Hot, Hot, Hot … Pine Creek Rail Trail
We were up early and on the road by . The ride down was excellent: NY63-36-PA249-PA287-Little Pine Creek Rd. Normally, we would take PA249 to 49-349-144-44. Although that is a more scenic route, it turns out to be some 25 miles longer and much bumpier. It was great to be truckin’ along without the rattle-shebang of a loose shock or the gut-wrenching grinding of a bad wheel bearing. Ah, smooth running and great scenery.
We passed though an Amish enclave … on a Sunday morning … and guess what we saw? Hordes of black buggies all heading for church. After we passed the dirt road leading up a hill to the unseen church, we started seeing more buggies coming toward us. It was like watching a bunch of black ants following a scent trail. We waved at all who dared look our way. It’s just a marvel that an entire sect of people have opted to stop progress at what seems to be an arbitrary historical point. Nonetheless, I admire them for their simplified lifestyle and apparent happiness.
We found ourselves at the Waterville Trail Head and ready to ride by .
Little Pine Rail Trail Map: Link
I had just finished getting the bikes all geared up and ready to ride when a sedan pulled in beside RVan. The occupants were an African-American couple of about middle age. The man got out and walked over to me and said,
“’Scuse me, this is our first time here …”
I was pretty jacked about being here and looking forward to four glorious days on the train, so I immediately blurted out, “Oh, you can’t ride this trail for the first time. You’ll have to leave and come back before you can ride this trail.”
Fortunately, he sensed my attempt at humor and said, “What’s the trail like; which is the best part?”
By this time, his wife had joined us, and we started downloading too much information about the trail while pointing to various parts of the map attached to my handlebars (actually, it’s only one handlebar, but they seem to use the plural anyway). We had a pleasant conversation except for when I said, “It’s a Rail Trail, so it’s pretty flat, but there is a gentle upgrade as you head north up the stream valley.” At that point the wife said, “We’ll head north so it will be downhill on the way back.” Hmmm, we found ourselves wondering how far they got. He’d biked some trails in eastern PA, so I expect he could go farther, but she just seemed to be humoring him in this adventure. Hope they had a good time.
When we were here in May, the spring migration was in full force. We saw lots and lots of migrating birds, and it was great. It was also pretty cool and pleasant. Neither of those facts were true for this outing. We were immersed in the three Hs: hot, humid & hazy … with threats of afternoon thunder storms. Every day was pretty much the same, although the T-storm threat increased each day. And the birds? Well, there were few and those that persisted were very quiet. Very different from our May experience. Ah, but if you don’t have birds, you go for flowers and butterflies. The flowers were truly spectacular.
· Cardinal Flower these things are just beautiful as you scan the far shore and see their tall, red stalks poking up through the weeds. Janie has a bunch around the yard, but the natural ones – the ones discovered by accident – are especially nice.
· Great Lobelia (Blue Cardinal Flower) we have some of these, too, at Naweedna, which we got by mistake when we were supposed to get Cardinal Flowers. We didn’t like them at first, but they have new meaning now that we have seen them at our favorite rail-trail.
· White Aster it seems so early for Asters but here they are nonetheless.
· Flowering Raspberry really interesting to see the big purple flowers on the same plant with fully fruited berries. I don’t think I’d seen that before – or at least never noticed it.
· Woodland Sunflower lots and lots of these. There seems to be a bewildering variety of sunflowers and coneflowers that look similar. Whatever, they are certainly very cheery. We were to find out later that some of them were Jerusalem Artichokes.
As we were riding along, Janie came to a screeching halt and yelled, “Bat”. We turned around and there it was smack dab in the middle of the trail. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be alive – one wing was sort of chewed up. We certainly have never seen a bat on the trail before. That could be a good thing, right?
Questionmark Butterfly it was sitting on an information sign about rattlesnakes. It just sat there flexing its wings while we looked it up in the butterfly book. No question about it; it was a Questionmark Butterfly. They are in the Comma family – seems appropriate.
