Remembering the places less traveled by road or by rail.
Tracks and Yaks: Railbiking Frostburg, MD
This weekend, after a long hiatus due to the ongoing pandemic, we finally were able to hit the road and visit the nation's Capital, Washington D.C., as well as many other spots in the Mid-Atlantic Region. On the way back home, we crossed something off my bucket list by going on a railbiking tour. This particular one is located in Frostburg, MD. It's known as Tracks and Yaks, and runs on tracks that are also home to the Western Maryland Scenic Railway for about ten miles east of Frostburg. You ride the rails just east of Frostburg, Maryland on a custom bike.
A portion of the tracks where the GAP Trail crosses the WMSR and railbike right of way.
I'm not sure if a better location exists for a rail biking excursion, since the tracks are almost entirely downhill, and exist not only along with the aforementioned WMSR, but are located adjacent to the Great Allegheny Passage Trail, and offer a few opportunities to see bikers and hikers along that trail.
Just like the WMSR, it uses the ex-Western Maryland Railway, reaching a spot just east of Milepost 171. As the tour guides noted, this is the distance from Baltimore, MD. Today, we tell the story of our visit, and show a video of much of the ride in action. The total length of the trip was just over two hours, from beginning to end, with about 70 minutes of biking, and then taking a bus ride back to Frostburg.
For those who would rather watch than read, here's our YouTube video of the ride!
The trip started with the previous riders' bikes being picked up with a speeder car up to Frostburg. I was kind of sad that we couldn't ride on the bikes being pulled by speeder.
A Tracks & Yaks employee uncouples bikes for the next journey.
Another shot of the speeder car.
A shot of the trucks of the bike, it's a fairly simple looking mechanism.
The line uses the former right of way of the Mount Savage Railroad, which ran from Cumberland to Frostburg, MD. The line eventually became part of the Cumberland & Pennsylvania Railroad, and most notably the Western Maryland Railway.
As stated already, the ride offers numerous opportunities to interact with GAP Trail users, which numbered a couple dozen or so as we biked down the grade.
The WM used the line as branch to reach Frostburg, running largely parallel to the mainline, which was abandoned in the early 1970's and converted into the GAP Trail.
You keep several hundred feet from the bikers in front of you, which left plenty of room in case anything happened, but there were no issues on our visit. The rocky downhill grade offers some amazing views of the mountains in the distance - and right next to you as well.
The Western Maryland had a huge presence in the area, as you can tell by our abandoned railroads map, and ran multiple rail lines at one time, including one that run under the town of Frostburg, adjacent to the WMSR and the railbike right of way. It should be noted that the railbike tracks aren't abandoned, since the WMSR uses them, and thus that line appears on our Heritage Railways map.
Abandoned Cumberland & Pennsylvania Railway tunnel under the town of Frostburg, MD. (East Portal). FRRandP photo collection, 1992. On our trip, this tunnel was sealed over and invisible.
This turntable is at the west end of the WMSR line and adjacent to where the tunnel was in 1992, but they are not the same line, although each were part of the Western Maryland Railway.
The ride is almost entirely downhill, and there's practically no need for pedals, as once you have a little inertia, gravity takes over. In fact, you'll be braking more than you'll be pedaling. The speed is capped by the wheels and rough rails you ride over, so you never go too fast down the trip.
And while the ride is kind of rough, I think that adds to the thrill of it. I could never in a million years sit on a heritage train again after the freedom a railbike offers! You feel an incredible breeze as you coast downward with a view that inside of a railcar can't simply replicate, and a nice side effect is that there isn't a child behind you screaming, something we experienced whenever we had to bunch up, such as the halfway point of the ride.
There are a few grade crossings on the trip which are flagged through, this one at top-speed.
Mount Savage is in the distance, as are wind turbines, which are a nice sight to see!
Speaking of, at about the halfway point, one of the tour guides stops to discuss Mt. Savage, MD, the village, not the hill, and notes that the area is the sight of the first iron rail forge in the United States. Previous rails had to be made, and transported from, Europe, mostly England. This made the eponymous Mount Savage Railroad the first to use tracks actually made in America.
The ride continues further downward, but the view never gets worse, even at the end, the scenery is incredibly idyllic.
I can only imagine this place in the fall and winter!
Another crossing of the GAP.
If you've got a few million, a dairy farm is for sale in the area. It looks gorgeous, but that's quite a commute from Chicago!
As we pulled into the final destination of the tour, we'd gotten a bit tired, not from pedaling, but the seat and rails do get to your body after a bit. Nonetheless, I would have been completely ready to continue on after a bit!
The GAP and WMSR continue beyond Cash Valley Road, but this is where Tracks and Yaks lets off, and by this point we had started getting somewhat tired (and were about to be rained on!).
Tracks and Yaks is the perfect length of a tour, and offers a unique experience that isn't replicated in many other places in the US, although more are being created every year! Tracks and Yaks itself is only a few months, but they seem to have their operations down pat quite well, with the only caveat that I wanted to start earlier, but they have to share tracks with the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad.
I'm definitely glad we got to visit! And I will be visiting another railbike tour in less than two months! See you soon, Portsmouth, RI!
Nonetheless, thanks to all of them for the wonderful tour and experience, and thanks as always to you for reading!
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