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The Mileposters are tandem cyclists. Pittsburgh city kids enjoy a taste of the country and the wonders of God's creation as they learn cycling skills and care for each other in Christian love. Since 1997, over 100 of them have ridden the network of trails around Pittsburgh, PA, on trips from 12 miles to over 300, five times to Washington, DC, raising over $56,000 for St. Matthew, St. Thomas, Deaf Mission in Western Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Lutheran Center for the Blind, LCMS Campus Ministry in Pittsburgh, Lutheran Disaster Response, and others. The group leader has trained twenty tandem captains; two of those have also qualified on a triplet.

The group leader, Mark Shields, a teacher at St. Matthew Lutheran School 1986-2007 and homeschool tutor 2007-2017 (until both students graduated from high school), made his first solo ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC in 1997, and again in 2002. From the beginning, the Youghiogheny River Trail (now a part of the Great Allegheny Passage, along with the Allegheny Highlands Trail), which follows its namesake river in Southwestern Pennsylvania, has been the venue of choice, although the large number of trails available within driving distance of Pittsburgh has provided plenty of variety: other trips have been made on the Monongahela River Trail, the Decker's Creek Trail, and the Panhandle Trail in West Virginia; the C&O Canal Towpath and the Northwest Connection in Maryland; the Conotton Creek Trail and the Kokosing Gap Trail in Ohio; and the Montour Trail (including the Arrowhead Trail), the Butler-Freeport Community Trail, the Eliza Furnace Trail, the Panther Hollow Trail, the Riverfront Trail, and the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.

The Mileposters got their name from the triangular concrete mileposts which the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad placed beside the track between Pittsburgh and Connellsville. This is the right-of-way used by the Youghiogheny River Trail (now part of the Great Allegheny Passage) between Dead Man's Hollow and Connellsville. In the beginning, riders had to regroup at each milepost; now, thanks to tandems and better-trained riders, they typically travel four or more miles before resting.

By June 1999 the best riders were able to complete a 56-mile camping trip, carrying tents and other camping gear aboard their bikes.

In the spring of 2002 the first tandem rides were made, using a Trail-Gator bicycle tow bar to join two bikes together. That quickly led to the purchase of a mountain tandem, and construction of a custom tandem with a short rear seat tube was begun. A tandem allows inexperienced riders to keep up with those who can travel faster (stopping every mile has become a thing of the past), and teaches cooperation and caring for others. Only the captain needs to know how to ride a bike. The stokers (one, two, three, or four riders behind the captain) learn cycling skills while they work together and watch out for each other.

More tandems, triplets, and an articulated quad and quint followed the first two tandems. A triplet is for three riders, a quad for four, and a quint for five. (A double tandem combination was used for a while, as well as a triplet/tandem, but these have been replaced by the articulated quad and quint.)

On June 23 and 24, 2004, a camping trip was made in preparation for longer rides. The two-day trip covered 60 miles for our organist/captain/cook and her daughter, who managed food acquisition, and 54 miles for the balance of the campers, including the group leader and four other riders. The travelers started at Industry, PA, on the Yough Trail, and went to Adelaide and Connellsville, PA and back again. While they were at the campground they were inspired by meeting Bob Phillips of Bowie, Maryland, who was on Day 53 of a transcontinental bicycle ride from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. He finished his trip in eight more days, one day before his 68th birthday, for a total of 3,541 miles.

Double tandem and other bikes on camping trip, River's Edge Family Campground

On July 21, 22, and 23, 2004, five riders made a three-day, 70-mile round trip on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath from Cumberland, MD to Milepost 153, just past Sorrel Ridge. They spent the first night at the Red Rooster Hostel (gone, alas) in Paw Paw, West Virginia and the next day rode through Paw Paw Tunnel to Sorrel Ridge and back to Oldtown, returning to Lock 68 (Potomac Forks), because of rain, for primitive camping the second night. The third day they had to remove all loads and carry luggage and bare bikes over a cluster of four trees that had fallen across the trail during the night's storm. Wildlife encountered along the trail included 273 turtles, a dozen deer, several rabbits and squirrels, some beavers, many fish, a snake, and hundreds of dragonflies. Multiple beaver dams and lodges were sighted between Mileposts 170 and 180.

Especially during these two 2004 camping trips, Dorothy Frisch, a true original, who had meant to come to St. Matthew just to be organist, defined the meaning of "trail mom" for Mileposters. Unfortunately, since her husband took a new job in Connecticut, she had to leave right before we began our rides to Washington, DC.

Three-day ride, Paw Paw Tunnel, Maryland, with original trail mom

Beaver lodge

On June 14, 2005 a party of six, including four student riders and our newest captain/trail mom, set out for Washington, DC, arriving on June 22 after nine days, six flat tires, many raindrops, and much poison ivy. In the process the student record for miles in a day was broken twice, ending at 47 miles in a day, on loaded bicycles, after riding for eight days in a row previous, and one new recordholder accomplished the distance on a solo bike, which had not been done since 2002. It is noteworthy that the youngest rider on this trip to Washington, DC was only six years old; she also shared the loaded record of 47 miles in one day until it was broken in 2010. Bicycles which were used for the 2005 DC ride included the Biopace-equipped triplet, a tandem graciously donated by Terry Zmrhal and Microsoft, and a solo bike.

