Al Gilens and his grandson, Josh Gilens

Al Gilens and his grandson, Josh Gilens, explore Chester County on their bicycles.

PHOENIXVILLE — For 18 years, the French Creek Iron Tour has given cyclists the chance to explore the northern Chester County countryside. And for more than the past decade, Al Gilens has ridden along.

The 87-year-old Gladwyne resident often rode beside his grandson Josh Gilens, 29, formerly of New Brunswick, N.J. But when Josh moved to Denver for his medical residency, they didn’t expect to ride the Iron Tour together again anytime soon.

This year, due to the pandemic, French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust changed the format of the Iron Tour. The “Forge Your Own Adventure” Iron Tour used social media promotion and the hashtag #FCIT2020. Between June 14 and 28, riders could choose from Iron Tour courses ranging from 10 to 100 miles, or create their own custom course.

Riders participated from all over the country, sharing pictures and experiences. More than 300 riders registered to support the preservation of open space in northern Chester County. “Preserved Forever” signs could be found around the region, marking properties preserved by French & Pickering over its five decades of conservation work.

Al and Josh took full advantage of the virtual event, riding simultaneously although 2,000 miles apart. They reported in with each other throughout the day and shared a virtual lunch. Combined, they rode more than 73 miles, with Al completing a 28-mile course that took him through Valley Forge Park and Josh riding over 45 miles in and around Denver.

“We coordinated the start time and the lunchtime, but he had me way beat on the miles,” Al Gilens told French & Pickering. Josh said, “I am so very grateful for this virtual tour. Thank you for the chance to get another ride with Grampy. Now that we have the idea, I suspect this will not be our last virtual ride of the season. And the fact that we got to do it while supporting the French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust was an added bonus!”

French & Pickering Board of Directors member and Iron Tour Co-Chairwoman Jen Trachtman spoke about their participation: “The Gilens’ positive, upbeat attitude and willingness to adjust in our unforeseen pandemic circumstances are greatly appreciated and indicative of the Iron Tour riders in general. Not only does the Iron Tour highlight the preservation work of French & Pickering through our “Preserved Forever” signs, it also creates a community invested in the results of that work.”

Information about participating in the French Creek Iron Tour can be found at www.irontour.org. French & Pickering is considering a fall tour, dependent on pandemic conditions, and looks forward to a June 2021 tour to help fund land preservation projects around the region.

French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust’s mission is to preserve, steward, and connect people to the land in northern Chester County. Find out more at www.frenchandpickering.org

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