If you’re an avid cyclist, runner or walker, you’ve likely crossed paths with Jonathan DeHart on the Circuit Trails. Jonathan started walking and running on the trails in 1987 when he moved to the Jenkintown area, and from 2006-2012 cycled about 19,000 miles to and from work every day – 6,000 miles on the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT). As one of many “frequent flyers” on the Circuit Trails, Jonathan’s experiences are nothing short of incredible and fascinating! Check out a few highlights below:
How many miles did you ride when you commuted on the Circuit and what trails did you take?
My family and I have felt amazingly blessed to have access to all the trails in the Delaware Valley, even right within the Philly urban area. However, we didn’t know of the concerted effort to interconnect them until recently.
Of my 40 mile daily commute from Glenside to the Philly Naval Shipyard, I did about 12 miles on the SRT and occasionally added Forbidden Drive. There’s a great tranquility to be enjoyed as one glides along the Schuylkill River in the early morning and at the end of a long work day!
Can you share your relationship to trails?
During my early years in this area, I was primarily running with my wife or alone. As God gave us each of our three children, we transitioned to pushing one or more in a single or double jogger. One by one they moved onto two wheeling and/or running.
From 1987-2006, I logged 32,000 miles of running while training on the Pennypack walking and bridle trails, Forbidden Drive, Horseshoe Trail and Tyler State Park. As a family, we've also hiked a lot of the off-road trails on either side of Forbidden Drive, Pennypack and the Appalachian Trail.
What’s your favorite trail?
Of those with which I’m familiar, the Perkiomen stands out. The mostly hard-packed dirt trail hugs the narrow Perkiomen Creek. It’s beautiful, peaceful and not heavily trafficked. As a family, we made most of our memories in Pennypack, Forbidden Drive and the Appalachian Trail.
We’re really looking forward to the Cresheim Valley and Tookany Creek trails being developed. We’ll be able to hop on the trails in less than a mile or so from our home in Glenside, PA. We can’t wait!
Can you share a few advantages of commuting on the Circuit?
Commuting by bike benefits one’s health and fitness. It also helps to clear one’s head and recharge. As humans we were designed to physically work hard and find time to unwind for R&R. We really need to be outside daily, moving and exerting ourselves! This is especially important for those of us with primarily desk jockey jobs. Biking does have its risks (I’ve had two serious commuting accidents), but those are greatly mitigated on the Circuit Trails.
How has the Circuit changed your lifestyle?
The trails in this region have had an enormous influence on our family. We have all grown to love the outdoors, make exercise routines and enjoy God’s creation! Personally, I have worked in air quality for more than 15 years. Engine exhaust pollutants have serious public health impacts, especially for children and the elderly. So the less time I’m driving, the less I am contributing to that significant problem. Biking also includes cost savings. Maintaining and fueling a bike costs much less than a car!
I’ve also become much more willing to be outside in less than optimal conditions. In the heat, runners, bikers and walkers generate their own AC! When it’s cold, they have heaters driven by those pumping arms and legs. Recently, our youngest left the house when it was in the low 20s to ride over to Kutztown and back. He let me tag along, and I did 60 of his 105 miles. Long winter rides are really not such a big deal, with a few additional clothing items.
Aside from riding on the Circuit, you have quite the long history of competitions. Can you share a little background?
Before I moved on to biking as my primary outdoor activity, I was an avid runner. I found my niche in ultramarathons. Ultrarunning does not require special physical attributes. Like life in general, it just calls for continuing to put one foot in front of the other. It develops grit – sticking to the task at hand!
I also discovered that as my body is kept busy with the simple activity of running, my mind is freed to focus. So I applied that focus to review and think about passages of the Bible that I had committed to memory. This helped me to stimulate productive thought, even during competition. A few of my competitive high points include the following:
-Finished third (7:37) on a continental coast-to-coast run in Panama! Yup, down there it’s only 50.5 miles, following the Trans-Isthmus Highway! This tropical rainforest race starts at 10 p.m. to temper the sweltering heat and humidity. I finished at sunrise, well ahead of a bevy of U.S. Special Forces young bucks.
-Finished second (19:30) in the Old Dominion 100 Mile, a footrace and horseback race. The second and third place horseback riders finished just a few minutes before me.
-Finished first (11:48), setting a course record, in the 70-mile Laurel Highlands Ohiopyle-to-Johnstown trail course. The course is arguably one of the toughest ultras with 10,300 ft elevation gain and loss.
As our family grew, I ratcheted back on the miles and started pushing the kids in joggers, doing more marathons and shorter runs (5Ks and 10Ks). Here’s one highlight competing with our kids:
-Finished 12th (3:12) in the Potter County God’s Country Marathon and qualifying for the Boston Marathon on that 1,100 ft elevation gain course.
For all the bike lovers out there, what model do you ride?
