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Archive for the 'Mountains' Category

Black Friday mountain biking: inadvertently, snow biking

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

The past couple of years, I’ve spent Black Friday mountain biking wtih my riding buddy Dave. Last year, we went to the southern end of Indiana and rode at Tipsaw Lake and the Oriole West trail in Hoosier National Forest. The year before that, we headed east to Versailles State Park. It’s become a great tradition, and I love being deep in the woods while so many people are deep in the mall, mired in crowds; it’s a great way to escape from the mad rush to buy stuff.

I hadn’t been mountain biking since moving to Pennsylvania, and I’ve been hoping to find a good way to ride some trails with someone, as a way of learning my way around, and meeting some people. So, when I saw that the Hubbard Bike Club was doing a Black Friday ride, I decided to go.

There was one thing I hadn’t considered. The club meets a bit north of Scranton, partway up a mountain, about a 45-minute drive away. I arrived at “The Barn,” a clubhouse of sorts where their rides start, and was astonished to find a few inches of snow on the ground (there was none where I lived). I’ve ridden in snow before, many times, and really enjoy it, but at the same time, 14 miles of riding is a lot harder if it’s in the snow, and I wasn’t mentally prepared for it. I was, however, fully prepared in terms of the gear I brought, so I didn’t consider bailing. Truth be told, I was excited about some snow biking, and a little nervous, since I had no idea what the trails would be like. There were probably 30-40 people in the parking lot, a huge turnout for this ride. It looked to be a lot of fun. Note: the club has a gallery of shots from the ride here. I have borrowed a couple of shots that have me in them, I’ll note which ones they are, below.

Parking lot

The ride began with a singletrack climb. There was no opportunity to get used to riding the mountain bike, and reaquaint myself with its rather squirrely handling in the snow, just a climb almost immediately. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one having trouble. There was quite a bit of congestion as everyone tried to get some traction. The snow was wet and slick, and had a layer of leaves under it. Within minutes many of us were walking up some hills where we could not get traction. One guy even, somehow, slipped while standing still and went over the handlebars.

Getting acquainted with the singletrack (that’s me, on the right) — from the Hubbard gallery

The first section of trail didn’t last long. Before long, the trail spit us out onto a road, and we followed paved and gravel roads for a while. The roads were slushy and slick, but quite ridable. The scenery was excellent, as we passed farms and mountains, and went by a small lake.


Gravel road climb

11-28-2008 Black Friday ride 010
Here I am, enjoying the ride (from the Hubbard gallery)

Looking back

View from the slushy gravel road

Lake at the base of the mountains

Descending toward the lake


The roads were very pleasant, but I was anxious to get back on the trails, and before long, we did. Not surprisingly, we had a huge climb to deal with. Many of us walked most of the climb, and it was quite a long one. Never before have I done so much walking on a ride, although I don’t know exactly how much it was; I forgot to turn my GPS on until halfway through the ride. Whoops! I probably could have ridden more of this climb than I did, but I felt I needed to pace myself, so I tried to take it easy. Even the stronger riders had to walk their bikes for a bit, although some of them didn’t walk much, I think.

Getting on the trail


And more pushing …

Gus, a very tenacious climber

After what seemed like forever, we reached the top of the hill, and flatter ground for a few minutes. The trail was doubletrack winding through the woods, and I was glad to have a wider trail. The faster riders broke off to take in some singletrack, which I heard was more technical, but I was having enough trouble. My front wheel kept washing out. I guess the tire I have on there (a Kenda Blue Groove) isn’t good for snow; I’ll definitely need to find something better. But, for the first time ever, I really wished I had a 29er; I really think that bigger wheels would have helped hold a line in the snow. Not that I’m making excuses: my snow-riding skills need a lot of work, too, although I got better as the ride wore on.

Gently winding, flat doubletrack

A glimpse through the power line right-of-way

Snow on rocks

After a little bit of easier trail, we reached an awesome overlook. We spent a while taking in the view.

