Voices from the Road

A magical dual-sport adventure through the wooded terrain of Pennsylvania

We started the trip like any other: with bags packed, bikes loaded into the RV, and every stitch of riding gear we could ever need. We had a hasty pasta salad thrown together and loaded into the tiny fridge along with a weekend’s worth of LaCroix and snacks. I had just flown in from Southern California to Chicago to link up with two friends, following my dual-sport bike that had been shipped there the previous week. It’s not typical to have such lengthy logistics for a weekend trip, but this event was not your average off-road get-together. 

The Michaux Dual Sport is a recently resurrected group riding event, hosted by the Delaware Valley Trail Riders (DVTR), a group based out of central New Jersey. It marks the single day per year that dirt bikes and dual sport motorcycles are allowed—and encouraged—inside the state forest’s 85,500 acres of pristine lanes and twisty trails. DVTR members volunteer for weeks before the event to scout trails, choose and rate routes, and mark each route and option with directional arrows. After the event, they hike through with rakes to remediate any damage caused by errant tires and overzealous throttles. The time and dedication poured into a single-day event is awe-inspiring.

a person rides a bike through a forest

In the name of adventure, we had decided to drive from the Chicago suburbs overnight, splitting the nearly 13-hour drive between the three of us. The Midwest highways yielded smooth sailing, the snacks were plentiful, and after slogging through the typical Chicago rush hour traffic, the rest of the miles seemed to melt away behind us. 

My friends, Susan and Andy, had attended this event the two previous years, making the trek from Illinois to Pennsylvania with their motorcycles—this was their first trip in a new-to-them 29-foot toy hauler they had picked up just 6 months before. They detailed some of the harder options they had ridden last summer and were excited to get another shot at one called 3-Mile Trail. Though the official route changes slightly every year, a few of the more advanced sections are kept on the roster—although I’m not quite sure if it’s fun or torture those brave riders are chasing over the rocks and ridges (maybe both).

Ready to roll

We rolled into Shippensburg Fairgrounds just before 9 a.m. on Saturday and tucked the RV into the allotted site, pausing briefly to hook up power and roll out the extension, before unloading the bikes from the garage. For a sanctioned dual-sport event like this, each rider and bike must have the correct equipment for the designated route. In this case, that means a functioning headlight, current license plate and registration, as well as the official Michaux Dual Sport event sticker displayed on the front of the bike. Breezing through the tech inspection, I took a short joyride through the fairgrounds to see who else had arrived.

This event attracts riders from every corner of the U.S., and, after its successful revival in 2019, tickets sell out almost immediately. The 300 tickets allotted for the 2021 event sold out in 7 minutes. I had not managed to snag one at the initial launch, but the stars aligned to link me with a rider who had to cancel at the last minute. Sometimes the best things happen accidentally. 

a person in full gear stands by a bike

The next morning arrived quickly, and as we gathered for the safety meeting, the air was hazy with two-stroke oil and the sound of whining engines. We scattered to apply the last items of safety gear, fill up our hydration packs, and gather any snacks we may need, finally meeting back at the fairground pavilion about 20 minutes before the cutoff time. 

Gutter Trail

Without much fanfare, we were off. An immediate wrong turn out of the fairground exit had us giggling in our helmets before we had a chance to get out of second gear, setting the tone for the rest of the day.

Pennsylvania backroads are something out of a dream. Slightly overcast skies diffused the light, making the forests around us seemingly glow green—such a contrast to the drab brown California backroads I was so familiar with at home. All too soon, we rode up on the first DVTR volunteer, staged at the entrance of the 2.8-mile meandering Gutter Trail. A brief pause to collect thumbs up from everyone present, and we dove right in. 

Right away, the gravel gave way to sandy dirt, and the pace slowed slightly as we encountered the start of a rocky single-track trail. I had never had the chance to ride trails like this; the routes local to me in Southern California are devoid of the lush green underbrush and dark loamy dirt we were winding through that morning. The trail narrowed and began to twist down a ridge, thin saplings sailing by just inches from my handlebars. In an effort to slow down before a particularly rocky section, I lost balance and toppled over into the bushes lining each side of the track. Laughing as I picked up my little Yamaha TW200 for the first of many times that day, I was buzzing with the thrill of the new experience and thankful that the first tip-over was out of the way. 

a bike on a forest trail

That trail threw some great obstacles our way: We slipped through large boulders in a slimy creek bed, over a wooden bridge nearly hidden by a rhododendron bush the size of a small bus, and finally climbed back up toward the top of the ridge. The silty, rocky ascent rewarded us with a twisty sprint to a gloriously wide gravel forest road. Spilling out onto the track, we all paused to congratulate each other and snap a few photos, wide-eyed and flushed as the adrenaline rush tapered off to a warm glow.

