Wild Rail Explorers Tour
Clueless! (the movie)
In my opinion Clueless is one of the best movies from the 1990s! At least as far as a representative example of my generation. My best friend, and spouse, Tim and I are part of that generation: Gen X. We wanted to have a fun outdoor experience and decided on the Rail Explorers Adirondack Division - went rollin' with my homie! Yes - we did the hand wave, and the head bobbing thing as we sang that part of the song.
We arrived at the the meet-up point at 9:45 am and parked our car. From here we all took the shuttle, a cute little red bus, to the starting spot of the ride. It has been a long time since we were on a school bus type vehicle. Although I was tempted, we didn’t cause trouble, even though we were where the bus driver couldn’t see us. To be honest, I did want to sing the old inappropriate school bus songs I sang as a kid — ‘Going down the highway, doing 94...’ Well you know the rest.
Here we go!
When we arrived at the launch site, there was a tour group heading in the other direction, toward Saranac Lake. We were heading back to Tupper Lake. We got a quick explanation of how to use the new rail bikes. Tim is much better at taking photos, so I sat in the seat that is responsible for braking. All I had to do was remember to put up my right hand to signal to the rail bike behind us that we were slowing down. Oh, but before we moved along I had to put on SPF 50, the day was beautifully sunny and I didn't want to risk burning. Then away we went.
A loss for words by the first stop
Before long we saw some amazing sites. I've been hiking in the Adirondacks most of my life and have seen some amazing views, but none quite like this. There are so many little ponds with water lilies, mushrooms, frogs, and other vegetation. Cattails were everywhere, which made me think about the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Never knew there were parts of cattails you could eat, and use for so many other useful things. Since Tim and I were in control of our bike unit, we slowed down quite a bit to allow more space between us and the riders in the front. The more space we had the more it felt like we were alone in the wild Adirondacks.
Larkin’s Deli and Bakery provided food and beverages, delivered in waterproof bags, for our day on the rails. Our first stop was a scenic little gem on the water's edge. Some of us went into the water, while others took a break to relax. Tim and I love to get to know people, and this tour group had a great mix of folks. It was fun to share stories and info; did you know that the white pine has 5 needles, and the red pine has 3 needles in a bundle? Tim shared some culinary tips about using the white pine needles in barbecuing, and another person shared about using it in tea.
Then, back on the rail bikes. I noticed that the only sound heard is that of the bikes over the rails, which is kind of soothing if you have ever lived in a city near a train track. There simply is nothing modified by human hand other than the rails themselves. Nature everywhere! We were in awe. The Tupper Lake to Lake Clear rail trail stretches for about 18 miles (not all the Rail Trails are this long), which gave us plenty of time to reflect on the grandeur. I started to think about who worked on these rails, and when were they put down.
We were getting in some great exercise, and we were starving! We all stopped for lunch, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, and were guided along a short walking trail to Long Pond. First, many of us got into the water. I dove right in, the water was so warm. (Funny, I just realized this was the first time I was in any kind of water this year – besides a shower, of course!) We opened our Larkin's lunch bags and enjoyed some great conversation while we ate.
A time to reflect - our collective past
The tour was basically self-guided with stops that included informational conversations. During the wonderful quiet time, I reflected on how America has some amazing history that includes exploration and adventure. Sometimes I feel a disconnect from the American past, and I long for an experience that will help me feel connected.
About 15 years ago I had a job that brought me to Italy, and during the stay, I attended a guided tour of Rome. The tour guide was informing our group of the structures that were thousands of years old. At the beginning of the tour he said to ask questions when we think of them, so I did. Standing right in front of a monument, the Altar of the Fatherland, also known as the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, I asked for more info. The tour guide said, ‘Oh, that is only about 100 years old, who cares?' and moved on to older monuments. He just dismissed this amazing structure that had to take years to develop and build. I thought to myself, ‘There are things in our country that are not even that old.’ There seems to be a collective, connected perspective of the distant past, with some people from other countries, that I kind of lack, so it was neat to see someone who took it for granted.
This rail experience has provided me a slight glimpse into our history, and I now feel that I have a bit of that distant past perspective on America. I imagined the people who spent so much time creating this rail system. How untouched the wilderness around it was — and still is — in a way.
The end of an amazing journey
Sometimes it is hard to put words to an experience that you thought was simply going to be fun, but that somehow changed your perspective on life. Through this journey, I feel more connected to the Adirondacks, America, and my family as well. My great-uncle Steve Czelusniak worked on the railroad, before I was even born. He told me stories about the backbreaking work that he and his co-workers endured. Uncle Steve was proud of the work he did and how it carved out the American Story. As a child I didn't understand, but now I do. It was so great to experience this with Tim and everyone on the Rail Explorers Tour!
The Tupper Lake Region is a great place to get out and explore our Adirondack history. Plan to stay for a while and enjoy the many outdoor activities we are lucky to have right outside our front doors!
This week in related news: ADK BFFs