Railbiking through the forest and along the Hudson River
Photograph courtesy of Revolution Rail Co.
I’m a lifelong Lake George enthusiast. Specifically, a lifelong Lake George Narrows camping enthusiast. My first trip to the islands was when I was two months old, for a fortnight stay on Big Burnt Island with my parents, who lugged a bassinet onto their boat and tucked it into the corner of their World War II–era canvas tent. My newborn self must have really loved it: I barely missed a year for the next three decades.
And then, I had kids.
Having small children—and a husband who doesn’t have the same zeal as I do for a two-week-long island stay—is a bit of an adventure-travel game-changer. My once luxuriously long camping trips have been truncated to two or three days, max, followed by a more family-friendly road trip deeper into the Adirondack region, with adventurous activities that all of us can enjoy.
Enter Revolution Rail Co. (aka RevRail), a North Creek–based railbike outfit. It’s run by Mike Dupee, a former VP of Corporate Social Responsibility for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and Rob Harte, a former Brooklyn teacher who now teaches film at Champlain College, who met Dupee through mutual friends in their adopted Burlington hometown. The business was born in 2016 after Dupee approached the owner of an idle stretch of railroad track on the Saratoga & North Creek Railway and presented his plan for putting railbikes along a 3.5-mile (seven-mile up-and-back) route through the Adirondack forest canopy along the banks of the Hudson River.
I’d started following the RevRail Instagram account in early 2019, during one of those bleak mid-January New York City days when the holidays are over and one tends to spend a lot of time daydreaming of an Adirondack summer. I was quickly taken in by the feed’s warm and chatty tone, and particularly by happy faces in a wide variety of ages, beaming as they pedaled along the tracks. So I booked a spot for late August and spent the days leading up to our reservation slightly skeptical and nervous about how easy-yet-phenomenal this experience could really be. Would we really explore a section of the Adirondacks that has “never seen passenger traffic,” according to the website? Would I actually smile as widely as the people in that Instagram account? Would my two- and five-year-olds truly both be entertained over the course of nearly two and a half hours tied to a recumbent bike with just … nature?
The short answer: yes.
The day of our reservation, we made the easy 35-minute drive from Bolton Landing and checked in with Dupee at the main office inside North Creek Train Station—he or Harte is typically there each day. The space was comfortably outfitted with lots of gear, some cooler snacks, and even—I mean, why not?—a piano. Next up: a five-mile bus ride to the launch at North River with our congenial fellow riders, who ranged from infant to octogenarian.
Once there, we settled into our recumbent bikes, which are built like the ones you’d find at a gym. My family of four was in a quad bike, with our toddler in a five-point harness. Couples and singles ended up in tandems. Each railbike had a basket in the back for water, jackets or whatever you want to bring along (we traveled light on our end, with a sweatshirt, water bottle, insect repellent and a few snacks). After a general safety rundown by the charismatic Dupee (leave about 35 feet between bikes, hold onto the handle brake while dismounting, keep arms and legs within the bike), we were on our way.
While my husband and I propelled the four of us along the rails on the one-percent-grade ride (truly, not a huge physical feat), our kids were more than entertained watching their parents work and trying to spot the deer, hummingbirds and foxes making appearances along the route. (Dupee told me other regular sightings include baby snapping turtles and a pair of barred owls that sometimes fly across the tracks). Occasionally we slowed down to take pictures of the breathtaking greens, whites, blues and browns surrounding us.
After about 50 minutes, now in Hamilton County, we reached the turn-around spot by the Boreas River. A few people in our group waited in line for the outhouses; the rest of us walked down to the river. My crew sat down to enjoy a snack, skip flat stones along the water and marvel at the moss-covered gnarled tree roots crawling along the banks.
But the biggest reward? The culmination of the ride on that clear day, gliding over a long trestle bridge high above the Hudson with sweeping views in all directions. Although if you asked my five year old, he’d probably say the highlight was finding bits of raw garnet in the dirt at the launch site, which is located near the Barton Mines Company. (If you’re lucky, you’ll find some, too.)
Each year RevRail brings about 20,000 people into the Johnsburg area and employs about 25 seasonal staff. In fact, Dupee told me that since opening for the season, nearly every ride has been sold out. There should be plenty of space for all, though: As of this printing, plans were in the works to open up a second run that would travel south from the station, hugging the river the whole time and with no bus ride required.
Clearly, like nearly all others, the RevRail experience looks slightly different in our new COVID world. Expect to go through a brief health screening upon check-in and wear face coverings on the bus—which they load to 50-percent capacity and disinfect after each trip with a hospital-grade misting sanitizer—and whenever social distancing is not possible. If you don’t have one, they’ll gladly provide a disposable mask.
Frankly, an activity like this one is just the thing I’ve found myself daydreaming about since the pandemic overtook our lives: to be whooshing along a track by my own body force under a canopy of trees and listening to the rush of the river with no news alerts in sight. If that’s enough to convince you, consider making a reservation for this season. I just may see you on the rails.
If You Go
The season runs through November 1. Be sure to book in advance at RevRail.com as rides have been full each week.
Bring something to secure your phone for easy picture-taking access during your ride, like a fanny pack or neck pouch. (We almost learned the hard way that it’s not a great idea to keep pulling it out of your pocket!)
Have little kids? Make sure to bring sun hats that won’t fly off and enough snacks to get you through two and a half hours.
The Adirondack Scenic Railroad also operates a six-mile railbike excursion from Thendara. Learn more at www.adirondackscenicrailbikes.com.