Cue the eagle.
Ok, so the majestic bird just happened to be sitting on a branch at the halfway point of our Rail Explorers trip in Phoenicia. It wasn’t planted there, but it was the pinnacle of our pedal-pushing journey down old railroad tracks.
Besides the occasional eagle sighting, you’ll see and hear plenty of wildlife as you meander down the tracks in a new Rail Explorer. The pedal-powered carts debuted in the Catskills on Memorial Day weekend, and have become a popular activity this summer.
The day that Hudson Valley magazine visited was gray and a little drizzly. No matter, since the hardy people at Rail Explorers were prepared; a clear “bubble” umbrella sat upon each seat, ready to be deployed if necessary.
The snazzy-looking red metal carts themselves (tandem, with two seats, or quads, with four) are comfortable, with bucket-style seats and a handy basket to keep incidentals like sunscreen, water, and snacks to enjoy at the turnaround (more on that later). Sign a waiver, listen to a short instruction/safety lesson, appoint one person to be your “brakeman,” buckle your seat belt, then wait for the signal to start pedaling. The carts are spaced up to 500 feet apart to allow a semi-private ride, with a guide in the front cart and another guide bringing up the rear.
Left to right: Editorial Assistant Amanda Clark, Digital Editor Dave Zucker, and Associate Editor Jane Anderson take on the rail trail.
The wheels make the requisite “clickety-clack” as they glide down the tracks. You couldn’t get closer to nature as you whiz by at eye level with wildflowers and the occasional chipmunk. But don’t think this is a walk (ride?) in the park. You’ll coast without pedaling for a short while, but you’ll be sorely reminded of that joyful little ride on the return trip — which is slightly uphill. If you’re lucky, your cart will be one with electric assistance (we weren’t that lucky, but the cart behind us was. One of the helpful guides pulled out a wrench, hooked us together, and we were soon pedaling easily, being pushed like a barge with a tug).
The rails are adjacent to Route 28 for a bit — you can wave at the passing drivers — and cross private roads and driveways. The guides act as crossing guards at the intersections to ensure all pedalers cross safely. The rails do cross the busy state road, but the old signal lights and crossing gates from when the real railroad operated are still there, and they stop traffic long enough for all carts to get across.
You’ll pedal for four miles before coming to a shady glen next to the Esopus Creek. Get out, stretch your legs, eat your snack (you did bring a snack, right?) at the picnic table, and let one of the guides lead you on a short hike to view the remains of the hurricane-twisted rails farther down the way. Meanwhile, your cart will be turned around, and it won’t be long ’til you’re re-buckled and back on your merry way (but remember, it is slightly uphill!), for the four-mile return trip.
Rail Explorers are fun for all ages (even infants, who must ride in a chest harness strapped to a parent). The “River Run” home base is at the Empire Railway Museum, so there are plenty of old railcars to view onsite. If you add in a trip to the nearby Phoenicia Diner, it really makes for a fun-filled day.
Rail Explorers, 70 Lower High St, Phoenicia, 877.833.8588