Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Archive for the 'Gravel' Category

Ricketts Glen and State Game Lands 57: more mixed terrain

Monday, April 13th, 2009

I woke up Saturday morning to drizzle, strong winds, and temperatures in the 30s. The rain was forecast to end during the morning. I had planned about a 44-mile ride starting at Ricketts Glen State Park and riding through State Game Lands 57. I wasn’t sure what kind of roads to expect in the SGL, but I assumed there’d be some mud. A good opportunity to really test the Trucker a bit out of its element. Here is the route I ended up riding.

View Ricketts Glen and State Game Lands 57 04/11/2009 in a larger map

The rain stuck around longer than I expected, and while I wasn’t really waiting for it to end, I was moving pretty slowly getting ready. I prefer not to drive in order to ride my bike, but I’ve found it’s worth it sometimes to see more varied terrain, especially here in Pennsylvania. The sights are more varied within a smaller distance than in Indiana, but the mountains make riding so much slower that it’s harder to get far enough away from home to see them. So, in some cases it’s worthwhile to drive to a different starting point.

By the time I got to Ricketts Glen, the rain had stopped. I got out of the car and it was colder and windier there than it was at home — not surprising, since Ricketts Glen is at an elevation of about 2500 feet. I felt chilly as I was getting ready to ride, but I knew that the ride would warm me up.

It was really a kind of miserable day. The rain had stopped, but it was cold and blustery, and quite overcast. Dead leaves were blowing about, and everything still looked dead. Spring is slower to arrive on the mountain; in fact, it felt much more like a late fall day.

Trees by the parking lot

Lake Jean

The road, still wet

The first few miles were on the road. There were some good hills, which warmed me up on the climb and made me feel even colder as I rode down the other side.


A nice, rolling descent

After about four miles of road riding, I reached State Game Lands No. 57 and turned onto Loop Road/Mountain Spring Road. The road here was gravel, which is what I was expecting. I passed Water Fowl Pond and rode on smoothish gravel for a few miles, dodging some rocks and water-logged potholes along the way.

Of note to those interested in Pass Hunting, apparently during this time I rode through Opperman Pass, although I was unaware of it at the time. I don’t remember seeing a sign, but it shows up on several maps. I should probably start a log of any passes or gaps I ride through, just for fun. I’m a little surprised at how little information I can find about pass hunting on the Web. Anyone know of any good sites?

Entering State Game Lands 57

Water Fowl Pond

Loop Road

Cherry Ridge Run

Soon, I reached an interesting marshy area and a lake. I stopped for a few minutes to enjoy this quiet spot. So far, the riding had been easy, but that was about to change.

The road goes by a marsh

The Trucker

Fuzzy grasses

Beech Lake

A couple minutes later, I turned onto a gated State Game Lands road called Beech Lake Road. The gate was closed, but went around it. It said it was closed to all vehicles, but had horse and bicycle symbols on the sign. I guess bicycles aren’t considered vehicles here; normally I’d rant about that, but in this case it was a good thing.

This road was gravel, too, but it was rougher and looser than Loop Road. I had some climbing to do, and it was slow going for a while. The climbing warmed me up considerably, and the sun peaked out from behind the dense cloud cover a couple of times. I shed some layers and kept going. The road took me over some rolling hills and I rode through a wonderful section where there were rock cliffs on my left, looming over me, and a clearing below on my right.

Rougher gravel

Rock walls on one side, a clearing on the other

The clearing

At some point, the gravel faded away and the road transitioned to dirt. A day or two of rain leading up to this ride had left things quite muddy, in parts. I had to walk some very muddy parts. The road surface varied quite a bit, alternating between muddy, rocky, and grassy — and combinations of those three qualities. The hills were especially hard, because I would sink in and sometimes my rear wheel would end up spinning.

The scenery was pretty throughout all of this, even if it didn’t change all that much. It mostly consisted of numerous swamps, marshes, and streams, and hills. The sun persevered at burning away the clouds. The day got ever brighter and the world seemed to be waking up in the process, even though it was already afternoon. I encountered a wild turkey and some deer, and a grouse and I scared each other senseless. I’m not sure who was more surprised to see the other.

