Peddling and Paddling

River of the month #17

author: Pat Reilly
date: August 1999

What’s going on here? This isn’t a river. It’s about bicycle shuttles? Well, this month’s column was specifically requested. So here goes - by the time we’re done Karl may be sorry he ever asked and if you make it to the end, you may read more than you ever wanted to hear about shuttling with a bike.

The bike shuttle allows one to boat alone. I enjoy paddling year around in all conditions and have a penchant for virgin water that leads to obscure destinations. So I often have trouble finding partners and thus rely on the bicycle shuttle. But now the peddling has evolved into an integral part of my paddling. In my paddling logs, there is a special place to describe the shuttle and it is not uncommon to record more information about an eventful bike shuttle than about the actual boating.

Bike shuttling completes the workout - paddle for the upper body and peddle for the legs. It provides a certain satisfaction that you did it all yourself. When boating with friends, it allows you to drive the minimum number of vehicles. How many club members have taken a trip to say... the Nescopek, with 2 people in 2 cars? Such waste! Take one car with a bike and not only do you save gas money, but you keep our air cleaner. Plus no one has to drive alone.

But the best case for the bike shuttle is on exploratory trips where it allows you to really get the ‘feel’ of a new locality. When paddling through a previously unexplored area you see things from the perspective of the water. Then on the bike shuttle, you follow the river course a second time and complete the picture by viewing everything from land. You see so much more than from your car and you get to experience every tree and hill intimately, just as you got to know every rock and riffle in the water.

On many rivers (ie: Lehigh Gorge and Youghiogheny) there are bike paths that let the biker peddle where the driver cannot go. I always use a mountain bike and sometimes the shuttle turns into a serious ‘single-track’ off-road ride, like on the Gunpowder Falls Trail. On numerous paddling trips with Dave Ertel, we both took bikes, since neither of us wanted to miss out on the other adventure.

The biggest problem with bicycle shuttling when solo boating is that you have to leave the bike and the boat unattended for a period of time, leaving them vulnerable to thieves. The bike is the biggest problem, since it can be easily made off with. A street-wise hood that would snatch a bicycle in a heartbeat may not even recognize a kayak (especially today’s wacky designs).

There are two strategies when leaving the bike (and boat) - stash it completely out of sight or leave it out in the open in constant view of the public. Stashing generally means in the woods. The idea is to keep anyone from seeing it, so if near a well traveled trail (like a fishermen’s path) you have to get far off the trail. At times I’ll cover the bike with brush or stuff it under some bushes. And be careful not to make a trail leading to the stash. Sometimes I’ve had to erase my footprints in the snow.

Since takeouts are often at bridges, I frequently use the underside of the bridge to get the bike out of sight. Sometimes you can lock to the supporting girders. Other times I lock to a signpost along the road, then lay the bike over. This works well if the sign is at the top of an embankment and a guardrail is between the road and the sign, a scenario that exists frequently at bridges. The bike can lay over the side of the embankment, hidden from traffic by the slope and guardrail but having the security of being locked to the metal sign post.

But most of the time the bike (and boat) end up laying in the woods locked to a tree. Always lock up no matter how well the equipment is hidden. If someone should happen upon your precious old Schwinn, the lock says that the bike is not abandoned. I always lock the boat through a grab loop, where it would take only a pocket knife to cut it free. But while many people will scavenge equipment they perceive as lost, most are not thieves. As the saying goes, the lock ‘keeps the honest man from stealing’.

In a populated area you may be better off locking the equipment in plain view. If there’s always someone around, the thief can’t very well take out his hacksaw and get to work. When running the popular whitewater section of Codorus Creek, I always lock the bike in the County Park parking lot by the put in. Yes, it can be seen by everyone, but a thief doesn’t know if park personel are watching from the offices or maintenance barns. Since there are often people coming and going near the put-in, I believe in this case the parking lot works better than a stash in the woods. Use your best judgement. Sometimes you can use a restaurant or mini-mart parking lot to keep the bike or boat in the public’s eye.

Many times it’s a no-brainer. The stretch of creek is often so remote and the weather so lousy that no one is apt to walk near the stash all week let alone the 3 or 5 hours that you’ll be gone. Or there may be a bike rack, complete with other bikes and bikers, like in Ohiopyle.

