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Muddy backs on the New River Trail in Virginia © the Burbanks
The Burbanks show off their "reverse skunks" after riding on a soaked former coal line.

Robyn Weinbaum on the General James A. Van Fleet State Trail © Robyn Weinbaum
Robyn Weinbaum on one of her favorite Florida pathways, the General James A. Van
Fleet State Trail.


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Next Issue:
Which rail-trail offers the best urban experience? Skyline views, connections to cultural attractions, ease of access and transportation—how does this trail showcase the soul of a city? (Deadline for submission: December 1, 2009)

We want to hear from you!
Essays should be no more than 250 words in length and may be edited for publication. If your essay is chosen, we'll ask you to provide a picture of yourself (perhaps on a rail-trail) to accompany the essay. Send your essay and contact information to

or mail to:
Rails-to Trails Conservancy
Magazine/Trail Tales
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Court, N.W., 5th Floor
Washington, DC 20037


More Trail Tales

For the Winter 2010 issue of Rails to Trails, we asked our readers: What's the worst weather you've ever experienced while on a rail-trail?

Jim and Ellie Burbank of Maryville, Tenn., write:
Ever ridden an old coal train trail? If you do, pray for no rain! Our fearless foursome had wondered about that, as it had rained the night before we took on a 40-miler along the New River Trail in Virginia.

It wasn't so bad at first, but we had gone about five miles when the fireworks began: booming thunder and crashing lightning! Fortunately, we were approaching the first railroad tunnel we would encounter and got inside just as the storm hit. It was raining so hard, we got in the middle of the tunnel to escape the blowing rain. We didn't get too wet—yet.

That storm seemed over, so off we went again. Within the next five to six miles, another "boomer" hit—this time without the benefit of a handy tunnel. For a while we tried maneuvering around the growing puddles until we were so wet it didn't make any difference.

On we rode with no let-up of the rain and wind. Coming to another tunnel, we stopped and ate our soggy lunches. We didn't need much to drink, as Mother Nature had taken care of that.

This break gave us the opportunity to look more carefully at each other. What a mess we were! Completely soaked—all over inside and out—and those of us dressed in white biking shirts realized we had become reverse skunks. Instead of a white stripe down our black backs, it was opposite. Even our underwear had become black with coal dust. But we wouldn't have missed it for the great memories!

Leslie Slack of Uniontown, Pa., writes:
Ten years ago on a bright sunny July day, I met the man I was to marry on the Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania.

We met while stopping to catch the breathtaking view from the High Bridge in Ohiopyle State Park. He had parked his bike next to mine. Then, after two weeks on separate vacations, we spoke on the phone to choose our first date. So after work—me in Pittsburgh and he in Uniontown—we planned to meet once again on the Great Allegheny Passage.

As I drove the hour and a half east, I knew it would rain. As a native Midwesterner, I have seen my share of storms. I've even had the experience of seeing two tornadoes from a distance.

Determined, I still set off in Ohiopyle. Almost to he halfway point, I had to stop. The color of the sky had become a mad gray. Trees bent over, letting the wild wind ride around. I stood my bike against a two-story bank of rock and got as close as I could to the side. Now lightning was leaving the only light to see, with water pouring almost through me. Nothing I have since seen could compare to this storm. Nature and me alone. I was almost as frightened as I was in awe. During this downpour, my date flew past on his bike without taking notice. But we met in the park later, and the rest …

Robyn Weinbaum of Kissimmee, Fla., writes:
It was early August 2008. I'd been biking for a few years, riding five to 10 miles at a time. I had decided I wanted to ride the MS150 Bike Tour that September. The ride covers 150 miles in two days, and I'd never ridden more than 20 miles at a stretch. I had some training to do. That's why my friend took me to the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail one afternoon. Since the trail is flat and shady, we figured I'd be able to handle 29 miles roundtrip if we went slowly.

We took off on a sunny, beautiful afternoon. Along the way we stopped at the Camp Milton Historic Preserve for a break. We're both history buffs and enjoyed the homestead, riding along the boardwalks, inspecting the gardens.

Then we saw the clouds. We clipped back in to ride back to the parking lot. Just then it started drizzling. My friend rode faster. I was already going as fast as I could—I must have been doing 18 miles per hour, a new record for me. The rain came down stronger and the wind picked up. Florida is known for tornadoes and sudden thunderstorms and, sure enough, we were still five miles from the car when the sky split open and rain came down full force. All I could think was, "I'm riding an old railroad trail on an old aluminum bike. I'm a moving lightning rod!" I changed gears—that was new to me, too—and "put the hammer down." I was doing 28 mph as we reached the end, drenched … but exhilarated!

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
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