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Pine Creek 7/2010
Let’s start with an inspiring thought from BAWB:
"I've often been asked," said Harold, "What do you old folks do now that you're retired? Well . . . I'm fortunate to have a chemical engineering background, and one of the things I enjoy most is turning beer, wine, Scotch and margaritas into urine."
Well, we are retired and have left our fair share of “urine” down in PA during our way too short adventure on Pine Creek. We left after I returned from taking Mom to the doctor’s to get her ears flushed out – technically referred to as “ear lavage”. We’ve done this a couple times before, and each time I do the usual: while the nurse is flushing one ear, I pretend to look through the other and wave. You can get old, but you don’t have to mature.
Tuesday at 12:35 found RVan toodling down the driveway. It is only a three or four hour drive to the southern end of the trail and our preferred campsite: Little Pine SP. Last year, we rediscovered an old route that we’d abandoned because there was just too much traffic: I-390 to the old NY-17 (new I-86) to US-15. Over the last decade or so, they’ve made significant improvements to US-15 and in PA it is referred to as the I-99 Corridor. It has developed into a pretty pleasant drive – and cuts about an hour off our previous route through the little roads and villages. We miss the up close and personal aspect of the back roads, but we also miss the head-on traffic and big trucks zooming along the back roads. Truck traffic has increased with the Marcellus Shale natural gas hydrofracking business in northern PA. The new freeways offer some grand, panoramic vistas as compensation … and there is the nearly new PA Visitor Center with a grand view of the Tioga Reservoir.
So there we were, driving down I-390 when we decided to play some music. Remember this is our first trip with the new Notebook. We’d tested it in the driveway before we left, and everything seemed to be working normally. I guess you also need to know what we use the Notebook for. In addition to providing all the normal things like access to spreadsheets and documents, we also use it for navigation, music, and Internet connection – pretty much all the things we use the desktops for at home.
Okay, the DeLorme navigation stuff is working just fine, and Janie is able to access the Internet and our email accounts, and she’s been entering data in various documents … what about the music? Well, it is not only a new physical setup that we need to get used to. We are now using MediaMonkey for the first time while traveling. She eventually got it all up and running properly – while I continue to drive and offer instructions. Now it is time to actually play some of our fine collection.
What, the Notebook battery’s dead … that can only mean … the inverter isn’t working. Damn. What’s that crackling noise? That’s not right. Okay, we’ll have to pull over to make some adjustments. Ah, actually plugging the inverter into the cigarette lighter thing-y solved the no power problem. Removing the 20’ patch chord connecting our vehicle sound system to the notebook got rid of the interference … but will the rather short connector reach all the way around the notebook where the headphone jack is? Just barely … take a note; we’ll need to get a better insulated patch cord for the next time. Back on the road while surrounded by glorious music – without the snap, crackle, pop. Life is good y’all.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010: Naweedna to Little Pine State Park PA
We stopped at the Eagle’s Nest Overlook where there was a guy with binos looking for birds … and the nest. We got out and joined him. We’d seen the nest before, and pointed it out to him. He reciprocated by pointing out a pair of Great Blue Herons (GBH) sitting on a log near the opposite shore, and while we were talking, a Brown Thrasher landed in the brushy bank below our feet. Yep, we are in our element. Now we need to get set up in our campsite (#42) … and have a celebratory adult beverage … or two. But first, how about a little nap? This nature thing is certainly relaxing and … zzzzzzz …
Little Pine SP has a couple of Yurts to rent:
“Yurts: Located in the campground, the two Mongolian style tents are round, on a wooden deck and sleep five people in single bunks and double/single bunks. Yurts have a cooking stove, refrigerator, microwave oven, table, chairs, electric heat and outlets, fire ring and picnic table. A shower house is nearby.”
Sounds pretty good, eh? Well, as it turns out, it sounded good to a large group of Amish/Mennonites. I use the dual term because I’m not clear about the specific differences. Apparently they aren’t either because on the way down, we passed a church that advertised itself as Amish/Mennonite.
