Bikepacking Rothrock State Forest & Big Valley.

Though I don’t do it nearly as often as I’d like, every time I leave on a bicycle with everything I’ll need to spend the night packed in my panniers, I just have this good feeling of excitement and adventure and utter peace all at once. A couple weekends ago, I went on my first bikepacking trip in nearly two years with a group of friends. We didn’t go far—just up into the State Forest close to home, and back the long way through the next valley and over the mountain—but it was an experience that’s left me jonesing for more, and I reminded me how much I love to travel by bicycle. Though I ride all the time, it’s somehow a different experience and vibe when you’re going for an overnight. It’s very freeing, to have all that you need on your bicycle, and nothing you don’t need (well, sometimes I still pack things I don’t need, because I’m still a bikepacking rookie, but you get the point). We left after work on Saturday from our house, and after a short warm-up stopped for dinner at a local grocery and sandwich shop. Since we were leaving rather late, we decided to save time by just eating on the way to the campsite rather than hauling extra food for dinner. A burger and root beer later, we were on our way again, pedaling along with the sunset as a backdrop. IMG_3448 IMG_1643 IMG_1642 IMG_1653 IMG_1676 We rode without lights most of the way, even when it grew dark. It was a little-traveled route, and with eyes adjusted to the dim light, we could see just enough to stay on the road. It was a bigger climb than I remembered to Penn Roosevelt State Park, but it went quickly, and before I knew it, we were choosing a site and setting up camp. We spread out our tarps and sleeping bags and hammocks, and built a fire. We stood around its warmth for a couple hours as the temperature dipped, then crawled into our respective cocoons for the night. IMG_3500 IMG_3481 IMG_3504 IMG_3514 IMG_1682   IMG_3520 Morning brought another beautiful day. The sun shone through the pines as we pedaled our way out of Rothrock State Forest along the gravel roads leading out Coopers Gap to Big Valley. The roads had just been re-graveled, so the surface was loose and washy, making for a sketchy descent, especially with extra weight on the rear of the bikes from all our gear. In Big Valley, we hopped onto Back Mountain Road, which would take us south until we reached Allensville Road, our route back over the mountain to our house, where we had begun the day before. The valley was warm, as it had been heating up in the sun for hours while the other side of the mountain was still cloaked in shadow. We quickly noticed peculiar ruts in the middle of the road, formed by the hooves of the horses belonging to the many Amish who reside here and travel throughout the area. IMG_3521 rutted IMG_1742 IMG_1745 IMG_1728 We spread out a lot, and for much of the morning, I was mostly pedaling alone. Every now and then someone would catch up with me, or I would catch up with someone else, or the whole group would stop at an intersection for a quick snack break, but it was a lot of just me and the farms and the big blue sky. IMG_3526 IMG_3539 The weekend was warm, and it seemed like overnight, flowers began to bloom and trees began to sprout small, light green leaves. The green that everything seems to be this time of year is my favorite color, perhaps because it reminds me of new life and the emergence from the cold depths of winter, which seems to be welcomed more and more every year. IMG_3567 IMG_3562 IMG_3570 IMG_3576 IMG_1790 IMG_3581 We found a spigot in Allensville, where we filled up on water before the long climb ahead. I hadn’t ever biked up the mountain from this side, but I’d done it plenty of times coming from the other direction, and I knew it would be brutal, especially laden with panniers full of gear. But it turned out to be easier than I thought. Not “easy,” but I didn’t stop or walk the bike, two things I thought for sure I’d be doing. I was pleasantly surprised at myself. IMG_1796 IMG_1795 IMG_3590 IMG_3591 At the top, Evan, Jake, and Caleb cheered me on. I sat down on the side of the road and joined them to wait for the next rider. When we all had made it, we walked out to the hawkwatch platform and hung out for a while before descending the mountain into Martin Gap. These roads had been re-graveled too, and my hands began to hurt from gripping the brakes so much and holding onto the bike as I tried to control it on the washy surface. I released the brakes for a few seconds, to give my hands a rest, and it was then that I hit an extra deep patch of gravel and went down. I slid on the gravel for a few feet. I got up to get myself off the middle of the road, and everything hurt. My arm and knee were bloody, and I was covered in dust, but aside from surface injuries I was fine. I continued riding out after taking a minute to catch my breath and let the initial shock and pain wear off. Luckily, we were almost home. IMG_3605 IMG_3606 IMG_1817 IMG_1826 In our driveway, we said our goodbyes and I headed up to the house to clean my wounds. It had been a great weekend, and we had been gone less than 24 hours. And yet, we still packed a lot in and had plenty of fun. We need to do this more often.

3 Replies to “Bikepacking Rothrock State Forest & Big Valley.”

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