October 14th and 15th Marty’s Bikepack Recap:
Last weekend, over 20 riders outfitted their bikes with bags, tents, and gear to adventure their way from Marty’s Reliable Cycle in Hackettstown to Stokes State Forest. We took a 36 mile route following the Sussex Branch Railtrail, gravel, and backroads to reach our group campsite in the woods of Northwest New Jersey.
We gathered at the shop Saturday morning, and spent way more time than we should have comparing gear setups on the diverse array of bikes everyone had chosen: the new Trek 1120, gravel, cyclocross, fatbikes, 29er’s, and disc road bikes – the whole spectrum from 5″ to 1″ tires! Some of us packed panniers on rear racks, while other riders set up their bikes rack-free with front handlebar roll bags, framepacks, and saddle-mounted dry bags and even a trailer.
The dirt road bypass of Waterloo Valley took us through Stephens State Park out of Hackettstown and onto the start of the Sussex Branch railtrail. Unlike the smoother paved trails like Columbia or the D&R Canal, the Sussex Branch threw a mix of dirt, gravel, chunkier gravel, mud, cinder, and hidden roots at the intrepid bikepackers. There was some stopping and adjusting of gear after some of the rougher spots. But some diverse terrain was no match for what amounted to a rolling party on bikes! Passing through forest, fields, and bogs we made decent time despite an unplanned stop at Angry Erik’s Brewing in Lafayette at noon (luckily they had just opened), and everyone enjoyed some Viking style refreshments.
After the Sussex Branch railtrail winds its way past Kittatinny State Park, Warbasse Junction, and Augusta Valley it ends somewhat unceremoniously in Branchville, NJ. The roads got a bit hilly around Culver Lake and the long woods road into Stokes, so we all arrived at different times and started wrangling gear off of bikes and into our sleeping areas for the night.
My dad met us at the campsite and had set up a pretty awesome fire in which a lot of marshmallows were melted. Jesse, his brother Jonathan, and Jesse’s kids had also met us there and we all had a great time sharing stories about bikes, bears, and everything else you talk about under a sky filled with millions of stars on a perfect October night. Experienced Tour Divide rider and composer Payton Mcdonald even gave an amazing performance of bike-based percussion!
The next morning we all made various types of oatmeal (only the Boy Scouts in the next camp over had thought to bring bacon) and had a leisurely time packing up our slightly damp gear. A porcupine had made a midnight visit to gnaw a little hole in a mountain bike tire sidewall (true story), but we patched it right up with some Bikepacker’s Mac and Cheese wrapper and headed out.
The forecast did a 180 and went from 78, dry and sunny to 78, misty and very humid. The group split up into who was getting coffee where en route, and we all made our way up the woods road and back around the scenic descent to Branchville.
Jesse rode a Trek Conduit ebike with Jonah and Julianna on a Weehoo pedal trailer, and Jonathan captained a tandem with Jesse’s daughter Jodie on the back! The kids had a blast on the return route, checking a lot of wildlife, waterfalls, and rocks off of their list of Cool Things to See alongside the trail. The weather remained warm and overcast, but we didn’t have to contend with any rain and made quick time retracing our path back to Hackettstown.
Our adventure was soon over and the reality of Monday starting to set in, but we couldn’t have a had a more fun and successful bikepacking weekend. We’re looking forward to many more, and hope you can join us for the next expedition!