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  • Writer's picturePatrick Baechle

biking with baechle

Prepping for the 911 memorial trail ride

Ok, It’s 48 hours out now until I start my 1300 mile bicycle expedition of the September 11th National Memorial Trail. “What was I thinking” I say to myself as the grass needs mowing, the flush valve needs replaced and I’ve spent half the afternoon driving all over, asking every store manager if someone has turned in my cell phone to the lost and found. I am only slightly relieved, but mostly enraged, to hear it later in the day, faintly beeping, under the sofa cushion where I sat half the night creating the maps for the trip. Yes, maps and the phones. These are the essentials of past and modern day adventures. Both will go hand and hand on this trip. I actually prefer paper maps, however only digital maps are only available at this early stage of the trail development. I prefer paper maps because I am too old; can’t read the screen on sunny days; always push the wrong buttons to make things disappear; and usually I just get lost when zooming. I like to hold the map in my hand, rotate it so the direction of the road on the map is the direction I am facing and then study the big picture to see where the next meal will be.

So, on this trip, since there are no paper maps, I am making my own maps in photoshop, from the map segments provide by the 911 memorial trail organization. Actually, there are a few paper maps of the Greater Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal trail which are pretty good, and I will be using those.

The exciting thing about embarking on this trail is that it is sort of new and it is very challenging from a navigation standpoint. It was just developed a few years ago and it’s a really big and complex route. It has not yet been marked with directional signs, or information kiosks or, street crossings although someday it might be , as these things take time to accomplish. It is not a continuous off-road trail but it does ,however, connect a whole series of off road rail trails, river trails and park trails together into one big necklace of trails, each being a diamond on a chain. Well… a diamond in the rough. Did I say they were “off road”. Each trail has it’s own character and surface streets connect these together. Over 50% of the route is off road trails. This is how it has been explained to me, with enthusiasm, and passion, by some of the original pioneers of this project.

It was as if I had been hearing a stories from Lewis & Clark having just returned from the wild west. This was my original inspiration to take this ride. I met this group trail riders a few years ago in early spring. They were riding the entire 911 memorial trail. You can see their photos on the 911 memorial trail web site wearing the red, white and blue windbreakers. Our friend Jane provided accommodations for them, when they passed through Hollidaysburg, and I was invited to join them for dinner at the U.S. Hotel where I listened intently to stories of this journey. The next morning, my friends, Steve, Ed and I, escorted them, on our own bicycles, to the next town of Williamsburg and then watched them ride off into the mist of light snow flurries. I was impressed and inspired by them, that I vowed to myself to, someday, make this trip on my own.

So now, back to the maps. These original 911 trail pioneers, I shall call this group, mapped the entire ride on a GPS tracking app. It is a very cool map. You can see this map on the web site and you can interact with it. You can zoom in right down to see the street names, the trails and the points of interest. You can download all all the segments of the route right to your phone navigate the route entirely with your phone.

Umm. Well. That is the real challenge. First, you must always have a charged phone, which is even tough in normal daily life where there are receptacles every 12 feet. Then, you must always have a signal. And third, you must be able to see the phone screen when it is sunny. Which I can’t. Am I starting to sound like an old geezer? To make matters worse. The original 911 trail pioneers started in Baltimore and rode the entire trail clock wise, where as I am starting the trail in Hollidaysburg and riding counterclockwise, so all of the milage is backwards for me and not relevant to my start point. So, as a card carrying, certified geek, I pasted all the map image segments together into one giant map, in Photoshop, and then recreated my own paper map segments, with new milage. I’m kind of anxious to see how this works out. I’m not going to outer space but I’m kind of a Elon Musk wanna-be.

Anyhow. It’s hard to explain what is going on in my head as I have prepare to embark on this adventure. Cycling is something that I love to do. I love to explore unique places, check out the architecture and delve into the local neighborhoods. I love to be able to pedal across the earth under the sole power of my own human body. I enjoy studying geography and terrain and I am excited when the land and atmosphere changes form, as I travel through it. I love the extraordinary spaces that the earth and makes as well as the ones that humans create. I like to experience the geographical development of towns, communities and cities. It’s always fascinating to me as to why they are where they are, and how they grow. This trip will present some awesome contrasts. I will be cycling from some of the most rural countryside, along primative transportation systems into four of the largest, most sophisticated metropolitan areas in the country and I believe I look forward to cycling through the best parts of these cities, the quiet back streets and the secluded nature areas mapped out by the original pioneers of this trail.

I love to meet new people and hear the stories about the places they live and why they choose to live there. I am not afraid to venture into cities, nor to travel alone. I truly believe that a majority of human beings are good people and are happy to help you along. Believe it or not, no matter what you read or watch, we take care of each other in this country. we watch out for each other and we are glad to lend a hand when people are in need.

The thing that most compels me, however, is that I want to lay down tracks on this great big trail. I want to help start wearing in the grooves, so that others behind me will be able to follow, just like the original planners of this trail have done for us. It's sort of like following a worn trail trough the deep woods that someone before broke in before you. I want to start wearing in this trail. I think someday it will be lauded as a great American asset. I think it’s fabulous that we have come to a point where we are able to ride bicycles, on established routes, between major cities. I have always been an advocate for bicycle freeways, almost to the point of dreaming of an age where we have national interstate bicycle freeway system.

This trail is awesome and I hope that more and more people will support it, and use it. I am going to share my experiences with you because I want help to promote, develop and improve this trail and others like it. Bicycling is healthy, stimulating, ecological and good for the soul. Wouldn’t it be great for the planet if we all did more of it?

I love you Pam. Thank you for supporting me on this.


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