The Road


My tires carved ruts in the mud


It took about an hour for me to ride about eight miles of this stuff. I looked at my GPS and realized that I had underestimated the terrain. Although if it hadn’t been so muddy, I could have moved a lot faster. At this point, if I followed my planned route, I had at least 7 more miles of this kind of riding to go, then a huge climb and over 20 miles of road riding, some of which was probably gravel. I didn’t think I felt up for it. I examined the SGL maps I had printed, and the GPS maps, and saw a way to ride about 6 miles back to the road, and then I’d just have the four miles of road riding back to the car. I would also avoid the big climb. This seemed much more plausible, so I decided it was the best course of action.

To that end, I turned onto a different SGL road than planned. This one was called Shale Pit Road, and it was basically more of the same. I think it might have been a little easier going than Beech Lake Road.

My bicycle in a marshy area

The road, holding water. The sun is shining and the sky grows increasingly blue

Weird green water

The road surface is rockier, but drier

Soon, I came across the very beautiful Sprankles Pond. Geese called out, their honks reverberating across the water. A small island was visible near the other side of the pond.

Sprankles Pond



Ripples, and a small island

It was still quite windy, and this area was more exposed than wooded areas where I had been riding. I stopped here for a snack, even though I felt a bit cold. It was a beautiful spot.

As I continued, the scenery remained very similar to what I had seen leading up to this point, so I didn’t take a lot of photos. I just concentrated on riding. I did stop and filter water from a stream. I was running out of water and wanted to try the filter. It seemed to work fine. The water that came out was not perfectly clear, but from what I understand, this is normal and the water is still safe. I did think the water had a bit of an earthy taste. I am not sure if I chose a poor stream from which to filter water, or if that taste comes with the territory. At any rate, I felt no ill effects later.

Eventually, I ended up on Southbrook Road. At the interesection was a cool bridge over a stream. I stopped for another snack, and soon a couple of hikers happened by. We chatted for a few minutes, and they went on their way. Those were the only people I encountered in the State Game Land, although I had seen a few pickup trucks within the first mile or two. I wouldn’t want to go there during hunting season, though.

By this time, the sun was shining and the sky was a deep blue. It was hard to believe that it had been so dreary just a few hours earlier.


Bellas Brook

The bridge again

Here, the road got a lot smoother and the riding got easier. There was some climbing, but it was very gradual and I was able to keep a good pace. I passed by Water Fowl Pond again on my way back. Before long, I was back at the paved road. There was some tough climbing on the paved road, but I handled it fairly well.

Smooth gravel

Water Fowl Pond

Plants by the pond

Another view of the pond

It was another great mixed terrain ride. The State Game Lands are interesting because they have lots of largely unmaintained dirt/gravel roads, and they can have some nice scenery as well. The biggest problem on this ride was the mud. There were times when a mountain bike would have been a better choice. With the shortened route, I only rode about 23 miles, but it took 3 1/2 hours to do so.

Larksville/Plymouth mountain

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

On Sunday, I almost didn’t ride. It was a very nice day, but I just wasn’t feeling it. But sometimes Sarah knows me better than I know myself, and encouraged me to ride. I’m glad she did; it was a great ride.

I planned a ride in mostly new areas. First, I’d explore an area I found in Google Earth that I thought might give me some interesting views of Bunker Hill, where I frequently ride. Then, I’d climb Larksville Mountain, but do it a different way than in the past, and ride over to Plymouth Mountain before dropping back down into the valley.

I am really enjoying planning rides with my GPS — it’s far easier than my usual method of taking screenshots, cropping them, writing out directions, and printing everything out, usually spanning several sheets of paper. Now I just click where the turns are and while my GPS does not have autorouting capabilities (and therefore just shows a straight line from one point to the next, not following the roads) it’s good enough to get me where I’m going. I usually mess up following the GPS at least once per ride, but it nearly always seems to be in more congested areas (in town) where it’s easier to get back on track. Here’s the route I rode. It’s nearly exactly what I had planned.

View Larger Map

I started climbing nearly immediately. A couple of short climbs at first (now, half a mile is a short climb) got my blood pumping, and in the 40-degree heat, I felt awfully warm. I did manage to get an interesting view of Bunker Hill, and a good look back into the valley, shortly into my ride, from Courtright Street.

Courtright Street Panorama-smaller
Panoramic view back into the valley, from about 200 feet above it

Bunker hill, as seen through a chainlink fence

I found an interesting little trail by this school and followed it to see if there were better views. No such luck, and I dropped my camera along the way. I picked it up on my way back. It was fun to ride offroad briefly.

