The Mann Brothers enjoying their annual Mann Brothers Bike Fest.
Coraletta Houck's grandkids pedal along the North Bend Rail-Trail in West Virginia.
The Houck grandkids in the town of Cairo,
about to hit the trail.
More Trail Tales
For the Winter 2012 issue of Rails to Trails, we asked our readers: Is your whole family into cycling and trails?
Chris Mann of Charlottesville, Va., writes:
First there were the two-speed Schwinn Sting-Rays with long banana seats and sissy bars. Then there were English bikes, with three speeds and front and rear lights. There wasn't a Christmas that went by without my two brothers and me getting a new bike to explore our neighborhood and beyond in Crestline, Ala., in the 1960s.
As the oldest brother, I was not only the leader of the pack but also the one to fix flats, adjust seats and of course put cards in the spokes so everyone would know we were coming.
Now the bikes have 27 speeds, they're aluminum and all have suspension forks. What hasn't changed, however, is that my brothers and I have, for the last 25 years, kept our calendars empty the last week in September, when we meet and spend four days in what's come to be known as the Mann Brothers Bike Fest.
For the past 10 years or so, we've been renting a house right off the Virginia Creeper Trail outside of Damascus, Va. Karl, a nurse, drives
from Chapel Hill, N.C. My younger brother, Keith, is a dentist and makes the trip up from Wilmington, N.C. I drive down with my wife, Paulette, from Charlottesville, Va., where I teach Latin. Six years ago, our cousin Marc joined us, and for the past two years his brother Erik has come, too.
We're in our 40s and 50s, but during Bike Fest we all are 15 again—racing to the top of the mountain, yelling on our way down, splashing through mud puddles, trying to see who can be the dirtiest at the end of the day. This ride is our sanctuary, the place where time not only stands still but seems to make us all young again. Each night, one of us is responsible for making dinner, and in the month before we meet, emails are flying with what we're planning for dinner along with the barbs, jokes, snide comments, insults and name calling that only brotherly love can foster.
Our mother—the reason we're all pretty fair cooks—was always so proud and happy that her sons had remained best friends. We always told her it started with two things: the love she and our dad gave us—and the bikes.
Doug and Dianne Jones of Barrington, Ill., write:
One of our first dates was a bike ride in St. Louis near the riverfront, The Midnight Ramble. Thirty-seven years later we are still avid cyclists. We lived on the Illinois Prairie Path in Wheaton, Ill., and took our two children and their friends on many a bike outing. On family vacations, if we found a trail and didn't have our bikes, we would rent.
After years on single bikes, Dianne developed peripheral neuropathy, a chronic condition that manifests itself in her with numbness in the feet and hands and a loss of balance. Riding a single became difficult, so we switched to a tandem.
In the last 10 years we have ridden the tandem in five SAGBRAWs (a 350-mile, week-long ride in Wisconsin). In Wisconsin, we also rode the Elroy-Sparta State Trail. Annually, we have an October trip with friends from St. Louis. We try to pick a trail somewhere between Chicago and St. Louis. We love the Katy Trail State Park in Missouri!
Last summer, we rode the George Mickelson Trail in South Dakota. Also last year, Dianne was featured in a documentary that chronicled a trip from California to New York which followed Dominick Gill, a filmmaker, on a specially made tandem to accommodate handicapped riders. Dianne, one of 10 handicapped riders, rode with Gil on the tandem, with Doug following on a single for 400 miles from Chicago to Cleveland. What an adventure!
Biking has enriched our lives, and rail-trails are a beautiful way to go.
Coraletta Houck of Parkersburg, W.Va., writes:
My husband retired in 2000. I followed in 2001. With new bicycles and a great deal of excitement, we set off to try out rail-trails.
As much as we enjoyed our personal time and freedom, we were anxious to share the trail experience with our grandchildren. The North Bend Rail-Trail was the ideal choice. In the beginning, there was one preschool granddaughter on a tag-along. From tag-along to training wheels to independent biker, she was with us as we introduced her to our favorite spots along the North Bend trail. There was dinner at the Cairo diner, shopping at the old hardware store and exploring the haunted Silver Run Tunnel.
