You’ve seen Rhode Island by car, foot, boat, air, bike, paddleboard, etc? Try it by the seat of your pants belted into a custom-made, 500-pound, open-air sled with rail car wheels that you pedal to go clacking down railroad tracks so close to the ground a couple feet below you feel the breeze on your butt.
We’re just guessing you haven’t seen Rhode Island like that before. Now’s your chance with Rail Explorers, which opened in Portsmouth in spring 2017 to great reviews and appreciative participants.
“It’s a view of scenery we pretty much guarantee you’ve never seen from this vantage point,” says Alex Catchpoole, who with his wife, Mary Jo Lu, founded the company in upstate New York a couple of years ago and turned their sights on the Ocean State to do it here.
Rail Explorers sets out from Grove Station on Alexander Road in Portsmouth; it used to be a railway station where a young John F. Kennedy pulled into for his Navy training on PT boats. There are two tours: The Northern Ramble, a six-mile exploration of the historic railroad between Portsmouth and the Sakonnet River, and The Southern Circuit, which obviously goes the other way but includes a 20-minute stop at the Bayside Station waterfront picnic area for some pretty spectacular views.
I took the northern jaunt in early spring, and it was terrific. Catchpoole and I took a two-person sled (there are also four-person variations), and we pedaled by islands Hog, Bristol, Prudence and Patience, the Newport Preservation Society Topiary Gardens, past private palatial estates, Montaup Country Club, the Audubon Society Nature Preserve and under the Mount Hope Bridge.
It’s an easy pedal, with a couple hundred feet between cars to let you meander at your own pace. Once you get to the end, a bus awaits to take you back. Allow a couple hours for either route; this is one unusual view of Rhode Island you don’t want to rush seeing.
Because you’ll love it. Pretty much everyone does, says Lu, even those who didn’t start out so happy.
“Even the grumpiest husband dragged along by his wife ends up smiling,” she laughs. “We’re selling a unique experience here, and people are loving it.”
For more information on Rail Explorers, which runs through the end of October, visit www.railexplorers.net
Cover photo courtesy Rail Explorers; rest by Paul E. Kandarian