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Bikexchange logo, link to Home    Chilly Willy Not So Silly or Hilly    Bikexchange logo, link to Home

A Review of the Chilly Willy Greater Goosebumps Bicycle Icicle Ride

Wheeling, WV | January 1, 1997 | Event Photo

By Jim Joyce

The homo sapien may have the largest brain capacity of any other creature in the animal kingdom. Then what could explain why--when other lower mammals such as the bear have the sense to stay in "hibernation" mode--grown (at least physically) men and women venture out New Year's afternoon for a 14-mile bike ride? As I found out, the reason is simple: it's fun.

Instead of reading about it in a club newsletter or the next day's paper, my fiancÚ and I joined a crew of 10 cyclists for the Wheeling Area Bicycle Club's annual Chilly Willy ride. As one more used to touch typing a story about such an event in the warmth of my home, I heartily--though not without a little early morning belly-aching--chose to enlist with the human element which WABC president Jay McCamic refers to as "the few, the proud, ...the demented." My fiancÚ, Paulette? Let's just say my persuasive power emanates from the Irish gift of gab, which I've heard defined most accurately as "the ability to tell someone to go to hell so that he (or she) looks forward to trip."

Classic Urban Rail Trail

The crew gathered in South Wheeling at the southern head of the Wheeling Heritage Trail, a rail conversion that has been a major project in this city during the past five years. Wheeling was once a huge center of transportation and was a major depot for the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road. The beautiful brick B&O station has been converted into West Virginia Community College and, alas, the tracks are no more. The city hopes to convert this industrial and transportation heritage into a recreational haven. The Heritage Trail is a key component. It is the result of interagency cooperation and a major grant from the Department of Interior.

One part of the trail is paved with asphalt and runs about 7 miles along the Ohio River, from South Wheeling to the daunting Pike Island Locks and Dam north of the city. A newer branch off the main trail leads east of downtown and runs toward the Elm Grove neighborhood. This portion passes over an old, stone railroad bridge and through a once-active railroad tunnel equipped with lighting for walkers and bikers. The entire trail quite wide, so wide that part of the Kmart Classic swarm was actually routed along the trail in downtown.

Chilly But Civil

Not surprisingly the crew that gathered was upbeat and chipper. It was cold--low 30s--but it could have been much worse. There was very little wind and light flurries only toward the end of our ride. The route included only the riverfront portion of the trail, which is flat with an almost undetectable grade while one heads north.

Pleasant, Historic Route

From the neighborhood of South Wheeling the trail runs past Center Wheeling, where one can take a detour into the restored Center Market area to browse antiques and sample a fresh sandwich or alligator soup at Coleman's fish market. This day, however, we continued past here and across a neat, wooden foot bridge over Wheeling Creek, then on into downtown Wheeling. There we rode right next to the Civic Center, home of the Wheeling Nailers Hockey Club. We passed by the Valley Voyager river boat docked at the Wharf Garage and the Veteran's Amphitheater overlooking the Ohio River and the huge old mansions across the water on Wheeling Island.

A few hundred yards north we sped under two bridges, 1) the historic Suspension Bridge (built in 1849) and 2) the massive Fort Henry Bridge carrying Interstate 70 across the Ohio. As we moved from downtown and into Old Town North Wheeling, the city row houses rose above the trail which ran below on the river flood plane. Several miles were now completed as we ascended from the flood plane onto the "least pleasant" portion of the trail, a 1/2 mile or so stretch along busy State Route 2 enroute to the Warwood neighborhood of the city. This part of the trail was ripe with traffic passing very close and sprinkled with bits of cinders from winter road maintenance.

Warwood Portion--Excellent

The trail then sloped back down into the flood plain and passed through my favorite part of the trail--Warwood. Early on this part, we made a handy detour to Warwood Plaza to warm up at Burger King and the Family Dollar Store. Afterward we passed a small industrial area and entered a heavily wooded portion of the trail which was bordered by tidy, pretty homes on one side and a rugged slope toward the river on the other. Buoyed by this pleasantry we emerged out of the woods to view in the distance the massive Pike Island Locks and Dam just ahead beyond the city limits. Though slightly numb and lightheaded, we reached the end of the trail at the dam and HIGH FIVED.

We could have stayed to check out a lock filling up to move a barge down river but we were too darn cold to care! Instead, we spun around and headed back, which was easier since it is a slight descent. With only a brief warm up stop at a gas station in North Wheeling, we made it back--a little blue in the lips but not in spirit. I was proud of Paulette, who never complained a bit (but she may think twice next time I talk up a winter ride). We finished with one thought in mind--get in that #*%$! car and warm up!

East Trail Branch

Though that day we did not venture eastward, I highly recommend this section. The stone bridge and lighted tunnel are tough to top among urban rail trails. I've been told that if one makes a round trip on this branch, plus a round trip on the riverfront portion, the length of the entire ride is 27 miles--well worth a road trip to Wheeling, my home. But, why not let it warm up a bit first.


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