One of things I like to do on occasion is ride the rails. No, not like the hobos of past that hopped into freight train boxcars that eventually took them across the country. It’s another form of rail riding that I do on my bicycle. I ride along the railroad lines that crisscross the City of Detroit like stitches across a wound. There are hundreds of miles of rail lines in the city that are used to carry tons of steel, automobiles, raw materials and other manufactured goods.
The rails sit on coal colored, heavy-duty wooded ties that are embedded in loose shards of heavy, crushed stone. That’s usually what I end up riding on. The gravel doesn’t offer much traction for bike tires, and pedaling on that loose gravel tends to throw my bike all over the place, testing my arm and leg strength. However, this isn’t always the case. Many of the lines I’ve traveled have access roads, or well used paths running along the tracks for maintenance vehicles. Those are great to ride on.
As I discovered, there is plenty of bike access along the tracks. At some intersections, where the tracks cross a street or road, I simply enter the line from there. Other areas are fairly secluded with only a small path leading through a field that leads up an embankment to elevated lines. This is my favorite. Riding those high lines offer incredible views of the downtown skyline, the New Center and other areas of Detroit. Plus, they’re just a lot of fun to ride because I’m over everything; cars, people, streets, etc.!
While riding the lines, I’ve crossed viaducts that I have driven cars under. I’ve spotted people taking a second look (with a surprised look on their face) as I’ve passed over them while they walked below. I’ve pedaled past junkyards, incredible graffiti, faded commercial buildings, and numerous abandoned and active factories. Some of these factories have been converted to lofts with second story living space at eye level. On the Detroit lines, I have also ridden over main highways like Grand River and Woodward, and all the major expressways where drivers have pointed up at me as if to say, “Look at that guy.”
Obviously, trains rumble by as I’m exploring the rails. In fact, just the other day I was sitting on by bike over the Lodge Freeway overpass watching the cars when suddenly a monster of a locomotive rounded the corner. The conductor saw me, blasted his horn a couple of times, reached out the window and gave me the thumb-up. I returned the favor as he rolled by pulling well over 100 cars.
Surprisingly, the cars that rolled past were quiet. They had a steady underlying hum and a distinct clicking sound, reminding me of a subtle beat on a snare drum. The engine is where the sound is on a train. The 150-ton massive machines generate the sound of power and pure brute strength. I love the sounds of a train, and I like where the rails take me in Detroit!