Picking up the pace

Pointing our bikes back along the road, we took off in single file. Some of us were standing as we flew through the woods, noting the bright orange arrow markers tagged every now and again, pointing us along the trail to our lunch stop. A few turns and we ended up back on paved country roads, slowing down to pass through a small town. After finally rolling into the staging area for the state forest, we stopped just long enough to get our bearings, eat some snacks, and refill our hydration packs. There were a few dozen riders scattered throughout the parking lot, and as we watched small groups roll out together, we knew we had to pick up the pace if we wanted to complete a few more trail options before the end of the day. 

Our afternoon led us through some of the most beautiful and varied terrain I have ever laid eyes on: Sweeping Jeep trails floated down into little grassy valleys and short bursts of hill climbs led us over ridges and through dried-up creeks. Every corner had me wishing I had charged my GoPro camera so  I could relive riding through the vibrant green foliage that was whizzing past my helmet. 

Rattlesnake Ridge was our final difficult option of the day. In an effort to let the faster riders have a bit more freedom, we changed the order—my friend Cass took off down the trail with no hesitation at all. I had considered skipping this trail to meet them at the end, but I took a deep breath and plunged in, taking up the rear of the group and promising myself that it would be worth it.

a person rides a bike on a forest trail

Pinched and panicked

The first twists in the trail gave way to a flat outcropping of rock; the tree canopy was dense overhead and skinny young saplings were scattered throughout, just waiting to clip an errant handlebar. To my surprise, I quickly caught up with the group, as two of them were working to back a bike out of a pinch between two small trees. I knew I was the slowest of the six, and in the interest of not being left too far behind, I tiptoed around them and bounded down the rocky trail ahead. 

My joy was short-lived—I picked up a little too much speed and panic-braked myself into a tree, stopping with one foot braced on a boulder and miraculously staying upright with an arm wrapped around the offending trunk. The women who had stopped behind me whirled past and once again I was at the rear of the pack. Getting going, I stopped to help my friend Chin get her bike upright and told her I was taking it slow, eager to get back to the main trail. Maybe I would be skipping the final difficult option after all. 

We took off once more and around a bend I found my worst nightmare: a steep sandy downhill, seemingly without an end. I stopped to look around, willing a DVTR volunteer to materialize out of the forest and offer to ride my bike down for me. When no one arrived, I took a deep breath, stuck both my feet out on either side like rudders, and eased off the front brake. Sliding and slipping my way down the hill, I was nervous to look over my shoulder, expecting the next rider to blow past me at any moment. 

Asphalt under the tires

Finally, the trail turned into hard-packed dirt once again, and pausing at a wide switchback, I shut my bike off to see if I could hear Chin following behind me. A solid few minutes went by with nothing, and then, finally, the sound of an engine wound through the ridge above me. Sweeping around the corner came two brightly-clad DVTR volunteers, signifying that the trail was about to be closed. They let me know that Chin was having some trouble with her bike, but she had help with her and I could go on ahead. Another mile up the trail, I found the rest of the group, and together we made a run for the end of the option, spilling out onto a paved highway. 

Asphalt under my tires had never felt so good. 

two people in motorcycle gear stand by the side of a road in front of two bikes

We made the decision to end our adventure early, and dreaming of a cold beverage and homemade ice cream, we hustled back to the fairgrounds. Of the 115 miles marked out in the Michaux State Forest, we had spent the day winding our way through 95 of them. This was easily the longest day-in-the-dirt I had ever done, and I knew I was going to feel it the next day.

Whether it was fate or just very carefully applied good luck, I was thrilled to finally be a part of such a special weekend. I finally had a chance to ride off-road with friends who are scattered across the country, some of whom I had only ridden with on the street. There’s something special about a friendship that can survive a jaunt through the woods, emerging sweaty, happy, and sometimes a little banged up—but always bursting with excitement to recount the obstacles encountered on the trails. The Michaux Dual Sport is a magical and meticulously planned event—and it’ll be one that I’ll always make time for from here on out. 

Meet the Roadtripper

Cait Maher