Saturday, January 25, 2020

Ride: The Burke-Gilman Trail

Winding through northern Seattle is a bike path built on an old railroad right of way.  Starting in the west on the shore of the Puget Sound, the Burke-Gilman trail works its way east along the ship canal to Lake Union before turning north and following the Lake Washington shore up toward Bothell.  It is a popular trail for walking, jogging, biking, and commuting.

In the 1880s, Seattle was a growing city that was quickly being crisscrossed with railroad lines.  One of these new lines was the Seattle, Lake Shore, and Eastern Railway, founded in 1885 by Thomas Burke, Daniel Gilman and a set of additional investors. Starting in downtown Seattle, the railway roughly followed the shores of Lake Union and Lake Washington north to Woodinville.  There it split: one half headed north toward Snoqualmie Falls, while the other headed south toward what is now Issaquah.  As was the fate of many railways that started in that timeframe, the SLS&E was eventually merged with other rail companies, and by the 1970s the line had been abandoned.  The first multi-use trail segment on this rail line opened in 1978, and it has slowly grown ever since.

Today, the trail is a 27-mile paved path going from Shilshole Bay out to Seattle's eastside suburbs.  Starting out at Golden Gardens Park, it follows the Lake Union Shipping Canal past Salmon Bay and under the bridges at either end of the Fremont Cut.  From there, it passes Gasworks Park as it follows the north shore of Lake Union to the University of Washington.  After a curvy trip around the University of Washington, the trail heads north along the shore of Lake Washington, passing Warren G. park and a few smaller parks.  Beyond those parks, the trail begins a long stretch along the lake until it reaches the north end of Lake Washington.  After rounding the top of Lake Washington, the trail reaches its end at Bothell.  Although the Burke-Gilman trail ends there, other Eastside trails pick up where it ends and head to other destinations.

Since the trail is a former railway bed that follows shorelines for much of its length, the Burke-Gilman trail is generally flat and has very few road crossings.  It makes a great commuting path from the northeast Seattle metropolitan area, as well as a pleasant weekend out-and-back from either end or starting somewhere in between.  You can start exploring the Burke-Gilman trail at the Wireless Bike Map.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Ride: Cherry Creek

Denver's nickname is "The Mile High City", which, while lower than some other cities, is pretty high up.  If you're from lower lands, riding around the city can be pretty tough.  Luckily, there's a nice, generally flat trail that follows a stream from downtown all the way out into the countryside beyond the surrounding suburbs.

Cherry Creek is a stream that starts out in the hills south of Denver, flowing north toward the city.  It winds through the surrounding land, through the suburbs, and through Denver itself, eventually emptying into the South Platte River near the spot where the city of Denver was originally founded in the mid 1800s.  Today, the juncture of these two streams is marked by Confluence Park, and is the northern end of the Cherry Creek Trail.  Nearly all of its 40 miles are paved, and it generally runs below street level.  This makes the trail pleasant to ride on with few street crossings to worry about.  In the downtown section, there are plenty of exits to city streets, and in the suburban areas there are numerous branch trails that lead to local neighborhoods.  The trail is easy to get to, and great for getting from one end of town to the other.

If you start out on the northern end of the trail, you'll quickly transition from the downtown buildings to the relative seclusion of the trail itself.  Heading south, you make a slow, gradual climb, following the stream back towards its headwaters.  Along the way, the surrounding land transitions from tall buildings into houses, passing the Denver Country Club golf course, Cherry Creek Mall, and a variety of other sights along the way.  These include a number of parks that make nice places to get off the trail and hang out for a while.

If you go far enough, you'll eventually hit the Cherry Creek Reservoir dam, part of Cherry Creek State Park.  Here you'll find what is probably the single largest climb of the trip: riding up to the top of the dam.  After that, it's back to creekside riding all of the way out of town.  As the trail becomes more rural, it also becomes more wild: more street crossings, more patches that aren't paved, and fewer places to hop off.  Eventually you'll hit the end of the trail: the pavement just ends in the middle of nowhere, leaving you to turn around and contemplate your route home.

