Grey Fox 2002
Grey Fox 2002 Photo
Album Click to see pictures from the trip.
July 18, 2002: Geneseo to Jason’s (Spencertown, NY)
We got off just a little after nine. It was very humid; the view of the valley was obscured – like looking through a dirty window, but we had just washed ours, so that wasn’t the cause. We started on 63 heading toward Dansville, but cut off on a side road just north of the village. Janie knit together a series of county roads over to just outside Wayland where she found a "by-pass" around the village center. The drive from Wayland to Naples was resplendent with large fields of potatoes in bloom. From Naples we headed to Prattsburg then to Pulteney and down along the west shore of Keuka Lake to Hammondsport. Then on to Watkins Glenn were we stopped in the village park at the foot of Seneca Lake where we had our lunch. Although it was still hot and humid, there was a nice breeze blowing in off the lake, so it was quite pleasant.
After lunch, we went through Mecklenburg on our way to Ithaca. We had to drive through downtown Ithaca in the early afternoon to pick up the desired route to continue on to Whitney Point at the base of our last Finger Lake (the name escapes me). From here on we would be crossing alien terrain. We motored on to Greene, Bainbridge, Masonville, and Walton. Janie informed me that Walton is known as the Scarecrow Capital. We didn’t see any scarecrows, although we did see one of those bus-sized RVs with the unique name: INTRUDER. Then it was on to Downsville and the East Branch of the Delaware River. NYC’s infinite thirst for water required them to dam the river at this point to create the Pepacton Reservoir. The drive around the reservoir was very pleasant. We found a pull out and took advantage of it for a little two-forty-fiver, if you know what I mean ;-)
We were now in, or at least very near, the Catskills. We passed Fleischmanns, which is where we think Bob ‘n’ Char stayed on their way up from The City. On to Big Indian and then Phoenicia where you can still stay in the same motel Dutch Schultz stayed in many years ago. I expect it has changed a bit since Dutch’s time. In Phoenicia, we picked up a road that climbed to Tannersville where we saw a sign advertising "Modern Primitives", whatever that might be. Tannersville is located on the top of the plateau formed by the remnant of the Catskill Delta. Of course we didn’t realize this was the top until we began the long descent down the other side. The descent was announced by a sign: NO SHOULDER. This was an understatement. We were on a fairly heavily trafficked road sandwiched between a bedrock wall and a rusty guardrail (with lots of dents and dings). There were maybe three or four grains of gravel between the edge of the pavement and the guardrail, which was intended to prevent travelers such as us from ending up in one of the many named ravines that border the road: Santa Cruz, Kaaterskill, Hillyer, and Wild Cat. We were clearly leaving the Catskills, although the village of Catskill was still a few miles ahead.
Just past Catskill, we took the Rip Van Winkle Bridge across the Hudson River. From the bridge we could see Frederick Church’s castle-like estate, Olana, sitting regally on the high ground above the Hudson. Then we went from the opulence of Olana to the depression of the village of Hudson (on the Hudson, duh). It was a stark and somewhat depressing contrast. A bit further down the road, we saw a sign: Chatham 12 miles. We were not far from Jason-land.
Wonder of wonders, it clobbered up and began to rain – hard. I had just replaced the wipers, and when I turned them on, the rain was swept away wondrously. However, I had managed to forget how to turn on the headlights. Ah, finally, there it is. It’s a knob you pull out. All the other "modern" vehicles I’ve owned had the control on a "smart stick". The "smart stick" in RVan controls the wipers and high beam and obscures the location of the pull-out knob for the lights. We pulled into the Spencertown Emergency Building’s parking are for a quick bathroom break before starting the detailed directions for getting to Jason’s.
Jason’s drive is a single-lane, mile-long, dirt road, which was now resplendent with muddy potholes. Thanks to early spring rains, the road was like a tunnel through a lush growth of surrounding trees, shrubs, and weeds. Just as Jason had told us, we kept driving until we think nobody could possibly live back that far and there we were, at a sign nailed to a tree proclaiming Kahn. As I jockeyed RVan around in the drive, we were attended by an appropriately appointed Jason. He was holding a large umbrella. We made it without getting flummoxed.
We got the grand tour of the hunting cabin turned rental unit and surrounding grounds and outbuildings. We have heard many stories about Jason-land, and each story conjures up a mental image of the place. Eventually the images merge into a composite picture which may or may not resemble reality. I knew there were a couple ponds near Jason’s place, and I knew about the long driveway. However, for some reason, the existence of ponds led me to the conclusion the area was flat, although I knew Jason hiked, biked, and skied the hills and mountains nearby. Well, the reality is that it isn’t flat, but it isn’t hilly either. It is just sort of rolly-polly and covered with trees, mostly maple and oak. There was a real feeling of comfort and casual living – just what you would expect for a hunting cabin. We were on vacation and we felt very comfortable. Of course the beer helped (Corona for Janie and Negra Modelo for me & Jay). Another comforting feature was the music; Jason was playing Naweedna 2001. It made me feel very much at home. It worked so well that I highly recommend everyone make a mixed CD of their favorite music, and give it (or take it) to their friends so they can play it when you next visit. I can tell you, it really works for me,
Jason had a nice dinner ready, accompanied by Hennepin, a very smooth, bottle conditioned Belgian beer from Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown. The evening was topped off with a slice, no, make it two slices, of Jason’s own Blueberry-Crumb pie baked in the Wizard of Clay pie pan we gave him. Yummy. We all turned in a little after ten.
July 19, 2002: Jason’s: Castle Street Café (Great Barrington, MA)
We rose around seven and did our normal RVan morning routine: wash up, brush up, drug up, and coffee/tea up. We joined Jason and discussed his trip to ND. We looked at the pictures and studied the map. Yep, we have to give this Maah Daah Hey Trail a shot next time we are out that way.
Jason is working part-time over the summer, so he was off to do whatever around 8:30. I grabbed the camera so I could photo-document Jason’s place and grounds. I returned for a second cup-a and processed the pictures, which you can see on our web site. Then we geared up and took a walk in the surrounding woods. It wasn’t hot, maybe eighty, but it had to be 100% humidity, so we got soaked from the inside out. We returned, changed into dryer clothes, and started thinking about lunch.
Just after lunch, Mark (and friend of Jason’s) and his son, Brian, showed up to do a little fishing. Brian must be around five and is obviously the consummate fisherman – he has a plastic pole with an equal length of line on which is attached a yellow plastic fish. Hell, his job is done before he starts. A picture of them fishing is on the web.
Jason returned from work and then headed out for a run to burn up excess energy. Afterwards, he jumped in the pond while we showered. Then we were off for a tour of Chatham and a stop at The Pub for a cool one or two, and then we headed off for Great Barrington for dinner and a little jazz at the Castle Street Café. Jason & I got wimpy pasta dishes, although I did get a bowl of Borscht. Janie, being the (s)he-(wo)man in the group ordered Organic North Dakota Buffalo Ribs. Janie’s was the best of the lot. After dessert, we moved to the bar where a trio was playing jazz (piano, trumpet, bass). We played "name that tune" while trying to remember various artists and albums – things I could give to Jason for his collection. As you might expect, there were so many gaps in our collective memory the whole venture was more comical than productive.
July 20, 2002: Jason’s: Grey Fox (Ancramdale NY)
We rose late, had our coffee and Jason made us breakfast burritos. The phone rang while Jason & Janie were doing something in the shed. Hmmm. It was Brian Sheldon who was more than a bit surprised when I answered the phone: "Boger, is that you?" He called to tell us he had a bracelet so one of us could get in free. The idea was for us to call Brian when we got to the entrance and he would come down to give us the bracelet. Well, it did work out that way eventually, but there were a few glitches along the way.
We tried to call Brian from a gas station near the festival, but, as it turns out, once Brian & I finished talking, he turned off his cell phone and put it in his guitar case. We left a message. When we got to the entrance, we could not get a signal so we couldn’t even call Brian’s guitar case. Janie & I paid – actually, Jason paid for us – and we went in to find Brian. Brian had told me that they had a green tarp set up "in upper right field", so we were looking that way when we saw Amy waving at us. Brian showed up shortly after we got to Amy and the tarp. Brian & I walked back to the entrance to get Jason in. We eventually got everything accomplished and were ready for some Bluegrass.
The setting for the Grey Fox Festival was appropriate for a Bluegrass event. The site is situated on a rolling hillside facing west. The stage was located on a bench about midway up the hill and the upper part of the hill formed a natural amphitheater for the audience. The view out over the ridges to the west was spectacular. If you ignored the sea of tents and RVs in the immediate vicinity, there was very little evidence of humans in the field of view – just tree-lined parallel ridges as far as you could see. We had been blessed with great weather. It had cooled considerably and the sky was clear except for a few puffy white clouds. The bright sun presented a welcome problem after several very hot and humid days.
