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Trail-blazing bikers plan stop in Connellsville

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 10:11 p.m.

Two men will set out on an adventure this weekend — which will take them right through the area.

Josh Fonner, 31, of East Hampton, N.Y., and Rich O'Neill, 43, of State College, will take on the entire Great Allegheny Passage. From there, they will continue on to the C&O Canal Trail to ride 325 off-road miles from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. in a non-stop attempt to reach Arlington National Cemetery.

The trip is the launch of a community-outreach program by Roam Life of Lake Placid, N.Y. The relatively new company, of which Fonner is co-founder and O'Neil is a partner, is dedicated to developing a community of inspired adventurers around the world. The company has an online community for people to connect and offers presentations, workshops and other events for people to meet their adventure goals.

“I was looking for an adventure. The Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Trail are some of the most famous and ridden trails in the country, and I had never set a tire on them. Since I work in the bike industry on the East Coast, I thought this was a travesty. I did want to ride them in a unique way, though. There was no evidence that anyone had ever ridden the 325-mile length of these trails non-stop, without sleeping. Maybe we could? That would sure be an adventure. Secondly, I was looking for a way to help publish and promote our company, Roam Life, through a video project. Part of the goal of this company is to show people that they can have an adventure in their own backyard,” said Fonner.

O'Neil who has been biking for the past 25 years, recently started riding in Pittsburgh.

“I love it there. The people who have built me up, made me a better rider. I feel like I have roots there. I've always said when the trail system is done, I will ride it to D.C. No better time than now. I have a great company, a finished trail system, with some detours I hear, and I get to end it where my Dad is — Arlington Cemetery. I told him about it before, so this is fitting,” O'Neil said.

His father, Ret. Maj. Richard A. O'Neil died at 8:18 a.m. Oct., 18, 2006. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery where O'Neil and Fonner plan to end the trip.

“Dad, if you met him, you would understand. A soul like his stays forever inside you, no matter who you are or how long you've known him, even if the shortest of visits. He rubbed off on you how much more you could do, be — all with the thought of others around you in check. I aspire to be half who he was — is. He is a Marine. A father. He still teaches us,” O'Neil said.

The men are set to pedal off Saturday and arrive at Arlington National Cemetery late Sunday. If all goes well, they are hope to reach Connellsville around 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday at 503 W. Crawford Ave. where they will stop in as support crew to fill up on water, get snacks, and say hello as well.

“We are hoping to have people come out and ride portions of the trail with us. We will be updating Facebook and our website with our location on a regular basis and hope people come out and see us. What we mean by that is that we'd love for people to be waving hands, cheering them on, throwing them food, waving signs — whatever. It's a long trip. We'd also love to have people come out on bikes and ride us out of town. The company would be welcomed. It's part of the whole purpose of the trip — using adventure to connect with people,” said Roam Life co-founder Christine Perigen.

Fonner said he is most looking forward to meeting people along the way.

“The biggest thing that our company, Roam Life, encourages is the development of relationships with other people in your travels. This connection is what makes travel meaningful and worthwhile. That is what we aim to show with this trip and with our video project,” he said. “I do just love being on my bike, though. Being on a bike, in a beautiful area, with good friends, and meeting new people — what else can you ask for.”

The filming of the expedition will be done in partnership with GeoCore Films who will also be experiencing the adventure as these two travel through wilderness, small American towns, and the unknown.

Sponsors of the trip include Stan's NoTubes, POC and Giant Bicycles with whom both men are employed.

Linda Harkcom is a freelance writer.

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