Our goal was to ride as much of the Redbank Valley Trails as we could in one day.
The 51-mile trail system, which the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources named the 2014 Trail of the Year, begins near the point in Armstrong County where the Redbank Creek flows into the Allegheny River. It's just below East Brady.
It continues to Lawsonham, where a 9-mile segment branches off to Sligo, and travels through the Climax Tunnel, New Bethlehem, Hawthorn, Summerville and ends after crossing the Rose Siding Bridge in Brookville in Jefferson County. More about that "trailhead" in a minute.
I left before dawn to drive to Brookville to get a head start on my companions, both strong cyclists.
After asking several Brookville residents about the trailhead and getting the same answer -- "What trail? -- I called Darla Kirkpatrick, the president of the Redbank Valley Trails Association, for directions.
Here they are:
After entering Brookville, turn right onto Route 36, slow down after passing a Giant Eagle store on the left, turn right onto Race Street, left onto Maple Street and continue on a dirt road into a wooded area with barely enough space for four vehicles.
I thought there might be more room for parking down a short, muddy two-lane road. There wasn't. It was a quagmire. Fortunately, someone had dumped stone on part of it. I put my truck in four-wheel drive to get out.
I backtracked to the Giant Eagle and got permission to park in its lot. I biked to the "trailhead," navigated around the quagmire, dropped down a dirt and rock slope to the trail.
And what a trail it is.
The DCNR has selected a terrific trail for its Trail of the Year, but it has some rough stretches, especially around Hawthorn. Leave your road bike at home.
The spectacular scenery was enhanced earlier this month by lengthy stretches of native rhododendron blooming on both sides of the trail. Gorgeous.
My companions called me when they arrived in New Bethlehem. I suggested they ride 3 miles down the trail to the Climax tunnel, check it out and return to New Bethlehem.
Although the tunnel was supposed to be closed, it was open. They rode through and returned to New Bethlehem. They enjoyed chocolate milkshake "appetizers" at Ever Moore's restaurant while waiting for me to complete my 18-mile ride.
After lunch, they started for Brookville and I headed for the Climax Tunnel. The tunnel has a slight right-hand curve and standing water on the right side. There's work to be done there, and the Redbank Valley Trails Association is planning for it.
After stashing my bike in my companions' van, I walked around town, stopped in the police department to thank Chief Scott Ryan for telling me about the free municipal parking and got directions to other businesses in town. None of them had trail maps and only a few knew of it.
I found the same lack of maps and knowledge about the trail in Brookville. But the association and the Allegheny Valley Land Trust, which owns the trail, said more trail maps are coming.
Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.