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!

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Hackettstown Goes Campin’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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!

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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.

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Zion Church Road let us out across a field to the McDade Trail that follows the Delaware out to the town of Water Gap.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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…

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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.

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

 

 

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 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!

  

 

(http://www.pineislandny.com/)

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!