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Man operates cyclist's haven

July 10, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HANCOCK

Pedaling past rusted bicycles and a cooler full of water on the Western Maryland Rail Trail, the sweat-slicked faces of weary riders often break into smiles.

John Geist's home on the trail is just 5 miles from town, but for some rubbery legged cyclists, it has been a haven.

Even though they come with transportation of their own, Geist said riders occasionally need him to make good on a hand-painted sign in his yard that offers rides back to Hancock.

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"A lot of people laugh about it, but I figure if they get a flat tire and don't want to walk back to Hancock, it's a service," said Geist, 58, who retired after 35 years of teaching two years ago.

This year, the wood board on a bench in Geist's yard shows he is charging $8 for the 5-mile ride back to town. The original price - $5 - is painted over because, as Geist said, gas prices have gone up.

The trail also gives Geist's grandchildren a way to make spending money for vacations - they offer bottled water for $1, sold out of a cooler on a table beside the trail.

Old bikes with prices of usually only a couple of dollars stand beside the table, and birdhouses and other for-sale wood crafts cover part of the yard.

The taxi service started about two years ago when a pair of riders decided they could go no farther. Their double bike had a flat tire, Geist said.

"They said they didn't want to walk back to Hancock, said they'd give me a couple bucks if I drove them back. They gave me $10, and I said, 'Hey, I could just start doing this,'" Geist said.

Seasonal ranger Maury Domsky, who rode a recumbent bicycle past Geist's house Wednesday, said on a busy day about 800 people might use the trail. Not all of them come prepared, he said.

"Some people are out here, get a flat tire (and) have nothing, no pump, no patch," said Domsky, who helps riders who encounter problems.

Clouds hung thick in the sky Wednesday, and few riders tempted the rain as Geist talked. A trio of men laughed as they pedaled east on the trail.

Geist said he sells a few rides back each year - this summer he had taken three people back to town by Wednesday - and a couple of bikes, which he buys at yard sales, works on and resells.

The bikes usually have flat tires, so no one rides away with them, but Geist said he has had few problems with the water left unmonitored in the cooler. Riders stuff dollar bills in a pitcher beside the cooler, and the money is seldom pilfered, he said.

Even though he said he shells out the money for about six cases of water a year, Geist said his grandchildren get to keep all of the profits, which they spend on family trips to the beach.

"They'll see the pitcher moved, or they'll see the money, and they'll come running up to get it," Geist said.

So far this year, the water has brought in about $50, he said.

Geist, who taught at Clear Spring Middle School, said he knows none of the goods he offers will bring in much money. But he said he enjoys helping people, and that's the point.

Geist said he shot down one idea after talking to park officials about his water stand.

"I talked to the rangers, and one guy even told me to run an extension cord out and put a soda machine, and I said, 'No, I'm not going to do that,'" Geist said.

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