I’ve used a hybrid bike for all my commuting. My 2006 Marin Mill Valley is an 18-speed (Gossamer FSA chain rings and crank and Shimano Tiagra deraillers) with carbon fork and seatstay, 32 spoke alloy 700c wheels (Shimano Ultegra), and Continental Contact 700 (28 x 1 ¼ x 1 ¾) tires with fenders, a back rack and two panniers, Blackburn headlight on the end of my straight bar-fitted aerobars and wide Cateye blinking taillight. A bike like this is a great compromise between ruggedness and speed.
Keep an eye out for a guest blog post from the 19,000-mile man on tips for commuting!
Photo Credit: Jonathan DeHart
By Anya Saretzky, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
In the northeast part of the U.S., a bi-state project called the Circuit Trails is making waves in the walking and biking world. This network, when complete, will include 750 miles of trails in the Greater Philadelphia region covering nine counties in southeast Pennsylvania and South Jersey. Today, 300 miles are complete, with 50 currently in development and 400 yet to be built. Completion is slated for 2040. It’s an ambitious plan, no doubt, but it’s one that captures a vision the region has embraced and will see to completion.
Read more about the region's burgeoning network and the elements that make the Circuit Trails a strong and thriving project on the Rails-to-Trails blog: http://bit.ly/1P3kbcO
Photo courtesy: Mark Willard
Written By: Steve Taylor
Take a ride on The Circuit and you could end up exploring a new trail, crossing a bridge into another town and having a picnic along a river. Or you might end up at work. Fortunately, in the latter case, the trip has the potential to make your commute—and your workday—much better.
Caitlin Youngster commutes by bike from her home in Center City Philadelphia to the architecture firm where she works in Conshohocken. “My commute is just under 15 miles each way and almost all of it is on the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT). As someone who grew up in suburban Florida, it is incredible to me that I can work 15 miles away from where I live and I still don’t own a car.
“If the Schuylkill River Trail didn’t exist, I don’t think I would bike to work. Without the SRT, the ride would involve big hills, busy roads and a commute that would be much different from the serene and stress-free ride that I enjoy now.”
Howard Hess uses several Circuit trails to commute from his home to his workplace, Johnson Matthey in Audubon. “My current commute is 14 miles each way. I live about a quarter mile from the Perkiomen Trail. My route takes me on the Perkiomen, the SRT and the Audubon Loop, then through a housing development and a few back roads. Roughly 11 of those 14 miles are via Circuit trails.
“I really enjoy the way I come into work fully awake and exhilarated after my ride. I can spend the time I’m riding planning out my day, thinking about how I may approach some of the challenges in work.”
James Rebarchak also uses the Perkiomen Trail and the SRT on his commute to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s office in Norristown. Like Johnson Matthey, the DEP office supports bike commuting and participated in the National Bike Challenge this year. “This past bike season we had 19 employees who biked during the challenge. We logged 1062 days riding and 22,260.5 miles. We have a couple very dedicated riders who live along or near the SRT who try to commute as often as possible. One employee biked 152 out of 153 days during the 2015 Bike Challenge. An employee who lives in Reading would drive down to Lower Perkiomen Valley Park and then bike in from there.
“This past year our office received the League of American Bicyclists’ Silver designation as a Bike Friendly Business (BFB). We were excited about receiving this designation and are looking to grow the number of employees who will commute by bicycle. As part of the BFB program, we updated directions to our office to remind visitors that we are located along the SRT, and with advance notice we can arrange for secure bike parking for them.”
James takes advantage of his office’s location on the SRT for the commute home, and he also makes use of another Circuit trail. “I’ll extend the ride in Graterford when I take the Skippack Trail into Skippack before getting on the roads to Harleysville.”
Howard belives that, “commuting by bike is something that many people can do. It requires some planning, preparation and flexibility, but once you’ve got a system down, it is a very enjoyable way to commute. [At Johnson Matthey] we’ve got a few that have added it to their routine after talking through the idea with experienced riders.”
Like James, Caitlin also likes to vary or extend her route on the way home. “I think the best part of The Circuit is the way it connects places. Sometimes I will jump off the trail at Shawmont and cut over to Forbidden Drive, my favorite place in Philadelphia. I would often leave the trail at Green Lane in Manayunk and ride along the Cynwyd Heritage Trail. I’m incredibly excited about the opening of the Manayunk Bridge, which makes this portion of the ride infinitely better!”
Photo Credit: Photo 1 Caitlin Youngster; Photo 2 James Rebarchak; Photo 3 Caitlin Youngster; Photo 4 James Rebarchak
While leaf weary Vermonters wait for Killington to start up their loud and icy snow guns, peak foliage has come to the trails of the Circuit. This year it appears that the peak is perfectly aligned with Indian Summerso now is the time to get on the path and enjoy a windshield free view of the Autumn color.