This Trail Tales article was originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of Rails to Trails magazine. If you’re interested in tackling all of our Hall of Fame rail-trails yourself (or just a few!), you can read about them in our new Rail-Trail Hall of Fame Guidebook, available now!
While working at Georgia’s Clayton State University near Atlanta, Joyce Swofford and Martha Wicker found they had a lot in common: Both enjoy biking, hiking and skiing. In 2011, their friendship and passion for the outdoors blossomed into one of the biggest undertakings of their lives—to bike all 27 trails in the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. [Editor's note: As of May 2016, there are 29 trails or trail systems inducted. RTC will be choosing its 30th inductee in June 2016 via public vote.]
As these exemplary rail-trails are located all around the country, and several stretch 100 miles or more, this was no easy feat. Says Swofford, “When I get tired, I just think of what my son, also a biker, says: ‘Just push and pedal, push and pedal; you can do it!’”
And indeed they can. By the end of September, the two friends, one turning 60 this year and the other 69, will have crossed off the last trail on their list.
Both women had been on some of the Hall of Fame trails independently before, but a chance conversation in late 2010 set in motion the concerted effort to do them all.
“While attending my uncle’s funeral in West Virginia, my cousin introduced me to a member of her church who told me about the Hall of Fame trails,” Wicker says. “I was so inspired by his stories that I researched the trails when I got back home and convinced my friend Joyce that we should bike all the Hall of Fame trails in the country.”
Unbeknownst to the two friends, the church-member—Chris Bracknell, a 20-year RTC member who lives in Virginia—also wrote a letter to RTC to announce the completion of his Hall of Fame trail goal. During the interview process for this story, the connection among the three of them was revealed, and the trio hope one day to meet for a ride.
With such diversity—from New York City’s famed High Line to the George S. Mickelson Trail through South Dakota’s Black Hills—the list offers something for everyone. Swofford, who favors rural trails, especially liked the Virginia Creeper Trail and Missouri’s Katy Trail, which transverses nearly the entire state. Wicker, who loves tunnels, got a kick out of Idaho’s Route of the Hiawatha, which has nearly a dozen of them, including the 1.6-mile-long Taft Tunnel in the Bitterroot Mountains.
“One thing about crossing the country doing rail-trails is that you see parts of the country that lots of people don’t see,” Bracknell says. “Rail-trails take you into these little towns and away from big tourist areas. You really get the feel of where you are.”
For those who want to follow in their footsteps, Swofford recommends, “Plan in advance, at least two months ahead. Get trail maps, and find out what hotels there are. Plan your logistics and know where you’re going. See how you can group trails together, and do a bunch at once.”
Bracknell seconds the need for research and notes that he uses TrailLink.com to plan his trips, finding the firsthand reviews from other travelers especially helpful.
“We read a lot of blogs from people who have ridden on those trails,” Wicker adds.
“We like to mix ice cream places with our trail riding, and we find out about those on blogs. One time we heard about a creamery that was a mile from the Little Miami Scenic Trail, but we almost missed that turn.” She says with a laugh, “If we had, we would have been devastated!”
The friends have their own blog of their trail adventures, Georgia Pedal Pushers.
“When you’re riding these Hall of Fame trails, you see the U.S. in a way that you couldn’t in a car,” Wicker says. “It’s like the whole rest of the world has stopped, and you’re just back to nature.”
When asked what he would recommend travelers pack for their trail trips, Bracknell is quick to say, “Definitely a camera!”
Update May 2016: Joyce, Martha and Chris all completed their goal of riding all the Hall of Fame trails to date! Chris has now ridden more than 135 trails across the country, and Martha and Joyce recently just had a 93-mile adventure on the developing Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.