Today’s schedule called for a ride on the Tunnel Hill State Trail, and then tripping to Westfield, Indiana, to cycle the Rail Trail Hall of Fame Monon Trail, and overnighting in Westfield. This particular blog entry will discuss the Tunnel Hill ride.
After grabbing some coffee and pastry from the hotel’s “breakfast” bar, we filled up with pricey gasoline and drove to the Tunnel Hill, Indiana, trailhead, about 30 minutes away.
According to TrailLink, “A dark railroad tunnel and two dozen trestles crossing streams and rocky ravines welcome visitors to the scenic Tunnel Hill State Trail as it travels 55 miles through forests and farmland in sparsely populated southern Illinois. This gem of Illinois rail-trails was built on the former Cairo and Vincennes Railroad, which was completed in 1874 and hauled coal from southern Illinois mines, as well as produce and timber. Over the years, the railroad went through a series of ownership changes, and the tracks last belonged to Norfolk Southern Railroad, which turned the corridor over to the state in 1991. The first sections of trail opened in 1998.”
After unloading the bicycle, the front wheel was mounted, seat post installed, and tires filled with air. While putting on the helmet, we hear a whoosh sound as air was rapidly expelled from the front tire/tube—what a way to start a trip! The tube was quickly replaced, and the trail awaited.
I opted to ride the Tunnel Hill to Vienna section since it was mostly downhill.
After only a couple of minutes of cycling south, the tunnel for which the trail was named came into view. Having ridden a number of lengthy rail trails with foreboding tunnels, this one was much less ominous than described in the trail information, though I was outfitted with both a bicycle light and a head light.
After another couple of miles, the Breeden Trestle came into view. There are 23 picturesque trestles along the completed sections of Tunnel Hill State Trail ranging in length from 34 to 430 feet. Breeden Trestle is the longest, and also the highest at 90 feet.
The Tunnel Hill to Vienna section of chat-surfaced rail trail was among the most scenic I have ridden. (Limestone chat is a cost effective alternative to concrete in areas that are relatively flat. Chat, limestone gravel crushed to 1”” or less) compacts to a hard trail surface that can also give, somewhat, and is a great option for trails that will be frequently used by runners. It does require more maintenance, and wider tires.