Bicycling Adventures



Bike-packing in West Virginia’s Cranberry Backcountry
Biking Around Lake Okeechobee
Biking the Greenbriar River Trail

Bike-packing in West Virginia’s Cranberry Backcountry

Johnny and Pam head into the Cranberry Backcountry

  Johnny and Pam departed the high elevation Cranberry Glades in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest for a six night bicycle camping adventure. Cranberry Backcountry along with the adjacent Cranberry Wilderness form a large swath of wildland. Forest roads only open to official vehicles in the Cranberry Backcountry make this possible.

Pam walks her bike past trailside bee balm

They headed mostly downhill, to the point where North Fork Cranberry River and South Fork Cranberry River met. This flat is centered by the North Fork Shelter. A trout filled pool lies behind the shelter and makes for a good swimming spot.

Pam tends the fire at North Fork shelter

A cool night ensued at 3,200 feet. They enjoyed cooking over the fire. Next day Johnny and Pam headed deeper into the valley, setting up camp at Houselog shelter. After biking for fun, they enjoyed relaxing in the shade.

Houselog Shelter

 

When leaving we hung the food, as Cranberry Backcountry is bear country

We ended up staying two nights at Houselog Shelter, taking advantage of having a fixed camp. Pam went for a run while I biked alongside her. We also swam. Saw two bears while biking for fun.

Biking under the deep canopy of the Cranberry Backcountry

 

We moved still lower on cialis classe therapeutique the river, to the Pheasant Hollow shelter. Here, we biked around and hiked some nearby trails. It was a little warmer as we visited Cranberry Campground at the lower end of the 16 mile forest road.

Scene near the Pheasant Hollow shelter

Next day we headed back upstream to the DOgway Shelter. We swam and fished at a nice pool where Dogway Fork and Cranberry River came together. I fished and caught a trout.

Johnny holds rainbow trout caught in the Cranberry River

We also pedaled up the Dogway Fork Road. This is also a closed forest road, but much steeper than the road along the Cranberry River. It was a fun and challenging pull but we made it. Deer were abundant wherever we pedaled and hiked.

Deer get big in West Virginia

Our last day we headed back to North Fork shelter. Unfortunately the rack on our bikes broke so we had to load the trailer with all the camping gear. Pam graciously pedaled the bike and trailer.

Pam pedals overloaded trailer since our bike racks failed

After setting up camp we swam and fished. Next we went for a hike up the North Fork Trail. Our final night ended too quick. Next morning we headed back to the car, another adventure completed.

Biking Around Lake Okeechobee

Johnny on the LOST Trail

Biking Around Lake Okeechobee

 LOST Trail Circles Around Lake Okeechobee

My friend Aaron Marable and I executed a
“bike-packing” trip on the 120-mile LOST Trail, which
circles Lake Okeechobee in South Florida. Think of “bike-packing”
as bicycle camping. LOST, as in the LOST Trail, stands for Lake
Okeechobee Scenic Trail. The path, located atop the dike that rings
the lake, attracts hikers and bikers. We left the town of South Bay,
clean, energetic and full of excitement that accompanies new forays.
From the trail into the untold distance stretched Lake Okeechobee,
the inland sea, the second largest freshwater lake in the United
States (Lake Michigan is 1st). Seven-hundred and thirty square miles
of water that went farther than the eye could see. Who said Florida
didn’t have views?

 

Aaron and Johnny at South Bay
Trailhead

Herbert Hoover Dike stood 35 feet high.
Away from the lake cane fields stretched to the horizon. A sugar cane
processing plant near the town of Clewiston rose above the fields for
miles. The dike levitra uk available would take us right to Clewiston. The cloudy day
afforded some protection from the sun. Several sweaty miles later we
were looking down on Clewiston, the seat of Hendry County.

The grocery was a mile pedal into
town. I went in while Aaron watched the bikes. Leaving town with a
heavier load, we sweated anew, biking back to the dike and the LOST
Trail.

Looking out over Lake Okeechobee

Since it was a weekday, the trail was
nearly deserted. Extensive grassy wetlands stretched far into Lake
Okeechobee. We biked along, reaching Liberty Point campsite after 20
miles. The campsite was away from the lake, next to a canal on the
landward side of the levee, known as the rim canal. This part of the
state is laced with canals like humans have veins, interconnected in
complex networks of channels ranging from arteries to capillaries,
giving life to South Florida. Liberty Point campsite, with a picnic
table underneath a metal shelter, lay in a grassy flat with three
palm trees for shade.

Herbert Hoover Dike blocked the lake view
but from camp I could see south for miles. Across the canal — the
fields of fire, where sugar cane fields were set ablaze, clearing the
stalks of leaves before being harvested. Yellowy smoke rose from
distant cane burnings while closer green fields stood just across the
canal.

