As I emerge into openness, the wind whips across the grassy landscape and burns my cheeks. I’ve been climbing for a while and, as evidenced by the wall ahead, still have a while to go. But behind me, I’m beginning to see the valley far below, proof of my labors.
I’d started from my office in State College an hour or so before, pedaling out of town on the old Bellefonte Central railroad line. It starts as an improved rail trail and turns into a more primitive, yet well-used, corridor that bypasses the mess of suburban roads and sprawling student housing, popping out at the end of a cul-de-sac in the little community of Waddle.
There begins the pre-climb, a casual up-over into Julian before the real haul up the Allegheny Front begins. The road was mostly deserted and as I gained in elevation, it became snow-lined, the fresh, dark pavement and bright yellow and white stripes creating an appealing visual by their contrast.
I coasted down the other side, barely touching the brakes, fought a headwind briefly on Rt. 220, and made my first right turn to start the long climb up to Black Moshannon. It was mostly gradual, with one steep pitch just before the topography leveled off onto the open, windswept bench.
Dug Road was the cap on the ascent, an unimproved dirt road that was currently covered in snow and slush. Every time I tried to stand my rear tire would slide out, so I stayed in the saddle, my cadence a slow grind. I stopped halfway up just to take stock of my surroundings. I’d been on the gas since leaving State College, on a time schedule, hoping to get to Nittany Mountain Works in time to see some of my friends before they left for the day, and not wanting to keep Evan waiting after he was finished up with work.
Behind me, the sun was peeking through the trees, a brief respite from the gray of the day, the gray of almost every day this year. Sun has been in short supply and though I’ve adapted to the overly dim and rainy conditions that have become the norm for 2018, every opportunity to feel sun’s rays is relished. I admire it for a moment. It’s warm and so am I.
By the top of the climb, the sun has disappeared behind clouds again and I pass a group of hunters gathered at their trucks, probably done for the day or maybe just headed out to take advantage of the last couple hours before dark. They turn and stare, myself an interesting sight to them I’m sure, a girl alone in the woods on a polka-dotted bike riding through the snow. To them it’s weird, to me it’s life.
I see more orange figures in the woods as I make my way through the state forest. It occurred to me that I should probably be wearing more orange, or at least not dressed in black head-to-toe save my bright yellow helmet and orange/red buff. A little bit of anxiety courses through my veins and I navigate the gun gauntlet, hoping a deer doesn’t run across my path and result in me getting caught in the crossfire of a hunter eager for his prey.
I make it out of the woods alive, but the most nerve-wracking part of the ride was left to come. I was able to make it most of the way to the workshop outside of Philipsburg on forest roads, but I needed to use Rt. 322 to complete the last couple miles of my journey, which was a terrifying experience of nearly getting blown off the road and passed way too closely by one too many tractor trailers. But I arrived at my destination unscathed, vowing to find a better ending to a perfect ride for next time.