Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Planning to Ride the Great Allegheny Passage

Though I've ridden a bike through India, Vietnam, and Kenya, this takes me closer to my roots

Trails in Indiana, like this corn-lined one in Indianapolis,
will yield to hilly vistas and misty valleys when we head
out on the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal.  
For me, cycling is everything from a weekday commute to work to an international weeks-long cross-country sojourn. This ride, from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, is somewhere in the middle.

The plan is to ride the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland. From there, the ride will continue along the C&O Canal as it moves southeastward to Washington, D.C.

This is about 335 miles that a few friends and I will cover in six days of riding--almost completely without vehicle traffic. That, for me, will be a first in cross-country cycling.

Several things about this ride, slated for August 10 through 16, compel me.

Foremost is the anticipation of riding through the land of my youth. This territory is my roots. Until I turned 17 years old, I lived in West Virginia--rustic, beautiful, misty hill country. I lived in Parkersburg, along the Ohio River, about 120 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. The hills in the northwest area of West Virginia are smaller than what we will see and experience further east into the Allegheny Mountains, but the shape of the terrain I see in a guidebook looks an awful lot like home. While mostly in Pennsylvania and Maryland, both the GAP and C&O Canal border West Virginia for over 150 miles.

Compelling, also, is what I do not know and have never seen before of this age-old mountainous area. So many small towns and rural areas, each similar but oh so distinct, invite my wanderlust. There is history and mythology here that I am vaguely familiar with (as a child and student, I loved reading of the history and geography of West Virginia), but I'm anxious to learn anew and experience firsthand. Some of what I know is ugly history--of rapacious coal and steel and railroad barons, and Civil War north-south border strife (West Virginia was born as an anti-slavery dissent partition from Virginia). Riding through these places, I hope to learn other stories--perhaps both better and worse.

This will be the first cross-country ride I've undertaken without a SAG (support and gear) wagon. No one will be transporting our supplies or assisting with breakdowns. Whatever we need for the journey will be carried on our bikes--tent, sleeping bag, clothing, food, tools, supplies. We'll be completely self-contained. I'm looking forward to cutting the support cord, actually.

The adventure will be taken with friends with whom I've never before journeyed. That's part of the passage I look forward to, as well. Aaron Spiegel and his son, Eli, are on board to make this trek. Perhaps one or two more riders will join us. I've learned that cross-country cycling creates a bond of friendship that is not easily forgotten or broken. Those who pedal hundreds of miles together, repeatedly break bread together, and share the indignities of unvarnished life together tend to discover a sacredness born only through such a sojourn.

So, it's about a month until this passage. I'll keep you posted as things develop and hope to share the journey (and photos) as we go.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

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