Biking For Charity

By Larry Squires

Beginning on May 20th, 2011, my good friend, Paul Lockard, and I, both members of Allegheny County, Ancient Order of the Hibernians, Div. 17 in Monroeville, PA, embarked upon a great 10 day adventure beginning with a short bicycle ride of ten miles to the Megabus stop in downtown Pittsburgh.  Just before the 11:00 p.m. departure, we met another brother from Division 17, Bill O’Neill, as well as LAOH State President, Colleen Bower, and past President, Sarah Mains, for an eight hour bus trip to New York City.  For the record, the Megabus staff in Pittsburgh was very accommodating with respect to loading our bicycles into the bus’s cargo bay.  Take note that this isn’t always the case.

On Saturday morning, we left the bus and made way to the AOH 175th Anniversary Mass at the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in the heart of New York City, situated between Mulberry and Mott Streets at the intersection of Prince Street.  The Mass began at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning May, 21st, and was incredibly beautiful with Hibernians from across the United States in attendance, with heavenly music ministry provided by the New York State Hibernian Festival Singers.  A stirring homily was delivered by co-celebrant, our National AOH Chaplain, Fr. Thomas O’Donnell.  After Mass, we were treated to a fabulous reception in the Basilica’s beautiful enclosed courtyard, complete with food, refreshments, a live band, and vendor kiosks offering beautiful memorabilia of the event.

On Saturday evening, Paul and I, along with Pennsylvania State AOH President, Denny Donnelly, took the subway to St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 5th Avenue and 51st Street.  We toured this magnificent church for ninety minutes and barely scratched the surface of this magnificent church structure.

On Sunday morning, Fr. O’Donnell celebrated Mass at our hotel, for a small group of Hibernians with early travel plans.  While the remaining Hibernians traveled to ground zero for a Mass commemorating the Great Hunger, Paul and I got on our bicycles and made way for Pier 11, at the foot of Wall Street on the East River.  There we boarded the Seastreak Ferry to Atlantic Highlands, NJ, where we began our three day shoreline ride to Ocean City, MD.  Sunday’s weather was a little chilly, being dark overcast, fifty-seven degrees and drizzly in a few spots, along with a strong headwind from the South that made pedaling a little difficult, but not enough to keep us from our sixty-nine mile destination of Manahawkin, NJ.  However, after leaving the shoreline at Toms River, NJ, we were traveling New Jersey Route 9, a marked bicycle route, but were unaware that Route 9 ran along the same bridge as the Garden State parkway, as it actually crossed Toms River.

Consequently, we found ourselves merging into the right lane of the New Jersey Garden State Parkway, with absolutely no shoulder to ride, as it had obviously been sacrificed for the third lane.  For two miles, Paul and I pedaled as fast as we could, hoping the next exit was near, before we were discovered by the New Jersey State Police, or succumbed to an encounter with traffic whizzing by, which was only inches away from our left side.  Thanks to our veteran riding skills, but mostly the prayers of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, who were praying for us, we safely made it across the bridge and back onto the safety of the Route 9 bicycle route into Manahawkin, NJ.  Paul and I were also impressed with the courteous fashion the New Jersey drivers handled the situation.  At one point, a driver in a white Subaru actually blocked the exit ramp for us, so we could safely exit the interstate.  Combined with the nine miles from Friday, and a few on Saturday, we recorded a total of 81.64 miles at our terminus in Manahawkin on Sunday night, just before 8:00 p.m.

On Monday, we decided to re-check Route 9 to Atlantic City, NJ, and did indeed find another segment shared with the Garden State Parkway and decided to exercise the option of taking a New Jersey Transit bus from Manahawkin to Atlantic City.  The $6.00 bus trip cut about 30 miles out of the ride; however, we would have been riding through harsh thunderstorms, and the next bridge we were avoiding turned out to be under construction, with only one narrow lane in each direction, sandwiched between New Jersey barriers, making it virtually impossible, as well as illegal, to travel by bicycle.  For the record, the New Jersey Transit buses are very bicycle friendly, with many being fitted with bike racks on the front bumper, and plenty of cargo bay if not.  Once underway by bicycle in Atlantic City, we had a beautiful change in weather, as the skies cleared and temperatures made it to the low eighties.  At our terminus on Monday, the Aloha Motel in North Wildwood, NJ, we recorded 38.34 miles, at about 7:00 p.m.  We then took in some legendary hospitality at the Angelsea Tavern, Flip Flopz, and Westy’s Irish Pub.

