Marty’s D&R&R Bikepacking Weekend!

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Upper Black Eddy views by Doug Palen

Last weekend our group set forth on a bikepacking backroads and railtrail adventure from Hackettstown to Washington Crossing State Park. We had a blast!


Wheelfine Imports pro stop!

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.

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Columbia Trail stretch by Doug Palen

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.

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JJ Scoops refuel by Doug Palen

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.

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Capoolong Creek Trail by Doug Palen

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.

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An efficient bikepacker’s setup! by Doug Palen

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.

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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.


(almost) endless railtrail

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.

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Crossing the Delaware by Doug Palen

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.


Asbury Valley views

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.


Last hill to Hackettstown!

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.


We Got Stoked! on Bikepacking


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!

Hackettstown Goes Campin’


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.20150704_143436_resized

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.20150704_201502_resized

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.

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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.


Tour de Mountain(s)

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On the first weekend of November, Jay, Patty, Adam and Megan from the Hackettstown store decided to take the usual scenic weekend road ride a little further. OK, a lot further. Why not a 3 day, 190 mile bike tour through the Poconos and Lower Catskills?! I mapped out a route, did some convincing, and we put some slick tires on our cyclocross bikes – Jay bought a fully loaded Jamis Bosanova! – and saddled them up with Bontrager and Thule racks and panniers. The formerly sleek cross racing bikes were transformed into sturdy pack mules, carrying off-the-bike gear, plenty of bars and gels, and enough clothes to prepare for the coldest weekend we’ve had since last winter. 

We started our journey on Saturday, north from the Hackettstown shop (our first climb of the day!!), heading northwest through the incredibly scenic rolling hills of Warren and Sussex county. Well, some of the hills weren’t quite so rolling, with 40 pounds of bike and cargo….But the weather was a balmy mid-50’s, and the riding was just perfect.

We stopped for a few photo ops with the locals. They love Hammer bars.

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Then we rode through historic Old Mine Rd, ran into a few black bear young’ins, and across the river to Milford, PA. We were headed for Lackawaxen, a tiny river town of 120 people on the forested hills of the Delaware. When our friends in Milford heard we were heading up Rt. 6 out of town, the looks on their faces were enough to almost make us rethink our route. Almost.


After what seemed like a 5 mile climb, we leveled out into the back roads of very rural Twin Lakes, and had only one final road to get to our hotel: German Hill Rd! Just like its name, it was one last angry mountain between us and sleep and food. That was the hill that nearly broke us, as I heard Jay cursing my navigational privileges, I may or may not have walked the last pitch. It all gets a little fuzzy…but the next thing I knew we were on our second round of onion rings and enjoying the “rustic charm” of the Lackawaxen Inn. The locals call it Lack of Action, but it was a great way to end our first day of 70 miles and 6,000+ feet of climbing. I bought Jay a beer to make up for German Hill, and we were still friends.



The next day was cold. Adam is wearing some pretty serious gloves here.

After an awesome breakfast at the outlaw outpost Twin River Junction, we started our route east over the river to NY.


(The waitresses wore cowboy hats, and the coffee was endless. We didn’t want to leave.)


There was a tiny bit of blue sky when we set out (see it in the top left there?) The high temp of the day hovered around 33. Good thing we brought all that extra gear…



The first climb up from the Delaware on Minisink Battleground Rd. was a tough start to the day. We passed through the forested area of Forestburgh (aptly named), winding rural roads through state lands and pine forests. Not much traffic and some amazing views of the fall colors and lakes in this beautiful region of the Catskills. We hit some fun gravel roads through the woods, but no more bear sightings.



Patty’s favorite sign, the Downhill Warning. We had actually just ridden up this one though.




 The hills of the day were pretty challenging with the relentless chill in the air and the weight on our bikes, so we were happy to finally end the day at Middletown, NY. We had made our way back to civilization, and after I had a mechanical outside the hotel (!), worked on our route for the next day. 60 miles and over 6,500 feet of climbing had convinced all of us into finding the Path of Least Resistance to get home!




Monday was bright and sunny to start our ride south. Luckily for us, the fields of the Wallkill River valley defined most of the last day. It started out in the 30’s but soon climbed into the upper 40’s, and we had a great tailwind! We crossed into NJ at some point, and wound our way down past Sussex and Hamburg to some more familiar terrain.

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By the end of Day 3 the less hilly roads, sunshine, and the fact that we were almost home had made for some happier faces. We ended at Mattar’s Bistro on the top of Hackettstown mountain (the biggest hill of the day, for the record) with about 60 miles, 4,000 feet of climbing, and one last order of onion rings to celebrate.

This was one of the most fun tours I’ve ever done, and it was  great way to celebrate the end of the warm weather! We had a blast and all agree that a multi-day tour is one of the most exciting and easy ways to take your riding further, and vacation while you’re at it!