We nestled under the shade of the tarp with Amy while Brian went off to do whatever Brian does. A bit later, he came ambling in with Bob Mahoney. It has been at least twenty years since Bob and Jason have seen each other, so this gathering had all the makings of a Geneseo reunion: Bob Mahoney, Jason Kahn, Amy Halleran Sheldon, Brian Sheldon, and the Bogers. We talked about old times, people who weren’t there, music, and occasionally, we even took time to listen to the artists playing live on the stage.
There was a dinner break between five and six thirty. During that time we gathered in B&A’s camping area. They had come on Tuesday to reserve space and get things set up for a Geneseo group (B&A, Brian Tomazcewski and Matt Gillette). They even had their own shower rigged up. Unfortunately, the shower bag had been left in the sun, so it was a bit on the warm side. How many times have you had a problem with a camp shower being too warm? While we were sitting around, these two guys come over with a home ice cream maker and said, "Anybody want some home made ice cream with fresh-picked blueberries?" Duh! It was such a shock, I just stood there looking at them. The only reason I saw for hesitation was the fact that the ice cream maker was new. Hell, they even had plastic dishes and spoons. We took all they had left. It was yummy, but while Brian Tomazcewski was enjoying his treat, he dropped it in his lap. Jason was ready to start licking it up, but then thought better of it on purely social grounds. After all, he had only just met Brian T.; it didn’t seem right to start licking the ground beneath his feet, even if it was littered with blueberries.
Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder was the main act of the evening and their set was scheduled for just after sundown. Sundown is an important event for several reasons. Remember, we were facing west. Remember the air was clear and, by this time, the sky was cloudless. We had a marvelous view of a spectacular sunset over the Catskills. Jason, being the only local person in our crowd, provided the names of all the peaks dotting the horizon. As it turned out, the sun sat right over, or right on, Slide Mountain. The audience has a tradition of cheering the sunset. They begin when the sun touches the horizon and end when it disappears. That is the reason Ricky Skaggs was scheduled to begin just AFTER sunset because these people were going to cheer no matter what was going on. It is a tradition, after all, and traditions must be kept. You can see the pictures on the web. You can’t see the eleven-day old moon that dominated the sky after the sunset.
Ricky gave us a good show; the best of the day. It built to a grand crescendo that was a fitting end to our day at Grey Fox. We had spent nearly twelve hours sitting there on the hill huddled under B&A’s green tarp. We talked about all sorts of things, but the conversations nearly always came back to music of one sort or another. We departed after Ricky’s set and headed back to Jason-land for leftover blueberry crumb pie. On the way back, Jason asked about Bill Monroe. We hope the boy wasn’t bored by the experience.
July 21, 2002: Jason’s to Shawangunk Multi-Use Area (New Paltz NY)
After our regular morning coffee and breakfast burrito, we packed up and Jason led us to the "Gonks" for a bike ride around Lake Minnewaska. Jason went to grad school in New Paltz, which is in the shadow of the Shawangonks, a world-class climbing area. Lake Minnewaska SP and the Mohonk Lake Area are on top of the Shawangonk escarpment, and they both have many miles of old carriage roads dedicated to hiking, biking, and horseback riding. It was a little after noon when we arrived, and being a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the place was chucky-jam full. In fact, there was an hour wait just to get into the SP, and a line several cars long of people willing to wait. We weren’t, so we headed on down the road where we found a parking area with space, paid our $6 to park, un-racked the bikes, and headed out for a ride.
Although crowded, the place is spectacular. The ride is challenging enough to make it interesting and easy enough to make it enjoyable. The scenery is splendid. We did a little over twelve miles: up Peter’s Kill Road to the Lake Awosting Trail to Castle Point to Castle Point Road to Lake Minnewaska and finally back to the parking area. A couple interesting things happened along the way. Jason, being the consummate mountain biker that he is, decided to ride up and over a sizable rock along the trail. He got up okay, but the over part included his falling headfirst over his handlebars into the middle of the trail. He was okay, but the bike … well, let’s just say those special rims were not as sturdy as advertised. A couple yanks on the rear wheel and a releasing his rear brakes allowed him to continue on. I should tell you that it is a fairly steep descent, especially when you only have a front brake – we went slowly, but Jason was still in the lead.
The other interesting event was our encounter with a middle-aged, somewhat heavy, and I would say citified, man and his two sons, equally citified. Remember, we are very near The City … and New Jersey … so this is to be expected. The three of them had biked up from the SP and were going in the opposite direction we were. They had stopped at Hamilton Point and when we arrived, they asked if this was Castle Rock. "No, that is about a mile on up the trail", Jason replied. While all six of us were enjoying the view, a kettle of vultures was kiting along the ridge line seeking thermals. The father asked if those were hawks or eagles. Unfortunately, we had to bust his bubble and tell him they were only vultures. I say unfortunately because if we hadn’t been there, he and his sons would have gone home that night and told everyone that they had seen eagles soaring out over the valley. I wished they had been eagles. These people were riding mountain bikes up a moderately rigorous assent and a considerable distance from the center of their creature comforts. They should have been able to embellish their adventure with the sighting of eagles, but, alas, they were vultures – turkey vultures at that.
After we returned to the vehicles and racked the bikes, Jason took us to the Mountain Brauhaus, for, what else, Weiss braus. After that, we thanked Jason for being such a gracious host and he headed home. We headed for the Shawangonk Multi-use Area, which has free camping for as many as can be crammed in – and absolutely no facilities. So there we sat in RVan with several young hikers, bikers and climbers trying to relax in 85 degree heat and what must be 100 % humidity. Ah, nature, ain’t it grand?
Apparently, there are few camping facilities in the Shawangunk area, so this Multi-use Area is the place to hole up for the night. There were so many cars parked there, I had some difficulty getting out the next morning. But I did, and we headed up to the West Trapp Trail Head for a day of biking.
July 22, 2002: Shawangunk Multi-Use Area to Kenneth L. Wilson Campground (Mt Tremper, NY)
We arrived at the West Trapp Trail Head parking area a little after seven. There was no attendant to take our money – or answer our questions – so we opted to head down to the SP. Not only was there no attendant, there was a big ol’ steel gate across the entrance, and the same was true of the parking area we used yesterday. Okay, back to the trail head parking area, which had no locked gate for some reason. We parked, had some oatmeal, un-racked the bikes, and prepared to head out … somewhere. The only trail leaving the parking area was called the Trapp Trail Connector. I perused the map and decided it had to lead to the Overcliff and Undercliff Trails, which Jason had recommended. About a half mile down the trail we came to the Trapps Bridge that connects the carriage trails south of the main highway to those on the north. There were stone steps leading up from the connector to the carriage path, and once we negotiated them, we found ourselves right where we wanted to be.
We decided to start with the Undercliff and come back the Overcliff Trail. The trail followed a contour at the base of the "Gonks" climbing area. We passed a trio of climbers who were preparing for a climb by checking out rock cracks and seeing what worked best in them. It was such a nice ride in the warmth of early morning that we were stunned when we arrived at Rhododendron Bridge. We had to decide where to go next. It was way too early to complete the Under-Overcliff loop, so we decided to continue south on Old Minnewaska and see what we could see in the Mohonk Lake Area. As it turned out, we had very few choices to make. Most of the trails had signs prohibiting bikes, so we just keep going where the authorities would allow. We eventually ended up at the toll road that winds its way up to Mohonk Lake. We road along the toll road looking for a trail that allowed bikes. There were none, so we were forced to head back to Rhododendron Bridge the way we had come: Old Minnewasksa, Home Farm, Old Stage, Oakwood, Forrest, Woodland Bridge.
On the way back, we decided to take a couple of the alternate routes that allowed bikes, so instead of following Forrest to Oakwood, we took Kleine Kill to Oakwood and followed Oakwood past the Old Stage connector. Eliminating Old Stage meant eliminating a long up and down, so this turned out to be a good choice, although longer.
We were once again surprised when we got to Rhododendron Bridge, so we decided to try Laurel Ledge before heading back along Overcliff. This was a very good choice. Laurel Ledge goes along the north side of the "Gonks", which is covered with (duh) laurel and hemlock. There was a nice breeze blowing down the trail, the scenery was marvelous, and all was good with the world. Laurel Ledge is a loop around the "Gonks" much like Under & Overcliff, and when we got to the turnaround, we saw the nasty "No Bicycles" sign. Ah, there was a foot trail marked "Bike Path" continuing on north, so we took that. The very next thing we saw was a request for us to walk our bikes. We did so until we saw the "You May Continue Riding" sign. The trail was narrow and cobbly but very scenic. The large rock outcrops interspersed with hemlocks reminded us both of the Hocking Hills. We found a nice rock to have lunch on, and that is exactly what we did.
