July, 2014 – While roaming around the backside of the pretty town of Joseph, Oregon, we came across a guy working on the most unusual looking tandem bicycle.
It had two seats side by side and was sitting on the old railroad tracks of an unused railway line.
We discovered that this fellow was Kim Metlen, and this bike was one of his fleet of eleven “rail riders,” a clever invention he has designed so folks can ride the old railways under their own power.
What a fantastic idea!
As we discovered in Baker City, all of eastern Oregon is a mecca for road cycling.
Kim has been part of the local cycling industry for decades, having owned a very successful bike shop in nearby LaGrande for ages.
Now that he is retired, he has put his energies into creating an inventive new use for the old railroad tracks that criss-cross his beloved eastern Oregon.
We had seen the sign for his excursions next to Red Horse Coffee Traders, the wonderful coffee shop and gathering place for locals and visitors that we had been frequenting everyday.
By crazy coincidence, friends of ours from Arizona who are both cyclists and RVers were in town, and they had signed up for the ride. What a fun thing to do together!
Our starting time was 9:00 on a Sunday, but it was a casual affair with couples and families arriving and getting set up on their bikes and starting the ride at their own pace.
We jumped in our rail car and soon got our crazy contraption rolling – what fun!
Currently, the excursion is a six mile ride between tiny Joseph (pop. 1,000) and the “big” town of Enterprise nearby (pop. 2,000).
It is a very mild descent from Joseph to Enterprise and then a very mild climb back to Joseph, and everyone was grinning as they took off on these super-easy-to-ride bikes.
Built of standard bicycle parts, Mark and I kicked back in our recumbent seats and pedaled independently.
Sometimes I stopped pedaling so I could enjoy the views and snap photos, and sometimes Mark quit and let me do the work.
It was very cool going over the track switches at the beginning near Joseph’s depot, sitting on this tiny open air pedal-driven train.
The view was filled with the glorious snow-capped mountains of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, and we saw deer along the tracks and pretty red barns in the distance.
Kim had been operating Joseph Branch Railriders for only five weeks when we took our ride, yet with rides offered at 9:00, noon and 3:00 pm, the weekend we went was all booked up!
There are 63 miles of rails in the region, although this fabulous rail ride uses only 6 miles of track at the moment.
With any luck, Kim will one day obtain permission to expand his fabulous outings to run on all those other lines as well.
He accompanied the group in a specially equipped rail rider that he rode behind us all.
His rail car had a small motor (afterall, he does this ride three times a day!).
At the turnaround point in Enterprise, he hoisted his rail rider up so all the other bikes could be rolled ahead of his underneath and he could ride the back of the group on the return trip too.
Then we picked up our bikes and turned them around to face the other way.
And we were off once again!
Later, when we mentioned our ride to locals around town, everyone we talked to was really excited about it.
“I can’t wait to try that!” we kept hearing from folks who had heard about it but hadn’t yet been out themselves.
There are lots of rails-to-trails programs across the country, and especially in the northwest.
Most of these rails-to-trails programs involve removing the rails and replacing them with pavement or gravel.
Kim’s brilliant invention is a really creative way to retain the integrity of the rails and let people ride them on their own without removing them.
He has hopes of eventually opening these thin strips of land along the railways to a variety of modes of travel.
Rather than replacing the iron rails with pavement or gravel, he envisions a “Rails AND Trails” program.
People could not only ride the rails using his special bikes, but they could also walk or ride traditional bikes on a paved or gravel path that runs alongside.
Obtaining the agreement of ranchers whose properties abut the railways is not so easy, but these rail cars are such a blast to ride that the idea can’t help but catch on.
As Mark and I pedaled, we started fantasizing about being able to ride all the unused rails on this continent in this way.
Wouldn’t it be fun to do a multi-day trip, riding from town to town across the west?!
We could hop off to explore places on foot, and spend nights camping or staying in little hotels along the route…
A friend of ours who was a conductor for Pacific Union in the northwest said one of the best parts of his job was the spectacular scenery he saw out the window every day.
Riding this little six mile section of track, the views of the snowy mountain peaks grew all around us and kept our heads turning.
When the ride ended (all too soon!) and the pairs of riders came back into Joseph, everyone was grinning and saying what fun they’d had.
If you get to Joseph, Oregon, get a cuppa Joe at Red Horse Coffee Traders and look for Kim and his unusual bike display and signup area next door.
Don’t miss this train!!
For more info, visit this link: Joseph Branch Railriders.
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For more info about rail riding, visit these links:
- Joseph Branch Railriders – Official website for this ride
- Rail Riders – Detailed info about riding the rails
- Rail Track Riders – Riding the rails in Australia!
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