Retired from the Air Force, Curtiss Petrek, a Smyrna High and U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, recently traveled by bicycle from his home in Ohio to visit his parents in Smyrna months before his 60th birthday.
He just wanted to see if he could do it.
Curtiss Petrek, son of Duke and Petee Petrek of Smyrna, recently bicycled from his home in Ohio to visit his parents in Smyrna – a rambling journey that covered about 650 miles.
The graduate of Smyrna High School and the U.S. Air Force Academy has retired after 30 years of active duty in the Air Force. He began as an aviator and flew B52 bombers, B1 bombers, B2 Stealth bombers and the Boeing E4 National Operations Center. He rose through the ranks to Vice Wing Commander of Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. His final assignment before retiring from active duty was serving as the Commander of the Air Force ROTC Unit at The Ohio State University.
Now 59, Curtiss said he wanted to go on the bicycle journey to prove something to himself.
“I had done some of these trips 10 to 15 years ago, usually on a mountain bike, but I hadn’t done one in while,” he said. “I’ll be turning 60 in February, and I wanted to get out on my own and have a good time.”
He chose a recumbent bike that is low to ground with a seat with a back, and the pedals out in front instead of below the seat.
“The front wheel is only 16 inches and the back is 20 inches, so it looks a little unusual,” he said.
To prepare, he went on several shorter trips.
“I have several different bikes, but I stopped riding the other types. Each weekend, three to four months prior to the trip, I would do a 40-to-50 mile ride,” he said.
He started Aug. 26 from his home in Powell, near Columbus, Ohio, and arrived in Smyrna on Sept. 1, averaging about 95 miles a day. He wasn’t looking for the most direct route, but one where he could use more trails and more lightly-traveled roads.
He started out heading northeast to Holmes County, Ohio, the county with the largest Amish population in the country. On his second day, he reached Pittsburgh. Then he took the Great Allegheny Passage trail to Cumberland, Maryland the next two days.
On his fifth day, he rode on the old C&O Canal tow path, and then on the sixth day he left that trail in Williamsport, Maryland, and traveled up to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to spend the night. On the last day of his trek, he rode from Lancaster to Smyrna.
“The trails are easier than the roads because some of the roads are so steep, and it always seems like there are more up hills than down hills,” he laughed.
Challenges and highlights
Curtiss said bicycling is a different way to see the country.
“You see areas you don’t normally notice. For the first half of the day, you spend more time enjoying scenery, then usually by the second half you just want to get to your destination,” he said. “You do get very sore sitting on that seat all day long.”
He ran into a little trouble on his second day.
“I was caught out on the trail in the middle of nowhere when it started getting dark. I ran into a fence and then rolled down into a gully. I was OK, but I had a couple of scrapes. That’s what happens though on the trails,” he said.
However, the biggest challenge was on the C & O towpath in Maryland.
“The towpath goes through a tunnel, but the tunnel was closed for repairs, so I had to walk with my bike up a narrow, rocky, steep path up and over the tunnel. That was the toughest part of the trip,” he said.
What were the highlights?
“I thought the Great Allegheny Passage was the most enjoyable part with the scenery, a very good trail, and nice views,” he said. “You’re pretty much following the river the whole way, and you’re up high, looking down on the river.”
He met several curious people during his trip.
“As I stopped along the way at little mom and pop places, people would strike up a conversation about what I was doing. Most people were interested in my bike with the little tires on it,” he said.
He wasn’t worried about riding alone on the trails, but the roads were more of a concern.
“Between the Great Allegheny Passage and the C & O, there’s a history of bikers traveling by themselves, so there weren’t any issues there,” he said. “The roads were the hardest part. Some aren’t too bad, with pretty good shoulders, but others had close to no shoulders. When there’s lots of traffic, you get off to the side as much as you can to let them pass. Probably the hardest part is when you hit a section where they’re doing construction.”
Another challenge was pedaling on, despite the aches and pains.
“Probably the first half of the day, you’re riding along, looking around at the scenery, and you’re mind is thinking about just about anything. The last half of day, you just want to get there. You’re watching the clock, and it becomes more physical.”
The weather was better than he expected.
“It was little bit cooler most days than I thought it would be. There was one afternoon when it rained, and I stopped for about 15 minutes when it was coming down hard. Then when it let up, I got back out and finished up,” he said.
His father, Duke, said he and the rest of the family were a little concerned about Curtiss going on the trip alone. Curtiss is married, and he and his wife Joyce have a son Brian, 32, and a daughter Jordan, 29.
However, Duke said they knew they wouldn’t be able to talk him out of it.
“One thing about Curtiss, when he decides he has to do something, there’s no changing his mind. He’s very determined. That’s the way he’s always been,” said Duke.
When Curtiss rode up to his parents’ home in the Glenwood neighborhood, Duke said they were expecting his arrival, but they were still caught a little off guard.
“I was surprised when I saw that bike,” said Duke. “I wondered how he rode 650 miles on that. It’s like a tricycle, it’s so small.”
Curtiss’ daughter flew in from South Dakota to be in Smyrna for the big homecoming.
“We were all sitting outside waiting for him,” said Duke. “My wife made a sign, ‘Welcome home Curtiss,’ with balloons. It was quite the thing. Some of our neighbors were waiting for him, too.”
Curtiss said he was glad to see everyone and glad to be back in Smyrna.
As for the bicycling journey, it was another mission accomplished.
“I had a good time. I’m glad I did it. I’m not sure it will be the last, but I’ll probably use a different bike next time,” he said.
He said just loves the challenge. He’s previously gone on several long bicycle journeys, one about 1,200 miles, and he’s also run four marathons, including one each year for the past three years.
“I’m thinking about running one next month,” he said.