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The Great American Rail-Trail

Old 09-22-22, 06:53 PM
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Trueblood
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The Great American Rail-Trail

Was thinking about this today. Would it be too monotonous to do the entire TA via a series of rail trails? I know some people who don't like using rail trails when doing long distance tours. Having graded trails would certainly open up the experience to many more people. I would think as one travels further west, although yes, rail lines typically pass by towns and cities, there may not be the same infrastructure as exists with something like the C&O or the Erie canal in the more densely populated East. Certainly the distance between towns, campsites, etc., would be greater. According to their site, it is 53% complete - https://www.railstotrails.org/greata...iltrail/route/ . You can see from the map that it would make use of the already existing GAP and the C&O, along with numerous other trails already up and running.

Do people think this would be a good way to bike across the country? Probably vast stretches of many miles with no services in some areas. Of course, once it is up and running, it could create economic opportunity if it becomes popular. Would riders see more with the standard TA routes?
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Old 09-22-22, 08:50 PM
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I'd guess in the west through the mountains this is probably the easiest way to go and the sections I've ridden still have amazingly impressive scenes to enjoy. I'd imagine east of Missoula and through SD you'll have long gaps between rest areas, there were longs gaps just driving the route. The shorter sections I've ridden in ID, MT, SD, IA, IL, and PA weren't that much different from the roads I took to get too and from the trails and the towns along them were nice, I doubt the ride will be lacking by sticking largely to the trails except in leg pain avoiding some of the worst climbs.
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Old 09-22-22, 09:21 PM
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I'd far rather do rail trails than some of the roads I've had to ride on. 🙄 It'd be far safer, more scenic, and probably easier for grades, as mentioned. They really need some going North & South, too, but that just wasn't very important, I guess, when trains were the main method of travel. 😒😉
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Old 09-22-22, 09:27 PM
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The Great American Rail Trail is a huge promotional gimmick by Rails-to-Trails. Obviously, I'm not a big fan of RTC.
I'm of the opinion that RTC is another Washington-based heavy that sucks the oxygen out of the room.
The real trail work has always been at the local level.

In many places it is nothing more than a line on the map.
Much of the Cowboy Trail in Nebraska is nearly unridable deep sand.
Same goes for the eastern half of the Palouse to Cascades. (Doable, but rough)
So, I'd take that 53% with a box of salt.
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Old 09-23-22, 04:09 AM
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As noted above, the idea is far from complete. IIRC, the trail has no completed mileage in WY, and I know from experience that there are pretty big gaps in MT. What does exist there is rough in places.

That aside, some trails can become a literal, monotonous tunnel of trees.

From my recent trip across PA:


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Old 09-23-22, 06:46 AM
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Originally Posted by jamawani View Post
The Great American Rail Trail is a huge promotional gimmick by Rails-to-Trails. Obviously, I'm not a big fan of RTC.
I'm of the opinion that RTC is another Washington-based heavy that sucks the oxygen out of the room.
The real trail work has always been at the local level.

In many places it is nothing more than a line on the map.
Much of the Cowboy Trail in Nebraska is nearly unridable deep sand.
Same goes for the eastern half of the Palouse to Cascades. (Doable, but rough)
So, I'd take that 53% with a box of salt.
Yeah, I'm sure that 53% is an optimistic number. I don't sense from the RTC site that they are denying the fact that much of the planned route consists of locally maintained trails. I'm sure you are right about large sections of some trails being almost unridable. Was just pondering what the ride would be like if all the local trails were connected and ridable. Would there be too much of the sort of thing shown in indyfabz's photo, in one form or another, tree tunnels, great plains, etc.? Is it any better on roads in terms of monotony? I don't know, I have never done the TA.
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Old 09-23-22, 07:06 AM
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The "Great American Rail Trail" isn't a trail. It's a series of semi-interconnected individual trails with their own ownership, funding, and governance and individual standards of surface, drainage, signage, maintenance, amenities, and available services.

I'd rather see a 'meets minimum standards' rating scheme than maximum sketchy mileage claim.

I'd guess in the west through the mountains this is probably the easiest way to go...
Hmm. The easiest way west would probably be more along the path of the Sante Fe Trail or perhaps the Butterfield Stage route.

Do people think this would be a good way to bike across the country?


Methinks one would have to leave Seattle on a X-America rail trail ride on a bike suitable for riding the C&O after heavy rains.

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Old 09-23-22, 07:16 AM
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For one thing, you are not going to get great descents (and views from up high) riding trails. That coasting affords recovery time. One of the more difficult club rides I used to lead was a 64 mile route in rural, flat NJ. It was a lot harder on paper because there is almost no coasting and relatively few traffic control devices. That equates to a lot of constant pedaling.

