Thanks to everyone who generously contributed to my fundraiser for the East Coast Greenway, a wonderful organization that works with local partners to build a network of bike-and-pedestrian paths from Maine to Florida. I just returned from the ECG’s “One Week A Year” tour, where forty of my new best friends and I pedaled about 275 miles from Philadelphia to Washington DC (where I had to jump off to go to a work event, but they kept going the full 325 miles to Fredericksburg VA). My donors contributed $680, and the organization as a whole raised over $43,000. You can still donate here.
As promised, I re-named cities and states on my route for each donor. Each road sign photo below was stolen from someone’s website and personally Photoshopped by me, with great haste, in your honor. (Full disclosure: I didn’t actually see any of these signs! While I originally planned to snap my own photos, turns out that we rarely saw “Welcome to. . .” signage along our bike route. Originally, I planned to snap pictures myself, but it turns out that we rarely saw “Welcome to. . ” road signs on our bike route, since transportation departments apparently save those for the busier interstate highways.) Instead, we saw several small markers for the East Coast Greenway, and this large one when entering northeast Washington, DC.
Match the re-titled territories below with the names of my wonderful donors: Bill and Ginny Major, Chris Corcoran and Abigail Adams, Kathy Barnett, Tracey Wilson and Beth Bye, Jill Cassidy, Maggie Eccles, Elizabeth Rose, cousin Vicki and her husband Kevin Finger, and my mother, Linda. Also check out my photo & route map from the trip. Thanks to everyone, and definitely take a bike ride or walk along the East Coast Greenway!
PS: Bethesda, Maryland isn’t on the official route, but I pedaled there along the Capital Crescent trail from Washington, DC to pick up my bike suitcase at my in-laws’ house. Also, while I didn’t bike into Virginia on this trip, the rest of my group rode to Fredericksburg.
When George Washington crossed the Delaware River, his boats showed up on time. But when the East Coast Greenway “Week A Year” cyclists tried to cross the Susquehanna River this week, we had to improvise. Thanks to ECG Mid-Atlantic Trail Coordinator Andy Hamilton (aka General Hamilton), our group of forty-one riders arrived safely.
This particular adventure happened on the second day of our Philadelphia-to-Virginia ride (see my photo & route map). We started that morning in Wilmington, where our group met Delaware Governor Jack Markell, “the most bike-friendly governor in the nation.” ECG leaders and local cycling and environmental advocates organized an impressive event with the Governor at the top of the DuPont Environmental Educational Center. Delaware has already built many miles of bike trail, and we learned about concrete plans to build more. Andy (holding the map in the photo below) praised the Governor and emphasized that when he leaves office, about 60 percent of the Delaware portion of the Greenway will be converted from roads to bike trails. Geographically, Delaware is a small state. But it’s proving what can be done for its neighboring states, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and helping to connect more communities from Maine to Florida.
Andy is one of the many talented ECG staff members who have helped to grow this trail over the years. But as I’ve ridden with him these past few days, what continues to impress me is his unique blend of strategic thinking with nuts-and-bolts logistics. The Greenway is successful in part because staff members like Andy, who previously worked in landscape architecture and community development, share the broader vision and “speak DOT.” Both in person and on the phone, Andy knows how to communicate effectively with department of transportation planners, engineers, and project managers at various levels of state and local government, as well as coalitions of advocates and elected officials to leverage what needs to get done. In my line of work, I meet many thinkers who have lots to say, but those who make real changes are less common. So it’s delightful to spend a week with the thinkers-and-doers of the East Coast Greenway, even when things don’t always go as planned.
At the end of day 2, we rolled into Perryville, Maryland, along the bank of the Susquehanna River, for a “Safe Crossing Coalition” event organized by the Greenway and local partners to push for faster action on a bike-and-pedestrian bridge to Havre de Grace, Maryland. Although four bridges currently span this section of the river, they permit only automobiles or trains. The good news is that Amtrak needs to replace its existing bridge, and the Greenway and its partners are pushing to convert the old one into a bike/pedestrian bridge. Rather than hiding this severe “gap” in the Greenway, Andy and his colleagues organized this event to call attention to the problem, and hired a local boat company to ferry riders across. But the boaters bailed on us.
