As a veteran of two cross-country bicycle trips in the past 20 years, Jack Kurrle could easily rest on his laurels and savor old memories. Instead, he's spending two months this fall on another long-distance venture - pedaling 2,800 miles from Calais, Maine, near the Canadian border, to Key West, Fla., averaging 60 miles per day.
What has drawn Mr. Kurrle from his home in Sun City West, Ariz., is an inaugural ride on the proposed East Coast Greenway, the nation's first long-distance urban trail for nonmotorized users. He and nine other cyclists, all over the age of 50, are the first to travel the route the scenic pathway will take when it is complete. Currently 20 percent finished, it passes through 15 states plus Washington, D.C., linking 25 cities.
"This is the equivalent to being in the first group to hike the Appalachian Trail, and that's exciting," says Kurrle, who's retired.
Often referred to as the urban sister to the Appalachian Trail, the Greenway will connect park paths, abandoned railroad corridors, canal towpaths, and waterfront esplanades. Organizers hope it will be 80 percent complete by 2010. They expect it to draw commuters cycling to work, children walking to school, families enjoying recreation, joggers, wheelchair users, and tourists exploring the East Coast at a leisurely pace.
Those explorations can take many forms, says Tony Barrett, a volunteer who drives the support van for the riders. The trail, he explains, "highlights the historic and cultural gems hidden along the Greenway that one can see when you're not traveling at higher speeds."
In Salem, Mass., for example, the cyclists saw what Mr. Barrett calls "the largest collection of Federalist architecture in the country." In Washington, the route will take them along the National Mall. They'll pass oaks draped with Spanish moss in coastal Georgia and see historic neighborhoods in St. Augustine, Fla.
Kurrle knows firsthand the importance of getting bicycles off main roads. Two years ago he was injured when a car struck him as he cycled on a road with no shoulder. Now recovered, he described the first leg of the 53-day journey as the group relaxed during an overnight stop in Boston: "The weather has been good, but Maine is very hilly. It's been a challenge."
For David Wood of Hallowell, Maine, a retired power company employee, this trip represents "an adventure vacation." He calls himself "an ambassador for trails, a trail advocate."
Trails, he notes, need all the advocates they can get. Piecing together astring of locally owned and managed properties can be a slow process, worked out by local groups. The East Coast Greenway Alliance, a nonprofit organization with 15 volunteer state chapters, is promoting development of the trail. The group calls it one of the most ambitious trail projects in the United States.
"You do it one piece at a time," says Ray Giglio, a rider from Wayne, Maine. "Someday you'll get it all connected." Like others in the group, he raised $10,000 from donors to take part in the trip. Those funds will help to complete the Greenway, which is accessible to an estimated 30 million people along the Eastern Seaboard. Signs and maps will identify the route.
The bicyclists began Day 11 with a simple breakfast in the Boston hostel where they spent the night. Afterward, they gathered in the lobby to review the day's maps. That day they planned to travel to a campground south of Worcester, Mass.
At 9 a.m., the cyclists wheeled their bikes onto a narrow sidewalk outside the hostel. They have refilled water bottles and reset odometers.
"Anne, want to give us a tallyho?" a rider asks.
"Tallyho!" replies Mrs. Kruimer of Edison, N.J.
With that, the adventurers were off. Sunshine glinted off their bicycles as they pedaled into rush-hour traffic on Massachusetts Avenue, heading for the path along the Charles River that will take them out of the city.
As if already savoring the sweet taste of victory when the group rolls into Key West on Nov. 3, Kurrle says, "You can't imagine what kind of a high it gives you to accomplish a goal like this."
For now, another rider, Hilge Hurford of New York City, emphasizes one of the messages she hopes the tour will convey: the need to use bicycles not just for recreation, but as transportation, especially in cities.
"We're running out of room for cars," she says. "Bike riding is the future. In order to do so, we have to make it safe. That's what America has to keep working on."