Kent resident takes 2-week bike, kayak tour to promote historic trail

KENT — Resident Sal Lilienthal wrote two books about the American revolution and you could say it helped prepare him for a mission.

Both turned out to be precursors to a two-week-long mission to complete an 800-mile journey by land and water that replicated the path taken by the Continental Army, led by George Washington and helped by France and Spain against Great Britain.

After working for nearly 10 years on his mission, Lilienthal was awarded a $10,000 grant from the National Park Service through his business — the Bicycle Tour Co. in Kent. The grant was designed to promote a revolutionary route — the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail.

It did so by running an experimental learning bike and kayak tour that followed the 1781 French and American armies’ route from Newport, Rhode Island to Yorktown, Virginia, where the military campaign defeated Cornwallis’ British forces, won the Revolution, and gained independence for what would become the United States of America.

Lilienthal planned to make a solo trip, by bicycle on land and kayak by water, although the National Park Service was initially wary of that, he said. He also planned events along the way, to engage local reeenactors, members of the National Park Service and others.

On Aug. 28, the National Park Service announced that “Service volunteer Sal Lilienthal completed a 680-mile revolutionary ride at the Yorktown Victory Monument, becoming the first person to complete a full ride of the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail.”

Biking the trail was no simple feat, Lilienthal said.

The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail includes the land and water corridors that follow the routes taken by American and French armies under the commands of General Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau to and from the siege of Yorktown — a pivotal event in the American Revolutionary War, Lilienthal said.

The trail traverses nine states: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, plus the District of Columbia. Though the trail is 680 miles in length, Lilienthal’s actual journey took him on a distance of over 800 miles. He also kayaked areas of the trail to commemorate the water crossing of French and Continental troops.

“This journey has been a passion of mine, wanting to encourage people to learn more about the history of the trail and living a healthy lifestyle,” Lilienthal said. “I traveled a full 800 miles, visited nine states and the District of Columbia and just met incredible people at every stop I made.”

He began the ride in Newport, Rhode Island with an early stop at Morristown National Historical Park, where Superintendent Tom Ross, staff, and volunteers welcomed him.

At one point, Lilienthal’s van had a mechanical breakdown and his team had to hire a U-Haul. Then the rental truck, containing nearly everything needed to complete the trip, was stolen from the hotel parking lot. He bought a new bicycle and camera, rented another car and got back on the road.

“This ride was challenging in countless ways and for that, we are extremely grateful that Sal had the strength and passion to complete it,” said Trail Administrator Johnny Carawan.

“By completing this ride, Sal has brought awareness to our trail and its significant role in our nation’s history,” Carawan said. “He now has the distinction of being the first person to bike and kayak the entire length of the trail.”

Lilienthal is now planning a similarly themed project for 2026, the country’s 250th anniversary. And for those interested in history, his books are a book entitled “Revolutionary Battles; Experience America’s Roads to Independence”, published in 2014 as a follow-up to “Revolutionary Connecticut”, published in 2012.