Rather than give up, General Andy Hamilton rallied the two-wheeled troops to pedal up the highway to a car-only bridge, where we stopped along the shoulder, with the protection of a local police patrol car. Since it was not legal or safe to bike across the bridge during rush hour—even with a police escort—we loaded bikes and riders into cars and trucks of Greenway supporters who came to the event. People driving by wondered what was happening. To communicate our message, Andy (on the right) stood along the side of the highway, holding up the banner from our rally, to drawn even more attention to the need for safe passage for cyclists and walkers across the Susquehanna River.
Today was the first day of my ride with the East Coast Greenway, the non-profit organization that connects communities from Maine to Florida with cycling and walking trails. Our group of forty biked along Philadelphia’s beautiful Schuylkill River Trail, the brand-new Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk, and the tranquil John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. But the portion of today’s trip that is still rolling through my mind is our ride through the impoverished city of Chester, PA, because it’s challenging me to deal with my memories of living and working there as a twenty-year-old. Although this experience deeply shaped me as the person I became, today’s ride forced me to confront the painful fact that I have not returned to this city in nearly thirty years, thereby abandoning it in the same way that I criticized others for doing decades ago.
In January of 1985, I stepped away from being a full-time student at Swarthmore College and moved into the home of the Harris family on the 1300 block of West 3rd Street in Chester. For about a year, I had spent my Saturday mornings volunteering with the Chester Community Improvement Project, a non-profit housing renovation organization. The Project emerged as a partnership between the Calvary Baptist Church and the College, led primarily by Swarthmore students who were a couple of years older (and far wiser) than me. I was a relatively clueless kid from rural upstate New York who was trying to understand social change in Chester, a predominantly black and impoverished city located only a few miles from the wealthy white suburb surrounding my college. The extreme disparities baffled me, but the concept of helping urban residents to renovate and buy their own home, as a strategy for building a stake in transforming their neighborhood, appealed to my Republican roots and pulled me in. At the same time, I was pushing away from Swarthmore, a place where professors and students spoke in very abstract realms, often so quickly that my brain was not able to keep up. Working with a housing group in Chester moved me back into the realm of action, and built a meaningful sense of community and purpose with other students, where I made useful things with my hands. When I learned that the College funded a internship program, where students who worked full-time with a Chester non-profit organization could earn $400 per month, I leapt in head first—with both feet—in classic high-energy, mixed-metaphor style.
I asked the Chester Project leaders to help me find a place to live in the community. The Harris family kindly welcomed me into their home on the 1300 block of West 3rd Street, right around the corner from the row house we were renovating in the photo above, a couple of blocks down from our headquarters next to Calvary Baptist Church. Mr. Harris was a deacon at the church, and Mrs. Harris raised their grandchildren and foster children at their modest home. I shared a room with Harry, their adopted son who was my age, and who, by coincidence, was the piano accompanist for the Swarthmore College Gospel Choir. Most of my time at their house was spent in the kitchen with Mrs. Harris, who taught me to appreciate foods I had never tasted (collard greens and sweet potato pie), and more importantly, talked with me as I tried to process all that was happening around me, as the only person of my race for several blocks. By living with the Harris family, walking around their neighborhood, and attending their church, I received a very personal education in Whiteness, long before I knew that concept had a name.
My work with the housing renovation project was not a “success,” in the conventional sense. We did not change the neighborhood, and we staff members (all who were White twenty-somethings connected to the College) had a difficult time building true partnerships with African-American community members. While the Project continued for several years, and deeply educated several students like me, what I ended up taking away were lessons in what did not work, including some painful memories of my personal missteps, from which I wanted to walk away.
Today I pedaled through my old neighborhood in Chester, with a predominantly White group of spandex-wearing cyclists who, like me, have the financial means to take a week off from work and go exploring on our bikes. I paused to take a photo of the 1300 block of West 3rd Street, but am frustrated that I cannot remember exactly which house belonged to the Harris family. I have no address book or letters from this period in my life. I never took a photo of Mrs. Harris, nor did I keep in touch with her after moving back to the College at the end of the semester. I cannot remember her first name. In fact, after digging through the online Delaware County property records for this block and not finding any trace of them among all of the prior owners, I am starting to fear that my memories may be faulty, and begin to doubt whether I have correctly remembered the family name.