The 2006 DC ride, with eight riders total, used the same tandem and solo bike; the triplet was used for seven days, and for three days in the middle of the trip, it was converted to an articulated quad. The youngest rider in 2006, who rode one day of the trip, was eight years old. A nine-year-old went the whole distance, along with the group leader and three other riders. Two others rode multiple days. Following this trip, a record-breaking ride was made on the Yough Trail, at 82 miles per day, still standing in 2011, as the most for student riders.

The long ride for 2007 was to Cumberland, Maryland. A program began for new student captains and junior captains. Work started on a new intermediate-frame tandem so that promising younger riders will be able to begin training as captains; as well, a small-frame tandem was acquired. Uniform acquisition was begun.

The 2008 DC ride, with eight riders total, used the triplet throughout, a tandem for four days, and a solo bike for three days. The youngest rider was eight years old, who rode only one day before he got sick. Three other riders participated for four days, completing the segment from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, including the 2005 trail mom and her daughter, who also completed the ride that year, when she was six, as well as the one who went the whole way in 2006, when she was nine. A second set of three riders joined the trip on the sixth, seventh, and eighth days, including two who made the whole trip in 2005. The group leader rode all ten days. Uniform acquisition continued, and uniforms were used for the first time on a major ride.

In 2009, trip planning was difficult, and we almost didn't do a long ride, but the G-20 summit saved the day, enabling us to get four days off from school at the end of September. Our tail gunner, however, turned up with a 102-degree fever the night before the ride, so we had only two people on the triplet for the first day, and the next three the group leader was alone, finding the ascent to the Divide to be surprisingly easy. When we went to Cumberland to pick up the triplet from storage a week later, the tail gunner came along for a 20-mile extension on the Canal towpath, giving us a total of 150 miles for our campaign to raise funds for the Pittsburgh Campus Ministry of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. Following the Cumberland trip, Mileposters roller skating began, as a winter activity.

The 2010 DC ride, with five riders total, used the articulated quad throughout, with two single bikes for one day. The ride was completed in nine days for the first time since 2005. The youngest rider was ten years old, who with his thirteen-year-old sister, completed the entire trip of 333 miles, from the Boston trailhead near Pittsburgh through Washington, DC, at Fletcher's Boathouse, and on nineteen miles farther to Berwyn Heights, Maryland. It was the second time for the sister, who made the whole trip in 2006 when she was nine, the first for her brother, and the sixth for the group leader, who did the trip twice by himself. Both brother and sister were homeschool students of the group leader at the time. The pastor of the supported mission, the campus ministry at First Trinity Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh, and his wife rode the 42 miles of the first day and returned to the starting point on their own the next day. The fourth day of the trip, the former long-ride, loaded distance record of 47 miles in one day was broken, with 60 miles from Meyersdale, Pennsylvania to Paw Paw, West Virginia. Roller skating continued for the winters of 2010-11 and 2011-12.

The 2011 Cumberland ride, with four riders total, used the triplet, with a single bike for one day. The ride was completed in four days. The six-year-old who rode all the way to DC in 2005, now 12, joined us, as well as one of our DC riders from last year, now 11, completing the 40 miles of the first day. The pastor of the supported mission, the campus ministry at First Trinity Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh, rode with us as far as Cedar Creek. The group leader finished the trip in three more days, making overnight stops in Connellsville, Confluence, and Rockwood.

The Mileposters' first 2012 trip, our fifth from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, 340 miles in nine days (extended to Berwyn Heights, MD), was made to benefit Jayden Collington, close relative of several Mileposters riders, including three youth captains. After weeks of chemotherapy, which caused his hair to fall out, Jayden underwent surgery to remove his adrenal gland, his spleen, one kidney, and other organs. Because of this contingency, the Mileposters also did a trip this year from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, to raise support for the campus ministry at First Trinity Lutheran Church, in the Oakland area of Pittsburgh.

For several years we alternated between doing Washington, DC and Cumberland, but this year, because of Jayden Collington's cancer, we did both; it was the fourth Mileposters trip from Pittsburgh to Cumberland. We didn't have enough time for training rides, so it was a slow trip for us, but we had some very fast help at the end. As in 2009, and like the DC ride last year, the trip was made to support the Campus Ministry of First Trinity Lutheran Church. It took place over four days, August 9-12, except for the fourth rider, who did Connellsville to Cumberland, plus some doubling back, all on the fourth day--106 miles! He caught up with the other three riders, who did 134 miles, in Meyersdale.

2013 saw a trip from Pittsburgh to Ohiopyle, and in 2014 there were both one-way and round-trip rides between Pittsburgh and Cumberland.

Old double tandem, just past Milepost 23, Yough Trail

Author Fred Durbin with original Mileposters tandem, Pana, Illinois

Ten riders: triplet/tandem, two tandems, solo bike, South Side Trail

The group leader's parents, Asheville, NC
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The Allegheny Trail Alliance Web site has maps and many links to information on trails in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, and West Virginia.

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