Our friends, Graydon Kolk and Alex Tsang hit the gravel roads of Pennsylvania this summer on a Surly Straggler and Gunnar Crosshairs, respectively.
Graydon shares their notes from the road. We hope they will inspire you to go on a bike adventure!
I’ve been exploring the roads and trails in the Poconos around Hawley and Honesdale for the past few years now, and have found some truly remarkable riding. My in-laws have a house up there and we escape to it as often as possible in the summer. On one ride you can link up gravel roads around lakes, meandering roads through farmland and beautiful climbs and descents through deep woods.
Once, while stopping for coffee in Honesdale, one of the servers told me about a local century ride called the Maple City Century. I was happy to see the routes were posted on the website and got to work testing out portions of it. The ride organizer linked up some of the most remote and beautiful gravel roads in the surrounding area and though the organized ride looks like fun, I was eager to do the route unsupported and with friends instead.
My good friend Alex and I put a date on the calendar, picked out our gear and set out to PA on a Friday night, planning to spend Saturday riding the century route. Like any adventure, things rarely go as planned. Saturday started rainy with severe thunderstorms in the forecast for Saturday, so at the last minute we decided to improvise: we’d do some cross trails nearby, save the long ride for Sunday, but do a modified version of it because we needed to get back to NYC.
There was a nearby nature preserve that I’d always wanted to check out, Dick and Nancy Eales Preserve. It has a cool looking network of trails, so on Saturday we headed over to check it out. We quickly realized our cross bikes (my Surly Straggler and Alex’s Gunnar Crosshairs) were woefully ill-equipped for some of the more technical single track, but that didn’t stop us from having a great time!
There were torrential down pours and we spent a good deal of time off the bike, hiking over rock gardens and steep run-ups, but neither of us could wipe the smiles off of our faces. Dick and Nancy’s Preserve is located on a hilltop, has great views and kind of feels like you’re riding around parts of Maine or Canada; super wild and rocky with a diverse mix of terrain and plant-life. After our ride we picked up BBQ from Kundlas (the legendary local BBQ spot) and packed in the calories in anticipation of the next day’s ride.
Seeing as we couldn’t do the full 100 miles on Sunday, I planned for us to do a 60 mile portion of the route. We set out early and by mile 3 we were already off the main roads on on to some of my favorite gravel roads. Cycling in this part of Pennsylvania is beautiful but tiring. Lots of short extremely steep punchy climbs and technical descents. The first 13 or so miles are gravel roads through woods and around lakes, then to farm roads and then back to gravel. My Surly Straggler was the perfect tool for the job. Comfortable and confident on gravel and responsive enough to climb well. Alex had borrowed his wife’s Gunnar and was having a great time finally enjoying all of the perks a gravel bike has to offer.
By mile 30 we reached the Delaware and continued along the road that parallels it. Soon Alex and I noticed that the barking behind us was getting closer. When we turned around to look we saw a rather large German Shepherd charging towards us. Alex and I picked up the pace and the dog was still gaining on us. Soon I ran out of gears and we were both at a flat out sprint! Fortunately our furry friend gave up the chase and Alex and I used that extra adrenaline to put some miles behind us.
The gravel road turned narrow, then turned into dirt, then to a technical double track with the Delaware about 200 feet below us to our left and a hillside to our right. Awesome views were made a little more sobering with the prospect of choosing a bad line and ending up falling a long way down to the river. At a certain point we had a waterfall crossing our path and had to dismount and pick our way across carefully.
By the time our dirt trail running along the river finally hit a main road we were pretty beat.
We stopped to check the route and I noticed a little road on Google Maps that seemed to be a nice little shortcut. I figured, if it’s on Google Maps, it should be rideable, right? I couldn’t have been more wrong. We struck out for the road and were greeted by a long brutal gravel road climb. Tires were spinning under the gravel and we were redlining. The road kept climbing and little by little started to deteriorate. Eventually we had get off our bikes and push them up what was pretty much a dry-ish rocky creek bed heading up the hill. This was no longer a bike ride, it was a “bike push.” As our “road” turned more into a technical hiking trail I looked at Alexand said “Should we go back?”
“We’ve come this far,” he replied, “let's just get to the other side.”
After a few more miles of bushwhacking we finally stumbled onto a gravel road! Muddy and exhausted we pressed on trying to make up the lost time from my “shortcut.” Eventually we hit one of the main roads in the area and came upon a tiny gas station. We grabbed Cokes and dug into our snack and settled down for a much needed rest. Once again we reassessed the route and decided on a paved main road that we could take to hammer it back to town.
Even though we abandoned the gravel we were still greeted with awesome views and long rolling downhills (which are hard to come by in this part of the Poconos) that allowed us to cruise back into town. Nothing like bombing hills at 43mph after miles and miles of slowly grinding it out on gravel climbs! We got back to our car muddy tired and thoroughly satisfied with our adventure. We got back to my in-laws house and devoured homemade quiches made by Alex’s wife, and drank beer. No better way to end a ride if you ask me.
We had a plan for the weekend that turned into something else and I wouldn’t have it another way. We saw beautiful roads and scenery, pushed ourselves to the limit, ate really good food and turned misfortune into adventure. Looking forward to the next one!
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