Trail Riders

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—It’s a pretty day in Virginia. My wife and I just packed up our mud-covered cycles and loaded them into our van’s cargo hold. We are officially done riding the trail.

We’ve been cycling trails for a long time this last month. We’ve been on the Great Allegheny Passage, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal trail, and the Mount Vernon Trail. Our entire lives have been crammed into saddlebags. We’ve lived on basic foods, without access to good mayonnaise. We’ve used horrifying public restrooms. And now it’s all over.

The first thing I’ve learned from this long-distance trip is that I’m very out of shape.

My legs are aching, our hindparts are bruised, and one of my wife’s hands is still numb. But we’re both slimmer than before. And we’re consuming more anti-inflammatory meds, too.

Without a doubt, the hardest part about being on the trail is all the young people. They’re everywhere. You grow to dislike young people because they are in better shape than you and they aren’t bashful about it.

Imagine, you’re pedaling through the heart of a veritable wilderness. Struggling. A slender kid whizzes up from behind and weaves around you like he’s annoyed, like he’s stuck in traffic behind some codger who left his blinker on.

This happened to me a lot. And no matter how fast I would pedal, the kid would always speed past me in a fury.

And those were just the kids on foot.

Sometimes young people would be friendly. They’d cruise their bikes beside you and say, “So, where’re you from?”

Between labored breaths, you’d answer, “Fl… Flor… Florida.”

Then the kid would say something, like: “Wow. You know, I really admire people your age.”

And you’d want to kill him.

Things like this wreck your trail confidence. After a while you become envious of young people. You start to feel like you are the only idiot suffering. Everyone else is relaxed, cheerful, wearing big smiles, and has humongous vascular calves. But you’re sucking pond water.

It’s even worse when old folks blitz past you. This makes you feel like a real floater. I can’t tell you how many elderly people with white hair and arthritic joints pedaled by like Chuck Yeager on caffeine.

I’m not going to lie. Sometimes this became depressing. Sometimes I would wonder why I was on the stupid trail. What was I thinking? What was I trying to prove?

But then the end came.

You’re never prepared for the end. All the emotions that get stored over several weeks come out. These emotions lie beneath the surface.

Every hill you scaled. Every mile you covered. The time your wife fell from her bike in the middle of Pittsburgh and nearly broke her leg. The time you took a left turn and almost flipped.

The outdoor pub, somewhere in Maryland, where you ate three burgers because you were famished after 50 miles.

The way you listened to Atlanta Braves games on a radio each evening, from the warmth of your camp, hostel, or cabin. And how grateful you were for the simple pleasure of a radio.

The way you slept. Oh, you slept hard. You haven’t slept like that since you were a four-year-old who could fall asleep in the middle of a NASCAR Cup Series.

Or how about that day in the jagged wilderness when you realized your tires were destroyed? That was a bad day.

You inspected the tires and found the rubber looked like shredded wheat. Your cycle’s frame was bent. You were a billion miles from the middle of nowhere. You were low on food and water. And there were snakes. Lots of snakes. Your cycle didn’t look like it could limp another mile.

All you could do was make a silent plea to the West Virginia evening sky. It was an emergency flare kind of prayer.

Then, somehow, even though your cycle was falling apart; even though your back tire looked like a tattered mess of yarn; even though your chain was grinding; even though you still had 32 miles left, you made it.

You arrived in a tiny town. And this town had a bike shop. And even though this shop was closed, a bike tech happened to be working late. What are the odds?

You almost cried. In fact, you did cry. But not when anyone was looking.

The tech took one look at your cycle, covered in mud and grit, and he remarked, “Oh my God. How in the [obscenity] did you ride on THIS? ”

But you had no answer. You still don’t.

All you know is that after all this, you found yourselves at the end of a long path. You and your wife. You finished in the nation’s Capital City, with Arlington National Cemetery beside you, the Lincoln Memorial before you. And you were still alive.

You didn’t finish the way everyone else did. Other riders finished stronger, faster, and more efficiently than you. But this doesn’t matter now. Because you’re here. You and your wife. The trail is behind you. The worst is over. There are no more miles left climb.

You begin to feel pretty good about yourself. You’re thinking, hey, even though the world is full of handsome, athletic, youthful people who can all run circles around my slow, flabby body, I’m not ashamed.

And you’re not, either. You’re proud. Proud because you know something about yourself. Something that you did not know before. Something real. You know that no matter what anyone in this world says about you, the fact remains.

You are extremely out of shape.


  1. Christina - September 20, 2020 7:02 am

    And extremely deserving of a juice, fat steak after all. You guys rock!

  2. Barbara - September 20, 2020 7:10 am

    Congratulations……you DID IT!!!

