Bike Packing the Pine Creek Gorge
On May 31, the beau and I embarked on our first ever bike packing trip! We originally planned to head up to Acadia National Park for my birthday mid-May, but with the increase in COVID cases and the gas prices, we decided to stick a little closer to home.
We knew that we wanted to try bike packing this year. My partner got his first bike at the end of 2020 with the hopes of decking it out and exploring rail trails and camping along the way! Particularly the ride from Pittsburgh to DC.
In April, I added an "adventure" bike to my bike collection - the Liv Alight DD Disc 2. It joined my trusted steed - a Raleigh Capri 1.0 aluminum road bike I purchased in 2013 for commuting in San Francisco and longer rides around the city and Marin. It's a great bike and I love it, but not great for bike packing.
After some back and forth the Pine Creek Gorge Rail Trail won out over the GAP trail (Greater Allegheny Passage - part of the rail trail you can take from Pittsburgh to Washington DC). We booked our campsites and packed our bags and bikes and headed out!
Day 1: Drive to Wellsboro Junction (4ish hour drive), Bike from Wellsboro Junction to Tiadaghton Campground in Tioga State Forest.
Day 2: Bike from Tiadaghton Campground to Black Walnut Bottom Campground in the Tiadaghton State Forest (confusing... I know). ~22 miles
Day 3: Bike back to Tiadaghton Campground. ~22 miles
Day 4: Bike out to the car at Wellsboro Junction from Tiadaghton Campground.
We knew that it was going to be a very hot day. The high temp for that area for the day was 90 with a low in the mid to upper 60s. So we hoped to get our biking done in the evening and not during the hottest part of the day. Instead we got to the trailhead, loaded up, and started our ride at 2:30 PM. It was hot.
The first 10 or so miles were in direct sun, after that we got some tree cover along the river. Despite the heat, it was absolutely beautiful.
We got to the campground around 4:00 and set up camp. It was a bit busy, but everyone left a few hours later as they were just day users. We had the entire campground almost to ourselves - one other woman was there enjoying the view of the river on the other side of the campground.
Looks beautiful, right?
Sure, it LOOKS beautiful. But did I want to hang out outside reading and enjoying time at camp? Nope. We purposefully kept our mileage low so we could enjoy camp and take our time. I brought my massive book I've been slowly reading for the last year and a half (Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson). But enjoyment was not to be had.
The horse flies. The biting gnats. The BUGS. So many bugs.
There was nothing enjoyable or relaxing about being here. We scarfed down dinner and retreated to the hot tent, not even bothering with a fire. At one point, I got up to go to the bathroom at night and accidently turned on my bright white light on my headlamp and not the red light and was immediately swarmed with bugs in my nose and mouth and eyes. I think the eyes were the worst part. I can still feel this weeks later. yuck.
The morning was beautiful though - there was a wonderful fog that I watched slowly lift and a bald eagle that hung out in a tree across the river sunning it's wings. Still absolutely full of bugs, but slightly less than the evening before - it was just enough to be annoying. I snapped a few pics, chugged some coffee and then we packed up quickly and headed out to get away from the bugs.
The bugs weren't as bad on the trail and the wind from biking felt great in the heat. Our second day was more shaded and the wildflowers blooming along the trail were magical. We stopped for lunch half way to the second campground and grabbed a root beer to share from the little shop along the road. I also bought bug spray.
Black Walnut Bottom was a really big campground off the trail. Accessible by car, but with a walk into the sites. We had a site that was tucked back further from the main sites giving us a lot of quiet privacy. The bugs weren't as bad here and we had some extra strength bug spray keeping the bites at bay. I had some time to do some painting and reading while we waited for the tent to cool down.
The one con of this campground were the dead limbs and trees. We had to move to a different site to find a spot to safely put our tent without the threat of falling branches which was a bit frustrating. I'm hoping the forest service comes in and clears out some of the dangers before the season really picks up.
While eating dinner, we officially decided to skip the previous night's campground on the return journey and bike the entire 38 miles out to the car and head home. It was a bit of a bummer to cut the trip short, but the bugs were unimaginable and the time at camp was anything but enjoyable. Turns out this was a great decision as my partner ended up with food poisoning.
We will definitely be back in the fall when bug season is over and it's cooler either to do one way end to end or a round trip to the end and back. We haven't decided yet. Our biggest concern is carrying enough food for 5-6 days on our bikes, but it's doable!
Hope you enjoyed this little tour of our first bike packing trip!