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'Keep On Riding' a Grand Message From Gordon Thorpe

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 parks.

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 ' anymore."

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 and Southeast.

"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 realized."

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 says.

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 continue on."

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.

Posted Wed, Nov 30 2011 4:15 PM by Jake Lynch


Jon Osborn wrote re: 'Keep On Riding' a Grand Message From Gordon Thorpe
on Wed, Nov 30 2011 6:58 PM

When I grow up I want to be just like Gordon Thorpe. I just turned 2000 miles for 2011. One third on rails to trails one third single track and one third on the road and my goal in life is to Mt bike and Down hill ski my 90th year. God bless Mr Thorpe

Jon Osborn

As in Osborn2ride.

Jim Porterfield wrote re: 'Keep On Riding' a Grand Message From Gordon Thorpe
on Wed, Nov 30 2011 8:04 PM

My hat's off to you, sir.  I had the pleasure of riding this train in June 2011 and it is a beauty.  I was proud of myself for riding the entire length of the trail and back - in two sessions because of the break for the Interstate, but I'm only 69.  Perhaps I passed Mr. Thorpe without knowing it.


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