Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Archive for the 'Gravel' Category

Luzerne County Map for DirtData.org

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Some time ago, I stumbled across the very interesting site DirtData.org. The site is “An Experiment in Collaborative Cartography.” The idea is that people can create Google Maps of the gravel/dirt/fire roads in their area and submit them to the site. The more people who contribute, the better the maps will be. I’ve started a map of the Luzerne County area. It’s a work in progress, but so far, I’ve cataloged over 25 gravel roads in this area. Here’s the map. Note: there are two pages of roads listed. You have to open the map in Google Maps (click the link below the map on this page), and click on Page 2 at the bottom of the road list to see the rest.

View Luzerne County, PA for DirtData.org in a larger map

I’ve also started a map of the Bloomington, Indiana area, which I’ll post later. It’s fun making these maps, and I hope that they’ll come in handy in the future, both for myself and for others.

If you ride gravel roads in your area, I urge you to create maps to share with everyone.  Here are some useful links to help you get started.

Pine Creek Gorge Bicycle Camping Part II – Sunday

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

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.


Monday, June 1st, 2009

On Saturday, I did a ride I’ve been thinking about for a while. I put together a route that took me north to Center Moreland, where I knew I could get more water, then northeast to Falls, across the Susquehanna River, and back down along the east bank of the river. One advantage to this route was that the roads by the river looked pretty flat.

As it turned out, they were, but one of the other main roads I took was also relatively flat for many miles. And I took the Back Mountain Trail to get out of the valley. The end result was a ride with NO monstrous climbs — the largest single climb was around 300 feet — and most of the climbing I did have to do was very gradual. The ride ended up being 44 miles and around 3000 feet of climbing. I can’t believe that’s “flat” to me now.

Here’s the map:

View Falls 05/30/2009 in a larger map

And elevation profile:

Falls ride profile

Sarah had taken our digital point & shoot camera to a conference in New York City, so I decided to take our Holga, a lofi film camera. I’ve been wanting to do some more film photography anyway, so this was fine with me. The Holga gives very unpredictable results — sometimes the shots turn out great, and sometimes they’re terrible. You have a certain level of control, but a lot of it’s up to chance. My first roll of film turned out better than the second; I discovered that with our Holga, even if it’s sunny, it’s best to use 400 speed film. That’s useful knowledge for the future. I also learned that in order to avoid motion blur, I have to stop completely and hold the camera as steady as possible. The Holga’s single shutter speed is slower than I realized.

I decided early in the ride that I was going to take my time. It had been a while since I had done a ride this length, and I didn’t want to wear myself out too early in the ride. That, and it was just a gorgeous day to be out riding — I wanted to enjoy every minute of it.

I started out on the Back Mountain Trail, which is a scenic and enjoyable way to begin a ride.

R1- 3

R1- 7
Back Mountain Trail

Unfortunately, I reached a point where the trail was blocked off. I explored on foot and discovered that part of the trail by a waterfall had washed out during one of our recent rains. Some construction vehicles were present, but no workers. I explored further (encountering a snake in the process!) and determined that I could walk through with my bike. I did, and didn’t encounter any further problems on the trail.

R1- 5

R1- 8
Another part of the Back Mountain Trail

The trail took me up to Shavertown, and I turned off it to head away from town. I wasn’t sure how Lower Demunds Road would be here, and I was a little worried there would be some traffic. My concerns turned out to be unfounded and I enjoyed some scenic and easy riding on this road for several miles. During this time, I actually climbed quite a bit, but it was gradual and a long flat section made it not seem too bad.


A marshy area

Fun road

The road topped out at about 1375 feet and then I enjoyed a short but fun descent. I stopped in Center Moreland to get some beverages and a snack, and then headed out on back roads where I knew I would have a long descent toward the river.

Looking back

The descent was simply incredible, the road dropped about 600 feet over the course of more than three twisty miles. The road started out fairly open and became narrower and densely wooded. It followed a creek for some time and passed at least one waterfall.


R1- 1
Narrow, curvy road

I got on PA Route 92, which was a bit busier than the roads I had been on, but still rather quiet. I crossed the Susquehanna River and enjoyed views of the river and the mountains, some surrounding mountains have sheer rock faces that are quite impressive. I also stopped in the town of Falls to check out the Buttermilk Creek Falls for which I can only assume the town is known.

Note: you can tell I changed rolls of film, things were considerably worse on the second (ISO 200) roll. Though I like the lofi effects in some cases.

R1- 4
River and mountains

R1- 5
Susquehanna River

R1- 8
Buttermilk Falls

The falls again

Now I turned south and spent quite a while on Narrows Road. This was a one-lane road, paved for a while, but soon the pavement gave way to a gravel/dirt surface with many potholes, most of which were holding water. It was fairly smooth aside from the potholes, for the most part. For miles, the road paralleled the river, some railroad tracks, and the base of the mountains. It was very enjoyable riding, with only one climb to speak of. The scenery was mostly nice, but there was a disturbing amount of trash strewn about the side of the road. Sad.

The riding was very easy, aside from dodging potholes. Wonderfully easy. I don’t shirk away from a challenge, but this is the first long ride I’ve done around here where half of it wasn’t a death slog. It’s funny, this was easy riding on a bicycle, but I would never drive my car on this road. The potholes would just kill the suspension.

Narrows Road. The film didn’t advance properly here.

Botched and/or eerie shot of my bicycle

The road was flanked with wildflowers, in places

Gravel road

Mountain, road, tracks

At some point, the pavement returned.

Shadows on the mountain ahead


At this point, I ran out of film. This was fine, as I was almost back to town anyway. I rode into Duyea, going under a cool one-lane underpass. I was on Main Street in Duryea and Pittston for a while, which was mostly not too busy, thankfully. I crossed the Susquehanna again on US Route 11, which had a sidewalk on the bridge. Finally, I returned home via Susqehanna Avenue and the West Side Trail.

I enjoyed this ride very much. It’s great that I have a longer route with a reasonable amount of climbing. I hope to do a longer, more difficult ride at some point, but this was an excellent change of pace.

Ear to the Breeze is proudly powered by WordPress
Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).