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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Jesse Fat Bikes the Shenandoah 100 MTB Race!

 

A few weeks ago an anonymous friend and I headed down to the Stokesville Campground in Stokesville VA for the Shenandoah Mountain 100. For those who are unfamiliar, the SM100 is a 100 mile MTN bike race with about 12,000 feet of climbing through the Shenandoah mountain range in VA.

The race took place on the Sunday over Labor Day. My companion and I arrived on Saturday evening in the college town of Harrisonburg VA dropped our stuff off at the hotel and hit the local Outback Steakhouse.  We want to bed early for our 4:30am wake up call and dreamed of climbing mountains all night.

In the darkness of the morning we were greeted with a surprisingly warm temperature which was encouraging for the day to come. On the 30 min drive to the campground we witnessed what legend has told. Jeremiah Bishop, an endurance MTN bike pro who is training for an event called “The Munga” in South Africa (look it up) was riding to the SM100 from Harrisonburg.  I yelled some encouraging words out the window to him, he was running front and rear lights as it was complete darkness out on the countryside. Jeremiah is a bad mofo.
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Back to the race: My buddy and I were riding our matching Borealis Yampa fat bikes decked out with HED carbon wheels and weighing in at an incredible 23 lbs!  We didn’t see any other fat bikes out there, but I heard that there were at least 2 others. The others could not have been as cool as ours 🙂

We lined up according to where we believed we would finish which was at the 11 hour mark. This was a bit of a mistake as after about 25 minutes into the race we hit the first section of single track and BAMM, there was a huge traffic jam. With 600 racers out on the course and most of them in front of us we had a long walk ahead of us which caused a big delay in our overall time.  I wasn’t too concerned because for me this was just a long day of training, but it was very boring walking through stuff I knew I could ride. On the bright side I met some nice people.

After I was able to get back on the bike, I pedaled at a very steady pace and didn’t stop this practice all day long. I passed people all day long, kept my rest stops simple and quick (with the awesome volunteers this was made much easier), and had a really really awesome race!

The course is absolutely beautiful, the volunteers amazing, and the scene is just plain old fun. I wound up finishing in 11 hours and 3 seconds or something like that. I feel as though without the traffic jams I would have had about a 10:15 finish time. I was extremely excited to finish in my predicted time, and after I finished I got to take an old school bath in the creek by the campground.

My companion and I both have small children at home so we decided to drive straight home after the race despite being very tired. We got some food, at a disgusting all you can eat Buffett which really hit the spot as at this point the owners of the buffet lost some money on us for sure.

It was a bit crazy for us to attempt this drive, but we’re tough dudes so we went for it. We basically drove for an hour and slept for an hour all night long and arrived in NJ at 5 am the next morning. It was a long haul after another long haul on the bike but as afore mentioned, we are a couple of bad ass dudes so it was not a big deal.

Ray’s MTB Park Ohio Road Trip

There was vacation time to burn, but terrible, horrible, awful, east coast weather in the way.  (The weather may actually have been nice, I can’t remember.)  Either way, I needed a change, from the monotony of solo road rides and lapping the same mtb trails over and over again.  It was time to get out of town and do something that no man has ever done before.  (In reality many men, women, and children have done this before, but doesn’t it sound more exciting the other way?)

On preparing for a BMX trip, there is an ever evolving list of things to bring with you.  It is as follows:

  1. RedBull– A necessity for any journey.  They say it gives you wings, but the evidence of that comes from a cartoon commercial, so we can’t rule it out, however can’t prove it to be true in a controlled environment either.
  2. Animal Can I Eat? Soundtrack– This got me stoked for riding as a teenager and still does trick now, especially the Stephen Hamilton part.
  3. Malt Liquor–  No BMX trip is complete without a tallboy of Steel Reserve or better yet a Colt 45. Even if you don’t imbibe in the earthly pleasures of alcohol, you can still throw the full, unopened can at aggressive drivers, or rig up your own roller system in the hotel room.
  4. Your Bike–  This is sometimes overlooked, and when it is your day takes a downward spiral fast. (Actually at Ray’s you don’t even have to bring your bike, they have really nice rentals of MTB, BMX, or 26” Dirt Jumpers.)
  5. Tire Tubes– If you have them with you, you won’t get a flat.  This is Newton’s Law of tube poppage.

So I got these things together along with spirit of wonder and adventure, and got into my car and drove to Cleveland, OH.  The drive is very easy.  It’s literally one road for like 600 miles, and then you do some windy, twisty, turns through the manufacturing area of Cleveland and arrive at Ray’s MTB.

After a six hour drive, I dropped my stuff off at a hostel and went straight to the park.  There was no time  to waste on things like dinner or rest.  The park is enormous. I can’t even describe the magnitude.  They have bike trails, pump tracks, skinnies, ramp rooms, street spines, and very very big jumps. Everything looks smaller on the GoPro… Just Sayin.

There are also a great things to do in downtown Cleveland, like going to local breweries and museums. (The Cleveland Art Museum is free by the way.)

In short, whether you ride a mountain bike, a BMX bike, or a road bike, a trip to Ray’s is a must. They have everything to keep beginners and experts shredding the gnar and having fun. So if you get the chance, do it!