I've been having a recurring dream lately about the trails along Big Creek in Delhi. They are the strange and wonderful playground of my youth where I would spend endless hours exploring by bike or on foot with my trusty dog Zeke at my side. I've been dreaming of the fun that was had out there, the tears that were shed, and the quiet I enjoyed on my own. Its funny how quickly time can slip away from you and the playground of your youth lies empty when suddenly you find yourself in need of reliving some of that adventure, even just for a few hours. I made the decision to hop on my fat bike and ride out to those trails that were calling to me, some of which I have not seen in a decade.
I began my trip from home down the rail trail that connects the towns of Simcoe and Delhi. This old CN railroad has been unused for many years and was converted into a trail about 5 years ago, much to my delight. Its a nice sight seeing pedal all the way from town to town. When you come into the Delhi end there are a few fossils of the old rail line to be seen, as well as an abandoned section of tracks. Beyond that and along the tracks in town are the empty buildings that once housed budding small-town industry, now left to slowly decay and be either turned into warehousing or reclaimed by nature.
Once riding through town, the rail line eventually reaches the trestle over Big Creek. The "Swimming Hole" trails as we called them. The descent from the trestle to the bottom of the valley is steep and fast, taking you quickly into the thick forest that grows along the valley and shades the creek. No matter where I am along this creek, from the trestle all the way to the hamlet of Lyndoch, I always have that feeling of eyes being on me. Sometimes the feeling is very slight and in the back of my mind, other times the feeling can be overwhelming. Its always there, a ghostly presence that follows in your shadow. I gave it a nickname many years ago, "The Watcher". He is always just over your shoulder, sometimes the valley is so still and quiet you can hear your heartbeat and at that moment you can almost swear you can her "The Watcher" breathing on your shoulder. A quick turn of your head and there is nothing around you. It can play games with your head. I'm not sure if he is a silent guardian of the forest or something more sinister, either way I don't want to find out.
I pick up the pace a bit, still crawling along the overgrown trails, trying to keep The Watcher at bay. Stories from my childhood come flooding back into my head. Whether they were just made up by other kids to scare us or actual accounts of creepy happenings along this stretch, it still brings a feeling of dread over you. The stories of the "Railway Man" and his ghostly apparition swinging his lantern along the trestle, I swear I could see the light from it a few times in my younger days making its way from one end of the trestle to the other. Maybe The Watcher and the Railway Man are the same person? I'll never know.
I stop to inspect the massive structure now over me, it was condemned and closed a few years back and the occasional trains have stopped all together. The state of degradation was alarming up close and in person. This crossing has been in use for a long time and will now stand as an mausoleum of sorts along the creek with the Railway Man above, walking from one end of the trestle to the other with his lamp. The massive steel girders and hammered rivits are an impressive sight from below, standing next to the massive concrete footings.
I push along, moving further from town, along overgrown trails and farmers fields, through the long lost trails of Dick's Hill to the next ghostly destination along Big Creek, the old Croton Dam. Here is a place that history has forgotten, you won't find anything about it in a newspaper or online. If you want to learn about it you need to know a local. It was once a power generating dam that supplied energy for Delhi (which was Fredricksburg at the time). It broke apart and was washed away in high spring flood waters and has been abandoned since. The old roads are barely visible, along with a couple of remaining foundations of long torn down houses. The derelict dam still remains although a large section of it is broken away and has been washed far down the creek. There is alot of history to explore here, the hollow remains of the dam where the massive turbines were housed are easily accessible through the huge tunnel that the water flowed through, the rooms where the generating equipment were installed are just as easy to get to. Climbing up out of the valley to the top of the old village of Croton will bring you out to a barely used dead end road. If you decide to explore some more you can find an old road at the top of the valley that will bring you to the abandoned Croton cemetery. When the dam and village were abandoned the handful of people buried here were exhumed and taken to the Delhi and New Salem cemeteries, or so the story goes. You can find an area off this old road that has dips and heaps in the forest floor, just like something was dug up and the pile of dirt and hole left as it was. The feeling of The Watcher is in full effect here. My camera died but I have some photos of the place taken a few years ago.
I begin my ride away from the old dam that the forest is slowly taking back. My ride down the lonely dirt road back towards civilization, away from The Watcher. His grip loosens with each turn of the pedals away from the valley, in a short time I will be out of his reach and back into the safety of town, without him breathing on my shoulder. He will be waiting for me the next time I venture down into the valley, he always does. He knows that I'll be back again one day.
The Bric...._ mountain biker, road rider, heavyweight gear abuser. Built like a brick sh*thouse. No bike is safe.