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Friends' bike ride from D.C. to Pittsburgh to benefit Ronald McDonald House

| Saturday, May 13, 2017, 5:12 p.m.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Eric Packe, 48, of New Stanton, and Jeff Stewart, 53, of Vandergrift pose for a portrait outside of their offices in Robinson, on May 9, 2017.

Eric Packe and Jeff Stewart say they're ready to go the distance for a charity that gives families a place to stay.

The co-workers are in the final stages of training for a 350-mile bicycle ride that will take them from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh later this month. They plan to leave Georgetown on May 22 and arrive at the Ronald McDonald House of Pittsburgh on May 28.

“I found out I like bicycle riding when Eric told me I did,” Stewart joked. “He and I have a history of challenging each other on a fitness level.”

Stewart, 53, of Vandergrift and Packe, 48, of New Stanton have known each other for the last five years while working as consultants at the McDonald's Corp. in Robinson.

The more active of the two, Packe began thinking late last year about fulfilling one of his bucket-list items — riding his bike on the C&O Canal Trail or the Great Allegheny Passage, or both.

“I made the decision that this would be the year I was going to do it. And I immediately wanted to find a person to do it with,” he said. “Jeff was at the top of my list.”

The two trained indoors over the winter months and have been riding together on the weekends since the weather broke. They usually ride 12 to 25 miles at a stretch.

Since both men work for McDonald's, choosing a charity that would benefit from their ride was not difficult, they said.

“We are very aware of the challenges that arise when families are separated when a child is sick. The efforts of the Ronald McDonald House can help to keep families together,” Stewart said.

The Ronald McDonald House provides lodging and support for families during a child's hospital stay. The Pittsburgh Ronald McDonald House, located near Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, has served families from 51 counties in Pennsylvania, 39 states and 10 countries, Packe said.

This is not the first time Stewart and Packe have ridden together. In addition to training on the weekends, they have participated in the Seven Springs Mud on the Mountain event.

Packe has done six triathlons, including the Pittsburgh Triathlon three times. Stewart, while not a regular bicycle rider, enjoys working out, archery hunting and hiking. He had to buy a 21-speed hybrid bike for the upcoming charity ride.

The pair will take their bikes to D.C. via Amtrak and begin their ride back on May 22. Their shortest day will be 40 miles, and their longest day will be 60 miles.

“We've built some padding in there for time. We feel comfortable we'll be able to achieve the daily goals,” Packe said, noting that they will stay overnight in hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.

Stewart and Packe will start in Georgetown on the 185-mile C&O Canal Trail, which follows the old canal towpath from D.C. to Cumberland, Md.

From Cumberland, they will follow the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage to Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh. A section of the trail follows the Youghiogheny River in Westmoreland County. Their route will include stops in Brunswick, W.Va., Williamsport, Md., Little Orleans, Md., Frostburg, Md., Ohiopyle and McKeesport.

Packe said the ride will follow a gradual incline until Frostburg. From there, it will be mostly level or downhill, he said.

Funds may be donated via GoFundMe.com under the heading “Ronald McDonald House Trail Ride.”

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, shuba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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