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Archive for June, 2009

Pine Creek Gorge Bicycle Camping Part I – Saturday

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

I was considering riding the Great Finger Lakes Bicycle Tour last weekend, but I decided against it, mostly because of the cost. Instead, I planned a bicycle camping trip along the rail trail at Pine Creek Gorge, also known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. The trail is some 60 miles long, and most or all of it runs through the gorge, with fantastic views of the creek and the mountains.

I had read about other S24O trips there by The Blasphemous Bicycler (another trip) and FiveToedSloth. They rode part of the trail, camped at one of the campgrounds alongside the trail, and rode back the next day. I had another plan. I parked at around the halfway point (Black Walnut Bottom), rode to the northern terminus at Ansonia, then turned around and headed back, but rather than take the trail back, I climbed up the mountain along the west rim of the canyon. I wanted to get some views of the gorge from above, then camp at either Colson Point State Park or in the backcountry in Tioga State Forest. I pored over some maps and found a way to climb the mountain that appeared to be fairly gradual, and a good route for the return trip on Sunday.

Here’s a map from Saturday.


View Pine Creek Gorge bicycle camping part 1 06/13/2009 in a larger map

Saturday morning, I dropped Sarah off at work and then headed out to the trail. It was about a three-hour drive, and I got some lunch along the way. I was riding by about 1:00 pm. The trail surface was wonderful smooth gravel, and while it was slightly uphill the whole time, the climbing was nearly imperceptible most of the time. White and grey clouds filled the sky, and threatened rain.

The scenery was incredibly beautiful. For the most part, the trail was wide open, with mountains on both sides, and the creek down the middle. I took a ridiculous number of photos, but I’m only going to post a few, relatively speaking. Much of the scenery looks the same in the photos.

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As you can see, the scenery was fantastic the whole time. I really enjoyed looking over toward the west side of the gorge (on the left side in most of the photos) and thinking, “I’ll be riding up there later!” It’s very cool, and daunting, to see where you’ll be going in that way.

So far, the riding was very easy, to the point that I don’t have a lot to really say about it. It rained on and off for at least an hour, but fortunately it never rained hard enough for me to get completely drenched. I spent some time listening to music while I rode (the “Cedar Grove” album by Jeff Lang), but it seemed like every time I turned on my mp3 player, it started raining and I had to put it away. Eventually, I gave up. It was nice to listen to some mostly-acoustic, bluesy music for a while, though. The mood was just right.

Interestingly enough, the further I rode, the more wildlife I saw. I had seen a few deer here and there, and someone warned me that they had seen a rattlesnake alongside the trail. Fortunately, I didn’t encounter it.

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Later, I saw a deer eating right by the trail, and she did not run away as I approached. I took a couple of photos before I continued on my way.

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After about 30 miles of beautiful, easy riding, I reached the end of the trail. It had been raining, but it stopped. I found my way over to Colton Road, which would take me up the side of the mountain and into Tioga State Forest.

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I was nervous about this climb. I knew from studying maps that this was going to be the easiest way to make the climb, but it still rose 700 feet over the course of about 3 miles. And, my bicycle was fully loaded with camping gear.

The climb was more doable than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, it was quite challenging. However, it was paved (I thought it was going to be gravel) and it was only steep in a couple of different spots. The rest of the time, I was able to put my bicycle in a low gear and just spin, spin, spin. I even did most of the climb in the middle chainring!

I should point out that this was the first big climb I’ve done on the Long Haul Trucker when it’s been loaded with gear. I was amazed with how well it went, and I have to give the bicycle some credit for that. The gearing is quite low, and the bike feels so solid at all times. Steep climbs would still be a problem, but I am very happy with the Trucker’s performance.

Threats of rain continued, but aside from a few drops here and there, no more rain fell. The sun even came out after a while.

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Eventually, I reached the top, and I pulled off to a picnic shelter to take a break and have a snack. A couple was by their car with their dog, I just went by them and went into the shelter. I started eating and suddenly something fell from above. It landed on the ground and I realized there was a pile of animal droppings down there. I looked up, afraid of what I might see. It was a porcupine! It had climbed up the posts and was sitting in the rafters.

Just as this happened, the man was walking over with his dog to say hello. I pointed out the porcupine, and called the dog back. He noticed that the posts had metal on them to prevent animals from climbing, but you could see where the metal had been scratched away. I didn’t even know porcupines could climb.

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I moved away from the porcupine. I talked to the couple for a few minutes, and then they left. It occurred to me that the porcupine might have been stuck, but I can’t imagine what I might have done about it. I hope it’ll be OK.

I started riding again. I had a bit of a descent, followed by some modest ups and downs. Soon, I reached Colton Point State Park, and came across a vista.

The view was absolutely breathtaking. I could see the gorge for miles in either direction, and the trail I was riding on just two hours earlier was clearly visible. It was amazing, and so rewarding to think that I climbed all the way up from the bottom of the gorge under my own power. In these photos, the path that follows the creek is the rail trail.