Side trail

I rode through a residential area near Courtdale that looked in Google Earth like it might have some good views of Bunker Hill. Unfortunately there were no gaps in the houses where I could look. I think there would have been some nice views from some back yards. Alas. A few places I saw in Google Earth and hoped to go were signed “Private Drive.” One didn’t have a sign, and I rode up it only to discover that it was in fact somebody’s driveway. Someone came out of the house, they were cool about it, and I told them they should have a sign; I thought it was a road.

Clearly signed driveway

How am I supposed to know this is a driveway? It looks incredibly inviting, too

Having had limited success in the residential area, I rode over to Corby Street for what turned out to be a brutal climb, riding 500 feet over the course of a mile. It was splended: a pretty, quiet, effectively one-lane road. But it was long, and steep at times, reaching a 20% grade at one point. No section was unridable, but I had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath take some photos. I saw the remains of a couple deer alongside the road, and wondered if they had been shot and left there, or if something else had happened. They seemed fairly picked clean, so I get the feeling something must have devoured them.

Scene on the way to Corby St.

Up …

Looking back … you can see the distant mountains on the other side of the valley, and you can almost make out some buildings in the valley itself

Brutal climbing

A very helpful mirror, mid-switchback

More climbing


The grade let up a bit as the climb wore on. But then something unexpected happened: the pavement ended and it became a gravel road. This was unexpected to me because I have found very few gravel roads in this area. I was pleasantly surprised, and had some fun with it. Fortunately none of the gravel sections were terribly steep. The gravel in this area is strange, very dark and reddish in color. It was hard-packed gravel, with a smooth surface and not much loose rock on top. This made for fairly easy riding, even if I was still climbing.


Laundry hung out to dry

Once I reached the top, I stopped to rest a bit and take in the scenery. I hadn’t expected to see Bunker HIll from here, but there was a clearing, and I had a nice view. I was exhausted from the trip up, but it felt very rewarding to be at the top.

At the top, looking back

Corby Road Panorama
Panoramic view of Bunker HIll from Corby Road

While I was here, I wanted to see if you could go mountain biking by the power lines. These were clearly marked as private property/no tresspassing, and I assume they mean business. Blast.

The Trucker alongside Corby Road

Power lines going the other way

A look at where I was headed — slick gravel road

The road got wetter and had a slick, greasy surface almost more like mud. If it had been mud though I would have just sunk in.

The road turned and for a while I rode toward the sun. There was a bit of snow and ice here and there, and the sun’s rays reflected off the slippery road surface, nearly blinding me at times.

Snowy cornfield

Strange road surface

Bright reflections

I was on flat ground, briefly, and even passed some cornfields. I have seen very little agriculture here in NE Pennsylvania; there just isn’t much flat ground, except in the valley, which is fairly developed. But here, on top of Larksville mountain, is some flat(ish) land, and farmers take advantage of it where they can find it.



I soon realized that I was not, in fact, at the top of the mountain. In fact quite a bit of climbing was still ahead of me, but it was much easier. It really didn’t even feel like climbing, after the Corby St. madness.

More climbing

Rolling fields

Barn Panorama
Barn, with a strange military-looking truck

As I climbed, it got colder and the road got snowier and icier. But it wasn’t anything the Trucker couldn’t handle, even though it still simply has the stock tires.

Icier road


Eventually, my GPS beeped and the screen said I was approaching Mountain Road. This I knew to be paved. Riding got easier after this point, although I had a lot of fun on the gravel roads. I had a little bit of confusion at the intersection but eventually figured out which way to go.

West to Mountain Road

I took Weaverton Road for a while, which had a few ups and downs. I was still riding toward the sun, and apparently here they’d had an ice storm. The trees here were covered in ice, and the power lines crackled as they swayed in the wind, breaking the ice. Bits of ice crunched under my tires, having fallen from the trees, and the crystalline branches refracted the sun’s rays, creating quite a spectacle.

Ice-covered trees, becoming prisms

Orange sunlight (the camera captured it this way)

A bend in the road

I came to an unmarked intersection and took a moment to figure out which way to go. I made sure to snap a photo of a “Mountain Rd.” sign; surely I can use this for something.

Mountain Rd

The quiet road meandered a bit before plunging down into the valley. Near the beginning of the descent I passed a house where members of the Wyoming Valley Mountain Bike Association were wrapping up a ride. I figured it must have been them, and waved. I later verified that it was, in fact, them.