Speaking of rattlesnakes, we passed a couple of Joggers and they shouted a warning about a Rattlesnake in the trail ahead. We’ve seen rattlers on the trail every summer. They are Timber Rattlesnake that come in black and yellow varieties. The black ones look like bike-tire inner-tubes discarded haphazardly along the trail. Ah, but we didn’t see a single rattler on this trip. However, we did see a young Blacksnake trying to cross the trail. A fellow rider shooed it back. It was Sunday and there was lots of traffic on the trail. Some he-man would have no doubt think of himself as St Patrick and rid the world of all snakes. Hey, snakes are creepy – literally - but like everything else in nature, they serve a useful purpose.
· Belted Kingfisher several of them working the stream and clattering as we rode by.
· Black and White Warbler flitted across the trail in front of us.
· Great Egret now this was a first. We’d seen these in FL and at some northern NWRs, but never here on the trail.
· Wood Duck a family of juveniles
· Common Raven a pair lazily crossing the gorge
We also noticed a lot of storm damage. We never did get around to asking a local about what happened and when. But judging from the number of blow downs, it must have been a major storm. It looked like the damage was caused by heavy downbursts. And it was recent as indicated by the smell of freshly cut wood when we passed placed where the trail had to be reopened.
Let me say a bit about the weather. The entire eastern part of the country has been experiencing an unusually cool and wet summer – until recently. Last week, it started to warm up and get much more humid. According to the weather forecasts I studied before we headed out, it was going to be more of the same this week. Each day would be in the eighties with high humidity and increasing chances of thunder showers. I think the technical term is HHH (Hot, Humid, Hazy). No pulled muscles to worry about for sure.
Where the trail wasn’t lined with mature trees, the landscape people thinned the sapling sycamores so they could grow into nice, shady colonnades. The little trees are about ten yards apart so their burgeoning canopies offer intermittent shade. As we biked though a particularly long stretch of these maturing saplings, we passed though alternating shady and sunny spots that were hot and hotter. The temperature differences were fun to sense.
There are several tributary ravines or runs as they are called here. These deep, forested ravines offer cool-air drainage, so you get a blast of much cooler air as you bike by them. It’s pretty refreshing on a hot day.
So we biked merrily along from
the Waterville Trail Head south to
Bike Data: 31.5 miles, 4 hrs bike time, 5.5 hrs total
We slept in A/C comfort all night
and got up fairly early in an attempt to beat the heat – at least for a while.
We found ourselves at the Waterville TH and on the trail by . Unlike yesterday, the parking lot was entirely
empty. Ah, the work-a-day people are back at w-w-w-work. As is common in the
Little Pine Rail Trail Map: Link
Like yesterday, we saw only a few birds. However, the early hour offered up a couple Red Tails that we flushed from their night’s roost. Other birds we saw were …
· Red Tailed Hawk
· Great Blue Heron
· Eagle Nest near Black Walnut Bottom – first time we’d seen this nest. No, we didn’t find it on our own. A slender young woman was pointing it out to anyone who stopped: “Find the dead tree, look to the very top of it, then look a little bit to the left in the middle of the big pine tree. That bunch of big sticks is the eagle’s nest.” I predict a bright future for that young lady.
· Eagle Nest at Cedar Run
· Ruby Throated Hummingbird
· Young Bluebirds – sitting on a power line in the bright sun; they were very hot with their feathers slicked back and beaks agape
· Cedar Waxwing – sitting on the same power line but looking cool and well-groomed as usual
Young Gartersnake – it looked like an emaciated lightning bolt along the edge of the trail
It was even hotter, hazier & humid(er) the very first time we biked Pine Creek. On that occasion I wore bike shorts and a skimpy little biking jersey. I had to slather sun block over all the exposed skin and I still got a little sunburn – and a lot of butt chafing. Since that time, I’ve learned to dress much differently. On hot days, I wear full-length, baggy cargo-pants over my bike shorts. I roll up the legs like pedal pushers. I’ve given up on the bike shirts in favor of a light-weight trail-shirt. When it is really hot, like this outing, I don’t button the shirt and let the tail drape over my fanny pack. That allows lots of air flow but keeps me covered in terms of sun exposure. I wear a safari hat with a larger-than-normal brim and a cloth that covers my ears and neck.