After lunch, we tried to continue, but the trail got continually worse. It became obvious that they did not want bikers to come into the rather hoity-toity Mohonk Lake Area without using the toll road. We decided to turn around and head back to Overcliff and the parking area. Overcliff was a bit of a surprise at first. It was sunny and hot – and up a moderate grade. About a third of the way back, we topped a small ridge line, and it was downhill the rest of the way. We found ourselves coasting through shaded forest the rest of the way back to the steps that lead to the trail that lead to the parking lot that lead to the spider that ate the fly that … oops, I got carried away.
We started our ride at nine and finished at two. The total distance was 18 miles, and we were pleasantly tired. After racking the bikes, we headed north toward a DEC campground in the Catskills … with showers.
After our shower, we sat in RVan for our regular evening respite. As we sat talking and logging our activities, we noticed some movement at the edge of our campsite. Whoa, it was three hen Turkey herding fourteen poults around the back of our camp site. While we watched them disappear into the brush, we noticed yet another hen and three more poults bringing up the rear. Neat!
July 23, 2002: Kenneth L. Wilson Campground to Hickory Run SP (White Haven NY)
We arose short after seven with the intent of arriving at Lake Minnewaska SP at nine, when they opened the gate. Things went as planned, and we were biking by nine thirty. Even at that hour it was HOT and very muggy. The big, fat girl who ate our $6 at the gate, had looked me in the eye and asked, "Is it hot enough for you?" I said, "No, I prefer the mid-afternoon heat." You know, the mad dogs and Englishmen kind of heat. She then told me that it was going to rain, torrentially, possibly hail and get much cooler – the high tomorrow is supposed to be 75. However, we are riding today, and today it’s HOT.
We made an error in our interpretation of our route with Jason. We thought we took Hamilton Point from Lake Awosting to Lake Minnewaska, so today we decided to take Castle Point to get to Lake Awosting. However, when we got to the intersection of Hamilton Point and Castle Point, there was a sign saying no biking in this direction. Obviously, we had taken Castle Point, not Hamilton Point with Jason. Thus, today we rode backwards on the same route we had ridden with Jason. It was so nice, we did twice and the second time we did it backwards. Get your mind out of the gutter, we’re talkin’ about bike rides here. Besides, we didn’t know, so what’s the diff?
We started from the parking lot at Lake Minnewaska and took Castle Point to Lake Awosting. We stopped at the "beach" to splash some cool water on our faces. There was absolutely no one there, which was vastly different from Sunday when it was crowded with swimmers and sun worshipers. We soaked bandanas and tied them around our necks then headed on around the lake. We took the Awosting Trail back to Lake Minnewaska and the parking lot. We opened RVan and, just for laughs, looked at the thermometer: 98 degrees. We had a cottage cheese and fruit lunch and thought bad thoughts about the silly people eating hot dogs and fries they had procured from KB’s Doghouse – a trailer that seems to be a semi-permanent fixture at the end of the parking area. I wonder who you have to know to get permission to run the only concession in the entire state park.
We packed things up and prepared to leave Jason-land for points farther south. It was twelve thirty, and we had two hundred miles to cover to get to our next destination: the twenty-six mile Lehigh Valley Rail Trail between White Haven and Jim Thorpe PA.
We left the SP as we had come in this morning but when we reached US209 we turned south toward Port Jervis rather than north toward last night’s campsite. On the way we passed a cute little bakery. After a U-ey, we pulled into the parking lot. I had visions of the wonderful cinnamon rolls we scored at Rick’s Kountry Bakery on the way back from the OH trip. Alas, it was Searsport ME all over again (remember, Mikey?). The sign on the door said, "Closed July 23", which was TODAY, damn it. A little further down the road, we passed a Ukrainian restaurant, which was also closed July 23. Wonder if they were off doing something together, or maybe it is just some conspiracy to keep us from getting fatter.
Janie had decided to go through the Delaware Water Gap, so that is what we did. The traffic before and after was heavy, but while we were in the DWG, it was light. Unfortunately, neither of us could see any reason for this to be a National Recreational Area. I suppose you have to actually get out of your vehicle and into a boat or onto a hiking trail to get the benefit. Whatever, we drove through leisurely and just before leaving, stopped at a picnic area to have a snack.
On our route, Janie had noticed a bank and the flashing time and temperature proclaimed 91 degrees at three thirty five. Shortly thereafter it began to rain, and continued to do so steadily for the rest of afternoon. A bit later, we passed another bank that said it was 75. So we went from over 90 to mid 70s in an hour or so. Things are looking up.
Once we left DWG, the traffic was awful. We were officially in the Poconos and didn’t realize that this was the weekend for the Pocono 500. We wound our way along to White Haven were we thought we would look for the Lehigh Gorge Bike Trail parking area. These Rail-To-Trail bike rides are all nicely described in the books Janie bought – but they don’t do a very good job of telling you how to FIND the trail. According to the description, this is one of THE trails to ride and said that thirty thousand riders a year enjoyed the spectacular scenery. We expected to see big signs pointing to the trail head and wouldn’t have been surprised if there were people there to welcome us. This was not what we found. We found a small sign pointing off toward a dead end street and nothing more. Well, actually when we went to the dead end we did see a cindered area that looked like a place where an old factory had been torn down. We poked along into the vacant lot and found a couple sign boards. There were notices proclaiming the benefits of the Lehigh Gorge multiple-use area with glowing statements about white-water kayaking and canoeing. There wasn’t a single word about biking. We went to the end of the empty lot and found it barred by a locked gate. Sure there was what could be a bike rut going around one end of the gate, but this is hardly what one would expect for "30,000 riders annually."
We headed back to civilization, parked, and I went into the CVS to ask. This very nice woman told me the trail head was at the end of the parking lot where the iron gates are. Oh, so that was a parking lot. We were there, but we didn’t know it.
We had now found the trail AND the parking lot. It was time to secure accommodations. I had the bright idea of going to the Police Station and asking if there was a safe and quiet place we could park overnight. You know, it would be the Police who would run you out, so why not ask them if there is a place they would allow us to park. We looked for the Police Station but only found the Municipal Building. Oh, wait, there is a little sign on the side of the building: Police Office with an arrow pointing down a narrow and dark passage between two buildings. Forget that idea. I can only imagine who might be sitting in that office and how he might respond to, "Do you know of a place we can park for the night?"
We headed out toward Hickory Run SP, a scant five miles away. On the way we saw a sign directing us toward a Lehigh Gorge access point. We headed that way and found a nice little parking lot just off the gated entrance to the Lehigh Gorge Hiking/Biking Trail. Hallelujah, we found a much better place for tomorrow’s bike ride. Reveling in our good fortune, we headed on down the road to Hickory Run SP and set up camp in site 174. We had a shower, spaghetti dinner, and looked forward to a good night’s rest without sweat. Hell, we may even have to use a light blanket. Things are looking good, y’all. But for how long?
July 24, 2002: Hickory Run SP, Day 2
We were up at the crack of seven, and it was 69 in RVan. What a difference a day makes. It was only 74 when we went to bed. The previous two nights it had been 85, which is too damned hot for sleeping comfortably. RVan started to feel like a pizza oven; Janie & I were the pepperonis on the pie sweltering under a blanket of cheese.
We decided against starting at the nice parking area we had discovered last evening. Instead, we readied RVan and headed on down the road to Rockport, which is about midway on the trail. I actually took pictures today, so you can see some shots from our ride on the web. I didn’t take the camera on our rides in the "Gonks" because I didn’t want the added weight on those uphill climbs. Today we are doing Rails-To-Trails with at most a six percent grade, so it should be okay.
While driving to Rockport, I decided PA should be called the CLOSE state. Everything is right on the edge of the road: people’s downspouts stick out to the edge; road signs are right on the edge; cars park on the edge (and sometimes over it); and rocks and sometimes houses are right on the edge. How do those truck drivers deal with it? Everything is so close to the edge of the highway. Hey, if you aren’t living on the edge, you are taking up too much space. We read that somewhere in ND last year. Edge-aholics, we’ve seen a few in our time.
