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Archive for the 'Spring' Category

A new kind of terrain

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Last weekend, I decided to try a different kind of mixed-terrain ride. I threw the Long Haul Trucker on the back of the car and drove to Lackawanna State Forest. I hiked there back in November with The Blasphemous Bicycler, and we had commented at that time that although no bikes are allowed on the main trail, the gravel roads looked like they’d make for some great riding. I’m glad I finally got around to riding there. I planned a route using Google Maps and some other maps, taking what appeared to be gravel and paved roads through the state forest and the neighboring State Game Lands 135. Here’s a map of the route.

View Larger Map

I started by parking at the main trailhead for the Pinchot Trail. From here I rode on a paved road briefly until I reached Pittston Road, a beautiful, quiet gravel road through the forest.

The Trucker, ready to go

Pittston Road

The vegetation was a bit sparse, and the terrain was rocky, but the gravel road was insanely smooth. It was very pleasant riding. And although I knew I had some climbing to do, it was very gradual and easy.

Rocky terrain

Gnarly tree

The gravel roads had gates — some were open, some closed. I rode right around the closed ones. I saw some other roads and a snowmobile trail and was tempted to explore them, but I left them for another trip and stuck to my route. After some more gradual climbing and some rolling hills, I reached Pine Hill Road, the road to the overlook. It was steeper, but still ridable. I’m really quite surprised at how easy the climbing was overall. I climbed over 250 feet but hardly even noticed until the steep section at the end.

Rolling hills

Steeper climbing

I reached the observation tower, parked my bike, and climbed the dilapidated steps to the top. Some hikers were there, enjoying the view and resting. I talked to them for a few minutes, snapped a few photos, and went back to my bike to ride back down. The view (despite being panoramic) was pretty, but not spectacular. I was at one of the highest points in the area, at about 2270 feet. Very little was taller, and the relief at this higher elevation is less extreme. In effect, this higher-elevation area is flatter than where I normally ride.

Part of the view

Looking the other way


My bicycle

Riding through the cul-de-sac


On the way down, I enjoyed the fruit of my labor in the form of a fun, fast descent. Traction was good once I got back to the smooth gravel road, and I enjoyed a few minutes of effortless riding.

Starting the descent

But that didn’t last long. I turned onto Sassafras Hill Road, and began climbing again for a while. This climb was shorter than before, but just as pretty, and featured some more sparse vegetation. Occassional rhododendron thickets and stands of pines punctuated the otherwise-bleak landscape with some lovely shades of green.

Sassafras Hill Road

Sparse vegetation


An open(ish) field lies to the left

Sign of life

I began what I knew would be a long descent, and I was looking forward to it. However, what I didn’t know was that the road surface was about to degrade rapidly. Suddenly, the road changed from smooth gravel to a very bumpy, rocky surface. I’m not sure why the transition was so abrupt. but it was. Suddenly instead of coasting along on a smooth road, I was doing bunny hops and trying to avoid rocks and even a few dropoffs. The Trucker handled all of it admirably, but I was a little worried.

Rough road


After about a mile of this, I reached State Game Lands 135. I found the road I was supposed to take and realized I’d discovered a whole new type of terrain: it was a grass road. Now, I have ridden on many different types of terrain: paved roads, dirt roads, gravel roads, singletrack and doubletrack trails, fire roads, maintenance roads, logging roads, etc. But this is the first time I’ve ever encountered a grass road.

Grass road

A closeup of the road surface

There were some ups and downs, and really all of it was difficult riding. The grass slowed me down a lot, and some sections were muddy as well. I was constantly riding on different parts of the road, trying to avoid the mud. Otherwise, I’d sink in and get slowed down even more.



The road again

I came to a swampy clearing with a very nice view of a creek, and looked across the meadow just in time to see a couple of deer run by. It was a very picturesque setting, although I couldn’t help but think about the fact that this land is set aside primarily for the purpose of hunting.

Nonetheless, the theme of the day was quiet. I had only seen a few people throughout this whole ride, the rest of the time had been quiet solitude. Just as I had hoped.


The Trucker by the grass road

Despite the fact that I had another long stretch of downhill riding, it was quite tiring. I was pedaling hard just to keep moving. The grass was a real hindrance. I can’t imagine what it must be like in the summer. I passed another grass road that could be interesting to explore in the future. Eventually, I reached another rough gravel road, and soon after that, pavement.

