VINNY VELLA/TIMES NEWS Members of the Carbon County Friends of Animals greeted the Pedaling4Paws group with energy bars and orange juice during the riders' stop in Jim Thorpe Wednesday.
Weimaraners and wheels. Poodles and pedals. Huskies and handlebars.
Any way you pair them, bicycles and dogs don't usually mix well. Yet, West Chester residents Viktor Ohnjec and Mike Van Ryn have found a way to combine these two staples of summer activity in a unique way through Pedaling4Paws, a roving bike tour that stretches 483 miles. The canine-loving cyclists paid a visit to the Carbon County Friends of Animals Wednesday during the first leg of their journey.
"The first thing that appeared as we were riding in was the wall of mountains," Ohnjec said. "It's amazing how everything is so green up here. You guys are lucky to be living in a place like this."
Pedaling4Paws is a charitable event in its second year, the proceeds from which directly benefit local animal shelters along the bike route. Ohnjec and Van Ryn first came up with the idea for the ride last summer, when Ohnjec made plans to visit his native Montreal via bicycle.
"My wife simply wouldn't let me ride alone," Ohnjec said, "so I roped Mike into coming along with me.
"Mike's brother said that if we were going to do something that monumental, we needed to do it for charity. He promised to donate a dollar to the Chester County SPCA for every mile we rode."
From this simple challenge, the two cyclists went on to raise $2,000 during summer 2009, while simultaneously garnering considerable print and broadcast media attention. Inspired by this turnout, Ohnjec decided to up the ante this year, pledging to become "more organized" and raise a sum of $5,000.
"It's almost like people were waiting for a good idea like this to gain visibility," Ohnjec said. "It just goes to show how many animal lovers out there are willing to raise money for local SPCAs."
Ohnjec and Van Ryn have extensively mapped out this year's route, starting in Chester County and heading north through Berks, Lehigh, Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne and Susquehanna counties before crossing over into New York. The tour will end in Ogdensburg, a town near the Canada-United States border.
The country-hopping cyclists encourage both amateur and seasoned riders to join them, and have already reached out to several biking clubs including the Lehigh Wheelman, the Berks County Bicycle Club and the Southern Tier Bicycle Club of Binghamton, N.Y.
"We're asking people to ride with us for as long as they want to," Ohnjec said. "It's like a 'rolling parade' in a sense. People can just come and go as they please."
Ohnjec says the group plans on averaging about 100 miles per day, broken down into two-hour increments.
During meal and rest breaks, updates on the tour's progress will be posted on the Pedaling4Paws website: http://pedaling4paws.wordpress.com.
Potential joiners can also view the tour's schedule on a day-by-day timetable at the website.
Of course, if biking isn't your thing, support can also be shown through donations to local SPCAs in the charity's name. A section of the aforementioned website is devoted exclusively to each partnering shelter, including the CCFOA.
"I think it's a great idea," Denise Sebelin, a member of the CCFOA said. "It's nice of them (Viktor and Mike) to think of local shelters.
"This is a great example of thinking outside of the box. It just goes to show that a person's hobbies can be put to good use."
Other local residents seem to share Sebelin's opinion. The Country Inn & Suites in Lehighton, the hotel that the Pedaling4Paws group stayed at during their visit to Carbon County, is accepting donations in its lobby for the charity. Ohnjec and his fellow riders also appeared on Penn's Peak Radio during their stop in Jim Thorpe, and station personality Layne "The Doctor" Roberts promised to organize local businesses into raising money for the cause.
"The folks around here have been amazing," Ohnjec said. "Everyone is bending over backwards to work with us."
As honorable as his actions are, Ohnjec acknowledges that he gets just as much out of the 483-mile trek as the dogs he's helping.
"In a car, even in a convertible, you can see some amazing sights while driving, but at speeds that are too fast," he said. "On a bike, you get to see things at a more leisurely pace.
"A lot of the things we see everyday - farmers working in fields, people going about their daily life - are amazing and I think we sometimes take them for granted. As an outsider riding through, I get to see their true beauty from a great vantage point: on two wheels."