Another comment I have heard about the GART is that it adds needless miles in places by taking less direct routes just so it can route you on trails. ACA's Atlantic Coast route does that in at least one place. Trail mileage was substituted for perfectly good, scenic, low traffic roads south of New Paltz, NY. The trail mileage is boring, and the trail surface is not the greatest in places. To hook back up with the original route requires circuity and includes some roads that were not pleasant to ride on. I made the mistake of taking the trail mileage back in 2018. When I was back that way last year I stuck to the old routing. Much, much better. There is another section in NY where that happened after a trail was extended. At the southern end of the trail you are forced onto a fairly busy highway with truck traffic and have to take a circuitous route. Fortunately, I found a way around that highway that uses a wonderful, direct road, but it is not paved. That can be a problem for people riding skinny tires who might be credit card touring. In short, trail mileage for the sake of trail mile is not always advantageous.
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Old 09-23-22, 07:17 AM
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Originally Posted by Trueblood View Post
Would there be too much of the sort of thing shown in indyfabz's photo, in one form or another, tree tunnels, great plains, etc.? Is it any better on roads in terms of monotony? I don't know, I have never done the TA.
I'll pipe up on that one. Rail trails may be a way to stay off of roads to avoid traffic and so on, but I seriously doubt they are less monotonous. I guess what you perceive as monotonous is a very individual thing though.

As far as the TA goes, it is a great route in my opinion. Not perfect or anything but I'd ride it again without question before even thinking about something like " The Great American Rail Trail". Actually I plan to ride the TA again for It's 50th anniversary and probably will never do a tour on rail trails.

FWIW, some people like riding some portion of their ride in "tree tunnels". The shade can be quite nice on a hot summer day. Here in Tallahasse we have roads with huge oaks complelely covering the sky on some roads. We call them canopy roads and consider them an scenic attraction.
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Old 09-23-22, 07:57 AM
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Originally Posted by Russ Roth View Post
I'd guess in the west through the mountains this is probably the easiest way to go and the sections I've ridden still have amazingly impressive scenes to enjoy. I'd imagine east of Missoula and through SD you'll have long gaps between rest areas, there were longs gaps just driving the route. The shorter sections I've ridden in ID, MT, SD, IA, IL, and PA weren't that much different from the roads I took to get too and from the trails and the towns along them were nice, I doubt the ride will be lacking by sticking largely to the trails except in leg pain avoiding some of the worst climbs.
I think the steepest grade on the TransAm west of Kansas is only 6-8%; it's a lot steeper than that east of there. So in my book, the advantage to rails trails would be in the Ozarks and Appalachians.

Note, too, that not all rail trails are built to modern standards. IIRC the climb to the Whitetop station on the Virginia Creeper hits 6%. (The train was way slow climbing that grade back in the day.) Of course, the Creeper trail illustrates part of the problem; it's about 50 miles of twisty roads, all different to connect Whitetop to Galax and the New River Trail. So Draper to Galax, 50 miles of rail-trail; Galax to Whitetop, 50 miles of mountain road; Whitetop to Abingdon, 30 miles of rail-trail. Then I don't know where you'd connect to from Abingdon.
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Old 09-23-22, 08:13 AM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
I think the steepest grade on the TransAm west of Kansas is only 6-8%; it's a lot steeper than that east of there. So in my book, the advantage to rails trails would be in the Ozarks and Appalachians.
Yep, Lots of steep climbs in the Ozrks and Appalachians on the TA and using the C&O and GAP avoid much of it. The Eastern Express is a popular option for doing that.

Note, too, that not all rail trails are built to modern standards. IIRC the climb to the Whitetop station on the Virginia Creeper hits 6%. (The train was way slow climbing that grade back in the day.) Of course, the Creeper trail illustrates part of the problem; it's about 50 miles of twisty roads, all different to connect Whitetop to Galax and the New River Trail. So Draper to Galax, 50 miles of rail-trail; Galax to Whitetop, 50 miles of mountain road; Whitetop to Abingdon, 30 miles of rail-trail. Then I don't know where you'd connect to from Abingdon.
I don't know much about the options there. I will say that we were going east bound on the TA and a portion of our route was on a section of the creeper trail. It was very pretty, but there were scores or riders coming the other way paying no attention to what was ahead of them. Many were on rented bikes and probably not ususlly cyclists. They were dropped off t the top of a long mostly downhill section and picked up at the bottom. Riding against the flow of them was way worse than riding in traffic on regular roads so we detoured to regulat roads that were almost as pretty.
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Old 09-23-22, 08:40 AM
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A couple that (mostly) crossed the US last summer found some roads in central Montana dangerous, with no shoulders and traffic buzzing them at 70mph. They literally bailed, flew from Great Falls to Kansas and hopped on assorted rail trail to St. Louis. They were very happy being on a trail for a week. Their experience riding the remote farm roads of central Illinois and Indiana was equally positive and they would comment that being on rural roads was actually more scenic and interesting. They did much like the NY Erie Canal trail though. They did go out of their way a bit by following the Ohio Erie trail to Cleveland, but were not bothered by the extra mileage as they enjoyed riding along Lake Erie.