My tire track in the muddy, rough gravel


Riding on the paved road after all that gravel and grass felt smooth and effortless. I even got to ride a couple more mostly-downhill miles, so I got to enjoy the smooth road. It was pretty, and traffic was very light.

Another creek



Toward the end of the paved roads, I did a little climbing, but it wasn’t bad. Next I turned onto the gravel Tannery Road, which turned out to be more uber-smooth gravel, and a lovely ride. A few spots still had snow and ice in the woods. Spring sure is taking its time getting here.

Tannery Road

I was mostly climbing the whole time I was on Tannery Road, but once again, it was a very pleasant gradual climb.


Gradual climbing

The Long Haul Trucker, surrounded by rhododendron

Last section of Tannery Road

After some very lovely riding, I reached the paved road again and headed back to the car. I only rode a bit over 17 miles, but I was out riding for nearly three hours. Of course, I stopped at the overlook, and I stopped frequently for photos. This ride had a great combination of leisurely and challenging riding, and there is plenty more to explore in this area.

Limestone Tour

Monday, May 19th, 2008

This weekend Chris and I did the “Limestone Tour” ride. I did this once last year and while it’s only a bit more than 40 miles, it’s a brutal ride. I tend to forget how many big hills there are out on the west side of town. They can be relentless at times. I gave some background on this route last time I rode it.

We lucked out and had a gorgeous day for riding, in the mid-60s and sunny, but blustery. Getting started was a little rough, as I took a wrong turn on the way out of town that added a few miles to our ride, on a high-traffic road. But before long we were headed out of town and the scenery gets pretty really quickly once you cross State Road 37.

Hill by Bachelor Middle School

Countryside on Victor Pike

Right away, we were treated to a couple of great downhill runs on Victor Pike. The one pictured below turns off to the left at the bottom. I think I hit 38 mph on this hill, and we were riding into the wind.

Big descent on Victor Pike. If you view this large you can see several cyclists coming from the other direction.


One of many huge houses in the area

Even though there are some great descents, you pay for them with a couple of hard climbs on the way up to the Victor Oolitic Stone Company.

Victor Oolitic Stone Company

Nearing the top of the second big climb on Victor Pike

An attempt to show the scale of what we’d just climbed. I’m not sure it worked too well.

I was looking forward to taking a break at the top of the hill and enjoying the view from the spot behind some rocks that I found on a previous ride (see here). Unfortunately, they’ve really tighted up security and put in a fence preventing access to this area.

Industry meets nature

Rockport Road descent (we went the other way)

After a little more climbing, we were on flat ground for a couple of miles and then enjoyed another great ride down a big hill. We soon paid for it and made the climb up Breeden Road. This is one long climb, it really seems to go on forever.

Farm in the hills

Barns and silos

After meandering through the countryside for quite a few miles, we found ourselves on Rockport Road, which is, as Chris put it, “like a huge roller coaster.” We started by going down a huge hill, but were able to carry our momentum through several rolling hills after that, each with its own fun descent on the other side. In some places the road is fairly straight but sometimes there are turns at the bottoms of the hills, and it is quite a ride indeed. It’s also very tiring. Even though you can make good use of your momentum, it still amounts to a lot of climbing.

Independent Limestone Quarry


Somewhere along the line, I lost my map of this route. I’ll have to get another copy, or make my own. I have a pretty good idea where the turns are now.

This was a really fun ride. We didn’t break any speed records, but we rode on some great hills and had some excellent conversations along the way. By the end of the ride we’d gone 42.5 miles.


Friday, May 16th, 2008

My ride home last night was wild. I rode to work despite rain in the forecast, as I often do. I got two offers from coworkers to for a ride home, which I appreciated, but politely declined. I don’t mind getting wet. I soon discovered that it was raining harder than I expected. It was really rather ridiculous. By the time I was 100 yards from the office, my pants were soaked and sticking to my legs. I was pelted with huge rain drops which stung as they hit my face. I felt alternating resistance as I passed over wet pavement and through deep puddles, watching the water part as my wheel cut through it, leaving a wake. I rode by a storm drain, but it was so full that water was flowing out of the drain and onto the road. Drainage ditches were saturated and full, gushing audibly.  The bike path had a stream running over it.

I wasn’t expecting such a thorough soaking, and even though it was a bit chilly, it felt good. There’s nothing like a cleansing rain — it’s both refreshing and humbling. My shoes sloshed when I got off the bike and started walking. I was saturated.

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