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I rode around on some of the roads in the state park. Other overlooks presented themselves. Wonderful.

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Now I needed to decide what to do about camping. I sort of wanted to ride on and find a nice backcountry spot somewhere in Tioga State Forest. However, I was right by the Colton Point State Park campground, so I checked it out. It was pretty nice, and quiet, and even had some walk-in spots that were away from everything. I rode down the trail to see how these spots looked. They were secluded and very nice. The tent pad was a bit overgrown but nothing unamanageable. I get the sense that these walk-in campsites don’t get a lot of use.

I decided I had better camp here. It might take a while for me to find a backcountry campsite. These spots weren’t free ($19) but it seemed worth it. I chose a site that’s accessed by a thin trail through a field of dense ferns. On the other side of the campsite was a wooded area. I saw another deer on my way back to the campsite.

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As it was, it took me a while to set up camp and cook dinner. One thing that bothered me about the state park was that while there was water available, there were signs saying not to use the water without treating it first. I don’t remember the reason they stated — I think it was something about the water supply being affected by surface water.

I had brought my water filter, so that was no problem. However, I didn’t have a bucket or anything like that. I had brought my CamelBak bladder to keep water at my campsite, but I had to fill it with untreated water and filter from there. This meant using the filter any time I needed water for cooking or drinking. A real pain.

I had a surprisingly tasty meal of freeze-dried lasagna with meat sauce. I finally made a windscreen and figured out a better way of setting up my alcohol stove. I was able to boil water faster than ever before. The hot meal and a cup of hot tea had me feeling good. I snacked on some other food as well, although I should have eaten more.

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These caterpillars were everywhere (Eastern Tent Caterpillars)

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No sooner had I finished eating when I was visited by a very brazen raccoon. He ran over toward my campsite. I yelled at him to go away, and I thought he had, but then I realized he was just hiding behind a tree. I took some photos and ran him off.

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I went to bed early. Unfortunately, I slept really poorly. I kept hearing animal noises, which were messing with my head. Given how bold some of the wildlife I had seen that day had been, I was a little worried an animal would try to get into my tent. I heard some pretty wild sounds, a couple of owls seemed to be having some sort of conversation, and I even heard a fight between a couple of animals, complete with hisses and screeches and grunts. Some other birds clucked while insects chirped away. These were fascinating sounds, but at times my imagination got a little carried away.

On a positive note, I am learning to get much more comfortable using my narrow sleeping pad and small pillow setup. Aside from being a little chilly, I was physically comfortable. I just need to learn to turn off my brain in these situations.

I set an alarm for 5:00 am so I could catch sunrise over the gorge (there was an overlook within walking distance of my campsite). 

Note: This is Part I. You can read Part II here.

More hiking at Beltzville State Park

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

On Saturday, Sarah and I went for another hike at Beltzville State Park. We have hiked there a couple of times before, and even did this same exact hike back in January. It’s one of our favorite places to hike in this area because the scenery is great, and there are quite a few different trails, each of which is unique in some way.

Needless to say, things look a lot different in June than they did in January. I was hoping the rhododendron would be in bloom, but we seem to have missed our opportunity to see that at this location. Alas. Still, it was a gorgeous hike, and it was wonderful to spend a good portion of the day hiking with my wife.


View Beltzville Hike 06/06/2009 in a larger map

I didn’t take as many photos as I normally do. Here are a few of them.

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Snowmobile trails and gravel roads in Lackawanna State Forest

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

On Sunday, I headed to Lackawanna State Forest, 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, but I suspected that the trails would call for a mountain bike. Here’s a map of my route, which ended up being a little convoluted.


View Lackawanna State Forest Ride 06/07/2009 in a larger map

And here’s the elevation profile:

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile

I parked along Pittston Road and headed out on the gravel road. The road intersected the snowmobile trail, but I had enough of a sense of the lay of the land to know that it would be better to continue on the gravel road and pick up the snowmobile trail later. This way, I could do most of the climbing on the road. This afforded me a glimpse of the trail, though, and I was a little concerned: it looked very muddy.

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Snowmobile trail map (some of these are really gravel roads)

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This is where I’d later come out. Very muddy here.

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Pittston Road

Everything looked so different compared to the last time I rode here. The landscape looked relatively barren back in March, and now everything was so green and full and lush. P1030844
Silhouettes

I’ve been having a lot of fit issues with my mountain bike. It’s never felt right since I got it. I didn’t really know anything about how it should feel when I bought it, so it took a while for me to realize it’s not right. I’ve gone through several saddles trying to find a comfortable one, but now I think that my weight isn’t evenly distributed. Too much on my butt, not enough on my hands. So, I stopped and moved the saddle forward. This seemed to help a little, but it’s still not there. I had some climbing to do, it wasn’t outrageously steep, but it was slow going. I love these quiet gravel roads, though. I was in no hurry, but I still reached the trail access point in only about 20 minutes.

