Say you’ve been coming to Cape May for years. And you were there, did that. They did the carriage rides, ghost tours, whale watching rides, visited the Cape May Zoo, visited the Washington Street Mall and of course the beach.
Or say you’re new to Cape May and have the kids with you. And you haven’t punched your ticket enough for the locals not to call you a shoemaker, and all you need is one more activity to hide the little darlings until dinner before you might find an adult drink in your remaining hours of awareness .
There is good news for you!
There is a new attraction in the center of the city and you might discover something new in this old, familiar place.
“We come to Cape May every year for vacation, but that’s something new,” said Barbara Martina, 55, a Philadelphia stockbroker who had just returned from an hour and a half ride on an abandoned railroad before husband John Noon on a new day of the week.
They shared a two-person rail bike that looks like an aluminum go-kart. There are two and four seated carriages that are used for a 4-mile round-trip journey along a railroad line that once brought tourists to and from the shore. A new concession now offers group tours along the trails to see the mouths of birds, see a nature reserve and test your own personal fitness.
David Easton, his sister, Kathy Easton, and their mother, Nancy, shared a four-seater car with Kathy’s husband, Roger Suttmeier. They were ready for the lunch tour that departed from the former train depot right on Lafayette Street in the center of town.
“We thought it would be a great trip for our 86-year-old mother,” said David Easton of Cranbury, a retired aircraft mechanic. “It’s not strenuous, it’s different, pedaling is easy and we can all walk at the same time.”
Kathy Easton said her family bought a vacation home here and have been visiting for 55 years.
“We’ve been coming here all our lives since we were kids,” she said. “I saw an article about it on NJ.com in December and said, ‘We’re doing this.'”
Tom Peticca, the assistant manager of Revolution Rail Co., began locking up the Eastons and a few dozen other drivers around 11:50 a.m. His employees had already turned the railbikes with a dolly in the opposite direction from which they had arrived at the depot 30 minutes earlier from an earlier excursion.
Tours start every two hours at 8:00 a.m., with the last tour usually starting at 6:00 p.m. and ending around 7:30 p.m. Two-seaters are $ 40 and the larger cars are $ 80.
Peticca explained the rules of the road, including that every car has a handbrake and the leading driver should sit in the seat who controls it. Peticca said the carts can reach a top speed of between 10 and 15 mph, so the brakeman should use hand signals when stopping.
Peticca mixed up jokes and light banter with his list of do’s and don’ts, including securing wallets, phones, and keys to ensure they don’t fall out while peddling. He said there was a find, but it was mostly filled with sunglasses that were collected along the route on the following tour.
A few moments later, the riders had settled down and stowed some bags and other items in a basket at the rear of the bike.
There were tour guides on the first and last bike. Photojournalist Tim Hawk and I went along with the trip, the three of us sat with Peticca in a four-seater car.
Pedaling was the hardest when starting, but not exhausting. Once in motion, it glides over the course with one, two or all three kicks.
We drove along the tracks, with weeds, bushes, and trees on either side for part of the 4 mile hike. Another time the brush gave way to a beautiful view of a bird of prey nest in a tidal estuary and then near the Cape May Canal, which was built in 1942 to avoid German submarines hunting ships and trying to shut down ships in the process sink World War II.
And then, just when you think you have traveled to a new wilderness beyond the Victorian tourist mecca in which you set off on your railbike tour, and ask yourself – how will they ever find us when we are on these hiking trails get lost? nowhere? – You will see a level crossing just before the nature reserve and a cyclist glides over to the reserve. And you’ll find that this wandering, deserted railroad track is actually just a stone’s throw from the parallel road that leads to the West Cape May Bridge, which is a road back to civilization to walk to.
“My main concern was being physically fit enough,” said Jennifer Whitehead, 53, of Collingswood, who held her 15-month-old granddaughter Amelia during one of three stops on the 4-mile journey. “I just thought it was a great experience on the railway line and found the concept really cool. We usually go to Ocean City, but that’s what we came here for. “
Whitehead said Revolution Rail provided a baby booster seat to strap Amelia into one of four seats on her bike. Each bike also comes with a hand umbrella per seat, and they could put the handle into straps on the back of the baby seat to hold it over her.
All bikes are spun at the 2 mile point on the canal using the same type of aluminum dolly that was spun on their return at the depot. The last car I drove with Tom and Tim was now the first car.
Although our tour started at noon, I did not find the sun a great challenge during the drive and I did not use the umbrella. However, a hat seemed essential that I had. In addition, the temperature that day was just over 80 degrees.
We stopped again at the 180 acre Garrett Family Preserve, the wildflower and plant meadow we had previously stopped at on the way back to the canal. The entire hike was largely comfortable, with a spacious relaxation room at the start and finish in the depot, which still serves as the NJ transit bus hub, and a port-a-potty at the nature reserve.
“When our children were little, the train to the zoo always went here,” said Kathy Easton at the end of the bike tour shortly after 1.30 p.m. who brought us to the zoo earlier. “
Revolution Rail also operates rail bike franchises in North Creek and Hadley, New York, and South Fork, Colorado. Peticca said the Cape May rail bike tour is expected to run through December. It debuted here in March.
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Bill Duhart can be reached at [email protected]ia.com.