As I pedaled around the block that I walked hundreds of times years ago, very little looks the same as I remember. Calvary Baptist Church still stands on West 2nd Street, but the shape of the building does not match the one stored in my memory. Was it torn down and rebuilt, or am I imagining a different past? The block of row houses we renovated in the photo above appears to be an empty lot. Was it demolished, or did I recall the wrong location? The Commodore Barry Bridge still towers above the West side of Chester, but there was absolutely no trace of another house (or even the block) underneath it, where I spent months trying to rebuild its crumbling walls. What happened here? The answers to these questions are probably a mixture of actual urban neighborhood change over thirty years and the fluid nature of memories. But I cannot piece it together, because I kept no contact with Chester, no connection over time, and intentionally allowed those thoughts to fade away. . . until today.
Let’s give credit to the folks behind the East Coast Greenway, because they did not take the easy way out. It would have been so simple to design a bike path for privileged white folks that routed us only through the suburbs and avoided inner cities. Instead, the Greenway is serious about its vision to link urban, suburban, and rural communities across the Eastern seaboard. I’m proud to be part of an organization that is working to connect with Chester, rather than abandon or avoid it as so many of us have done. To be clear, this is only a bike ride, with a bunch of us white folks who look silly wearing neon jackets and spandex pants. It’s not a strategy that will bring needed social and economic change to the residents of Chester. But the Greenway brought me back, at least for part of one afternoon, to reflect on what I learned here years ago.
Follow me and forty other cyclists on the “One Week A Year” tour of the East Coast Greenway. This wonderful non-profit organization works hard to create safe bike routes from Maine to Florida. Each year they host a fundraising tour that features one segment of the Greenway, and for 2014 it’s a 325-mile ride from Philadelphia, PA to Fredericksburg, VA. Thanks to my flexible schedule this fall, I’m able to ride along with the group for five days from Sunday, Oct 5th to Thursday, Oct 9th, but need to hop off in Washington DC and take the train to an urban history conference back in Philly. If you can’t join us in person, come along for a “virtual ride” by checking out my photo map below (see full-screen version). Click to view any of my geotagged photos along a GPX route map of our trip. (Thanks to my son Eli, who helped me to create this code. )
Thanks to Eric Cohen, an old friend who hosted me in Philadelphia the night before my East Coast Greenway bike ride
Inspiring pre-bike ride pep talk from Dennis Markatos-Soriano (on right), executive director of East Coast Greenway. "We'll start after I finish this speech in an hour or so," he joked.
Enjoying sunshine with my bike (and hundreds of other people) on the new Schuylkill Boardwalk, which opened this week in Philadelphia
The East Coast Greenway bike route connects communities, including the impoverished city of Chester, PA. I looked for the home of the Harris family on West 3rd St, where I lived in 1985 while working with a housing group instead of college.
On ECG bike trip through Chester PA, I stopped by the Calvary Baptist Church that I attended while living with the Harris family. This experience profoundly changed my narrow view of African-American spirituality and culture.
While riding my bike under the Commodore Barry Bridge in Chester PA, I'm stunned by the number of city blocks that have vanished since I renovated houses here in the mid-1980s.
Welcome to Delaware! Let's see if we can persuade the Governor to replace sewer drains like this one, which are deadly for bikes
Delaware Governor Jack Markell, "the most bike friendly governor in the nation," welcomes the East Coast Greenway riders to the DuPont Environmental Education Center.
A great day to ride a bike on the East Coast Greenway in New Castle, Delaware, along the river
During a lunch break on the bike tour, people at the next table heard us talking and asked for help fixing a flat tire on a bike in their car (Photo: Silvia Ascarelli)
The East Coast Greenway is working with local partners to create a bike and pedestrian bridge across the Susquehanna River when Amtrak constructs a new rail bridge.
How General Hamilton helped us to cross the Susquehanna River on our East Coast Greenway bike trip.
On today's bike ride I found these Osage orange tree fruit, which I haven't seen since we lived in Nashville.
Riding the East Coast Greenway bike tour with Chuck and his son Alex from Media, PA, where I lived for a short time many years ago.
