Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Nescopeck Fiasco

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

I decided to try something new on Sunday, and planned a 52-mile ride to Nescopeck State Park — south of Wilkes-Barre, when all of my rides to date have either stayed in the valley or gone to the north. The main reason I’ve avoided riding south of town has been because I don’t like riding through the city, but in planning this ride, I realized that there just aren’t very many roads in that area.

Furthermore, as I was on my way back toward the valley, I realized that some of the roads that Google Maps shows don’t actually exist. I could not get back over to a safe road to ride back home, and had to have my wife save the day by picking me up in the car. So, the map looks a little weird. I also missed out on some more climbing at the end, and what would’ve been an incredible descent back to the valley. Alas. I still managed to ride around 50 miles, with 4892 feet of climbing. Here’s a map and elevation profile.


View Nescopeck 2009-07-12 in a larger map

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I started by riding across the Susquehanna River and into Wilkes-Barre. I then took Main Street southwest to Alden. I was a little worried Main Street would be busy, and it was busier than the country roads I usually ride on, but it really wasn’t too bad. It got a bit hillier than I expected, with a series of decent rolling hills.

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About 10 miles into the ride, I turned onto Alden Mountain Road to begin the long climb out of the valley. I had never ridden here before so I had no idea when the climb would end, and it felt like it went on forever. Over the course of 2 1/4 miles, the road rose close to 750 feet.

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Once I reached the top, I had a couple of good descents toward Nuangola, then some rolling hills. These roads were fairly pleasant but once again not as quiet as where I usually ride. Except Gay Ridge Road, a one-lane road through a wooded neighborhood … that one was very quiet.

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Soon, a Google Maps issue caused me some trouble. I was planning to turn from Church Road onto Henry Road. Here is what I found when I arrived at the “intersection.”

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I was on a bridge overlooking Henry Dr. I looked in vain for a ramp or another way to get down to Henry Dr., but there wasn’t one.

Now that I’m back at home, I can see how this happened. The next image has two Google Maps views of this intersection, the first one is zoomed in one step further than the other. When zoomed in very far, you can see that  Church Road has lines going through the intersection, indicating a bridge (even then, it’s subtle). In the second panel, you can see that when zoomed out one step further, there is no way to tell that there’s a bridge here.

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Fortunately, I could easily see on my GPS (which also failed to indicate the problem) that I would be fine if I just continued on Church Rd. So it was no real problem at all, but it’s a good reminder to be aware of things like bridges. But there’s no way I’m zooming into each intersection that far just to see if there happens to be a bridge. Maybe Google can improve on this.

I continued on Church Road, through some rolling hills, and took a break under a huge tree at a cemetery. I really needed a break, and I felt much better after relaxing for a few minutes.

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After some more rolling hills, I started the second big climb of the day, this one up to Nescopeck Pass. This climb was smaller than Alden Mountain, but still 500 feet of climbing, some of it quite steep, over the course of two miles. I was moving rather slowly, but steadily. I reached Nescopeck Pass at 1617 feet and turned onto PA Route 309.

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Now 309 is a busy highway, and I normally avoid roads like this but there really was no other way of getting where I wanted to go. A side effect of having few roads in this area is that the roads that are there tend to be busy. I was hoping for a good shoulder on 309, but unfortunately there was only a very narrow shoulder. I had what would have been a wonderful descent down from Nescopeck Pass, except that I had to keep my speed way down and try to stay out of the way of the traffic. The junction with I-80 was particularly sketchy. In non-highway situations I often take the lane but that would not be safe here. Fortunately I knew I would only be on 309 for a couple of miles, and the scenery was pleasant even if the road was not.

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Along the way, I stopped at a gas station to get some more water and some chips, and use the facilities. I took the chips with me to eat at Nescopeck State Park, which I was now approaching. I turned onto Honey Hill Road, the road that took me to (and through) the park. The road surface was horrible — one of the worst paved roads I’ve ever ridden on. Pieces have been cut out and patched so many times that it looks almost like a quilt.

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Now they tell me!

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The scenery varied, some sections were densely wooded and in other areas there were open meadows, with frequent views of Mount Yeager to the south. Nescopeck Mountain was to the north, but I couldn’t see it most of the time. The road itself had some decent ups and downs, nothing too steep but enough to keep me slogging away.

