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Hurricanes, Rail-Trails, Hills and Adventure

By Carol Waaser and Karin Fantus

Karin and I had started planning more than a month in advance. It would be a six-day, self-contained, inn-to-inn tour during the Labor Day weekend, leaving New York City on September 1 and returning September 6. Who knew the Northeast would be slammed by Hurricane Irene on August 28? 

Our planned route was up to Pawling, N.Y., then across western Connecticut and north through western Massachusetts, finally crossing just into New Hampshire. We would return through the Berkshires and ultimately take the train back to the city from Wassaic.

As the storm mop-up began on August 29, we watched all the flood warnings and road closure updates we could find. There were several places, particularly in Connecticut, where roads on our route were closed as of Monday, but we couldn't get any further updates as to whether they would be open by Thursday. And we had planned to take the South and North County trailways the first day, which we feared might not be cleared as quickly as the commuter roads. So on Tuesday, August 30, I scouted the southern section of the South County Trailway. Although it was still strewn with leaf and twig debris in many places, crews had already been out clearing the downed trees. We were confident it would be completely passable by Thursday...and it was! Luck stayed with us throughout the trip and we never encountered a closed road or bridge.

Embarking on the journey as scheduled on September 1, we took the subway from Columbus Circle up to 238th Street in the Bronx, there being elevators at both those stations, allowing us to get our lightly loaded bikes down to the platform and then to the street easily. Thus we skipped the "junk" miles and started our tour close to the first entrance to the rail-trail. Starting with a trail was a good way to ease into a multi-day tour, putting us immediately into a touring frame of mind--an easy, relaxed pace, a chance to chat as we rode side by side, remembering to look at the scenery and maybe even stop for a photo. On a weekday morning, there were few other trail users.

We were never without a little adventure, from missed turns that added eight miles to each of the first two days, to a hill that was 18- to 20-percent incline for about half a mile (yes, we walked), to on-the-fly route changes, to a power outage the third night that meant a bath in the swimming pool instead of the shower. On the fifth day, as we cycled over the mountains from Northampton to Great Barrington, we had torrential rain storms. The worst came as we started across Route 23 from Otis to Great Barrington. We didn't know there was road construction on the route, and some sections were now unpaved. At 3 in the afternoon, it might as well have been dusk, cycling in the pouring rain, unable to see more than a few yards ahead, on unpaved stretches with loose stones, ruts and mud, and a little lightning and thunder just to keep us alert! But we made it to our next inn, had a good dinner in town and spent the evening drying things out.

Our route was specifically designed to accommodate visits with various friends and cousins in western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. In addition, we met other fun and interesting people and animals along the way. Three nights were spent at bed-and-breakfasts, one of which, the Sugar Maple Trailside Inn, sits immediately alongside the Northampton Bikeway, which is a westward extension of the Norwottuck Rail Trail in Massachusetts. The inn is run by Craig Della Penna, who has been a lobbyist and advocate of trails and alternative transportation for a number of years. Needless to say, that was an interesting evening. 

We had planned to do a few sections on rail-trails and ended up doing about 75 miles (out of a total of 350-plus miles) on eight different trails and greenways, including the Putnam Trailway and Harlem Valley Rail Trail in New York, and the Still River Greenway and Farmington Canal Heritage Trail in Connecticut. The trail systems in the Northeast continue to grow; we probably could have done more miles on trails had we done a little more research beforehand. Some trails we either came upon serendipitously or were told about along the way by local folks, and some of the roads we were on are now marked as bicycle routes. These trail and bike route systems are making multi-day touring safe and possible for even novice cyclists. 

The innkeepers where we stayed, as well as local residents we encountered, see rail-trails as an asset and an economic boon to the community. Wherever we stopped to ask about trail facilities, local merchants and residents knew the information and were very helpful. Along the way, we encountered many smiling cyclists and other trail users who exhibited good trail etiquette. The whole experience came together so nicely.

Light-loaded inn-to-inn touring is an easy way to take a short, inexpensive vacation. Karin used her road bike and a large Carradice bag that attaches firmly to the seatpost. I used my touring bike with a rack and Topeak MXP rack trunk with small drop-down panniers. Each of us carried between 10 and 15 pounds extra, including gear and tools, an extra cycling kit, a set of off-bike clothes and lightweight shoes, plus whatever toiletries and necessities we needed. Ziploc bags and dry bags protected most of our stuff, even in the downpour. With a spirit of adventure, you can handle anything that happens (especially when you're not camping). And when you're touring by bicycle, you can count on folks to help you out along the way. 

There are plenty of interesting places you can see in a two- or three-day trip if you want to dip your toe in without making a big commitment. But we've also done 10-day trips covering 600 to 700 miles, still only lightly loaded. (For some of us, camping is not in the cards--we like our creature comforts!) This style is very different from doing club rides, but it is another gift your bicycle--and trails--can give you.

Photos courtesy of Carol Waaser and Karin Fantus. 

Posted Mon, Sep 19 2011 2:41 PM by Karl Wirsing (RTC)


mark lucas wrote re: Hurricanes, Rail-Trails, Hills and Adventure
on Tue, Sep 20 2011 2:27 AM

great job ladys keep on riding I think that the only way to get around places

Craig Della Penna wrote re: Hurricanes, Rail-Trails, Hills and Adventure
on Tue, Sep 20 2011 10:18 PM

Great story Carol.  I should note that the Norwottuck Rail Trail [aka the Mass Central Rail Trail--www.masscentralrailtrail.org]  will be open all the way [100+ miles] to Boston from Northampton in 8-10 years and the trail from Northampton to New Haven at Yale [80+ miles] will be open in about 4 years.  

That route will provide world class bike tourism.



John wrote re: Hurricanes, Rail-Trails, Hills and Adventure
on Thu, Oct 13 2011 3:01 PM

Thanks for sharing....  hoping it will inspire me to get out on fun trips like that..

Too bad there is not a web site where one could get current and up dated info from and for users , a forum type area for messages , questions, suggestions?  Before a trip

love to see a wiki type interface, forums, so user’s could update, inter connect… get real time status of trail… i.e.  ..  flood damage, detour, new store, camp site ….

Brice Faller wrote re: Hurricanes, Rail-Trails, Hills and Adventure
on Thu, Oct 13 2011 7:25 PM

Sounds interesting.  Could you let me know the names and locations of the inns where you stayed each night?  brice48@verizon.net

Al Horila wrote re: Hurricanes, Rail-Trails, Hills and Adventure
on Fri, Oct 14 2011 9:45 AM

Great Story! thanks for sharing! I have only been doing day trips.  This type of trip inspires me to try a several days type trip.

Jeanne Bush wrote re: Hurricanes, Rail-Trails, Hills and Adventure
on Sat, Oct 15 2011 5:01 PM

Carol,  How fun to read your article!  Got the email from Rails to Trails and clicked on this article and saw your name.  Sounds like a great & fun adventure.  Just finished a 10-day ride in Kentucky - beautiful!  But we did have a truck with our luggage.


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