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Bicycling: Area cyclists connect with those on cross-country mission

Sunday, May 11, 2003

By Larry Walsh

Rain in their eyes, grit in their gears, rock slides in their way. The riders in the National Bicycle Greenway project overcame all that and more, including air-challenged tires, by the time they pedaled up to the portico of the City-County Building, Downtown, on Friday.

Bicyclists participating in the National Bicycle Greenway project gather under the portico of the City-County Building on Friday afternoon. From left are Ken Lloyd of Latrobe, Dave Hiebert of Scottdale, OraSue McKinnon of Marlton, N.J., Dave Huggins-Daines of Bloomfield, Mike Costarell of Pulaski, Lawrence County, Denise Hill of Oakland and Jim Muellner of Great Lakes, Minn. The project is designed to help promote an interconnected system of trails and bike friendly roads across the country.

After dipping their front tires in the Potomac River, Denise Hill of Oakland, OraSue McKinnon of Marlton, N. J. and Jim Muellner of Great Lakes, Minn. set out May 2 from Freedom Plaza in Washington, D. C. to Pittsburgh on the first leg of a relay bicycle trip to Santa Cruz, Cal.

The trip, a self-supported ride by at least one and no more than 10 persons, is designed to promote an interconnected system of trails and bike friendly roads across the country. Riders select the routes and provide for their own lodging. But they must arrive in each of 25 cities on the scheduled date.

Hill, McKinnon and Muellner enjoyed a cheering sendoff from meter maids in Washington, D. C. , the hospitality of innkeepers who let them camp in their yard, the dark challenge of the 3,134-foot long Paw Paw Tunnel and the sighting of a variety of wildlife.

They endured wet weather, cold weather, surly geese, "creative detours," broken spokes and flat tires as they rode along the narrow, rocky and puddle-prone C & O Tow Path to Cumberland, Md.

Because a 35-mile section of the Great Allegheny Passage trail between Cumberland and Meyersdale is a work in progress, they were shuttled from the former to the latter.

They got on the Great Allegheny Passage at the Western Maryland Railway station in Meyersdale for 100 miles of uninterrupted smooth, wide trail to McKeesport.

They cruised across the Salisbury Viaduct, immediately spotted the eight, 200-foot-high wind turbines Green Mountain Energy erected on Don and Bob Decker's hilltop farm and were delighted to see a peacock on John Decker's farm near Garrett.

Hill said they enjoyed the "gorgeous views" from the Pinkerton Bridges and other sturdy spans that crossed the serpentine Casselman River and, from Confluence to McKeesport, the powerful Youghiogheny River.

The trio's spirits and numbers were bolstered when Ken Lloyd of Latrobe joined them in Meyersdale and Dave Hiebert of Scottdale pedaled up between Ohiopyle and Connellsville.

The chilly, rainy weather continued. So did the kindness of strangers.

Korber's Bicycle Shop in West Newton replaced Hill's weathered tires with what she described, in her typical enthusiastic fashion, as "a brand spankin' new set of the sexiest hybrid tires they had, and for 'cheep,' too."

"We were happy to help her out," said Dean Korber, in his eighth year of selling, renting and repairing all kinds of bikes.

After a 12-mile road ride from McKeesport to Hazelwood, the quintet was joined by more than a dozen local bicyclists at the Greenfield Trailhead of the Eliza Furnace Trail for the 3-mile ride to the City-County Building.

"It was a blast," said Hill, 23, a Web editor and trip leader for the Western Pennsylvania Field Institute. "I'd do it again. I'm going to continue on to Columbus, but then I have to come back here and go to work. I'd rather bike."

David Huggins-Daines, 26, of Bloomfield, a computer programmer, and Mike Costarell, 36, of Pulaski, Lawrence County, a mechanical engineer, will join the group for the four-day trip to Columbus.

"I rode to Columbus and back last summer," said Huggins-Daines, who rapidly recited the route the group will take. "I enjoy biking because you can see a lot more stuff than you can from a car and, of course, it's good exercise."

Costarell, who started biking when he was in the Navy, said he bicycles about 1,500 miles a year. "It's a good way to relieve personal and professional stress," he said. "And people think I'm 10 years younger than I am."

Accompanying the Washington, D. C. group from the Greenfield Trailhead were Bob Holder, 46, of West Homestead, a librarian in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, and Dave Wheitner, 29, of Squirrel Hill, a recent graduate of the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University.

Holder and his wife, Maggie, a Spanish teacher at Elizabeth Forward Middle School, have bicycled extensively in the U. S., Canada and Europe. They are three miles shy of logging 10,000 miles on their tandem bike.

"We love being outside and hearing, smelling and seeing the outdoors. We also enjoy seeing the wildlife, primarily turkeys and deer."

Asked for his advice to first-time riders or those who haven't pedaled since they were children, Holder said they should use trails such as the Great Allegheny Passage, the Montour Trail and the Panhandle Trail.

"They're a good, non-threatening and safe way to learn to ride or re-learn to ride," he said.

Wheitner said he would like to see more people bike to work and more places in town where they can park their bikes safely. He said he has enjoyed riding into and out of Pittsburgh on the Eliza Furnace Trail "and passing all the traffic backed up on the Parkway East."

Denise Hill and Jim Muellner are using PocketMail to report on what is known as the "Mayors Ride" because riders carry proclamations supporting the National Greenway Project from one city hall to the next.

Their reports can be viewed at www.nationalbicyclegreenway.com and by clicking on the Mayors' Ride icon. The site also has more information on the National Bicycle Greenway project.

Muellner, 67, the inventor of the Smart Cart luggage carts that passengers rent to carry their luggage in airports, is riding a trike manufactured by his company, Just Two Bikes. It folds up and can fit in a suit case.

He wants to trike across the country.

I hope he makes it.

Larry Walsh can be reached at lwalsh@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1488.

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