Why would anyone want to ride a bike 350 miles to Washington, D.C.?

For the past 25 years I have been a daily, year-round bike commuter and have gone on several long-distance, cross-country bike tours. These activities are seen by many to be amazing feats of endurance and will power. The steaming hundred-mile days of a long tour along bumpy country roads and the 10º mornings of my winter commutes are indeed sufficient answers to the question of why more people don’t do this sort of thing. I did them, partly because I’m nuts, but mostly because of the beautiful sights and intriguing people one meets along the way.

Last summer, I and my good friends, Cameron and Rachel Van Dyke, rode the Great Allegheny Passage and the Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath, which connects Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. This ride was like no other that I have been on before. The trail is shaded and smooth (mostly!), featuring gentle ascents and descents, and has no motorized traffic: in other words, perfect. The trail runs along beautiful rivers, snakes past charming towns and historic sights from four American wars. Riders will see the remnants of Early National and Gilded Age industrialized America, while crossing repurposed train trestles and pedaling through three tunnels.

My friends and I became excited about sharing this trip with students, hence this proposed trip.

The Logistics

When: 10 days, leaving June 14 and returning June 24.

How: We will travel by van from Chicago to Pittsburgh, then by bike to Washington D.C.

Accommodations: Tents while on the trail. Hotel rooms in Washington.

Cost: $700 based on 6 riders. This amount will cover all expenses, except food in


Riders will have to supply their own bicycle; a multi-gear, mountain bike style is the norm, however, many people use traditional touring styles as well. Mr. Altena would love to help you find and tune your ride. Cyclists will carry their own supplies along the route. One meal a day will be eaten at a restaurant (lunch or supper, contingent upon circumstances along the trail).

The Experience

History: Riders will learn about the history of early American transportation, mining and manufacturing; wars such as the French and Indian, American Revolution, and the Civil War (the Antietam battlefield is close by); and the countless events and people connected with our nation’s capital.

Personal Growth: While the route is forgiving to novice riders, those miles don’t always float by– it’s been known to rain, legs and bums get sore, and showering will be rare. The trail will provide many challenges and will require patience, persistence and prayer. Students will notice their bodies becoming increasingly conditioned and efficient. Daily prayer and praise times, enhanced by being unplugged from the world of social media, will feed the rider’s spirit.

Meet Cameron and Rachel

Ok, so this is just me talking, but Cameron and Rachel are the coolest people I know (sorry Mr. Okuley and Mr. Seimer). Rachel is an educator, painter, actor and athlete. Cameron is a sculptor, teacher, fine-furniture maker and–I think it’s appropriate to say–inventor. Check out two of the Van Dyke’s projects below.

More GAP Info


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