The cool, windy night sent us to the
tents early that first night. Next morning, Aaron and I continued
around the lake, arriving at Moore Haven, seat of Glades County. The
trail detoured away from the dike and over a new tall bridge spanning
the Caloosahatchee River, a once-natural outflow of Lake Okeechobee.
The high span had its own protected biking lane. The views here
dwarfed the vistas from the levee. The Caloosahatchee River, rather
the canal that was formerly the Caloosahatchee, went arrow straight
toward the horizon. Moore Haven spread out below. The marsh of
Okeechobee extended beyond the yon.

Taking a Break on the LOST Trail

Moore Haven was a little more dressed up
and cleaner than Clewiston. The sun blared back on the dike after
leaving Moore Haven. Marshlands extended for miles. Sonorous and loud
birdsong emanated from the sun-splashed wetlands. Heat waves
shimmered across the burnished grass atop the levee. The Lost Trail
was no longer asphalt but a mix of gravel and grass. The rougher
pedaling surface slowed us down.

Miles later, cane fields still extended
away from the lake. Marshland continued ringing the inside of
Okeechobee. Ahead, on the lake side of the dike — sand hill cranes!
The large, squawking, red headed birds had once been a rare sight.
Now they were all over Florida, a wildlife success story.

Sandhill Crane on the LOST Trail

We pedaled by rote, seeing no one and
reached another campsite. A few palm trees created welcomed shade. We
took a break at the forlorn camp, then headed back to the trail.
Suddenly, a tawny, furry critter emerged from the brush into open
grass about 100 feet distant – a panther! I couldn’t
believe it, after 15 years of wintering in South Florida and I
finally got to see a panther. Aaron and I froze. The cat sensed our
presence, and turned our way, trying to meld into some scrub before
making a dash with outstretched legs back into head-high brush. That
was a solid two minutes of live Florida panther observation.

Fifteen miles later, completing a 30 mile
day, Aaron and I sat at in the shade of the Indian Prairie campsite
shelter, still talking about the panther sighting. This campsite,
like the others, appeared little-used. A cutting wind had blown
strongly against us all day long, and that did matter to bicyclers
pedaling 30 miles on an open elevated dike. At times, the wind was
blasting so hard we had to ferociously pedal into it, like a fullback
charging into a defensive line. Overhead, buzzards played in the
updraft created by the wind blasting over the dike. Other times they
just rested in the sun with a patience contrasting Florida’s
increasingly hurried pace.

Indian Prairie campsite was on the side
of the levee away from the lake. A cattle pasture, complete with
cattle, lay across a canal from us. We set about gathering wood. I
absorbed the dying sun’s rays then lit the fire, and basked in its
warmth, using it to cook dinner as well. The sun colored the sky
pink, then red, giving way to a starry night. The north wind
continued pounding across the pasture and canal. The open campsite
was a fairway for the blow.

Leaving the Indian Prairie
Campsite

Next morning, I arose and jumped into
action, restarting the fire with small, starter wood gathered for
such purpose. I then tossed a fallen palm frond on the flames, which
quickly torched, giving instant light and heat. Hot water became hot
coffee, transferring the heat of the fire to the water to me, warming
me from the inside. Then came a no-cook banana and bagel breakfast.

I looked forward to the day’s bike
– we were going to circle the north end of Lake Okeechobee, and
turn back south. One reason for the anticipation was the condition of
my legs. Overnight, every night, they were recovering from the
previous day’s punishment. The heavy load and multiple miles would
leave my muscles sore in the afternoon, but in the morning they were
ready to go again.

The trail led out to State Road 78 to
cross the Indian Prairie Canal by road bridge. Florida is blessed
with so much water, you have to traverse it to get anywhere. Our
shadows, an ever-present companion on the grassy dikes, cast long
against the rising sun. A gusty wind pealed in my ears. The track
went arrow straight to the horizon. When the dike curved, you could
judge your progress better by making those curves, but here, the
straightaway seemed to go on forever.


Aaron pedals the Lost Trail

Miles later, the first curve came, and
the trail became paved once again, making the biking easier. We
resupplied in the town of Okeechobee, a couple of miles detour on the
bikes. We pushed on the LOST Trail, turning south, pressing ten more
miles to make for a 30 mile biking day, and reached x campsite for
our third and final night. The camp lay in a wide, wooded flat
adjacent to lake marsh. The winds blew until dusk, rustling the
palms. After dark the wind died, leaving swarms of mosquitoes to
attack as we watched distant thunderstorms light the sky. Nothing but
a drizzle hit our camp.

Our final 30 mile bike began at dawn. We
pushed south in the cool of the morn. Palms and willows bordered the
shore. Ducks scooted around the open water beside swaying cattails.
Beyond that, nothing but lake to the horizon. Just another dramatic
sweep on the Big O. Unfortunately, work on the dike forced us to
detour on roads for a bit. I am not fond of bicycling with cars. An
upside of the LOST Trail is being car-free.