  3. Kathie Bridges - September 20, 2020 7:14 am

    Sean, I’ve only recently begun to follow you, but I absolutely love your writing Your posts are the first thing I read when I open my eyes every morning. And right now it’s 2:56 a.m., so you know I’m being truthful. I have only one question: How old are you?? Don’t worry; I’m a 75 year-old grandma, so I’m not looking for a man, but I’m curious. I so admire you and your sweet wife (the only logical conclusion) for embarking on such a journey. And I think I might loosen the purse strings and buy your book,if you have one.
    Many blessings, and keep on writing. You make me smile.

  4. Sandi. - September 20, 2020 8:20 am

    Kathie, I THINK Sean is in his early 40s, and he has written about ten books, which are sold through Amazon. The ones I’ve read are all very entertaining, good, delightful reading. He’s also very musically talented … sings, plays guitar, accordian, and piano, plus probably a few other instruments. Most of the accompanying sketches/drawings you’ll see on the main comments page here, Sean is the artist. Look him up on You Tube where you’ll find him reading some of his stories aloud. One of the best is titled, “Dirt Poor.”
    If Sean happens to read this, I guess he will need to cut a big hole in the ceiling for his head to fit. (Kidding, of course, Sean!) Keep up the wonderful writing. I’m just one of your many fans!

  5. Maureen A - September 20, 2020 10:55 am

    Congratulations! What an accomplishment!

  6. Ginger - September 20, 2020 11:22 am

    I am proud of you two. Right now I want to be you. And, full disclosure, I am coveting your tri-bike.

  7. Jo Ann - September 20, 2020 11:43 am

    All I can do is echo others- Congratulations to you & Jamie!!! What an accomplishment! Now you can go home to your dogs, I’m sure they’ll give you a proper homecoming!

  8. Beryl - September 20, 2020 12:02 pm

    I read this at 2:08 AM. I opened my e-mail and there it was, Sean Of The South. I too find your writings to be from the heart with stories that remind me of our shared humanity. I’m a bicyclist. I have never ridden a trail for days. Yet, each day of your adventure, I was there within the commas and punchlines. Today I snorted when I read, “And those were just the kids on foot.” Your daily post is a wonderful way to start my day. Thank you.

  9. Sharon Brock - September 20, 2020 12:17 pm

    I spent four days in 1994 walking parts of the Oregon Trail in Nebraska. By the time I finished if I sat down, I was asleep within seconds. In 2016, my oldest granddaughter and I walked all over downtown Chicago for four days. I was too tired to even snore. Bicycling? Oh heck no. No way no how. But dude? Y’all finished. Congratulations. The columns were fantabulous.

  10. Jean - September 20, 2020 12:30 pm


  11. Heidi - September 20, 2020 12:37 pm

    I always tell myself….there’s some better and some worse….the important thing is that you did it! You had the gumption to get out of your protective home and experience life, no less, in the middle of a pandemic!!! Huge props to you & Jamie & thanks for taking those of us with less gumption along for the ride!

  12. Jan - September 20, 2020 12:58 pm

    Congratulations on your monumental achievement! You sell yourself way too short! #1 You achieved something worth celebrating. #2 You have the ability to see beyond the obvious and recognize the best qualities in all the flawed humans you encounter. #3 I have seen you in person and you are not flabby!

  13. Judy - September 20, 2020 1:20 pm

    This trail adventure created some of your best columns. Think a book may be in the works. Each morning I was eager to read where you were and what you had discovered. Thank you for your perspective and constant humor.

  14. Barbara Pope - September 20, 2020 1:27 pm

    Now that sounds like fun! You and Jamie make a great team full of fodder!

  15. Diane Toth - September 20, 2020 1:57 pm

    I applaud you. A few years back my partner and I did the Erie Canal ride from Niagara Falls to Albany NY. There were several well conditioned riders, I was not one of them. Ages ranged from 5 to and unbelievable 79! The only way I could cope was not to know the number of miles I had to peddle that day. Every evening I was told there were fascinating talks on local history and music. I was dead in my tent. So once again I applaud you and your wife.

  16. Berryman Mary M - September 20, 2020 2:14 pm

    Thank you for this, Sean. I have so enjoyed reading about your adventures on the trail. I know you are proud of yourself and I am proud for you! I felt very much like you when when I hiked the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park (12 miles) last summer. At my advanced age of 67 it was a rough haul especially the last four downhill miles. I had no idea that downhill was worse than uphill! My son, who was my guide and cheerleader (and had the bear spray!) felt he had taken me on a death march. But I survived and lived to tell the tale and am so grateful that I could do it. Hiking along the continental divide and seeing all of the animals and the majesty of the mountains – it was all so worth it. Kudos to you and Jamie!

  17. Keith Holman - September 20, 2020 2:46 pm

    Always enjoy Sean’s writings. This trip is close to home for us. One question. Did y’all stay at any of the C&O canal lockkeeper’s quarters that are available for overnight primitive stays?

