photograph by Johnathan Esper
My TOBIE trail adventure last summer was perfectly planned—in my head, at least. With a pledge to make my 2021 Adirondack vacation compensate for the one I missed in 2020 due to the pandemic, I knew exactly how I’d tackle the 16-mile trail connecting the communities of Thendara, Old Forge, Big Moose, Inlet and Eagle Bay (TOBIE).
The strategy: I would walk or bike a different short segment of the trail each day throughout the week of my annual family reunion. And I’d check it out at a speed slower than the usual car rides on which I’d first noticed TOBIE’s brown trail signs, as I whipped along Route 28 for ice cream, donuts and other critical camp survival supplies.
Traversing TOBIE would be an excuse to sneak off with an individual family member or two, to slow down for luxuriously lengthy conversations, to catch up on all that I had missed while sheltering at home in California.
But like so many of the best-laid plans made the last couple of years, not everything went exactly as intended.
My husband, younger daughter and I headed off after breakfast on Monday morning to park in the Inlet Town Hall lot, then picked up the TOBIE where it starts as the sidewalk through town. The goal that day was a leisurely stroll to Eagle Bay; the four-mile round trip would leave us time for coffee in town before returning to camp for lunch.
We stopped to admire goldenrod, yarrow and cornflower, and to scan the trailside milkweed for hungry monarch caterpillars. At walking speed, the stretch between Eagle Bay and Inlet—which I’ve driven approximately one million times since our first family reunion in 1968—slowed and took new form.
Without car windows to muffle the noise, the screeching brakes of passing lumber trucks reverberated, and the stretches of silence between cars toting tourists and locals loomed larger as well. My daughter, who had arrived in the Adirondacks fresh off her summer term finals, caught her dad up on the minutiae of academics and college life. I lagged behind, eavesdropping and peeking up long driveways to camps whose rustic signs I had only ever used to mark progress between Point A and Point B along the highway.
We were in good company. The TOBIE trail attracts ambulators of every stripe: young couples pushing strollers, runners with earbuds firmly planted and coated in a sheen of sweat, dog walkers pulling (or being pulled by) blissful Adirondogs, multigenerational groups like ours. Cyclists were out in equal force, on cruisers, mountain bikes and road bikes, riding recreationally or perhaps commuting to work.
Along the trail we exchanged pleasantries with a speed-walking couple at least two decades older and four miles-per-hour faster than us. Babies, dogs, the weather: the TOBIE trail gave us chances to connect with the community.
In fact, community, inclusiveness, and flexibility were built into the trail’s design from the start. TOBIE was first conceived back in 1999, part of a dialogue called Communities 2000 around what might be accomplished with federal grant funding available for transportation initiatives. The vision was for a partially paved bike and pedestrian path linking the Thendara train station all the way to Inlet, that would also connect with a route to Big Moose.
Former Adirondack Park Agency chair Leilani (Lani) Ulrich, then coordinator of Communities 2000, says, “To have something that would enhance the nature of the area by letting people pedal or walk through it makes such a difference. It’s not all about snowmobiling, it’s not all about skiing fast downhill, it’s not all about folks who can spend half a day hiking in the deep woods.”
Ulrich says the volunteerism involved in moving from securing the funding in 1999 to the trail’s completion in 2013—marked by the dedication of the Eagle Bay Visitor Center and a pedestrian bridge over the Moose River—was “phenomenal. Two teachers from the public school wrote the grant. Photographers, town commissioners, town board members; just hours and hours of so many people sitting at the table saying, ‘How can we make this happen?’”
One of those grant-writing teachers was Marie Adams, who mentions the trail’s safety benefits. She approached the project with a goal of reducing hazardous conditions for area kids who walked or rode bikes on the narrow shoulders of Route 28. Now, Adams says, “Every time I see parents with strollers taking their kids across the base of Maple Ridge near the school, every time I see kids jogging out to the soccer field on North Street on the sidewalks rather than down the middle of the road, I am absolutely thrilled.”