The group by the overlook

Incredible rays of light

Hubbard Black Friday Ride Panorama
Panoramic shot of the view (worth viewing large)

Power lines

After resting at the overlook, we turned and followed the power lines. My jaw dropped when I saw where we were headed: straight down a big hill, then immediately back up. Power lines mean a clear(ish) place to ride, but they simply go straight, making no attempt to lessen the grade. Even going downhill was difficult, since my front wheel kept drifting and washing out. I had a hard time holding a line. Climbing was even worse (impossible, at least for all of us) as our rear wheels would spin out when we attempted to climb. It was just too steep, and the terrain under the snow varied from loose gravel to large rocks, all very slick. It was a beautiful scene, though, and despite how difficult it was I was in good spirits the whole time. It was, truly, a great day to be out riding. And more and more, I’m looking at rides as a way to experience places, rather than only focusing on the riding itself. I fell behind several times as I stopped to take photos. I couldn’t help myself. I was able to catch up fairly well, even though just pushing our bikes up these hills was quite challenging.

A look at where we’re headed

Looking back

Falling behind

Catching up. Loose gravel is visible in the ruts

Rocky, snowy climb

I found a real weakness in my shoe covers. The right one, specifically, tends to flip up at the toe, and in this case, snow got between my shoe and the shoe cover; at this point, the cover was simply holding the snow against my shoe! This sort of defeats the purpose of keeping my feet warm, although my wool socks kept me from getting too cold.

Taking a break (my bike got tired … yeah, that’s it!)

The climbs kept coming. We must have done five of these power line climbs, each about 100 feet of climbing. Some were so steep we had to walk, even downhill, to prevent our wheels from washing out. Some were able to ride more than others; I was sliding all over the trail, especially in the last downhill. My front wheel simply wouldn’t hold a line no matter how hard I tried.

Another rocky climb

Rolling hills

Hike-a-bike … downhill. From the Hubbard gallery

Apparently, we tooka bail-out route that cut one one more of these climbs, and headed back to the road. The last 3 miles or so were on roads, and the ride ended with a 200-foot climb back to The Barn.

After the ride, most people hung out and headed into The Barn, where they had some amazing meatball sandwiches and beef stew waiting. They had bathrooms, great food, even beer and coffee. I went for some coffee and ate a sandwich, and some stew. It was a fantastic way to warm up after the ride. It is truly awesome that they have this clubhouse of sorts where everyone can just hang out after the rides — and apparently they always have something delicious to eat. I also learned what a huge network of trails they have, which they built themselves. I only saw a very small portion of the trails. Very impressive!

Whiteboard trail map

I really enjoyed this ride, and I hope to ride with the Hubbard Bike Club again. Unfortunately, their main rides are on Thursday nights, which isn’t really doable for me. I hope they will have some weekend rides; if they do, I’ll try to go.

Harvey’s Lake

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Note: I have fallen way behind in my blog posts. I started this post sometime last week, about my ride Sunday 11/23. Between Thanksgiving, riding, and a hike, I have not had time to document my exploits. Hopefully, I can catch up soon.

I planned to ride to Harvey’s Lake, ride around the lake, and ride home. This would be a total of about 35 miles, which I figured was plenty given the increased effort required for riding in the mountains, and the fact that it was about 30 degrees. I figured I could do this ride in about 2 1/2 hours.

Boy, was I off target! I severely underestimated the amount of climbing I’d encounter — over 2800 feet, in what ended up being 27 miles of riding. This was my slowest road ride in a long time; never before have I ridden 27 miles and been gone nearly 3 hours.

I headed out a little behind schedule, and grabbed a light on my way out the door. I used my new GPS to navigate this route. I’ll probably do a full post on the GPS’s capabilities later; suffice it to say that it worked quite well. Here is a Google map with the route. Click on the map pins, each one is a photo. You can zoom and navigate the map, and see each photo associated with its location on the map.

View Larger Map

The ride started on familiar territory: I took the Back Mountain Trail to Trucksville, then rode on some new roads. I saw some interesting plants with red buds on them along the way. Maybe someone can help me identify these.