Tuesday morning, we saddled up and took off for the Cape May Lewes Delaware Ferry and loaded our bikes into the vehicle bay, before embarking on the ninety minute trip across the Delaware Bay.  With sunny skies and temperatures in the low nineties in Lewes, Delaware, this was really starting to feel like a vacation.  As we arrived in Ocean City, MD, around 7:00 p.m., we recorded 45.35 miles.

We took Wednesday off, as a buffer day, just in case we needed to shuffle our schedule, due to inclement weather, or other unforeseen circumstances.  However, we were right on schedule, so we just enjoyed a day off at the beach.

Seaford, Delaware was the terminus for Thursday’s ride inland, as we began our three day ride to Washington, DC.  This was a relatively uneventful ride, but we were treated to beautiful landscapes, as we rode through the Delmarva Peninsula’s farm country.  At the end of the day, we recorded 43.60 miles, at about 3:00 p.m..

Friday morning, we rode 50.63 miles to Kent Narrows, MD, which is just on the East end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  Kent Narrows is a favorite spot for boaters and fishermen and boasts several great waterside pubs and restaurants offering fresh caught seafood.

We began Saturday morning with a call to Kent Narrows Taxi Company, as bicycles are not permitted on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  The driver, an avid Raven’s fan, was very informative and transported many cyclists across the bridge, and after chiding us for being Steeler’s fans, he dropped us right on the marked bicycle route that goes to Annapolis, MD and on to Washington, DC.  Before parting ways, we rhetorically asked the driver how many Super Bowls the Ravens had won, and he drove away grumbling something under his breath.  With respect to bicycle riding, this was easily the most scenic and challenging part of the trip.  However, even with 30+ pounds of cargo, we easily navigated the rolling hills of the Eastern Maryland countryside for the brief 37.46 miles, before connecting with the DC Metro in New Carrolton, MD.  As it turned out, the DC Metro was out of service for track maintenance, one stop past New Carrolton, so we were transferred to a bike rack equipped DC Metro shuttle bus that took us within blocks of the U.S. Capital Building, which was very close to our hotel.  As we checked into the hotel, around 3:30 p.m., we drew a few double takes, as the Washington Court Hotel clientele were obviously not used to guests checking in with their bikes.  As always, the hospitality and food at Dubliners, conveniently around the corner, was excellent on Saturday night.

On Sunday, we took the DC Metro to Catholic University of America, for 9:00 a.m. Mass at the Nation Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, before returning to the Washington Court Hotel and checking out.  Upon checkout, we rode our bikes to the nearby pickup spot for Megabus, as it had been relocated, since our last Megabus trip to DC in December, when we spent the weekend before Christmas touring DC with our wives.  Having almost three hours to kill, before departure time, we decided to ride back to the mall in DC and see what was going on.  As we arrived at Constitution Avenue and Fourth Street, we were stopped by a police blockade, as the “Thunder in DC” motorcycle ride had just gotten underway at 12:00 Noon.  We soon found out that there were about 250,000 motorcycle riding participants who would circle the Mall until 4:00 p.m. raising awareness for POW’s, mainly from the Vietnam War.  After watching the spectacle till about 1:30 p.m., we made our way back to the Megabus stop, to get a place in line.  This is where we found out not all Megabus staff are the same.  The supervisor came over and snapped off Megabus regulations prohibiting bicycles on Megabus, unless disassembled and packaged for shipping.  We asked if he had packing materials, and replied no.  So we related our positive experience in Pittsburgh, and that we were raising money for the Veterans Wheelchair Games and the Sisters of Charity, and he started rubbing his chin.  Here’s where all your prayers come in.  After a brief reconsideration, he said ok, and told us we could have the whole center cargo bay for our bikes, and we didn’t even have to remove the wheels.  So once on our way back to Pittsburgh, we made arrangements with my wife Kathy to pick us up in downtown Pittsburgh, so that we could save time to prepare for work on Monday.

Paul and I thank you for your prayers and support, and especially for your very generous donations to the VA Wheelchair Games and the retired Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.  May God richly bless you and your families.