Rails To Trails Conservancy
Better Business Bureau Accredited Charity
shop   |   eNews   |   find a trail
Share this page:
Looking Back at the 2011 Greenway Sojourn

For people who love trails, long rides, picturesque towns, farms, mountains and rivers, Pennsylvania is a great place to be. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has a long history of involvement in Pennsylvania, helping local trails groups, volunteers and agencies develop some of the best trails networks in the country. Our annual Greenway Sojourn has had a lot to do with that, highlighting opportunities for new trails and celebrating existing routes. 

This year's Sojourn took us to an area that is fast developing a reputation as the new destination for trails enthusiasts: the northern Laurel Highlands, east of Pittsburgh.

For the first three nights of the Sojourn, we set up camp in a great spot next to the Ghost Town Trail in the town of Ebensburg. About 100 riders chose to join us for an optional first day ride on Tuesday, down to the Path of the Flood Trail, through Franklin and into the historical city of Johnstown.

While there were many highlights that day, such as passing through the oldest railroad tunnel in America, traveling up the world's steepest vehicular incline (the Johnstown Inclined Plane), and visiting the Path of the Flood Museum, the day was particularly significant for another reason. This ride was the first time a group had passed along the newly cleared route from the Staple Bend railroad tunnel, where the Path of the Flood Trail now ends, through to Franklin and Johnstown. As those of us who braved it know, much work remains to be done before it is rideable--most Sojourners had to walk their bikes through the thick brush. But by beating a path for the Sojourn, RTC and local trails volunteers have forced the issue of what remains to be done to complete this vital connection. 

Talking with some riders later that night, I was told that one local cyclist, on seeing the Sojourners emerge from the wilderness on their way to Johnstown, expressed his great excitement that such a connection was in the works. Hopefully the energy of more locals like him will push the project forward!

But our trails pioneering wasn't done yet. With the remainder of the 250 Sojourners joining us for the official kick-off the next day, we headed west along the ever-present Ghost Town Trail through the town of Nanty-Glo. There, RTC's Mr Sojourn, Tom Sexton, unveiled the brand-new Cambria and Indiana Trail (C&I). Named for the railroad company that operated the original line the trail follows, the C&I loops north off the Ghost Town and reconnects in the town of Vintondale. 

There is no denying it, the C&I also needs some smoothing work; loose ballast and BMX-style humps were a bit much for some riders, and it will be a little while yet before this rail-trail can be opened to the public.

But, like the path through the wilderness from the Staple Bend Tunnel, by bringing the Sojourn to this region RTC has taken some crucial first steps to develop all the trail assets and connectivity of the region. 

There must be something about the Sojourn that brings the hot weather! As has been the case in previous years, this year's Sojourn coincided with a newsworthy heat wave, with temperatures about 15 degrees above the average. It occasionally made for tough riding, but everyone was careful to drink plenty of water and look after themselves.

Still, in 90-plus degrees, the 52-mile ride along the Ghost Town and West Penn trails from Ebensburg to Saltsburg was hard on a lot of folks. When the riders finally pulled in to the sumptuous grounds of the Kiski School above Saltsburg, sweat, exhaustion and a sense of accomplishment mingled in equal parts. The indoor and outdoor pools were popular spots over the next few days, with the Pittsburgh kids putting on a spectacular display from the diving board. 

After many hot miles on the bike, the canoe and kayak trip down the Conemaugh River on the third day was a welcome change and allowed us to experience a different kind of recreational pathway. Enjoying this perfect antidote to the heat, Sojourners spent as much time in the river as in their boats, drifting slowly down the river swollen by a specially timed release from the Conemaugh Dam upstream. 

A small group of dedicated riders took up the invitation of some local cyclists to explore the myriad of trails around Saltsburg, including the Westmoreland Heritage Trail and the Roaring Run Trail.

One of important requirements to keep energy levels up after a long ride or paddle is good food. We were fortunate this year to again have the services of Dave Rose and Galloping Gourmet catering, which consistently dished up delicious and nutritious meals, often sourced from local farms and producers. That baked chicken was especially tasty!

Thankfully, things cooled off just a little for the final two days. On Saturday the Sojourn pulled up stakes at the Kiski School for the 32-mile ride to Indiana, following the West Penn Trail and the meandering Conemaugh River back east, before turning north through Black Lick on the Hoodlebug Trail.

The Indiana University of Pennsylvania playing fields made a fine home for the Sojourn's last night of camping under the stars. As in Saltsburg and Ebensburg, we were a short walk from downtown, and a number of riders made the most of this vibrant college town.

The reception at the Jimmy Stewart Museum was a definite highlight--thank you to our impersonator and interpreter Chris Collins, who provided a Jimmy Stewart experience few Sojourners will forget! 