I don’t normally stop to take photos while I’m descending, but this time I did. There were some great views of the valley on my way down the mountain. It was a long, steep descent of nearly two miles, and I was glad I hadn’t gone up that way. Now that would hurt. It’s amazing bombing down the mountain and coming around a turn to see the valley open up below you.

Icy trees by the power lines (Is this where they do the Chinese Downhill?)

A few rolling hills before the plunge

Mountain Road Panorama
Panoramic view of the valley from Mountain Road

A closeup of part of the view

Hill – Trucks use low gear

The road drops steeply at several points

Another great view

It’s a bit of a struggle to focus on the road with these views ahead of you. With all the curves, and the sand on the road, I took it very slowly and probably only hit 30 mph. I can’t imagine how fast you could get going if you really let loose.

Now most of the way down, but still some great views

I rode across part of the valley I haven’t really seen before, parts of Plymouth and Edwardsville. I took back roads; some people seem to ride on Wyoming Ave / Route 11, but it seems awfully busy to me.

I had a couple of interesting incidents as I rode back toward home. First a guy was out talking to some buddies and recognized me, saying “I saw you taking photos at the top! Long ride down?” Of course the only response could be “The ride down was quick, the ride UP was long.” Funny that he recognized me.

A few blocks later I saw some kids out riding BMX bikes, and struggling up a small hill. I flew past and one of the kids’ jaw dropped and he said, simply “Woah!” It’s obvious people don’t see a lot of serious cyclists around here and this is the second time a kid has seen me and reacted like I was some kind of superhero. It’s flattering, but mainly I hope they are impressed enough to ride more themselves. I probably could have stopped and said something, but I pressed on.


Residential scene

Run-down garage

Somewhere around Plymouth/Edwardsville

Another interesting, somewhat run-down building

This was an incredible ride, and what amazes me most is that it was only 16.5 miles. In these mountains, a 16-mile ride can feel almost epic, and I was gone for about two hours. Of course, it had some 2,000 feet of climbing, so that is part of the equation. But there was such a variety of scenery (urban, rural, mountainous, steep, flat, dry, muddy, icy, paved, unpaved, agricultural, residential, industrial) that I felt like I had ridden much further.

Hitting 3,000 miles, and discovering more of the levee trail

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Yesterday, I finally hit 3,000 miles of riding for the year. Last year I hit the big 3K in October, so I’m behind, compared to last year. But of course I have had a number of major life changes this year. I am just thrilled that I made it to 3,000. Now, I’ve ridden 6,592 miles since I started keeping track last February.

The other day, I discovered a whole new section of the Levee Trail system. In the past, I’ve stopped at a “no trespassing” sign, but I rode past it and while I thought the trail ended at K-Mart, it continues past that for a while, and then connects with a strange, apparently unnamed road that connects to a road close to where I live. This means there’s a closer access point to the trail that avoids a lot of traffic. Needless to say, I was pleased to make this discovery. The section I explored was paved; there were also some gravel and dirt trails branching off from the main trail that I have yet to explore.

The scenery is quite varied, with some sections feeling nearly rural, and some residential, industrial and retail areas. First, here’s the map.

View Larger Map


Market Street

Getting on the levee trail

Another view


It’s strange, the “NO TRESPASSING” sign is right by the railroad tracks. There is an identical sign on the other side, but the trail is open on both sides. I guess they just don’t want you crossing the tracks?

Railroad tracks

A water tank of some kind

Kmart — the trail also goes by some other stores. It could be useful for actually getting around.

Riding toward the mountains

Some (probably abandoned) fuel tanks


Another view of one of the tanks

Z&B Body Shop

Unmarked road. This section feels almost rural.

Signs of industry

Dirt road. If I’d been on my mountain bike, or it hadn’t been so muddy, I would’ve checked it out more

Even though I was close to home, I turned around and rode back the way I came. I wanted to explore some more and ride a few more miles.

Small gravel trail paralleling the road

The trail let out behind a business

Another church

I just noticed a limo in the above photo. What the heck was a limo doing in the seedy underbelly of Edwardsville?

Industrial buildings and distant mountains

An abandoned restaurant, or something

Tanks again

These things cool. Notice the staircases don’t go all the way down anymore


Abandoned Amoco center. Peak oil? Localized economic woes?

Abandoned Amoco

Strange walkway

Messing with perspective

Gravel road/trail

Dirt trail. This will be fun to explore, at some point. It was a muddy mess.

There seem to be a lot of offshoot trails. This will be fun to explore, and maybe I’ll map out the entire trail system.

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