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A fence and gate kept the deer out
of this area

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Sign explaining the “Deer Exclosure”

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The trail access point

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My bicycle

I turned onto the snowmobile trail. At first it was rocky with loose gravel and larger rocks. Soon that ended and the trail was extremely muddy. My wheels sunk into the mud quite a bit, in places, and I had to ride through some fairly thick grass, and even some ferns. It was tough riding.

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Rocky trail

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Riding through mud, thick grasses, and ferns

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Mud

Fortunately, the muddy section didn’t last long, and soon I was riding on a wide, mostly smooth grassy trail. The road climbing really paid off and now I enjoyed over a mile of almost entirely downhill riding on the trail. There were occasional rocks and logs to go hop over or go around, but for the most part it was clear sailing. I was pleasantly surprised, given that I can only assume these trails get little or no maintenance. Aside from a couple of clearings, the trail was heavily wooded on both sides.

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Trail

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Rhododendron

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The trail leads to a clearing

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Me

While I was riding, it occurred to me that it would be cool to have some video of some of this riding. I didn’t try to rig up my camera for that purpose at this point, but I would later in the ride. The snowmobile trails offer a unique experience falling somewhere in between gravel roads and technical mountain biking. The more I ride, the less I think about “road biking” and “mountain biking.” It becomes more of a continuum and while you do have to choose the right tool for the job, there is considerable crossover in the riding styles. Soon, I came to a wooden bridge over Spring Run, a beautiful little creek. A little past that was a trail intersection that wasn’t marked on the map. It’d be interesting to see where that goes sometime. Finally, I ended up back at the road.

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Bridge

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Spring Run

Once back on the road, I had to climb back up. This time, I headed further out on Pittston Road, bypassing Pine Hill Road, which goes to the overlook. I figured I’d come back to that later, if I felt like it. At this point, I was more interested in exploring more of the snowmobile trails. I climbed for a while, and the road surface got a little muddy. But traction was fine so long as I didn’t try to go too fast. I was going through tree tunnels and not much sun could penetrate the dense trees.

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Tree tunnel

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Muddy road

I started a fun descent, and startled a grouse as I rode along, and it beat its wings and flew off. I passed another trail intersection that wasn’t on the map. I believe this trail goes into the neighboring State Game Lands 91 — it’s amazing how much there is to explore in that area. Eventually, I reached the snowmobile trail I was looking for.

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Snowmobile trail

I turned onto the snowmobile trail, and it was quite muddy for a while. Once again, I had to ride through some ferns. And I had quite a bit of climbing ahead of me. This was the hardest part of the whole ride. Fortunately, once again, the mud didn’t last long. Once I got past it, I still had a ton of climbing on grassy trails, which was quite tiring (but doable).  Along the way, as I was steadfastly pedaling along, I looked off to my left and there was a wild turkey not more than 10 feet away. It hobbled off in the odd way turkeys walk. I had fun watching it, but didn’t want to startle it by reaching for the camera. I had some trouble taking photos anyway, it was surprisingly dark due to the dense canopy. A few times, it started to rain slightly, but I barely even noticed. The trees did a good job of shielding me from the rain.

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Ferns, rocks, ruts, mud

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Dark forest

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Clearing

Some parts of the trail were fairly overgrown. My biggest concerns were that I would encounter a snake or some other creature and not be able to see it, or that I would ride through some poison ivy. I watched the trail very carefully as I rode.

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Overgrown trail

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A clearing, this time with some post-processing

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Lush

I really appreciated having the GPS on this ride. It was wonderful to be able to get a sense of where I was, and even though most trails aren’t on the map, I can guess where it’s going and figure out roughly how much climbing I have to do. In this case, I climbed for about a mile on these trails, gaining probably around 200 feet of elevation. Not a huge climb, but tiring nonetheless. Once I reached what I guessed was the top, I set up my camera to record some video. I had some trouble getting it mounted to my helmet in a satisfactory manner, so the videos are on a bit of a weird angle. Also, somehow the longest video I tried to make did not work out. I either didn’t hit the record button, or I must have turned it back off when I put my helmet back on. Here are a couple of video clips. If you’re reading through an RSS reader, you might have to click over to my site to see them.

Snowmobile Trail 1

Snowmobile Trail 2

When I finally got back down to the road, I decided to ride up once more, this time all the way up Pine Hill Road, so I could go to the overlook. I took some footage from the overlook that didn’t turn out too well. Then I restarted the camera and got video of walking down the sketchy staircase, getting on the bike, riding around the small cul-de-sac by the lookout tower, and finally, riding all the way back down to the car. It’s a descent of about 350 vertical feet over the course of about 3 miles. You might want to skip the part at the beginning with the tower.

Gravel Road Descent

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