Last weekend our group set forth on a bikepacking backroads and railtrail adventure from Hackettstown to Washington Crossing State Park. We had a blast!I was excited to put my recently built up Trek Checkpoint ALR to work as a touring rig, as it already proven an excellent companion on commutes and long dirt road rides. I used a rear rack with Bontrager panniers and some soft bags with sleeping bag and camp pillow attached on top and on the bars. One water bottle cage was swapped out for the Blackburn Outpost Cargo cage to accommodate a big Nalgene bottle for extra water. SKS Raceblade XL clip-on fenders were a super light way to protect against the relentless dust of the trail. On the other end of the spectrum Adam was riding the Checkpoint’s much older cousin, the canti-equipped steel Trek 520, Doug P. was on his custom Rodeo Labs Flaanimal with handbuilt 650 carbon wheels.
We set out at a good clip on the rolling roads out of Hackettstown, finding a nice rhythm as we settled in to the extra weight of the gear. Our first climb out of the Musconetcong Valley brought us up the moderate grade of Hollow Road – the gentler of the many challenging ascents up the Point Mountain ridge. “The easiest way up this hill,” I kept repeating as the switchback led us to a few hundred more feet of steady grade. (I should generally keep most thoughts to myself while climbing). The quick descent down Hickory Run to our first bit of gravel on the Columbia Trail was worth it though! We enjoyed the shady stretch of gravel path to High Bridge and on to Clinton, where a stop for Italian ice led to a stop for a burrito, as one thing tends to lead to another.
After an obligatory photo-op at the Red Mill, we made our way into rural Hunterdon County on the Landsdown Trail. This short railtrail leads out to pleasant rolling backroads and our next gravel section on the Capoolong Creek Trail. Not more than a ribbon of dirt in spots, the trail runs tantalizingly close to nice cool wading spots in the stream, but it was a bit too early in the day to stop for a swim.
Everyone kept mentioning the pointy, menacing looking spike in the elevation map, and indeed a 10% grade was lurking around the turn off of the trail. (Sorry, guys). It was a steady climb in the now-abundant afternoon sun. Once we hit the plateau an incredible network of quiet backroads and gravel wound through the woods and endless farm fields, past covered bridges and historic stone structures. Exactly the kind of terrain that makes for a perfect summer day on a bike.
Eventually we were unceremoniously let out on to the Lambertville Pike, right across from the gem of a bike shop that is Wheelfime Imports. The owner Michael entertained us with his wealth of historical cycling knowledge, as we admired the beauty inherent in the elegant steel frames and Campy-equipped road bikes throughout the shop. Hydraulic disc brakes, Di2, and tubeless gravel tires are some of the most useful innovations of modern cycling, but it’s hard to argue the appeal and classic simplicity of a handmade metal road machine.
We headed downhill into Lambertville and hit the D&R trail. We cruised along the canal to our final turn into Washington’s Crossing State Park, some refreshments at Patriot’s Tavern, and onto our camp for the night. Our site was a nice shaded grove in the woods, surprisingly free of mosquitoes and other unpleasant creatures. We all found a corner of the clearing to set up our tents and hammock, and headed out on our much faster, unburdened bikes to get water a few miles into town…The sign wasn’t kidding when it said “rustic” camping.
A very peaceful nights sleep left us refreshed and ready for another 65+ mile day. Not quite fresh, as there were no showers onsite, but with a high of 85 degrees we were guaranteed to get pretty sweaty again anyway. We cooked oatmeal and made French-press coffee over alcohol stoves and started packing up gear and loading our racks and frame bags and hit the D&R.
We refueled on coffee in Lambertville for the long unbroken stretch of trail ahead. The pleasant morning found us sharing the path with walkers, runners, strollers, kids on bikes, trailers, cyclists on cruisers and hybrids, riders on cross and mountain bikes, and every shape and size of dog with a few territorial flicks of geese along the way. It’s always empowering to see so many people enjoying off-road infrastructure in so many ways, and really validates the efforts invested into railtrail conversions and greenways, even in more rural areas.Mile 23 found us crossing the bridge from Frenchtown, NJ into Pennsylvania onto the D&L canal trail, as the New Jersey side of trailway ends south of Milford near the Curtis Paper Superfund site (insert NJ pollution joke here). I find the PA side of the Delaware Canal Trail an even more pleasant experience than NJ, with more unobstructed views of the river, some covered bridge crossings, and slightly less people. A swath of wildflowers – yellow wild parsnip, white fleabane, and purple milkweed – painted a colorful backdrop against the red rock of the trial and clear blue sky. Another perfect landscape to experience on two wheels.
The heat was beginning to slow us a bit when we got off the trail in Reigelsville and stopped for food and water at the always accommodating Fig Tree Market. Even though we made it in just before closing time, the friendly staff made sandwiches for us and we picked up plenty of cold drinks for the long stretch of rolling backroads into Asbury.The section of roads from Reigelsville to West Portal was scenic, but soon every pastoral field and barn began to blur together as the full heat of the afternoon set in. The day’s total route was only 2200 feet of total elevation gain, but we definitely felt it all in those last 25 miles of steady gain from the Delaware to the Musconetcong River. Finally we hit the last short climb of Watters Road and the home stretch of Rockport back to the shop in Hackettstown for a successful 135 mile total Bikepacking trip.
We couldn’t have asked for a better group of riders, nicer weather, or way to start a summer of cycling – exploring the winding backroads and railtrails under an endless blue sky.