The Long and Winding Gravel Road
See plenty of NEPA on this 125-mile journey from Waymart to the New York border and back.
We set out before sunrise. The chilly morning air greeted us unceremoniously. The rubber and the road hummed a gentle tune, and our headlights bore a narrow path through the dissipating fog. It’s odd how the senses seem to wake with the world. Soon, the air, perfumed with pine and honeysuckle, filled our lungs. Eager black-eyed Susans bobbing and weaving along the roadside reached for the warming sun. Our view widened and the road now rolled out before us. It was a good day for a gravel ride in the rural hill country of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Being somewhat new to NEPA, I can’t help but discover new roads nearly every day. The possibilities for long, hilly country rides and safe city street excursions are truly endless. As a roadie, though, I honestly haven’t yet seen my fair share of gravel rides. In fact, this was my first (I should probably mention that I don’t even own a gravel bike). Nevertheless, when a friend sent me a 125-mile gravel route with 11,700 feet of elevation, I just couldn’t pass it up. Thankfully, my good friend (and teammate) at Veloce in Scranton let me borrow his BMC Roadmachine X.
So it begins.
The wide, fine gravel surface of the D&H Trail made for smooth sailing at the start. We practically stole 700 feet of elevation over 15 miles. That’s the beauty of these rail trails, often you don’t even realize you’re climbing.
We turned off the trail in Ararat. Here, we found an endless web of gravel roads. Smooth, fast, steep, technical — you name it. There were all types of gravel. At first, I didn’t believe that over 100 miles of this route was gravel, but it was starting to feel like more of a reality. And I was loving it. And if you couldn’t tell I was a roadie by my white socks and road shoes, hearing me scream, “Man, gravel is so cool!” would have likely tipped you off.
A few winding descents later we found ourselves on the back roads of state game lands. Chunky rocks and loose ascents were a welcomed adventure. Somehow, we made it through without any flats. Suffice it to say, I would’ve been grateful for an 11-42 over my 11-32 on that section.
Any time I ride through NEPA, I can’t help but feel like I’ve travelled across the country with vast amounts of open space. These winding trails lead us along the West Branch of the Delaware River. A few fishermen waved us along while trying to entice a finicky, late summer trout from the water. We then crossed the bridge into Hancock N.Y., where we refueled on breakfast sandwiches and candy bars. Then, we were back in NEPA for the home stretch. Though, as we prepared for the day’s biggest climb, we just had to take a moment to drink up the natural splendor of the Delaware River along Route 191. This would easily be my go-to route for a Sunday drive with the top down.
The last leg of the ride took us through undulating farm lands and quaint small towns. And I have to say that Northeastern Pennsylvania always delivers on scenery, but what truly amazes me is how welcoming and accommodating all of these towns are to cyclists. Drivers are always respectful. The people we pass always wave and smile. It’s such a pleasant morale boost when you’re on the verge of breaching your 100th mile.
Finally, 5,400 calories and nearly 11 hours later we found ourselves back in Waverly, thoroughly satisfied and equally hungry. Despite my skepticism of diving into a ride this long, I couldn’t be happier that I tagged along. The adventure, overcoming the mental and physical challenges of the ride, and the opportunity to see more of this incredible region make it all worth it in the end.
After this particular ride, I’ve been inspired to give in and explore more of NEPA’s gravel roads. As I do, I’ll aim for a healthy mix of wandering and getting lost. And maybe when I return, I’ll tell you all about it.