One day on my 2010 tour of Western Pennsylvania my friend Judy and I headed to Pymatuning, Pennsylvania’s largest lake and the only state park that straddles the Ohio border. But it was more than just the lake I was driving towards. I’d planned a ride with another Clydesdale.

The idea for the meeting started on Sunday as I waited in Emlenton, at the end of the Allegheny River Trail,  for Judy to pick me up. As I sat in an Internet cafe reading a bicycle message board I used to frequent I came across this posting discussing the eternal struggle of the fat cyclist with his weight:

“I need to tell you folks about all this so I feel accountable to someone besides myself. I kind of feel like this is kin to quitting smoking. Keep trying and eventually it will stick. I started quitting smoking in 1998 and it finally stuck in 2000. I have a renewed motivation from reading the posts on this forum, and you clydes and athenas are my support system whether you now it or not. I feel good knowing that I am not alone in this struggle. Special thanks to The Historian for his honesty and dedication as well….. if anyone wants to go for a ride with me, give me a shout. Thanks again for letting me get this off my chest.”

I was moved when I read this. I’d been called many things on that message board, some of them even complimentary, but I’d never been called “honest” before. Also the author, who went by the name “the stoutdog”, sounded like a riot to ride with. I determined to call thestoutdog and see if he’d join me at Pymatuning for a ride. Putting forth the hue and cry brought a telephone number, and we set a time for the ride.

We met about 1:45 at the park’s visitor center. Thestoutdog, also known as Aaron, and I hit it off immediately. Soon enough we were rolling down the road, stopping at the Jamestown campground entrance to meet Judy, who had straddled her upright bike to join us. She kept up with us for a couple of miles, but soon enough turned around before we crossed the Ohio border in our trip ’round the lake.

Pymatuning is split north to south by the state border, but its also divided north and south by a road. Its fascinating to observe the change as the roadway crosses this miniature inland sea; once the road crosses into Pennsylvania, it sprouts a shoulder and becomes PA Bike Route Y.  Aaron played along with my childlike sense of fun, as we both posed with signs at the border.

The ride from the campground into Ohio was largely flat, and the roadway across the lake was the proverbial pancake, but once on dry land in Pennsylvania the roads became rollerish. Not genuine hills, but enough work that the tightness in my knees I’d noted the day before became a concern. This second day of knee discomfort was the sign that the Euflexa treatment I’d received a few months before was wearing off, and my diseased joints were continuing to deteriorate. I was much more cautious in my cycling and hiking for the remainder of my trip. We finished with 24.5 miles of riding, which included a wrong turn at one point and backtracking to find the right turnoff. 

After I’d returned home, and finally saw the photos my new friend took on the ride, I was shocked. I knew I was fat, and I knew I was knock-kneed. But SEEING it in the photo to the left was the catalyst for change, at least of the one thing I could change. I dropped 30 pounds until my knees became bad after my second 5k in December, and I had to give up activity while my joints recovered. Aaron helped me get through the stress my condition triggered. Isn’t it strange how friendships form? I wanted to help someone who was stressed about his weight, and he winds up helping me? All part of the miracle of friendship. None of this ride had to happen – and it did.