Then came her little brother—starting out in a riding basket, advancing to a tag-along, and finally sailing along on his own Diamondback bike. Now we are counting butterflies, spotting turtles and checking out the many bird species. Tunnels were a challenge to be had!
We loved sharing the North Bend Rail-Trail with their dad, too. When he ran the 30-mile course in the Road Runner Race in 2007, we were all there to cheer him on. Now, in 2011, we are ready to start over with the latest addition to the family, our 1-year-old grandson. By the summer of 2012, he should be ready to meet rail-trails, and we will be ready to introduce him to our family trail. What fun!
Adam Rynkiewich of St. Paul, Minn., writes:
This past May, my four-year-old daughter Clara made the transition to life without training wheels. She soon mastered the sidewalk in front of our home and, like her two older sisters before her, she beamed a triumphant smile for days.
Not wanting her to rest on her laurels, after only a month and a half of riding solo, my wife Sarah and I challenged Clara with a 17-mile trek on the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota. We rented a house just outside Hill City, S.D., and chose the hottest day of the week to hike up Harney Peak (Clara walked most of the seven-mile roundtrip). Three days later, in cooler weather, we set out on our bikes from the Mystic trailhead.
Our goal was to make the gradual climb of 8.5 miles to the famous Moonshine Gulch Saloon, just past the Rochford trailhead, by lunch time. For the first three miles, we made water stops nearly every quarter-mile. Clara was struggling to keep up. About midway we allowed the kids to cool their arms and faces in Rapid Creek. A little seat adjustment boosted Clara up a few inches, and she found new strength to power all the way to the saloon.
At Moonshine Gulch, Clara chose Queen's "We will rock you" on the jukebox and, after a short celebratory dance, she sat back to enjoy an ice cold root beer. The ride back to Mystic was a breeze—all downhill and all smiles from my littlest girl.
Leslie Brinker of Germantown Hills, Ill., writes:
Shortly after we were married, Dave said, "I do love your family's annual Cape Cod vacation, but do we have to go every summer?" So, we made plans to do something different every other year, and from this marital compromise came some of our most memorable and bonding family vacations: camping and rail-trail rides.
I would plan our vacation around trails, camping areas, swimming and food destinations for us and our four boys. Over the years, our kids learned about bike mechanics and how to ride safely. They talked with people as we traveled along the trails, through quaint towns and large cities, stopping at ice cream stands and by old railroad stations, and they saw how others lived.
In New Hampshire we rode the Lincoln Woods Trail and saw a moose stomp through the woods and hiked to see great water falls. In Virginia we rode along the New River (State Trail), the oldest river in the world, and it flows 'backwards'! We found a "Pay Pond" and cooked trout for dinner.
We biked along the Colorado River on the Glenwood Canyon Recreational Trail and watched people go down rapids before we tried it. We got off our bikes and hiked up Hanging Lake Trail to find a lake on top of a mountain! We saw a turtle bury eggs along the Cape Cod Rail Trail in Massachusetts, and smelled the salty air and scrub pines as we biked down Nauset Marsh Trail and burst out onto a wooden bridge over the marshes and up to the Coast Guard Beach Lighthouse overlooking the ocean.
We gazed up at the Crazy Horse Memorial from the Mickelson Trail in the South Dakota's Black Hills. A wolf crossed our path as we stopped to rest. In Missouri we biked along the rivers that Lewis and Clark explored, and the Katy Trail State Park, enjoying the wineries along the way. On the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail in Michigan we saw beavers at work flooding our trail. We biked the Green Circle Trail in Wisconsin through magical woods and along forested riverbanks.
And now it's like we are starting again; our first grandchild, his first ride on the Rock Island Trail State Park in Illinois, tapping on my husband's back and humming, with crazy chipmunks crossing constantly in front of us and the bluebirds and the woodlands and the farmlands
and this is what love is.