bank of the C&O Canal, a man and woman in 19th-century homespun on deck. At the end of Water Street in-line skaters, joggers and cyclists streamed past, heading for a paved path along the Potomac. Meanwhile, Greenway Sojourn staffers, myself among them, set up registration for the eight-day, 335-mile bicycle tour bringing almost 500 cyclists to Washington from 33 states.

By noon early arrivals were picking up luggage tags and loading duffel onto a truck that would carry it to the first night’s campsite on the C&O Canal. One man, Ray Klein, a wiry 68, particularly spoke to my sense of adventure: he pulled up with full panniers on his touring bicycle, having ridden it all the way from the Finger Lakes in New York since Monday morning. A rail-trail fan (as well as cross-country cyclist), he was drawn by the chance to help celebrate the opening of a D.C. to Pittsburgh trail, now the longest multi-purpose trail in the country.

The Greenway Sojourn, organized by the Northeast Office of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and now in its sixth year, travels a different route each time. This one will follow the C&O Canal Towpath for its full 184 miles and, from its terminus in Cumberland, Md., pick up the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage—a connection completed only last December by the Allegheny Trail Alliance, our partner in planning this tour. The beauty of the two trails and their epic length have attracted our largest group yet.

Most of them were coming on eight shuttle buses that had started from our destination, Pittsburgh. So they had a five-hour bus ride and we had a wait. But at last the first two buses arrived and unloaded. Then we ALL waited until finally the first 18-wheeler full of bicycles backed slowly down Water Street, and ride staff began wheeling bikes down the ramp, their freewheels ticking.

Finally it felt like a mass ride. Sojourners in bright jerseys claimed bikes of all descriptions, donned helmets, and headed for a long flight of steps that led to the towpath.

Then they set off on arguably the most picturesque portion of the C&O, where the canal is watered and travelers pass many locks and lockhouses. Turtles swim in the shaded canal and bask on logs extending over the water. And at dramatic Great Falls the Potomac narrows to a tenth of its width, with cascading rapids and waterfalls, and the walkway to cross the Mather Gorge and to see these amazing cataracts is worth the brief detour off the path.

Overall, this first 22-mile section to the campground at Riley’s Lock is a sweet stretch of trail to begin the Greenway Sojourn.

Susan Weaver

Photo of banner by Linda Young

Photo of Great Falls by Linda Young

Photo of camper at Riley's Lock by Linda Young

Friday, June 22, 2007

Share your 2007 Greenway Sojourn Images with Us

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has started a 2007 Greenway Sojourn Group on Flickr™. It's a great way for you to share your photos with us, other Greenway Sojourn participants and the world!

To share one or more images, follow these simple steps:
  1. Join Flickr™ or login to your already existing Flickr™ account .
  2. Once you are logged in, join our 2007 Greenway Sojourn group . (You can also find us by searching for "Greenway Sojourn" under "Groups.")
  3. The "You" menu at the top of every page provides an easy way for you to start uploading photos. Follow the directions provided by Flickr™ to upload your photos to your account.
  4. When you've uploaded your photos, "tag" them with 2007greenwaysojourn.
  5. The easiest way to add your newly uploaded photos to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's free, public 2007 Greenway Sojourn group is to go to your photo's page, and click the "Send to Group" button above the photo you want to share. Choose the group you want to send it to.
  6. You're done. You can now see your photos and others on the 2007 Greenway Sojourn group page.