RTC SpringSummer 2015 Issue_final - page 7

eeing the country from the seat of
a bicycle is unlike anything else,”
says Jeff Pell, an avid cyclist. “It’s magic.”
When Pell retired in early 2014, he
decided he finally had time to pursue a
lifelong dream: bicycling across America.
After he announced his intentions, many
of his friends and family were supportive,
but some were fearful for him, even sug-
gesting he bring a gun.
We caught up with Pell shortly after he
finished his cross-country trip, and he said
he never felt unsafe, even though he trav-
eled most of the way solo.
“You do get lonesome out there,” he
says. “But, if you just take time to visit
with people, you find that everyone has a
story. at’s the beauty of bicycle touring.”
e generosity of strangers was a run-
ning theme during his experience. Pell
recalls a father-and-son duo sharing their
water with him under a hot Utah sun
without hesitation. And one morning as
he was breaking camp, another traveler
at an adjacent campsite offered him hot
coffee and breakfast. “It reminds you that
the country is full of good people,” he says.
For the California native, the trip
began in San Francisco in May 2014 with
about 40 pounds of gear strapped to a sol-
idly built Salsa Fargo off-road bike. Near
the outset, Pell found a small American
flag discarded along a highway and
attached it to the bike, a fitting symbol for
his journey.
As a former switchman with BNSF
Railway, Pell is enthusiastic about the idea
of converting former rail corridors to rail-
trails; he likes that they incorporate rail
history and artifacts, preserving historical
depots, tunnels and bridges.
On his coast-to-coast adventure, Pell
crossed 16 states, riding along roads and
on more than 30 trails, including rail-trails
whenever possible. His favorites include
the Great Allegheny Passage, a Rails-to-
Trails Conservancy (RTC) Hall of Fame
rail-trail in western Pennsylvania and
Maryland, and Michigan’s White Pine
Trail, which he explored when a family
reunion routed his venture northward.
What set them apart, he says, was the
easy accessibility they provided to grocery
stores, campgrounds and other facilities.
In the early stirrings of autumn, Pell
was joined by his wife, Mary, for the
last leg of the journey. ey rolled into
Washington, D.C., and stopped for a visit
at RTC’s national office, an apt ending for
a member who’s supported the organiza-
tion since its founding in 1986.
For those inspired to try bike tour-
ing, Pell recommends starting small. “Go
somewhere close to home and experiment.
Try one night out and then come back.
No one gets it right the first time; it’s a
learning experience. It’s not for everyone,
but the rewards are huge.”
although overgrown and wild at present,
it boasts spectacular views from the top.
Local citizens, spearheaded by grassroots
organizers Sarah McEneaney and John
Struble, have been advocating for its
conversion to an elevated linear park for
more than a decade. In 2010, the Center
City District, which provides public
safety, maintenance, promotion and
planning services for Philadelphia’s cen-
tral business district, became involved
with the project by partnering with the
city to conduct an environmental and
feasibility analysis of the viaduct.
“We needed to answer basic ques-
tions about what it would cost to either
renovate or demolish the viaduct, and
to determine if there were any environ-
mental problems,” Levy says. “In our
primary analysis, we found that it was
cheaper to renovate the viaduct than
demolish it. e Reading Viaduct has a
large section of stone retaining wall, so
it would be more than just taking away
train tracks. Huge amounts of fill would
need to be removed as well and disposed
of in a careful manner.”
e finding gave the rail-trail project
momentum to move forward, and the
design process for phase one kicked off
in 2011. “Our goal is to get this first
piece done to build confidence that we
can do the rest,” Levy says.
Plans for the Rail Park’s second phase,
which would complete the elevated por-
tion, and the third phase, which includes
a below-grade section on what was once
known as the railroad’s City Branch line,
are still only conceptual.
“ e below-grade phase is pretty
amazing,” Hanes says. “For several
blocks, it’s an open trench with walls
20 to 25 feet on either side of you.
Farther west, near the art museum, the
city comes over the top of it, and it
turns into a tunnel. It’s an exciting and
dynamic space.”
e project is being advanced by a
nonprofit called Friends of the Rail Park;
for more information about the trail,
visit the organization’s website at
Share Your Trail Taleswith RTC
Jeff Pell at
the start of
his cross-
country trip
at Crissy Field
on California’s
San Francisco
Bay Trail
A Dream Realized: Bike Touring Across America
By Laura Stark
1,2,3,4,5,6 8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,...32
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