There were three or four adjoining campsites populated by more Amish/Mennonites. They were only a couple adult males … several adult women … and the rest of the hoard consisted of children ranging from infant to sub-adult. Now, if you are going to be surrounded by a large population of other campers, let them be Amish/Mennonite … no loud music - not even when they were playing what seemed to be musical chairs ?! - nothing but the babbling and giggling of children. It was actually very refreshing.
Wednesday July 21, 2010: Little Pine State Park PA …
Pine Creek Rail Trail: Waterville South to Jersey Shore …
Pine Creek Rail Trail (info)
Pine Creek Rail Trail Map (static)
Pine Creek Rail Trail Map (scalable)
Today’s revelation: If you don’t see any birds or other animals, look for butterflies; if you don’t see butterflies, look at the wildflowers. There’s always something to entertain and enlighten.
Ah, summer in Appalachia. We were plugged in, so we spent the night in A/C comfort. However, when we ventured outside, we discovered the air was warm and extremely damp – and this was early morning. When the morning fog burns off and the sun comes out, it will be “air you can wear”, but that goes with the territory. Using your binoculars results in the usual clear view that gradually becomes milky-white as your glasses steam up. Gotta look fast.
We parked at the Waterville trailhead and headed south (downstream) toward the southern end of the trail in Jersey Shore. It was going to be a fairly short day – a ride we would normally do in the afternoon of the day we arrive – if we had gotten an earlier start. An easy day is good because neither of us is in biking shape. You don’t have to good bike-legs to ride a rail trail – they are essentially flat – but you do need to have your butt conditioned. Ours aren’t.
The very first thing we saw was a big ol’ drill rig sitting on top of the ridge above Waterville. As you probably know, the Marcellus Shale underlies most of N PA and S NY. This unit has tightly-bound natural gas deposits that are extracted by hydrofracking, which is a controversial topic in the area. It was a little off-putting to see this big, working rig hovering right over our precious trail. You sort of get the idea that, if you cut a fart, the next thing you know some guy from TX will come roaring up behind you in a big ol’ drill rig and shout, “I smell gas.” Hey, buddy, keep that probe to yourself, okay? A sign of the times: “Got Milk?” becomes “Got methane?”
Valley of the Kings: That’s our new name for this southern portion of the Pine Creek Trail. Why, you ask? Well because there are so many Kingbirds and Kingfishers. We saw dozens while out on our treks. Pine Creek joins the Susquehanna at Jersey Shore. Thus, we are riding down an increasingly broad valley, and the openness is good Kingbird habitat. Usually we see lots of Bluebirds, but they seem to have been replaced by the Kingbirds – at least at this time of year. The broad reaches of the creek are prime turf for Kingfishers - yep, Valley of the Kings it is.
If you have a gander at the Pine Creek Rail Trail Map and switch to Terrain View, you will see a prominent geologic-province change. Just south of the Whitetail Parking are, the trail crosses PA-44 near the cluster of homes referred to as Tolbert. In the span of a couple miles the rocks exposed along the valley walls go from essentially horizontal to vertical with lots of little crenulations. We have passed from the Appalachian Plateau into the Valley and Ridge, and the terrain map shows this transition … and maybe an offset bounded by the Susquehanna Valley on the W and Pine Creek Valley to the E.
Did I tell you that it was hot and humid? Oy, about halfway through the day I found myself wishing for a brisk headwind. When you are biking, you sort of make your own breeze, so it can be pretty comfortable. However, when you stop, things tend to change very quickly … especially if you stop to look at one of the Kings … foggy glasses, fuzzy images, perspiration drips.
