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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I rode around on some of the roads in the state park. Other overlooks presented themselves. Wonderful.
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.
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.
These caterpillars were everywhere (Eastern Tent Caterpillars)
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.
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.