Asking permission to leave equipment where it is safe is always a good option, although I seldom use it. Most times I’m a little embarrassed to fraternize with ‘citizens’ when out exploring creeks. When dressed for paddling, you look like an alien to non-boaters and often I find myself in places and weather conditions that locals may not associate with recreational boating. I usually keep a low profile and just try to ignore the ‘what’s that freak doing?’ looks.

Equipment that must be left with the boat or bike can be kept to a minimum. Stash spray skirts and paddles in the boat and turn the boat upside down. I lock the bike helmet with the bike. But the real valuables I always have with me. I made a hard rule years ago to never stash keys, wallet, camera, field glasses, knife or money. These items are always with me, in a dry bag or fanny pack. I have never lost any equipment to thieves using the bike shuttle, in spite of doing it hundreds of times. But that’s not to say it couldn’t happen tomorrow.

Do you shuttle before or after you paddle? We sort of covered this in the discussion of Bermudian Creek in the April newsletter. I usually go according to which comes first, the put in or take out. If you reach the put in first, you drop off your boat, shuttle the car to the take out and bike back before puting on. If you reach the take out first - drop off the bike, drive to the put in and paddle before you peddle. But there are other considerations, like which site is best suited to lock up the boat and bike. Many times I’m trying to squeeze in a trip before dark, in which case I’ll usually shuttle afterward since you can peddle in the dark (with lights on the bike) but paddling in the dark has it’s problems. In extremely cold weather it’s nice to peddle before you paddle so you can hop in the car when you get off the water wet and frozen.

Changing clothes! Keep in mind that you have to change without benefit of your vehicle when making the bike/boat or boat/bike switch. Use your ingenuity to get out of sight. As Ed Gertler says, ‘Public nudity is incredibly offensive to many people’. And always beware of poison ivy and stinging nettles. Changing can be a real adventure in itself when the temp is below freezing (cold enough for a sweaty body to generate steam). Make use of mini-mart rest rooms, Porta-Johns and the space under bridges. For that matter, if open boating you may not need to change.

One final piece of advice - always consult the map. You CANNOT assume that you can just follow the creek. What’s the old shuttle rule? ‘Keep making right turns (or lefts depending on which side of the creek you start from), you’ll get back to the creek’. Believe me, that doesn’t always work.

In March, ‘97, on a long overnight trip down Antietam and the Potomac, I left the map in the truck after launching from Devil’s Backbone Park on Antietam. The bike was stashed at the edge of a Virginia cow pasture near White’s Ferry some 50 miles down the Potomac. Since I wanted to ride the bicycle path in the C and O Canal National Park along the Potomac, I biked back on a different route than the one on which I drove to the put-in.

When I realized that I didn’t have the map I thought, ‘No problem’, I’ll just follow Antietam Creek back to the truck, even though I had never been in the area. ‘It’ll be fun!’ I left the bike path at the mouth of Antietam and after a pleasant ride through the Antietam National Battlefield, I crossed the creek and the road proceeded to loop back downstream and started up a steep hill. ‘Hmm, this doesn’t look good’. I contemplated turning back but pressed on. After a long climb I finally came to a left turn and proceeded to try and work my way back toward the creek. Uphills, downhills and more lefts until I finally crossed the creek again. Then basically the same thing on the other side, though now I was looking for right turns.

The ride was approaching 80 miles and I was getting awfully beat and hungry when I finally reached the creek again. ‘I gotta be near the put in by now.’ But to my horror, after taking a careful look at the water, I realized that I did not paddle under this bridge the previous day. That could mean only one thing - I peddled too far, I’m past the put in. I asked a local how to get to Devil’s Backbone and he promptly called back into his trailer to ask his wife. Great! I’m so far away, the locals don’t know where it is. Then he proceeded to give directions that started with ‘Go back past the prison’. ‘The prison’, I thought, ‘I passed that miles ago!’ Groan! All told, I went some 20 miles out of my way and I was one tired puppy when I finally rolled up to the truck. But hey, I really got to explore Washington County, Maryland.

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 1999 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.