Wonderful bike ride into Baltimore on the Jones Falls Trail through Druid Park
Bike police officers Cam and Dom from Anne Arundel County, Maryland, who escorted our crew along the BWI bike trail.
Great view of Baltimore by bike, thanks to the East Coast Greenway. We rode the Jones Falls Trail for about 8 miles to the Inner Harbor.
Seeing Baltimore from the top of Federal Hill Park with our ECG bike guide Greg
Thanks to Karen from Annapolis (left), who rode about 20 miles to meet our ECG bike tour group and escort us into her city.
My favorite sign on the East Coast Greenway bike tour in the Woodridge neighborhood of northeast Washington DC (Photo: Silvia Ascarelli)
Our East Coast Greenway bike tour finally arrived in Washington DC
After arriving in DC, I disassembled my folding bike, placed it inside a suitcase that I had stashed at my in-laws' house, and boarded Amtrak back to a work conference in Philadelphia.
Visited Beth's cousin Robert and Colleen during bike tour in Annapolis, and 10-week-old Henry slept through the entire meal
Special thanks to Silvia Ascarelli, who also posted photos from our ride and wrote about the experience on her blog, ExploringByBike, which you should definitely check out. I’ve credited the photos she took that also appear in my album.
Update: Thanks to everyone who contributed, I surpassed my goal and raised $680 for the East Coast Greenway!
Here’s your chance to donate to a good cause and put your name on a piece of real estate! Please contribute to my fundraiser for the East Coast Greenway, a non-profit organization that’s creating bike and pedestrian trails from Maine to Florida. For my local friends, check out the ECG route through Hartford — the big red line on this map — and follow it to New Haven CT and Providence RI, where communities are actively building more off-road bike paths.
I believe in ECG’s admirable track record. Hundreds of volunteers work to coordinate the construction of new trails to promote walking and biking. About 30 percent of their route is already firm-surface and traffic-free, and it’s growing every month. I also support their strategy of building trails into major cities to connect communities with one another. Everyone wins when we have safe places to walk and ride.
During the week of October 5th, 2014, I’ll be joining the “Week A Year” tour and riding the Philadelphia-to-Virginia portion of the route with 40 other cyclists to raise awareness and funds for the East Coast Greenway. Please help me to meet my goal of raising $600 by donating via my personal FirstGiving online form. It’s simple, fast, totally secure, and tax-deductible. Plus, if you make a donation of $25 or more, you automatically receive a one-year ECG membership. (Or if you prefer, mail me a check and I’ll send it to ECG for you.)
WAIT — there’s more! For anyone who donates $30 or more, I will rename a city or state on my route in your honor, by digitally altering a photo of a sign or map to personalize and post it on your FaceBook page and/or my blog (http://JackBikes.org). Act now to claim valuable territories in your name. Think of the possibilities!
If you want me to rename some real estate for you (or someone you love!), add a comment on my online donation form, or send me an email. Thanks for your support! -Jack
Number of days spent biking around the Northwest in Aug-Sept 2014: 19
Distance pedaled and elevation climbed by day, according to CycleRoute.org:
The Seattle-Vancouver loop:
Day 1 = 13 miles Seattle Gasworks Park to Shoreline WA, climbed 745 feet
Day 2 = 65 miles from Shoreline to Deception Pass State Park, 3384 feet (plus 1 ferry ride)
Day 3 = 64 miles from Deception Pass to Birch Bay State Park, 2689 feet
Day 4 = 31 miles from Birch Bay to Tsawassen, British Columbia, 856 feet
Day 5 = 50 miles from Vancouver to Sequim Bay State Park WA, 2040 feet (plus 2 ferry rides)
Day 6 = 58 miles from Sequim Bay to Seattle, 3800 feet (plus 1 ferry ride)
Day 7 = rest
The Portland-Oregon Coast loop:
Day 8 = 10 miles around Seattle and Portland OR (plus 1 train ride)
Day 9 = 52 miles from Portland to Longview WA, 1600 feet
Day 10 = 73 miles from Longview to Seaside OR, 3760 feet
Day 11 = 62 miles from Seaside to Cape Lookout State Park, 3865 feet
Day 12 = 61 miles from Cape Lookout to Beverly Beach State Park, 4132 feet
Day 13 = 55 miles from Beverly Beach to Corvallis, 4300 ft
Day 14 = rest (definitely got a Biblical theme going here)
Day 15 = 55 miles from Corvallis to Eugene, a very flat and mellow 610 feet
Day 16 = 20 miles around Eugene
Day 17 = 76 miles from Eugene to Salem, 2100 ft
Day 18 = 62 miles from Salem to Portland, 2000 ft
Day 19 = 20 miles around Portland and Seattle WA (plus 1 train ride)
