Tower Road Adventure

Yesterday the missus and I did a bike/hike up Tower Road to where it connects with the Darlington Trail, which runs along a ridgetop through state game land. My prior experience with Tower Road came last summer, when Strava failed to tell me it was less a road and more of a wide dirt path with rocks the size of baby’s heads connected to a hillside of loose gravel at 15% grade. Long story short, I spent an unknown amount of time hiking in road shoes and cursing loudly into the empty, unsympathetic woods as darkness fell.

This time I was more prepared–the plan was to bike up as far as the road was passable, then get off and walk to the trailhead, then go for a hike, then take the long way home with a stop at the Garlic Poet, a restaurant we’ve wanted to try. We approached Tower road from the southeast side. The road was better than I remembered, switching from asphalt to gravel about halfway up. The whole thing is rideable with decent gravel tires, as evidenced by the Strava segment. Autumn was tired and her bike has disappointingly narrow 25mm tires, so we walked most of the way, stupidly pushing our bikes instead of locking them at the bottom.

Looking back we saw the shape of another cyclist working its way up. Slooooowly, like a bug inching its way up a wall. Near the top the shape revealed itself to be an older dude on a hardtail.

“It’s better on the other side,” he said. I translated that to something like Why are you wimps walking your bikes?

“Yeah, we’re just going up to hike,” I stammered. I meant something like I promise, I would be riding, but I’m with my girlfriend. Some things you can’t say out loud.

We left our bikes at the fenced-in radio tower and went in search of the trailhead. The road turned into the boulder-strewn dirt path I had so unfondly remembered. “Decent gravel tires” won’t cut it on this–you’d need something pretty wide and knobby. I might try with cross tires soon, but even with those, I’ll have to take this side slowly. WTB Riddlers or something similar would be better, though a mountain bike would be ideal.

It was peaceful in the forest. The old dude passed us again–somehow he’d gotten behind–but we saw nobody else. There wasn’t much of a view, on account of the tree cover. The mosquitoes were biting and there were big puddles from the thunderstorms we’ve had all week. We walked for thirty, forty-five minutes before we hit the intersection with the Darlington Trail. It was further than we thought. We stepped onto it, walked maybe 50 yards, and looked at each other.

“Want to turn around?”
“Yup.”

Once again, I realized that it’s about getting there. That’s the fun part. The journey is itself the destination.

Back to the bikes, back down the gravel road. Walking downhill is hard on the knees; doing it with a 25-pound bike pulling you towards the Earth’s core is harder. Lesson learned.

Autumn was a trooper, and made it another ten miles through suburban sprawl and rolling cornfields to our restaurant destination. The vegan entree options were present but lacking a little in the calorie department; chalk it up as a step in the right direction for south central Pennsylvania. Tired and not really nourished, we rode home under an early evening sky the color of battleships. Somehow the greens are sharper on cloudy days, the forests more lush and magical-looking. Through New Cumberland on Bridge Street, then Lemoyne, then home along the greenbelt. We were fast asleep by the time the rain started falling.