Local group following in settlers’ footsteps

MARIETTA – A local group will re-enact the journey by the settlers who came from Ipswich, Mass., to Marietta 225 years ago.

A group of five, with one set to join the trip later, departed Marietta early Thursday from the Start Westward monument in Muskingum Park. They will head to Ipswich where they will then try to retrace the path of the Ohio Company as it came to Marietta in a journey the new group is calling Westward Home.

Most of the traveling will be done by kayak or bicycle with an RV going along to serve as a traveling hotel.

The participants Dan Jones, Roger Murphy, Gary Murphy, Peter Prigge, Charles “Bill” Wesel and his wife, Shirley Smith Wesel, all are active in the Marietta Rowing and Cycling Club and other civic organizations.

The group has been working to collect pledges for the distance they paddle or pedal. Funds raised from the 926-mile trip will benefit the Harmar Community Center and the occupants, the Washington County Boys and Girls Club.

“We’re taking care of our future generations and how to handle children getting some entertainment and training,” 80-year-old Bill Wesel said.

Both Jones and Bill Wesel said the goal at the center is to build a gymnasium, but more fundraising will have to be planned beyond what is raised on this trip.

Prigge will man the chase car towing the three kayaks the participants had been building since the summer of 2012. They will be dropped off in Pittsburgh enroute to Massachusetts and boarded on the return trip to Marietta.

“We’d like to make $100 per mile, but I don’t think we’ll make it,” Jones said.

Bill Wesel is the driver of the 33-foot Winnebago Voyage motor home. It has the luxuries of home, but is like driving a car.

Meanwhile, over in the passenger seat of the recreational vehicle is Bill’s wife, Sally Smith Wesel, 76. Sally said she is the chief cook and bottle washer and the co-pilot in charge of laundry during the trip.

The cupboards of the RV are full of groceries, she said, and the group put much a thought into how to organize the storage areas and personal space. Everyone on the trip will sleep in the RV during the three-week trip.

Among the dozen or so people who came to Muskingum Park Thursday morning to wish the travelers good luck were Karen Prigge, 71, and friend Esther Carpenter, 61.

Karen admitted if she were 30 years younger, she would be going. The pair thought it would be a fabulous trip.

“It’s restoring history,” Karen said. “It’s an adventure they are not going to soon forget.”

Roger Murphy will put his athleticism to work on both the bicycle and kayak. He has much experience with both after bicycling in the Greater Ohio Bicycle Adventure and on rides to the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. He and his wife, Virgene, spend much of their time racking up the miles on tires.

Murphy said his only training for the trip was to ride a few extra miles each day and to be mindful of what he eats.

“We can’t duplicate the Rufus Putnam route,” Jones said. “If we did, we’d get run over.”

No interstate highways or cars existed at the time, he said.

Jones also said the group won’t stop in West Newton, Mass., for two months during the winter as the original pioneers did to gather wood from the forests and build their boats.

“This is a vacation for me as far as I am concerned,” he said.

Jones said a special aspect of the trip is the group will carry with it the oxen yoke used in the 1937-1938 caravan that followed a similar route. That caravan was funded by the federal government to mark the 150th anniversary of the Northwest Territory.

Those joining the caravan in 1937 took the re-enactment several steps further because they harvested lumber to build their boats.

Jones said Dave Archer of Pioneer Pipe Inc. found that original yoke which will have made its second trip to Marietta when the crew returns to land their kayaks June 8 at Marietta.