Loyalsock Trail … A Slim Path Through Raw Nature
Drew said we would be doing the Loyalsock Trail on Monday … my 3rd day in Central Pennsylvania. He had also explained that he thought the name was a bastardization of a Native American word. A quick check with Wikipedia told me, “The name is a corruption of a word in the language of the local indigenous peoples meaning ‘middle creek’ (the original was something like Lawi-sahquick). This refers to Loyalsock Creek’s location between Lycoming Creek and Muncy Creek, with the mouths of each about 6 miles (10 km) up and downstream of the mouth of the Loyalsock.”
Length: 18.47 miles
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As Drew pulled his Sonata to the side of the road I noticed my door was just inches from the bank of a stream, one Drew termed “Little Bear Creek.” He also stated we were sitting right where his men’s club had conducted their fishing derby earlier in the month. I was a little shocked to hear they had released thousands of fish in the skinny little stream before me. Little streams have no fish in Southern California (where I live).
We quickly got our gear ready, climbed aboard our mountain bikes, and started to grind up Little Bear Creek Road. After a half hour of spinning we came upon a trail that emerged just past a rusted guard rail and just before a creek flowing off the mountain. Drew pulled over and I parked alongside. He said the creek was called Red Run, and that we would be coming down this trail from the top later in the day. Drew also mentioned the guard rails, saying they had a new design … one that allowed the special metal to rust once. The initial rust was supposed to prevent any further corrosion.
Across the street from the trail was a house with a large sign that read, “Little Bear Cabin,” most likely a fine place for the owners to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
At the 4 mile mark we came upon Red Run (as you might have previously figured … a “Run” is a small creek) which passed through a race (a long trough) and over a decorative water wheel (the wheel was not attached to any mechanism for power) before crossing under the road and dumping into Little Bear Creek. I thought the building standing beside Red Run looked like a jail, but was, in fact, a cabin according to Drew.
At the top of the hill (5 miles into ride), Little Bear Creek Road made a left turn. Shortly thereafter we veered onto Old Barbours Road. We were lucky we only had to stay on Barbours for about a tenth of a mile, as it was a slimy, mucky mess. We left Barbours when we branched right at a yellow and black gate. This gate marked out the beginning of our trek on the Loyalsock Trail.
The Loyalsock was singletrack, fast, and flowing for about a mile and a half, and then turned left and still flowed despite the surface being a low level rock garden (stones generally protruding 6 inches or less).
- Click on the blue “P” for Driving Directions to the Trailhead.
- Click Garmin or Strava for more maps of the Loyalsock Trail.
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The vegetation also changed … trees and brush appeared to be closing in on us, leaving us with a narrow crack to squeeze our speeding cycles through.
Even the height of the trail changed, with many more low hanging limbs ready to remove a head or inflict severe whiplash! In addition, the 3M Clear glasses Drew had given me would not stay tight to my pumpkin shaped head … just like the sunglasses they had replaced from the day before. I had to continually push them back up my nose when I dared take a hand off a grip.
Drew had one more thing to worry about. Being the first rider to pass down the trail that morning, he had to plow through all the spider and caterpillar webs hanging off the trees and bushes (yes, the caterpillars were hanging from tree branches by a thread).
The rough singletrack ended abruptly when we came to a beautiful camp spot on the side of Shingle Run. Surrounded by thick forest the site looked dark and remote. I had the feeling a person camping there would see few, if any, human beings. Drew said he had camped at the spot before, and had plans to stay there again.
From Shingle Run we climbed, gradually for the first mile or so, then so steep we had to carry our bike up for about a quarter of a mile.
Close to the top of our hike-a-bike we came upon a large mass of rock protruding from the hillside. I thought I would see many similar formations in central Pennsylvania but had been surprised to find almost all land forms smooth and rounded.
At the Top
After topping out we were treated to some singletrack with a slight down slope and large, corpulent turns. The trail would have permitted some real swift riding had the surface been smooth. I guess the rock formations I anticipated had eroded down to stones just large enough to taco a rim, pinch flat a tube, or burp a tubeless.
