Event Preview: JOM rides unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley in Pennsylvania – Part One

“The Susquehanna Valley is a region of low-lying land that borders the Susquehanna River in the U.S. states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. The valley consists of areas that lie along the main branch of the river, which flows from Upstate New York through Pennsylvania and Maryland into the Chesapeake Bay, as well as areas that lie along the shorter West Branch in Pennsylvania.” – Wikipedia

The focus of this article is the Susquehanna Valley River Valley of Pennsylvania, the scenic backdrop of unPAved (link to press release).

unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley

“Easy on the eyes. Hard on the legs.”

Promoter extraordinaire, Dave Pryor, thought it a good idea to invite gravel-minded media types to an event preview for unPAved. It took only five seconds before I thought to myself, “I love a good road trip, this is brilliant!”, and I gladly accepted Dave’s invitation.

Technically, this trip was more of a fly-in excursion versus mega hours stuck in the car, and I arranged a flight with Delta airlines from Gainesville, Florida via Atlanta, Georgia, landing in Lehigh Valley airport, located on the edge of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Ultimately, I landed in Philadelphia and drove to Allentown, but it was better to arrive late and be sleep deprived, than not arrive at all.

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Photo by JOM-drone.

The host town to unPAved is Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, located approximately 115 miles by road transport from Allentown, or approximately two hours of drive time. Wikidea describes Lewisburg, Pennsylvania as “a borough in Union County, Pennsylvania, 30 miles (48 km) south by southeast of Williamsport and 60 miles (97 km) north of Harrisburg. In the past, it was the commercial center for a fertile grain and general farming region. The population was 5,620 at the 2000 census.” Lewisburg is also home to Bucknell University, a small private liberal arts college, but with enough numbers to have its own collegiate cycling team.

Railway bridge across the Susquehanna River. Photo by JOM-drone.

Driving westbound into Lewisburg along PA-45, one is greeted on the right by the sight of a former railway bridge spanning the Susquehanna River. The railway line through this part of the world, originally part of the Lewis, Centre and Spruce Creek Railroad was abandoned by the West Shore Railroad (now the Union County Industrial Roadroad), sometime in the late 1980’s.

Photo by Pete Bakken.

Some of this former railway line was reconstituted as the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail, which also forms part of the unPAved route. In future, it is hoped the rail trail will be extended to include passage across the Susquehanna River, via the former railway bridge, pictured above.

Selene Yeager and I, chauffeured around by Dave Pryor.

Eager for adventure, Selene Yeager (aka The Fit Chick) and I discussed various methods we could utilize to ride the abandoned bridge on our bicycles, but in its current state of disrepair, that is a serious no-go. It should be disclosed that Selene and Dave, the promoter of unPAved, are a couple. They were my gracious hosts for this event preview, at least in terms of collecting me from the Lehigh Valley airport and preparing a fantastic itinerary for my visit. There’s also Mike Kuhn aka “KuhnDog”, the other half of the promotion team, and promoter of the original UltraCross event, Iron Cross. This is another must-do event, just around the corner in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

More facts: If you aren’t aware, Selene writes for Bicycling Magazine, and has crushed me in the past at events such as Iron Cross… being “chicked” by the Fit Chick is a pleasure really. For those familiar with the original Iron Cross course, you will undoubtedly remember the Lippincote Trail. During my last appearance at Iron Cross, Selene blasted past yours truly somewhere along that excuse for a trail, and was never seen again. She has bike handling skills on the rocky terrain and beyond, me, not so much. But I digress…

Vintage beer cans, Yuengling Brewery.
No beer was consumed during this visit. 🙁

Day one would go as follows; drive from the airport, a quickie stop at America’s oldest brewery, Yuengling Brewing Company in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, set up the loaner gravel bike, enjoy a spot of lunch with the assembled unPAved crew, and ride 50+ miles of Pennsylvania gravel roads. No complaints from me!

unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley
Wandering through Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Photo by Pete Bakken.

Our first day on the bike would encompass some vistas and climbs of the full monty 120-mile route of unPAved, coming to you on October 14, 2018.

My loaner gravel bike, the Open U.P. Photo by Pete Bakken.

I must pass along a huge thank you to Brett Chadderdon of Valley to Vista Cyclery, for the loaner of an appropriately sized Open U.P. gravel bike. ‘Tis a fine machine, one I greatly enjoyed, particularly as I carved a fine line on the many gravel descents that feature along the course. Another fact: This was my first time riding a gravel bike fitted with a 1x / single chainring drivetrain. Yikes!

Brett Chadderdon knows bikes and the local gravel roads. Photo by Pete Bakken.