By Sunday, many of the Sojourners were ready to return to a few home comforts. As wonderful as the trails were, after six nights in a tent, a cozy mattress and a long bath starts to look pretty good.

So the final day's ride back to Ebensburg was a nice time to reflect on the many miles we had traveled in the week behind us, the people we had met, and the summits we had bested, actual or otherwise. And for some it was one last chance for a refreshing soak in Blacklick Creek! 

Many thanks to the volunteers and Sojourn supporters who do so much to make this ride possible every year. And thanks also to all those who took part, this year and in years past. Your passion for trails, and your support of RTC is enormously important, and much appreciated.

We hope to see you sometime soon, out and about on the trails!

Photos by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy - click on any of the photos for a slideshow of images from the Sojourn.

Posted Tue, Aug 2 2011 11:45 AM by Jake Lynch


William Trainer wrote re: Looking Back at the 2011 Greenway Sojourn
on Thu, Aug 11 2011 12:21 PM

Being "pioneers" helping to publicize new trail opportunities is one thing.  Riding on trails that are simply dangerous is another.  Unstabile/unpacked ballast, etc directly led to the high injury/serious fall rates we encountered.  I have ridden the Sojourn a number of times, but if I know that the trails for 2012 included ones like the totally incomplete and dangerous ones of 2011, I would not attend.

Don Mummaw wrote re: Looking Back at the 2011 Greenway Sojourn
on Fri, Aug 12 2011 5:40 AM

I am a member of RTC and have just watched the video of this year's Greenway Sojourn and have a few questions about the ride. My wife and I are in our low 60's and donot ride as much as some do, could we go on this ride? Who provides the tents, food, etc? What is the cost? It really looks to be alot of fun and getting to know alot of people.When we retire I think we could join you.

archie L. tucker wrote re: Looking Back at the 2011 Greenway Sojourn
on Sun, Aug 14 2011 3:57 AM

Wow! This just about broght tears to my eyes. For the past 30 plus years we have lived in Germany where the trails are so beatuiful. My one regret about returning to our home country, U.S. was the lack of biking trails.  Please go to our site and click on the biking pages to see what we will be missing when we retire in June.

We have definite plans to find as many trails as we can possibly drive to.  However, 10 or 20 mile short rides would not be worth driving hundreds of miles.  I contacted the train company in the U.S. and was told they do not allow bikes on trains.  This is a shame.  Here in Europe they have cars dedicated to bikes and their riders.

Great pictures and video.


Jake Lynch wrote re: Looking Back at the 2011 Greenway Sojourn
on Mon, Aug 15 2011 11:42 AM

Gday Don,

thanks for your interest in the Greenway Sojourn - I was a first-timer this year, and it was great! We had everyone, from 10 and 11 year-olds to a good number of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s. One of the comments I heard regularly from participants was that, no matter your fitness level or motivation, there is always a group for everybody - up and at 'em, or taking it easy at the back.

That being said, when it gets very hot, 50 miles is a stretch for anyone, so we encourage riders not to go beyond their comfort level and take advantage of the pick-up services and shuttle buses. We do recommend participants make every effort to get themselves in riding shape before taking part - mainly so they will enjoy the experience all the more!

The cost of the Sojourn varies with length of ride and location, but the ballpark is about $900. That includes all meals, and transportation of all your gear from one camp site to the next. Many people bring their own tents etc, but for an extra fee you can take advantage of "Comfy Campers," which provides you with a tent that is up and ready when you return from your ride, and all sorts of other cool trail-side luxuries!

I hope I have answered your questions here. For more information, check out the Sojourn webpage at www.railstotrails.org/sojourn

We hope to see you out on the trails!


Jeanne Dean wrote re: Looking Back at the 2011 Greenway Sojourn
on Tue, Nov 8 2011 7:22 AM

This was our first Sojourn and looking forward to the 2013 announcement.  The 2012 ride did have some challenges - all enhanced by the intense heat.  Riders who were intimidated by trail conditions certainly had the option of getting off their bikes and walking through the rough stuff.  Support of the RT staff with van support for those who needed it, a constant supply of good food, cold drinks, great company, and beautiful trails made for a great vacation.  We wouldn't want you to change a thing!

Jeanne and David Dean

Becky Jo Deutsch wrote re: Looking Back at the 2011 Greenway Sojourn
on Wed, Dec 7 2011 11:57 AM

I am a 68 yr. old 5'tall female who is in good physical shape although I have not ridden a bike or exercised in a routine manner for many years.  I would really like to participate in the next sorjourn.  Can you help with bicycle recommendations?  What size tires?  How many gears and which type? I will need to spend quite a bit of time getting in shape.  Thank you for your help.


Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Ct., NW
5th Floor
Washington, DC 20037