Okay, in case you don’t know, we bike very slowly. We call it Safari Speed … something like 5 mph … barely fast enough to stay upright as we go wobbling down the trail. Why so slow? Well it has to do with our trail-biking philosophy. While others ride trails for exercise and such, we tend to do it to see things – wildflowers, wildlife and such. I used to lead and go around 10 mph, which seems to be my comfortable cruising speed. Janie tends to ride more slowly and, consequently, falls behind. After a bit, I’d stop for her to catch up, and when she did, there would be this sort of exchange: “Did you see the Parula working the stalks of the Gray-Headed Coneflowers back by that little waterfall?” What Parula? Coneflowers? There was a waterfall?
I soon learned to follow, and I’ve been richly rewarded for doing so. Not only do I get a good view of my favorite butt in all the world, I also get to see lots more wild things … not that the butt isn’t wild … you know what I mean. Suffice to say the old adage, “If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes” isn’t strictly true. So we now both go along at Safari Speed looking for anything of interest that comes into view. It makes for long days in the saddle, but a little butt chafing is worth the sights and sounds surrounding us. Ah, the gentle mewing of the Catbirds (calls at bottom of Sound tab) … very soothing.
So what interesting birds did we see on today’s Safari?
Immature or Female Redstart
Immature Red-Tailed Hawk
Cedar Waxwings buggin’ over creek
Doe & twin Fawns (older than ours at home)
Cooper’s Hawk taking a freshly caught snake back to the nest
If you don’t see wildlife, you can always look at the wildflowers lining the trail …
Goldenrod blooming already – just past mid July - Oy
We also saw a couple southern trees that rare at home:
We noticed a lot of tall, dead plants out in the creek bottom. In NYS there is an outbreak of Giant Hogweed that is being systematically destroyed because it is dangerous to touch – leaves welts that seem to never go away (Phototoxicity). We were wondering if these dead plants were Hogweed so when we came across a DCNR crew, we stopped to ask. Nope, the Hogweed hasn’t made it to PA – yet. Those dead plants were Poison Hemlock. Yep, the Socrates poison. The DCNR walks the bottom land and sprays the plants … that’s why they are all (or nearly all) dead (the plants, not the workers). I offered up “Job Security” to the crew and they responded with agreeable laughter.
We finished the ride fairly early, went back to camp, and immediately hit the showers. By the time we were washed up, RVan had cooled down to a comfortable 75, so we took up residence on the bed and watched The Big Sleep (director’s cut – a very interesting back story to this classic film). Ah, life is good, y’all.
Bike Data: 24.39 miles; 4:45 hours total time; 3:24 hours bike time
Thursday July 22, 2010: Little Pine State Park PA …
Pine Creek Rail Trail: Waterville North to Near Cedar Run …
Pine Creek Rail Trail (info)
Pine Creek Rail Trail Map (static)
Pine Creek Rail Trail Map (scalable)
We woke to the usual morning fog that collects in the deep valleys. It was significantly cooler but still 100% humidity – as you might expect when you’re basically immersed in a cloud. Today we plan to park at the Waterville parking area and head north (upstream) toward Cedar Run. Trails like Pine Creek are best enjoyed when traveling upstream. The stream gradient allows for great valley vistas, especially when the stream bends away from the trail. Biking up gradient in the morning makes for an easier ride when returning. Of course, there are some other factors to consider. Things like sun angle and whether the trail is on the morning or evening side of the valley. For today, the trail is mostly on the evening side – meaning we will be in shade in the morning but exposed to full sun when we return – you can’t win ‘em all – you can only maximize your possibilities.
The first bit of natural splendor we saw was a big ol’ hornet’s nest plastered to the trunk of a tree. I’ve never seen a hornet’s nest stuck directly to a tree. It was a smallish tree – no thicker than the breadth of the nest. We didn’t see any hornets – maybe it was too early or too cool or too humid or … it was their day off and they were busy making “urine”.
Shortly after the hornet’s nest, we came across a small group of Common Mergansers. These are by far the most common waterfowl on Pine Creek. The group consisted of a few adults in eclipse plumage and this year’s ducklings. We expect to see lots more as we move upstream.
