BURGETTSTOWN - The Boy Scouts from Troop 1396 in Bavington didn't have to struggle to write the "what I did this summer" essay when school resumed this fall.
After bicycling 350 miles from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., and camping along the way, they had plenty to write about.
Ten Scouts and six leaders from the troop left Pittsburgh's Point State Park on a Saturday morning in July on their bicycles. Six days of riding later, they pulled into "Milepost 0" of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal - the southern terminus of the trail - in the shadow of Washington's Kennedy Center.
BIKE?RIDE?PARTICIPANTS — Scouts and leaders from Troop 1396 at Great Falls, Md., are pictured on the last day of their 350-mile bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., via the Great Allegheny Passage and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath. Those taking the trip included, front, from left, Seth McElhaney, William Cherenko, Nathan Sepesy, Brandon French, James Jones, Austin Macek and Brandon Williams: and back, David Sepesy, Chris Kramer, Tim Seech, Luke Smith, Jim Stetar, Colin Sabatasse, Jake Rozmus and Kyle Crowley. Timmy Seech also participated.
"As would be our luck, it turned out to be the hottest week of the year," said Scoutmaster Chris Kramer. "We had all trained pretty hard for the trip, and, luckily, that training paid off."
Kramer said the heat made a difficult ride even more challenging, but that's the kind of thing Scouting is all about.
"The motto is 'Be Prepared' and we were," he said. "This will likely be the most physically and mentally challenging thing most of us have ever done and having that extra thing to overcome only makes the finish that more satisfying."
The local Scouts were joined by a troop from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, whose members included former Burgettstown resident Nick Noble, who made the same trip with Troop 1396 when he first joined Boy Scouts in 2007. He brought along boys and leaders from his new troop, bringing the total to 38 riders and support crew participating.
"The Reynoldsburg troop is very well-equipped and they supplied their equipment and used our itinerary," Kramer said. "It was great seeing the boys mix together in the spirit of Scouting and take great pride in accomplishing this thing together."
Senior Patrol Leader Jake Rozmus called it "the trip of a lifetime," even after returning from a trip to Europe less than a week before leaving on the bike trip. He led his troop that included patrol leaders Timmy Seech, Luke Smith and Brandon Williams and Scouts William Cherenko, Seth McElhaney, Austin Macek, Nathan Sepesy, James Jones and Brandon French. Leaders in the saddle were David Sepesy, Tim Seech, Colin Sabatasse, Jim Stetar, Chris Kramer and Kyle Crowley. Kramer, Stetar and Sabatasse were making their second ride from Pittsburgh to D.C. with the troop.
Along the way, the Scouts were supplied by a support team of Vince Sabatasse and Randy Paulin, who met the bikers periodically with hydration, snacks and lunch.
At the end of each day, the boys would ride into camp where an advance team had the equipment truck parked and usually had dinner started. The boys would set up their tents, finish cooking dinner, wash the dishes, take showers and then take it easy until bedtime - which usually wasn't very far off. In the morning it was get up, grab a light breakfast, pack the gear into the truck and get back on the trail - usually before 8 a.m.
"This is the most incredible team effort you'll ever see from a group of young men," said Kramer. "The adults do a lot of planning and logistics, getting things where they need to be, but it's the boys and the patrol methods of Scouting that really make it work.
"Working together, problem solving, just coming to a consensus on how you're going to complete a task are just a few of the things these boys learn that will serve them for the rest of their lives," he said.
The trip was not without mishaps - flat tires, wrecks, equipment failures, even an emergency room visit after a tree failed to get out of the way of one Scout. But in the end, everyone made it home in one piece.
"It's all part of the adventure and the learning," Kramer said. "It's not a video game where you can hit 'reset' and start over. It's all very real. You can plan these things all you want but sometimes you have to make it up as things change."
At the conclusion of the trip, the Scouts took a tour of Washington, D.C., including a private guided tour of the Capital where they received congressional proclamations from 18th District U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy noting their accomplishment.
Troop 1396 is already planning next summer's adventures. They meet at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays at the grange hall in Bavington, and new Scouts are welcome.