Note: Many of Tom's photos were pasted together in multi-print cologes. To see what can be done with the magic of Photoshop click Here
Twenty minutes out and I knew I was in Railbike Heaven!
I came to a screeching halt to snap this shot. The beauty was at times overwhelming.
Only on the rails for a few minutes and I was treated with the sight of Buck Pond (left).
Below, the bridge over the River Beaver.
I carried my sleeping bag, clothes for any kind of weather, food, toiletries, tools, camera, binoculars, three bottles of water and two bottles of my favorite beer.
The Stillwater Resevoir. Here I folded the rig to ride throught the settlement of Beaver River by road, fearing a possible unwelcome for railbikers.
Here come Sudjai and Dick Bentley to greet me mid-ride.
Heading home, southbound beauty!
My curiosity was piqued when I saw an article/letter in the 2nd quarter 1996 issue of the "Railbike International Messenger." The letter titled "Adirondack Railbiking," came from a Dick Bentley of Tupper Lake, New York. The Adirondacks were where my family went camping almost every year when I was a child. I just remembered the smell of the pines and the beautiful mountains as I rode in the back of my dad's '56 Chevy station wagon.
I got out a topographic map and sure enough there was a railroad running from Utica to Lake Placid directly through the town of Tupper Lake. Dick mentioned something about it being in rough but ridable shape. The gears in my head started turning and I was bound and determined to ride those rails.
It took a few years before I had the time and money to plan an Adirondack getaway. I e-mailed Dick and got a response and a phone number. My trip started with a folk festival near Albany and a visit with my cousins nearby.
Those topo maps also showed me the highest peak in New York, Mount Marcy, was close by. It was only 5344 feet high so it couldn't be that bad a climb. I decided to
include it in my quest. I prepared myself for the long hike and headed out, only to find the trek to the top of Mt. Marcy was far more than a day hike by any means. I also found my body wasn't ready to deal with all the roots and rocks either. I got about two thirds of the way to the top and turned around. I'd walked only six miles in and had only three to go but I was fried, and I had told Dick I would meet him at seven. It was three-thirty and I had been climbing constantly for five hours. The descent was painful, my ankles and knees screaming at me with every step. But I couldn't stop to rest. I had to get to the Bentleys. There was railbiking to do!!
I was a little bit late but I got to the Bentley's in good time. We went on a thirty something mile railbike ride on the Adirondack Railway the very next day. This ride was the most beautiful I'd ever had to date. It was also the first time I had ever ridden with others. Dick and Sudjai made this a truly festive event.
After this ride and visit with the Bentleys I was inspired. I made plans in my head that the next year I would begin my ride well south of this location and make the Bentley's my northern most destination, even if it took days to accomplish. I got the topo maps out again and began planning the details and measuring the milage.
Building a combination rear rack and outrigger mount, I loaded the panniers and headed north from Pennsylvania. Visiting my cousins again on the way, I rode on the recently abandoned Delaware and Hudson Railroad outside Albany at the little town of Slingerlands to smoke test the bike and make final adjustments. Everything was ready.
Driving to Big Moose, which basically is a railroad station surrounded by a bunch of summer cottages, I asked the manager of the restaurant in the station if I could park for a few days in his lot to go on a "bike tour". He said "No, but there's a parking lot for a trail head right around the corner." I parked "Wally", my big green van, in this lot, unloaded the railbike and gear and pushed the bike to the rails. I wanted to be as discreet as possible and got the bike ready out of view of the station.
Starting on a siding I took advantage of some old rolling stock to block the view of what I was doing. I launched, got to the switch to the
main line, didn't quite negotiate it right and derailed with a clatter. So much for being discreet. I threw the bike back on the rails and rode off. In seconds I was well out of sight and heading into the woods. I relaxed and sucked up the sights and sensations.
I stopped at a bridge that was about forty feet over a creek flowing beneath (see first photo above). I knew then that I was in railbike heaven. From there I rode on effortlessly at a pretty good clip. The rails were obviously going downhill and I rode in my favorite position, upright with no hands. All sorts of critters got stirred up including deer, turkey hawks and quail. The chipmunk's chattering their alarm calls announced my presence as I rode along. There was so much you'd never hear with motorized conveyance. I also noticed that this was exactly what I wanted hiking to be. I wanted to float quietly over the trail. I wanted to be able to look all around without being concerned about foot placement. I was still exerting myself like I was hiking but the scenery was drifting by at a quicker pace in almost total silence. Railbiking, the answer to my prayers.
