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Spinning Pedals, Burning Rubber

This story was published June 22, 2005, during an internship at Richmond.com.

What would you do if you had 100 days off? 100 days away from your job, your family, your pets, even your houseplants. Faith and Peter Vicinanza , a couple from Newtown, Connecticut, decided to use the time to take a 2,600 mile bike trip from Key West to Canada. That puts my plans of eating junk food and watching reality shows to shame.

Last weekend they stopped in Richmond and celebrated their progress past the half-way mark with an interview with Richmond.com. Here’s the skinny on these two trekkers.

After taking some hard hits, 51-year old Faith and 65-year old Peter found themselves in the midst of “something like a midlife crisis.” According to Faith, “It was a difficult time. We’re not 90, you know? We still have a long way to go before we’re through, and it was tough to be in a position where we weren’t looking forward to our own futures.”

It was Faith’s idea to take a summer trip. Originally, the plan was to hike the Appalachian Trail , which both Faith and Peter have traversed before. But after a few weeks of contemplating the hot and humid camp lifestyle, Faith decided the plan needed some tweaking. “We needed something to kick us into gear,” said Peter. They wanted a challenge that was a little more, well, challenging.

Frequently likened to the Appalachian Trail, the East Coast Greenway was the couple’s chosen adventure. When it launched 14 years ago, the Greenway was envisioned as an urban alternative to the Trail. It was to be the nation’s first long-distance, city-to-city transportation corridor for cyclists, hikers, skaters and any non-motorized traffic. Today, more than 20% of the Greenway is open to the public, including routes that use waterfront esplanades, park paths, canals and even abandoned railroads. Faith and Peter have enjoyed the cleaner, safer, friendlier rides on the Greenway. “We were environmentally conscious going into the trip, but since we’ve been on the road and seen all the litter and traffic and big cars, we’ve really realized the importance of the Greenway,” said Faith. Humbly, Peter added, “It’s nice to be on a bike trail instead of the side of a highway.”

The Greenway winds through Virginia on already-existing trails like the Mount Vernon Trail , which follows the Potomac River and the George Washington Parkway. In Richmond, the Greenway splits, and travelers can take the Historic Coastal Route to Jamestown and Williamsburg or the spine route, which goes straight to North Carolina’s Piedmont region via the Tobacco Heritage Trail . Part of the charm of the East Coast Greenway is that all of the segments of the trail are locally owned and maintained, which lends a small-time feel to a large-scale project.

Faith feels the same way about their trip. “It’s amazing to me that we’ve gone this far, really. Not because I didn’t think we could, but because it doesn’t feel like we’ve been biking across the U.S.! People stop and chat with us on the trails and because we’ve stayed in several B&Bs, it feels like we’re moving through a small city, instead of an enormous country.”

Faith and Peter began their journey on April 29. They started in Key West, Fla. and plan to finish in New Brunswick, Canada. “The Greenway only extends to Maine,” explained Peter, “But we thought ‘Key West to Canada’ sounded better than ‘Key West to Maine.'”

They nicknamed the trip “Utter Folly.” Faith said, “It wasn’t about being fatalistic, it was about finding a catchy name that people could remember.” Aside from being memorable, the name does strike a chord. Before they decided to take the trip, neither Faith nor Peter was getting daily exercise. Neither of them had serious road experience with bikes and neither had any clue what to expect. Now, they average between 30 and 40 miles a day and ride about 12 miles per hour. “Our miles per hour fluctuate a lot. You can get going more than 20 miles an hour going downhill, but going uphill you can go as slow as four,” Faith said.

Perhaps some of the slow going is not due to inexperience, but to baggage. Since they set off, Faith and Peter have mailed five packages home. The latest one included six pounds of paper – manuscripts that Faith, a poet and owner of a publishing company, had taken along to read in her spare time. “After that one left, suddenly, riding got a lot easier,” Faith laughed.

Even though they have “unplugged” themselves from their regular lives, they are not disconnected. In fact, these two have so many electronic devices on their bikes, it’s a wonder they don’t attract the attention of every compass, magnet and satellite in the area.

Faith and Peter travel with an IBM Thinkpad that they use to update their website with daily journal entries and pictures. They have a digital camera, two cell phones, an mp3 player, a Turbo Pro computer on the bike, and a GPS digital tracking system, not to mention many of the bikes’ standard electronic accoutrements, like speedometers and odometers. Wonder What’s Next These two techies have seen a lot of interesting stuff on their ride across the country. The scenery is new and different and so are the people, but the biggest change has come in themselves. Peter, a diabetic, has seen an almost 2/3 reduction of his glucose levels. While neither rider sports the buffest body on the beach, both have toned shoulders, shapely arms and legs that can bike more than 50 miles a day. “The trip has been great because it’s taken the focus off of our normal life. We’re doing something extraordinary and we’re doing it together. I don’t know if we’ll ever go back to the way we were before,” said Faith.

To see pictures of Faith and Peter’s journey and read a daily blog, visit www.utterfolly.com

To learn more about the East Coast Greenway or make a donation, visit www.greenway.org

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