The entire trail is twenty-six miles long and runs between White Haven and Jim Thorpe (renamed from Mauch Chunk at the bequest of his widow). On the White Haven end, the trail starts at that vacant lot I described yesterday and goes under I80, which is on a very high span over the gorge – it was weird to look up at the underside of an Interstate and imagine all those cars and trucks up in the air. At the other end in Jim Thorpe, the trail goes along an active RR track for eight miles. Thus, the trail was only seventeen miles long for us. We did the Rockport to White Haven first (10 miles), had a bit of lunch, and then did the Rockport to where the trail meets the RR in the afternoon (7 miles) for a total of 34 miles roundtrip. We were a little saddle-weary. After all, this was our fourth straight day of biking, so I guess it is understandable.
The entire route was on a tree-lined bench at least fifty feet above the Lehigh River. The river is popular for the white-water rapids that occur rhythmically along the gorge. There used to be anthracite mines in the surrounding mountains. The white-water parts of the Lehigh are not navigable by ore barges, so between 1835 and 1838 Josiah White decided it would be a good capitalistic venture to convert the free-flowing stream into a canal. At some considerable expense, he built 20 dams and 29 locks between White Haven and Mauch Chunk (Jim Thorpe). I found myself wondering how he got the "right of way" to completely alter 26 miles of natural stream channel. Something like three million tons of anthracite were extracted and a considerable amount of that was transported by Mr. White’s canal system to railheads for shipment south to the industrialized Philadelphia region.
Timber and tanning were two other industries in the 1800s. The entire area was deforested and the Hemlock bark was used by the tanners. The Lehigh Tannery was the second largest in the country at the time. Apparently the outfall from the tannery was so bad, the river was black downstream. Deforestation resulted in increased runoff, and after a prolonged period of rain, a flood damaged or destroyed Mr. White’s dams and locks. I hope he made enough to pay for the construction – or maybe I don’t.
A RR was put in after the destruction of the "canal", but that went bust when the anthracite played out, and the abandoned RR was eventually converted to this very nice Rail Trail. Oddly, there is a currently active RR on the other side of the river. I suppose it was put in from scratch while the abandoned one lay fallow. Oh well, at least we got a Rail Trail out of it.
I can recall three interesting events from today’s excursion. The first one was a small snapping turtle sitting along the edge of the trail (PA is all about edges, see). This certainly had to be this year’s hatchling. I took a picture, so you can see for yourself. I hope s/he survived the gaggles of pre-teen girls we saw on the trail later in the day. You know, busty girls should NOT wear those back packs with chest straps. Either that or they should just go topless from the get go. But I digress.
The second thing involved HUMANS (say it like "Newman" from Seinfield). Just as we began our afternoon trek, we caught up with a family of five. The youngest boy was a real hum-dinger. He was wearing a red tee-shirt and was in bad need of a dose of Ritalin. When we first saw him, he was tossing his bike into the adjoining bushes and crying petulantly. "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you all." He thought his older brother had caused him to crash. We rode on by, trying to look pleasant and unconcerned. Shortly, I heard the sliding of forceful braking behind me. He had come up very fast behind us, and the hard braking was his way of telling me to move over so he could pass. I did, and he did. Next the older brother passed us. He was wearing a Walkman or something. I looked back to see the rest of the family in the distance behind. Eventually, the mother, as mothers would, passed us, obviously trying to catch up with the boys. Just ahead, we could see they had stopped. The RED shirted devil had chucked his bike again, and was picking up stones and throwing them at his older brother. Again, we rode by with pleasant expressions. The RED shirted one was now walking back, and the mother was heard to say, "But how will you get home?" At this point, I was just thankful the kid was unarmed, and I could only imagine what he is going to be like in five years – if he lives that long.
The last interesting event of the day occurred when we stopped at a picnic table to rest before finishing off the last couple miles. Janie noticed a couple bugs on her hat. One was a big, bright green inch worm, and the other was some kind of colorful beetle with a long, tube-like snout. The beetle proceeded to stick its snout into the middle of the inch worm. The worm’s protestations, at first severe, diminished with time, and eventually ceased all together. The beetle was sucking the very life right out of the worm. We could see the worm get smaller and wrinkly like a deflated balloon. This evolution thing is really weird sometimes.
After the ride, we racked the bikes and headed toward Jim Thorpe with the idea of getting some information about another Rail Trail nearby. We had a brochure for a whitewater/mountain biking/paintball place, so we looked for it (we were only interested in the biking part). We found it, and we found two teenagers and an older man at the "Info" place. We asked about the Switchback Trail, which was a narrow-gauge track that operated by gravity to bring coal down to the valley. That sounded like it might be steep, so we asked about the grade. The young girl said, "seven percent". Ah, that seems doable. Are there any camping areas nearby? At this point the older man chimed in and told us about two campsites near the head of Switchback. He tried to describe how to get there, but it was a confusion of grandiose hand waving and minute detail. He ended with a "Got it?" To which we replied, "Hunh?" The young girl, sensing our confusion, pulled out a brochure with a small map and said, "They are right here." Ah, we had just come that way. Now I get it. We were glad to know that some young people understand the value of a good map, unlike our most of our GSCI 100 students.
When we got back to RVan and looked at a map, we could see that we were about equidistant from the places described by the "Info" people and Hickory Run SP, where we stayed last night. The SP was $14, clean, quiet, safe, and had showers. The other places – who knows. We went to the SP and got the same site as last night. It is a damned nice spot, and we are happy to be here – and clean.
It was not nearly so hot today, but the humidity persisted. As the day wore on, the humidity lowered, and the trees on the distant ridges were not obscured by haze. It is supposed to get down to the upper fifties tonight: cool air, clear sky and a full moon. I found myself wondering how long the nice weather will last this time.
July 25, 2002: Hickory Run SP to JenO’s (West Chester PA)
We again got up around seven and made our way to the Alpine Bakery, which we had passed yesterday. Janie went in to score some sticky buns, cheese Danish, and rye bread while I called Mom to wish her a happy 86th. Then we headed to the county park located about midway along the Switchback Trail. A very nice lady provided detailed information on the park, camping, and the trail. We parked in the boat launch area, scarfed down some pastry, and prepared to attack Switchback.
It turns out that this was the second RR in the country – yep, you read that correctly, the SECOND RR in the US. It was a narrow-gauge RR used to move anthracite from high up on Mount Pisgah and Mt Jefferson down to the valley and eventually the canal system for shipment. The rail lines were graded out at 7%, and gravity did the work of delivering the goods. We never did find out how they got the cars back up to the mines. However, we did learn that on the descent the cars reached eighteen mph, which must have been break-neck speed at that time. After the anthracite played out, the rails were used for sightseeing tours. There were two noteworthy tourists who took advantage of the opportunity: Thomas Edison and the man who invented the rollercoaster. They didn’t name the rollercoaster guy, but I can see why he would be interested in the gravity-powered system.
We started with the trail up to Mt Jefferson. The trail was through woods so there were no direct sunlight issues. Much of the land had been sold for private homes, and the trail occasionally passed through the front yards of new homes. In fact, the trail ended very abruptly in someone’s backyard at Summit Hill, which sits under Mt Jefferson. We only met one person on the trail. He was a skinning, red-neck-looking guy who was pushing his bike, and as we approached, he stopped, pulled out a cigarette, and lit up. I wish I had nerve enough to take a picture: skinny guy pushing a bike up hill and smoking. Cool.
Oh, Jason, we have now done DOWNHILL. Yep, we came screaming down the 70% grade like an errant Fourth of July rocket. Oops, now that I re-read the previous, I notice I seemed to have omitted a decimal. That should read 7.0% grade ;-)
There is a place where the Jefferson and Pisgah trails cross, hence the switchback moniker. On the way down from Mt Jefferson, we switched over to the Pisgah trail and headed up to that mining area. This was a longer and more interesting trail. The Jefferson trail, although narrow-gauge, was nearly a two-track trail so we could ride side-by-side. The Pisgah trail was mostly single track with the same 7% grade.
While perusing the map, we noticed a place marked "obstacle" with a caution and warning to use the trail around it; there was no indication what the obstacle was. It turned out to be a part of the trail that had been undermined for access to another anthracite seam. The "obstacle" part was a bare rock face with a rock ledge where the trail had been. In some places the ledge was less than six inches wide. Apparently, the "obstacle" had scared the piss out of people because the bushes were littered with pieces of used tissue in various stages of dis-aggregation. We decided to take advantage of the stop while considering our alternatives for dealing with the "obstacle". Discretion being the better part of adventure, we decided to not take a $1500 risk and took the side trail around. It turned out that we had not avoided all the adventure, however. The side trail seemed to keep going down instead of back up to the main trail, so we were forced to scramble up a steep slope to get back on track, so to speak. The scramble involved carrying the bikes, so this was a true mountain biking experience.
