Riding the rail trails is one of the ways I enjoy moving by muscle. Moving by muscle is what I do for recreation and exercise: hiking through the woods, rowing on the river, and biking on the rail trails. There’s only foot traffic on hiking trails, few motorboats are on the river as early as I am, and motorized vehicles are prohibited from most rail trails during the summer.
My Freewheeling Mind
Moving by muscle isn’t just good for the health of my body. It’s also good for the health of my head. When I move by muscle, my mind freewheels. Outwardly, I appear to be hiking, rowing or cycling; inwardly, I’m hard at work, listening to the words that rise to the rhythm of my tread, oars or pedals. I think about things. During my recent spate of rail trail adventures, I thought about the decline of train travel that allows me to ride my bike on old rail beds.
Before railroads, people only moved by muscle or wind. On land, some people harnessed animals; most people walked. In the early days of European occupation of Vermont, villages arose either on hilltops, for security, or in walking distance of water power, for prosperity. I live in a village that once boasted several mills and over twenty industries, including a jelly mill, a carriage maker and a hat factory.
From 1839 until early this century, there was a general store here that was also a post office and place to catch up on local news. I used to walk to the store for milk and the newspaper. Now the nearest milk is three miles away, and the so-called “paper” comes to me online. These days, the village is a place people speed through, ignoring the posted speed limit. Those of us who live here risk our lives to walk to post office, the only business still open.
So when I pedal along the rail trails, what I think about is how we could possibly bring back trains and do away with cars for everything but the last mile. I think about how cars have affected our health and the health of the planet. I play a game of “What if?”
- What if the federal government had invested in passenger and freight rail instead of paving the nation with 40,000 miles of interstate highway?
- What if we had built infrastructure like France’s TGV high-speed trains? or the Bullet Trains of Japan?
- What if we could take a train as a reasonable alternative to flying?
- What if I could board a train in a nearby city center in the evening, sleep comfortably, and arrive for breakfast in another city center? Or even spend two days on a very fast train and arrive on the West Coast without jet lag?
- What if we only needed low-powered cars for local transport?
Life in the Slow Lane
On these recent rail trail excursions, thinking while moving by muscle generated more questions than answers. Each ride ended back at the car. On the drive home, I gave over lamenting the lack of swift passenger trains in modern America, because I like life in the slow lane, what I call Living in Place.