Red buds

Bud closeup

The trail is about 2 1/2 miles of gradual climbing, in this direction. But I was far from finished climbing. For quite a while, all I did was climb. It was slow going, but I have learned not to attack the climbs too vigorously; I have to pace myself.

Oak Street in Trucksville

Sutton Road

Scenery alongside Sutton Road

As I rode ever so slowly uphill on Sutton Road, I saw probably 10 deer cross the road and graze on a lawn by a bend in the road ahead of me. By the time I approached they had been watching me come their way for a few minutes, and they ran off into the woods. I hoped for a better glimpse of them, but I was moving slowly to begin with, and the road got a lot steeper once I reached the bend.

Curve in the road, with some deer toward the top of the photo (not really visible)

I made it past that steep climb, expecting some respite, but I didn’t get it. The grade let up a bit, but it felt like I had been climbing for ages at this point; in fact, looking back on it, the first seven miles of this ride were almost entirely climbing. It’s a mostly-gradual way to climb about 600 feet, but it wore me down quite a bit. Eventually I did get to ride downhill, briefly, then back up. I went through a few rolling hills, which were a welcome change from the constant climbing.

Finally, about to go downhill, momentarily

Before long I reached Huntsville, and rode by the very beautiful Huntsville Reservoir. It’s a very interesting lake, shaped like a bit like an oak leaf, with several inlets branching off in different directions. The road follows edge of the lake for a while, and it’s a lovely ride.

Huntsville Reservoir

Looking back, whence I came

Riding on lake’s edge

Mansion by Huntsville Reservoir

Another view of the lake, with several inlets visible

GPS and bicycle computer

Somewhere between Huntsville and Idetown, I saw some pretty scenes, the first a view from near a golf course, the second a cool old barn.

Idetown-Huntsville Road panorama
Idetown-Huntsville Road panorama


Eventually, after some more significant climbing, I reached PA Route 415, which would take me to Harvey’s Lake. I had some great views of layered mountains and a blistering descent for about a mile that had tears streaming from my eyes from the blast of cold air.

Descending on PA Route 415

When I reached the bottom of the hill (still at 1200 feet!) I was at Harvey’s Lake. I had planned to ride around the lake, but it was already nearly 4:00, and I knew I’d run out of light if I did so. I did stop to rest by the lake and look around a bit. As I took some photos, another cyclist rode up and started loading her bicycle in her minivan. I assume she drove to the lake, then rode around it. I was pleased to see another cyclist, since I have seen so few around here.

The Trucker by Harvey’s Lake

Harvey’s Lake Panorama




The lake was beautiful, and I wished I had time to ride around it. Alas, I had to head back. I was unsure how my GPS would handle my skipping part of the route, but once I headed back toward home, it simply continued to navigate from my current position. Nice. I had a big climb up Carpenter Road. It wasn’t overly steep at any time, but it was slow going. I stopped to look back at a couple of points during the climb — the view just kept getting better.

Climbing Carpenter Road

View of Harvey’s Lake, looking back a little bit into the climb

The view, looking back from near the top of the hill

At the top of the hill was the highest elevation of the whole ride, 1514 feet, and Sgarlat Lake, which appeared to be on private property. Part of the lake was frozen over, and there was a thin layer of snow on top of the ice, so there was a strange white band across the lake. Interestingly, TopoFusion lists this as Scarlat Lake, while Google Maps doesn’t have a label for the lake, but lists the road by the lake as Scarlet Lake. I wonder what’s up with the discrepancy.

Sgarlat Lake

A bit of snow lined the road as I started the descent on the other side of the hill. While the first half of this ride was mostly climbing, the second half was mostly downhill. I sure enjoyed the easy riding for a while. There were a few climbs, but nothing too difficult.

I found Stredney Road, a gravel road I’d like to explore sometime. In fact TopoFusion shows Harvey Lookout Tower on Chestnut Ridge; I should find out of there’s a way to get to it. There’s no obvious access point in either Google Maps or TopoFusion.

