It wasn’t long after Giles Snyder moved here in 2004 to take a job with as a National Public Radio news announcer in D.C. that he began to think about traveling by bike along the C&O Canal.
Last week, the recreational cyclist finally decided to give the trip a whirl. He completed his usual commute home from his job in D.C. not via the Beltway, but on his bike along the scenic, historic parkway.
“I had my eye on it for the longest time to see if I could get myself into shape,” said Snyder, who for years daydreamed about cycling the entire 184.5-mile path from D.C. to Cumberland, Md., but in the end elected to “just” take on the 75 miles from Washington to Shepherdstown, and enjoyed the support of two friends who tagged along on the two-day trip.
For Snyder, it’s a whole new take on the commute he’s made the past eight years, ever since he switched from covering West Virginia news from his hometown of Charleston to his new post at the news desk at National Public Radio, where he delivers the latest world events to homes, offices and cars all across the nation and beyond.
“I got a new appreciation for the miles I put on my car,” he said. “ A lot of that stuff just flies by you. I’d never really seen Great Falls until I was out on the canal.”
Continuing to live in West Virginia was important to Snyder, who typically makes the 90-minute drive from Berkeley County into D.C. at off hours, thereby sidestepping the heaviest traffic.
Still, he said, many of his NPR co-workers initially expressed shock to hear he was living in West Virginia. “They give me a blank stare and their mouths drop open,” Snyder says. “But the drive really is not that bad.”
The bike trip was not without its challenges though. For one, Snyder said he didn’t physically prepare for the ride.
“I just kept looking at my bike in the garage and the next thing I knew it was time to go,” he said.
The weather presented another obstacle. On day one, it rained.
“It started to rain as soon as we left work and it just rained all day. It was horrible; we were muddy and everything was soaking wet,” he said.
The group rode 53 miles the first day, stopping for the night in one of the canal’s historic lockhouses before soldiering on the final 23 miles to Shepherdstown.
“The following day was beautiful,” he said.
Snyder is a graduate of Charleston’s George Washington High School, also the alma mater of actress Jennifer Garner.
After earning a broadcasting degree from Marshall University in 1987, Snyder found a job at a small commercial radio station in Milton. His next job, with West Virginia Public Radio in Charleston, lasted for 16 years and gave him a chance to serve as a reporter, anchor, operations director, program director and news director.
“I learned everything I know at West Virginia Public Radio,’’ said Snyder, whose wife of 10 years, Trina Bartlett, is a former radio journalist who also grew up in Charleston. She is a longtime executive with United Way of the Eastern Panhandle.
Snyder said he initially applied for the NPR job almost on a lark. “I learned NPR was looking for someone for the overnight/weekend gig and I thought that if I ever were to make the leap [to a national program], it would have to be in a job like that. I’d have to be willing to start off at the bottom again. So I applied. I didn’t think I’d get it but the next thing I knew I had a really big decision to make.”
Snyder said the couple’s children, son Shepherd and daughter Kendall, have adjusted well to the Panhandle, though he and Bartlett have battled feelings of homesickness for Charleston – and have come face to face with the disconnect that exists between this area and the state’s capital city.
“I remember when the phone repairman was here,” Snyder said. “He asked where we’d moved from and when I told him, his response was: ‘Oh, I love South Carolina.’ I had to say, ‘No, not South Carolina – West Virginia. Our state capital.’
“We’ve learned people here are a lot more likely to be focused on Maryland and Virginia than Charleston.’’
Snyder said he’s ready to tackle the other half of the canal — from Cumberland to Shepherdsotwn.
“I want to do the whole thing but it’s definitely going to be in stages,” he said .