Sunny days, contest lure bicyclists to Alleghenies

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ALTOONA, Pa. -- Seems you cant drive anywhere these days without dodging bicyclists.

Last weekend, police stopped my car on New Jerseys Route 181, not exactly a rural byway, to let marathon riders pass. Now, my 55-year-old neighbor has declared himself in training for a bike race up New Yorks Hunter Mountain.

Whats going on here? A U.S. Department of Transportation survey shows that fewer than 30% of the driving-age public rode a bike even once in 2002.

One East Coast cycling outfitter said there is pent-up demand after last years rain. We didnt have a dry weekend [last year] until July, said Murray Schrotenboer, owner of Grouseland Tours of Clearville, Pa.

Janet Jones, formerly a 20-year travel agent with Pittsburgh International Travel and now owner of Country Pedalers in Somerset, Pa., said the price of gasoline has something to do with it. She has seen a surge in reservations this year.

Her business, like Schrotenboers, is within a tank of gas of Pittsburgh, Washington and Baltimore.

On the Web, cycling sites abound. A Google search turned up 1.97 million sites. Of those, theres one that offers a true incentive to get your triple-butted aluminum frame in shape.

Cycle the Southern Alleghenies (CSA) is running a contest through Nov. 30 in which three riders with the most accumulated miles are eligible to win one of more than $5,000 in prizes.

Log Your Miles is open to all who ride CSAs on- and off-road, self-guided routes or some of the guided tours offered by Country Pedalers and Grouseland Tours.

Bicyclists can opt for relatively flat terrain with modest hills or more challenging rides, on road or off road, in Pennsylvania.CSAs more than 20 on-road routes are rated moderate to challenging, and its 25 off-road trails are labeled beginner to advanced. The routes can be ridden in a day or can be combined for a multiday vacation.

Cyclists can register on the Web site and log their miles there, as well. This is not exactly an honor system: To be credited for mileage, participants have to answer a secret question, hidden along the route, that pertains to something on the tour.

CSA evens the playing field for cyclists on challenging routes by offering the full mileage of the route to anyone who answers the secret question, according to Doris Mitchell, travel development program manager for the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission. (Mitchells the one who writes the questions, and, no, she didnt give me any hints.) See the "Perfect Itinerary" box below for an example of an itinerary for cycling clients designed by Mitchell.

First prize in the contest is a $2,500 Cannondale bicycle; second prize is a $1,500 houseboat vacation on Raystown Lake in Entriken, Pa.; and third prize is a $1,000 gift certificate for a selection of vacation packages in the southern Alleghenies.

Agents who want to book commissionable prepackaged or customized guided tours can contact Country Pedalers or Grouseland Tours. The outfits are in different counties and offer different itineraries.

Country Pedalers all-inclusive weekend cycling tours explore the counties of Somerset, Blair, Cambria and Bedford.

The Somerset-to-Bedford tour, which operates into mid-September, begins on a Friday night with a stay at the Country Pedalers-owned Glades Pike Inn.

Half-mile hills and half-mile dips, which are like a roller coaster ride, Jones said, make up a Saturday trip to Bedford.

Once in Bedford, riders check in at the Covered Bridge Bed and Breakfast, then relax at the beach at Shawnee State Park. Sundays ride is on flat terrain and visits nine covered bridges.

The tour includes breakfast and a picnic lunch on Saturdays and Sundays, a Friday-night dinner at the Oakhurst Tea Room in Somerset and Saturday dinner at the Jean-Bonnet Tavern in Bedford.

The package is $299 per person. For groups, the 16th person is free. Commission is 10%. Bikes can be rented for $45 for the weekend, but guests are encouraged to bring their own. Call Country Pedalers at (800) 762-5942 or visit www.countrypedalers.com.

Grouseland Tours has all-inclusive, three-day tours that take riders through Bedford and Fulton counties.

The Covered Bridges Ride visits five bridges that have been in use since frontier days. The itinerary includes 17 miles of flat riding, two breakfasts, two picnic lunches, two dinners, an overnight at a bed-and-breakfast and a cabin stay.

There also is kayaking on a mountaintop lake or a visit to Old Bedford Village. Star-gazing by telescope and a talk on owls (Grouseland has its own live owl) are unique features.

Attractions include a 15-mile ride along an abandoned turnpike, which takes cyclists through two dark tunnels illuminated only by bike lights. Riders also can experience Gravity Hill, where cars appear to roll uphill and water appears to flow the wrong way. The package costs $300 per person, commissionable at 10%.

Grouseland sells and rents Cannondale bikes, tandems and kid carriers. Tour participants get a 50% discount on rentals. Call Grouseland Tours at (814) 784-5000 or visit www.grouseland.com.

To contact Destinations Editor Margaret Myre, send e-mail to [email protected].

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