We emerged onto a dirt road and did some more climbing, dodging large puddles frequenting the tracks laid down by jeeps and trucks.
As the road started to level Drew said to start looking for a small singletrack branching to the right. We crept down the road but had to turn around when Drew said we had gone too far. We searched for the track on the way back up now looking to our left. Nevertheless, when we reached the top of the hill we knew we had missed it again! So we did a 180 and headed back down.
As I was sidling down the doubletrack, my eyes focused on the right edge, the corner of my left eye detected Drew come to an abrupt stop.
Then I heard him yell, “Stop, a snake!” Of course it took me a second to process the information before I slammed on my brakes. When I quit looking at Drew and refocused my eyes on the road, sure enough, a rattlesnake lay sprawled across our path. I would have run right over him had Drew not said something!
Drew said he was a timber rattlesnake, one of four different species in the area (there are 32 different species of rattlers in the world … I looked it up!)
We jumped off our bikes and just stood there, not sure what to do. Neither of us wanted to try riding in front of his head or just behind his tail, fearing the reptile might feel threatened and snap at us.
Drew started tossing little pebbles to try to get the serpent to vacate. But, the snake wouldn’t move. Finally we tried using a stick. Drew gently poked and prodded while I took video. Eventually the critter must have tired of the harassment, for he gave up his sunbathing and slowly slithered into the bushes lining the road. We figured the rattler had to have crawled onto the road at a much faster pace, as we had just pedaled our bikes up that same piece of road having missed the turn-off!
Snake Video! LOL!
Below you will see Drew Wielding the Stick. To watch the video on a full screen click the icon in the lower right corner just to the right of the YouTube emblem once the video has started.
Note- My sources (Cindy) say rattlesnakes prefer a temperature range between 80 and 90 °F. The temperature of the trail (according to my Garmin 800 Edge GPS) was 75.2 degrees Fahrenheit right where the snake lay.
A few minutes later, when we finally did drop down the side trail, the temperature dropped to 69 degrees. No wonder our buddy didn’t want to leave the road!
After leaving our skinny friend we found the offshoot and began a steep drop off the side of the mountain. I stopped to reset my shock absorbers while Drew sped ahead. At the top of the hill he had claimed we would be on a singletrack. However, from what I could see it was a “zero-track.”
I just followed his skid marks over rocks, downed trees, and through thick patches of grass until we came to a stream. I always find it amazing when someone can bike down a hill without their wheels turning. Drew was laughing when I approached and I told him I hadn’t seen any trail.
As we picked our way along Red Run the signs of a trail slowly began to appear. Eventually I was able to keep my feet off the ground and pick up some speed. That only lasted a minute or two, when I spotted Drew stopped below, by Red Run, just above Little Bear Creek Road … the place we had stopped on the way up earlier in the day.
The next segment of the ride was a mental stress test. Drew had said the trail was not too steep … that he had taken his daughter (Sophie) down it in a bike trailer. I figured I must have turned into a wuss, as I could only keep my pedals rotating in my granny gear. To top that off, I had to restart in the middle of the grade after resetting my chain that had popped off and wedged between my 42-toothed rear sprocket and my spokes!
Once back on top we rode back down the road (the same road we had shared with our lethargic viper) but saw no signs of him. Fifty feet past that “snakey” spot we left the road on a sliver of a trail that brought us to the Boy Scout Camp. From there we rode down Salt Springs and Little Bear Roads back to the car, in some places reaching speeds in excess of 30 mph.
As we were coasting down I found myself singing a Jackson Browne song to myself (as I constantly do). I wondered if Drew would be singing too. I thought an appropriate song for him might be an old song by a guy named Jim Stafford called, “Spiders and Snakes!”
Of the four places Drew took me in central Pennsylvania, the Loyalsock Trail was the most untamed and remote. Dense vegetation prevented me from getting my bearings due to a lack of landmarks for a good part of the ride. Most of the time I felt I would be totally lost if not for having a guide. I think these qualities are what led Drew to say his favorite area to fish, camp, hunt, and of course … mountain bike was along the Loyalsock Trail.