Making tracks to gentle trails, friendly folks

Sunday morning, simple pleasures: A family bicycling trip along the edge of a cool river, a smooth trail cutting between neatly planted rows of leafy trees. Our 4-year-old gestured grandly from her seat on the trailer behind my husband's bike, hand-hewn willow bracelets fluttering on her arm.

Our 6-year-old, digging his heels into the pedals on his 7-speed, zoomed ahead. About three miles from the 150-year-old farmhouse where we'd spent the night, we turned into the trailhead and parked our bikes in a quaint town park. Artists and crafters were setting up for a festival along Main Street.


We weren't in Belgium, New Zealand or Vermont. We were a hop and a skip away in York, Pa., northern terminus of the Heritage Rail Trail. At the Maryland state line, the trail links with the Northern Central Railroad Trail, which extends to Cockeysville in Baltimore County.

Together, the two trails offer cyclists 41 miles of rolling, gentle ride. If you've ever wanted to take a long ride but feared not getting back before dusk, Cycle Inn bed and breakfast near York is a place to kick off your sneakers and relax at the end of the ride.


The B&B;'s slogan sums up the possibilities: "Cycle Inn, but you can drive in, too." And you don't have to be long-distance cyclists. The B&B;'s central location near the Days Mill Road trail entrance offers short trips, too, for families and novice cyclists.

Being inexperienced cyclists, our family was easily distracted packing helmets, books, binoculars, snuggle-blankets, sunscreen and fanny packs. We forgot the water bottles, and never got as far as planning snacks -- two musts for trail riding.

Happily it wasn't a problem when we arrived at the B&B.; Our hosts, Tom and Karen Powers, provided Gatorade, gorp (a k a trail mix) and a map (with comprehensive directions) before sending us on our way.

For Tom and Karen, it's all part of catering to cyclists. They opened their B&B; about 18 months ago, hoping to share their bicycling passion with other riders and their families.

They use the trail regularly, on single and family rides and excursions with Scout troops. Their school-age children, Tommy, Mary Alice and Davis, are avid riders, too. Davis, 7, learned to ride on the trail after his family moved to York from New York in the mid-1990s.

On a visit before the move, Tom rode part of the Heritage trail and was enthralled with the possibilities -- maybe the family could run a fruit stand along the trail or a youth hostel. But when he and Karen found the white brick farmhouse on Days Mill Road, about 17 miles north of the state line, they knew B&B; was the way to go.

"Always, the idea was to be by the trail," says Karen.

The couple converted two rooms into spacious guest quarters on each end of the first floor of the house. Each has a private entrance from a back deck.


We stayed in the Velo Suite, named for the Velodrome, an indoor cycling track in Allentown, Pa. The spacious, L-shaped room has a private bath, bunk beds, queen bed and sleeper sofa. We had a quiet place for reading in an adjoining sitting room off the kitchen and dining room.

For traveling families that steer clear of curio-laden guesthouses, Cycle Inn is comfortable and inviting. Cycling memorabilia, historical photos, posters and even a nifty red tyke bike are all displayed creatively on walls, in nooks and cabinets, most safely out of reach of curious hands.

The home sits on an acre of land, with a well-tended garden, pool and hot tub. After a ride, the tree-shaded deck stretching across the back of the house is a lovely place to relax and ponder the posies growing out of a pair of work boots by the door.

Trail options

Along the 21-mile Heritage trail, riders can find Civil War history, antiques, fishing and a variety of attractions in York.

Our first day out, we decided to try a 12-mile round-trip ride, with a stop halfway for lunch.


The B&B; is about a quarter-mile from the Days Mill Road entrance to the trail. We rode cautiously, adults at each end, children in the middle, because the road can be busy during the day.

The trip meandered south, past barns, fowl cages, historic train stations, and through the almost-180-year-old Howard Tunnel. Here, trail parallels rail. The Northern Central Railroad, an important link for parcels and passengers between Baltimore and York from 1838 to 1972, is used today primarily by the Liberty Limited dinner train.

The rail trail splits woods into long stretches of leafy canopy. Benches, shelters and portable toilets at regular intervals offer rest for riders.

Towns such as Railroad, Glen Rock and New Freedom dot the trail and supply more options for food and diversions. We passed over branches of Codurus Creek and by fields and pastures. Purple and white wildflowers colored the edges of the crushed limestone path as we passed the gates at Brillhart and Glatfelters stations.