Later, we rejoined the dike and passed a
pair of nesting bald eagles, an appropriate exclamation point for our
120 mile bike trip around Lake Okeechobee, on the LOST Trail.

 

Biking the Greenbrier River Trail

160 Mile Bicycle Camping Trek in West Virginia

Greenbrier River Trail

 The mountains were heavy with July’s greenery. Summer was in full swing. The Greenbrier River loudly splashed over rocks. Tall ridges rose on either side of the waterway. Ahead a narrow ribbon known as the Greenbrier River Trail cut a tunnel through the rich forest along the river. Hiker, biker, runner and yoga enthusiast Pam Morgan were beginning a 160 mile round trip that would take us five days to complete.

             The Greenbrier River Trail starts near Lewisburg, West Virginia, just off Interstate 64. The Greenbrier River Trail follows an old railroad grade up to the town of Cass. Cass is better known for being near the ski haven of Snowshoe. For us it was a destination 80 miles distant that we would reach using our bicycles.

We carried our camping gear in a two wheeled trailer attached to one of the bikes. We called the bike with the trailer attached to it “The Beast”, and took turns pulling it. The Greenbrier River Trail follows an abandoned railroad grade, but isn’t overly steep, it’s still traces the river upstream, which makes it uphill going south to north, but its downhill all the way back.

Pam pedals “The Beast”

“The Beast”, Pam and I set off full of first day energy and eagerness. But our outlook soon shot south. It wasn’t the physical challenge but a thunderstorm that quickly dampened our spirits. But once you get wet you get used to it.

We pedaled 17 miles the first day, then reached one of the several designated campsites that are situated along the rail trail. She and I set up in dark, dripping woods, anticipating rain, but it didn’t. A cheery fire and hearty dinner buoyed the atmosphere.

The next day we traveled past more riverside shoals and bridged trickling tributaries. Canoeists and kayakers ran the winding Greenbrier. Other casual bicyclers made shorter trips. The pleasant warm day passed quickly and we pedaled36 milesinto the town of Marlinton. Amazingly, we had a flat tire within 100 yards of a bike shop in town, avoiding a potential problem by paying for a repair.

We had a special treat awaiting us in Marlinton — reservations at the Old Clark Inn, an historic lodging facility in the mountain hamlet through which the Greenbrier River trail ran. The pleasant evening was capped off with a meal at a local restaurant. That saved me from having to cook over a campfire.

Old Clark Inn in Marlinton

Next day we were eager to get back on the trail. Our early start brought a reward — a bear sighting! I was pedaling in front and glanced over to see a bear in the brush along the river. The bruins didn’t hear me over the rapids. Pam was a little behind me. The bear ambled onto the trail then along came Pam. You should’ve seen her eyes widen! This time the bear caught wind of us, then tore through a rhododendron thicket till he was but a black shadow disappearing straight up the mountainside.

Deer sightings were numerous and easier on the adrenalin. The path crossed long wooden trestles that offered panoramas of the surrounding mountains. The rail trail even tunneled through ridges. We finally made it to a wonderful riverside camp. It even included a three-sided wooden shelter. But we didn’t need the living quarters as the skies were sunny. River access was easy and provided an opportunity to swim in the crystalline mountain waters of the Greenbrier. Later that afternoon we pedaled to the trail’s end in Cass, then backtracked to camp, capping off a 37 mile day. It seemed we were biking on air without the camping gear!

Enjoying the Greenbrier River Valley

 

 

The two of us fueled up on a hearty blueberry pancake breakfast, before backtracking south the next morning.  We had a little trouble finding

a campsite, ending up bicycling 43 miles before calling it quits. I was getting a little saddle sore and was glad to be sitting at camp in a wide, folding chair rather than that tiny bike seat. Big storms were forecast and the predictions came true.

We ate dinner under a tarp, droplets of rain providing a suppertime symphony. We slept in the tent. Showers pitter-pattered on the plastic, lulling us to sleep. Next morning we ate breakfast under the tarp. Rain was still falling – perhaps heavier than ever — and was no longer pleasant sounding but rather an ominous pounding broken by occasional booms of thunder, as well as flashes of lightning.

I began wondering if I should’ve brought an ark instead of a bike.

The two of us tried in vain to wait out the storms but finally packed our gear in the downpour and intrepidly peddled through the storms. Greenbrier River and its tributaries were running a chocolate brown. Water rushed down the rail trail. We were soaked to the bone despite our rain gear.

At the height of the storm, in pounding rain, a spotted fawn stood beside the trail then dashed out in front of the Pam just as she was paddling by. Pam careened her bike away from the critter, barely missing the deer yet stayed upright on her bike. The bike-deer near crash was a shocker. But if you stay out in the woods long enough, all sorts of things eventually happen.

The rain was still falling when we arrived at the car, then loaded our sopping gear. The two of us were glad to be in the dry automobile but sad our Greenbrier River Trail adventure was over.