Bike: Tom Joad
In my ears: Crunching gravel, wind
I’d planned this ride-and-hike for awhile, ever since looking at the 30-mile network of trails at King’s Gap Environmental Education Center and the long section of gravel known as Ridge Road and wondering if there was a way to combine them into one really fun day. There was, and it didn’t disappoint. Yeah, the sky was overcast for much of the day, and there was an annoying headwind on the way out. But other than that, it was perfect. Twenty miles to the base of Ridge Road, then another 10 or so as the road climbed along the spine of South Mountain, offering glimpses of the Cumberland Valley through the trees. Most sections of road were in good condition, packed down by the somewhat-frequent car traffic (though I didn’t see anyone else); it’s Pennsylvania, though, so there were of course some minefields of giant-ass stones. I was on my Jamis Renegade with 32c Panaracer GravelKings and they held up great. Doing the climb on 38s or 40s, set up tubeless, would be even better.
The round wound upwards at a steady grade. The sun skirted off behind some clouds and pretty much stayed there. Up on top of the ridge a lot of the forest has been logged. The trees looked thinned-out, even more so than normal before the leaves arrive, and there were rough roads for big trucks veering off into the woods at regular intervals and florescent tags tied to trunks, fluttering in the breeze. I don’t like the way a forest looks when it’s “working” for us humans. It’s just ugly. But I use paper like everyone else, so I can’t really complain.
At the top of Ridge Road I was greeted with a pleasant surprise: the Barrow’s Rocks overlook. Never heard of it before. Judging by its location miles deep into a state forest on gravel roads, not too many others have either. I snapped a few photos and kept going to the Buck Ridge Trail trailhead.
I power-hiked for a couple hours on trails that I had entirely to myself. I’m always amazed how relatively few people take advantage of the incredible free public recreation areas Pennsylvania has to offer. I have no idea why the parking lots aren’t packed, why the trails aren’t swarmed. Yeah, it’s nicer for those of us who do use these spaces. But I wish more people knew the joy of being out in the woods under your own power, hearing birds call and looking down deep into streams so clear the water looks invisible. Is Netflix that alluring? Are family and work duties that all-encompassing? Personally, I don’t think so. Autumn says she has coworkers who have plenty of time but say they just don’t like being outdoors. Just don’t enjoy it. I can’t understand that.
With a tailwind at my back, the ride home was smooth. (That is, after the three-mile gravel descent on Cold Spring Road. Let’s just say that I was praying to non-existent god to not flat, and that when I hit pavement again I silently thanked non-existent god.)
I rolled back eastward, through the towns named for springs, through farmland slowly morphing into developments where everybody gets their four acres and an Audi, under a sky gone dishwater grey. On previous trips, already five hours in, I would have been tempted to just hop on 641 and take the shortest way home. But I’m trying to get more comfortable spending long days outdoors in the elements and inside my own mind, trying to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And I think it’s paying off. I followed the route as planned, which took me on Lisburn all the way into Grantham. (I wondered if the good Christian students there drink and fuck each other like college students everywhere, except in secret and with next-day shame. Or if they actually are Mike Pence-pure, then just get married young and live mildly unhappy lives like our neighbors at our old apartment.) Up Mt. Allen Drive, down Hertzler Road where I used to do intervals before I realized racing bikes is a lot less fun than just riding them. Then the outskirts of Lemoyne, the cemetery, the nice swooping downhill on State Street under the train tracks. A right onto the Market Street Bridge, the Susquehanna sliding past below. City Island, greenbelt, and finally, home.
When I’m olderI know I will treasure the days I spent like this in my youth soaking up the world while I could. Seeing a lot, sweating a little, moving my body in ways it was meant to move. I don’t think any days spent like that are wasted.
Final stats: 64 miles. 4 hours, 26 minutes. 3,500 feet.
https://www.relive.cc/view/1458022096 (part 1)
https://www.relive.cc/view/1458022148 (part 2)