After this spring and summer I was approaching the point where I thought I’d never actually get out to do a bike camping trip again. It’s been over 2 years since the last one and something always got in the way when I’d start thinking about doing another. I set aside 1 week of vacation a few months back while waiting for my leg to heal and decided sometime around last Monday that I was going to kick it off with a day or so on a bike loaded up with junk. Even though I knew what I was doing for over a week it still was one of those trips that came together at the last minute. I was so busy with work that planning was non-existent. All I had rolling around in my head was a vague idea to ride up the Central trail, jog over to Codorus State Park using some of Bob’s old roads metric route that I still had loaded in my gps unit from June and spend the night under the stars.
Saturday morning rolled around and I still had 3 or 4 non-bike things to do. By the time I started pulling my old gear lists and packing up the bike it was 10:30 and an hour past when I wanted to leave in the first place. Then came the sorting, then came the packing, then came the culling of stuff so that I could fit it all on the bike in the bags I had attached (e.g. left the MSR stove at home in lieu of the Esbit). 12 came and went. Finally by 1 I’d had some lunch and was ready to rock.
Part of the joy of approaching the trip this way is not having the time to over-think things.When trying to decide what bike to ride I had 2 clear favorites. First up, I could swap out the skinny tires on the trucker for my old marathon crosses and ride that. Sure, stable, and I’ve been out on it loaded down many times before so I knew exactly what to expect. Next up was Pugsley which I had a strange attraction to even though:
- I’d never ridden it for more than 45 miles in a day, and that was flat rail-trail.
- never ridden any distance loaded down,
- has fenders that I’m still futzing with,
- has a brand new saddle and grips which I’ve not ridden for >5 miles.
- The pedals are brand new grip kings – which I’m familiar with – but haven’t given my obligatory ‘burn-in’ period to check for warranty defects before taking on a long distance trip.
- I have no spare tube for and no tube could be procured for outside of mail order which means that any tire wound that couldn’t be patched with my small kit would be catastrophic to the trip.
For some strange reason my sensibilities left me and I decided to grab the snowbeast rather than doing a simple tire change. Not something I regret, but it was a decision that was pre-loaded with some challenges. Leaving Baltimore went smoothly but I was reminded early on that Pugsley is not a bike that likes to be told to do things — namely hills. I was fast enough riding north, but I was behind schedule. I only made one quick stop in Cockeysville but still didn’t make it to New Freedom until about 5 pm. I stopped at this little pizza place along the trail and had THE BEST chicken parmesan sub from recent memory. The day had turned out to be much cooler than I’d expected and a hot sandwich was just the thing after riding through the trail along the valley for 2 hours. While I ate, I started to question my clothing choices and just about everything else. Too late. I’m out here now.
Back on the trail — now it was time for the portion of the route that I had no clue about. With nothing more than a track loaded into the gps, I set off to ride in reverse the last 15-16 miles of Bob’s Old Roads Metric route up towards the park. This could best be summed up with the phrase “bad timing on a great idea”. I started to be truly amazed at myself for the number of things I’d left to chance. “When is sunset today?” I didn’t even have a good approximation for that simple question. 20 minutes north of New Freedom, I started zig-zagging my way up and down hills on back roads when I really should have been chugging it straight up main routes. Riding Pugsley is sort of like the experience of riding the trucker on rando rides squared. I wanted to bomb down the hills and keep my momentum for the next roller, but the gravelly dirt roads weren’t having it. Each hill was it’s own fresh mountain to climb even though none of them were more than probably half a mile in length. The granny-granny combo saw its fair share of use and 60 rpm nets me about 3.5 mph. I got off and walked 2 hills just to mix it up a bit since I had been spinning for hours on end (aside: pedaling really does give you a mechanical advantage as I was more winded pushing than riding). Between mapping my route on the phone and cobbling a reverse route together from a line on the gps, I was chasing the sun and losing. The full moon would have helped out in this department a little bit, but it was still hidden behind the clouds. I did see a beautiful sunset over the ridges, but there was no time to screw with the camera. There were a few instances where I saw a tree line and thought about setting up camp by the side of the road.
I finally got to the park way past twilight. Check-in was still open so they told me right where to go. I was glad for that because it would have taken me forever to get my bearings in the dark. Rolling along I saw the “trading post” which was also still open. I had a nice conversation with an older gent for a few minutes while I brought an orange soda and souvenir. I debated getting some firewood and he even offered to drive it out to my site, but I figured by the time I get my tent set up I wasn’t going to want to mess around with fire for a few hours. I was right. All I had time for was eating a clif bar, drinking 16oz of water with a nuun tablet (awful combination with the clif bar btw), checking in with home, massaging my legs to ward off the first twinges of muscle cramps, and finally some of the deepest sleep I’ve had in months.
I was up around 7 in the morning. Seeing the campsite in the daylight – I wished I could have spent more time lounging around the park, but I didn’t want to get behind the 8-ball again so I just reconstituted some dehydrated camp food while I broke down my tent. The esbit stove worked great with 1 tablet bringing 2 cups of water to a slow boil from 50°
My adventurous spirit left me for the return to New Freedom, and I stuck to the main roads. There were a few spiky hills, but nothing too bad. Boy was I glad when I crested the last one and I could see the water tower and other landmarks signalling I’d climbed the last hill before my rest stop. I like getting a little lost in the ‘wilderness’, but am equally appreciative of returning to familiar paths where I know just how far I have to go and how long it should take me to get there. I stopped at the Rutters farm store where I walked around in a daze and just started grabbing things off the shelf left & right. An egg sandwich and 16oz of coffee goes a long way towards improving my outlook on life and I was much more open to stopping for photos and rolling slowly after I’d refueled.
The trail was busy with the beautiful weather and it was a blessing in disguise. I geared down and took my time to be courteous around other trail users — an excellent strategy since I’d need a little gas in the tank for the on-road section at the end. I made one last stop at the Cockeysville 7-11 to fuel up and had a few more conversations with trail users who were stopping in for energy bars before they went out to have their own adventure. It was a nice day and everyone I bumped into along the way was in a relaxed mood. On the final approach to the city there was traffic, but it was equally relaxed and the last 20 miles went off without a hitch. Looking at my gps unit I was literally blown away by my average moving speed. As slow as it was it came with a price and my legs, while recovering nicely, were utterly DESTROYED by the time I got home. I was not curious enough to pull out a bathroom scale and weigh it while fully loaded, but I would not be surprised to be told I was riding 80 or 90 pounds of bike/gear/and water around for 24 hours. I was ever-so-grateful in my decision years ago to buy panniers which were only 28 liters for the set. Heaven only knows how much weight I would have been lugging around if I hadn’t been forced to leave 2/3 of my junk at home…
Full photos in the Flickr Set HERE.
Final word: This was a trip that could have gone wrong in about 100 ways, but everything went perfect and it turned out to be a beautiful day on the bike.