We stopped at the summit where there was a slight clearing with a view of Jim Thorpe and the surrounding terrain. It was quite pleasant. Rather than follow the trail down into the town of Jim Thorpe, we opted to return the way we came – another screaming downhill descent ;-)
We rode the downhill as fast as good judgment would allow. We were running an hour or so behind our schedule and it was an opportunity to test our skills on the bikes. The trail was a fairly rough mixture of rocks, roots, and old rail ties. The shocks got a good workout.
When we got to the switchback, we met a herd of young boys heading toward Mt Jefferson. We were glad that we started early. We also saw a couple of college-age girls with backpacks. One of them had a short pole sticking up out of her pack. The pole had a mushroom-shaped attachment on the end, and I recognized it as a GPS receiver. As I biked past, I asked, "Doing a little mapping?" They answered in the affirmative and seemed surprised that I would know. I would have loved to stop and talk, but we needed to get on the road to West Chester to meet up with JenO.
The drive went faster than we had expected, so we decided to take a short side trip to Downingtown, the home of the Victory Brewery and Storm King. We found the place, went inside to check it out, picked up a mixed case for JenO, and headed out for her apartment.
After a missed turn and a short excursion through a housing development, we found ourselves in the parking lot at 1196 Queen’s Lane. We didn’t see her car in the parking lot, but I went up to knock on the door just in case. No answer, so I backed RVan into a shady area and before I could turn off the engine, JenO came tooling in. We did the usual greeting thing, and then headed inside to pop the top of what turned out to be several (maybe a couple too many) Victorys. JenO lives in the last building at the end of an apartment complex, so it was very secluded and serenely quiet. In fact, there was a newly constructed nature trail and we were parked right at the entrance. The trail was announced by a nice big sign telling you what you can and mostly what you cannot do. There was a boulder with a nice plaque dedicating the trail to someone who had recently passed away, and the entrance to the trail was resplendent with flowers and greenery. It looked like it would be a nice trail, but one look proved that it was all show and no go. The trail was overgrown and the area looked more like the place the grounds keepers store their sod and other repair materials. Too bad, but I guess it is indicative of our times: all show and no go. Sorta like the stock market these days, if you know what I mean.
After a couple beers, tour of the apartment, and catching up on news, we headed back to the Victory Brewery for dinner. The brewery is in an old Pepperidge Farms facility so it has those high, industrial ceilings. When you walk in the door, the first thing you see is an upright cooler stocked with beer for the carryout traffic. Then, to the left, there is a looooong bar that curves around in an "L" shape. Beyond the bar is a large open dining area with tables and chairs suitable for a hundred or so patrons. There are a couple pool tables and some game consoles, so the place has the atmosphere of a college bar.
We ordered up three different Weiss beers, some jerk chicken nachos, and a stockyard pizza. It was all wonderful as long as you aren’t a vegan and don’t mind a few jalapeños. As Janie said, then next morning it was, "hurry up ice cream." After a couple more beers and lively conversation, we headed back to JenO’s. It was well after our bedtime, so we did the sensible thing and called it a night.
The next morning we had our coffee with JenO, talked some more, and, around eight, she headed off for work. She left us a spare key so we could lock up after showering. It was nice having a home to relax in while we waited for the morning rush to subside. We locked up the apartment around nine thirty and headed on down the road to Hagerstown for the annual Bannigan Family Weekend. We plan to send JenO’s key back in the mail. Now think about that for a moment. Here is an envelope with an address and a key. We will have to use a suitable disguise – like when we did the exact same thing after visiting Sue at NC State. Ah, it is nice to have such open-armed friends. We are blessed.
July 26, 2002: JenO’s to Breslin’s (Hagerstown MD)
Our route to Hagerstown took us within spittin’ distance of a big ol’ RV dealer. We were running low on propane, so we decided to stop in and get a fill up. Alice had told us that she had to take Caitlin to her special doctor in Johns Hopkins and would be home late. Huey was attending Kevin’s little league game, so the only ones home were the teenagers: Casey and Joey. You really can’t expect teenagers to sit around the house and wait for old aunts and uncles to show up, so we decided to spend some time in the Prime Outlets Mall. We weren’t sure how to get to the mall from the RV place, so I asked this young woman who was walking around with a wad of money wrapped in a paper with $571 written on it. My first question was, "Where’s the game?" The blank response I received suggested I should have led with my second question: "How can I get to the mall from here?" She must have known how we travel by looking at me because she said, "If you don’t mind freeways …" So we ended up taking I-81 to I-70 at five o’clock on a Friday. It was a thrill.
It took a year, but I finally convinced myself that the Nike Outlet had good deals. We were both in the market for shoes, so we started huntin’ and gatherin’. I ended up getting two pair (Tail Winds $120/60 and Pegasus $90/50). Janie got Air Bohemians ($110/60). So we ended up with $330 worth of shoes for $170 or so when you include the tax. I had always figured the "list" and "our" prices were hoaxes, but I priced the same shoes in Runner’s World: Tail Winds, regular $120, extra special discount for mail order customers, $105. We think we done good, so don’t tell us if we didn’t.
For some reason, I was rather giddy about getting some new running shoes, so I was in one of those moods. There was a middle-aged African-American man and his pre-teen daughter looking at shoes also. He and I were in the same isle, apparently looking for similar shoes. He stopped, picked up the Pegasus display shoe and began to examine it. I turned to him and said, "You can’t have that, that’s my shoe." He quickly apologized and put it back. I had to put my hand on his shoulder and say, "Just kidding", to relieve the tension. A bit later, his girl walked in front of me and the father said, "That was rude." I should have replied, "Not as rude as I was", but I didn’t.
When we arrived at the Breslin’s, the adults were gone as expected, but the teenagers were there, not as expected. There was a gaggle of teenaged boys hanging out at the basketball hoop when we pulled into Breslin’s Family Camping area. I had the window down and heard on of them say, "What the hell is that?" I expect Joey told them it was their weird college-professor uncle and aunt. The next thing I knew, there was a rumble of engines and a cloud of dust as the non-Breslin teenagers headed for better ground. We greeted Joey and Casey. After I noted Joey’s increased height (6’6" now), we moved to the patio and had a nice long conversation with Casey while waiting for Alice and Hugh to return.
Eventually the whole Hagerstown Breslin clan gathered around the patio table and we all complained about the cool night air. Ah, little did we know it was about to be ousted by their more normal hot and sticky Chesapeake Bay glop.
Mary, Dan, and their family arrived in their RV around nine thirty and the circle was enlarged. It was so late that Alice had assumed everyone had eaten – none of us had. We managed on chips and dip washed down with a beverage of choice. Although the fear of starvation was real, we all knew we could use a little forced fasting AND we knew there would be waaaaay too much food for any normal human tomorrow.
July 27 & 28, 2002: Bannigan Family Weekend (Hagerstown MD)
Sometime during the night, that nasty ol’ Chesapeake Bay air snuck in and pushed the nice cool air out. The next day, only the cloud cover and afternoon thunderstorm saved us from the upper 90s. Although this was Saturday and the Bannigan Family Weekend was supposed to be on Saturday, some of the principals opted to come Sunday: Rose & Billy, the twins who were celebrating their 50th and MOM, the mother of them all. Let’s see, on Saturday we had the Breslins (Alice, 6), Bogers (Jane, 2), Renwicks (Mary, 5), Dellingers (Margaret, 2 of a possible 3), Hughes (Liz, 2 of a possible 5), Holtzmans (Therese, 4), and Carrolls (Kathy, 4) for a total of … 25. To that you can add Mom, the adopted brother and sister, Joe & Diane McNeill (2), Rose (1), and Billy (2), which makes the grand total of 31. How would you like to have 31 guests? Oh, how about the fact that 23 of ‘em stayed overnight, 16 in the house and 7 in their respective RVs. Whew, nothing like that ever happened for a Boger or Crum (my mother) gathering. Hell, there weren’t that many in both families combined. Oh, you should also know that Alice and Hugh also host a Breslin Family Weekend every summer. Oye!
Saturday was warmish, but Breslins have a pool, so the kids and the kids-at-heart spent a lot of time in the water. Janie and I sat in the shade and tried to talk to everyone, at least a little. Hughie fired up the grill and did the usual burgers ‘n’ brats. He cooks the brats to a fare-the-well, which is just the way I like ‘em. Over the two days, I had three of the damned things and could easily have done more. Moof. The side dishes consisted of nouveau German potato salad, baked beans, macaroni salad, an assortment of chippy things and the usual condiments. The leftovers were offered again on Sunday along with brownies, peach upside-down cake, lemon tea bread, and birthday cake. You see, missing a regular dinner on Friday was easily overcome on Saturday and Sunday.