We stopped to look at a Kingfisher, and, as often happens, we saw several other things. There’s a lot of life out there, and you miss most of it if you don’t stop and allow it to present itself. In this case, we got a good view of the Kingfisher, but then noticed the GBH skulking on the shore behind. Then we noticed the Cardinal Flowers in full bloom there in the dappled sunlight. As we were looking at them, we picked up some blurry brightness in the foreground. It was a Turk’s Cap Lily standing tall above the “weeds”. Ahhhh, you just have to take a minute and reap the rewards.
We were heading directly into a refreshing NW breeze. Headwinds are normally unwelcome, but not on days like this. This part of the trail is dotted with little clusters of vacation cabins loosely organized into communities: Jersey Mills, Cammal, Slate Run, Hilborn, Cedar Run. In places, the trail is lined with Post & Beam fencing. As we were riding along, we passed within a few feet of a Catbird sitting on one of the posts. We see lots of Catbirds along the trail, but this one was noticeably different: it had a big juicy blackberry in its beak. These are sassy birds to begin with and this one looked downright proud of itself: “Look what I got and you don’t.”
We stopped a moment to look at an immature Bluebird and were rewarded with several other wonders. First we noticed Tree Swallows swooping overhead. Wait, those two aren’t Swallows; they are Chimney Swifts. We haven’t seen these birds for a while, and when we do see them, it is usually in the evening. Ah, but the treat didn’t stop there. As we were following the Swifts, something much bigger and way higher caught our attention. A pair of mature Bald Eagles was soaring around a few hundred feet above us. Neat.
We stopped for a midmorning snack at a cool spot where cold-air drainage pours out of one of the many small tributary gorges. As I was leaning the bike against the rail fencing, I noticed something darkish jumping away from my footsteps. My mind assumed it was a Cricket, but then I realized Crickets shouldn’t be out this time of day. What was it? I took a look and discovered a tiny, recently-hatched Wood Frog floundering around in what to it must have been a jungle of grass stems. How cute. Further inspection revealed several more. Apparently the amphibian population in Pine Creek is doing just fine – unlike the rest of the world (LINK).
We had turned around and were heading back to RVan when a Broad-Winged Hawk flew across the trail in front of us. It was being chased by some smaller birds – probably Redwing Blackbirds or Grackles. The hawk took refuge in a tree near the trail, and we only got a fleeting glimpse before it took off again flashing the broad, white bands on its tail.
Ah, more ducks. This time it was a flotilla of eight Wood Ducks. They were in eclipse plumage but the distinctive facial pattern was still discernable. And then we saw a lump in the trail ahead. What could it be? It turned out to be a turtle – a Slider of some sort. We frequently see them sunning on rocks and logs down in the stream, but we rarely see ‘em up on the trail. This one was just sitting smack-dab in the middle of the trail and appeared to be heading toward the valley wall. We watched for a while and then we continued on our journey and so did it.
Bike Data: 37.76 miles; 8:30 hours total time; 5:26 hours bike time
Friday July 23, 2010: Twin Streams, Morris PA …
Pine Creek Rail Trail: Blackwell North to Darling Run (I) …
Pine Creek Rail Trail (info)
Pine Creek Rail Trail Map (static)
Pine Creek Rail Trail Map (scalable)
We awoke at 6 AM when the A/C shut down and the microwave started beeping. What the … of course the first thing I think about is some sort of failure in either the A/C or RVan’s electrical system. I put on some shoes and took a walk up to the bathhouse to see if the lights were on up there. Nope. As I walked back, I noticed that the campground was ominously quiet – the usual hum of other camper’s A/Cs was missing. It would seem the power is out in the campground. Good news in terms of RVan; bad news in terms of a hot, stuffy morning in camp. We will survive … and head to a private campground over in Morris.
