Note: this is Part II in my account of a bicycle camping trip in the Pine Creek Gorge. If you haven’t already, I recommend you read Part I first.
On Saturday night, I had sent my cell phone alarm clock for 5:00 am so I could catch the sunrise over the Pine Creek Gorge. I’m not a morning person at all, and I slept poorly, but I woke up when my alarm went off. I was sleeping lightly anyway.
There was already enough natural light that I could make my way to the vista without my headlamp. All was extremely quiet — even the birds were just beginning to awaken. As I approached the overlook, strangely, it appeared white. I was astonished when I finally got a full view of the gorge, I realized it was literally filled with fog. It hadn’t been foggy during my short walk at all, but the fog in the gorge reached nearly to the top. I could just make out the top of the mountain across the gorge from me. It was an incredible sight, boulstered by fact that with very few exceptions the only sound was the rushing of the creek hundreds of feet below.
The fog moved a bit with the breeze, and I could see and feel it growing ever higher. I probably don’t need to post this many photos, but in some of these photos you can tell from the fogline by the mountain across the gorge that the fog was moving.
I spent maybe 20 minutes in this spot. I moved on before the sun actually rose — I wasn’t sure how long I would have to wait, and I wanted to get moving. By this time the fog had begun pouring over the edge of the gorge and out into the road. The light was just beginning to break through the trees, and the effect was stunning.
I saw a deer on my way back. The fog never made its way back to my campsite. I wanted to get moving fairly quickly, but it took a long time for me to filter water, cook and eat breakfast and tear down camp. Somehow, it was nearly 8:00 am when I finally started riding. This is early for me, but given that I got up at shortly after 5:00, I expected to be moving sooner. It’s a weird feeling, getting up at dawn and wishing for an earlier start.
It was a wonderful, cool morning and I was glad to be riding. My legs felt a little tired but overall surprisingly fresh from the previous day’s riding. About the first 20 miles of riding would be on lovely, quiet, remote state forest roads surfaced with the smoothest gravel. I saw another overlook as I headed out. Here is the map of my route on Sunday.
View Pine Creek Gorge bicycle camping part 2 06/14/2009 in a larger map
I began my day of riding with a wonderful descent. A great way to get the blood pumping. I was amazed by the roads during the first several miles of my ride. They were very well-designed. I went through several climbs and descents of 200+ feet. But the roads were so well designed that it was a real joy. Rather than taking a steep approach to the climbs, the roads switched back repeatedly and gradually made their way up. Each time it took well over a mile to climb 200 feet. Once again, I was able to use a low gear and just spin my way up these roads.
Descending on these roads was equally wonderful. It wasn’t a high-speed affair at all, but at times it felt like I had endless, curvy-but-flowing downhill runs. Looking at the terrain map, you can see that they were somewhat forced into these choices by the terrain, as a couple of smaller streams/gorges feed into Pine Creek Gorge. But the designers definitely could have taken a steeper approach. And given the huge but gradual climb the previous day, I think this design was no mistake. Also of note, I crossed the West Rim hiking trail and it appeared to take a much steeper approach.
View Pine Creek Gorge bicycle camping part 2 06/14/2009 in a larger map
The scenery during this time was mostly simply the heavily-wooded gravel roads flanked by ferns and wildflowers. It was very pretty, and there were a few overlooks when the road went close to the gorge. I saw a few more deer, and at one point a rafter of turkeys crossed the road a bit ahead of me.
“Drivable” is relative. This would be fun to explore sometime.
Unfortunately, once I got into a rhythm with these repeated, gradual climbs and descents, the road design changed drastically. The climbs got considerably steeper and I lost the flow. It was a real struggle getting up some of these slopes. Particularly brutal was a rather steep 300-foot climb. This would’ve been difficult even if I hadn’t been carrying so much gear. With the extra weight I was hauling, I had to stop a few times. This took me to the highest elevation of the entire weekend, at around 2182 feet. As a point of reference, the elevation at the start had been about 723 feet.
I started to realize I hadn’t had enough to eat, and tried to force down some snacks, but I found it rather difficult to eat. Maybe I need to bring a greater variety of food next time. I had bought some Ramen that I never ended up cooking. I think that would’ve helped considerably. I was doing OK, not going to bonk or anything, but not feeling particularly energetic, either.
I had to wonder if these roads were designed by someone different or at a different time from the ones I was riding on before. Here, the designers chose to eschew the gradual climbing mantra and many of the roads just went straight up the slopes.
Still, I was enjoying myself. These gravel roads were wonderful (even if not ideal) and I only saw a few cars, some backpackers, and a few guys messing around on mountain bikes. Otherwise, I had the forest to myself.
From my map studies before I embarked on this journey, I knew I would have a very steep, winding descent on a gravel road. I had considered climbing this way, but it looked like it would be too steep. There was an elevation change of about 800 feet in 2 miles. I was actually a little nervous about riding down it. The Trucker had performed admirably up to this point, but the brakes are one of the few weaknesses to the LHT “Complete” build.
And it was a challenging descent indeed — but I did not encounter any problems. I did stop a couple of times to let my rims cool and give my hands a rest from squeezing the brakes constantly. The road was very steep and had many tight turns. In some places it took on a washboard texture where people in cars had clearly tried to drive up, but their wheels had spun in place, damaging the surface. So, it was the kind of descent where you really just have to ride the brakes the whole time and try not to wipe out in the turns. Not a lot of fun, really. I will look for another option if I go back. I’m not complaining at all, I just think there has to be a better way.
With that, I was on a paved road for about a mile, and then back on the Pine Creek Rail Trail. The paved road was fun while it lasted, and I realized I’ve done very little road riding with the Trucker loaded down. I’ll have to do more of that soon. From here, I had about 10 miles of easy riding on smooth gravel, all slightly downhill. It was an uneventful — and once again, scenic — end to my ride.
I was quite tired and hungry by the time I got back to my car. And the flies in that Black Walnut Botttom parking lot were horrendous. I was back at my car by noon, and home before 3:00 pm.
It was an amazing trip. I learned a lot about riding the loaded Trucker, and I am getting better at setting up my tent, using my alcohol stove and loading the bicycle. It’s a good feeling to be becoming more familiar with my equipment, and on each trip I do of this kind, I get better at it. And of course, the scenery and wildlife were incredible.