CONFLUENCE, Pa.—We are in an itty-bitty town that is dotted with old houses. The low mountains slope downward into three giant converging rivers. There are herculean oaks everywhere. Lots of wildflowers. If they were going to remake “Sound of Music,” they would shoot it in Confluence.

And I’m scribbling notes about it all in my little notebook. Because this is what I do. I have carried a notebook for years now, it goes everywhere with me, and I write everything down. You never know when inspiration will hit you with a two-by-four.

Today the little Pennsylvania community is overrun with cyclists who are biking the Great Allegheny Passage through the Appalachian Mountains. Which is what my wife and I have been doing for the last five days.

We ride for hours until our butts have lost all sensation. Then we pull over and cheerfully pop handfuls of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication.

Out on the trail you get to know your fellow trail-riders because you pass each other a lot. You’re following the same bike route. You sleep in the same towns, shelters, hostels, or roadside ditches. You eat at the same spots. You steal the same canteen water from the same unsuspecting residential homes.

I meet an older couple from Manhattan, New York. They are doing the trail together with two top-of-the-line mountain bikes. He’s 67, and recently recovering from a stroke. She is 63 and his lifeline.

He has a voice like a guy who might own a pizza joint in Brooklyn. She sounds like Edith Bunker. I love these people.

He’s fallen off his bike twice on the trail due to muscle weakness from the stroke. But he’s not discouraged.

He says, “Listen, I got no broken bones—knock on wood—and no cuts. I’m making it to the end, or so help me.”

I meet a young man from California. He’s doing the trail entirely on foot. Sometimes he hikes 20 miles per day. He’s trying to quit smoking. He allows himself one cigarette in the morning and one at night. I ask which one is his favorite smoke of the day.

He looks at me with a serious face, “They all are.”

And I can’t forget the guy from Canada who has been biking this trail—you’re not going to believe this—with a parrot on his shoulder. The parrot’s name is Jim. Jim just sits there.

“Me and Jim talk a lot,” says the man. “He’s a very smart boy.”

Jim turns 33 this month.

So my notebook has been getting a lot of action lately. There seems to be a story around every tree. I have taken so many notes that I already need a new notebook.

Which is what I am doing right now. I’m walking to the little hardware store to buy a new notebook.

When I reach Confluence proper the town square is filled with maybe 70 bikes. There are people from every state represented here. Most are on the trail because biking is pandemic-style entertainment. Others are trying to lose body fat.

Either way, Main Street is alive with cyclists. They are seated on curbs, eating impromptu breakfasts, airing up tires, sipping Gatorade, repacking their tent bags, or doing calisthenics in the downtown park.

I meet an elderly woman in workout gear, sitting on a park bench, stretching her hamstrings. Her bike is beside her.

She’s from Kansas. She and her friend took a train to Pittsburgh, then started riding the trail several days ago. They have been camping in tents, eating food cooked on miniature stoves, and pedaling slow.

“I’ve never seen anything so pretty,” she says in a prairie drawl. “When we first saw the sun come up over them mountains, I said, ‘Okay, God, I get it, this is incredible.’”

Her husband passed away five years ago from pancreatic cancer. It killed him fast. The couple had a Mexican cruise planned that same year. They had been building up to it. He was gone before the boat ever left port.

“Life goes on,” she tells me, stretching her lower back. “You can’t stop living because someone dies. My husband wouldn’t want that for me. And I’m trying to honor his wishes by doing this.

“He always told me to get married again, but, nah, I don’t wanna. I ain’t got room in my heart for nobody else. He was my everything. He still is.”

There are no tears in her eyes when she says it. Only a distant smile. Although I, myself, am about to have drippage issues.

Her friend comes wheeling down the street on her bike. Her friend is older too. “You ready?” the friend aks.

The woman says, “Meet my new friend, this young man is a writer.”

We exchange pleasantries. Commiserate with each other. Then after a few moments they both hop onto bicycles and they’re gone, pedaling down a serpentine mountain trail. The same trail my wife and I will be pedaling for the next 124 years, unless we expire first.

When the lady bikers are almost out of sight, I open my new notebook and write a few things in sloppy handwriting. That’s when I see the older woman turn around. She comes pedaling back to me. Big helmet. Legs churning. It’s like she has something important to tell me.

