Thursday, August 2, 2018

Right Back On The Quad-B (Because I Like The Punishment?)

Yesterday I only put 26 or so miles on the Quad-B, which isn’t really all that much in terms of the biking world, but when you consider that I'm not what you would call a daily rider and have the soft butt to prove it, the Quad-B doesn’t fit me very well therefore putting too much pressure on my hands, and I’m not as young as I once was, (What a silly statement! An unnecessary waste of words, because nobody is ever as young as they once were, but here I am saying it anyway.) 26 miles in a day is no insignificant accomplishment for me. So the smart thing to do would be to take a day off from the saddle, but – well – as you might have figured out by now, smart and me don’t always get along so well.

But I do have an excuse. I’m not saying it’s a great excuse, but it’s an excuse nonetheless.

Today is Friday. That means that if I take a day off from pedaling I’ll be riding the next segment of the Tunnel Hill Trail, the segment I’ve been looking forward to for a year now, on a Saturday.

I know from experience that hiking trails, the ones you do on foot, my other option for either today or tomorrow, are generally not as crowded on weekends as you might expect, (Though the trails at Starved Rock State Park in the north of the state, you know, up there close to Chicago, are definitely an exception to this!) but I have a feeling that this segment of the Tunnel Hill Trail is real popular on the weekends, especially for biking parents trying to burn off some of the kid’s energy while cramming a week’s worth of their own exercise into a few hours, so I have visions of the Tunnel Hill trail being rather chaotic and noisy on the weekends.

I can’t say if that’s true or not, because I did my ride today and stayed away on Saturday.

I got an early start, not just because that’s my time of day, but also in an attempt to get ahead of the predicted record heat.

But that’s not morning fog out there on the trail, that haze is from the oppressively hot humidity that has my shirt sticking to my back, my pants chewing at my crotch, and my lungs trying to suck in molasses-thick air despite the early hour and being only being a few feet north of my starting point. But don’t feel too sorry for me, I used to live in the swamp just north of the Mississippi Gulf Coast back in the late 70’s, (Before casinos.) so know all about conditions like this.

For this segment of the trail it is wise for old men on cheap bikes (Hey! That's Me!) to pay attention to the elevation change to be encountered.

In the nearly 10 miles from the depot in Vienna to Tunnel Hill the trail rises about 300 feet, an average grade of about a half percent. Which doesn’t sound like much but is noticeable to all but the most highly conditioned legs, which definitely doesn’t include mine. . .

Not all that far north of town (Vienna) the trail crosses under US-45, just like it does on the south side of town. Again, given the lack of vertical clearance, this is clearly not the crossing as it existed in the days of the railroad.

What you can’t see in the photo is the town of Bloomfield. Not only because it’s off the left side of the photo, but also because it isn’t there anymore.

In 1818 Bloomfield, then a stagecoach stop with a tavern that actually had the reputation of being a safe place to spend the night, lost a bid to become the Johnson County seat. They lost to Vienna, a place a few miles south which didn’t even exist at the time! I can only use my imagination and the lingering memory of Saturday morning Lone Ranger and Roy Rodger shows to conjure up the dastardly dealings of bad-guys with money posing as respectable business men that managed to orchestrate that!

Despite being the official county seat from 1818 on, Vienna didn’t get a post office until 1821 and wasn’t incorporated until 1837. Today Vienna is still chugging right along, while Bloomfield is nothing but a couple houses on dirt streets.

It’s called the Little Cache Creek along here, but the terrain is more varied and the bridges longer than just a few miles away along the grown-up Cache River there south of Vienna.

This is another riveted through plate-girder bridge like the one I showed in the previous post, but in addition to being longer, on this one the bridge-deck sits higher in the girder, and clearly the powers-that-be that tuned this into a trail couldn’t trust us trail-users not to accidentally throw ourselves over the side so had the railing built up higher.

The terrain around here is starting to get serious about its ups and downs and several times the trail squeezes through rock-cuts, which is a nice change from being surrounded by swamp.

I’m not sure what it was doing out here, that big chunk of steel, as the roadbed looks like it has always been single-tracked, without any parallel tracks or turnouts, for quite some way in both directions.

Here it looks like it’s being used as a curb on a small culvert, but this big behemoth chunk of cast steel  (cast iron was too brittle to hold up under steel wheels so by 1900 virtually all rails and rail parts were made of more malleable steel) is a guard rail used at turnouts.  Those 4 tabs on the left would be placed under the rail from the inside and the whole thing spiked into place.

Notice the profile of that circled section on the end

which tucks nicely against the bottom or foot of the rail and snugs up to the web, that skinny vertical section.

When in place against a rail the raised lip would then ride along the back of passing wheel-flanges keeping the wheel on the other end of the axle, which is going through the turnout’s frog, that pointy thing left of center,

from doing anything stupid, like wandering off-line when passing through the gap or throat of the frog and jumping the rail.

