Two women are cycling across the country to advance trail connectivity in Fort Wayne

At 9 a.m. Friday, May 14, at the Kreager Park boat ramp, Kathi Weiss and Cathie Rowand will start a 753-mile bike trip from Fort Wayne to Washington, D.C.

Rowand, 64, and Weiss, 73, have been biking together for more than 30 years. They have ridden through much of the Midwest and on both coasts, but this is their longest trip.

“We have done loops on the C&O (Chesapeake and Ohio Canal) and sections of the GAP (Great Allegheny Passage),” Rowand says. “Now that the two are connected, we will be able to go from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. totally using the rail trail system.”

Weiss, 73, and Rowand, 64, have been biking together for more than 30 years.

Along with embarking on a fun adventure and fitness challenge, the Kathies—as they call themselves—are using their 16-day bike trip to raise money for the Fort Wayne Trails on Facebook.

While the trails have seen record-breaking usage month after month during the COVID-19 pandemic and the number of individual trail donors has more than doubled, corporate sponsorships have taken a hit as many traditional funders have experienced pandemic budget cuts or uncertainty.

Rowand and Weiss are eager to help the trails in a critical year, especially as cycling is growing in popularity in Fort Wayne. The City of Fort Wayne and New Haven’s weekly Trek the Trails events had 137 people at their first ride of the 2021 season. The Kathies love that groups like this offer ways for people of all ages and skill levels to ride locally, and they want to increase trail access and connectivity to Fort Wayne neighborhoods.

They’re also thankful for how safe the trails are today. 

“Back in the 80s, that wasn’t the case,” Rowand says. “Now we see families out there, people in wheelchairs and walkers. It’s really amazing to have a trail system as good as ours.”

Cyclists meet for a weekly Trek the Trails ride.

Rowand says their goal is to raise $20,000 for Fort Wayne Trails, noting that each mile of trail costs between $800,00 and $2 million to build. As of May 9, they have raised $1,755 toward that goal. 

As for their cross-country journey, the women have mapped out a detailed itinerary, which covers everything from how many miles they will travel per day to where they will stay each night.

Rooms were paid for ahead of time, and plans made early because of the popularity of the trails they’re riding. They were competing for spots not only with other hikers and bikers, but also with people traveling for graduations.

“When you’re on a bike, you need to know how many miles you can go and that there will be a place to stay when you get there, because you can’t drive around looking for something,” Weiss says. “You want to be done for the day.”

Rowand, right, and friends enjoy riding the Fort Wayne Trails.

The Kathies are most excited about connecting with others, both on the trails and in the small towns where they will be staying. About 75 percent of the time they will be on trails, and the other 25 percent will be country roads or smaller, lesser-used highways.

Both women have been training for two years for a ride of this magnitude, but they stay in shape year-round by canoeing, cross-country skiing, kayaking, and hiking. Weiss even hiked 1,600 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

“The most difficult part about riding so far each day is definitely that it’s hard on your butt and your back,” Weiss says. She plans to use a bicycle seat that she has had since the 70s.

Rowand says, “People ask us if we will have SAG (Support and Gear) help, and we say ‘No, we are carrying everything on our bikes, and have found that if a bike breaks down, AAA will treat you like a car. They’ll come and change your tire or get you to a bike repair shop, so that’s comforting.’”

As both women have traveled extensively in the United States and in India, nerves don’t seem to be an issue. 

Weiss jokes, “If you ride long enough, you’re going to fall at some point. That’s just a part of it.”

The Towpath Trail bridge in Southwest Fort Wayne.

A bigger concern might be muddy trails, as their bikes have fenders, and some of the trails are dirt or packed gravel.

“If it’s pouring down rain, we will just wait until the weather clears before going on,” Weiss says.

Both women have e-assist bikes, electric bikes that will make the ride a little easier.

“You still have to pedal, but the small motor really helps with wind resistance and on steep hills,” Rowand says. 

In fact, it was discovering and training with these bikes that inspired the women to make a cross-country journey in the first place.

“I tried them and was hooked,” Weiss says. 

The Kathies plan to ride between 27-62 miles per day, with most days being in the 50-mile range.

“We are average people who will average 10 m.p.h.” Rowand says. “The little assist (from the e-bike) just takes stress off our knees. We are doing this at our own pace; we don’t have to be Lance Armstrong.”

You can follow their journey on Facebook at “Kathies’ Big Adventure,” where they will be posting daily updates complete with pictures.