This was written in June 2013, but never posted. I just found it in my drafts and thought it would be timely to share, as I am planning my second around-the-lake ride for next weekend.
Riding a bicycle all the way around Raystown Lake seems like no small feat. To go all the way around is about 70-80 miles—not an epic milage but not just a simple afternoon stroll either.
Evan and I decided to do the around-the-lake ride on one of those now-rare days that we both had off. The morning began leisurely, as a rare morning off should, with the two of us and Jake sitting on the patio of the local coffee shop, sipping the caffeinated elixer and munching on the most delicious chocolate chip cookies. By 11am, we were finally finally ready to roll.
The ride began splendidly, first with a short section of paved road and then a long-yet-comfortable climb up the mountain on a now-closed dirt road. The path dropped to the river below on the left, and was flanked by cliffs on the right, then finally intersected with a wider dirt road that is still open to traffic. The climb continued, but maintained the very gradual grade that allowed us to just settle in and pump the pedals, alternating between sitting and standing. Gaining in elevation, we caught glimpses of Raystown Lake and the dam far below. A brief side excursion on a logging road revealed even better views of the lake amidst recently-chopped trees and the little vegetation that was growing in between tree stumps.
The long climb was rewarded with an equally-long downhill, flying down gravel on skinny tires, feeling like at any minute, maybe you would lose control and fly off the bike.
Our friend Jeff lives along the way (sort of), so we made a stop to see him, along the way noticing a exceptionally-bright box turtle crossing the gravel road that leads to his house. The short-but-kinda-steep climb was enough for us to jokingly remark that he better have some damn good treats for us, which he did—an always-welcomed IPA and the delightful company of himself and his dad.
Continuing along our way after hanging out at Jeff’s for a while, we passed through farm after farm, including a pasture of longhorn cattle, before hitting the gravel John Bum Road, which would lead us towards Trough Creek State Park. It was a pretty stretch, with ferns and lush, green trees lining the road. Gradual climbs, then descents, over and over again.
Suddenly, we were leaving the gravel in favor of a trail—a trail that ended up being rocky and relatively steep in places. I felt pretty badass as I navigated the rocks with drop bars and skinny-ish tires, continually amazed at what this bike could do. There were some sections that I had to walk through, short but steep drops that were so littered with rocks that even Evan chose to get off the bike. The trail ended up in the state park, and we pedaled casually along the winding road paralleling the creek. Looking down at the water, it was hard to believe this is the same place we paddle in the winter and early spring, or after a heavy rainstorm. Now, in the midst of summer, you’d be better off putting your hiking boots on to walk down the riverbed, barely needing to get your feet wet.
After leaving the state park, we took a look at the time and the map, reassessing our plans to ride the whole way around the lake. At this point, we had two options—head all the way south to Saxton, rounding the other end of the lake and thus completing the full, around-the-lake circle, or cut part of it off and go a shorter distance, but rather than sticking to roads, ride more on gravel, trails, and, as I would discover, random farm fields. I chose the latter option, ditching distance and the novelty of riding all the way around Raystown Lake in favor of the opportunity and potential for a more interesting experience.
By the time we hit Hesston, beer:30 had arrived, and I began dreaming of what I would order for dinner after not eating all day. After it was all said and done, it didn’t seem all that hard, but we all know that hindsight can soften the pain. I do know that was one of the further distances I’d ever ridden in a day, even with the shortened route (which ended up being around 60 miles).
Now, nearly a year and a half later, I’m doing it again—next weekend. This time, we have a small group together, and we’ll be going all the way around, including the newly-redone Terrace Mountain Trail. Though I’ve improved greatly as a rider in the time between then and now, I haven’t gotten too many long rides in. Just more frequent rides. Hopefully that’ll be enough to carry me on what I know will be a tough but incredibly fun and satisfying journey around the lake.