(Oh, now I get it! Someone put it there to keep me from doing something stupid like letting my wheels jump off the edge of the culvert. . . They know me well. . .)

OK, I have no explanation for why I stopped here at mile marker 119, dismounted, walked back down the trail a ways, turned around, and took this photo.

But as long as we’re here, I’ll take this opportunity to point out the surface of the trail. A nice bed of crushed rock or decomposed granite (Not sure which, or if it makes any difference) that makes for a nice smooth, easy-riding surface. I can’t speak for the entire trail, but for the southern half of it  that I personally rode this was the surface the whole way.

It’s along here that Tunnel Hill Trail intersects with the River to River Trail. This is a 160 mile, mostly hiking with some equestrian, trail across the southern part of the state between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. (Get it? River to river?)

I didn’t try it out today, but it seems pretty well blazed with the blue “i” on a white diamond.

There’s also fairly well detailed and updated maps for the R-to-R trail at this web site 

Another point of interest along here is the Breeden Trestle.

Unfortunately, unless you read about it back at the kiosk or did some research ahead of your ride, there’s nothing here to tell you that, at 450’, this is the longest bridge on the trail,

and at 90’, also the highest.

Like most trestles of this type, the tracks ran on top of the girder, probably without benefit of guard-rails, so the railings were added when this was being turned into a trail.

That bump-out there on the left, one of three on this trestle, is reminiscent of ‘sand stations’ where a shovel and a barrel of sand were kept to put out fires that might be sprinkled along the track in the days of steam engines and wooden trestles. These were also handy places for anyone caught out on the trestle to get clear of an approaching train!  

From the Breeden trestle its only 2.5 miles farther to the actual Tunnel Hill the trail is named for and it wasn’t long before I was approaching the tunnel that gives the hill, and the micro-community that remains there, it’s name.

But first, right about where I’m standing was Sandburn, a construction camp used by railworkers. Unless those big rock slabs mean something, I couldn’t find any trace of the camp which was turned into a flag-stop when the depot at Tunnel Hill was build.

A flag-stop isn’t a scheduled stop or depot along the rail but the train will pause briefly if a flag is raised, kind of like putting the flag up on your mailbox. Guess where the post office got that idea!

Just a couple of tenths of a mile beyond this ridge which the railroad tunneled through rather than go around, is where the Tunnel Hill depot used to be. Where I'm standing used to be tunnel as well, but this part fell in back in 1929. Today, CR-12 is on top of the ridge but the only way you'd know that from down here is by sitting still long enough for one of the infrequent vehicles to go by, and then you will only hear it and not see it.

Last year, when I walked down here from the depot end, it was surprisingly cool inside the tunnel and today I was really looking forward to that.

I don’t know if it was just hotter all round today or if my memory was screwing with me, but it wasn’t as cool inside the tunnel as I hoped. Not cool enough to be refreshing yet just cool enough for the thick air to fog the crap out of camera and glasses lenses.

Unlike the guano-filled Charity Tunnel on the Caprock CanyonTrailway, Tunnel Hill tunnel is rideable, but it’s just long and dark enough that the trick is to keep on a straight line and not ride into the side of the tunnel as you are going through. Or you could just not be so damn lazy and stop long enough to get your headlamp out of the pack on the rack behind you. . .

Shortly after passing through the tunnel is another of the nice little parks strung out along the trail. This one sits where the Tunnel Hill depot used to be.

Notice the long grass, a definite rarity in these parts!

No, nobody came along to mow it while I was chilling out there (although chilling out is a relative term given the actual temperature.) but, in case you haven't guessed already, someone was mowing the yard at a farmhouse across the road and up the hill. I couldn’t see them, but I was still treated to that incessant mower-drone.

From here it’s only another 6 miles to the town of New Burnside, named after Civil War General Burnside who not only helped promote the building of the railroad but who also gave his name to sideburns because of his distinctively quaffed facial hair. It, the town not the distinctive beard, sprung up because of the confluence of railroad and coal mine, both of which are gone now, but the town is still hanging on.

In between here and there is the site of Parker which was built at the intersection of two railroads and it’s hotels, barber shops and restaurants served the many traveling salesmen of the day. 

Parker disappeared with the railroads, even though traveling salesmen persisted for many decades longer.

Now anyone with a little bit of ambition would have climbed back into the saddle and rode on to check these places out. But apparently I didn’t have a little bit of ambition and after kicking back at Tunnel Hill for a while, I retraced my tracks back to Vienna and The Van.

And I was annoyed but not surprised when I got back there to find that I was to be serenaded by that melodic mower-drone. . . (In case you missed it, that was sarcasm. That infernal noise is about as melodic as fingernails on chalkboard - the real kind not those whiteboards used today.)


  1. Those miles on the Quad-B are earned. You are inspiring me to get out and ride my 30+ year old Trek.

    1. Whoa now! Don't go blaming me for something like that. You get back on that bike and those saddle-sores are all on you.