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When I stopped to take the above photo, I looked around as I set my foot down and to my surprise saw a rattlesnake looking right up at me from about 10 feet away. At least, I believe it was a rattlesnake. I didn’t hear a rattle, but it looked like a rattlesnake to me. I backed up and zoomed in to see if I could get a photo of it.

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I continued riding, and soon reached the park office. I sat on a bench on the bridge over Nescopeck Creek and ate the chips I had bought earlier.

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Before long, I got back on the road. Soon, it was time to start the third big climb of the day. I saw the road I had considered using to climb up Nescopeck Mountain, but had decided against. I had a sign that read “No Winter Maintenance.” I guess that mean’s there’s no maintenance at all? At some point, it would be fun to explore this road, but I didn’t feel the need to do it at this time. A few more small hills and I reached PA Route 437 and started the climb.

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This time, I climbed about 400 feet, took a brief ride on a flat side road to avoid some extra climbing, and then rejoined 437 for some more hills. 437 felt a bit like a highway, but it was relatively quiet. Certainly not like the crazy traffic on 309.

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Soon, I neared the town of Glen Summit and turned off. My plan was to take Crystal Lake Road over to Laurel Run Road and ride on that back to the valley. Once off 437 I had quite a bit of climbing to do, and I was running out of water. I watched for someone in their yard, or an available spigot, but did not have any luck. Running out of options, I filled one of my water bottles from a small creek. I had not brought my water filter, so I drank the water with no treatment. It seemed like a relatively safe creek, at a high elevation with no nearby agriculture. I have been having some digestive issues today (Tuesday) so I don’t know if they are related to that water, or for some other reason. But I am normally very careful about making sure I can buy water, or I bring my filter. I failed to do either this time and now I may be paying for it.

Unfortunately, although Crystal Lake Road is listed on Google Maps, I found that it does not actually exist (along with several other roads in that area). Or if it does exist, it’s inaccessible due to private property. Every option I tried, I reached a dead end. During this time, I reached the highest elevation of the ride, at around 1900 feet.

Exasperated, I decided to head back over to 437 and see if I could find another route back to town that didn’t involve riding on 309. Route 309 had been bad in a remote area, but riding it through the city would have been incredibly dangerous. I was not willing to do it. I found an abandoned railroad grade which I think may be a planned rail-trail. It’s very rocky and unmaintained currently, but I rode on it for a while anyway. I have to say, if they smooth it out and groom it a bit, it will be very nice. A gorgeous area, and if there were a couple of clearings you could get some very nice views of nearby mountains.

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Soon I found a way back down to 437 and got back on that road. I studied my GPS maps a little more and determined that there was no safe way home from here without backtracking and adding a lot more mileage to my ride. I called my wife and asked her to come pick me up. I told her where I would be and set off to ride around a bit more while I waited. I had some very nice views.

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I’m lucky that my wife saved the day for me. I am glad I got to explore the roads on that side of town, but I’m not sure it’s something I need to repeat. Unfortunately, after doing all that climbing, I didn’t get to do the blistering descent back to the valley, to which I was very much looking forward. But I really wanted to clock at least 50 miles for the day, and I did that. And 4892 feet of climbing is nothing to sneeze at, either.

4 Responses to “Nescopeck Fiasco”

  1. John Says:

    A great story and photos as usual.

    I also like those rides on country roads, but really enjoy riding in the city too. If I had to decide between the two it would be very difficult. Like the weather, the preference would be continually changing.

  2. Marty Says:

    Another great photojournal of your ride. Always love seeing these, when I have time to stop by.

    BTW, your snake looks like a (large) eastern garter snake. The only rattlesnake that might be in your area is the timber rattler, and they have dark bands and a black tail. Still garters can be nasty (more so because they will skunk you than their bite, although they’ll do that, too).

  3. Apertome Says:

    Thanks … I’ve never seen a garter snake that looked like this, but it’s entirely possible. I don’t know much about snakes so when I see one I always just play it safe.

  4. jeff leintz Says:

    Great pictures! It looks like a great ride, fiasco and all.

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