Sunday lived up to its name – it was sunny, hot, and humid. Not just hot, it was ridiculously hot, down south hot, too damned hot. At one point in the midmorning, RVan registered 98. I didn’t bother to check it again. Remember that nice loaf of Rye bread Janie bought from the German baker? Well, we made the mistake of leaving it in RVan and it began to come to life. We had to beat it into a garbage bag and toss it in a dumpster. Somewhere in south-central PA there is a dumpster popping its rivets as the thing that was Rye bread grows within.
Nearly all of the Bannigan children live in an urban setting. They are accustomed to driving long distances to get to work, so a one or two hour trek for a family gathering isn’t that big of a deal. Hagerstown is in western MD. Some came from Baltimore, which is where Alice was the day we arrived. Others came from Bowie, which is NE of DC, and at least one came from VA. This, of course, is fairly alien to us who think a 15 minute drive to Wegman’s is too much. The whole thing got me to thinking about all our family and friends who have been on the road in the last week. First it was all of our Geneseo friends going to Grey Fox and then it was all that family converging on Hagerstown. That’s a lot of people taking calculated risks. The worst of it is that we, too, are on the road, and we are out of communication with everyone – except for a cell phone call my mother every two or three days. I find myself thinking about the terrible possibilities and awful news that may await us upon our return. Ah, but so many people do these things everyday, and an amazingly high percentage of them come through it … but then again, there is that possibility, slight though it may be.
As I tell Alice every year, I don’t know why you do these family weekends, but we are glad you do. I also suggested that she should try alternating years and work toward gatherings on leap years only. She said it would just be nice if everyone would come on the same day – Saturday – so there would be just one big meal, and those that stayed over could clean up the leftovers on Sunday. Yeah, that would probably help a lot, but I still think the leap year thing is a good idea.
The mother of them all arrived Sunday just after noon. We had our lunch, watched Rose & Billy open presents, and ate the birthday cake. Around three, the exodus began, us included. It was one of those "we hate to eat and run but …" things. Janie and I headed west toward Ohiopyle SP and a reunion with the Youghiogheny River Trail, which we discovered after last year’s Family Weekend and actually biked this May on our way back from OH. Time constraints forced us to take I-70 and I-68, both of which were much busier than I would have expected for a Sunday afternoon. The roads resembled parking lots moving along at 65+ mph. As you may know, these two Interstates replace the old National Highway, US40, and consequently play tag with it along the way. We could see US40 and it was EMPTY. Everyone, including us, was under the mistaken opinion that a modern four-lane highway means efficient, fast, and safe travel, so we all eschew all other roads for the single new one. When you put that many people in one place you have a moving parking lot. We got off and sacrificed speed for peace of mind. Ah, it was ever so much better.
Did I tell you how hot it was? Yep, guess I did – and I probably didn’t have to. However, if you were to ask me how hot it was, I would tell you that we opted for a campsite with a hook up so we could run the AC. It cost all of $2 more, and it was worth every penny. We parked in our site, plugged in, closed all the curtains, turned on the AC, and headed for the shower. Once back in RVan, we had a forbidden beer (alcohol is not allowed in PA SPs), ate a dinner salad, and went to bed at nine – to sleep. The only other time we used a hook up to run the AC was in OH last May when ALL the campsites had hookups, so we just made use of it because it was already paid for. This was the first time we had asked for a site with electric with the express purpose of running the AC and the first time we had run the AC all night. Yes, we are conspicuous consumers, but at least we were not sweaty and slimy when we got up the next day. Our rationale was that we would be running the AC at home, so running it here wouldn’t make that much difference, right? I don’t even want to think about how uncomfortable it would have been in our tent. Ugh!
July 29, 2002: Ohiopyle SP (Ohiopyle PA)
We got up early to get things ready for a day of biking the Youghiogheny Trail. The trail is along the river which is in a gorge like all the others we’ve biked on this trip, and the campground is on the high ground above the gorge. Thus, you have two options for getting to the trail: you can either take the very steep downhill trail where you are required to walk your bike (and then have to walk your bike back up hill after a hard day’s ride) or you can drive down a very steep road and park at the trail head. We took the driving option. But first, we had to get gas. The down side to driving on small roads in rural American on Sunday is that many gas stations are closed, and if they are open, the prices are significantly inflated. If they don’t advertise the price, you might as well just keep on going or you better hope the stock market has recovered big time. The gas station we stopped at was the only one in Ohiopyle, it didn’t advertise the price, and it turned out to be $1.49 when we have paid as low as $1.23 on this trip. I got ten gallons with the hope of finding more reasonably priced fuel tomorrow. Just go on you say? The low fuel warning light said otherwise. Joe Licciardi, I’m not.
We were on the trail by nine. It was humid, but not yet hot. We had decided to ride the fifteen miles downstream to Connellsville, which meant uphill on the way back. We both needed a good leg-stretching ride after three days of lethargy, so we did the trip out in a little over an hour. The trip back was more difficult due to the uphill grade and ever increasing temperature. All in all, the ride was quite pleasant. The entire route is tree lined with occasional views of the river, and when you can’t see it, you can hear it as the water churns through rapids and riffles.
We saw a beautiful four foot-long black snake on the way out. Usually, when you encounter a snake, the snake will lick the air trying to sense who and what you are. This one never stuck out its tongue. It just laid there looking at us unblinkingly. I was beginning to think it was dead like the green snake we had seen on the May trip. Suddenly, it showed that it was very much alive when it agilely slithered up the bank. Its skin was so smooth and perfect, it must have just shed. On the way back we came across a two-foot garter snake. No, it didn’t have any feet; that would be two-footed – it was two feet long.
The entire ride was just under 31 miles and took three hours and eighteen minutes of bike time to complete. We were a little saddle weary and the heat was becoming uncomfortable. We decided to rack the bikes and head back to camp. We signed up for another night at the same site, plugged in, and started the AC. It was around two thirty, so we headed for the showers with the intention of spending the rest of the day clean and cool while writing up our activities and creating the web pages so you all can see the pictures. Clearly, that is what I am doing right now, but I am about to stop and have dinner – a cheesy pasta & peas concoction with ham … and another beer. More tomorrow when we plan to do the Ghost Town Trail.
July 30, 2002: Ohiopyle SP to Prince Gallitzin SP, PA
We rose especially early and headed for the Ghost Town Trail in Dilltown. You may be interested to know that just opposite the GTT parking area in Dilltown sits the Dillweed Trailside Shop and Bed & Breakfast; one of five buildings that comprise Dilltown. The trailhead has a very nice pavilion with, oh, about eight large picnic tables under an open roof and two exceptionally clean bathrooms (although they aren’t for bathing, if you know what I mean). Oh, there is also a nice little drinking fountain, which I used to soak my bandana when we returned from the ride.
We followed the route we blazed last May, so we knew about a cheaper gas station and, much more importantly, Rick’s Kountry Bakery. We stopped in to see Rick again and got two more of his wonderful (and large) cinnamon rolls with maple icing. We also got a couple strudels and what Rick called a Lady’s Lock, but what I would call a cream horn. It looks like those big golden sausage curls young Shirley Temple wore. Do you want white or "gob" filling? I had never heard of gob before, so that’s what we got. For some reason, I’ve wanted a cream horn for years now.
We washed the cream horn and cinnamon buns down with milk, also acquired from Rick, and saved the strudel for tomorrow. The mystery lingers because the cream horn didn’t satisfy any known gastronomic itch – must be something else. However, the cinnamon rolls brought back memories of May’s trip and were so good they started a new gastronomic itch.
We were on the trail around 10:30. The former Cambria-Indiana RR was built along Blacklick Creek to haul coal to market. Between Dilltown and Nanty Glo (Welsh for Streams of Coal), the rail bed has been converted to a hiking/biking trail. About halfway, a branch going to White Mill has also been converted to trail. All in all, there are sixteen miles to be biked: twelve between Dilltown and Nanty Glo and four miles up to White Mill. It is called Ghost Town Trail because nearly all the little towns along the way were abandoned once the coal played out. The RR was abandoned in 1977 after a severe storm resulted in flooding and was not economical to repair the damage. The ’77 flood was also the last of the four great floods that destroyed Johnstown. Several historical markers along the trail explain the presence or absence of towns, mines, iron furnaces, and grist mills. They all have interesting histories … and names: Wehrum, Bracken, Rexis, Red Mill, Vintondale, and, best of all, Nanty Glo. Wehrum and Bracken were abandoned in the 1930s and today only one of the original 230 homes still stands.
