It’s been a cold and snowy start to 2011, so I’m just now getting into the cycling season while the days are staying consistently above 40F. For my first rides I wanted to focus more on off-road rides. Not quite mountain biking, but not smooth pavement either. I know of several sections of roads and trails that could be good for this, so I created a route and ventured into some of the nearby forest roads on this ride.
The first off-road section was the popular East Hill Rec Way. It is paved, but there’s no cars to worry about here. The old rail corridor ends at a game farm, but a dirt road and the rail line reappear shortly after, connecting to Mt. Pleasant Rd. I crossed Rt 366, since parts of the rail bed here were just too muddy for riding on, and jumped back on through Cornell Plantation’s “Monkey Run” area leading towards Dryden. So far it’s been a slow ride on wet ground.
The route then took my far uphill into Yellow Barn State Forest. I saw another cyclist on a mountain bike and we rode together for about a mile before I turned to climb further up to the forest on Irish Settlement Rd. The route has me headed deeper into the forest, which turned out to be snowmobile trails that were still covered in snow and ice, except for some narrow water runs that have cut through to the gravel. I found it easiest to ride in the shallow water, since on the snow I just kept sinking down and couldn’t steadily ride. Some places were still about a foot deep! Card Rd (which is hardly a road!) becomes very steep, and I wasn’t very confident on the cyclocross bike to handle that so I took my time and walked a few of the rockiest steep sections. Surely an experienced mountain biker would enjoy this trail though! I stopped before a stream crossing to decide what to do – do I try to ride this bike through, potentially falling in getting very wet, or do I walk through and just get my feet wet? The rocks were small enough that I decided to just go for it, and I crossed the stream and stayed dry.
When I reached Irish Settlement Rd again, I washed the rims off in a culvert and continued on, soon after turning onto Beam Hill Rd to ride more dirt. This road was nearly the same as in Yellow Barn, and I stuck to the tiny streams running along the road and off the snow. There was an unusual “house” made of a children’s playground dome, with a stove and a pile of plastic tarps which I assume was once the roof. The road eventually turned back into firm dirt, and I coasted quickly downhill to another culvert bike wash.
From here I soon met the Jim Schug trail, which runs for 4 miles from Dryden on another rail corridor. I passed several families, children on mountain bikes, people walking dogs, and surprisingly enough the same mountain biker that I met near Yellow Barn. I rested at a picnic table at the end of the trail, wishing I had brought more water.
I then climbed Harford Slaterville road starting from Creamery Rd, which is one of my favorite routes. I had plans to ride through Hammond Hill State Forest (where I went xc skiing this winter), but after stopping a few times on Harford to diagnose some bad bike noises, I decided to take the shortest route home on Rt79. After 30 miles of riding in the day, it was clear that the rear wheel was quickly degrading from some bearing issues. I made it home just fine, after swapping with the race wheel I had left in the office, and a few days later had a new wheel built up for my future rides. The old wheel was well worn from winter riding and had taken plenty of abuse from bike polo that it was done.