Experimental music, photography, and adventures

A new kind of terrain

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Last weekend, I decided to try a different kind of mixed-terrain ride. I threw the Long Haul Trucker on the back of the car and drove to Lackawanna State Forest. I hiked there back in November with The Blasphemous Bicycler, and we had commented at that time that although no bikes are allowed on the main trail, the gravel roads looked like they’d make for some great riding. I’m glad I finally got around to riding there. I planned a route using Google Maps and some other maps, taking what appeared to be gravel and paved roads through the state forest and the neighboring State Game Lands 135. Here’s a map of the route.


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I started by parking at the main trailhead for the Pinchot Trail. From here I rode on a paved road briefly until I reached Pittston Road, a beautiful, quiet gravel road through the forest.

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The Trucker, ready to go

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Pittston Road

The vegetation was a bit sparse, and the terrain was rocky, but the gravel road was insanely smooth. It was very pleasant riding. And although I knew I had some climbing to do, it was very gradual and easy.

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Rocky terrain

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Gnarly tree

The gravel roads had gates — some were open, some closed. I rode right around the closed ones. I saw some other roads and a snowmobile trail and was tempted to explore them, but I left them for another trip and stuck to my route. After some more gradual climbing and some rolling hills, I reached Pine Hill Road, the road to the overlook. It was steeper, but still ridable. I’m really quite surprised at how easy the climbing was overall. I climbed over 250 feet but hardly even noticed until the steep section at the end.

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Rolling hills

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Steeper climbing

I reached the observation tower, parked my bike, and climbed the dilapidated steps to the top. Some hikers were there, enjoying the view and resting. I talked to them for a few minutes, snapped a few photos, and went back to my bike to ride back down. The view (despite being panoramic) was pretty, but not spectacular. I was at one of the highest points in the area, at about 2270 feet. Very little was taller, and the relief at this higher elevation is less extreme. In effect, this higher-elevation area is flatter than where I normally ride.

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Part of the view

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Looking the other way

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Cul-de-sac

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My bicycle

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Riding through the cul-de-sac

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Rocks

On the way down, I enjoyed the fruit of my labor in the form of a fun, fast descent. Traction was good once I got back to the smooth gravel road, and I enjoyed a few minutes of effortless riding.

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Starting the descent

But that didn’t last long. I turned onto Sassafras Hill Road, and began climbing again for a while. This climb was shorter than before, but just as pretty, and featured some more sparse vegetation. Occassional rhododendron thickets and stands of pines punctuated the otherwise-bleak landscape with some lovely shades of green.

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Sassafras Hill Road

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Sparse vegetation

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Rocks

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An open(ish) field lies to the left

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Sign of life

I began what I knew would be a long descent, and I was looking forward to it. However, what I didn’t know was that the road surface was about to degrade rapidly. Suddenly, the road changed from smooth gravel to a very bumpy, rocky surface. I’m not sure why the transition was so abrupt. but it was. Suddenly instead of coasting along on a smooth road, I was doing bunny hops and trying to avoid rocks and even a few dropoffs. The Trucker handled all of it admirably, but I was a little worried.

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Rough road

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Rocks

After about a mile of this, I reached State Game Lands 135. I found the road I was supposed to take and realized I’d discovered a whole new type of terrain: it was a grass road. Now, I have ridden on many different types of terrain: paved roads, dirt roads, gravel roads, singletrack and doubletrack trails, fire roads, maintenance roads, logging roads, etc. But this is the first time I’ve ever encountered a grass road.

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Grass road

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A closeup of the road surface

There were some ups and downs, and really all of it was difficult riding. The grass slowed me down a lot, and some sections were muddy as well. I was constantly riding on different parts of the road, trying to avoid the mud. Otherwise, I’d sink in and get slowed down even more.

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Hill

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Creek

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The road again

I came to a swampy clearing with a very nice view of a creek, and looked across the meadow just in time to see a couple of deer run by. It was a very picturesque setting, although I couldn’t help but think about the fact that this land is set aside primarily for the purpose of hunting.

Nonetheless, the theme of the day was quiet. I had only seen a few people throughout this whole ride, the rest of the time had been quiet solitude. Just as I had hoped.

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Clearing

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The Trucker by the grass road

Despite the fact that I had another long stretch of downhill riding, it was quite tiring. I was pedaling hard just to keep moving. The grass was a real hindrance. I can’t imagine what it must be like in the summer. I passed another grass road that could be interesting to explore in the future. Eventually, I reached another rough gravel road, and soon after that, pavement.

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My tire track in the muddy, rough gravel

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Pavement

Riding on the paved road after all that gravel and grass felt smooth and effortless. I even got to ride a couple more mostly-downhill miles, so I got to enjoy the smooth road. It was pretty, and traffic was very light.

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Another creek

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Pines

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Field

Toward the end of the paved roads, I did a little climbing, but it wasn’t bad. Next I turned onto the gravel Tannery Road, which turned out to be more uber-smooth gravel, and a lovely ride. A few spots still had snow and ice in the woods. Spring sure is taking its time getting here.

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Tannery Road

I was mostly climbing the whole time I was on Tannery Road, but once again, it was a very pleasant gradual climb.

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Ice

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Gradual climbing

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The Long Haul Trucker, surrounded by rhododendron

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Last section of Tannery Road

After some very lovely riding, I reached the paved road again and headed back to the car. I only rode a bit over 17 miles, but I was out riding for nearly three hours. Of course, I stopped at the overlook, and I stopped frequently for photos. This ride had a great combination of leisurely and challenging riding, and there is plenty more to explore in this area.

7 Responses to “A new kind of terrain”

  1. Tim Says:

    Simply amazing! Jealousy abounds! From the m.t. of IN to these new finds in PA. Glad you’re using the LHT as intended. I’m motivated to do some of the same this summer.

  2. Doug Says:

    I have a feeling a Pugsley would work great on a grassy road.

    What a fun, relaxing ride. It’s almost seemed like a hike in the woods, except you weren’t hiking, you were riding.

  3. Apertome Says:

    Doug, yes, it really did feel more like a hike. I really enjoyed the relaxed pace. It wasn’t intense like mountain biking (which I also love), it was more relaxing, and I got to enjoy the scenery of the forest.

  4. Dave Says:

    Looks like a great ride. Good find with those roads! Great pictures, as always…

  5. furiousBall Says:

    these shots are really cool, read and the scrolled back up to see the map, then scrolled quickly back to make a comment and realized, most of the shots are predominantly gray with a single color in them. i’m sleepy, i’ll leave a better comment tomorrow.

  6. John Says:

    The days are getting longer. The weather is getting warmer. And the biking is getting better. Still brown, but better.

  7. Ear to the Breeze » Blog Archive » Snowmobile trails and gravel roads in Lackawanna State Forest Says:

    […] this time with my mountain bike. I wanted to try riding some of the snowmobile trails. I had ridden some of the gravel roads there before, and some State Game Lands roads on my road bike. The gravel roads are no problem with the Trucker, […]

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