Greenway Sojourn Ride Under Way
CAMDEN — When 13-year-old Celeste Cunningham usually goes biking, it's just down the street to a friend's house or to a local corner store, she said.
But on Sunday, Celeste and 15 other students from the LEAP Academy University Charter School joined a seven-day, 250-mile bike ride that will take them from their backyards in Camden, up to the Lehigh Valley and back.
"I'm used to riding for fun, but now I've done 22 miles in the rain," Celeste said.
The ride is part of the 8th Annual Greenway Sojourn, a ride put on by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit organization whose aim is to create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines.
Ironically, after a triumphant departure from the Camden Waterfront, the group traveled about 10 minutes up Pearl Street, where they encountered a bottleneck: to ride across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, they had to push their bikes up a set of stairs edged by a narrow metal ramp and complicated by a jog in the middle of the stairs.
Improvements along Pearl Street are part of a $5.8 million grant received by Camden County from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The grant also allows for improvements along Martin Luther King Boulevard and Pine Street, as part of the first steps toward developing the Camden GreenWay, a 128-mile interconnected series of trails throughout the county.
It took around two hours for all of the bikers to get up the staircase, and the LEAP Academy students spent the break shaded by a canopy of trees, watching the other bikers trudge up, some needing assistance in pushing their bikes up the steep staircase.
But the LEAP students were adept at carrying their bikes up the stairs and cycling across. As part of their training for the ride, the group regularly cycled the walkway sidewalks that hug the bridge.
The bikes and the helmets that topped each LEAP Academy biker were brand new, donated by the scholarship that covered the cost of the ride, which includes all accommodations, including an overnight stay on the Battleship New Jersey, and many of the meals.
The scholarship given to the LEAP students also included training from Andrew Besold, who is part of the League of American Bicyclists.
"We learned things we didn't know how to do," said Amadis Jimenez, 13. "Like how to signal using your hands and how it's important to eat and drink when you ride."
Lizomary Borrero, 13, said the new bikes were better than the bike she had at home.
The training was even beneficial for the chaperones. Julio Borrero, 41, (no relation to Lizomary Borrero) said he learned the difference between a $60 bike from a discount retailer and more high-end bikes. He now intends to donate his old bike and stick to riding a road bike, he said.
Julio Borrerro said he agrees with the Camden GreenWay mission to add more bike trails; now that he is biking more, he would like to do things likecommute to work, he said.
The students all volunteered for the ride, but only 15 were selected based on their responsibility and achievement in school, said Julio Borrero.
After being selected, that's when the training began in earnest.
"Some days were horrible," said Celeste Cunningham. "It was 104 degrees, but rain or shine, we ride."
The longest stretch of the tour is on Day 6, a 50-mile mostly downhill stretch along Lehigh, Delaware, and Delaware and Raritan Canals. But the trip is broken up with two overnight stays and a rafting adventure in Jim Thorpe, a lunchtime bus ride through Berks County to compensate for an incomplete trail and a rail ride from Trenton back to Camden on a chartered RiverLINE train.
Lizomary Borrero, who gave up a trip to Puerto Rico to go on the bike tour, said she was incredibly grateful to her mother, who, despite the donated gear, still had to pay more than $100 to buy additional supplies and gear needed for the trip.
"If it wasn't for my mom, I couldn't have gone on this trip," Borrero said. The other students also chimed in with shout-outs to their supportiveparents.
Jimenez said the ride has given her a new appreciation for biking and the group has already bonded over the shared experience.
"When we get back, we're going to start a bike club," Jimenez said.
Reach Shruti Mathur Desai at (856) 317-7828 or firstname.lastname@example.org