Three hundred and forty bicyclists are pedaling furiously toward Jim Thorpe a legion of rail-trail aficionados on the 2010 Greenway Sojourn.
Starting this past Saturday and continuing through Saturday, July 24, riders on the Rails to Trails Conservancy's largest tourism event will cover 350 miles, pedaling 250 of those miles by bicycle.
The Sojourn, which covers 30 to 50 miles a day, begins at the Battleship New Jersey in Camden, N.J.
In the following days, it follows the Schuylkill River Trail to the John James Audubon Homestead, and continues on the Perkiomen Rail-Trail to Pottstown arriving last evening.
On Tuesday, the Sojourn loosens up on a 20-mile completed section of the Schuylkill River Trail just to the Berks County Heritage Center, just north of Reading. Since the trail is incomplete, a bus ferries the Sojourn to Lehigh Gorge State Park Trailhead at White Haven for a 27-mile ride to Jim Thorpe.
"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."
The Rails to Trails Conservancy is a national organization of more than 150,000 members and supporters. The Sojourn is open to the public, although 85 percent of the participants are members. The 2010 is drawing from 30 states, with over two-thirds of the riders coming from outside of Pennsylvania.
"There's nothing like it in the United States, because we change every year," Sexton noted. "Only two other states, Michigan and New York have enough rail-trails or canal towpaths. New York only has the Erie Canal, which is the same route every year, and in Michigan, it's about half trails, half roads."
About half the riders are over 50 years old, and all the riders are given a four-week training regime of riding up to 40 miles a day to get into condition for the adventure.
Asked what are the biggest logistical challenges, Sexton responded, "Bathrooms, showers, and food – in that order. If they are there, the riders are happy."
How does the Conservancy accommodate bathrooms and showers for 340? "We have a shower tractor trailer with 12 showers and pull-out sinks," he noted. "It's the type they use out west for prolonged forest fire fighting."
The bikers need only carry their on-the-road supplies: sunglasses, sunscreen, a bike repair kit and water, water and more water. Their clothing and sleeping gear are trucked each day to the next sleep site.
The Sojourn will spend two days in Jim Thorpe, which includes two special events: rafting the Lehigh River with Pocono Whitewater, a sponsor of the event, and an exclusive booking of the British band, the Greencards, at the Mauch Chunk Opera House.
After rafting on Thursday the Sojourn heads to America On Wheels in Allentown where they will spend the night. On Friday, the pedaling resumes on the Delaware Canal Towpath for the longest mileage day, spending the evening at on Bull's Island-part of the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park.
On Saturday, the Sojourn finishes up with a 22 miles of bicycling into Trenton and a chartered ride on the RiverLINE railroad back to the Battleship New Jersey.
The 2010 Sojourn is the eighth for the Rails to Trails Conservancy. Sexton feels confident that it will be a success, except, "I'm nervous," he admitted. "I've had situations where we've arrived and there's no bathrooms yet."