Another in the “Life at 10 Miles An Hour” series by Craig and Di Shanklin
If you ride with other local cyclists, you’re bound to hear at least one of these four complaints during most rides… sometimes all four in the same ride. The good news, there is one easy solution to all of these common cycling complaints.
- “It’s too hilly here!” (frequently uttered by my flat-land loving wife)
- “Boy, the traffic is getting worse here!”
- “I’m getting tired of riding this same route.”
- “Man, it sure is hot here in the summer!”
If you hear or think any of these common Southern Utah complaints, an easy solution… Rail to Trails…conversions of old abandoned railroad beds into cycling and multi-use trails. According to former DSU President Doug Alder (author of the excellent History of Washington County), Southern Utah is unique in the absence of railroads. Unlike Dixie, nearly every area of the country was developed using an extensive system of railroads. However, the geography and low population of our area made railroads impractical. Therefore we don’t think much about railroads and certainly don’t have old abandoned railroad grades that can be used as trails. However, they are common nearly everywhere else in the country and they make terrific cycling routes or destinations.
While railroads were extensive in the first half of the 20th century, they are being replaced by trucks, airlines and other forms of shipping. Railroads, especially shorter regional “short haul” lines, are disappearing and trails are taking their place. There are now nearly 31,000 miles of Rails to Trails across the country, all appropriate for cycling and most of them paved. Since trains can’t climb steep grades, nearly all Rails to Trails are flat… less than a 2% grade. They are also separated from traffic. It’s just you, nature and a few other cyclists or walkers. These trails are also located all across the country so it’s easy to pick a location based on the seasons, cooler destinations in the summer and warmer destinations in the winter. There are many great sources of information on Rails to Trails such as the national Rails to Trails Conservancy (https://www.railstotrails.org) and the great TrailLink website and phone app (https://www.traillink.com). There are also extensive Rails to Trails Guidebooks including the “Hall of Fame” which lists the best of the best trails.
As a part of our “Life at 10MPH,” we have used Rails to Trails extensively for great cycling this summer. In just one 3-week period, we traveled the Pacific Northwest, average temperature 65 degrees, and rode over 12 fantastic Rails to Trails. Favorites included the Trails of the Coeur d’Alenes (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) with 76 miles of scenic beauty as you ride the paved shoreline trail of the lake from small town to small town. The famous Route of the Hiawatha Trail is nearby and while unpaved, is easily ridden by most bicycles with a 30mm tire or larger. It is well known for its tunnels, waterfalls, dramatic train trestles spanning beautiful rivers and canyons hundreds of feet below and mountainous views. But don’t forget your bike lights-one of the tunnels is nearly 2 miles long (and pitch black!) and a chilly 55 degrees even in the summer. You can also ride the paved Centennial Trail from Coeur d’Alene, across the Idaho/Washington border right into downtown Spokane, Washington. Other favorites include the Banks-Vernonia State Trail (21 miles, paved) just West of Portland in the heavily forested foothills of the Oregon Coast Range. If you are in the Northwest with your bike, don’t miss the Row River Trail (rhymes with cow), 16 miles of paved perfection 25 miles South of Eugene, Oregon. This trail, through the woods and over the rivers, boasts over five Howe truss bridges, 23 pile trestles, and 20 covered bridges. You’ll be hard-pressed to average a whopping 10 MPH for all the photos stops you’ll take on this great trail. And don’t miss the trails even closer to home, like the Wood River Trail, a 20-mile paved gem from Sun Valley/Ketchum to Hailey, Idaho which follows the Wood River as it tumbles from the Sawtooth Mountains or the 25-mile Boise Greenbelt Trail along the river in downtown Boise. Even closer to home is another favorite, the Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail State Park, 28 miles long beginning in Park City, Utah. This trail has stunning views of the Wasatch Mountains as it travels across wetlands in Silver Creek Canyon through small towns and along the Weber River to Echo Reservoir.
In a few weeks, we’re going to expand our exposure to these fantastic cycling trails and discover a few of the longer classic trails, like the Mickelson Trail (114 miles in the Black Hills of South Dakota), the 321-mile long Cowboy Trail in Nebraska and finally, check off our bucket-list trail… the famous Katy Trail, over 350 miles across Missouri, one of the longest in the country. While many Rails to Trails are best done as a day trip, we’re eager to explore some of these longer trails with multi-day trips. We’ll be using bikepacking bags to carry clothes, food and water (but not camping gear) and riding from Inn to Inn in small towns along the way. We’ll report back in a future issue about how this works as another way to explore Rails to Trails.
So break out of the heat, break out of the routine, give your climbing legs a break and venture out to any of the hundreds of scenic Rails to Trails. Let us know your favorite. We’re eager to explore them all.
See you out there… on your bike… living life…at 10 miles an hour!
Photos and words by Craig and Di Shanklin.