  18. Sonya Tuttle - September 20, 2020 2:52 pm

    Since you had a van to take you home, who drove it yo DC? How did you power your laptop to be able to blog every evening? Lots of other questions, but just glad you endured until the end. Thanks for the memories.

  19. Sara Nichols - September 20, 2020 2:55 pm

    Congratulations on finishing those trails! I have so enjoyed reading your adventures. I have two friends hiking the AT. So enjoy reading about the places, people you are seeing.

  20. Lisa Snow - September 20, 2020 3:02 pm

    Fantastic job!!!

  21. Darlene - September 20, 2020 4:43 pm

    There are no words to describe your fortitude to start and your determination to finish cycling the Great Allegheny Passage Trail. I am so happy for you two and for those of us that experienced the excitement, serenity and even the misfortunes of the trip with you. Thanks for sharing. I hate for it to end but I sort of doubt that’s what you want to hear.

  22. Susie, as well - September 20, 2020 4:47 pm

    Congratulations! Thank you so much for letting us tag along. So enjoyed the stories.

  23. lpmartin60 - September 20, 2020 5:10 pm

    I can only imagine the array of emotion and experiences you’ve had the last few weeks. I have so enjoyed reading about the ones we have been privy to. I’m sure we are in store for more in your future writings. Congratulations to you and Jamie on a momentous accomplishment!

  24. Linda Moon - September 20, 2020 5:21 pm

    Fleet-footed kids on trails almost always pass those of us who are no longer young. But that’s OK, because we know things they haven’t yet learned. No matter what shape we’re in during the middle to older years, we’re not too shabby, Sean. We’re finishing our trials and trails, and I’m proud of you and your wife for doing that with no shame!

  25. MAM - September 20, 2020 5:30 pm

    Nuts to what shape you’re in (And I’m betting it’s not as bad as you pretend your shape to be!). You DID it! You completed it! Congratulations!

  26. Susan Kennedy - September 20, 2020 8:36 pm

    Congratulations!! Y’all are amazing!

  27. Tammy S. - September 20, 2020 8:51 pm

    What a trip!! Congrats Jamie & Sean!! What beautiful memories you can add to the so many you already have together!! Thanks for taking us all along for the ride, and lettting us meet some of the people you met along the way.

  28. Jane Elder - September 20, 2020 9:15 pm

    So glad you have finished your trek. I sit here in my rar-back chair, my leg with the recently replaced hip ,feeling the comfort of an ice pack, and applaud your stamina. Keep on keeping on. Wish my leg were better..I might hop on a bike and see what you saw.

  29. Nancy M - September 20, 2020 9:46 pm

    Congratulations!! You did it!! And I bet you’re both more fit now than when you started

  30. David Money - September 20, 2020 10:41 pm

    He has books. And they’re great. And he plays the guitar. And he sings…kinda.

  31. Veronica Thomas - September 21, 2020 12:03 am

    I love your blog and I cannot wait until your next adventure!!! God Bless

  32. Melanie - September 21, 2020 12:12 am

    Sean you are too hard on yourself. Slow is good. Observing is good. Writing is good. Cheeseburgers are good. Safe travels home. Bet the doggies will go nuts when they see you.

  33. Sandi. - September 21, 2020 1:32 am

    Sean & Jamie,
    Let me add my CONGRATULATIONS to the many others who have given y’all a verbal pat on the back for completing yout bike adventure. That’s quite an accomplishment, so take a bow and polish your halo! Also, I listened to the two videos where you, then Jamie, were reading aloud a children’s book on You Tube, and both of y’all did a dandy job! I call it Goldilocks reading … not too fast, not too slow, but just right.

  34. Chasity Davis Ritter - September 21, 2020 2:05 am

    Congrats to you and Jamie!! Y’all did it!!

  35. Larry & Martha Jane Wall - September 21, 2020 6:24 pm

    Sandi, you failed to mention that Sean can also do carpentry, dry-wall/sheetrock work, do landscaping work, place roofing on a house, build boats and probably a couple other things I can’t remember him writing that he has done over the years. But best of all he is a true humanitarian.

  36. Paul Alge Moore - September 21, 2020 11:09 pm

    Congrats guys. But you know Sean age is relative. To me you two are young. If I were your age I might risk getting covid and pass it on to other people. But I think I can sacrifice a little time to try to get this country healthy then I’ll get back to hiking pedaling and kayaking. Be safe going home

  37. Jess Rawls - September 22, 2020 1:37 am

    Sean, congrats to your wife and you. You’ve accomplished something that very few people have. Sounds like it was quite a grind, but y’all hung in there and got it done….kudos to you both!!!

  38. Elizabeth - September 24, 2020 2:59 am

    I know that pain (being out of shape) and am proud of your and your wife’s accomplishment!! 🥰


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