By David Lindeman
For the Troy Daily News
TROY — With a couple weeks off from work, Jordan Hart was considering a road trip or maybe just taking things easy for a while.
Instead, he ended up following the footsteps of Harriet Tubman and riding his bicycle more than 2,000 miles along the route of the Underground Railroad.
Hart, 29, a resident of Troy and employee of the Five Rivers Metro Parks in Dayton, made the 2,007-mile trip from Owen Sound, Ontario, to Mobile, Ala., in one month. It was a trip that was a long time coming and also a spur-of-the moment decision.
“Way back in fifth grade, you’re always supposed to make goals, and my goal was to ride across the country,” Hart said. “Then earlier this summer they were half-joking at work about wanting to have someone give a talk in February, and so they said, ‘Jordan will ride his bike across the country.’ Then October rolled around and they said, ‘Are you going to do it or not?’ So about a week and a half later I said, ‘Sure I’ll do it,’ and I left that Monday.”
The bicycle route is designed to follow the Underground Railroad taken by slaves to escape from the South in the years prior to the Civil War with stops in specific historic sites. Since he was starting out in October and the weather was turning cold, Hart made the trip in reverse, from Canada to Alabama.
The historic route was put together by the Adventure Cycling Association, a group that has mapped thousands of miles of bicycle trips in North America. The Underground Railroad route has special significance for this area. Ohio was a major part of the railroad and the bicycle route includes stops in Xenia, Springboro and Wilberforce.
It was an eye-opening experience for the Troy cyclist.
“Before this, I knew people had traveled on the Underground Railroad but I really didn’t know anything about it,” Hart said. “I found out they really did follow the rivers north. It could take them a full year to travel to freedom. They’d get to Ohio in the winter, cross the Ohio River in the winter because it’s frozen over, then keep traveling north all the way to Canada.”
One especially interesting part of the trip was a visit to a special place in Canada.
“I was in a church in Canada where Harriet Tubman lived for eight years,” Hart said. “I also saw the Rankin House down in Ripley, Ohio, and other different places along the way.”
As interesting as the history was, it was the challenge of the trip that really attracted Hart. He is no stranger to long bicycle trips: last summer, he and two friends took an 870-mile ride down the Pacific Coast. But this trip was solo and Hart carried everything he needed on his bicycle.
“I took about 40 pounds of equipment,” he said. “Tent, sleeping bag, clothes, rain gear, small stove and food.”
It took him 29 days of riding to complete the trip. Like any great adventure, there were circumstances that sometimes were less than ideal.
“Actually, Ohio was one of the worst parts because I had a lot of wind and rain,” Hart said. “And there were a lot of dogs in Kentucky and Mississippi. All you can do is stand up and go and try to outrun them. Luckily, I never met any of them when I was going up a hill.”
There also was the problem of shorter days this time of year – and campgrounds that were listed as open but had already closed for the year.
“I got to one campground after dark, couldn’t find it, didn’t really know where I was going, so I kept riding in the dark for another 20 miles until I found a town and a place to sleep for the night,” Hart said.
Then there is the psychological aspect of getting up in the morning and facing a ride of up to 100 miles that day. The hardest part?
“When it’s really raining and you’re ready to be finished but you have to keep going,” Hart said.
But the problems were few compared with the accomplishment of the trip and the people he met along the way.
One such person was a Canadian who owned a vineyard and picked Hart up on a rainy day. At first, he was going to let Hart stay in his barn. After talking a while, Hart got an upgrade to the basement. When the man’s wife came home, she insisted Hart eat supper with them and then set up a spare bedroom for him. He was almost a part of the family by the time he hit the road again the next morning.
Some people near the end of his trip were stunned by his journey.
“They were amazed I started three weeks ago in Canada and I was already in Alabama,” Hart said.
You would think that after a 2,000-mile bicycle trip, it would be time to rest. Not for Jordan Hart.
A couple of friends from work drove to Alabama to pick him up and they immediately went on a three-day backpacking trip in the Sipsey Wilderness in Alabama. Then it was back to work as soon as he returned to Troy.
What’s next for the long-distance biker?
“I’m not sure,” Hart said. “Maybe a ride across the country from west to east, or an off-road mountain bike race from Canada to Mexico.”
Hart will give a presentation about his trip and the Underground Railroad at Wright State University on Feb. 9. More information on the talk will be released in the near future by Five Rivers Metro Parks.