Gen. Putnam trekkers kayaking on the Ohio

With more than 700 miles of sometimes tortuous bicycling behind them, three adventurers tracing Gen. Rufus Putnam’s 926-mile trek from Ipswich, Mass., to Marietta began the last leg of their trip in kayaks on the Ohio River Sunday.

“They shoved off at the Birmingham Bridge over the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, then paddled two miles downstream and crossed the mouth of the Allegheny River, then into the Ohio River around 11 a.m. (Sunday),” said Pete Prigge who’s driving the Westward Home expedition’s “chase car,” towing kayaks, bicycles and other equipment for the journey.

Trekkers Dan Jones, Gary Murphy and Roger Murphy (no relation to Gary) began their trip at Ipswich on May 18, riding bicycles over the Allegheny Mountains to West Newton, Pa., where they put the bikes away and slipped three 17-foot wooden kayaks into the Youghiogheny River.

“We’ve been doing very well so far. No injuries or major incidents,” Prigge said. “And three cheers for the railroad engineers who built the gentle grades that are now the bike trail along the Great Allegheny Passage.”

Prigge said other areas across the Allegheny Mountains were not so accommodating, including at least two steep 3.5-mile sections of road that the bikers had to navigate along the way.

“There were also some pretty steep hills in Connecticut,” he added.

In 1788, after crossing the Alleghenies in wagons and on horseback, Putnam and members of the Ohio Company of Associates built flatboats at the present location of West Newton. Those boats carried Putnam’s group, mainly comprised of Revolutionary War veterans, to the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers where they founded Marietta, the first organized settlement in the Northwest Territory.

“The West Newton Historical Society’s hospitality was just unbelievable,” Prigge said. “And they shared a lot of the history of their town with us.”

After moving onto the Ohio River Sunday, Jones, the Murphys and Prigge, along with assistants and RV drivers Charles “Bill” Wesel and his wife Sally Smith Wesel, spent that night and Monday night at Raccoon Creek State Park, about 25 miles west of Pittsburgh.

“The blessing is that we made it through Pittsburgh over the weekend when there wasn’t as much traffic as during weekdays,” Prigge said. “But the only disadvantage of Raccoon Creek State Park is that it’s right in the flight path of Pittsburgh International Airport, so there are planes flying over all the time.”

The kayaks are expected to reach the Wheeling, W.Va., area today, and Prigge said the group is still on schedule to arrive in Marietta by Saturday.

He said folks with watercraft, including rowing shells, dragon boats, canoes and kayaks, are encouraged to meet the group at the western tip of Buckley’s Island (near the Williamstown Bridge) around 9:30 a.m. Saturday to escort the expedition to their landing site at the Start Westward Monument in East Muskingum Park.

The landing is scheduled at 10 a.m., and the expedition members are expected to be greeted and escorted by Sons of the American Revolution Color Guard, reenactors and local citizens.

Pete’s wife, Karen, has remained home in Marietta while Pete accompanied the Westward Home trekkers along the route. She said friends and relatives from as far away as Australia and England have been following the group via the website.

“My friend from Australia is on a three-month world cruise, and she’s following the trip,” Karen said. “And my family in the Kent area of England are also following this. They think it’s a brilliant idea.”

She said Pete usually calls to check in with her every day.

“He said that people have been so friendly,” Karen added. “People have been feeding them-even setting them up with showers along the way.”

Pete said the group has met plenty of wonderful people during the journey.

“Some even gave us donations after they heard our story,” he said.

In addition to re-tracing Putnam’s historic trip, the trekkers have worked to collect pledges for every mile they will ride or paddle from Ipswich to Marietta. Money received will benefit the Harmar Community Center and the Washington County Boys and Girls Club.

Ryan Smith, owner of the local Marietta Adventure Company, helped the trio of bikers and kayakers get ready for their trip, and said he, too, has been following the journey online.

“I’m hoping to paddle out to meet them when they arrive Saturday,” he said. “We helped them get their gear together for the trip-making sure their bikes and kayaks were ready. Their bike tires would probably take the most beating during the trip, so I think they all took an extra bike for backup.”

West Palm Beach, Fla., resident David Pugh’s late father, Ed Pugh, was also part of an historic expedition along Putnam’s original trail in 1937, using ox-drawn covered wagons and flatboats.

David and his mother, Mary Alice Pugh, have also followed the Westward Home travelers online.

“It’s great to see the photographs, especially of the Congregational Church in Ipswich where the original Putnam expedition started,” David said.

In the 1970s David and his mother accompanied Ed Pugh on another trip from Ipswich to Marietta.

“I remember that well,” David said. “We stayed with that expedition for the whole journey.”

Mary Alice recalled the historical society in West Newton, Pa., was also very hospitable during that trip.

“While we stayed in West Newton they held a big picnic along the river for us,” she said.

Her husband would have approved of the Westward Home expedition, Mary Alice said.

“He would have been very happy to know this is being done,” she added. “And I wish we could be there when they arrive in Marietta.”