Mountain biking and orienteering

We crossed the Delaware River and entered our first state of the trip: Pennsylvania. The first turn we needed to make was onto a road that was closed, so we detoured south along the river for scenic views of the river and old historic houses. Eventually we turned west away from the river and checked in at French Creek State Park, where we set up in the campground just before sunset. 

Pippin poses cheekily at the campground entrance

George had chosen French Creek because it looked good for mountain biking. I recognized the name as the location of orienteering events. Orienteering is a sport in which you navigate to specific marked locations using highly detailed maps and a compass. The goal is to reach all of the control markers in order and as quickly as possible.

The park brochure we received when we checked in had a section on orienteering, going so far as to name French Creek as the “Orienteering Capitol of North America”. The park even has a permanent, self-guided course. The brochure said that to follow the self-guided course, you could pick up an orienteering map from the park office. It was settled, on our first full day, outside of New Jersey, George and Loki would go mountain biking, and Pippin and I would go orienteering. The only question was where in the park the orienteering course was and how I would get to the office to pick up the map.

I couldn’t just drive to the office because we hadn’t unloaded the camper off the truck, and it was hooked up to the water and electric, so I needed to walk or bike there. It is possible to unload the camper, but it’s a bit of a hassle to do with the bicycle carrier on the hitch rack in the back. We’ve considered towing a second vehicle for situations like this.

In hindsight, I should have called the office and just found out where the orienteering was, which would have saved me a trip. But after waking up and having breakfast, George and Loki set off with his fat bike on the trails, and I set off with my fat bike on the road. I coasted down some very steep hills to the park office, got my map, and found out that the orienteering course began right there at the office. I needed to go back to the campground to pick up Pippin, though, so I pointed my huge bike uphill and began pedaling. The bike had plenty of gears, so it wasn’t as difficult as it could have been, but boy was that a challenge. I developed bursitis under a tendon near my knee back in September, so I haven’t been cycling in months, and even before then I was road biking on pretty flat land. This was a cardio effort unlike anything I’ve done in years. A drive to the office would have been simple, but I felt really accomplished for getting on the bike and putting in this effort,

When I got back to the campground, I was ready for a nap, but Pippin was ready to go orienteering. So I pulled out my hiking day pack and set out with Pippin on hiking trails down to the beginning of the course. The trails were wide from a lot of foot traffic, but they reminded me of the rocky and root-strewn trails we knew in New Jersey. 

The orienteering course was a beginner-level course, with control markers easily accessed on roads and trails. More difficult levels require bushwhacking and following features like cliffs, rock walls, bodies of water, etc. The challenge in orienteering is knowing how to read the features of the map to choose the route that will get you to the control first. The most direct route may require going over a hill through dense brush and actually take much longer than going the long way around on a road or trail. I was happy that this course wasn’t taking us off trails, and it was refreshing to decipher the map and find each marker. In orienteering events, the control markers are square orange and white flags with an electronic “punch” to register when you arrived. These permanent markers were wooden posts with the orange and white orienteering symbol on them.

Consulting the map after locating the first control marker

George enjoyed his bike ride, and Loki, outfitted with a training collar and GPS tracker, did a great job of staying with him and not running off. 

And just like that, as soon as we finished our activities, it was time to pack up and head on our way south. One state down, many more to go.

Ever on!


Published by Librarian on the Run

Embarking on a year-long road trip across the continental United States

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