The people of North
Carolina have a strong affinity with the American
Tobacco Trail (ATT). Not only does the 19-mile
rail-trail, connecting Chatham, Durham and Wake counties, represent a rich vein
of the area's farming and commercial history, now it is a well-used and
much-loved connector for the region's neighborhoods, schools, businesses and
But few people could possibly appreciate the joy of the ATT
more than Gordon Thorpe. Even at the age of 90, Thorpe gets out for a ride on
the trail almost every week. The ATT is a key part of Thorpe's active
lifestyle, which also includes a mile swim every morning. By his rough
calculations, he has swum about 3,800 miles since the pool opened in his
retirement home complex in 1995.
For Thorpe, the experience of cycling on the trail has taken
on a different hue of late. His wife, a regular companion on his long rides,
passed away in September.
"I get up and go out by myself now," he says. "I don't have
my 'go-fer '
During this difficult time, Thorpe has found deep
satisfaction in his regular outings along the ATT. Not only does it provide a
tremendous physical outlet, Thorpe says he also appreciates the myriad of
people he sees on the trail.
"I like to see people using the trail, all the different
kinds of people," he says. "Sometimes I'll go out there and won't know anybody
on the trail, and sometimes I'll see a few regulars. Sometimes we'll stop and
have a talk about things."
A veteran of World War II, Thorpe has lived in many states
across America and has
ridden more than 25 rail-trails, mostly in the Midwest
"I would say the New River Trail [in Virginia] is my favorite of those I have
ridden," says Thorpe. "It's not too long, and it's very scenic out there.
You'll always see some deer and other animals." He also speaks highly of the
Virginia Creeper Trail and Great Allegheny Passage.
Thorpe's idea of "not too long" might be different from most
others; since he first picked up a bike as a newspaper boy in Grand Rapids, Mich.,
almost 80 years ago, he has ridden many thousands of miles. These days his
daughter, Judy, drives up from her home in Virginia to keep him company on the trail.
They meet at the trailhead in Durham
and ride the ATT together. And each September they take part in the Great
Peanut Bike Tour, a four-day ride through southern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.
His family has been very supportive of Thorpe's pedal
passion; his Trek 4700 hybrid bike was an 80th birthday present. And in
celebration of his 90th birthday earlier this month, Thorpe's family donated a
bench along the ATT in his honor.
"I had no idea," Gordon says. "We were out on the trail
together, and I say, 'Look, they've put a new bench in.' So my son says, 'Why
don't we stop?' I started reading the little bronze plaque, and that's when I
Reading the inscription aloud, Thorpe seems genuinely
touched by the gesture to build the seat, which took months of careful planning
between the family and county workers.
In celebration of
Gordon A. Thorpe, on his 90th birthday. An avid and dedicated
cyclist on the American Tobacco Trail. Keep on riding.
"That's the part I like best--'keep on riding,'" Thorpe
Though he has a deep appreciation for the ATT, Thorpe hopes
to see a key improvement made in the near future. "At the moment, the trail
just ends at the border between Chatham and Durham counties. It would
be great for them to build a bridge over Interstate 40 there, so people could
A Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) member for 10 years,
Thorpe says he enjoys reading about trails all over the country in Rails to Trails magazine.
"There are a few things I can't do now, so I like to read
about them," he says. "I find it interesting when the magazine introduces me to
trails and places I may not have been to. And knowing that there are people out
there who take advantage of all these different trails--that's what I like."
Gordon Thorpe’s son, Jim Thorpe, kindly sent us this terrific photo
of his dad seeing his bench for the first time.