Reposted from Chicago Tribune, June 7, 2022
Five days, 450 miles, on bicycles, from Alliance, Ohio, to Washington, D.C.
“No politics for a week was nice,” Robert Ordway said after completing the multi-state odyssey.
This is quite a confession for Ordway, a 37-year-old Northwest Indiana native who works as a policy advisor for U.S. Sen. Mike Braun (R-Indiana) in Washington, D.C.
“It was the best part,” said Ordway, who normally peddles politics without breaking a sweat.
He made the daring bike trek with three friends, Ben Hobbs, Andrew Cooper, and Brady Howell, who designed a 100-mile custom route from Alliance to Pittsburgh, through the Appalachia region. Ordway described that first-day stretch as “brutal.” From there, they took the Great Allegheny Passage to Cumberland, Maryland, where they jumped onto the C&O Canal Towpath all the way to D.C.
Why? Because they could.
“We didn’t train at all for this,” Ordway said. “However, my quads were sore for seven days straight after the fact.”
The four men documented their trek with hundreds of remarkable photos and videos, illustrating their determination, stamina, and adventurous spirit. They pedaled through water, over hills, around national landmarks, and into the lives of everyday Americans who reminded them that, despite our political differences, we are united states of
“We talked to locals and got a real good sense for other parts of the country,” Ordway told me.
He moved to D.C. five years ago to continue his sprawling political ambitions after growing up in an 864-square-foot house in Lake Station, raised in a conservative Democrat, union-supporting, working-class family.
“While I didn’t have much growing up, my parents instilled the values — hard work, discipline and patience — that are needed to reach the American dream,” the River Forest High School graduate told me 10 years ago for a column regarding the Republican National Convention.
Because he now works for a Republican lawmaker from Indiana, Ordway is still legally a Valparaiso resident though he lives in the Navy Yard neighborhood of Washington D.C.
He credits the pandemic for the rediscovery of his passion for cycling.
“When COVID popped, I used my stimulus check to buy my first $1,000 bike. The rest is history,” Ordway said.
His cycling history isn’t so simple, or painless.
Like many kids in the 1990s, Ordway was a BMXer who pretty much lived on his bicycles. They were part of his identity. And then, at 16, he got his driver’s license, followed by his first girlfriend. His forgotten bike started dating cobwebs.
After relocating to D.C. in 2017, Ordway sold his car and began bicycling again in the bike-friendly public areas of our nation’s capital. Unfortunately he was in two bike accidents, ending up in his first stitches and traumatic brain injuries.
It didn’t deter him.
Last fall, Ordway finished the Seagull Century 100-mile race in Maryland. Since then, he began thinking about a bike-packing trip, prompted by memories of camping with his late father, who died when Ordway was a teenager.
After their recent 450-mile bike-packing trip, Ordway and his friends are submitting their unique route to
Bikepacking.com, a popular website warehouse for enthusiasts.
“It’s about venturing further into places less traveled, both near and far, via singletrack trails, gravel, and forgotten dirt roads, carrying the essential gear, and not much more,” the website states. “Simply put, bikepacking is the synthesis of all-terrain cycling and self-supported backpacking. It evokes the freedom of multi-day backcountry hiking and travel off the beaten path, but with the range and thrill of riding a nimble bicycle.”
Ordway’s bike-packing journey also included the consumption of four pounds of gummy bears, which aren’t noted on that website.
“Since the heart rate is elevated for extended periods of time, simple sugars like gummy bears are key to keep moving,” he explained.
“The key takeaway is that cycling is very different than running, and one does not need to be in great shape to go long distances due to the mechanical advantage of being able to change gears,” he added.
He and his biking buds changed a lot of gears on their trek, mostly along dirt, gravel, fields, and wooded mountains, without many paved roads to make it easier.
“The Pittsburgh GAP to D.C. is a common easy-to-ride route, but a friend wanted bragging rights to say he rode to D.C. from his home, so we started another 100 miles out from his Ohio farm,” Ordway said, noting they camped outdoors and stayed in hotels.
For anyone who’s interested in making a similar multi-state cycling trip, the four men suggest first designing a planned route, including where to stay, when to eat, and what to do if things go sideways.
Judging by the hundreds of photos they shared with me, they seemed to bike sideways at times to get through tunnels, creeks, and floods. (View more photos on my Facebook page.)
I asked Ordway if he plans on ever returning to Northwest Indiana.
“I will move home when I can bike it,” he replied.