The eponymously named State College, PA is a college that begat a city, and it happens to be located in what is quite possibly the most pastoral landscape I have ever seen. To the north and south vast stretches of blue-green hills extend from horizon to horizon, looming tidal waves that have threatened the valley for millennia.
“The valley floor is a rumpled quilt of emerald and gold—it seems that everything can and will grow here, leading to us to understand that this is no doubt a land of prosperity.”
Our humble troop of adventurers arrived in town a few weeks after class had let out for the summer, and with the student body’s exodus to their summer jobs, internships, and three months worth of late mornings spent “catching up” on their parent’s couch, wandering around the city gave one the sensation of walking in a pair of shoes five sizes too big. What we felt was a vacuum, a void; what we felt was the uncanny, as if we were peering behind the walls of a movie set. Despite the vacancy we were able to procure necessary supplies, namely a hacky sack, a bandana with a constellation print, and two trekking poles.
There were riders in our group who had intimate knowledge of Vermont and Virginia, but for State College we had no native guide. Daniel had been here on a road ride a half decade ago and Chris Tank (acting as our de facto local) had whipped up a course via internet resources that more or less followed our requirements: gravel, camping, and no more than sixty miles per day. But none of us knew what to expect and for this reason we allowed ourselves to be flexible with our route. There were no expectations so we followed our heart, marched to our own drum, figured it out.
Our ride in State College was as much an exploration of the region and the area as it was an investigation into our concept of what bikepacking could be. This was our time to ride, our moment to experience. It didn’t matter if the route called for 60 miles, if we could shorten it and get more swimming time in, who’s to say that was the wrong thing to do? No one. That’s life. So we called audibles, we looked for shortcuts, we enjoyed our evenings, we camped longer, slept in, took swims, went off-route for gross pizza and delicious candy bars. We controlled our own destiny, we were not slaves to the route map, servants to the GPS.
“This was free jazz, Ornette Coleman bike packing. Just one long beautiful solo. You should try it some time.”
The moral of the story here is that if you allow yourself to be flexible, with both your mind and your route, good things will happen, good things like ice cream outposts and free stuff from your camp host. We’re not advocating that you audible every ride, only that you listen to your heart and the hearts of those around you, and if those hearts are saying “audible” you audible; it’s like our saying here at Yonder Journal: “Don’t trust me, trust you.”