On a hot day, with a cooling breeze and the scent of flowers in the air, it's easy to remember that so much of cycling's pleasure is in being part of the scene, rather than watching it passively from the car window.

When we arrived at Seven Valleys, about six miles from Cycle Inn, we were ready to pull to the side of the trail for lunch at Elmer's Grocery, a family-owned store and grill.


Originally called Smysers Station, it opened in 1838 to serve the train and telegraph. According to current owner Bill Elmer, it is the oldest store in York County. His family bought the place in 1980. Photos and news clippings about the three generations that have worked and grown up here paper the grill's walls.

The kitchen serves subs, bur-gers, pizza and even peanut butter sandwiches. A 16-inch pizza is $6.95, and a double cheesesteak sub is $4.50. Most sandwiches run between 94 cents and $2.75.

If you call ahead, they'll have your order ready when you arrive. The store has deli fare, as well as Italian ice and fresh pretzels. Cyclists congregate outdoors under tents and covered picnic tables.

Bill Elmer often ambles out to greet riders during store hours, which begin at 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. Sundays. The store keeps trail hours, Elmer says, meaning they close at dusk, but they always keep an eye on the trail.

"We live upstairs, and it's downhill all the way to work," he says with a chuckle.

Town and country


We woke Sunday after an overnight rainstorm to a cool, breezy morning, and I wished I had packed a warm shirt for each of us. Tom Powers, on cook's duty that day, prepared a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit, French toast, bacon, coffee and juice.

Our kids finished quickly and ran outside to play with Mary Alice and Davis, exploring the creek, making willow bracelets, climbing trees and trading turns on the rope swing.

Tom set off for a morning ride. Karen took us on a tour of the basement bicycle "museum," a collection of cycles and a workshop of spare parts scavenged from old bikes bought at yard sales (handy for quick repairs).

Looking at these, some parked, some hanging, along two walls, I was reminded of my childhood blue bike with chrome spider handlebars and rose-covered banana seat, which was traded in later for an orange Schwinn Varsity 10-speed with bright orange handlebars.

We returned to the trail about mid-morning and headed north for a shorter ride to downtown York. Horseback riders, joggers and walkers share the trail, and Sunday morning was somewhat busier than the day before.

We began in woods, then passed golf courses, light industry, old mills and finally crossed into town. The river was winding along to our left, and a park we passed through was planted with neat rows of trees on either side of the trail.


The three-mile leg ended at the Colonial Court House, where the Second Continental Congress met in 1777-1778, declared the first national Thanksgiving and signed the Articles of Confederation.

My son and I walked past the brick meeting hall and the nearby Golden Plough Tavern, built in 1741 and still open for tours. We stopped at the visitors center on West Market Street for a quick history lesson about York.

The center has large, illustrated displays of Revolutionary and Civil War history, as well as a vintage Harley (the Harley-Davidson Final Assembly Plant is east of town) and period furnishings. It also has brochures of other attractions, including a collection of murals painted on downtown buildings depicting the city's heritage.

Roots of hospitality

Shortly after they married, Karen and Tom Powers took a cycling trip from the Rockies to the Pacific Coast. They found that people in small towns were very friendly, often offering them a place to rest and shower. It left an impression that helped bring them around to Cycle Inn.

"I like getting in touch with the community," Karen says. "It's nice to meet new people."


It's nice, too, that they are now sharing that hospitality with their own guests.


Getting there: If you are traveling by car, Cycle Inn, 470 Days Mill Road, is 3 miles west of Exit 4 on Interstate 83. Traveling north by the Heritage Rail Trail, the B&B; is a quarter-mile east of the Days Mill Road trail entrance. Days Mill Road is the first entrance after Howard Tunnel. Admission to the trail is free.


* Cycle Inn offers two rooms, the Velo Suite ($85 per night) and the Highwheeler Room ($65). For more information, call the innkeepers at 717-741-6817.

Other accommodations near the trail include:


* Jackson House (Hotel) and B&B;, 6 E. Main St. in Railroad; 717-227-2022; online,

* Artist's Garden B&B;, 440 W. Philadelphia St. in York; 717-854-7688

* Friendship House B&B;, 728 E. Philadelphia St. in York; 717-843-8299

Dining: The hosts at Cycle Inn can direct cyclists to a handful of diners and sandwich shops within a short ride from the B&B.; For drivers, options are plentiful in nearby York. On the trail, a not-to-miss stop is Elmer's Grocery at Seven Valleys.

For more information about the trail and the York area, contact the York County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 888-858-9675, or visit its Web site,