She brakes in front of me. She is already out of breath and can’t speak for several seconds.

She says, “His name was Martin. I thought you’d wanna know my husband’s name. For your notebook.”

So I wrote it down.


  1. Charles A Wyborny - September 12, 2020 6:32 am

    Ever speak in Montgomery i have a master bedroom i don’t use. you arenf your wife welcome to stay. All i have is meals froze or in cans or boxes. if not satisfactory we can go out to eat.

  2. Sonya Tuttle - September 12, 2020 10:46 am

    Is it me that is teary? Or are feeling just as emotional?

  3. Helen De Prima - September 12, 2020 12:08 pm

    Right now, I’m trying to tie up multiple loose ends before getting a new hip next week; your trek is just what I need to get/keep me motivated. I’ve never cared for bikes — I grew up on horseback in Kentucky — but your narrative could almost make me dream. Keep pedaling. A lot of folks are riding with you.

  4. Curtis lee Zeitelhack - September 12, 2020 12:39 pm

    Hi, Martin. Don’t worry. She’s doing just fine.

  5. Dianne - September 12, 2020 1:01 pm

    When you really start talking to and listening to people, we learn that everyone has a story, and that we are all a part of the Big Story called Life. Thank you for sharing, Sean.

  6. Billy Allgood - September 12, 2020 1:05 pm

    You made the lady from Kansas day just by taking the time to listen, and she made yours by giving you inspiration for another great article because you did.

  7. Peggy Thompson - September 12, 2020 1:13 pm

    Wow…lots of fun & lots of interesting people…just surprised all traveling during this covid 19. Hiking is great not too close to others but I would never get on a plane right now to fly somewhere to go hiking. Airplane is a little too close for comfort. Be safe!

  8. Mark Fendley - September 12, 2020 1:14 pm

    Sean, I was first drawn to your columns as someone who is enamored by Santa Rosa Beach, Point Washington, and Grayton Beach and has the fantasy (and plan) to live there some day. Also, growing up as a Middle Georgia boy – Perry to be exact, I also relate to many of the Southern euphemisms you use. As I have continued to read every day, it “just” simply brightens my day. Thank you. Whether you realize this or not, your writing is a ministry. May the Good Lord bless you and may He keep you. If you and your wife are ever in the Spartanburg South Carolina area, give me a shout.

  9. Mark Fendley - September 12, 2020 1:25 pm

    Sean, I was first drawn to your writings as someone who is enamored by Santa Rosa Beach, Point Washington, and Grayton Beach, with a hope to retire there one day. And as a Middle Georgia native – Perry to be exact, I could relate to and chuckle with some of the Southern euphemisms you use. And now, your writings just simply brighten my day, every day. Whether you realize it or not, you have a ministry. May the Good Lord bless you and may He keep you. If you and your wife are ever in the Spartanburg, South Carolina area you have a friend here.

  10. Susie - September 12, 2020 1:52 pm

    Curtis, that was so good.

  11. Joyce W Moorman - September 12, 2020 2:41 pm

    I have only recently been reading your blog, but I love it! Thank you for taking the time to be honest (pandemic), grateful, and appreciative of people and this beautiful land we live in. You seem to have a following of depressed followers by their comments, I am not a depressed reader. Keep writing, this COVID virus is going to be around a long time and we need you.

  12. Marge - September 12, 2020 3:34 pm

    Each morning I reach for my phone to read your latest offering. You bring love and life to those of us who are tethered to our homes these days. Tears, laughter, memories are all present as I read. My husband also died of pancreatic cancer; almost four years ago. His name was Tom and he was my best friend for 57 years.

  13. Christina - September 12, 2020 3:44 pm

    Keeping pedaling and taking notes. Your journey enriches our lives. Ps: Say hi to Jim next time!

  14. Mary Lucas - September 12, 2020 3:45 pm

    I love them all. I will always remember Martin and his wife. if you get to Fairhope give us a holler.
    Mary Lucas

  15. Cathy Nelson - September 12, 2020 5:13 pm

    Confluence is another God’s country. My brother lives right outside of there in a place called Hexie. There is a book written about it. I’d live in Confluence if it didn’t have the dam there! Glad your enjoying our country towns.