Although I’ve had a skin cancer removed and my family has a history of the aliment, I do NOT wear sun block. This collection of clothing covers me well and is considerably cooler and much more comfortable than the tight-fitting shirts and shorts. We spent four days in the glaring sun and I only got a little reddening on my upper neck – nothing remarkable. In my estimation, wearing these covering but loose-fitting garments greatly improves my ‘sun block’ compared to the actual application of the stuff, which can be spotty and sweats off. I know the other bikers on the trail, especially the ones in traditional bike clothing, look at us and say, “OMG” but we’ve been there and this is better – at least for us. Sure, we don’t look cool, but we are … relatively. Our trip philosophy is: What you look LIKE doesn’t matter, what you look AT does. And we had lots of cool stuff to look at.
Again, we were presented with lush displays of fall flowers. Most of the best were at the base of wet, dripping, rocky exposures. Here are some of the notables …
We were having a granola bar while scanning the opposite shore for Cardinal Flowers when we noticed a Doe feeding placidly in shoulder-high weeks along the opposite stream bank. She seemed to be preferentially eating Joe Pye leaves. Only her head and twitchy ears were exposed above the tall weeds. It was pretty ethereal.
We biked up to Cedar Run, which is where Pettecote Junction CG is located. Janie had reserved a site for the next night, so we stopped in to confirm – and have lunch. It had occurred to me that we’d be getting into the CG fairly early tomorrow, so I wanted to speak with the person in charge about maybe setting up camp before the normal time – or at least being allowed to park RVan in a shady, out-of-the-way spot while we biked the day away.
Now, you need to know that this place is private and fairly tightly regulated. They have speed-limit signs that say, “5 MPH or Walk.” When we got there the woman we’d registered with last May was in the office, so we went in and posed our question. Janie had already made reservations, but we noticed an RV in our site, and it looked like one of those permanent setups. The woman said the man’s wife had become ill and he had to take her to the hospital, so they may not be out of the site by tomorrow. However, we could have any of the open sites along that stretch. Okay, we pick #3. Now can we set up early tomorrow? How early? Like maybe 8. Hmmmm, how about 9, would that be okay? Sure.
You know, if there are no other campers coming or going, it seems odd that we can’t just set up camp at any damned time we want. Well, it turned out that we could because when we got there the next morning – at exactly 9, but the way – the commandant was off for a dental appointment, and the worker guy we spoke with didn’t care one bit what we did. That, and the fact the campsite costs more for one night than the Little Pine site did for two, the place is a zoo on weekends and holidays, and the showers cost a quarter for 3 minutes … well, we only use this campground because it is conveniently located right on the trail. And they don’t seem to know how to spell Petticoat either ;-)
Bike Data: 42.23 miles, 5.25 hrs bike time, 8 hrs total time
Tuesday 8/18/09 … Little Pine SP PA to Pettecote Junction CG, Cedar Run PA …
We were off to a slow start compared to yesterday. No problem. We were camped right on the trail, so there wasn’t any driving to a trail head this AM. Thus, we were on the trail by . There’s a bridge across the creek about a quarter mile from the CG and that’s where we met up with an Amish family of about ten. There were 3 older women (a mother and an aunt, we suppose), six young girls, and one adult male (the father). The females were all decked out in their long skirts – the youngest ones had their skirt tales dangling dangerously close to the rear wheels. They were stopped at various locations along the length of the bridge. I pulled up beside the man and asked, “Where all the boys? Did you leave them at home to take care of the farm?” One of the older women said, “They are back at the cabin sleeping in.” Whoa, these are modern Amish I guess. We talked a bit more with them and then headed on down the trail.