Selene, Brett and Dave would lead the ride, in the company of Jim Cummins (of Dirty Kanza fame), Karen Brooks of Grit.cx and yours truly. Tagging along in the support truck was Mike Kuhn and photographer extraordinaire, Pete Bakken. Be sure to follow Pete on Instagram at betepakkenpetebakken and keystonephoto.

Mike and Dave, sorting out the route. Photo by Pete Bakken.
unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley
I don’t do selfies, but when I do, it’s being silly with The Fit Chick.

Lewisburg may be the host town for unPAved, but on this day, we departed Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania, a town located at the other end of the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail, some nine miles away. Mifflinburg would serve as a stopping point to one or all (to be determined) of unPAved’s routes, and for us, the launchpad to some tasty gravel roads, with plenty of climbing and elevation chucked in for good measure.

unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley

Early on, we traversed several miles of mostly traffic-free pavement, which served as a reminder – Pennsylvania isn’t flat! Mile and miles of tough short and steep climbs, followed by a fast descent, speed limited only by your nerves and tickling of your brake lever. Whilst scaling one of the numerous hills, I scrambled for my small chainring, only to recall… “dude, this bike has no small chainring?!” Thankfully, the loaner Open U.P. was fitted with a 40T chainring paired to a 10-42 cassette, which provided a couple of low climbing gears.

Selene and Brett make the climbing look easy. Photo by Pete Bakken.

Gravel cycling is a diverse and inclusive genre. It brings together people from all walks of life, sans judgment for one’s athletic abilities or bike stylings.

unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley

The same can be said of Pennsylvania’s gravel roads, at least the diverse part. Above, what I would consider a Pennsylvania “B” road, is strewn with chunky rocks, somewhat reminiscent of a scene from the cobblestones of Paris Roubaix in France.

Photo by Pete Bakken.

Or, pristine and groomed dirt roads.

Photo by Pete Bakken.

And those with a smooth path made from the passage of vehicles, divided by a crown of loose gravel.

Photo by Pete Bakken.
Photo by Pete Bakken.

Winter called it quits just a few short weeks ago in Pennsylvania, leaving many of the forests of trees that litter the course, bare of cover, yearning for Spring and a time of regrowth and warmth. Come event day, you can expect tree and leaf cover in abundance, but in the colors of fall (autumn).

The Fit Chick, Selene Yeager, in her climbing stride.
unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley
The Fit Chick, Selene Yeager, climbing away. Photo by Pete Bakken.

“Easy on the eyes” means gravel roads lined with streams and rivers, a distraction from the “hard on the legs” part of unPAved.

Pete Bakken doing his thing with Jim Cummins.

The elevation profile of unPAved isn’t all sharp and steep. There are climbs of a decent length but shallower grade, the kind that rewards a focus on cadence and steady effort, instilled by the serenity of the environment around, a slow down in time, the silence broken only by the rhythmic beat of your heart.

Twinsies Brett and Dave, at the Hobo Vista outlook. Photo by Pete Bakken.
Yours truly taking it all in. Photo by Pete Bakken.
Dave, Brad and Karen embark on a long descent. Photo by Pete Bakken.

There are descents. A lot of them. A prize for all of that climbing. For some, a moment to freewheel, relax and let the bike run free.

Photo by JOM-drone.
Photo by Pete Bakken.

For me, descending is one of the things I enjoy most about cycling on pavement or gravel. The feeling of natural speed, no gasoline required. There’s an abundance of this at unPAved.

The roar of the wind, no time to relax, pedal hard and fast, but safe and alert.

unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley

The gravel descents of unPAved command respect. I came close to overcooking it with too much speed upon entry into one tricky corner of note. Pay attention, read the road ahead.

unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley

Pulse the brakes, don’t lock them, gentle on the turns, no rapid movements, stay composed and relaxed.

unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley
Shadows grow long late in the day.

But all the while, enjoy the beauty of the Susquehanna River Valley. It’s difficult to summarize my first day’s experience of this wonderful environment. Think perfect roads and weather, unPAved is a gravel PAradise.

unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley
The Rusty Rail Brewery. Photo by JOM-Drone.

Daylight hours came to a close for happy hour drinks at the Rusty Rail Brewery in Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania.

unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley
Happy hour laughs. Photo by Pete Bakken.
unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley
Lewisburg Hotel, founded in 1834. Photo by Pete Bakken.

Later, a shift to dinner and our accommodations in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, the Lewisburg Hotel.

unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley
A toast to the success of the day. Photo by Pete Bakken.

