The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania
Dan had decided to hike New York state’s highest mountain on Saturday (Mount Marcy) and suggested that I may not enjoy the effort of reaching the top. I was sure that he was right and decided to take advantage of the day alone to go for a long ride. I accomplished that in spades: 733 miles covered over the course of 12 hours.
August 28, 2010
Total Miles: 733 miles
Verona, NJ to Wellsboro, PA
The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Despite living in Pennsylvania for over 25 years, I had never been there. In fact, I had very little knowledge of this geological feature other than it was somewhere in north central PA. I checked it out on Googlemaps and figured 4 hours to get there, a couple of hours for lunch and sightseeing and then 4 hours home. An easy 10 hour day with a fun destination.
The weather was finally cooperating: the summer’s intense heat and humidity had broken and I had been enjoying cool mornings and even a little rain. Saturday’s weather was forecast to be perfect: sunny, still cool and dry. Dan had left at some ungodly hour to drive to his hike, so it was just me to sleep in a bit and then work my way out the door. I was on the road by 9:15.
In order to make time, I headed out of the state on I-80, which is generally interesting enough for me not to mind, especially since its just an hour until I get to the curvy (for an interstate, at least) portion that goes through the Delaware Water Gap at the border. But before I could get there I thought about getting gas – and then wondered where my wallet was. I couldn’t feel it in my pocket where I normally put it. I had enough gas to get back home, but I didn’t want to waste two hours just to go home and then back where I was now. I pulled off the highway and was in the process of looking for a bank when I checked the pockets more carefully – there it was! Relieved, I got back on I-80 and didn’t bother with gas until I was near Scranton, PA.
From Scranton it was supposed to be an enjoyable ride along Rt 6. Instead, it was a fight with traffic and construction; sometimes both at once. The charming town of Towanda was having its annual River Festival, backing up traffic across the bridge that led into the town. Semis were everywhere and very often there weren’t any passing zones for miles. The view was scenic, but if possible, not interesting. I was seriously considering never riding on the east coast again. What was the point?
Finally, ten miles from my destination and four hours after I’d left my house, the roads opened up. The road twisted gracefully before me and nothing was in my way. I could relax and enjoy the ride. However, I was still grumpy when I pulled into Wellsboro, the town that claimed the Grand Canyon for its own, but I put it towards having not yet eaten that day. I was put off by the crowds I saw standing in the doorway of the charming looking Wellsboro Diner, but it had come highly recommended and besides, the GPS didn’t show that I had many options. I went inside and asked if I could sit at the counter, thereby avoiding having to “wait to be seated”. It worked and not only was I seated immediately, but the woman at the grill took my order, not even waiting for the waitress to come by. I had a scrumptious Angus burger with Swiss cheese and grilled mushrooms. Juicy and tasty – it perked me right up.
The Wellsboro Diner – a good recommendation for a tasty meal
Tidy town of Wellsboro; lots of activity going on
The ride to the east rim (Leonard Harrison) is a winding, convoluted journey through Pennsylvania farmland. There was very little to give any indication that an almost 1,500′ gouge in the earth was just a few miles away. And with little fanfare, there I was. Many motorcycles and cars were in the parking area and the view was grandly announced by a walkway between a Visitor’s Center and a Gift Shop. I wandered over to the overlook and took in the view.
While it is indeed a deep canyon, and picturesque with its green trees, gently flowing creek and glimpses of a hiking/biking path, I’m not sure I could compare it to the better known Grand Canyon in the American southwest. I saw a blanket of green ridges. The most interesting aspect from where I stood was a pair of hawks performing some acrobatics high over Pine Creek. I understand that hiking the trail down below opens up many natural wonders, such as waterfalls and rapids, but I could see none of that from here. I decided to check out the view from the west rim.
Leonard Harrison State Park Overlook
I think we need to bring back the CCC!