  16. Linda Moon - September 12, 2020 5:14 pm

    Your two stories from yesterday and today flowed together into award-worthy storytelling: Flight 93 and Confluence.
    LIFE. Write it down. Never stop the stories. Write them in as many notebooks as it takes. And I’ll read all of them ’til I run out of the notebook of LIFE (but not any time soon).

  17. Susan Kennedy - September 12, 2020 5:25 pm

    I used to want to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. Now I want to go on a bike riding adventure like this!!
    You and Jamie are amazing. 💕

  18. Phoebe Harris - September 12, 2020 6:15 pm

    Love your warm heart for nature and especially people. I still ride at 78 and you are inspiring me t continue on…nothing like it!!! So glad you and your wife are making wonderful memories together.

  19. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - September 12, 2020 6:42 pm

    My dad always had many friends. He loved telling jokes, stories, half-truths. He always wore shirts with pockets & I don’t ever remember a time when he didn’t have a little shirt pocket note book to write little memory joggers in.
    You’ll love this. He was a Schlitz drinker. Schlitz motto was, “The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous”. He told this baseball joke & the punch line was, “The Beer That Made Mil Famous Walk Him”.
    You so often remind me of him.

  20. MAM - September 12, 2020 6:56 pm

    And you do what a good writer does. “So I wrote it down.” Keep writing, please, Sean. I agree with Mark Fendley that your writing is a ministry.

  21. Harriet Atlanta - September 12, 2020 8:40 pm

    Hi Sean, I’m not a depressed follower at all. I think all of your followers are salt of the earth heartfelt people. This biking adventure makes me want to join in. I have a full life, and can’t wait to read tomorrow’s column.
    Love always,

    Harriet from Atlanta.

  22. Chasity Davis Ritter - September 12, 2020 8:48 pm

    Sean, sounds like quite an adventure you are having and that you’re going to have tons of things to write about when it’s done. I have always loved how you see people. Really see them. I can’t wait to read about all you are seeing now. Be safe and have fun.

  23. angie5804 - September 12, 2020 8:59 pm

    This one really got me. I met you back on March 13th at the library in Trussville. You autographed your book to me and my husband because I showed you a picture of us in our much younger days and you looked like him. One month later, April 13th, a scan found a mass on his pancreas. Two months later, June 15th, he was gone. We had a trip planned for New England that we had put on the calendar for next week. I still hope to make that trip one day, with a cousin or daughter or grandkids. I agree with Martin’s wife; I don’t want to get married again. He was my everything.

  24. angie5804 - September 12, 2020 9:01 pm

    My love to you, Marge.

  25. Robert M Brenner - September 12, 2020 10:05 pm

    Priceless! You bring that out in people ❤️. It’s called goodness…Thanks

  26. Terry - September 12, 2020 10:55 pm


  27. Nancy M - September 13, 2020 4:15 am

    Praying for you tonight, angie5804, and Marge.

  28. Jan - September 13, 2020 12:59 pm

    Love going on this trip with you and your precious wife!

  29. Tammy S. - September 13, 2020 11:28 pm

    I’m with you on the leakage, doggone it. Beautiful!! Everyone should be as loved as Martin. ❤️
    Thanks, Sean (& Jamie) for taking us along.

    PS…Does Jamie ever tire of sharing you with us all? I’m married to a pastor and have to work hard to not struggle with sharing him with so many. But the flip side is, he is that kind & loving & encouraging. Like someone else I know. So, thanks, Jamie!! You’re my hero.

  30. Linda Eason - September 13, 2020 11:36 pm

    I thought for once I wasn’t going to shed a few tears when I read this post until I got to the part of the older lady who had lost her husband to pancreatic cancer five years ago….I lost mine to the same cancer two and a half years ago after 44 years of marriage. I’m trying my best to make the most of these days without him, but it is so hard….like her, he was my everything. Thank you, Sean, for your heartfelt writings that stir the soul and touch the heart.

  31. Anne Arthur - September 14, 2020 2:20 pm

    I feel I should go biking For the scenery, the joyous fun of it, the people, the awesomeness. Bucket list item, for sure!

  32. otterrick - September 15, 2020 1:22 pm

    Nice story…..

  33. angie5804 - September 17, 2020 12:35 am

    My prayers are with you, Linda Eason


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