Day 3: Solo.
Monday promised sun and warmth at last. The day before, after Emma made the decision to head home, I continued on and explored until early evening before making camp at Yellowsnake Camping Area. I’d deviated from our original plan and decided to camp closer to where we’d left our cars rather than 30 miles away.
I rode back to the car to drop off my bikepacking gear – it was only a few miles down the road and the temptation to explore unencumbered was strong. I decided to also drive farther down the Quehanna Highway so that I could cover new territory rather than backtracking on roads I’d ridden the day before. I ended up parking at Marion Brooks Natural Area and started my ride by skirting the grove of white birch on a rolling chunky dirt road. It was chilly when I started but was warming quickly, and it wasn’t long before I was stripping layers.
I hadn’t really eaten dinner. I swung by the car on my way to camp to pick up what I’d originally packed and then didn’t take on the bike. Emma and I had each packed a dinner and a breakfast that would be enough for both of us, but since we’d bagged the first night of camping, we didn’t need to take two night’s worth of food. She’d packed the dinner but taken it with her when she left – a big reason why I decided to camp closer to the car. But I didn’t eat it anyway. Oddly enough, I wasn’t hungry after an afternoon of navigating rutted, muddy gravel and dirt. Maybe it was nerves over my first solo overnight in the woods in a long time. I made sure to pack more food than I usually would for a day ride, knowing I was probably already running a caloric deficit. Sure enough, I was hungry within an hour.
I stopped on a rock in the sun to eat, drink and look at the map. I had a rough route planned for the day – drop down the Quehanna Highway towards Benezette, then make a left on Medix Grade Road. Follow the stream, slowly climbing. Take any number of gravel roads back in the direction of the car.
Medix Grade Road was gorgeous, following Medix Run up a gradual incline. I stopped to sit by the water for a few minutes and bask in the sunshine. This is where we were supposed to camp last night. In that moment, I wished that I had. I felt sheepish that I let my jitters get in the way of experiencing this trip in the way that I had originally intended.
I continue on, past construction workers who gaze at me with amusement as they wave me past. As I’m stopped on the side of the road stripping layers, a DCNR forest ranger stops to chat. He warns me to stay off of Caledonia Pike — it’s full of ruts. I learned this lesson yesterday. We wish each other good days and I keep climbing. I see one backpacker. Aside from him, the ranger and the construction workers, those are the only people I see all day.
I keep a steady pace until I reach Shaggers Inn Dam, a shallow water impound that provides wetland habitat and is one of the few nesting locations for Osprey in Pennsylvania. By this time, the air is warm. I sit down for a snack by the water and then lie in the grass, soaking up the late morning sun.
The descent from Shaggers Inn is fast and fun, but sooner rather than later I’m climbing again. In keeping with the leisurely pace of this ride, I stop mid-climb to check out the roadside stream and its mini waterfalls.
Wilson Switch Road seems to go on forever, its rolling hills past hunting camps slowly eating away my energy. I felt fatigued, perhaps from the lack of proper nourishment, perhaps it was just one of those days. Finally, I reached Ginger Whiskey Road.
Ginger Whiskey turned into gated grassy doubletrack through Game Lands, which is the sort of stuff I love riding, but today the soggy grass surface, along with a headwind, were zapping my energy. I put my head down and push on.
By the time I reach the hard road, I’m ready to be there. It’s an easy pedal back to the car. I’m amazed at how little traffic there is on the Quehanna Highway on a Monday compared to Saturday. I’m passed by one car on the entire several-mile stretch.
At the car, I change behind the monument to Marion Brooks in the grove of white birch. It feels good to strip my grungy clothes and put on something clean. It’s time to leave the wilderness.