Trail Voices: Phil and Barbara Brady
"Trail Voices" highlights the work of rail-trail supporters around the country. Our interview subjects are anyone from high-level urban planners to local volunteers, and no contribution to the trails, hiking and bicycling movement is too big or too small—dedication comes in all sizes. We could never tell all the personal stories that make rail-trails a success, but we can share a few of the voices behind the movement.
For June, we caught up with Phil Brady on the phone from his home in Livermore, Calif. He and his wife Barbara, both now retired, moved to California from Tennessee 22 years ago, and the change of scenery brought with it a significant change of lifestyle: they started cycling. They've since toured the California coast multiple times, sampled rail-trails across the country, and are now planning a possible summer ride down to Tijuana in Mexico.
Most recently, Phil and Barbara applied their love of cycling to help Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) map rail-trails for its upcoming Rail-Trails: West guidebook. "We saw the call for volunteers earlier this year, right around January," Phil says. "So when we called [RTC] at the end of March, we went right to work."
Do you remember what jumpstarted your love of cycling?
We retired two years ago at the start of summer. We've always done these little one- and two-week bike tours, and you're limited by working. So we decided, let's quit and trek up to Vancouver, B.C., and ride back to Livermore, 1,200 miles. It took about five to six weeks, but we had no time schedule. Just kind of meandered. Now we usually do one of those a year—lots of self-contained touring on the California coast, things like that.
What appealed to you about RTC's GIS mapping initiative?
When we retired, one of the first things we did was drive across the country. We bought a little camper van and a couple of mountain bikes and a bike rack. We just kind of kept an eye out for rail-trails and rode a bunch as we came across them. They're all quite different and interesting. So when we got back to California, that's when we contacted RTC here to help map some trails.
We both think it's a very worthwhile cause, very useful. And again, recently retired, we were looking for things to shift focus on. Instead of working, now we do much more volunteer work. We've had a delightful time, and would like to do more of it.
How do you and Barbara work as a team?
We kind of meshed. Barbara's much more of the photographer, so she did the pictures, and I took the notes. At some places, it wasn't real clear where the trail was going. I'd just stay in place and she'd go out and explore.
What do you enjoy most about rail-trails?
The freedom to ride in different, unique places. Most of them being on rail corridors, you get trestles and bridges and open spaces. I kind of like the ones in more rural areas. You get to see those places in a way you couldn't any other way.
Do you have any favorites?
The first trail we did when we went cross country was the 57-mile New River Trail in Virginia. We took the bikes off the back of the van, and rode off for 20 miles. It was a hilly part of the state, and the thing had a bunch of trestles—just a marvelous place to ride a bike.
We really like Mickelson Trail too. We camped in Custer, S.D., for three days and stumbled on it—didn't know it was there. It runs right through the center of town, and you immediately got away from what civilization is there.
What are your next planned bicycle trips?
We've done the entire California coast a number of times, so I think the next one we're gonna do is go from Livermore to Los Angeles or all the way to Tijuana in Mexico. All this riding will taper off soon—we're not getting any younger. We wanted to do it while we still could, and so far we still can.
When you're not pedaling, what keeps you busy?
We both run quite a bit, do road races. Barbara's done 40 marathons. There's actually a club, the 50 States Marathon Club. She just signed up for it, trying to do one in each state. She's up to 13 now.
Do you have any recommendations for other retirees—or really anyone—interested in cycling?
I think rail-trails are a good place to start, because you're mostly off the street, safe for beginners or people just getting into it, and they tend to be flat. Some of them are so well-developed with benches and water fountains and all kinds of things. For a beginner, you just can't beat these things as a place to start.
To help RTC put more rail-trails on the map, send an inquiry to email@example.com.