All aboard; Mendocino’s rail bikes
Pedaling rail bikes in the Mendocino Forest.
Steam billows up from behind a hillside like a monster hiding in the woods. A distant whistle preempts the sounds of metal scraping on metal as a huge train engine is revealed from around a bend. It chugs along, just as they did hundreds of years ago, vibrating the ground and carrying countless cars behind it.
Seeing that huge engine working it’s way down the track is what I think of when I imagine being on rails. And although Fort Bragg does boast some self-proclaimed world-famous skunk train excursions, the thing that intrigued me the most was the opportunity to ride the rails; not on a train, but in a tiny two-person pedal-powered rail bike!
The famed Skunk Train works it’s way down the track.
To set the scene, Fort Bragg once was a logging town, but now bustles with tourists craving a blend of coastal and mountain culture. The entire town is surrounded by giant towering redwood trees and lined with dozens of postcard-perfect scenes of jagged coastlines and decrepit old mill machinery.
You can hike and bike in Fort Bragg. You can visit the famed glass beach – once abundant with sea glass. For those who want the most unique experience, you can take the opportunity to ride the rails of the famed Skunk Train, powered by your own feet!
I took my wife and I to experience these rail bikes; to pedal our way through the canopy of towering redwoods. We both were super excited to let the slight hum of the steel wheels slide along the old train tracks. We were ecstatic to enjoy the sounds of chirping birds as it mixed with the wind while rolling along.
Upon checking in, we met up at a gift shop filled with all things Skunk Train. There are stuffed skunks for the kids, skunk candies, and a ton of other themed gifts. And no, it doesn’t stink inside.
Starting out, there’s a brief training where an instructor shows you how to pedal, and – surprise – how to use the electric motor! So if you’re feeling lazy, or only have one leg, you don’t have to pedal at all (although it is fun).
The electric motor is activated by a little trigger operated by one of the two riders, and the brake is activated by another trigger. So you can pedal on full human power, partial human power, or you can just sit back and relax and enjoy the scenery.
Unfortunately, during our stay, smoke filled the air from a barrage of recent forest fires, so to save our lungs, we opted to use the electric motor for the majority of the tour. Even with the smokey conditions and Covid regulations, we were still able to feel like we were on vacation, doing something special.
In a tour with about 7 other rail bikes, we occasionally stopped for our guide to tell us about the history of this land and the Skunk Train which incidentally uses the same tracks.
The entire course is an out and back length of track that zoomed by way too fast. I would have loved it if we could have gone for miles and miles, but it was a relatively short stretch – which is either a positive or negative depending on how intense of an experience you’re looking for. Basically, it was easy enough for my parents to do it, but probably too easy for my crazy adventure buddies.
Near the end of the course, we stopped and did a 1-mile hike which was pleasant, but a little boring. My wife enjoyed walking around and checking out a hand dug tunnel that once served as a passageway for the train. This hour-long break allowed the Skunk Train to come in behind us and then return so that we could return on its tail.
Overall, the experience was a relaxing, scenic and unique way to spend the morning. The staff made us feel welcome and everyone made sure to wear masks so we felt safe during our adventure.
Fort Bragg has way too much to offer to squeeze it all in on a day trip, so my wife and I opted to stay at the Noyo Harbor Inn for the night.
Sitting along the riverbank, majestic gardens and sweeping coastal scenes surround this beautiful and quaint property. Stories of sailors and mill workers filled our imagination at every turn thanks to the artwork adorning the hand-crafted wooden walls in what became our temporary waterfront home away from home.
The cozy and inviting room served as the perfect refuge from the smokey air outside. I enjoyed sitting by the in-room fireplace, drinking a cup of tea and gazing out at the harbor just outside.
My wife took advantage of the huge jacuzzi tub in the room, lounging with a good book and a glass of wine, feeling grateful for the change of scenery after so many months spent sheltering in place.
The Noyo Harbor Inn boasts a full-service restaurant with California coastal cuisine, a prohibition-era bar, and an opportunity to enjoy breakfast on-deck. Before departing, we enjoyed some delicious coffee on the expansive deck, watching the boats sway lazily in the harbor below.
The property also takes Covid-19 protocols seriously and recommends all patrons and employees wear masks when outside of their rooms on the property unless eating or drinking.
My wife and I only had one short night at the property, which was barely enough time to sink into the culture of this coastal jewel, but nevertheless, we returned home refreshed, and longing for more.
In these crazy times, even just a one night, mini-vacation can help to break up the monotony of Covid quarantine life. Fort Bragg offered us just that, and we couldn’t have asked for a better home away from home than the Noyo Harbor Inn.
100 West Laurel Street Fort Bragg, California 95437
NOYO HARBOR INN:
500 Casa Del Noyo, Fort Bragg, CA 95437
Feature by josh Edelson, Jetsetters Magazine adventure correspondent