The Cherry Creek Trail is great for a simple ride through the city, a long ride into the country, or commuting from one end of town to the other.  Along the way, you'll see a lot of other bikers, joggers, and walkers (particularly in the downtown area), numerous parks, and various small rocky waterfalls.  The trail is a pleasant way to get around town, and is a great way to spend a lazy summer afternoon.  Explore it on the Wireless Bike Map.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Ride: The Wabash Trace

From the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s, the Wabash Railroad managed a variety of rail lines that stretched from Ohio to Nebraska, servicing cities like Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City.  A number of branch lines served smaller cities and towns along the way, including a branch that ran from Missouri up to Council Bluffs, Iowa.  Today, that rail line is the Wabash Trace Nature Trail, a bike path that runs through the rolling hills of western Iowa.

The western end of the 63-mile Wabash Trace is located in Council Bluffs, and it snakes through several small Iowa towns on its way to the Missouri border.  Perhaps the most famous of these towns in Mineola, home to the Mineola Steakhouse and the destination of the weekly Wabash Trace Taco Ride.  The twenty-mile round-trip ride from Council Bluffs to Mineola happens every Thursday during the summer, and is a regular pilgrimage for hundreds of riders each week.

Starting out on the southern edge of Council Bluffs, the ride quickly moves into corn fields and forest as it makes a gradual uphill climb to the halfway point.  It is here, just past the underpass at Dumfries, IA, that the trail opens up into the clearing referred to as Margaritaville.  This popular socialization spot slowly fills up over the course of the ride, and by the end of the evening it turns into the Taco Ride After Party.

The second half of the ride is a gradual downhill slope toward Mineola itself, and the Mineola Steakhouse lies a couple of blocks off of the bike path.  While their tacos give the ride its name, the Steakhouse is really about the destination: hanging out with the hundreds of other people who have made the ride, getting some food, and listening to some music.  After filling up on tacos, it's time to head back up the trail to Council Bluffs and the end of the evening.

By the next morning, the trail is once again back to being the quiet refuge that it is for the rest of the week.  If riding for tacos isn't your thing, the trail offers a comfortable short-distance or long-distance ride through picturesque farmland along a fairly level path.  Each of the towns along the way offers unique sights and amenities, from the larger-town pitstops available in Shenandoah to the well-known tacos in Mineola and the Airbnb-listed bunkhouse in the old train depot in Malvern.

Whether you're looking for Thursday night festivities or a day trip from Omaha, the Wabash Trace has a lot to offer.  Start exploring it on the Wireless Bike Map.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Wireless Bikemap - Open for Business

Have you ever started planning a biking trip in a different city and had no idea which streets had biking infrastructure and which ones didn't?  Have you ever tried to plan a long-distance ride and didn't know what paths or marked routes were in your area?  These activities often involve poring over PDFs and online maps with different keys and level of detail.  It's hard to find one place with all of the information you want in an easy-to-read format.

The Wireless Bikemap is a new bicycle-oriented map built using data from the OpenStreetMap project.  One of the main goals of this map is to give riders a consistent view of biking infrastructure across any city, town, or village, making it easy to quickly plan pleasant rides.

Who is it for?  Commuters who want to find safe, efficient rides in cities; long distance riders who want to plan trips on national bike routes; anyone who want to find an easier way to get to the grocery store; weekend riders who want to find a better way to explore around their home; and everybody in between.

Today's map is just the start, and it has some limitations.  It currently only covers the continental United States, its search functionality is pretty rudimentary, and it only displays static maps.  But the map is young.  As it continues to grow, we'll add features like routing capabilities, elevation information, and details for the rest of the world. 

Explore the map, go out for a ride, and come back occasionally to see what we've added.  And definitely leave feedback about how the map has treated you and what you have found using it.

Ride: The Keystone Trail

Omaha, Nebraska is a very hilly city, and the smoothest way to get from one end of town to another is usually to follow one of the streams t...