ÜNDERBELLY RECON

Center Valley, PA

The ride started with a simple enough plan: roll at 10am Sunday for 2-3 hours on cross bikes. Dial in some new territory we’d been exploring and maybe try to find some virgin tracts of land in the Lehigh Valley.

FM Pryor and I rolled down Vera Cruz Rd to Oakhurst. I suspected there was a pathway from Oakhurst through the cornfield over to Center Valley Parkway. After some searching in the underbrush, we found it. And it was paved! Just wide enough for one bike, the path was way overgrown, but we cleared it just enough for future stealth missions.

Then shit got weird. We rolled down the paved path through the cornfields to the back of the Promenade Shops, an outdoor mall near Center Valley Parkway. Maybe it was the mall’s stark commercialism, but somehow our renegade sense of adventure took over. Within seconds, we were jumping curbs, crossing lanes, and then riding past a metal gate down a barely-there dirt path to a completely abandoned swath of land. In less than a minute, the view changed from a natural green cornfield to a neon green Carmike cinema to an unexplored oasis of oddly gray sand and stubby evergreen bushes. Eyeing the possibilities before us, the deviant smiles spread across our faces. Off we pedaled for what seemed like miles around this giant abandoned sand mound, surveying the completely flat top—it was like a big campground with small trees and some brush here and there but all rideable—to the middle of the packed sand mound, a sort of sloped double-track ring road complete with water-bar humps for getting jiggy on the CX bikes—to the lower part of this huge sand mound, which was yet another ring road that led us along more cornfields and then into the underbrush and around to a little grass path…to…a little deeper in…to see…what there is…and we looked up, confused, excited and a little freaked. What is this place?

It was a canyon. A sand canyon. Without a word, we rolled in. FM Pryor went low and I went high. He rolled into the belly of the beast. I trudged up the canyon ridge to get a good vantage point. Like a split electrical wire, we went separate ways on the same recon mission, each of us in view of the other. Going up, I could feel the elevation change, and then I saw a giant rusted metal pipe stretching down into the canyon.

“What the hell is this?” I said to Pryor.

“I dunno but you’ve got to see this,” he said, pointing to the inner canyon walls.

Pryor was resting sidesaddle on his bike, staring up at the sand wall, which was riddled with 4-inch diameter holes. Suddenly, a bird flew out of one of the holes.

“They’re bird houses!” exclaimed Pryor. 

“Hundreds of them!” I responded.

We sat there silently for a good long time, taking in the improbable landscape around us. A tangle of long, rusty metal pipes. A long, deep sand canyon shot through with holes. And a bird sanctuary. All hidden behind a very public, very commercial outdoor mall.

After that bizarre discovery, nothing on the rest of the 40-mile ride fazed us. Not the chance stream crossing at the base of the sand hill. Not the search for an exit from the cornfield maze. Not the gravel spin to the Saucon Valley Farmer’s Market. Not the refreshing iced coffee we inhaled there. Not the 2-hour beer stop at Lost Tavern Brewing, a newly opened Hellertown taproom. Not even the barbecue vendor we found at the back of the place serving hickory smoked pork shoulder and homemade barbecue sauce. Not our mountain bike bud, Lou Mazzante, stopping by our table outside for a couple beers. Not the stranger-now- friend who walked by holding a 4-pack of Sole Ales Giant Juicebox cans, just released that morning by another cycling friend and gypsy brewer, Joe Percoco. Not even the chance meeting with FM Czajka’s sister and her new baby at the bar. Not even a tipsy whirlwind spin through the twisty up-and- down rollercoaster pavement of an abandoned golf course hidden by 10-foot tall cornstalks.

Some days you happily ride your bike on familiar roads—safe, easy, enjoyable spins that you’ve done many times before. Other days, the bike takes you places you never expected to go. It reclaims your youth, erasing your overgrown adult concerns and replacing them with simple curiosity about the unknown world around you. Just like that, you hop on a bike and press the reset button on seemingly familiar terrain, and that terrain transforms itself before your very eyes into a magical place, a sort of Neverland where you perceive everything anew, shedding your thick cloak of accumulated experience to approach the world like an innocent, wide-eyed kid who will never die.

-= FM JOACHIM =-

Photo credits:  -= FM PRYOR =-   -= FM JOACHIM =-