This week’s fitness thread is about rail trails and comes from commenter jl.
Rail Trails are old railroad grades converted to hiking and biking trails.
I got familiar with them when looking for places to hike in the auto centric wastelands of California’s Central Valley while visiting the relatives.
On many, you can skate, or ride a horse. In areas with snow in the winter, you can snowshoe or cross country ski. Some have separate paths surfaced for long distance running. From what I have seen, and from trustworthy (?) Cole narratives I have read, many of them allow pets (though I haven’t found much info on pet policies for most rail trails).
Rail trails are relatively flat and suitable for people at all levels of physical condition, though some go off the old railroad grade part of the way, and can be steep in those places. They come in all lengths, from a mile or two for a brief stroll, to over 20. Some are from 30 to over 100 miles (for maniacs like me). Some go through undeveloped countryside, others through suburbs, and others wind through agricultural areas and countryside linking small communities and ‘burbs. Many popular ones, at least in California, have become attractions, so stores in towns along the way stock handy stuff for trail users.
The best source for rail trail information that I have found is the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
The Conservancy has links to a search engine for rail trails, general information about getting a local rail to trail project going, information and volunteer opportunities on specific projects, and a blog.
Of particular interest to the political rabble rousers at Balloon Juice are the sections on public policy and political action, from the local to national level. Did you know that the Senate version of the next multi-year surface transportation bill cuts out funding for multi-use trail building and maintenance, breaking a 20-year precedent of support? Did you know that you can pressure your Congresscritter to support a bi-partisan amendment to fix it? The Conservancy tells you all about it.
The Conservancy links to an associated site, TrailLink.com for individual trail descriptions. Basic info on access, trail descriptions, etc. is unrestricted, but a free registration is required for more detail, such as trail maps and guides to the local area. The tail routes are superimposed on Google maps; you can choose the view you like. Icons show amenities along the trail route and comments. IMHO, these maps are OK for general planning but not good enough for long trips, so you should get a recent street map or topo map for those.
If you want more detail or to plan your own custom trip, you can use the Livestrong site, which also requires a free registration. There are other sites for trip planning, and readers are welcome to suggest their favorites. If someone knows of a better one, I would love to know, since I need to make custom routes often.
Out west of the Mississippi, check for local flume trails, which are the same as rail trails, except they follow old flume routes. I cannot find a central location for information, but do a web search and you will find plenty of those in certain areas of the West.
Tips for Long Day Hikes
As this is a BJ Fitness Club post, a few comments on hiking long distance on a rail trail near you, from my personal experience.
First comment is not to rely on my comments alone, but read a hiking book or reliable internet site, or take a class. Most of the rail trails I use for long hikes or rides in CA and NV spend a lot of time in undeveloped country, and I tend to take side trips and walk my custom route off into oblivion. I also hike on trails with bad patches which require detours, which influences my habits. I’ll let someone else handle biking, since I only rent and ride and don’t know much about it beyond that.
Be conservative when you set your goal, especially when you start getting in shape. If you wreck yourself on the hike, the full damage will not appear until next day or two. I figure the time needed, for a final estimate and then add 10 to 15 percent, and up to 30 percent if I am going to go off trail or parts of the route are uncertain, or totally new to me, depending on how much of a confused mess is likely.
Leave an itinerary with someone who will notice and take constructive action if you don’t come back, even if it is a group trip.
Always take a day pack, which contains the following: poncho, lightweight ‘space blanket’ emergency tent/bag, flashlight (which you always check before you leave), whistle, compass, multipurpose jackknife, simple first aid kit with various size bandages and moleskin, sunglasses, sunscreen lotion and lip balm, mosquito repellent, extra socks, broad brim hat with chinstrap. If you are walking a long way by snow or water, or on the beach, through light fog or above clouds, use strong sun screen, at least SPF 50. A hat will do no good since the reflected sunlight hits you from all angles. Take a few minutes to read instructions and get a feel for how the stuff works before you leave.
BTW, I hate mosquito repellent. I bought a cheap cap with a little mosquito net that rolls down to fit snuggly inside your shirt collar. I prefer that to bug spray out in the true boondocks when hiking through severe bug areas.
If you have allergies or any history of anaphylactic shock, learn up on how to manage allergic attacks, how to use Benadryl to stave off an attack and extend the usefulness of an EpiPen, and how many EpiPens you should take.
Take a hand sanitizer and some toilet paper, if you will deal with pit toilets on the way. Read up on how to take a shit in the woods if you will be spending a lot of time in the boondocks.
Take extra clothing, as weather indicates. If you feel like starting out in just a speedo, that is fine, but it is nice to have alternatives later on. Don’t count on your cell phone working out in the boondocks, even if by some measures, like driving time, you are only minutes from civilization.
Always take some good maps: recent street map for developed areas, and detailed topo map for undeveloped countryside. You can download topos for free at the USGS Store.
If you go off the trail, make notes on your route and mark it on the map. Google maps are OK, but I only trust the satellite views, which tend to me more accurate than the maps from my experience.
For an all day hike, I take between 3 and 4 quarts of water, unless I am sure I can get some along the way. More if it’s going to be very hot or strenuous. I don’t mind the extra weight, and figure carrying more makes a better workout. Sip a little water whenever the thought occurs to you. If you wait until you are thirsty and guzzle, it is too late and you will suffer the effects of dehydration (which causes problems regardless of temperature; people often forget about dehydration in the snow). Pee should be no darker than light straw color.
Take plenty of snacks in addition to meals. I strongly recommend dairy snacks: cheese, yogurt, or bottles of milk or yogurt drink. Take a half cup of milk, or equivalent, every 2 to 3 hours, to keep your legs fresh, in addition to meals.
If anyone would like to send me some information about their favorite exercise, hints, tips or, indeed, questions or issues for the Juicetariat to discuss, please feel free. You can find my email address here.
Also a reminder that there is a Balloon Juice group set up on Fitocracy. A number of Juicers are already in there, and if you ask nicely in this thread someone should be able to send you an invite.
What have you been up to this week?