Snow-lined road

Stredney Road

Easy Riding

Farm scene

Descending toward Dallas, PA

St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Cemetery

More great downhill

Misericordia University

Church and cemetery

At some point I got turned around. I failed to follow the GPS properly, but I could tell I was headed in the right basic direction, just parallel to the road I was supposed to be on. I kept going and gradually worked my way back over. And it was getting fairly dark, but I had lights. No worries. I was getting a bit chilly as the sun set, but I knew I wouldn’t be out too much longer.

Dusk scene

Steep downhill

Soon I made my way back to the Back Mountain Trail. From here, it was a routine ride. It was good to be back on familiar ground, now that it was almost completely dark.

Back Mountain Trail

Car on 309, taken from the Back Mountain Trail

Back in town, and getting darker still

I couldn’t believe this ride was only 27 miles; it felt a lot longer, and I was gone for over 2 1/2 hours. I had guessed I would be able to complete the entire ride, including the loop around Harvey’s Lake, in about that time. I’m still not used to what these mountains do to my ride times. On the other hand, I was in no hurry; I just wish I could have ridden a bit further (even if my legs begged to differ, with all that climbing).

Skyline Trail and Boulder Field at Hickory Run State Park

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Sarah and I did some more hiking at Hickory Run State Park on Sunday. We hiked the Skyline Trail (a 3.4-mile loop), and afterwards went to see the Boulder Field, which is like a lake, only with rocks instead of water.

The forecast called for some possible drizzle, and as we ate lunch in the valley before heading to the park, it did rain a bit. But once we started hiking, rather than rain, a few flurries were falling. It was chilly and quite windy, with gusts hitting 30+ mph. The hike started by following the Fireline Trail, which we’ve hiked part of before.

Fireline Trail

After a short time on that very wide trail, we turned onto the Skyline Trail, which is much narrower. We immediately started seeing some interesting plants that I would like to identify. If anyone knows what these are, please let me know. I have a wildflower book that’d probably tell me, but it’s still packed somewhere. I noticed when my hiking staff accidentally hit one of the plants that a cloud of white dust emanated from the plant. I’m assuming this was some kind of pollen.

Unidentified plant

The trail was moderately rocky for a while, but it was clear that for this trail, they had at least attempted to clear a path for walking (unlike Saturday’s hike on the Pinchot Trail). Many rocks were cleared to the sides.

Rocks line the trail

One humorous rock

The trail was generally well-marked, which was essential since it crossed other trails at several points. However, one sign had us a bit puzzled and looking at our map and compass.

Not the most helpful sign


Winding trail

We had been hiking across a ridge, and the trail descended a bit before turning to follow the curvature of the land, and climbing for a while. We got glimpses of neighboring mountains through the trees.


Looking through the trees

We climbed higher, and inched closer to the edge of the mountain. The whooshing sound of the Lehigh River rapids below us was constant. The wind blew in strong gusts and now we were exposed. We were glad the wind was blowing us toward the mountain, rather than toward the gorge. At several points we could clearly see the Lehigh Gorge Trail, where I rode my bicycle just a few weeks ago.

Getting closer to the edge

Looking toward the gorge. You can see the Lehigh Gorge Trail, and the river

Sarah by the gorge, looking “gorge-ous,” I must say.


Mistakes could be costly

Another view of the gorge

Sarah again

Eventually, the trail rejoined the Fireline Trail, and we had another view we saw before. The pine trees sure stick out, now that they’re the only thing green.

Lehigh Gorge

We immensely enjoyed the Skyline Trail. It’s not too difficult, but excessively easy, either. It covers a variety of terrain, and it offers some fantasic views of the Lehigh Gorge.

After our hike, we drove to the Boulder Field. It’s a longer drive than I expected on some gravel roads. Just as we arrived, so did some other people, and they immediately walked out onto the rocks, severely limiting our photo potential. Oh well.

Sign explaining the Boulder Field

Boulder field

Looking at the boulder field


It was another fun outing. Hickory Run State Park has a surprising number of trails (23, I believe), with a total length of 45 miles. We hope to hike all of them, eventually.

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