After our Mississippi paddle, we sought out a way to “give back” the hospitality we received from the many river angels who aided us along the way. Since we live only a block away from the Glacial Drumlin rail trail in Wisconsin, we joined a cycling organization called Warm Showers and became hosts to cyclists pedaling across our state, often on their way from coast to coast. (See my Charity Spotlight blog about Warm Showers, published Aug, 2019.) We heard stories of their exciting cross-country treks, gleaned priceless bits of information from their experiences and began to develop a network of cycling contacts across the country. Our focus shifted from paddling to pedaling ourselves and we began to dream of a next grand adventure on wheels rather than on water.
It was during one of Gene’s bike trail internet searches that he stumbled upon the East Coast Greenway. “This might be fun,” he said, showing me a map of the trail that extended up the entire east coast, from Key West to Calais, Maine. “How would you feel about riding the east coast?”
My first thoughts were of warm sand beaches, sun-kissed skin and enticing ocean views. My eyes followed the line on the map from start to finish, through areas rich in history, each deserving visitation on its own merit. And the clincher? No mountains! “I’d love to. Lets do it!” My answer may have shocked Gene, given the fact that I was quite the holdout on our last adventure. But this time, I was all in from the start.
The East Coast Greenway (ECG) Alliance is not new. It began 31 years ago, with a vision of creating the country’s longest linear park, offering a safe corridor for biking and walking, stretching from Florida to Maine. The Alliance leads the development of the trail network, connecting volunteers, partner organizations, and officials at the local, state and national levels. Today, the route is a little over a third complete, with over 1,000 miles of off-road trails connected by roadways determined to be the safest currently-available routes. It connects fifteen states and over 450 cities and towns, with a total of roughly 3000 miles.
We began preparing for our trip in 2019, until Covid struck. We planned the trip first for 2020, then for 2021, but the timing still didn’t work out. In late March of this year, totally vaccinated and even boosted, we shipped our bikes ahead and flew down to Florida, heading north from Key West on March 31st. (I know…starting on April first would have made it easier to keep track of the number of days, but neither one of us was brave enough to start a 3000-mile bike ride on April Fool’s Day.)
Waiting until 2022 turned out to be to our benefit, as 2021 was a record year for the ECG. The year before we rode, 18 additional trails were designated as part of the Greenway, 30 miles of new trails were built, and signage was placed on over 660 miles of existing trail. Revenue grew by over 50%, due to donations and the $550 million invested by cities to make the Greenway more available to their citizens. With all the new initiatives, staff grew as well, by over 40%. As touring cyclists, we got the benefit of the new trails and, due to better signage, I’m sure we got lost much less often than we would have otherwise!
Our itinerary was built not on the desire to make record time, but with the hope of enjoying the ride and the people we met along the way. We savored spectacular views of azure waters in the Keys, beachside boardwalks along the Florida coast, miles of paved trails and historic areas like St. Augustine, Savannah, Jamestown, Mt. Vernon, Philadelphia, and Boston. We camped in state parks and small private campgrounds or stayed with hosts from Warm Showers, and when we couldn’t find either of those, sought out inexpensive hotels. We stayed in Williamsburg for a week and splurged for a few days of fancy digs in Washington, D.C. and Times Square. We even took time to go whale watching in Provincetown on Cape Cod. In mid-July, we finally rode into the little town of Calais, Maine, at the Canadian border and the end of our journey.
During our tour, we highlighted the work of the ECG Alliance and the Rails to Trails Conservancy in posts on our Facebook page, Barb and Gene’s Excellent East Coast Adventure, holding a fundraiser for each of these organizations. We called attention to the advantages of off-road trails and of safe bike lanes, both for riders and drivers. We also highlighted the role of the bicycle hosting organization, Warm Showers, mentioned above. We’re grateful to these trail organizations and to the generous hosts who offered us warm and dry accommodations, made us delicious meals and shared stories of their own adventures with us!
To find out more about the ECG Alliance, please check out their website at www.greenway.org. There, you’ll be able to read about their mission and their ongoing progress, view videos of beautiful new sections of trail, and find out about special community events such as runs, walks, rides and celebrations. If you’re interested in riding part or all of the trail yourself, don’t hesitate to reach out to us through comments here or on the contact page of my author website, barbgeiger.com.