Just past the halfway point is Eliza Furnace, an iron blast furnace that operated from 1846-49. It is one of the best preserved of its type. You can see pictures on the web page.
We did the 32 miles out and back in three hours and forty eight minutes of bike time. We have learned that three hours in the saddle is just about enough. It was not as hot as previous days, but it was still plenty warm. We had lunch under the pavilion in Dilltown and headed toward Prince Gallitzin SP, where we intended to put up for the night.
Although it was only thirty miles to the SP, it took us a couple hours to get parked (in the SP, get it?). The traffic on these back roads seems to peak during the morning and evening rush. Lots of people live in the country side and work in nearby factories and shops to support that life style. Hence, they are going to work in the mornings and heading home in the evening – and we tourists just get in their way. I’ve noticed, and this will sound sexist, that the 8 AM traffic is dominated by males driving pickup trucks and the 9 AM traffic is mostly women driving SUVs and mini-vans. The evening traffic is a mixture of the two. Okay, so that is a long-winded way of saying there was some traffic to deal with.
Another problem was the fact that we followed the signs to Prince Gallitzin SP instead of those to Crooked Run Campground. It made sense to us since we were intending to stay in the SP. However, the SP people in their infinite wisdom put the campground on the opposite side of Glendale Lake, which, according to the award winning park paper, has 1600 surface acres and a 26 mile shoreline. Did you ever wonder how they measured the length of a shoreline? Well I have. Do they measure around every little embayment? Do they measure around every boulder that sticks out into the water? Do they measure around every grain of sand on the beach? If they did, the shoreline would certainly be closer to infinity than 26 miles. But I digress …
We followed the signs to Prince Gallitzin SP which lead us to a lookout over the lake, a road to the marina, and a road to the picnic and organized tent camping area. The next thing we knew, we were out of the park and next to a go cart race track. Not where we wanted to be at all. We re-read the instructions and looked at the map. All of this research indicated the campground was at the lake overlook, which it certainly was not. We needed assistance, so we decided to go to the marina. Sure enough there were three men standing outside the marina store just chewin’ over local politics and such. I walked into the empty store and was followed fairly quickly by one of the three men. He asked if I needed any help and I replied, "I can’t seem to find the campground. Where the hell is it?" He pointed to a wooded area on the other side of the lake and said, "You’re on the wrong side – it’s over there." He also produced a park map and showed me how to get to it. I said, "Hell, if it is just over there, why can’t I just go that way?" He said, "Some have tried, but none have been successful." We drove around.
The camp registration lady was yet another reason it took us so long to get camped. This registration lady was the most friendly and talkative of all the park office personnel we have encountered on this and many other recent trips. We could have had a good ol’ time just talking and yuckin’ it up about most anything, but damn it, we wanted to get parked and showered so we could start our forbidden evening libation. It was six o’clock before we attained those goals.
The campground is a campground in name only. There are 437 sites – all with paved pads. Oh, they all also have fire rings neatly placed on concrete slabs. When you register, they give you an announcement: Please Do Not Burn Or Place Fire Rings On the Concrete Slabs. Ummm, weren’t the slabs put there FOR the fire rings? Yes, but reading on solves the enigma: When heated, the limestone in the concrete can put off gasses that cause the concrete to burst, forcefully spewing hot coals and pieces of concrete. These concrete fire rings are being removed. Finally an answer to the question "why does anyone need to know about rocks?".
The "campground" is fairly full – mostly RVs and pop-ups. There are hoards of kids on bikes and several radios blasting away. The place is more like an amusement park than a campground – at least the kind of placid campground we like. Soooo, we plugged in, pulled all the curtains, turned on the AC, and commenced to celebrate the day’s activities. The rest of the campers, like the fat lady in the lawn chair at the site behind us, can just look and wonder what rude, lewd, and probably illegal activities might be going on inside that shrouded white van. At least they will have something to talk about. Well, that and the weird old man with the white legs walking back from the shower wearing nothing but Tevas and a thin, blue robe. Hey, that was ME.
In case you were wondering about the name of this park (as we did), here’s the story. Prince Gallitzin was a Russian prince born in 1770 who came to America at age 22. He entered a seminary in Baltimore after which he was summoned to give last rights to a woman on the PA frontier. After that experience, he petitioned Bishop Carroll to assign him to the frontier as his parish. The Bishop did, and Father Gallitzin remained there until his death in 1840. He is known as "The Missionary of the Alleghenies" and "The Apostle of Western PA." I guess he was a hell of a man, and that is why they named this park after him. However, there isn’t much "frontier" here now, unless it is "Frontier Land" or some such commercialized thing. Humbug!
Tomorrow we motor up to Potter County with the intention of doing the Pine Creek Trail that was so highly lauded by Mr. Weldon Cohick told us about when we happened on to him in Dilltown last May. The best damned bike trail in the country, Weldon said, and we intend to find out.
July 31, 2002: Prince Gallitzin SP to Little Pine SP (Waterville PA)
We wanted to get out of this theme-park-like place as early as possible. However, we didn’t get out unnoticed. When I went out to unplug our hookup, I could see the fat lady in the red shorts had a ringside seat to watch our every move. I really wanted to flip her off, but I just went about my business as though no one else was there. We were on the road by seven thirty.
In studying the maps last night, we decided the southern end of Pine Creek Trail was at/near Little Pine Bottom SP, so we proceeded toward that location at a leisurely pace. It was a fine morning. There were no clouds and the air seemed cool and clear. Maybe we would have one of those Canadian days. Yesterday during our bike ride we heard the fire sirens going off and later saw volunteer firemen speeding down the road – like they were going to a fire or something. This morning we passed the house to which they were heading. It was pretty much a total loss from our point of view. Too bad – hope no one was injured.
We have been through central PA so many times it is hard to find a back road we haven’t been on. This was the case today. We connected up with a couple familiar roads and all was well with the world. We arrived at Little Pine Bottom SP a little after ten. Actually we arrived at it a few seconds before that, but we went right on by. After a quick turn around, we were in the parking lot looking for any signs of a bike trail. There were none. In fact this was the smallest SP I have ever seen. Maybe there is another part. We checked it out in the PA tour guide and found that this is it – all six acres of it. It was pleasant with a few picnic tables and Little Pine Creek running by, but back where I come from this would be called a roadside rest, not a State Park.
Logic dictated that the Pine Creek Trail should be nearby – and so it was. We crossed over the bridge and saw a big ol’ parkin’ lot, in which sat five or six vehicles with empty bike racks. Okay, now we know where it is, let’s get some accommodations, then come back and hit the trail. We headed for Little Pine SP and found a very nice camping area – not at all like last night’s. It was self-serve so we drove around and picked out a campsite beside a cemetery and in full view of the dam. Whoa! A cemetery? Yep, a bunch of old grave markers enclosed within a chain-link fence that certainly pre-dated the park so they preserved it. And the dam? Well, all I can say is that I hope it holds because if it doesn’t we will be clastic grains for some future geologist to ponder.
I got out an old space blanket and marked our spot. Yeah, I know, peeing on a tree should have been enough but just in case … While I was weighing it down with rocks, I heard a Pileated call from a tree just down the hill. Soon we could hear a couple of them, maybe more. They must have been young ones out funnin’ around. I thought I ought to pee before we leave, and as I was walking back to RVan, I noticed a coppery blob high up in a tree. The tree was in our site and right next to RVan. The blob was a Red Tail Hawk just sitting on a dead branch about fifty feet up this old White Pine. I kept a steady pace back to RVan, opened the side door, and told Janie to look out the skylight. The damned thing was still there almost right over RVan. I looked back as we pulled out and it was still there. This was a good beginning for our Pine Creek adventure.
We had some lunch and were on the trail by 12:30. You know the old saying, "Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun." Well, we are not Englishmen, so we must be mad dogs. It was getting hotter by the second, but we headed out anyway. Remember the clear sky? Well this was the first day in a while that the sky was clear and as fate would have it, the first trail that wasn’t under a forest canopy. There are three things that go up this valley: Pine Creek, PA 414, and the Pine Creek Trail. If you look on a map, at one point you will see creek-trail-road, another you will see road-creek-trail, and then you will see creek-road-trail. The only constant was the creek-trail relationship. The trail goes through a patchwork of State Forest and private land. There wasn’t much traffic on the road and the private land was mostly vacation cabins and semi-permanent campers. All of this was very scenic and would have very pleasant – except for the sun. Although there were trees for as far as the eye could see, the creek-trail-road corridor was pretty bare. We found ourselves trying to connect the dots of shade along the trail. Of course it kept getting hotter and hotter, but we toughed it out and ended up some 18 miles from the parking lot. That made a 36 mile round trip that took 6 hours with 4 hours of actual bike time.