Ulrich points to the possibilities that the TOBIE trail brings to area residents at the other end of the age spectrum as well, noting that it passes the Lakeside Terrace senior housing facility in Old Forge. “It enhances life for our seniors to have a safe spot to walk, to feel like they are in nature, away from cars,” she says. “Younger and older and of every ability: you can be on the TOBIE trail and enjoy it for a quarter or half a mile. It set a different tone for us, to be a community that values that possibility.”
The next day I was raring to tackle another segment of the TOBIE. And then it started to rain. And rain. And then it rained on the third and fourth days of our weeklong visit.
We were down to our last day of vacation with 14 untouched miles of the TOBIE. Our reunion was already breaking up, as people headed home for school and jobs. A tiny bit of panic set in, but there was an obvious solution that would allow me to cover the remainder of the TOBIE trail in one day: two wheels.
Let me mention that we live in Oakland, where between traffic and hills, our daughters never had much practice bike riding. And while I grew up pedaling, I hadn’t spent much time in a bike saddle either. My husband, the family’s avid cyclist, had already departed, along with our youngest daughter.
So I turned to the eldest daughter and informed her she’d pulled the short straw: “Kid, we’re riding bikes today.” We headed to Pedals & Petals, in Inlet, to rent bikes, where the young man who so capably outfitted us displayed a great deal more confidence in us than we had earned.
Perhaps you saw two blondes careening down the sidewalk in Inlet that August day, yelling, “Is this how you shift gears?” and “Wait, I need to tighten my bike helmet!” and “Ow, why did we go horseback riding first this morning?” We white-knuckled the handlebars and wondered if we’d make it home.
And then gradually the path flattened and widened. South of Eagle Bay, it moves away from the road and into the woods to share the former railbed-turned-snowmobile trail. Sunlight filtered down through dripping leaves, mud puddles just begged to be parted with a bike wheel, and the birdsong made Route 28 feel far away, even if we still heard the occasional car noise. I breathed in the Adirondack air to tide me over until next year’s visit.
I’d love to tell you we made it all the way to the Thendara train station that day. But we had to adjust expectations and seek gratitude for what we had, not what we lacked. What my daughter and I had was a wonderful bike ride and a new way to appreciate the area. What we lacked was the leg muscle to get us to the end of the trail and then back to our car.
But thanks to the vision and hard work of the community that created it, the TOBIE trail will be waiting there next year, a new and endlessly adaptable journey each time it’s traveled.
If You Go
The TOBIE trail is a mixed-use, partially paved trail connecting five central Adirondack communities, with entry points that include the Thendara train station; the Old Forge Visitor Information Center; the Eagle Bay Welcome Center; and the Inlet Information Office. The system is open from April 1 to September 14, when it closes for hunting and snowmobiling seasons. Find a map at the Old Forge Visitor Information Center, 3140 Route 28; the Inlet Information Office, 160 Route 28; or at www
Bike rentals are available in Old Forge at Mountainman Outdoor Supply (2839 Route 28, 315-369-6672, www.mountain
manoutdoors.com) and in Inlet at Pedals & Petals (176 Route 28, 315-357-3281, www.pedalsandpetals.com).
If you begin your journey in Thendara, ease into the trip with a midmorning break at Dough a Deer bakery (3018 Route 28, 315-369-0001, doughadeerbakery.com), in Old Forge, where you can fuel up on fruit smoothies or grab sandwiches and snacks to go.
From North Street, in Old Forge, the route follows snowmobile trails into the wilderness, over the North Branch of the Moose River and—after a right at the junction of Trails #3 and #8—past West, Rondaxe and Cary Lakes.
Restrooms are available at the Eagle Bay Welcome Center, near the intersection of Route 28 and Big Moose Road. (To explore the community of Big Moose, follow Big Moose Road north for about 7 miles.) Eagle Bay also offers pit stops at its iconic Donut Shop (5474 Route 28, 315-357-6421) or—if you’re more in the mood for a draught than a donut—The Tavern (5520 Route 28, 315-357-4305).
Two more miles will bring you to Inlet, where you can cool off with a gelato from Northern Lights Creamery (162 Route 28, 315-357-6294) and a dip at Arrowhead Park’s sandy beach, right next door.