Cycling, hiking, camping, etc — now back in southern Indiana. Words and photos.

Archive for the 'S24O' Category

Bicycling in 2009

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

With all the changes in our lives in 2009, I rode less than usual. I also lacked a commute until the last couple of months, and the miles in Pennsylvania were a lot harder earned, so there were fewer of them. Here are some stats for 2009:

Total miles: 2628.91
Road biking: 2016.74
Mountain biking: 301.32
Mixed terrain: 1447.62
S24O: 99.59

In 2008, I rode over 3000 miles; in 2007, it was over 3500 miles. So these stats aren’t that great overall, but they do show a lot of variety. In particular, I did a lot more mixed-terrain riding in 2009 than ever before, and I absolutely loved it.  I also had variety in that I got to ride in various places in Pennsylvania and Indiana. And there was a lot of beautiful scenery in both states. It appears I  also took over 20,000 photographs in the process (OK, a lot of those are duplicates).

I also got a new commuter (for $40!), and a new mountain bike toward the end of the year, though I did not get to try it on any serious trails until January 2010.

I usually do a “top 10 rides of the year” — I’ll try to write that post soon.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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“Drivable” is relative. This would be fun to explore sometime.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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