Sunday, March 6, 2022

Designing a MTB bikepacking route in central PA

I think there's something unexplainably peaceful and enlightening about traveling by bike into the wilderness and being completely self-reliant. You wake up in a tent with nothing to do all day except ride your bike, and you go to sleep that night in a tent again. That's pretty special. Even if you have the most stressful job in the "real world", for the time that you're on your bike out in the woods, none of that really matters. It's such a powerful cleansing feeling.

As I became more obsessed with bikepacking, I kept getting the feeling that the central Pennsylvania area was the perfect place for a mountain bike route. The problem is, no such bikepacking route exists. So, I decided to take it upon myself to start curating a massive singletrack-heavy route that explores all corners of Rothrock, Bald Eagle, and the surrounding area. 

Left to right: Snake Pit on Bald Knob, top of Thickhead Mountain, Bald Knob Ridge Trail

Right now, the route is still in its infancy, so I won't post any GPX file yet. I have a rough outline of it, but there are so many trails I haven't ridden yet, so it's going to take some time to scout them all out.

I have a few basic requirements for my route: for one, it needs to be a loop, with no criss-crossing or figure-eights. That makes for easier navigation, and I think it makes the route seem like more than just a hodgepodge of trails. There also needs to be a couple stores along the way for re-supply. It also needs to have plentiful camping options, and being almost entirely situated in state forests, that's pretty easy to accomplish.

Then, the route needs to be the right length. I'm thinking about 300 miles or so. My reasoning for this is that I want it to be long enough that you (probably) can't do it in a single pull without sleeping. I really want it to be "bikepacking" and not just a single long ride, which means you'll need to pack a sleeping bag and a tent or bivy. 

Now, if you read that and you're thinking: "there's no way I'd ever do a 300 mile route", hear me out. You don't have to do the full route, with the way I'm designing it, you could choose a 50 or 100 mile (or whatever length) chunk and do that, maybe as an overnight trip. Maybe there's a stretch deep in Bald Eagle that you've never done, so you want to use this route as a guide to explore it. That's awesome! 

Left to right: climbing Detweiler, a remote trail in Bald Eagle, lookout near Poe Paddy

Of course, my hope is that some people will want to complete the full route. I'd love to coordinate something with some local businesses in State College to perhaps get some sort of finisher award, or some sort of recognition. Personally, I'll probably attempt the route the first time over several days, camping out in between and treating it as a fun adventure. Then, maybe I'll go back and see how fast I can do it. Maybe I'll even try to set up a grand depart date where a few lunatics can all leave together for the full route.

I hope I can round up a couple friends to eventually try the full route. I'm looking at you, Will, Cinderbloch, Montana, Logan...

I don't really know what this will all lead to, but as I look at various routes across the country, I just get the feeling that there needs to be something in central PA, and I'm excited to start making it. I'm sure I'll get some help from friends with the route, and hopefully I can convince Will to do a couple overnight rides with me on the route to get some real-world testing. The forests are there for everyone, and a bike is a pretty rad to see them.
Left to right: snowfall after a night in Rothrock, leaving for bikepacking in Rothrock, a different night in Rothrock
Tussey Ridge
Left to right: Anders on the John Wert Trail, my snowy singlespeed cog after waking up to snow

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