The best adventures are the unexpected ones


I’ve noticed in my family’s past that certain events have a way of turning into folklore, evolving with each retelling into Category 5 storm status. Pictures are just surface level; the exaggerated truth must but told from multiple viewpoints to bring the event to a catastrophe level. 

A few years ago, my husband and his former college roommate hatched a plan that involved a multi-day bicycling trip. They had their eyes set on a portion of the Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile bike path that snakes its way from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Cumberland, Maryland. The GAP joins up with the C&O Canal Towpath to make travel possible to Washington, D.C. 

There was a small hiccup to this plan that drew me into the equation. They wanted it to be a family trip. They painted a picturesque scene of parents and children happily pedaling by rivers and viewing breathtaking vistas. We would pedal by day and sleep in Adirondack shelters at night. Our gear could be carried in saddle bags and pull-behind carts. 

Not so fast

If our marriage was a novel, my character flaw would be jumping into outlandish plans. How many miles a day? What would we eat? All the details we tried to address over the next few months leading up to the grand adventure. What we didn’t anticipate was extreme heat. 

The forecast for the week of our trip was calling for humidity and temps in the upper 90s. We decided the trip was still possible if the dads would move our vehicles along with us from point to point in case we needed transportation other than our bikes. 

The two dads began a dance of driving ahead with their bikes on bike racks, and then cycling back with much bravado to meet the moms and all the kids. They doubled our mileage but seemed to enjoy the challenge and bragging rights. 

We started in Pittsburgh intending to reach Ohiopyle. On the first day, they dropped us off at Point State Park in Pittsburgh and then drove ahead to where we would spend the night. 

The first problem we encountered was following the twists and turns of the GAP within the city. It follows the Three Rivers Heritage Trail along the Monongahela River. I had dreaded the beginning where it would be the other mom and me alone with seven kids in Point State Park. 

In hindsight, it was a blast enjoying the bike trails and scenery around the fountain. Our mistake was deciding to start on the trail and attempting to meet the dads at a midway point. It turns out that while the dads were at street level, we were at river level with the kids. 

During the wait, the kids took in a unique art display. I insisted to the younger kids that the graffiti was showing rocket ships and snakes. I tried to distract them with wildlife on the river, but the red-faced older kids laughed until their sides hurt. 

Once we figured out the layers of the city and met down along the river, we knew we were headed in the right direction. 

After a long day of pedaling, we slowed to a stop in front of an old cemetery. We arrived later than we anticipated, due to our slow start in the city. The moon cast an eerie glow on the white headstones. We soon realized the plan was to sleep in Adirondack shelters behind the cemetery. 

Anxiety settled on some of the kids as the adults set to work to make dinner. I thought their anxiety was due to the proximity of the cemetery, but I discovered it was mostly caused by the bathroom facilities being a port-a-potty. The kids were also squeamish that their dinner was made by pouring boiling water into a bag to make sludge. The pattern would repeat itself as we continued on the trip. Extreme exhaustion followed by an odd surprise. 

Change in plans

By the end of the trip, we switched from sleeping at free Adirondack shelters on the trail to campgrounds with swimming pools. We skipped riding the last section and drove to Ohiopyle. The kids loved riding their bikes over the river on the high bridge and seeing Cucumber Falls, a 30-foot waterfall in Ohiopyle State Park. 

Their top pick of the park was the natural waterslides found along Meadow Run near its confluence with the Youghiogheny River. The eroding waters of Meadow Run cut a narrow channel in the rock, smoothing it out over time to create a zigzagging waterslide. 

In the summers that followed this epic bike trip, the parents would remember the adventure and cringe. Surprisingly, the kids that screeched about sleeping behind a cemetery and riding bikes for endless hours, asked repeatedly to do the trip again. 

I am confident that someday we will re-enact the legendary bike ride, but it hasn’t happened yet. Some of the rough edges need to be smoothed out by nostalgia. Instead, we are satisfied with a few trips into the city for shorter rides around town.


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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at



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