There are places along the trail where it is close to the road. At one spot there is a sign by a driveway to a cabin on the creek: Please Do Not Block Drive. We passed this sign twice today and both times I read it “Pleasant Donuts”. I guess my mind was elsewhere.
We also passed lots of the tributaries called runs. They all have interesting names like Clay Mine Run, Ice House Run, Cedar Run, and Horse Run. When I got to Horse Run, a thought passed through my idle brain. You know there are truncated ridges called noses, right? Well, I wondered if there could just possibly be a Nose Run. An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop, eh?
Little Pine Rail Trail Map: Link
More flowers on display … I don’t recall a spring-summer-fall with such nice flowers …
· Japanese Knotweed (Invasive)
We also saw a few birds …
· Mergansers – a group of 15-20 female and immature all running across the water, diving and swimming under the clear water, except where the clear water was cloudy with a white stream of merganser waste
· Belted Kingfisher
· Black-Throated Blue Warbler – dashed across the trail in front of us
· Osprey – we saw this bird twice; both times it was cruising the stream for unwary meals
We’ve also been seeing lots of Grasshoppers, Crickets & Millipedes. The Grasshoppers were doing something I’d never noticed before. Frequently they would just be hovering over the trail as we biked by. I’ve always flushed them, causing them to jump up and fly to the side of the trail, but I’ve never noticed them hovering of their own volition and fairly oblivious to our presence. Hmmm, maybe their little brains were infused with the desire to mate and the males were hovering looking for prospective conquests. Whenever I see odd animal (or insect) behavior, I attribute it to sex. Works for humans, right?
The millipedes were also an interesting study. On previous fall outings, I’ve noticed they tend to cross the trail perpendicularly – like they knew where they were going and wanted to get there as expeditiously as possible. Also, the majority of them were heading from the stream side to the woodland side. It was like a fall migration of millipedes. Although I’ve seen this behavior before, I still don’t understand it.
We had lunch at Darling Run interrupted by rain. This is the second time we’ve lunched at Darling Run … there would be more. The HHH conditions meant that we were either wet from the outside in or the inside out so the rain really didn’t make much difference for us. However, it was an issue for the items in our bike baskets and our rack packs – which, ironically, contain rain gear. Once these things get wet, they are very difficult to dry out. There isn’t a lot of room in RVan for hanging wet gear, so we are much more protective of our assembled items than we are of ourselves. Fortunately, those ubiquitous plastic grocery-bags fit perfectly over our baskets and packs. We have to tie them down but otherwise they do a good job of keeping things dry.
As for us, well, we opted to put on our yellow bike-ponchos. They are like shorter versions of the old, reliable hiking poncho. They have straps for your thumbs so you can hold them out away from your body as you bike along. Suffice to say we looked a lot like a couple of yellow, rubber ducks biking along the trail. Hey, we were dry and there was a nice breeze blowing in under the ponchos. So that’s why women wear skirts ;-)
Bike Data: 44.5 miles, 5.5 hours bike time, 8.5 hours total time
Wednesday 8/19/09 … Pettecote Junction CG,
Cedar Run PA to
It was to be our last day on the trail, so we took a leisurely approach. We broke camp and drove up to the Darling Run TH where we parked, had some granola, and headed out north along the newest section of trail to the end at PA-287 – the road we came in on – and the road we will be leaving on. It was another warm, hazy, ground-fogged morning that left the open valley in a yellow haze at this hour.
Little Pine Rail Trail Map: Link
We saw a Red Eft in the trail and had to turn around for a better look. They have a rather interesting life cycle. The red version is the terrestrial part of the life, after which it returns to the water, changes color, and finishes the cycle. You can read about it here: Link.
