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A Westminster 8-year-old learned to ride a bike during the pandemic. Now he’s riding to help preserve C&O Canal trails.

Dan Reppe and his wife Kristi watch 8-year-old son Brody as he shows off his bike-riding skills outside their Westminster home — skills he’s putting to use to help support trails at the C&O Canal, a prime spot in the region for a ride.

It’s a hot and humid late August morning, but Brody isn’t fazed by the temperature or conditions. After all, he learned how to ride a bicycle just five months ago, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. He’s eager to whiz along the cul-de-sac just past his driveway, flying down the hills and pedaling hard on the inclines.

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Dan Reppe is an avid cyclist, and the family embarks on many trail rides around the region. But he said he’s immune compromised, and that has led him to teach Brody how to ride amid the coronavirus pandemic as a way to get outdoors while being careful not to risk exposure.

Brody received a single-speed Schwinn bike in 2018 as a Christmas gift from Santa Claus, but didn’t hop on until this year. What started as learning the basics turned into 5-mile rides with his dad. Brody was soon riding more than 30 miles along the York Heritage Trail in Pennsylvania.

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Dan Reppe decided his oldest son needed a bigger bike ― and a bigger trail. After a pair of vacations were snuffed out because of the pandemic, the family opted to ride along the Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile trek from Pittsburgh to Cumberland that connects to the C&O Canal trail in Cumberland.

Reppe said he and Brody rode all of those 150 miles, splitting it up over a few days. But in other rides they’ve done on the C&O Canal trail, which continues from Cumberland to Washington, D.C., Brody wondered why some parts of that trail weren’t surfaced the same way. So Brody came up with an idea.

He wanted to ride 50 miles in one day, his longest so far, and try to raise money so the C&O trail can be improved.

“We were proud that he wanted to do something for somebody else,” Reppe said. “Most kids at this point want money for themselves, and the fact that he wants to raise money ... is great. We couldn’t be more proud. And that’s why we’re trying to really help him and support him.”

Brody’s online fundraiser page is hosted by C&O Canal Trust, which raises money for the C&O Canal Historical Park in Washington. As of the weekend, the page, at secure.givelively.org/donate/c-o-canal-trust-inc/towpathgo/brody-reppe, showed nine fundraisers taking part in the current TowpathGO! Challenge. Brody had raised more than $3,500 by Thursday eveningand the site’s goal of $50,000 had more than $7,000 raised.

Reppe said $800 came from members of a Facebook cycling group that he is a part of, and the family has never met any of them in person.

“We tried to teach [Brody] that it can be difficult for one person to make a difference,” Reppe said, “but if a lot of people collectively do small acts it can make a really big difference.”

And it started with Brody learning how to ride.

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“I would get on my bike and Daddy would hold onto the back of my shirt, and I would ride down the hill. That was the first step,” he said. “And then the next step we did, he would say, ‘You don’t have to pedal. You can keep your feet off the pedals. ... And if you feel like you need to stop, you put your feet down [for] balance.‘ ”

He has the balance part down just fine. And his feet rarely leave the pedals these days. Brody and his dad have ridden together for more than 350 miles since the pandemic started, from small trips along the Wakefield Valley trails in Westminster to adventures in western Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The Reppes have seen wildlife, and caves, and marveled at the tunnel system that dots the C&O Canal landscape. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, in operation from 1831 to 1924, stretched for 184.5 miles and followed the Potomac River from Washington to Cumberland.

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The canal’s main cargo was coal, lumber and agricultural products, according to its National Park Service webpage. Several areas of the trail and towpath are closed or under construction amid the pandemic, and access to the main park is being done in a phased approach.

That means insufficient funds for repairs, and that’s where Brody hopes to help. He aims to total his 50 miles Sept. 6, and in doing so will have completed the entire C&O Canal trail by the time the new school years begins.

Reppe said he and Brody were planning a trip to Cumberland this weekend, where father and son could ride 90 miles over a three-day span. Brody has amassed 335 miles in 12 rides.

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“As long as Daddy is next to me, and I’m in the bike lane, I’m fine,” he said. “I don’t feel that scared.”

“We tried to teach him that it can be difficult for one person to make a difference, but if a lot of people collectively do small acts it can make a really big difference.”

—  Dan Reppe, father of 8-year-old Brody Reppe

Brody said he wants to ride his bike across the country when he’s old enough. Next summer, the plan is to complete a metric century ride of 100 kilometers (about 62 miles).

He’s a travel soccer player in his spare time, and enjoys playing with his Hot Wheels race track. But before he enters third grade at Friendship Valley Elementary School, Brody is spending the most of his summer biking around the region while his dad renews his passion for riding.

“We were just trying to find some trails for him to ride. He’s kind of gotten me back into it,” Reppe said. “Riding with my family is hands-down my favorite activity that we do together.”


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