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Across the Fence: Riding the Rails

This year began with a promise my husband and I gave each other: to explore new things and to leave off revisiting those we know fairly well already. The other day we were looking into some special things to do with a young adult, an activity that would mean experiencing something new together. We did some brainstorming – and came up with a brochure I had found about a year ago, I don’t even remember where. It was advertising riding the rails – but not so much on a train as very much under your own steam.

On a cloudy Sunday, we arrived at logging camp 1 a few miles west of Shelton, on the Eastern side of Western Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. My husband had ordered the tickets for the “Vance Creek Railriders” just the day before (vcrailriders.com/) – you can buy them at the cozy little cabin that is the check-in on site, too, but only if there are still seats available. The abandoned railroad tracks were already packed with quadricycles each of which was equipped with four seats, four sets of pedals, and one handbrake in the back. The parking lot was filled with an excited buzz, as we had to sign waivers and acknowledgements of the risks that you undergo if not following the guides’ rules.

Camp 1 is the site where the Vance Creek Railriders adventure starts – reservations strongly recommended.

The three of us were chosen by the one guide, Terry, who was going to ride the last car in the row, which was exactly what we had been hoping for. To have a guide with us would be so interesting because of all the stories we’d get to hear on the way! But being in the last car would also mean that, on our way back in reverse order, we’d not have any motored support from the first, then last car, which would push the weaker adventurers during harder passages.

When the car in front of us was finally vanishing around the bend before us, we started pedaling. Our one rucksack hung safely over the back of a seat; my water bottle rested in a mug holder. As we took on speed, I was glad we were all wearing seat belts. Because right after the bend the ground started sloping, and we gained speed pretty fast. It was hugely enjoyable to simply coast, while peering into the woods, hearing birdsong above and the rhythmic sounds of the rail joints underneath our sturdy wheels. At one point we caught up with all the other carts which had stopped to cross a country road as a group. We drove past the backyards and pastures of the village of Dayton, then we dipped into the Goldsborough Creek gorge that you wouldn’t otherwise even know was around. Train tracks cover such secret places all the time … Iron and wooden bridges crisscrossed the creek, so did toppled trees.

Railroad romanticism under one’s own steam – a marvelous experience off the beaten path.

After 6.5 miles of an exhilarating downhill trip, we reached our destination in the middle of the woods close to Shelton. While everybody quickly ate some snacks they had brought along, and refreshed themselves, it dawned on us that the hard part was yet looming ahead. Our guides used a transportable turntable to whip around our quadricycles for the trip back – all the way uphill! Let me tell you, I was not sure how I was going to make 6.5 miles cycling uphill, as my knees haven’t been doing anything else but ellipticals and power walking interspersed with some mountain hikes in the past five or six years.

But here comes the strange thing, and it was not only my observation from the front seat: the entire length of the way back, I was pedaling under the illusion we were going downhill, again. Which, of course, we weren’t. As nobody wanted to let down the others, everybody was working hard in our car. Funny enough, my knees were not punishing me for the sudden maltreatment later, and at the end of the trip, with about five minutes until the next car showed up behind us, all three of us felt we had just enjoyed some extra-special adventure. Terry, meanwhile, was already prepping for his third trip that day – I couldn’t even imagine taking a second trip in a row, for sure.

Our guides, Terry (left) and Josh, had to secure one road crossing for our group – otherwise it’s all minor lanes and Nature.

Back in the parking lot, the next set of quadricyclists were arriving, all keen with curiosity. Would we do such a trip again? Allegedly, the Vance Creek Railriders’ stretch of rails is the hardest in a number of similar railriding routes on the West coast. We did it, and we had lots of fun. Sure, we would do this again! Somewhere else next time … as we want to explore new places.

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