Last week was a busy one both at work and at home. On top of that, it was expensive, with repairs to the truck and with the tractor. On Friday, I knew that I had to take off in order to borrow a trailer and pick up the tractor from a shop, so I cleared my schedule and planned for the first S24O of the season. It was late notice, plus it was a Friday, so no one else was available. It looked like it would be a solo effort.
I had checked out some local state campgrounds on line, and they were pretty full. I also wasn’t in the mood for forking out $25 just to set up a small tent for one night. Ultimately, the plan came to me to ride out to Pine Grove State Park and find a spot out of the way in the adjoining Michaux State Forest where you can camp “without amenities” for free.
As the morning progressed, it got hot and humid, and more than once the thought crossed my mind to bail for either another time, or at least a shorter ride. But ultimately the road beckoned, and I had already packed up the bike the night before. At 93F and with a slathering of some SPF50 sunblock, the journey began at 1:15pm.
This field full of solar panels sits on a farm just before entering Boiling Springs. It occurred to me that farmers, in addition to farming, need to be mechanics, welders, carpenters; and now environmental scientists.
My practice is not to ride on Friday nights because of the Happy Hour crowd on the roads, but in the afternoon the traffic was light. I also think bikers with panniers get a little more grace from drivers, but that’s just my corrollary to the Mary Poppins Effect. The weight of the gear was probably 30-35 lbs, and I had to remember to slow my pace, pick lower gears, and spin a lot more than I normally would. The bike was packed “rear loaded” this time, and I was really pleased with how it handled. It was well balanced, and riding no hands was easy.
My cue sheet from RidewithGPS.com had one mistake for a turn direction which confused me; but also sent me to an ice cream stand for directions. As I sat there finishing off a cone, I had a conversation with a guy driving a Cadillac Escalade about his classic car collection. He seemed intent on impressing me with the value of his cars, but soon gave up when he realized that my mindset wasn’t really with him at that point.
Riding back Pine Grove Road, I started scoping out potential stealth sites. There are several hunting cabins along the route, and the thought of pitching the tent in the back yard of one of these places was a strong option.
The park comes up before too long. The road to the left is actually a two mile rail trail, which is a lot flatter than Pine Grove Road at this point. I kept going up to the main entrance, but I wish I’d have gone in “the back way.”
Once in the park, I stopped at one of the lake swimming spots and refilled my water bottles, plus took on extra for cooking dinner. If I had not been concerned about finding a spot for the night, the idea of taking a dip had a lot of potential.
There are a couple of spots on this route that intersect the Appalachian Trail, and I had been seeing hikers here and there. Right up from this furnace is the park store with a front porch and a hostel frequented by the hikers. Because I was still focused on finding a site, I missed a great opportunity to sit and talk about their experiences.
I checked out the campground quick, and then decided to grind up the mountain for 2 1/2 miles to the ATV campground that at least had “primitive bathrooms.” It was quite a climb, and fully justified having a 22 tooth granny gear. I drank a lot of water, but was able to enjoy the lush hillside. It was hot and I was soaked and worried about a saddle sore, so I ended up walking the bike the last half mile, but I finally reached the summit:
While there weren’t many campers up here, the few that were had stereos blasting and ATV’s lined up. That wasn’t the mood I was looking for, so I spotted Piney Road across the way, which is no more than a barricaded fire trail, and clearly marked, “No ATVs Beyond this Point!”
‘had to walk the bike another half mile in, up this rocky trail, until the ridge levels out and there are suitable tent spots. This little guy greeted me when the right spot appeared about 30 feet in the woods:
It didn’t take long to set up camp and check out the lay of the land. This was pretty much the top of the mountain, fairly level, and surprisingly quiet.
Supper was nothing fancy; just some dehydrated pasta and an apple. I was a little concerned at this point because I had polished off a lot of my water. I started conserving, but realized that I’d need to restock in order to make breakfast.
Once done, I just needed to lie down for a while. My skin was a sweaty combination of bug spray and sunblock, so I spread out a towel on the bag and just stretched out for a bit. Later I pulled out a book and read until 10 or so. It was still surprising how quiet things were…not many birds, no animals…and no cars or people. Every so often a plane would fly overhead, and once in the middle of the night I heard a fire siren off in the distance. Things cooled off a bit during the night, and I slept pretty good.
I woke up a little after six and broke camp. The ride down the mountain with the switchbacks was a blast – I covered in 10 minutes what had taken 90 the day before. When I got to the bottom I rolled into the campground and snuck a free shower. Boy did that feel great.
Over in the park proper, I refilled my water bottles and scoped out a bench for making breakfast. As I was preparing coffee and oatmeal, I got to watch the kickoff of the first ever Pine Grove Furnace Half Marathon.
Things seemed to be going well until they realized that some of the older participants had lined up and taken off on the half marathon…instead of the optional 5K. During all of this a guy walked up, checked out the Trucker, and struck up a conversation. Even though I was only on an overnighter, he was envious. Once done, I may have talked him into the whole S24o movement.
It’s only on the ride home that you realize how much of the ride into the mountains is uphill. Getting home was a breeze.
Being a Saturday morning, I started seeing roadies. Those that passed me would slow down to check out the rig. I could pedal as slow as I wanted and I was still cooler than they were, because I looked like a world traveler.
In Boiling Springs I came up on some organized ride, and around Grantham I stopped for an extended break to watch a fly fisherman.
The ride ended with rolling into the driveway at 11:30am. A successful S24O adventure.
Traveling by oneself creates a different vibe. I could choose my own pace, but I probably would have been more realistic with the distance and terrain if in a group. That last mountain climb (see the ride profile) kicked my butt! Also, while I could wing it relative to finding a campsite, I’m not sure that would work with a group as well. Finally, it got a little boring in the evening not having anyone to talk to.
It was a great ride, but if I could do it over…
- I would stop more to talk to people, take pictures, and see the sites.
- I think an extra Nalgene-sized water bottle is needed if not camping near a good water supply.
- I’d have taken some extra bike shorts, since mine didn’t fully dry out over night.
Everything else worked well. The Swift panniers on the LHT rode really well and allowed me to pack everything I wanted. The LHT really does ride more comfortably when loaded. I used an MSR packtowel for the first time. I wasn’t impressed at first, but after washing and drying it, it seems much softer and absorbent. I feel like I’m finally starting to get in shape and the weight I’ve lost so far has really made a difference in my stamina.
In addition to other S24O’s, I feel a multi-day trip in my future.
Misc. Miles: 3.1
Distance: 78.5 2011: 599