Total distance pedaled, in miles: 827
Average distance pedaled per day, excluding rest days: 49
Total elevation climbed, in feet: 35,881
Total elevation climbed, in miles: 6.8
Average number of 24-ounce refillable bottles of water consumed per day: 5
Number of water bottles attached to bike: 3
Donuts and other bakery products consumed, estimated: 14
Bottles and cans of root beer consumed, estimated: 12
Calories burned during daily average 49-mile bike ride, according to MapMyRide: 3,000
Calories in a chocolate doughnut, according to Mighty-O: 330
Current age of out-of-shape cyclist: 49
Weight of said cyclist at beginning of trip, in pounds: 178
Weight of slightly more in-shape cyclist at end of trip, in pounds: 171
Pounds lost by happy cyclist during trip: 7
Miles pedaled per pound lost (while eating donuts and drinking root beer): 118
After nearly twenty days and 800+ miles biking around the Northwest, my legs have gone on strike, my brain is ready to go back to work, and my heart is eager to come home to my family. It’s been a ridiculously fun adventure, with spectacular views, delicious food, and friendly people. A big thank you goes to my sweetie Beth, who allowed (some might say encouraged) me to go on this trip; my teenage children, who took on cooking duties and household chores in my absence; and my wonderful sisters Kris and Ellen for providing me a base camp in Seattle.
As I concluded my trip by pedaling into Portland, Oregon, one of the highlights was meeting up with Gayle Lemery Lutes, a person who I knew from our tiny high school in rural upstate New York, but had not seen in thirty years. Gayle spotted me on FaceBook, discovered that I was biking through her neck of the woods, and invited me to sit down for a cold root beer. She is a year younger than me, and while we were not close friends in school, we know many of the same people, and had some good laughs about growing up in a small town and transitioning to life in a larger city. Since people from Morrisville, NY don’t visit Portland every day, and I hadn’t seen many familiar faces during my three weeks on the road, I was glad that she contacted me. Bicycling helps to bring people together.
Bicycles also help us to get away from people, even those we love. When people asked me why I was making this trip, I usually joked about wanting to have fun and lose weight. But the deeper answer is that I really needed to get away from my responsibilities, at least for a short period of time. Responsibility has always been a watchword for me. As a teenager working in the family store, I learned early on that accepting greater responsibility was my route to becoming an adult. The same theme continued after college, when as a twenty-something I became a teacher and took responsibility for educating young people other than me. Later, when I proudly began a family with Beth, one of the most important lessons I share with my children on a daily basis is to demonstrate how we all share responsibilities to one another. And truth be told, the workaholic side of me got overwhelmed this past year by juggling a few too many responsibilities on the job (which, being the responsible party here, was entirely my fault). See, it’s kind of ingrained in me.
Last winter, when I sensed the opportunity for a month-long opening in my work schedule, I briefly contemplated going on a group bike tour. Fortunately, I realized in time that riding with twenty other people and sticking to the group schedule was exactly the wrong thing for me, at this particular time. Instead, what I needed was a solo tour, where I chose where to go, how long to pedal, what to eat, and where to sleep. Mostly, I just wanted time alone on my bike to think. . . about absolutely nothing.
Some might diagnose this as a classic mid-life crisis. It’s true that I’ll turn 50 next summer. But I’m not pondering mortality or questioning life-long decisions. A mid-life crisis implies that there’s some aspect of yourself that you wish to change, and I feel very comfortable with who I am. Rather than a red sports car, I bought a blue bicycle, about five years ago, for around $900. So it’s not a classic case.
But perhaps the common thread here is that my solo bike tour was designed to be self-centered. I had no one to take care of other than myself. Here I am trying to teach my teenagers how to become more adult-like, and I’m goofing off on a three-week bike trip far from home, escaping from my responsibilities. Seems like I’ve turned into an adolescent again, at least for three weeks. But not too wild and crazy, as the strongest substance I’ve had on this trip is root beer. Great stuff. Highly underrated.
