Mountain biking in Pennsylvania 2015

2015 we went to Pennsylvania for three weeks.

Actually we went to New York for a week, then bimbled down South to the Skyline Drive. It was a family holiday, yet secretly my intention was to get some mountain biking in. This was foiled at pretty much every turn.

Firstly I had no bike, so would have to had hired one. No problem, done that before.

However the hire shops it turned out were always a good four hours drive away from the rental property. That was an issue, along with the fact I had no real way of transporting a bike. On a family holiday I wasn't going to take a day out just to collect a bike now was I?

Worse. We were at Skyline and cycling off-road is banned. That's an area roughly the size of the Lake District. In essence I would have had to drive for a few hours away from somewhere nice, to a little industrial town somewhere so as to hire a bike. I'd then have had to drive again for a few more hours to somewhere I could ride. Not going to happen.

Worse! We were in bear country; highest density of bears in the United States. So I'm going to hire a bike, then zip off into the wild, alone, with no idea how to handle bears, coyote, copper heads, poison ivy or a million other nasties? Not to mention no working mobile 'phone.

I never did hire a bike or cycle anywhere memorable.

Never say never!

We were using Airbnb for properties. In one, in the basement, I found this old 1980's mountain bike. All steel, cantilever brakes and no suspension.

The tyres were flat, brakes and gears did not work even slightly, and it had not been used for decades.

Naturally I set to. Tyres just needed air, cantilever brakes I can fix, and the gears got tweaked. Few other minor adjustments, and in no more than a few hours I'd got it running fine.

What a brilliant bike. I rode it around the area for a bit, perhaps 20 miles or so, and it worked well enough. So I took it further, out for rides on their long gravel roads. The weight was never really an issue, and it seemed reliable. So I started to venture out onto tracks.

This is where I started to fail. Not physically, but mentally. Can you imaging, alone, on a borrowed bike, out in the woods where there are animals that can kill you, and then eat the body? I managed two rides of about 25 miles each. The first, half way through, I was so agitated by it all I had to do a big poo in the woods. The second day was better, even though at one point I frightened what looked like a copperhead and it dashed off into the grass.

The second long off-road also saw rain. Not rain that we get here in the UK. This was almost tropical. Lovely sunny day, all of a sudden there was a massive, warm downpour. I was soaked within seconds, hence the second photo here.

Rather oddly I bonded with this bike. It was unloved and neglected, yet once I got it tuned up it worked fine. It proved a reliable partner out in the woods. After four days I would have bought it had I any way of getting it home. Indeed I rather liked this bike far more than I like my Orange 5, and I've had that three years.


Nobody tells you how loud these sodding things are. Takes you a good week to get used to the noise at night. They are like somebody using a chainsaw in your garden.

Ah, the golf buggy.

Not only did I find an old mountain bike, I found a golf buggy in a garage. My kids saw me repair the bike, and questioned why I'd left the buggy alone? Could I get that going as well?

Well, yes, I guess; just charge it up overnight. Didn't want to as I knew they'd want to drive it. My daughter is 12, my son 9. Would you allow such a thing?

"But Dad, you went off alone into the woods where the bears live. All we want to do is drive a buggy on some public roads. What's the worst that can happen?"

Naturally I am weak and they are strong.

Pennsylvania mountain biking.

I never did find any proper trails. Not where we were. However they are their and I know where, roughly. The state is also home to one of the more popular mountain bike magazines, so there is a lot around. My problem was that the state is about the same size as England. We wrongly assumed that there'd be cycling in Skyline is all. As mentioned, that's like renting in Keswick and realizing the nearest trail is in Brighton, with the bike shop at Canterbury. It wasn't an issue, as it was a family holiday and I was happy anyway. 

So really as a guide to cycling in the state, this blog is utterly useless. However, we actually had a great time there so all was not lost.

One thing though; it's not the friendliest state. The people seem very reserved, so it was like a holiday in the UK in that respect. The food was nice, but by heck it was bland and uniform. I suspect meals are now made in factories and defrosted in the restaurants. We ate out early on in the holiday quite a lot, and it was all very pleasant in an anodyne sort of way. No matter what the exterior looked like, the food always came out the same as you get at a Weatherspoons here in the UK. Uniform, slightly bland, tasteless and of a silly size. In the end we gave up eating out, which is saying a lot as that's my wife's number one reason for living. 

Would we go back?

New York was great, so yes. Penn state? It was nice.