Trail Voices: Noel Keller

“Trail Voices” highlights the work of rail-trail supporters around the country. Our interview subjects are anyone from high-level urban planners to local volunteers, and no contribution to the trails, walking and bicycling movement is too big or too small–dedication comes in all sizes. We could never tell all the personal stories that make rail-trails a success, but we can share a few of the voices behind the movement.

Keller on his TriCruiser

Keller on his TriCruiser sporting his signature "twirly" hat.

For April, we tracked down Noel Keller, who graduated from active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps at the grade of colonel in 1987. Two and a half months later, he suffered a bad landing while strapped into a sailplane called the LARK. He wasn’t able to walk after the accident. His wife Marjorie obtained the best spinal surgeon around, who Keller says “did a fine job of putting me back together.” Though he still suffered permanent spinal damage that affects how he moves his legs, Keller learned to walk again with the aid of a cane.

In 2002, he found a special tricycle that suited his physical needs and began exploring as many trails as he could–and he’s been busy. As of January 2009, Keller has pedaled on trails and roads in 29 states, and he’s submitted reviews and photos for 55 trails listed on Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s His goal is to ride, review and photograph rail-trails in each of the lower 48 states and Alaska.

How did you discover your tricycle?
I learned about a tricycle from a friend and tried it out. Found I could pedal it, but it was too low to get out of it. Then I found a tadpole TriCruiser, made by Sid Gowdy, that had a high seat. After a couple test rides, I bought one when I learned I could load it in the back of a minivan. From Sid’s Web site I discovered Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and joined, for the publications and the information on rail-trails.


Self-portrait in his rearview mirror

Self-portrait in his rearview mirror

How do you coordinate your solo trail rides?
My procedure for riding trails, since I have to provide my own SAG [Support and Guidance], is to unload my TriCruiser at a trailhead, ride a distance one way, then turn around and ride back to the trailhead. Then in the afternoon I go the other way and return. I first carried a Garmin eTrex Legend GPS that I loaded with trail and trailhead [GPS] coordinates. This gives me a countdown on the miles to the turnaround and trailheads.

Now that you have a wide experience on rail-trails, what are some of your favorites?
Well, I really like the Elroy-Sparta State Trail in Wisconsin, as it was my first one. The one with the best scenery is definitely the Route of the Hiawatha in Idaho or the Mineral Belt Trail in Colorado. If you are looking for interesting activities in a short distance, I would recommend the Yampa River Core Trail in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. And I met the most people on the Katy Trail State Park in Missouri.

On your reviews, your tagline is Twirlymaker. Where did that come from?
Twirlymaker is the name on the fake license plate on the back of my TriCruiser. I also use a train and a spinner above my head instead of a flag, so I make twirlys.


14 Responses to “Trail Voices: Noel Keller”

  1. 1 Earl Jorgensen April 3, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Colonel Keller is a remarkable man and an inspiration to all

    that know him. He has conquered the most severe of Life’s

    challenges. I have never heard him utter a word of complaint

    in regards to his tragic Glider Accident. Noel is a Proud Marine

    who served as a Helicopter Combat Pilot in Vietnam with many

    missions. Our Country needs brave Patriots now more than ever

    before as an example to our Youth. I would put Colonel at the top

    of my list.

    Earl Jorgensen

  2. 3 Gloria April 6, 2009 at 1:43 am

    Noel, this is a great. All of the different trails have
    memories I’m sure. You have traveled many miles and no
    doubt have wonderful stories. If you decide to write a
    book it would make for very interesting reading and you could mention Helicopter Tustin. It was the best kept
    secret in the Marine Corps.

    Best regards, Gloria (your loyal secretary)

  3. 5 Bruce Alan Wilson April 10, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    I’d like to hear about some of the other machines he considered and why/how he came to choose that particular one.

    • 6 Noel Keller April 24, 2009 at 3:17 am

      Hi Bruce, I pedaled the delta Haus and the tadpole Sidewinder. But had trouble dismounting, (Standing up) Why I chose the tadpole TriCruiser A- Seat height 21” B- Stability
      C Price D-Close to the designer Sid Gowdy incase of repairs or redesign.
      I was not looking for speed but mobility. I did pedal the first TriCruiser 15,115 miles, it was still in excellent condition. My second one is under 36” wide to meet Handicap Standards for doors.

  4. 7 Norm April 11, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    I owned a TriCruiser myself for several years. It is a great machine. I loved the “joy stick” type steering. Handles well and you set up high and comfortable.
    Sid Gowdy is a good guy.

    • 8 Noel Keller May 28, 2009 at 6:18 am

      Gr3eetings Norm,
      This is my second Tri-Cruiser. I pedaled the first one 15,115 miles and it was in fine shape when I exchanged it with Sid’s generous offer for a new one that meets ADA standards in width.

  5. 9 JOHN LEAKEY April 13, 2009 at 7:30 pm


    • 10 Noel Keller May 28, 2009 at 6:27 am

      Thank you John for your comments.
      In April I rode trails in Montana, Idaho, Nevada, & California.
      Then in May trails in New Mexico. Now back home in Tustin, CA
      WR Noel

  6. 11 Jim Sweatt September 7, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Hey Noel,

    Thanks so much for all the great pictures you have shared with the rest of us RTC fans!

    My wife and I have been riding the Chief Ladiga trail down here in good ole Alabama/Georgia. I hope you will consider coming down to the South sometime soon! If you do, shoot me an email, I would very much like to shake your hand and meet you sir. You are an inspiration!


    • 12 Noel Keller October 3, 2009 at 2:17 am

      This is first time I have been on Inter-Net for over a week.
      I have been riding the “Cowboy Trail” in NE the last two weeks.
      I hope to get south in a couple years and would also like to meet you. I will check the e-mail notification box below, so we can make contact.
      Thank You, Noel

  7. 13 Clarence "Lindy" Baer September 14, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    This is a note to Noel Keller.

    Noel, I too retired from the Marine Corps (Colonel, 1986). Though I am a Vietnam vet (4th Marines, 1965), most of my time in the USMC was in the reserves.

    I write because I have a similar problem. I suffer from a bi-lateral, lower limb neuropathy that the doctors have yet to figure out (13 years). My legs don’t work right! I have been riding a mountain bike in Colorado where my wife and I have been covering many of the trails for several years. It is becoming increasingly difficult to use a regular bike (problems getting on and off and general stability), so I have been considering possibly moving to a trike.

    I will begin to research the options, but am interested in your experiences in making such a decision.

    Lindy Baer

    • 14 Noel Keller October 3, 2009 at 2:09 am

      Clarence “Lindy” Baer,
      I’m in Karney NE this evening, and on the inter-net the first time in over a week, when I decided to check responses to Trail Voices.
      I have been pedaling most of the “Cowboy Trail” the last two weeks.
      The selling point for my Tri-Cruiser was the ability to get on and off. It is not a fast cycle and the one I have know also has BionX assist. With this assist I have been able to ride up to as much as 30 miles on chet, DG, and dirt trails, into headwinds maybe only 10 miles.
      The problem with 3 wheels, they just don’t fit on single track trails.
      Call me in CA after 1900 PDST after 18 OCT
      Semper Fi

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