Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Riding to the Endless Mountains

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Last March, I did a long ride that I really wasn’t prepared for (see Chain O’Lakes State Park). After a long winter, long rides early in the year can be very difficult. But I enjoyed that ride so much that on Saturday, I decided to do another early-season long ride. Of course, in this Pennsylvania terrain, a 40-mile ride is long. I seem to average about 10 mph in the mountains.

I had fun mapping out a route — but frankly I wasn’t sure I could handle it. It included a big climb to start, another huge climb on a gravel road about halfway through the ride, a jaunt through a bit of Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains, and trips on several gravel roads. Of note, the Garmin Mapsource software (and therefore my GPS as well) can be quite useful because it indicates gravel roads, something I wish Google Maps did. And so far, their data about which roads are gravel seems fairly reliable. Here’s the map and elevation profile.

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Elevation Profile

It was an abnormally warm day, pushing 60 degrees, with rain in the forecast. I was nearly certain it would rain — the radar was covered in green, indicating widespread rain clouds. So, I set out flanked in wool, prepared for the rain. I also took my old camera despite its non-functional display, not wanting to get my new camera wet. It wasn’t raining when I left home, and I felt a bit warm, but I was convinced this preparation would pay off.

Beginning a long ride with the Bunker Hill climb can be a little daunting, but it really seems to be the best way to get out of the valley. Still, starting any ride with an 800-foot climb hurts. And I was sweating more than usual since I was dressed for rain, which had yet to materialize.

After the Bunker Hill climb, I was on familiar roads for a bit longer. Soon I reached some new roads, and I enjoyed some beautiful scenery along the way.

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Scenery along Wyoming Rd.

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For a while, the scenery was pretty, but not overwhelmingly so. Soon, I encountered some other cyclists. This has been a very rare occurence for me in this area, so I was surprised. There were four or five of them, all riding racing bicycles — much lighter and faster than mine — and I rode with them briefly, but we soon parted ways. Even if we hadn’t, they would have dropped me quickly due to their superior conditioning and faster bicycles. I briefly contemplated the advantages of lightweight bicycles, but stopped to photograph the very beautiful Lake Catalpa.

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Losing ground …

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Lake Catalpa

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The Trucker by Lake Catalpa

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Intriguing (but private) small road along the edge of Lake Catalpa

I rested for a few minutes, and enjoyed the scenery at the lake. I had done quite a bit of climbing, and at this point it started to pay off — the next five miles were mostly downhill. Not surprisingly, I didn’t take a lot of photos during this time.

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Winding road by Lake Catalpa

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Steep downhill

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After that, I spent a while on PA Route 309. I was a little worried about this as 309 is quite a busy highway in the city, but it was not bad, and there were wide shoulders most of the time. I was still glad to get off 309 and onto quieter roads, but 309 was quiet doable out there. The surrounding mountains got bigger as I entered the Endless Mountains region of Northeastern Pennsylvania. The route I planned had me riding up one of them on a gravel road. When I sketched the route, I wasn’t sure if I’d feel up for doing this, and planned a couple of ways to bail out if necessary. But my legs still felt fairly fresh, so I decided to go for it.

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PA Route 309

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Watch Children

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Run-down house

I took a couple of meandering side roads before running into Dietz Mountain Road. This was the bad boy — a gravel road with a huge climb. I was pleasantly surprised to find the gravel surface was quite smooth, and the road was not muddy. I could hear a small stream rushing alongside the road. I passed a few houses here and there but overall this area was sparsely populated. The climb started out very gradual, but got steeper as it went along. Over the course of just under a mile and a half, the road rose some 500 feet. I had to stop a few times along the way — it took me 25 minutes to ride less than a mile and a half. At this point, I was really wishing I had not assumed it would rain. The rain hadn’t materialized, and I was extremely hot as I climbed, and climbed, and climbed.

Aside from having to stop, I rode well. During this time I thought back to the people on racing bicycles and now I was glad I wasn’t riding one. I simply could not have done this part of the ride on a racing bike. And I found solace in this remote, quite area. The grade steepened and switched back, trying my endurance. I smiled as I realized I was nearing the top, and churned my way up.

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My bicycle, by a creek

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Looking back

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It felt great to reach the top. I was tired, but it felt rewarding. I was just hoping that it was mostly downhill for a while. I couldn’t quite tell. I looked at the GPS and was shocked at the intricate patterns of topographic lines I saw on the screen. It was some wild terrain. I turned onto Wilsey Road.