It was time to move our camp anyway, to a site closer to the north end of the trail where we will be biking for the next couple days. In the past, we’ve opted for a private campground right on the trail. This is very convenient because we can set up camp and leave the A/C running while we ride the trail. However, it is not a pleasant campground and it is run by a lady campground-Nazi. The check in time is 2 PM. We want to setup camp much earlier than that – as soon as we can get there – so we can get on the trail. Now, this campground-Nazi knows that people want to do this and has a rule that you have to pay $4/hour extra before 2 PM. The price of the campsite is already too high (and they have coin-operated showers to boot), so paying another $4x5=$20 is ridiculous. The fact that it is right on the trail is tempting but …
Twin Streams is a AAA approved campground that we’ve been interested in for some time. Although not on the trail, it is a pleasant five mile drive away, so we decided to give it a try. Holy moley, this is way different from the other place. A tent site (non-hookup) goes for $18. But we want A/C so we have to get a $28 site with full hookup, which is still less than the site on the trail and no more than we’d pay at the state park. Additionally, the place is run by people older than me – that means: ancient. It is very neat with explicit rules like no rollerblading in the bathhouse and absolutely no loud music … ever. And the showers are free for registered campers. Hey, this is our kind of place.
We registered and then drove the five miles to the Blackwell Trailhead. For today’s ride, we will head north (upstream again) to Darling Run where the trail crosses US-6 at Ansonia. The southern part of the trail parallels PA-414 all the way from Jersey Shore to Blackwell. At Blackwell, PA-414 heads NE over to Morris, where our campsite is located. Thus, there are no roads along the trail north of Blackwell, which makes it our favorite part. In addition, the trail passes through state forest and is bordered by two state parks over most of this area. We were jazzed.
It was overcast with intermittent showers … but, although very humid, it was not particularly hot, just warm with no breeze. So should we bike on a day that we are pretty sure to get wet? We resorted to our new-to-us evaluative question: What would Teddy (Roosevelt) do? Bully! Let’s do it. Besides, we've biked in rain before and actually enjoyed it. The wildlife doesn’t seem to care and are frequently a little less flighty. Yeah, Bully … we are Rough Riders, indeed.
The threatening weather and the fact it’s Friday means there weren’t many others on the trail. It was pretty much just us and a young Amish/Mennonite couple. Although it wasn’t raining at the time, we were pretty sure it would be soon, so we rigged for rain with an extra change of clothes and lots of waterproof coverings for us and the bike packs. The Amish/Mennonite couple, not so much. She was wearing the usual long, cotton dress (how do they bike in them?) and the characteristic little white-mesh bonnet. He was wearing jeans and a short-sleeve shirt. And for rain gear, well all they had was a plastic bag over her bike seat. That’s all. No coats, no hats, no packs, no lunch, and no water. We felt very overdressed.
As I said, it wasn’t raining – yet - so we enjoyed a relatively dry start to the day. The young Amish/Mennonite couple passed us after a mile or so. After about an hour on the trail, the showers started up again. We were ready for it, so we just kept on pedaling. Another mile down the road we came to a small bridge over a tributary gully and saw two bikes leaning against the wood fence. Ah ha, our two trail companions had taken refuge from the rain under the bridge. As we passed over, I wanted to say something into the darkness below, but, for once, I held my tongue. Shortly after the rain stopped, they passed us again. They were very jovial and the girl was almost talkative.
As I said, it was overcast, so as we biked along, I was taken by what looked like tree shadows on the trail. The trail designer had left selected Sycamore saplings along the edge of the trail. They, of course, are maturing and provide some shady relief on those hot, sunny afternoons. Thus, I wasn’t surprised to see these “shadows” … but there was no sun … so what’s causing this illusion? Well, a little inspection revealed that the “shadows” were the result of texture differences in the trail surface. What caused this texture difference? My theory is that the rain accumulates on the tree leaves, and then coalesces into large droplets that eventually plunge to the trail and, due to their size, preferentially wash out the fines. That’s my theory … and I’m stuck with it.
