Kennett Township >> When George Mallory was asked, “Why did you climb Mount Everest?” he famously answered “Because it’s there.” Those are the same three words used when you ask Charlie Hill and David Leonard, two Kendal at Longwood retirement community residents, why they decided to bicycle close to 360 miles -- from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.. Their answer, jokingly: “Because it’s there”? These two guys on an adventure will remember their long-distance trip for a lifetime and now it’s crossed ‘off their list.’
Hill, 71, has bicycled on local trips and trails but wanted a distance adventure. He connected with fellow resident, Leonard, 75, who completed a coast-to-coast bike trip a few years ago, and together they mapped out their trip. But first, endurance training was key. Hill practiced longer-distance bike trips in and around the Kendal campus.
“There are two large hills that connect Kendal to our Crosslands campus,” he said. “I would stop at the base of the first hill and then ride it and the next one up to Crosslands and then back and I knew if I could bike those hills without stopping, I’d be ready.”
Leonard said they would need to carry 25- to 30-pounds of extra gear and so this trip was unlike any other. But their tenacious planning and research provided a trip that was seamless.
Their adventure began as Hill and Leonard packed up their hybrid bicycles and their gear, left Kennett Square, and drove to Pittsburgh. On Sept. 8, they hopped onto the Great Allegheny Passage Trail and embarked on their journey. The “GAP Trail,” which runs from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md., is an old rail trail. Its elevation is geared toward rail cars or trains so the pitch is never more than 3 percent.
“Although it went slowly uphill for more than 150 miles, it was manageable,” said Hill.
Leonard recalls riding along a fairly flat terrain, just crossing over the Eastern Continental Divide and coming into the town of Frostburg, Md.
“You could look out over a very expansive countryside, see farms everywhere, and enjoy a very picturesque, beautiful country,” he said. Leonard thought to himself this is something you would never see in a car. A bike trip allows you the opportunity to see more, experience more, and interact with people.
Next on their adventure was the C&O Trail (or Chesapeake and Ohio Trail), which is also called the Towpath Trail or Mule Trail. This trail goes about 180 miles from Cumberland, Md. to Washington D.C. and it would take them to their end point. History records that mules pulled wooden canal boats along this passage, and on their journey they passed the old pump houses. Although generally flat and downhill, tunnels provided easy access across hilly terrain. However, one tunnel was closed, and the only way ahead was up and over a steep ridge. A memorable moment for both men was the camaraderie of fellow bikers, helping others who were struggling to get over this ridge, not leaving anyone behind, a ‘good Samaritan’ biker’s code. This day provided an 80-mile biking day but was well worth the fellowship and experience.
They arrived in D.C. on Sept. 14.
“We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this adventure if it wasn’t for the support of our wives,” Hill said. “In our minds, the people we met along the way, the sights, the sounds, and our ability to demonstrate to ourselves the capability to go on this adventure will always be with us.”
Today, they continue to do short day trips and will keep on bicycling as long as their bodies allow.