Trail Moments | Biking Through Triumphs and Troubles
This article is part of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Trail Moments initiative—to elevate new and tried-and-true trail voices around the country, and how trails impact the lives of Americans. Learn more at trailmoments.org and #TrailMoments on social media. Share your story, or view a collection of trail moments stories.
Biking 5,000 miles in a year would be an impressive feat for anyone. For longtime partners Joe Rebar and Carol Walter—77 and 65, respectively—that’s their goal every six months of the riding season.
“We usually start around April 15th, weather permitting, and we bike up until the first snowfall in October,” explained Joe. “And we’ll bike every day, if we can—about 50–60 miles a day.”
Although they came from central Pennsylvania towns only about 30 miles apart (Shamokin and Middleburg), it took meeting on an African safari organized by a local group for their relationship to kindle. After the trip, they began sharing their favorite outdoor pursuits—hiking for him and biking for her—with each other. And twenty years later, they’re still at it—racking up 6,324 miles on their bikes last year, and leading small-group hiking treks with friends on nearby trails.
“I was biking on my own most of the time until I met Joe,” said Carol, who became a hardcore road biker in her mid-30s. “And then we went up to the rail-trail together and he had just an old Sears and Roebuck bike and I had a Giant bike at the time. While we were biking, I said, ‘Do you want to try my bike?’ So he tried mine and, the next day, he went to the bike shop and bought a new bike!”
“I only go on rail-trails now. They make me feel safer because I don’t have to be watching for cars and traffic."
Today, their go-to biking destinations are the Pine Creek Rail Trail, a scenic 62-mile route winding through what’s known as the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania” in the north-central region of the state, and the D&L Trail running through Lehigh Gorge State Park, which they pick up from the charming town of Jim Thorpe.
Related: Trail of the Month: Pennsylvania’s Pine Creek Rail Trail (Sept. 2016)
Related: Trail of the Month: Pennsylvania’s D&L Trail (Jan. 2018)
“We see a lot of eagles, deer and other wildlife on the rail-trail—every now and then, a bear will even cross the trail,” enthused Carol. “We see rattlesnakes laying on the trail, and turtles digging and laying eggs.”
After a serious biking accident in 2004, biking was something that Carol had to ease back into. At the end of a 100-mile road ride, she had passed out from heat exhaustion and crashed, breaking her neck, suffering brain damage and left with lasting peripheral vision loss to her left eye.
Unfortunately, she was in another accident in 2019, along a two-lane country road. As Joe explained, “Carol was ahead of me on the road and I was a couple hundred yards behind her. This pickup truck went around me, and I see him coming up on her and I’m watching him and thinking, ‘Are you going to slow down? Are you going to get over?’ And he got over, but he was towing a little trailer that had wheels that stuck out a few inches and he hit her with the trailer. She went flying up in the air and I thought she was dead. She had to be ambulanced to the hospital and had a broken collar bone.”
“I only go on rail-trails now,” Carol said. “They make me feel safer because I don’t have to be watching for cars and traffic. And I can’t go very fast—I have to go slow so that I can see.”
For Joe, trails have also been a lifeline. He beat back a deadly cancer—walking every day through his treatment, which he credits to helping with his recovery and bouncing back from hospice care.
In addition to good health, Carol notes that the trail brings the couple good comradery, too. “We have a lot of friends that we’ve keep in contact with over the years that we met biking on the rail-trail.” She even keeps dog biscuits in her pocket to share with any pets she meets along the way.
Added Joe, “When we get on the rail-trail, that’s our social life!”
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