Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Nashua River Rail Trail

All is quiet on the Nashua River Rail Trail.

Even on days warmer than the cold November morning of my ride, I have a feeling that a sense of peace always prevails on this path as cyclists, rollerbladers, dog walkers, and strolling families make their way along the 12.2 miles from Ayer, Massachusetts to Nashua, New Hampshire.

The trail's namesake winds in and out of view...

... and after seeing a few colorful trees at the start of the path...

... the forest quickly turns into to a late-autumn landscape of pines and leafless trees.

It's a friendly trail.  This pit-stop comes into view just as one crosses the Massachusetts-New Hampshire state line:

... and the quaint town of Pepperell makes for a nice resting point along the way.

All of these things are enough to make this trail special.

But the Nashua River Rail Trail is more than just a beautiful path.  It tells a story.

In 1981, the last train came down the tracks that used to lie along this path, ending a 133 year run of both freight and passenger service.  According to a plaque along the route, the glory years of passenger service were between 1900 and 1911, when the line was part of the Worcester, Nashua and Portland Division of the Boston and Maine Railroad (in case you like train schedules as much as I do, I left this photo hi-res, so that you can zoom in).

During those heyday years, a night train from New York City to Bar Harbor, Maine used to barrel through these woods.  Must have been an amazing sight.

Although the tracks are now gone, mile markers still exist today, with the original designations beautifully restored. Heading north on the path, "P" represents the miles to Portland...

... and riding south, the "W" indicates the miles to Worcester.

Seeing those mile markers and moving at the contemplative pace of a bike ride, it's easy to put oneself into the seats of those old trains -- looking out the windows at these same woods, sitting beside passengers from a time long since faded into an unrecorded past.  One can almost hear the sounds from a century ago: the clickity-clack of the cars, the steam whistle, and the hiss of that great iron engine. Murals under bridges recall the history of this remarkable place with colorful flair.

Riding my bike further and further along the Nashua River Rail Trail, I imagine that the unrecorded narratives of those passengers from long ago may not be so unrecorded after all. Their stories must exist somewhere, maybe in the attics of faraway houses, in dusty shorthand journals, describing the mystery and beauty of a night train from New York City to the rocky coast of Maine.

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