We stopped at Black Walnut Bottom Hike/Bike/Canoe/Tube-In Campsite both going out and coming back. It was the single most hospitable spot on the trail. It was right on the creek with lots of big trees that cast a deep shade. There was also a hand pump that supplied us with cool and refreshing water. We soaked our bandanas and ourselves with the cool water. We also had our on-trail snacks there – both times. There were signs asking us to be quiet (don’t discharge firearms or set off fireworks) because Bald Eagles were nesting nearby. We looked, but we never saw any evidence of ‘em. It was a nice place, eagles or no eagles.
On the way out we met an older hiker – maybe in his early forties. He looked like a through hiker, but he wasn’t wearing high-tech equipment. In fact he only had a little knapsack and a very low-tech stick with a sack hanging from it. He looked for all the world like a hobo – a modern hobo. He wasn’t any more shabbily dressed than you would expect a through hiker to be, but he did have that hobo sack-on-a-stick thing going for him. On the way back we saw him at one of the restrooms on the trail. He had put his cooking stuff out on one of the benches, built a small fire, and apparently had his dinner. He was hanging stuff on the rail fence to dry, and as we went by, he asked if it was supposed to rain tonight. Hell, we didn’t know, and that is what I told him. In retrospect, we should have stopped and talked with him a while. He looked like he might have some interesting stories to tell.
As we were nearing the end of the ride, Janie has stopped to look at a GBH or maybe it was some ducks, whatever, I was in the lead. I noticed a fairly large black object on the trail up ahead. My first thought was Black Snake, since we had seen one on a previous ride. However, every time I think there is something in the trail, it turns out to be a stick. Not this time thought. As I got closer, it became clear that this was a snake, and the girth of it told me that it wasn’t a Black Snake. Whenever I see a chunky snake like this I immediately think rattler, but it usually turns out to be a Puff Adder or some other harmless creature. The snake’s head was already in the leaves and grass at the edge of the trail, but its tail was still very much in the trail. I looked and what did I see but rattles. There were only two or three of them. I think I heard that the number of rattles is related to the age of the snake. If so, this must be a young one. However, it was also rather large, nearly three feet, and really chunky. I scanned the body for evidence of a recent meal. There didn’t appear to be any abnormal bulges. I thought Timber Rattlers, the only kind in the East, were generally small. Okay, so there is some conflicting evidence. Rather large body but very few rattles. I expect someone will explain it to me. Oh, you can see pictures on the web, if you take a look.
By the end of the day we had completed over 90 miles of biking in three days. I was amazed that I didn’t have more saddle weariness. However, I was dismayed at how sore my butt was. It seems these cycling shorts sort of pinch your cheeks together, and all the riding and sweating resulted in some … well … chafing. As soon as we got to RVan, I broke out the Neosporin and liberally applied it to the affected area. RVan had been sitting in a shade-less parking lot for six hours and it was, once again, 96 inside. Do you know what Neosporin is like when it is 96? Well, just let me tell you that the consistency changes considerably. I hope most of the medication is in the liquid, runny part.
I know you don’t want to know, but I’m going to tell you anyway. It is difficult to drive without sitting down, and it is difficult to sit down when your butt is on fire. I can also tell you that the pain goes away after a bit – until you move. So the word to the wise is: sit down, suffer the initial pain, and don’t move. Now this is a real problem on a little PA back road with all the twists, turns, and bumps. Anyway, we made it back to camp. Wouldn’t you know that this particular SP is one WITHOUT showers? This coincides with the one day we had blazing sun that required slathering on gooey gobs of sun block. Off to the restroom where I stripped down to my shorts and used the outside spigot and my bandana to wash off some of the grime. The campground DOES have electric, so we are now inside the cloaked RVan with the AC running on high. Ah, the comforts of home … on the road.
While on the trail, we decided to have country ham and corn for dinner. All the way back we were saying, "I bike for ham." It has been a few days since we have had protein in any form other than cheese, and I’m pretty sure we can use the salt. Let me tell you, sitting here chewing country ham made me feel a little like an old cow poke out on the trail. Just a little, mind you. As we were finishing dinner, we heard a tap-tap-tap on our door. You need to form a picture here. We are clothed, but we are sitting in a rather dark van with all the curtains drawn and the AC running. Not really your picture of outdoors fun. We are also drinking beer which is forbidden in all PA parks. Quick, hide the beer, turn on the cute little outdoor light we just discovered the other day, and open the door. It was, as we expected, the RANGER. He said he had been looking for us all day while at the same time he stuck out his hand with two one-dollar bills in it. He said we overpaid by two dollars. Whew! We don’t think we overpaid, but then again there are no showers so …
Tomorrow we hope to find the middle of Pine Creek Trail and bike north to the beginning, or at least as far as my raw bum will allow. Tune in, and I will tell you all about it.
August 1, 2002: Little Pine SP to Naweedna
The day dawned almost exactly as yesterday: clear sky, cool, clear, curls of vapor rising from quiet waters, and wispy clouds cloaking valley and mountain sides. We took our time getting ready – we’re not likely to find a better site – and were on the road at 7:47. Another leisurely morning drive, this time we were heading toward Ansonia, the trail head for the Pine Creek Trail. Yeah, I know, I said we were going to the middle and bike toward Ansonia. Well, Neosporin is a miracle ointment, but even Neosporin could not heal my chafed butt in twelve hours – eighteen, maybe, but not twelve. The new plan was to go to Ansonia and ride as far down the trail as sensibility would allow.
We were riding around ten thirty. I had lathered on the ointment and put on both pair of biking shorts – at the same time – and was considering mole skinning my ass until Janie pointed out that it might be a tad painful to remove. I’m telling you, that Neosporin is amazing stuff. Although it didn’t cure me overnight, it went a long way in that direction so riding wasn’t really THAT bad. However, discretion prevailed, and we did a turn around at the seven mile mark for a fourteen mile roundtrip (duh).
We spent some time at the information booth at the trail head. This is the booth Weldon Cohick normally mans on weekends. However, this was Thursday, so he wasn’t around. In fact, no one was there at all except this spider that was busy devouring a ladybug (see pictures). A family of five eventually biked up and overheard me ask another biker about getting back to get back to the Big Meadow parking area where we left RVan without having to ride that mile of gauntlet on truck-infested US 6. The father of the family of five had seen us on the way from the parking lot to the trail just as a big ol’ truck was barreling down on us from behind. That is a scary site to be on a twenty-some pound bike and see a huge, square grill and exhaust stacks pouring out clouds of black smoke closing down on you at well over fifty miles per hour. The father told us that if we just continued down the trail we would come to a road and a bridge over the tributary stream that separated us from RVan. Sure enough, there was a bridge and a road the came out right across from the parking lot. All we had to do was CROSS US 6. That was a piece of cake. As an added bonus, there was a kingfisher and a family of wood ducks on the tributary.
It was around 12:30, and we decided, reluctantly, to call it a vacation and head home. It couldn’t be much more than three hours to Naweedna, so we decided to tour Colson Point SP. The road wound its way up the west canyon wall to a glorious view of "The Grand Canyon of the East" as Pine Creek valley is called. According to the brochure, the 1000’ of relief in the gorge resulted when glacial debris blocked the previously NE flowing Pine Creek and caused it to reverse course. Those glaciers, they sure changed things, even in the unglaciated surroundings.
We checked out the camping – two occupied sites out of 25 or so – and found more than half of them suitable for RVan. There is a dump station and water, but no showers or hookups. This would be a great place to camp in cooler weather. It was most interesting and for a while we and the two campers were the only ones there. Eventually, four Harleys roared up and the leader of the pack shouted back to the others, "This is the last overlook. Want to see?" Motorcycle people seem to yell even when the hogs are turned off, so it sorta broke the spell for us. The four male drivers and their "bitches" all ambled over to the overlook as we retreated to RVan. The last we saw, they were exchanging cameras for group photos. We headed down the road, took a left on US 6 and picked up our normal route through NC PA.
We made a stop at a farm market just north of Arkport to pick up fresh produce: corn, green beans (for mom), zucchinis, onions, and for bread, corn meal, and grits. We’ll have the corn for dinner. I plan on eating at least four ears. Ten short minutes of shopping had the sweat dripping off us, so we rewarded ourselves with ice cream. I took mine in the form of a milkshake; easier to negotiate while driving. Janie had black cherry yogurt dripping off her too-small cone before she got buckled into RVan.