What’s the 4th of July without fireworks, the great outdoors, and some good old fashioned bikecamping?! Nick, Megan and Adam headed out this past weekend to experience Independence Day on the open road – and trail.
I checked the forecast early Saturday morning – large, green masses plodded across the radar screen. But there’s always a few breaks in the rain, right? Maybe. Nick, Adam and I waited in the garage adjusting our gear for half an hour as the rain became more of a shower than any of us would have liked to embark in, until Danny and his friend showed up to make sure we didn’t back out. Since he had ridden all the way from Stroudsburg in the downpour we decided it was now or never. Danny advised us to keep it in the big ring as we rolled out towards Blairstown and the Delaware Water Gap.
As everyone who’s enjoyed a road ride in the rain can attest to, ten miles in will generally find you sweating just as much inside your rain gear as it is wet out, so you begin to accept the squish of cycling shoes and little rivulets streaming through your helmet vents. The rain was also a welcome distraction from our first climb up Millbrook Road. After crossing the Flatbrook and hitting the first section of unpaved Old Mine Road, we stopped for a dry break in the Van Campen Inn and got a free history lesson from the Walpack Historical Society. For a second I felt like a weary traveler along the country’s oldest road in 1750, resting at the inn that sheltered early Americans like John Adams and General Pulsaki, until a vanful of 4th of July partyers showed up to use the Inn’s Port o John. Time to go.
We rode past more old remnants of New Jersey’s “last frontier” as we headed for the Dingman’s Ferry bridge. As we descended the hill from Layton, the sky cleared and the sun finally appeared. It was amazing.
After crossing the wooden bridge into PA, we met the first climb up the Pocono plateau – moss covered Johnny Bee “Road.” Waterfalls plunged off the roadside in the hemlock ravine, but I was preoccupied with keeping my front wheel down on the 20ish% grade. We stopped to adjust the panniers and bags before heading back to hard road and the rolling hills through scenic Delaware State Forest.
Mile 50 found us at Pickerel Lake General Store where we were tempted to get some fresh crayfish but opted instead for peanut-butter filled donuts. We checked the map for the next turn in ten miles off of Route 402 which had often eluded me in the past – an overgrown woods road with a bridge I hoped was still intact. Our Garmin Touring excitedly told us to turn left into a thicket of ferns and multiflora, and after some bushwacking we found the bridge. And some excellent singletrack. And a porcupine that was actually too fast for a picture!
Five miles of trail were one of the highlights of the ride. Taking care to not rip a pannier off in the dense brush, we crossed a few more streams before we hit Promised Land Lake. And pizza at the Promised Land Inn, where we traded bear and eagle sighting stories with the owners, while a local they called Felix set off a whole bunch of fireworks in the road across from the fire station, and debris landed around us on the patio. Happy Independence Day Pennsylvania.
We headed down the lower lake road to our campsite and used the trusty Bontrager Ion light to set up the tent and hammock in the dark. There were a few failed hammock stringing attempts before we really dialed it in. Nick reported that, while comfortable, sleeping off of the ground also feels like you are at the perfect height for a bear nose. Luckily we would have been too tired to notice anyway.
Of course it rained overnight, and we packed up our damp gear that seemed a couple pounds heavier. Most of the morning would be downhill to Canadensis, and it was still cool as we descended for what seemed like an hour. Snow Hill Road was the first climb of the day and I started to feel the combined 35 pounds of bike-and-stuff-strapped-on-to-it when the temperature hit 80 degrees. The roads wound back down through State Forest and endless blueberry and hay fern meadows. Traffic started to pick up as we neared Route 209, and remembered that it was a holiday weekend. Fortunately up the next gravel road climb past Hidden Lake the only traffic we passed was a very surprised looking fox.
Zion Church Road let us out across a field to the McDade Trail that follows the Delaware out to the town of Water Gap.
Here we followed Route 611 along the Kittatinny Ridge, crossing the Appalachian Trail for the second time. A few rolling hills reminded us that our journey wasn’t quite over yet. After 130 miles of adventure, we finally crossed the bridge into Belvidere and followed the old Manunka Chunk railbed home for one last stretch of unpaved freedom.