This part of the trail emerges from the enclosed canyon occupied by the creek and follows the pre-glacial, ancestral valley. The older valley is broad and flat with lots of ponds and lakes. Thus, we fully expected to see more wading birds and we weren’t disappointed.
· Great Blue Heron – we saw four of ‘em
· Little Green Heron – two of these
· Mallards – a baker’s dozen of ‘em dabbling in a quiet arm of an otherwise duck-weed covered pond
· Belted Kingfisher
We also got a good view of an Eastern Kingbird fly-catching out over an adjoining meadow. It made us long to see its western cousin, Western Kingbird, out in the even more open expanses of the prairie – maybe next spring …
The open meadows were resplendent with summer flowers …
We had lunch back at RVan just in time for a little thunder storm to pass through. We holed up inside to wait it out, and, just as you’d expect, the sun came out and all was good with the world. So good in fact that we decided to continue biking. It was misty and drippy and still spitting a few drops when we emerged. The sky looked threatening toward the south, so we kept the plastic on our gear and suited up in our rain ponchos. The yellow, rubber duckies were riding again. We met several other bikes that had been caught in the brief downpour and were now heading back to their vehicles as quickly as possible. Good … fewer people to share the trail with, eh?
Although there weren’t many people, there were a lot of deer. They seemed to come out just after the rain. We saw a doe and fawn just off the trail ahead, and, amazingly, they just stood there while we biked by. I looked back, and they were still there for as long as I could see them. A bit later we watched another fawn crossing the trail. Then we saw a couple yearlings, two adult does, and a fawn up ahead, but they bounded off into the under story as we got closer. Lots of deer; I wonder how many of ‘em will make it through the year.
We saw the Osprey again. It was still cruising the creek valley looking for a target of opportunity.
We got down to Tiadaghton where we rested a bit and then headed back to RVan. The final leg of this season’s Pine Creek ride.
Bike Data: 33.43 miles, 4.15 hours bike time, 6.5 hours total time
Total Bike Data: 150 miles, 19 hours bike time, 29 hours total time
Thursday 8/20/09 …
We had intended to spend the last night at Cowanesque Corps of Engineers campground but it was just too awkward to get to, so we opted to crash at Tioga-Hammond instead. We did the very same thing last May with pretty much the same impressions.
The check in was slug-slow. The entrance is staffed with retiree volunteers who have little or no proficiency with computers. This is further complicated by their need to carry on a conversation. All we wanted to do was get a campsite and take a shower. The check in seemed to take forever.
Once you get to your campsite, there is one overpowering impression: you’re camping in someone’s well-manicured yard. The grass mowed to within an inch of its life; the campsites are semi-permanently occupied by big family RVs; everyone has a flag and party lights … and satellite dish. There was only one oddity for such a luxurious setup: there was only one electrical outlet for several campsites to share. That means you need to have a l-o-n-g power cord. As you might expect, everything in RVan is rather miniature. That’s why I always carry an extension cord. Guess what? The built in power cord plus the extension cord was just a silly inch short of reaching. Ah ha, that’s why the check in guy told us they have loaner cords. I backed RVan up to the concrete barrier, stretched the cords as straight as possible and … it just reached. Turn on the A/C and go get a shower … then a beer … and dinner … and bed …
This is a Corps of Engineers campsite. Maybe that explains why every water outlet was dripping. The water faucet at the camp site dripped – it couldn’t be turned off … I tried. The shower dripped … and couldn’t be turned off either. I guess the Corps assumes there will always be sufficient water. But the dripping hot water in the shower was another matter.
On the way home we passed an interesting bit of Americana. It was an old, dilapidated building decked out in all things NASCAR. Ah, but there was an interesting twist. The NASCAR theme contributed to the name - "The Last Lap" - but the sign was advertising "Exotic Dancers". The juxtaposition caught my interest. Check out the pic.
Another successful Pine Creek bike outing is in the books … and we are looking forward to the next … always leave ‘em wantin’ more, eh?