Pennsylvania's Clarion-Little Toby Trail and Little Kids

We rode Pennsylvania’s Clarion-Little Toby Trail running 18 miles from Brockway to Ridgway, Pennsylvania, camped by the Clarion River, then returned to Brockway the following day.

Bicycle Adventurers: Elizabeth, her husband Doug, and children Ames and Willa, aged six and three, respectively. 

When: June 3–4, 2017. Bike Travel Weekend is the first weekend in June, every year!

Accommodations: Lazy River Canoe Rental & Bike Shop, $10/adult/night

Distance: We rode 18 miles each day

Bonus tip for this adventure: You'll find a swinging bridge somewhere around mile nine. This cable bridge across Toby Creek gives you a thrill.

Day One

Nighttime temperatures required us to bring our warmest camping stuff, and we can't haul that on the bikes with two kids ... SO ... we drove to our campsite at Lazy River Canoe Rental & Bike Shop, set up the tent, and filled it with our overnight stuff. Then we drove U.S. Route 219 to Brockway, our starting point 30 minutes away. 

By noon, we headed out from Brockway on a beautiful trail in a SWARM of yellow swallowtail butterflies. It was like someone was throwing confetti on us to celebrate summer and our first bike overnight, and the confetti never fell! We stopped a million times on the Clarion-Little Toby Trail to watch the butterflies, and just appreciate the nature around us. 

At the swinging bridge over Toby Creek, we all crossed, but maybe shouldn't have taken three-year-old Willa across. Doug and Ames explored the ghost town on the other side, mostly in their imaginations, and Willa got mud between her little toes and felt the cold stream trickling into Toby Creek just below the bridge. We skipped rocks, watched a paddler zip by, and had some snacks. 

We rounded the confluence of Toby Creek and the Clarion River and had another lunch next to the railroad tracks. Then we headed uphill next to the Clarion. This was a test point for Doug and Ames — the Toby had been downhill to this point. Ames started to falter, but we bring “biking beans” with us for these moments. Biking beans can be jelly beans, or they can be any other kind of sugar that can be found everywhere in this fine country. This day we had Starburst candy. He slipped them up under the hem of his little bike shorts and administered them at will, and graciously tossing some to his sister, riding in the trailer.

Ames and I watched for all the signs of a town ... people walking, more houses, factories, busier road traffic. And then we hit the end of the trail and worked our way about two easy blocks to our camp. You have to cross a bridge over the Clarion to get there, but the bridge has sidewalks on both sides that are wide enough for the trike and the trailer. We rolled into camp about 5:00 PM. 

We cleaned up a little, then rode to dinner on the Main Street in Ridgway, ending up at Patalano's Place for pizza, salad, and a side of meatballs. 

Back at camp, we were entertained by the neighboring boy scouts and a little playset provided by Lazy River which made our kids very happy until bedtime.

Day Two

Unexpectedly, we woke up to rain. It was spotty while we packed up and headed to breakfast at Joey's Bakery on Main St.

The rain picked up just after breakfast and we headed down the trail in the cold at 9:00 AM. Frankly, I worried we weren't prepared for this — no rain pants, no warm socks, just raincoats over shirts. The trail surface, excellent the day before, grew a little mushy, making for slower riding. 

Ames was whimpering during the first three to five miles, and we started thinking about our emergency option to lash his bike to something and get him in the trailer with his sister who was singing away happily ... dry, and playing with a stuffed animal under a fleece blanket. 

Miraculously, his spirits soared over the last half of the ride even though the rain intensified and there was rumbling in the distance. He found newts, he rode through all the puddles thanks to the fenders on his Islabike. Maybe the uphill made him warmer and that made him more able to enjoy? 

Still, when the cars were in sight at 1:00 PM, we were all relieved. Ames had ridden his personal best, two back-to-back 18 mile days. He'll turn seven at the end of the month and he is such a strong rider. 

We headed back to Ridgway to get the camping gear and our dry clothes.

Your favorite local bike shop?

We didn't visit a shop in Ridgway or Brockway. Our home shop is Freeze Thaw Cycles in State College, Pennsylvania. We purchased our Surly there, and the trike was purchased at RBR Recumbent Cycles, also in State College.

Bike overnight tips and tricks?

  • Shuttling is always our necessary challenge. With two kids in car seats, riding point-to-point is really hard, so we must shuttle, but on this trip we had to shuttle our heavy cold-weather camping gear. Bah! I hate shuttling. What a waste of time — we can't wait for it to warm up and we switch over to our lightweight bags. 
  • I made an open handlebar bag for the Jones H-Bar on my new Surly ECR and loved it. No zipper, just a pouch that hangs inside the loop for easy access: camera in and out, “biking beans” in and out, sunglasses in and out!
  • This was our first outing of the year, all of us on new bikes: Ames upgraded to a 20“ Beinn from Islabike. His challenge on this ride was that we no longer have an easy way to tow both him and his bigger bike, plus Willa. In past years, we could put a small bike in the back bin of a double kid trailer and him in the front, so he could rest whenever he got tired. Now, both he and the bike are outgrowing that option and we aren't sure what his mileage stamina will be. 
  • Doug broke his shoulder and can't ride a regular bike this summer. So he's riding a recumbent bike ... a Villager from Catrike. This is our first experience touring with a recumbent. 

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