The first words of the Prologue to Jim Shea’s first book purport:
“I have never written a book or even a short story. In fact, I haven’t even read many books.”
The honest start to “Get Up and Ride” leads into a journey –physical, metaphorical and humorous – along the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal trails.
The book chronicles a five-day bicycling trip Shea and brother-in-law Marty Moldovan took in 2010. The men cycled 335 miles from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. As the book relates, they stopped at some interesting places and met some fascinating people along the way.
Connellsville, in fact, was their first stop after the first day of their journey.
Ravenous (the book talks a great deal about the amount of sustenance necessary to fuel a miles-long ride), the men stopped at a now-shuttered restaurant in the city’s downtown.
The visit is detailed in a chapter titled “Yes, My Friend,” an homage to the frequent response delivered by the man who owned the restaurant. There, Shea and Moldovan encountered a woman, also dining, who had an accent. Shea couldn’t quite place it, he said, so after some conversation he asked her where she was from.
The woman told them she was a Connellsville native, according to the book, but had an affliction called foreign accent syndrome. She’d suffered a stroke several years before, and when she woke up, she had an ever-changing accent.
It’s a rare condition, she told them, and her story was once featured on a national television morning show.
Those types of stories – the ones of human connection and quirky meetings – punctuate the book.
In Shea’s view, the trip actually represents a trio of journeys: the cycling trek, obviously, along with him venturing to his boyhood home in the D.C. area.
“The third journey is me learning from Marty and learning to be a little more like him,” Shea said about his brother-in-law, who takes a rather laid-back approach to life. “I’m an active person, always on the go, traveling, working 70-hour weeks. What it forced me to do is get out of my comfort zone, slow down and appreciate the moment.”
In fact, the book mentions how Moldovan advised Shea not to wear a wristwatch anymore. And to this day, he doesn’t (though he does admit to monitoring the time on his cellphone).
The genesis for “Get Up and Ride” was during a family vacation – Katie Shea and Belle Moldovan are sisters, so Jim, Marty and both families went – in 2012, two years after the epic expedition. Shea started batting out some recollections on his laptop, and he returned to it the following summer. Then he began to add more during business trips, until the content grew to about 40 pages’ worth.
“Belle and Marty were over for dinner one time, and I brought it out. They didn’t know I was working on it. Katie, my wife, was surprised by it, too,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Look what I’ve been working on,’ and they just howled. Marty just thought it was hilarious. So Marty was game for it. He said, ‘Yeah, go for it.’”
They were involved the rest of the way.
“Although my name is on the cover, this book was a total family project and a labor of love which we have thoroughly enjoyed over the last couple of years,” Shea wrote.
Belle, in fact, contributed illustrations of applicable maps for the book. And Shea’s mother, Phyllis, also helped.
“This book gave her something to be really excited about,” Shea said. “She got into it, and I involved her in it, too. She read it. She would make editing suggestions and things like that. She says, ‘That book got me through COVID, basically.’”
Along with making for an entertaining read, the book is serving another purpose.
Part of the proceeds are going to the Allegheny Trail Alliance, a coalition of seven trail organizations in Southwestern Pennsylvania and western Maryland that is charged with promoting and enhancing the Great Allegheny Passage, which ties into the trail system of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park.
“They’re just treasures. They’re amazing. And I wanted to raise awareness and get more people excited about doing that,” Shea said. “You don’t have to do it in five days. Some people take seven days, eight days, 10 days.”
On a recent weekend, Shea and Moldovan traveled back to Connellsville, reliving some memories, and stopped at the Appalachian Creativity Center. They asked someone there if they knew the woman they’d met several years ago.
Shea said he’s hopeful that he can talk to one of the most distinctive people they met on their trek again.
“We have a quest to find that woman,” he said.
He also has a quest to continue inspiring people, and making them laugh.
“I’m not a reader. I’m not a writer. But this book kind of took on a life of its own as it came together,” Shea said. “I love the connections its creating with people.”
Shea and Moldovan will connect directly with people interested in the book this weekend in Ohiopyle.
They’re holding two signings, one from 2:30 to 4 p.m. at Falls Market, 69 Main St. and from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at Falls City Pub, 112 Garrett St.
“Get Up and Ride” by Jim Shea is available at www.amazon.com, and at a number of Fayette County locations including: Summit Inn, Fallingwater Museum Shop, Kentuck Knob and Wilderness Voyageurs, Laurel Highlands River Tours, Falls Market, all in Ohiopyle. It’s also on display in the Connellsville Visitor’s Center.
For more information, visit www.Facebook.com/getupandridebook.