Finishing a journey with Amazon and The Washington Post

August 9, 2013

This is the last column I will be writing from the road since Becky and I left Astoria, Oregon on May 14 to ride our bicycles across the country. As this newspaper is being distributed, we will be pedaling our way across the back roads of Delmarva, shooting to arrive home in Lewes on Saturday. When all is said and done we will have pedaled more than 3,300 miles: over mountains and down again through valleys, across rivers and through canyons, on the back roads of Illinois and Indiana and their endless fields of corn and soybeans, and on the streets and highways that carried us through the hearts of Eugene, Missoula, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C. and countless other cities and towns. The general friendliness of the people we have met from coast to coast in the U.S. remains the greatest impression from this journey.

Most of this week our riding has been on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal tow path between Cumberland, Md. and D.C. Mules once pulled skinny canal vessels through the locks of this canal as the nation was pushing its way westward. Now it is a 184-mile-long national park where hundreds of thousands of people ride their bicycles and walk each year, enjoying nature and the interpretive signs that chronicle the amazing engineering feat represented by construction of the canal.

It’s said that on the same day construction began on the canal in the mid-1800s, work also started on a railroad line that, in just a few decades, was destined to eclipse the economic value of the canal for carrying freight over the Appalachians.

Such is the way of industrial and technological advance.

In the mid-1950s, at least 30 years after the last canal boats used the C&O, The Washington Post published an editorial suggesting that the decaying canal and tow path should be transitioned to a national park. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas jumped on board the idea and spearheaded a successful initiative to add one more gem to the nation’s awesome system of parks.

Ironically, on the day we read an historical interpretive sign explaining the genesis of the park and the Washington Post’s role, another rider on the trail told us the Graham family announced this week that the newspaper is being sold to one of the founders of the internet juggernaut known as Amazon. When we rolled over the Potomac River into Shepherdstown, we saw the Tuesday edition of the Post with its front-page banner headline confirming the news.

Canals, railroads, airplanes: transportation and recreation. Newspapers, magazines, radio, television, internet: information and entertainment. It’s all about the inevitability of change and adapting to survive and thrive.

Curiously, news of the sale of the Post to the internet-based Amazon reached us via the most ancient of ways that people have transmitted and received news: word of mouth. In the end, it’s still all about people interacting with people.

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