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Old 09-23-22, 09:00 AM
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Originally Posted by Steve B. View Post
A couple that (mostly) crossed the US last summer found some roads in central Montana dangerous, with no shoulders and traffic buzzing them at 70mph.
If considering the TA, then I'd say the section in MT was doable, but the state isn't the most bike friendly as far as things like shoulders and rumble strip placement. We rode places where there was an adequate shoulder made unrideable by unfortunate rumble strip placement. It wasn't bad enough that we were put off riding, but bad enough that we grumbled. The state did have some of the worst mosquitos and biting flies and we met some unfriendly or even hostile folks in Ennis, but overall I'd ride there again. The scenery was pretty good, some nice folks hosted us. we saw long horn sheep, and overall it was a positive experience.

The decision will vary based on a number of factors including your tolerance for traffic and road type.
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Old 09-23-22, 10:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Trueblood View Post
Is it any better on roads in terms of monotony? I don't know, I have never done the TA.
Different strokes for different folks.
Also, it depends on your experience and comfort level riding on roads.
In rural areas with low traffic, I find roads far more interesting.
Yes, roads tend to be hillier than railroad grades,
but roadside shops, quirky signs, all the stuff that is Americana tend to be absent from rail trails.
Makes sense, since folks on the train back then couldn't just pull off into Mabel's Diner.

I like rail trails when they let you avoid urban or other congested traffic.
There's also a huge difference between paved and limestone screenings.
You can make good time on paved trails, but unpaved trails slow you, esp. if they are wet.
Then there are the busy trails with clumps of kids on tricycles and people walking 3 abreast.

I'm glad trails are there.
But I know how to find empty roads - which is what I usually prefer.


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Old 09-23-22, 11:10 AM
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I think a rail trail route across the US would be great. I rode the TA this year and a forty mile rail trail in Idaho was a very nice break from big trucks on small roads. The trail was rough in spots and there were a lot of gates to open and close, but I would sure take the rail trail again if I was there. The Virginia Creeper Trail was also nice, but I was there in April; before the summer crowds arrive. About fifteen years ago, I rode a long rail trail out of Atlanta on the way to Birmingham and back. I was riding a brevet and that trail was only beat by seeing a cougar cross the road in front of me in the Taladega Mountains at about 2:00 in the morning.
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Old 09-23-22, 03:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Charles Lathe View Post
I think a rail trail route across the US would be great. I rode the TA this year and a forty mile rail trail in Idaho was a very nice break from big trucks on small roads. The trail was rough in spots and there were a lot of gates to open and close, but I would sure take the rail trail again if I was there. The Virginia Creeper Trail was also nice, but I was there in April; before the summer crowds arrive. About fifteen years ago, I rode a long rail trail out of Atlanta on the way to Birmingham and back. I was riding a brevet and that trail was only beat by seeing a cougar cross the road in front of me in the Taladega Mountains at about 2:00 in the morning.
Impossible! Alabama DCNR is certain there's no cougars here! Of course they said that about alligators until the local police posted a picture of one in the middle of a city street, and they said that about bears until a news crew got a video of one, but cougars are almost certainly mis-identified something-elses.

