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335-mile bike trek is one more thing checked off Sandi Grim’s bucket list

FPS staff report

Sandi Grim
TOP OF THE SUMMIT. Sandi Grim takes a break during a 335 mile bike ride at the Eastern Continental Divide near Cumberland, MD.

“Turn off the TV and ride your bike (from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C.),” started as a casual conversation between four friends and turned into 335-mile bicycle road trip.

Sandi Grim of Carrollton, Greg Keagy of East Sparta and two friends from Stark County spent months researching and planning the ride over two car-free trails to our nation’s capital.

The group left Pittsburgh Sept. 14 on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). The “GAP” is a crushed limestone trail built on an old railroad bed and is often cited as one of the finest trails in the United States. The GAP is a fairly smooth ride and seemingly flat, but ascends nearly 1,700 feet in elevation between Pittsburgh and the Eastern Continental Divide (near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border). After summiting the Divide, the trail rapidly descends 1,700 feet in just 24 miles and ends in Cumberland, MD.

“We spent three days riding to reach the summit but less than two hours to descend the 1,700 feet,” explained Grim.

The descent was quick and cold. Keagy, who drove the chase vehicle, would park at the meeting place and ride back to meet the group. He was riding up the incline and, when the group met, he had on a t-shirt, while the rest of the group had on sweatshirts. “The wind catching you on the way down was very cold,” noted Grim.

The remaining 185-mile trek continued from Cumberland, MD, on the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal Trail. The C&O was a cow path and, due to its historical status, has not been improved; there are rocks, tree roots, and a little mud on the trail. The C&O continues through western Maryland and concludes in Georgetown where you can opt to continue cycling on trails in the nation’s capital.

Grim explained, in comparison, the two trails are vastly different but are both great trails and provide a long scenic ride across three states, through numerous small towns and recreational areas such as Ohiopyle, PA, and Harper’s Ferry, WV, where the C&O also serves as a small section of the Allegheny Trail, noted Grim.

The group arrived in Georgetown the following Friday night and headed back to Ohio Saturday morning. “We had great weather, mostly in the 60s,” said Grim. “It drizzled rain one day but we continued to ride.”  The only other problem they encountered was four flat tires.

To prepare for the trip, the group first decided how many miles they wanted to ride per day and whether they wanted to camp or stay at hotels along the route. Another issue was whether to carry all their necessities on the bikes, have a chase vehicle to carry gear, use a shuttle company to assist with the gear or join one of the comprehensive tours provided by an outdoor adventure company.

“We decided to have our own chase vehicle, stay in local hotels and ride between 45-50 miles per day for seven consecutive days,” explained Grim. “Everything was mapped out where and when we would get dropped off in the morning and picked up each night.”

To train for the trip, Grim rode her bike four or five days each week, usually around 20 miles on either the Conotton Creek Bike Trail (Bowerston-Scio-Jewett) or Greenway Trail (Lisbon-Leetonia) and included longer rides on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath which has long completed sections in Stark, Summit and Cuyahoga Counties. Eventually the towpath will extend nearly 100 miles from New Philadelphia to Cleveland.

Grim has always been physically active and enjoyed running but in recent years has had injuries which are aggravated by running. She discovered biking doesn’t cause aggravation and that she can ride longer, farther and more frequently than running.

Grim said she is always up for a challenge and always looking to find new ones. She has assigned herself and completed many challenges, such as: the Warrior Dash, 12 half marathons in one year, biking 1,200 miles between Memorial Day and Labor Day, completing a full marathon, and a point-to-point bike ride.

An on-going challenge on her bucket list include finishing a half marathon in each of the 50 states (to date she has completed 40 half marathons in about 12 states). In 2014, she plans to ride in the MS (Multiple Sclerosis) Pedal to the Point, take another week-long bike ride, and check off a couple states on her half-marathon list.

“We had a great time on the ride,” she said. “Usually when I go on vacation, I am bored in a couple of days but we kept busy and saw some beautiful sights.”

Cumberland, MD, Harper’s Ferry, WV, and the Continental Divide were “very neat” and her favorite stops along the trip.

During frigid cold, Grim is riding indoors serving as a group cycling instructor at the Carroll County YMCA and riding a spinner bike in her home.  “I try to go out anytime there’s no snow on the ground and time permits,” Grim said.  “Snow makes the tires spin. I hope to get out on the Conotton Creek Trail soon.”

Is the group planning another road trip?

“We are thinking about the Katy Trail in Missouri,” Grim said enthusiastically.

(The Katy Trail is a 237-mile trail stretching across most of the state of Missouri. Over half of the trail follows Lewis & Clark’s path up the Missouri River.)

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