A group of veterans on a cross-country bicycle journey are a sampling of what to expect in the future as a robust trail network draws tourists on two wheels, says Mitch Barloga, known as the "Trail Czar" at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.
Five veterans are planning to ride over 3,700 miles along the route of the Great American Rail-Trail — or as close as possible where the trail isn’t completed yet. They are expected to travel the Veterans Memorial Trail in southern Porter and Lake counties today. They plan to stop at the Vietnam War Memorial at Stoney Run County Park, the Korean War Memorial in Leroy and the Community Veterans Memorial in Munster. The Veterans Memorial Trail, which runs from Hebron to downtown Crown Point, will eventually include memorials to veterans from both world wars and the Middle East.
They left the U.S. Capitol on May 26 on their way to La Push, Washington.
The partnership between the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and Warrior Expeditions aims to show the importance of the outdoors and therapeutic recreation in trauma recovery, organizers said.
The Great American Rail-Trail is about half finished, Barloga said. It will be the nation’s first multi-use cross-country trail. “This will be a big old deal when it gets done,” he said.
The trail will open opportunities for the hospitality industry to cater to the tourists on two wheels. “You do need amenities. You need places that people can relax and eat and sleep,” Barloga said.
Long distance rides are not new. Since the early days of the bicycle, riders have been attempting to ride across the continent or even around the globe. The cross-country trail will make the trek easier and safer.
Participants in the ride include Navy veterans Paul Cook, of Boulder, Colorado, 2005 to 2014, who served in Iraq and Somalia; Allison Garrigus, of Greenville, South Carolina, 1988 to 2009, who served in Iraq; Alan Garrigus, of Greenville, South Carolina, 1984 to 2014, who served in Saudi Arabia and Iraq; Jose De La Garza, of Laguna Vista, Texas, 1993 to 2005, who served as a hospital corpsman in Iraq; and U.S. Army Adjutant Gen. Jay Waters, of Alexandria, Virginia, 1987-2017, who served in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.