Sure enough, it turned out I had a bunch of downhill riding ahead of me. I would have really enjoyed a speedy descent, but the scenery was too much. I took my time and stopped several times during the descent to take in the scenery and snap some photos. I was hoping all that climbing would pay off with some views, but I wasn’t expecting anything quite like this. It was actually a bit eerie, as the road passed quite a few derelict homes and vehicles, left to decay and apparently abandoned. The panoramic views were occasionally littered with such scenes, leading me to wonder: who could have lived out here, and did they really just go, leaving everything behind?

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Barn doors

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A house, sinking into the ground

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The view, obstructed by cars, and pieces thereof

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The road

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Another barn

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Panoramic view

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Steep descent

The views just kept improving as I got increasingly unobstructed looks at the surrounding mountains. It was difficult to pay attention to what was ahead of me, with the views off to the right.

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Still descending

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Panoramic view, including the road

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The view, without the power lines

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As you can see, all that climbing paid off in a big way. Not only were the views tremendous, I had the road to myself, and the setting was very quiet and peaceful. I lingered in several places, happy to trade a fast, adrenaline-fueled descent for these serene moments.

After these incredible views, it only took a few minutes for me to reach the base of the mountain, and PA Route 292. I rode on part of 292 before, and felt confident it would make for good riding. I was right. It felt a bit like a highway, but I only saw occasional cars. The scenery continued to be very good, but nothing as stunning as what I saw on Wilsey Road. I ran out of water and had been counting on refilling my bottles in the small town of Vernon. Well, there wasn’t much of a town, it was really just a speck on the map.  I had to wait until I got to Center Moreland to get more water. It was only a couple of miles away, so it wasn’t a big deal, but there was quite a bit of climbing between them. In fact, most of the rest of the trip would consist of some rather large ups and downs too large to be considered rolling hills, or to take advantage of momentum to carry me far up them. At this point the Long Haul Trucker became a bit of a liability as it was a real slog up those hills.

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PA Route 292

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Looking behind me

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A familiar sight: a cornfield!

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More climbing

The rest of the trip was quite scenic as well, taking me on a couple more gravel roads, by an orchard, and some other lakes/ponds.

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Another gravel road

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Another shot of the orchard

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Lake Louise

I could feel darkness was coming fairly soon. I had some lights with me, but not enough for full-on night riding, so I shortened my route a little and tried to get back as quickly as I could. The GPS makes it a lot easier to take short cuts as I can see which roads go through, or turn at a 90-degree angle, etc.

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More gravel

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Abraham’s Creek

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Back by Bunker Hill Road

I was home before it truly got dark. This was an incredible ride — beautiful, but brutal. The rain never did materialize, something I was happy about, but it just meant I was quite warm the whole time. I underestimated how brutal the climbing would be. I knew there were a couple of monstrous climbs, but I tend to underestimate the terrain between them.  Nonetheless, I look forward to more long rides, and more exploration. I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg as far as the Endless Mountains are concerned, and that was the most beautiful part of my ride; I need to venture further into that area.

All told, I rode just under 40 miles, with over 4100 feet of climbing. I was gone over 4 1/2 hours. When I lived in Bloomington, at my peak I would average around 16-17 mph. Not so here, the mountains add a whole new dimension to riding that is at once rewarding and humbling. It can make it a bit daunting to go for a a ride, but this ride reminded me that it’s worth the effort.

6 Responses to “Riding to the Endless Mountains”

  1. Tim Says:

    Simply spectacular. I love the “farm” pic from up above. Again, I’m doubly impressed that you’ve found yet more ‘mixed-terrain’ possibilities. I’m sure it’s tough to have to climb to get them, but they certainly impress.

    I assume your schedule won’t allow a IN ride this time, but keep me informed and especially in summer, I can adjust to meet you for one.

    Great pics, as ever.

  2. Ray Says:

    Good stuff. Reminds me very much of the area around State College, where I went to graduate school. When spring comes and the trees leaf out, your views will be much restricted.

  3. furiousBall Says:

    new camera kicks ass! btw, i’m teaching my guitar student 3’s and 7’s tonight – that little kid will play QOTSA perfect or death

  4. Mike Says:

    Sweet ride.

  5. Dan Says:

    That uphill gravel road must have been a killer. After seeing you sprint up that hill outside Bloomington that almost killed me.

    Sounds like things are going well for you in PA.

  6. Lake Catalpa Says:

    Hello, I love the pictures of Lake Catalpa. Maybe next time you can take a shot of this sign located on the dam that says “Lake Catalpa – Private” Thank you.

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