Dick had warned me of the first settlement I'd come to, Beaver River. It was a settlement only accessible by a small ferry and the railroad and totally isolated from outside roads. It did have a small hotel and Dick said that there's a person there who expressed negative reactions to railbikers. It would be a good idea to get off the rails and pretend that I was just a cyclist.
At the edge of the village I folded up the rig. There was a highrailer with some coolers and tool boxes parked nearby like it was lunch time. A nice dirt road paralleled the tracks. I rode down the road and only saw one man who looked up and then quickly down at his task at hand. The road took me another half mile before it ended by the large beautiful Stillwater Reservoir. I stopped, took a break and enjoyed the scenery all around, including the rusty rails and weathered ties.
I redeployed the rig and got back on the tracks. From here the rust was dark and crystalline. There hasn't been anything on these rails in months. I rode off knowing that I was getting further away from civilization with every pedal stroke and in no time knew I was miles from any humans. This is something we dense-packed east coasters rarely get to feel. I rode past streams that fed the reservoir and crossed the Beaver River on a nice iron bridge. I climed a gentle grade going through the virgin wilderness, past bogs, creeks and through endless tracks of woods. By now I was in "go mode." I was a pedal stompin' fool. Whenever there was one of those long straight sections I'd shift to the big chainwheel and put the hammer down.
Soon I came across territory I'd recongnized from the ride with Dick and Sudjai the year before. I know my ultimate destination was only an hour or two away. I kept the hammer down and was cranking along at a nice clip all the while taking in the beauty as it slipped by. I flew around a turn and saw human forms ahead. Within seconds I knew it was Dick and Sudjai riding their railbikes from the opposite direction to greet me. What a delighful surprise!
Sudjai was mockingly telling me to "get off my tracks" with only her big grin giving away her lack of sincerity. We greeted each other and talked briefly. Dick suggested that Sudjai set the pace on the return. "I don't think so Dick," I said. "I'm like a racehorse in the starting gates right now and I'm ready to fly, I'll lead." I pedalled off continuing my torrid pace. I came to some really sharp and steeply banked turns and derailed due to a design flaw in my outrigger (oops, back to the drawing board). This gave Dick and Sudjai time to catch up and me time to cool down.
We rode the rest of the way en mass to where the Bently's live along these incredible tracks. Their hospitality and warmth made me feel like family. Dick put a Sailfish sailboat in the lake nearby for me to play with while Sudjai got dinner ready. At the table we caught up with the past year and ate Sudjai's wonderfully satisfying meal. The following day the Bentleys loaded me into their car and showed me more of the beauty of the Adirondacks, and also another abandoned line that will probably be too overgrown to ride by summer next year. A Fall trip, perhaps?
That night Dick really impressed me with his designs of all the things he's been into, which are many. He designed and build a wood stove capable of incredible efficiency, all of his own design and making. He showed me his plans for an easily constructed super-insulated house. Incredible! Dick has a real knack for keeping things simple but efficient. He's taken the Einstein quote of "Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler," and made it his calling. His railbike plans also follow this creed. It is simple, strong, very efficient and easy to make.
Being around Dick made me think of my railbike's guide. I had experienced a bit too much friction with it and I needed to make a micro adjusment to get it "dialed in". Taking a test ride without the heavy handlebar bag seemed to solve the problem. Wow, that was easy. So the next day I loaded the railbike up and put the handlebar bag on the outrigger. Sudjai loaded me down with food for a couple of days and they saw me off.
The bike seemed a lot faster with the handlebar bag on the outrigger. This proved to be true. The trip back took fifteen minutes less time. With less weight on the steering, the guide reacted instantaneously to rail variances.
At Beaver River I again folded the rig. I saw no people but did see four highrailers by the side of the tracks. When I talked to Dick on the phone to confirm my safe arrival, he figured that the hotel was in cahoots with the railroad and that they ferried guests in from Big Moose with the highrailers. It made sense to me.
A gentle climb was encountered about half way to the Bentley's.
The tracks looked used between Beaver Biver and Big Moose, but ever so slightly. I didn't want anything to interfere with my railbike buzz and hoped that there weren't any highrailers out today. I redeployed the rig and was off up the ten miles of hill to Big Moose. Arriving in Big Moose, I pulled the bike off the rails and set it to one side of the parking lot at the station.
Wally, my beat up old van was just a beautiful sight for sore eyes ( and other parts of my anatomy). I loaded the bike and let out a big sigh of satisfaction. Success! What a gorgeous ride. Thank you again Dick and Sudjai for being such a big part of making it special.
A Ride on the Adirondack Railway