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Lifestyle
They've had a great time while taking care of the outdoors

Saturday, May 17, 2003

By Bob Batz Jr., Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Mary Shaw and Roy Weil go through good bits of life together on a bicycle built for two.

Roy Weil and Mary Shaw will be recognized today with this year's Venture Outdoors Recreation & Outdoor Community Steward award. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)


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Festival will let you bike, hike, row, paddle, etc.

So it's appropriate that together they are the winner of this year's Venture Outdoors Recreation & Outdoor Community Steward award.

The second annual ROCS! award, to be presented at today's Venture Outdoors festival on the North Shore, recognizes individuals who've made significant contributions to promote outdoor recreation in the region.

Shaw, 59, and Weil, 58, have left their marks all over the outdoors here, including thousands of miles of tire tracks from their trademark green Cannondale tandem bike.

They wrote the book on the region's recreation trails, "FreeWheeling Easy in Western Pennsylvania," when trails were just starting to be built in the early 1990s. Soon it will be in its fourth edition.

Last year, they published the second edition of "Linking Up: Planning Your Traffic-Free Bike Trip Between Pittsburgh, PA and Washington, D.C." -- a booklet about and benefiting one of their favorite trails, the Great Allegheny Passage.

Their guidebook partnership goes back to the mid 1970s, when they started editing American Youth Hostels' biblical "Canoeing Guide to Western Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia." It's out of print but still in great demand, so they and friends have been hard at work at the dining room table of their Squirrel Hill home, updating 1991's 30th-anniversary edition for re-release by Christmas.

They've even co-authored some trashy stuff, inspired by the National Park Service: "101 Uses for a NPS Trash Free Park Litter Bag."

All this while she works as the Alan J. Perlis Professor of Computer Science and co-director of the Sloan Software Industry Center at Carnegie Mellon University, and he as a civil engineer for Baker Corp.

And still they get outdoors just about every weekend -- to ride one of their many bikes, or paddle one of their many canoes or kayaks, or cross-country ski, or something.

Actually, Weil's canoe quirk is the near-lost art of poling -- standing and propelling a boat by pushing off the stream bottom with a 12-foot aluminum pole. They have a travel tandem bike -- it folds into two suitcases -- that they've pedaled in places such as Montreal and Paris.

Both pilots, they took a Maine vacation to earn their float plane certifications. This time of year, they get out on weekday evenings to soar over the city's outskirts in their hot-air balloon, "Greenie with the Dark Blue Stripe." The public can hire rides from Weil, who fancies himself "Emerald Shazam."

Asked how they make the time, Weil laughs not at all sheepishly: "See the grass in the back yard?"

"My soul needs to be in the woods sometimes," says Shaw, who loves Laurel Hill Creek in June when the rhododendron are in flower. She's also obviously sweet on Weil, and vice-versa.

A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she came to Carnegie Institute of Technology (as it was called then) in the fall of 1965. Weil, who came from Buffalo, tells how she was the "obnoxious grad student" who wanted service from the computer department he was running. Their first date was the spring carnival concert, Peter, Paul & Mary at the old Syria Mosque.

A great love affair bloomed, one that throve in the fresh air and full sun. The couple dove into AYH's then-yeasty activities program and soon were leading trips. They've taught and inspired hundreds to savor the outdoors.

"Mary pulled me out of the river at least once," says Brian McBane. Actually, she pulled him in: He runs AYH's Tuesday canoe school and helps with the canoe guide.

Shaw and Weil served as AYH officers. He edited the newsletter. "It was," she says, "a matter of being willing."

That's the attitude that was lauded in their nomination for the ROCS! award by the Allegheny Trail Alliance. It's the consortium of groups that are building the 152-mile Great Allegheny Passage from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md., which connects with Washington via the C&O Canal Towpath. Now, 100 continuous miles are done between McKeesport and Meyersdale, but Shaw and Weil have been pedaling it for years, and led one of the first organized end-to-end rides in 1999. Playing on the route's following of the Potomac and Youghiogheny Rivers, Weil dubbed the trip the "Yockatomactrek."

"They have too much fun," says ATA President Linda McKenna Boxx, who credits them for proving that the long-distance trail was more than a promise.

The pair and their elf-horn-equipped green bike will be on, but not leading, this year's fifth-annual trek, June 7-15 (spots still are available). As the ATA nomination noted, "Their unfailing good humor, extensive knowledge of their sports, equipment, the terrain, and the region's history, make Roy and Mary the ideal companions and guides."

The couple took a big risk when they decided to publish "FreeWheeling" themselves as Shaw-Weil Associates in 1995. But the first 2,000 copies sold almost immediately, and now they've almost sold 16,000. They've given the profits to the ATA. They even created an imprint of their outfit, Great Allegheny Press, so ATA can publish and profit from "Linking Up" and a brand-new book on "Great Little Walks" on the trails in Allegheny County that is to become a series.

As straightforward as they are brainy, they admit that they had selfish motives: They wanted to be able to bike from Pittsburgh to Washington. Producing the guides, planning interpretive signs, designing and running the ATA Web site -- it's just their way of building trail.

Shaw and Weil say their payback includes friendships that have lasted for decades. Bike and canoe trips are social time, but also more, she says, looking at him: "This is time we get together."

Together they'll be presented the glass ROCS! award at noon by city Councilman Bill Peduto as well as their friend Bruce Sundquist, a longtime leader with AYH (now officially Hostelling International) and the Sierra Club, who won last year.

Boxx says the ATA can't thank them enough for all their talents and time.

"It's like they are the spirit of the trail in some ways."

A good starting point for information about Shaw and Weil and links is http://shaw-weil.com/fwe/.


Bob Batz Jr. can be reached at bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930.

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