After 130-miles of pedaling together, the Snyder family of Groton has shared some scrapes, laughs, tears (but luckily no flat tires) and learned a lot about life-particularly the importance of minimalism, self-sufficiency and fully living life.
On July 23, Shana and Steve Snyder and their two children, 8-year-old Truth and 10-year-old Noble, started their journey from Myersdale, PA to Pittsburgh, PA on the Great Allegheny Passage.
The family carried everything they needed with them on their bikes, camping overnight, cooking their own meals and enjoying the nature and scenery along the way. The trip was an abbreviated version of a 2,000-mile cross-country bicycle trip that Shana and Steve took together 20 years ago, shortly after they met. It marked the 20th anniversary of their bicycle trek from New Orleans to San Francisco- this time with their two children.
The Great Allegheny Passage is a rail trail system that stretches from Cumberland, West Virginia through Maryland, to Pittsburgh, PA. The family stuck to the Pennsylvania portion of the trail to avoid travel in Maryland, one of the states that because of the COVID-19 pandemic would have launched them into a 14-day quarantine upon their return.
They had originally intended to travel the southeastern half of the total trail that reaches Washington D.C., known as the C&O Canal, but re-routed at the last minute because that path would have also journeyed through Maryland.
The Snyders left Thursday, July 23, and made it to Pittsburgh five days later, pedaling just seven miles on Thursday to ease them into the ride. They stayed at a Bed & Breakfast that night and with fully rested legs, both short and long, they rode 32 miles on Friday before setting up camp Friday night.
Then came an arduous weekend of 31 miles in the saddle on Saturday and 33 more on Sunday. Their final day on the bike, Monday, they logged 27 miles together, ringing bells through tunnels and listening to the echoing dings.
Shana said that bicycle touring teaches the importance of minimalism because you're forced to carry only what you really need.
"We want very few material possessions and really need far less," said Shana. "We value adventure and freedom over "stuff." Afterall, she says, it's not what you have that matters. At the end of life, success will be measured by the beautiful sights they've seen and trails they've forged.
The trip also taught self sufficiency, says Shana. Steve Snyder was the family's navigator and bicycle mechanic and together as a family unit, they managed the ride just fine.
"On these self-guided tours, it is up to you and only you to cover the distance, despite flat tires and literal and proverbial bumps in the road," she said.
And despite the satisfaction of reaching their destination, Pittsburgh, Shana said it's not so much about the destination, it's the journey itself of getting there that's important.
"It was about what you learned and how you changed, and about the memories you made while getting there with the ones you love," she said.
Shana, an Ironman competitor, said two years ago, when she was training for the big race, her then-6 year old daughter, Truth, said, “Mama, Snyders don’t get tired. They get strong!”
"I quoted that back to her at least 5 times during the 5 days," said Snyder.
Noble, who had been dreading the trip, ended up leading the way most days. The children slept soundly at night, not even waking when a train went by on the nearby railroad track, said Shana.
Shana said doing the trail with her children brought a lot of pride to her and Steve. Each day they were impressed by their children's mental and physical stamina.
And doing the trip as a family unit, Shana hopes encourages other people to not be held back by limitations.
"We want to be able to inspire people to know anything is possible," she said.