We are in very rural Pennsylvania to ride the Allegheny River Trail, a paved rail trail that runs through lands that once were the heart of America’s oil boom.
Our base of operations is the Barnard House in Emlenton, where proprietors Kathy and Paul have tailored their charming and eclectic Bed and Breakfast business to meet the needs of cyclists like us who have come to ride the trail. The little town of Emlenton (pop. 625) has just one restaurant, a hole in the wall pizza joint and deli, so we drive a few miles downriver to Foxburg (pop. 183) to check out their restaurant, which is wonderfully designed with a wall of windows in the dining room overlooking the Allegheny River.
We make dinner reservations, but first, we walk across the street to Foxburg Wine Cellars, where they offer unlimited free tasting of over 30 different varieties of wines that they blend from grapes grown by independent vineyards in Erie, Pennsylvania. Here the woman serving us endless tastes of wine tells us that both the restaurant and the winery are owned by a surgeon who invented surgical titanium rods and pins. He is rebuilding the town as surely as he rebuilt the broken limbs of his patients.
The next morning, we are up early, hoping to get our ride in before the heat of the day hits too hard. Kathy prepares us a big beautifully presented biker’s breakfast, packed with plenty of energy for our ride. Our breakfast table overlooks Kathy’s colorful front garden and the Allegheny River running just across the road.
Paul agrees to pick us up at Franklin, thirty miles up the trail, so we don’t have to just ride out and back. Perfect!
We start our ride at the hardly traveled road in front of the Barnard House, and ride just a few blocks to the Allegheny River Trailhead. The first mile or two of the trail are lined with white fences that remind us of Kentucky Horse Country, until we notice the warning signs telling us to stay on the trail and not cross the fences for our health and safety--apparently the ruins that are overgrown with colorful wildflowers and weeds are some sort of petroleum processing facility that has yet to be cleaned up. Emlenton’s claim to fame is that is it the home of the oldest oil well in the world still producing crude oil today. Who knows where all the wells that are no longer producing oil may lie?
Here are some highlights from our ride:
There are two unlit tunnels along the path. The first is a little over half a mile long. It curves, so we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel until we are almost there. It is a little eerie, but Dick bought me a very bright headlight just for this trip (about ten times the brightness of a normal bike light), and there are very good reflectors in the center and at the edges of the bike trail, so we do not have as much trouble as we expected navigating our way through.
The second tunnel is even longer--about three quarters of a mile. It is cool and damp with drips from springs along the way, and it is a thrill to ride it.
We see a fisherman wade into the river and cast his line out into the clear water. We stop to watch as he reels in a fish on the first cast.
Kayakers paddle and drift with the current.
Then Paul arrives with our car, we load up the bikes and drop him back at the Barnard House Bed and Breakfast, and are on our way to our next adventure.