Photos of the Soujourn peddlers rafting along the Lehigh River.
By AL ZAGOFSKY TN Correspondent firstname.lastname@example.org
It's adieu to the borough of Jim Thorpe as a contingent of 340 cyclists head into the homestretch of the weeklong 2010 Greenway Sojourn. The pedalers took a two-day respite from cycling to enjoy the history, culture and recreation of the 19th century-styled historic town.
The Greenway Sojourn is covering 30 to 50 miles a day. It began last Saturday evening at an overnight berth on the Battleship New Jersey in Camden, N.J., where it will conclude tomorrow, after covering 350 miles pedaling 250 of those miles by bicycle, with the balance by bus and train.
After leaving Battleship New Jersey Sunday morning, the sojourn loosened up on the Schuylkill River Trail to the John James Audubon Homestead, and continued on the Perkiomen Rail-Trail to Pottsville arriving Monday evening on a 20-mile completed section of the Schuylkill River Trail just north of Reading. On Tuesday, six buses and several trucks ferried the sojourn to the Lehigh Gorge State Park trailhead at White Haven for a ride to Jim Thorpe.
Brutal pedaling days, peaking at 96 degrees, proved to be too much for some of the less durable pedalers, who opted to forego the 26-mile Lehigh Gorge ride and instead, took a bus directly to Jim Thorpe. Those who remained, enjoyed a downhill, tree-line rail-trail featuring scenic stops at the remains of the Lehigh Canal locks.
"We chose Jim Thorpe as a destination because of the great trails: the Lehigh Gorge, the D&L, and the Switchback," said Tom Sexton, northeastern director for the Rails to Trails Conservancy. "It's got so much to do: music at the Opera House, the No. 9 Mine and Museum, the Mauch Chunk Museum, the Asa Packer Mansion. Plus, it has enough restaurants to support a group our size."
"In Jim Thorpe, it was a little cooler," said Sexton. "We found people were extra friendly, knowing that the sojourners are coming a long way and its hot conditions."
He said people were offered rides up the hill from strangers who learned of the makeshift campsite at Sam Miller Field.
The sojourn spent two days relaxing in Jim Thorpe.
"That's the topping for all the great attractions here," Sexton continued. "We've had a special setup with the Old Mauch Chunk Jail, which is usually closed midweek, but they opened up. We went early to the Asa Packer Mansion. They accommodated us there. The No. 9 Mine opened early for us. We had half our group go there. A lot of people went to the Mauch Chunk Museum. Quite a few folks went out to Mauch Chunk Lake Park."
The sojourn was a place for meeting people and making friends. Relationships are built by the sojourn people keep coming back because it is such a unique ride, Sexton said.
"It is not your normal bicycle ride, where you are on the road going from town to town. It is really different," he added.
"This sojourn has been one of the hottest ones. July is always hot but we haven't had a good soaking rain to cool us off. There's nothing better when it's really, really hot, just to have a nice rain while you're bicycling, although it's not good when you are setting up or taking down your tent."
This year's heat was a factor in causing some early drop outs.
"A 90-year-old man I'm not kidding, he hung it up today," said Sexton, "He was with his daughter and his 12-year-old granddaughter. The granddaughter has asthma, so they didn't want to push it. They made the ride to Jim Thorpe."
The sojourn sported a parade of pedal power variants: bicycles, tandems, tagalongs, trikes, recumbents, and tandem recumbents. Half the throng bested 50 years old, while a handful were under 10 years old. The youngest, a 5-year-old, rode in a pull-along basket.
The Greenway Sojourn's last visit to Jim Thorpe was in 2006 when they stayed at Mauch Chunk Lake Park.
"We decided that instead of running buses back and forth, we'd camp at Sam Miller Field," noted Sexton. "The Jim Thorpe Athletic Association really made this trip to Jim Thorpe possible for us. They opened the field and were really helpful. It's another unique place that we stay that people are surprised at, and it's only four blocks from the downtown although that last block requires us to climb a mountain."
During their two-day Jim Thorpe respite, the sojourners enjoyed dinner and theater with an exclusive booking of the Australian band, the Greencards, at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, and rafting the Lehigh River with Pocono Whitewater a sponsor of the event.
On Thursday, the sojourn continued to America On Wheels in Allentown where it spent the night. Today, the pedaling resumed on the Delaware Canal Towpath for the longest mileage day, spending the evening on Bull's Island part of the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park, and concluding on Saturday, with a 22-mile bicycle ride into Trenton, wrapped up with a chartered ride on the RiverLINE railroad, returning to the Battleship New Jersey.
The 2010 Sojourn is the eighth for the Rails to Trails Conservancy.
"We hope to return to Jim Thorpe when the towpath trail across the Lehigh River by the train station is completed," said Sexton.
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.
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