I dig history. Always have. I love historical sites. It’s so exciting to go back in time and imagine yourself in a different time and place… like going to Ford’s Theatre for the night of Lincoln’s death. Or retracing JFK’s route through Dallas – visiting the grassy knoll and looking up to the window of the book depository. No, I’m not obsessed with presidential assassinations, but you get my point.
That being said, I’ve always loved visiting the Ghost Town of Bodie and the surrounding area. I’ll use any excuse I can get to ride my bike in the Bodie Hills. My friend, Mark, mentioned an old logging railroad built in 1881 that ran 32 miles from Mono Mills to Bodie. Apparently, it was originally intended to span all the way to Benton, but they never got around to finishing the line. This railroad was used until 1917, at which point it was decommissioned, dismantled, and all the metal transported and sold. This was completed by the end of 1918.
When Mark (railroad enthusiast/ local historian/ mountain bike pioneer) told me about this fabled route, and I started drooling. He took me out there for a scouting bike trip. Our goal was to explore the terrain, and wrap our heads around a possible loop route we could use as a group ride with Fat Bike Mammoth.
After spending a day riding around, I got a very good feel for the area, and had two epiphanies:
- A FAT BIKE is the perfect tool for this area.
- I was destined to be a “Fat Bike Time Traveller”
From the scout ride and some online research, I patched together a GPX track of the complete “rail trail” and connected it with some other wonderful trails that created a fabulous loop. We thought it fitting for the loop to start and end at the remains of an old lime kiln used during Bodie’s “glory days”, which a spur of the railroad used to go right past.
So, with maps and a GPX file to guide us, and fat bikes as our modern steeds, my friend Hunter and I went back to attempt the full loop. Here’s what we learned:
- This loop truly is marvelous. However, there are certain sections of the old rail trail that are so over-grown with sage brush, that it’s impossible to ride. Lot’s of hike-a-bike that kicks your ass! However:
- There are some old jeep roads that were used to build the railroad, and more modern ATV routes that intersect the railroads at various points. Now that we’ve ridden/ hike-a-biked the route, we figured out some ways to utilize these jeep trails to minimize the hike-a-bike and make for an even more enjoyable riding experience without detracting from the “historical aspect” of following the exact route of the railroad.
- Much of the overgrown sagebrush could be trimmed back with loppers, and one “trail work day” with a few volunteers would do the job.
- The remaining few hike-a-bike sections just add to the flavor and adventure of the route.
- The majority of the route is rideable, and the railroad grade is a perfect continuous climb for riding and enjoying the surround scenery.
Along the ride, you see rusted railroad ties, discarded wooden planks, and remnants of old campsites. The rock work to support the trail through mountain passes is phenomenal. All built by Chinese laborers getting paid $1 per day. The grade of this route was pretty dang steep for it’s time, and there are two main switchbacks created in order to get the train up through the hills and eventually to Bodie. The constant railroad grade makes for a nice, consistent climb, and the views are beautiful and ever-changing.
Eventually, you arrive at Bodie Bluffs and can see the old railroad depot at the top of the hill. This area is now closed to the public because it is unstable from all the mining. From here, we depart the rail trail, and make our way back towards the lime kiln by descending an old jeep road through a different canyon – views of Mono Lake and the Sierras are outstanding!!
This ride is for you, if:
- you’re interested in local history or abandoned railroads
- you’re an adventurer that doesn’t mind hiking your bike
- you don’t mind riding on sandy jeep routes and old railroad beds, and wondering how many have died in dem hills
- unique scenery, variable terrain, and physical exertion are enjoyable to you
This ride is not for you, if:
- you’re worried about scratching your expensive bike on sagebrush
- you prefer bathrooms or support vehicles on your rides
- you don’t use a GPS device. (no matter how good your map skills are, you’ll never stay on this route without a GPX track to follow- contact me for the file)
All in all, the loop is around 21 miles, with about 2,100′ of climbing. Roughly 3-4 miles of the route is hike-a-bike, much of which has you carrying your bike on your shoulder. There is one steep ravine where there used to be a trestle/train bridge. You have no choice but to hike this section. However, with some of the ride-around’s we found, a lot of the hike-a-bike can be minimized. Below are some informational links about the railroad and original route. For specific route details, including driving directions to get there, visit the Fat Bike Mammoth Ride Page. #ridebikeswithfriends!!!