Watch this space for more of unPAved in Part Two, and later, a ride video.

Thanks for reading!

JOM

18 comments on “Event Preview: JOM rides unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley in Pennsylvania – Part One

  1. Great write up, JOM! BTW, The group that has been crushed by The Fit Chick is a very large club. This looks like an incredible event and I’m think about putting it on the calendar. It overlaps Wilderness 101, NUE MTB race, territory. Hopefully, without the terrifying steep rock gardens.

  2. Wow, thanks for the great coverage, and can’t wait for Part 2!
    To answer Mark’s questions … no steep rock gardens. In fact, very little steep stuff (the preview ride took some shortcuts that had kickers).
    And glad you’re coming, Thomas. I’ll let TK know next time I see him.

  3. Thanks for highlighting this event. I’m actually local to the Lewisburg area and had no idea about it. I’ll hopefully be signing up for the 30 miler soon.

  4. First: I Like the name unPAved. It is not like Ohio where that is round on the ends and hi in the middle.
    Second: this route will have grown men crying for mom ( Ladies carry some cheese for the men’s whine). What ever low gear you think you can get away with add another four teeth to the cog. Some sections are at 10% both up and down
    Third: As cautioned pay attention. Switchbacks come out of nowhere in the forest. Streams flash flood and a wet road becomes a slippery mess where a spring runs onto the road. Slow is fast Fast. in shadows on the north side of a hill it will be difficult to pick a line. A light may help.
    (I can’t count higher than three) Dress: It is not what you where it is how you accessorize.
    Check to see if it is hunting season and what they are allowed to hunt. Bow season for deer and no season for dear . Don’t wear camouflage
    I am sorry I can’t be there. But it is a ride you can do anytime

  5. I’m signed up as soon as it came online. What is your tyre size and style recommendation please? Thx in advance.

    1. Sasha, you’ll have no problem with 700c x 38mm to 700c x 45mm. Panaracer Gravelking SK would be a good choice, as would be the WTB Resolute (42mm).

      1. Thank you so much. Was trying to decide if a 32mm road tyre may work or need to go fast gravel specific. Cheers

  6. Gravel newbie here with a gearing question to anyone familiar with the route:

    Perhaps this is a hard question to answer with limited info about my fitness, but do you think it would be foolish to run a 38 x 11-36 on the full course?

    As guidepost, I ran a 38 x 11-32 on this route, https://ridewithgps.com/routes/1008367, this past weekend pretty comfortably. There were several very steep, washed out, and rocky climbs. Just worried about my low gear being too tall on the steeper, looser stuff… Thanks in advance for any and all advice.

    Pumped for the ride!

  7. Hey Jom – love the site and all of the great info on this ride. I’m signed up for the 120 and can’t wait!!

    Two quick questions:

    First, do you remember what bike Jim Cummins was riding during your media event? I can’t tell what size tires he was working with, but it looks like that frame has HUGE tire clearance! I’m going for the DK200 in 2019, and am always interested in bike selection ideas, especially from one of the DK organizers!

    Second, are you guys ever going to sell T-shirts or jerseys? I’d love to buy one, if so, and support the site in some way!

    Thanks Jom, and keep up the great work!

    1. Aaron,

      1. See you at unPAved, I’m riding the 120 also. It will be hard!
      2. Check out Jim’s bike here – https://www.gravelcyclist.com/bicycle-tech/featured-bike-jim-cummins-salsa-cutthroat-founder-of-dirty-kanza/
      3. I have t-shirts available, but do a horrible job of advertising them (really need to get an online store running). Let me know what size you need and I’ll send you an email.
      4. No plans to sell jerseys at this time… jersey sizing is a total PITA!

      Thanks for the kind words!

  8. Thanks Jom! Jim’s bike….right under my nose, as it were!

    I’m a size medium t-shirt, and will look out for your email. Totally hear you on jersey sizing!

    Looking forward to meeting you in Pennsylvania.

    Aaron

  9. If you had a full suspension drop bar mountain bike you could ride, would you use it on this ride, or is it overkill? I have a typical gravel bike and my own full suspension drop bar mountain bike creation, the latter of which is heavy but obviously very smooth. I am not familiar with the roads in that area. Up here in Northern PA the majority of my gravel options are compacted limestone and the full suspension bike works far better. But if the majority of this ride is actually dirt, then it probably isn’t necessary.

    1. Overkill in my humble opinion. I rode an Open Cycle U.P. and I had never ridden those roads during the preview. I suggest you ride at least a 40mm tyre, and exercise caution on some of the fast descents. There are some loose corners.

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