What have I learned about escaping from daily responsibilities on my bicycle? It’s an exhilarating feeling, full of independence and adventure, as well as uncertainty and loneliness. Many of those are the same feelings I had when I was twenty years old. Great to get back in touch with those emotions again. Given that my children and my students are at this age, perhaps feeling this way again will help me to become a more empathetic (and more patient) parent and teacher.
PS: In case you’re wondering, Beth definitely deserves a 3-week vacation, too, especially for putting up with me! And I look forward to sharing even more adventures with her in the years to come. Will be home soon! With love, Jack.
Here’s just a few of the odd things that happened to catch my eye during my Northwest bike trip through Oregon. Of course, there’s far more out there, and I mean really “out there.” If I really tried, I could fill a whole blog with “Oddities of Oregon.” Maybe that will be my next trip. So consider this to be just an appetizer. . .
On my Northwest bike tour, I was delighted to receive an invitation to visit one of my former students, Laurie Gutmann Kahn, and her husband Josh, both from Trinity College’s Class of 2003. Laurie double-majored in Ed Studies and Sociology, and as a student in my Cities Suburbs and Schools seminar, she conducted oral history interviews with adults who had participated in the Project Concern school integration transfer program from Hartford to suburban schools during the 1960s-1990s. After that semester, Laurie and another student continued working on the project through an independent study, which culminated in her senior research project. After Trinity, Laurie taught special education through the New York City Teaching Fellows alternate route program, and she has talked about her experience with current Trinity students through our Pathways to Teaching alumni video conferences. More recently, Laurie received a US Department of Education fellowship to attend graduate school at the University of Oregon, and this May was awarded her Ph.D. in Special Education with her ethnographic dissertation on lesbian/gay/transgender youth and their experiences with disabilities. This fall she has been hired to teach courses by the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Oregon. Congratulations, Dr. Laurie Gutmann Kahn!
Laurie and Josh and I had long conversations about what they learned at Trinity (both inside and outside of the classroom), and their views on constraints and possibilities for change in higher education, given their experiences as graduate students and college instructors. (Josh was a history major at Trinity, who also completed the NYC Teaching Fellows program, and is working toward his doctorate in educational decision-making at the U of Oregon.) They also showed me around Eugene and forced me (I swear!) to visit some delicious local food establishments, including Falling Sky restaurant and Voodoo Doughnuts.
After several days of exhilarating hills along the Pacific Coast, biking across the farmland of Oregon’s Central Valley into Eugene was the mellowest ride of my trip so far. And the residents of Eugene exude mellowness. Walk up to a counter of a local food establishment, and the normal exchange between clerk and customer goes something like this:
Clerk: Hey, how’s it going today?
Customer: Awesome. How’s it going for you?
(Long pause that may make some Northeasterners uncomfortable.)
Clerk: Great. (Stretches out all of the vowels.)
Customer: Hey, we’re thinking about getting some food.
Clerk: Yeah. . . we’ve got that. Hey, where did you get that bag? (Long side discussion about the handbag fabric, how it came from Botswana, the clerk’s co-worker comes over to talk about how he went to Africa through the Peace Corps, and someone else mentions that they went to Africa, too. Observer is getting hungrier, but patiently continues to take notes.)
Took a break from my bike ride to spend part of the weekend with Korey Jackson, a friend from the digital scholarly publishing world, who lives on the outskirts of Corvallis, Oregon. So far on the outskirts, in fact, that Google Maps directed me down a mountain bike trail to reach his house. While my rig can handle most stone dust roads and dirt trails, this one had so much loose gravel, steep grades, and barbed wire fences that I had to walk about half of the 3-mile trail. It was a hot and dusty way to end a 6-hour ride.
Fortunately, Korey is an excellent host and culinary guide. He has a particular knack for locating excellent food inside what on the outside looks like a dive bar. The most interesting find of the weekend was The Woodsman, an old bar in the lumber mill town of Philomath, which also happens to serve enormous portions of some of the best-tasting Thai food in all of my travels. Who would have thunk it?