Looking south from the LH Overlook
I set the GPS on “shortest route”, curious as to how it would get me to the other side. I was disappointed to learn that the gray trail I saw at the bottom of the canyon was for non-motorized vehicles, but perhaps there was some excitement hidden somewhere. I didn’t have to wait long to find it. Less than five miles from the overlook the GPS suggested that I go left on Coop Hill Rd. It didn’t really look like a road from where I sat. In fact, I don’t know if it really was a road; it was more like a short cut through a farmer’s corn field. It was deeply rutted and large stones made any flat area un-flat. I was a little hesitant to tackle this on my own. The GS is a heavy bike and I have yet to pick it back up by myself. In fact, I’m not sure if I can. But I had been desperate for “adventure” and here it was, staring me in the face. I went for it.
It was almost a non-event. It was less than 2 miles before it became a standard gravel farm road and I was flying along again. I wish I had the same fortitude when I was presented with a river to cross on my to Lewisburg last June.
The GPS’s “short route” to the other side of the canyon
Coop Hill Rd was essentially a shortcut through someone’s corn field
Colton Point was much smaller than Leonard Harrison. I think that it offered a slightly better view as well. I could now see the cyclists on the railroad bed far below me and the physically smaller lookout felt more intimate and less commercial. I spoke with some other motorcyclists before heading back to Rt 6, the backbone of travel across the northern half of the state.
But wait! What was that? An unmarked dirt road that headed towards Pine Creek. Certain that it didn’t lead anywhere but still curious about it, I took the last-minute turn and found myself riding right next to the river, the walking path visible on the other side. It was a short, in/out ride, but exactly what I was looking for.
Looking south from Colton Point Overlook
Cyclists on Pine Creek Trail
Looking north from Colton Point
Checking out an unmarked road on the west side of the canyon
Looking across Pine Creek at the cycling trail
Unfortunately, my road dead-ended
Having explored what I could along the river I returned to Rt 6 and headed west to Galeton, planning on roaming the roads south of there based on some recommendations from a friend. There are some very nice roads in the area, complete with peaceful scenery and pleasant corners. I was slowly heading home, but preferred to spend more time in the unknown but enjoyable Pennsylvania woodlands and make up for it by slabbing back home at the last possible moment. The scenery alternated between thick forest and open farm land and included every variation in between. The temperature had warmed up slightly and I was comfortable in my mesh jacket, having taken out the liner from this morning’s chillier ride.
I tried to stay within a certain geographic area during my exploration, which lead me to nicely paved forest roads and some more “off the beaten track” gravel roads. Nothing like Coop Hill Road, but fun nonetheless. There was little traffic in this area and I enjoyed having the roads to myself for the most part.
Farms along Rt 144
Pine Hill Summit on Rt 44
Looking along Rt 44
My mood had lightened considerably since the morning’s ride west and it was only dampened once more that afternoon. I had just pulled in behind two “adventure” bikes and was excited by the prospect of catching up with them, only to find that they were turning right at the junction that my GPS told me to turn left. I paused long enough to verify that turning right would take me too far off course. And then the parade started: well over 50 motorcycles rumbled by, their riders in various states of being “geared up” and the bikes in various states of “loud pipes save lives”, all heading in the direction I was going. I let my body sag at the thought of being behind them. A few cars were caught near the end of the parade but I was able to get “in line” after the first car went past. We trundled along for a only a mile before I had my opportunity: the herd had slowed down for a 10mph posted corner before a metal-grated bridge. I took advantage of the bunching effect on the other side and blew by them all, never to see them again.What really makes this story amusing to me is the fact that I had been doing some research on this area a few days prior and found a web site for motorcycle tours. One of the very first photos on that site showed dozens of motorcycles lined up as if for a parade. I couldn’t understand how anyone could possibly find something like that enjoyable. And then, with almost unreal timing, I was caught up in the middle of it. And while it was not enjoyable to me at all, I recognize that everyone gets something different out of riding. I’m sure that a lot of people look at the rides I go on and think I’m insane for enjoying myself.
Now it was just a matter of wending my way east through farmlands and wooded copses. It was pleasant until I reached Willkes-Barre and then I retraced my route home on I-80. It was dark by the time I got home but I still felt pretty good. It was probably the easiest 12 hours I’d ever put on a bike.
Open land heading east on Rt 414
Along Rt 154