Chief Ladiga and, especially, Silver Comet are one exceptionally nice rail-trail. If one route could be linked together of trails like this (or the GAP), it would be a great place to ride. Except on weekends and holidays, of course.
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Old 09-23-22, 06:12 PM
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I know, I know. I have seen three mountain lions: one in California, one in Washington, and one in Alabama. Once you have seen a mountain lion it is pretty hard to mis-identify them if they cross the road right in front of you in the moonlight and you are pumping up the hill on a bicycle. That long tail gives them away.
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Old 09-23-22, 09:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Charles Lathe View Post
I know, I know. I have seen three mountain lions: one in California, one in Washington, and one in Alabama. Once you have seen a mountain lion it is pretty hard to mis-identify them if they cross the road right in front of you in the moonlight and you are pumping up the hill on a bicycle. That long tail gives them away.
Dang, 3?!!!!! I've only seen one, in Oregon. I'm kinda jealous, but not "really" in any hurry to see another. 😉
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Old 09-24-22, 05:40 AM
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Originally Posted by stardognine View Post
Dang, 3?!!!!! I've only seen one, in Oregon. I'm kinda jealous, but not "really" in any hurry to see another. 😉
I have hoped to see one on various trips, but never have. I did see a wolf on the TA and back then was excited to see a coyote in Virginia (now of course they are everywhere). I've seen bobcats here and there. Here in the Tallahassee area we are out of the range of the Florida Panther so I won't see them on the home trails. There are plenty of gators to worry about when my dog is near the water though. Not as exciting as apex preditors, but we also have to watch for cotton mouths and few species of rattle snakes (most often eastern diamondbacks). Sadly my old pup is getting so old she seldom is up for much more than a walk around the block if even that so that worry is gone. She was a great trail dog in her day and took care of me on the trail, Now we do what we can to keep her comfortable and know we won't be able to for very long. Life can be hard.
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Old 09-24-22, 06:16 AM
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But the Great American Rail Trail bypasses White Bird Hill in Idaho and the cafe at the bottom!


photo by Carl Pytlinski ^


photo by BobG ^


photo by Carl Pytlinski ^
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Old 09-24-22, 02:08 PM
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Originally Posted by jamawani View Post
I'm glad trails are there.
But I know how to find empty roads - which is what I usually prefer.
A network of quiet country roads all over Parts Unknown could be mapped and signed for pennies on the dollar of creating a trail.




The State Parks System isn't interested - they only do outdoorsy things when they can own and control the land underneath. The Parts Unknown part of the US Bicycle Route System was turned over to the Highway Department - and they do highways, so the chip seal shoulder of those highways are where they're routing.
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Old 09-24-22, 05:08 PM
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Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
I have hoped to see one on various trips, but never have. I did see a wolf on the TA and back then was excited to see a coyote in Virginia (now of course they are everywhere). I've seen bobcats here and there. Here in the Tallahassee area we are out of the range of the Florida Panther so I won't see them on the home trails. There are plenty of gators to worry about when my dog is near the water though. Not as exciting as apex preditors, but we also have to watch for cotton mouths and few species of rattle snakes (most often eastern diamondbacks). Sadly my old pup is getting so old she seldom is up for much more than a walk around the block if even that so that worry is gone. She was a great trail dog in her day and took care of me on the trail, Now we do what we can to keep her comfortable and know we won't be able to for very long. Life can be hard.
Coyotes are pretty common, along the American River here in the Sacramento area. I was a little nervous about it, when I first started seeing them, but they seem to respect adult humans pretty well.

Younger humans, maybe not so much. One evening, I encountered a young lady, around 16, who had a coyote following her, possibly with bad intentions. 🙁 I didn't have a gun, but the coyote didn't know that. I started yelling at him, to go home, and he backed off right away. I just walked with her, till she got closer to home, to make sure that coyote left her alone. No big deal really, it didn't make me any kind of hero, lol, just doin' the right thing. 🙂
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Old 09-24-22, 06:05 PM
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Originally Posted by stardognine View Post
Coyotes are pretty common, along the American River here in the Sacramento area. I was a little nervous about it, when I first started seeing them, but they seem to respect adult humans pretty well.

Younger humans, maybe not so much. One evening, I encountered a young lady, around 16, who had a coyote following her, possibly with bad intentions. 🙁 I didn't have a gun, but the coyote didn't know that. I started yelling at him, to go home, and he backed off right away. I just walked with her, till she got closer to home, to make sure that coyote left her alone. No big deal really, it didn't make me any kind of hero, lol, just doin' the right thing. 🙂
They have seemed pretty shy of humans everywhere I encountered them. I would have concern about them grabbing pets and livestock. They prey on cats and sometimes dogs sometimes not far from here. My dog was always pretty freaked out by their yipping and other vocalizing at night when we camped in their territory.
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Old 09-24-22, 06:50 PM
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Coyotes don't bother cats that are kept indoors.
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Old 09-26-22, 08:15 AM
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Originally Posted by tcs View Post
A network of quiet country roads all over Parts Unknown could be mapped and signed for pennies on the dollar of creating a trail.
Oh, like the Adventure Cycling route. Routes. But those go over mountains and ridges, and there are motorized vehicles on those roads, so they're obviously inferior to rail-trails. [/sarcasm]

OT
Originally Posted by Inusuit View Post
Coyotes don't bother cats that are kept indoors.
But they do jump over fences and eat pets that are let out at dusk.
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