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Bicyclists pedal their way from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh

June 26, 2007|By KAREN HANNA

WILLIAMSPORT - Towels and wet clothes blanketed tents, and bikes stood at attention Monday as Williamsport's River Bottom Park was taken over by cyclists resting on their march from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh.

"I'm a resident of Williamsport, but not since the Civil War have we seen such an encampment down here by the river," quipped Tom Perry, a supporter of the Chesapeake & Ohio National Historical Park.

About 500 cyclists set up a temporary town in the park, where they spent their third night on a ride from the first mile of the C&O towpath to the last leg of the Great Allegheny Passage.

Susan Weaver, manager of development and communications for the Camp Hill, Pa., office of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which organized the sixth-annual Greenway Sojourn with the Allegheny Trail Alliance, said the eight-day trip was the first major push to travel both trails from end to end together. The Great Allegheny Passage, which begins in Cumberland, Md., was connected to the towpath last year.

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"I think it's nice because if you're not an elite athlete, you can do this," said 58-year-old participant Paula Landry of Dallas, Pa.

Weaver said bicyclists on the trip eat at scheduled stops along the way, and trucks carry their gear from one campsite to the next.

Campers wearing bike shorts and sandals waited outside one truck, where they could shower. Towels and clothes hung from clothespins and a bungee cord strung through the net of a soccer goal.

Riders who ate picnic-style dinners at tables under a tent applauded enthusiastically as Tom Riford, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said officials want to restore a 2.7-mile area called Big Slackwater, where the towpath was destroyed by storms.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington County, said state, federal and local officials have shown support for the repairs, which he estimated would cost $10 million to $12 million.

"I'm hopeful that this group of people who have experienced this detour will now make their opinions known to their congressmen and their U.S. senators," said Munson, who joined Riford in welcoming the riders to the encampment.

Perry accepted a large facsimile of a check for $2,500 from the group for the work.

Weaver said riders come from 33 states and Washington, D.C. The group includes the parents of a 14-month-old, who is along for the ride; two 7-year-old boys pedaling their own bikes; and at least five 80-somethings, including an 87-year-old.

Weaver said the trip's average ride is 45 miles, but the longest is 62 miles.

"We've got people in our group who have ridden across the country round-trip on their bikes," Weaver said. "We've got a woman in our group who's 67 who did that."

Paula Landry's husband, Roger, a 61-year-old doctor, said he is volunteering as a medic for the trip. On Monday, he said he sent one injured rider to Washington County Hospital for stitches.

"These people are all ages, but they're pretty fit, and many of them bike a lot, not like us," said Landry, who rides mostly half-day trips with his wife.

Riders sported road rash and sunburns, and several acknowledged they were sore.

"Hurting in the seat," said Mark Casell, 44, of Buffalo, N.Y.

With his shirt off, Gregg Wolff, 46, of Cumberland, exposed a red line where the sun had highlighted his short sleeves. He stood above a tent just after one man across the park secured a tarp to a bike.

"I tell you this is a great way to showcase the county because most of these people are from out of state," Wolff said.

Even as drizzle started to wash the day's dust from the bicycles, Wolff and his friend, Chuck Andrews, 36, of Cumberland, spoke with enthusiasm about their adventure.

"It's so beautiful. I mean, it's so worth it to do," Andrews said.

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