There was a blowout on the bumpy Wallkill Valley Rail Trail this past week. Make that two flat tires in total. George’s about 6 miles short of our destination and mine nearing the parking lot trailhead in the town of Gardiner.
George and I carried tools and CO2 cartridges but no spare inner tubes. We lamented our bad fortune but, the truth was, we were lucky to have gone as far as we did.
We rode skinny-tired bikes on a sometimes-narrow, dirt, and gravel rail trail with roots and branches aplenty. Still, despite all that, the Ulster County ride was stunning, dotted with mystery, intrigue, and wonder. Throughout the day, we let our curiosity linger over dozens of interpretive signs and historical markers.
In the Groove
Underneath a shady canopy of broadleafs, free of harsh sunlight, the magnificent corridor is not meant to be rushed, rather explored. The 23-mile stretch, from Gardiner to New Paltz, rolls past beautiful rock formations, cement mine ruins, and a 19th-century trestle bridge converted into a 190-foot-high pedestrian walkway.
The trestle spurred a touch of vertigo in George and gave me a static spark touching the railing. The Rondout Creek under the bridge is a tributary of the Hudson River that ripples and slithers like a snake through the rocky valley.
A part of the rail-trail, renamed ‘linear park,’ embodies America’s earliest limestone/ore drilling extraction boom in history. Signage describes how millions of barrels worth of natural cement helped to build the Brooklyn Bridge and the base of the Statue of Liberty. A 30-foot-high kiln silo used to calcinate the limestone still stands as a homage to a very dirty, dangerous but often lucrative job.
In front of what was once a room-and-pillar cement mine, we basked in a tunnel of refreshing air drifting out onto the trail. Old sepia-toned photography showed young boys in ragged clothing working the crowded shafts and pits. The horse-drawn railroad that carried the limestone was known as Hickory Bush-Eddyville Railroad. Child labor laws weren’t passed until 1938.
As luck would have it, we literally fell upon a charming oasis in the woods for lunch. It was the vegetarian eatery Rail Trail Café, sadly closed on a weekday, just a mile south of the trestle bridge. The space was dotted with Tibetan prayer flags and colorful cushions; welcoming to all.
Paper plate menus tacked to the café car-like shed refueled our interest in returning for one of the specialty wood-fired pizzas and “kalemanade” (lemonade with fresh kale juice).
We didn’t quite make it to Wallkill, 7 miles south of Historic Huguenot Street District in New Paltz, but saved it for our next “blow-out” adventure.