Tell Us ...
In April, we asked for your take on the ideal length of a rail-trail excursion.
Steve Allie — Whitney, Texas
My brothers and I have done summer rides of 300 miles or so in five to six days. We've ridden the Katy Trail State Park across Missouri, and the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes and Route of the Hiawatha across Idaho. We also rode from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., on the C&O Canal towpath and Great Allegheny Passage, as well the Paul Bunyan State Trail and several others across Minnesota. We prefer the smooth paved trails we've found in Idaho and Minnesota.
We plan way ahead and reserve hotel rooms around the 50-mile mark and ride 50 to 60 miles a day. We sightsee and explore in the evenings. We find great restaurants using trail guidebooks, or we ask locals along the way for recommendations. On some trips we have taken our golf clubs and played a couple of times. We've had some great rides, and we are 60, 64 and 67 years old.
John Aulbach — York, Pa.
I enjoy weeklong rides. I just feel like I can get a little more in the groove on a longer trip versus a weekender.
The planning and daydreaming about what the trip might be like are part of the fun. Then there is the reality of the trip, and, well, sometimes it's best to forget the planning. We have a destination and enough time to get there without having to hurry, so whatever happens in-between is just part of the fun. Between trips, the memories of the last trip help to sustain me until the next one.
On a trip across New York along the New York State Canal System Barge Canal Towpath, we dropped our rental car in downtown Albany just two blocks from the canal trailhead (now, that was some brilliant planning) and started on our way to Buffalo. I actually reserved (a little too much planning, maybe) a campsite at a marina along the canal for our first night's stay. After that, we stayed where we decided to quit for the day and ate where it was convenient and looked like they would accommodate a couple of sweaty, grubby guys. As fate would have it, my son and I met another father/son duo whom we had met a few years earlier along the C&O Canal towpath in Maryland.
My first long bike ride, beyond local bike trail rides, was with my then 11-year-old son. We rode the C&O Canal towpath in 3.5 days. It was a memorable trip because of the people we met along the way, the beauty of the scenery and the fact that it began to hurt worse to get off the bike than to get on toward the end. I've learned a few tricks since then and now am a lean and mean traveler who knows how to stay comfortable during a week on my bike. I'm pleased to say, too, that my son is just as hooked on these trips as I am, but as a college student he does not have as much time to ride.
Diana Mason — New Jersey
My husband Bob and I like to plan weekend getaways around a rail-trail. We head out Friday night after work and stay in a decent hotel, ride the trail on Saturday, and then drive home leisurely Sunday morning, often stopping along the way if something catches our fancy. We like to put in about 30 to 40 miles on that Saturday. That can be 15 in and 15 out, or shuttle out and pedal 30 or so miles back to our car. We prefer trails that wander in and out of natural areas, with small towns mixed in along the way.
In our area, the Heritage Rail Trail County Park beginning in York, Pa., and wandering down to the Maryland border makes for a terrific weekend trip. The trail is great, and there are plenty of things to see and do once you are done pedaling for the day (like taking a tour of the Harley Davidson Motorcycle factory). We also enjoy the Lehigh Gorge State Park Trail located in Jim Thorpe, Pa. That's great for shuttling out and pedaling back while watching the whitewater rafters on the river. Once again, there are then plenty of things to see and do in Jim Thorpe when you are done for the day.
Goodness, I sound like an advertising person for Pennsylvania, except I live in New Jersey!
Pete Sutton — Somerville, Mass.
From experience, I've always enjoyed three days as the ideal length of a rail-trail excursion. The length is perfect for long weekends, and ideal for covering a good amount of ground in a particular region. Hailing from Massachusetts, we don't yet have the luxury of an all-inclusive single trail with the length of, say, the C&O Canal towpath or the Great Allegheny Passage. However, I can't think of a better bike trip than the one I planned last Columbus Day weekend on Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard.
We drove down from Boston on a Saturday morning, hit the first 11-mile leg of the Cape Cod Rail Trail in the afternoon, and then rode the second 11-mile leg the following morning before driving to Wood's Hole to catch the ferry to the Vineyard. Before boarding, we rode the recently extended 10-mile Shining Sea Bikeway in Falmouth end to end, which conveniently brings you to the ferry terminal, where bikes are always welcome to board reservation-free. Day 3 was spent riding miles of designated paths that run adjacent to many of the island's major roads. Of particular note were the spectacularly isolated trails within Correllus State Forest, which lies in the heart of the island, completely free of any development save for the airfield nearby.
Rebecca Wilson — Nashport, Ohio
My husband and I prefer a short two-day hike with a hotel for showers in-between. We also have mountain bikes, and a 35-mile day is a nice trip.
Stan & Valerie — Washington
We walk rail-trails with a Chariot bicycle cart, attached to the long metal arms and a harness, and pulled by one of us. We can haul 100 pounds in the cart, while the other one walks and rests. We've done the whole 145-mile John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Washington, North Bend to Vantage. And we've started the 84-mile Weiser River Trail in Idaho but were stopped by floods.
Then, we've done the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes in Idaho, from Mullan to Plummer. We camp where we can or get a room. Usually, we're the only ones on foot. Lots of miles, but we allow lots of days. It's an experience of patience, and boredom in the first days, then adjustment after a few days to the unnaturally slow change of scene (that is, to a modern-times person). Train tracks were laid out in a different era and turn gradually, and climb and descend slowly.
Then there's the deep satisfaction of day-long mild physical exertion, which amounts to huge exertion, given the duration.
Susan Nagels — Sanger, Calif.
My husband and I live here in the Central Valley of California and have been riding recumbent trikes for 2.5 years. On out-the-door, local trips, we prefer rides that are 25 to 40 miles in length. We like rides where we can meander along, see the sights and perhaps stop somewhere and have lunch. On out-of-state trips or rides that take us farther from home, we look for routes that offer multi-day possibilities. Our longest ride so far has been a nine-day unsupported inn-to-inn ride of 432 miles. Incidentally, because we ride so low to the ground, we also look for rides that have dedicated bike paths, which is why we love rail-trails.
Cindy Rice — Madison, Wis.
I think at least 20 miles is a good length. If it's any shorter, it's not worth driving to unless there are other biking options nearby. At 20 miles, you can make it a longer 40-mile ride in one day, or do 20 miles or longer and then SAG back. It would be better to have trails of 50 miles or more so one could actually make a weekend of the area. Better yet would be additional trails in the same area.