Shortly after the rain stopped, we came across a real marvel. Our attention was drawn to a flurry of activity along the far shoreline. Something was cutting the water in random directions leaving long lines of frothy, disturbed water. We stopped to check it out. At first it looked like large fish – maybe trout – dashing back and forth in the shallows with only their backs breaching the surface. But wait, that one bobbed up … it’s a Merganser. It became increasingly obvious that we were observing a Merganser feeding frenzy. They would dive and swim along under water in straight lines with seemingly random direction. We’ve seen them playing by chasing each other across the water, but this was different. Our conclusion: they were feeding on a school of minnows trapped in the shallows.
As we watched in wonderment, we noticed a GBH standing on the shore behind the Mergansers. It seemed to be picking up anything the ducks flushed its way. Opportunity was knocking and the GBH was answering the call. Ah, the reward of simple pleasures.
But the wonderment didn’t stop there. A short distance up the trail we came across another Slider. Like the Mergansers, it was also in the process of feeding. Like the one we saw yesterday, this turtle was parked in the middle of the trail, but, unlike yesterday’s, this one had trapped a big, juicy Millipede under its right front foot and was proceeding to have a crunchy snack. It didn’t look too appetizing to us, but the turtle was certainly interested – mine, mine, mine.
And the thrills kept on coming. Just another short bit up the trail, we saw a solitary Turkey emerge from the underbrush on the stream side of the trail. It proceeded to the middle of the trail and led us onward for a hundred yards or more. It would stop a bit, look at us, then continue to trot ahead. I was beginning to wonder how long this would continue when the Turkey finally got enough. It took one last look at us and then flushed into the trees lining the valley wall side of the trail. The only sounds we’d heard during this episode were the occasional clucking suggesting the Turkey’s distress. Once it took to wing, the surrounding trees exploded with alarm calls. The most noticeable were the screams of Blue Jays that were punctuated by the bright flash of a couple Orioles. Apparently, these birds had been watching the unfolding drama all along and when the Turkey flushed, the others responded. Nature is truly amazing.
And then the sun came out. It was just past midday and the temperature was rising fast. It became very steamy as the morning rain evaporated around us. We stopped frequently to watch Kingfishers and GBHs whenever they presented themselves. We even stopped to watch the tiny Wood Frogs – they were in their primal element.
We saw more Turk’s Cap Lilies and Cardinal Flowers. We were also rewarded with the purplish pink of Joe Pye Weed standing so stately above the surrounding bottom growth. Off in the dark recesses of the woods side we saw the occasional Black Cohosh (Bugbane, Fairy Candle) with its white spires showing brightly in the dark shadows.
It happened again. On the ride back, we’d noticed the clouds were thickening and we fully expected afternoon thundershowers. However, we are in a very deep, narrow valley, so it is hard to see what’s looming on the horizon. Additionally, we were heading SE, and I naturally expect the weather to be coming from the W. It certainly didn’t look threatening in what little of the western sky I could see. Thus, I completely missed the big thunderhead developing behind us. Apparently, there was a downpour just to our NE and we found ourselves exposed to the blow off. Soon very large drops began to pelt us. They were few and far between to start but quickly increased in frequency.
We’d removed our rain gear when the sun had come out earlier, so we were totally exposed when the deluge came. We hurried to find shelter under some protective trees so we could tend to weatherproofing ourselves and, more importantly, our bike packs. It was then that a very talkative woman joined us. She was heading in the opposite direction and stopped to ask Janie if we’d passed six other bikers? Well, it quickly became evident why they had “ditched” her. It should have been obvious that we were trying to get our raingear on, but she just kept talking … because … she had NO RAINGEAR … so what did she care? I completely ignored her, but Janie was stuck.
She eventually headed out. The rain stopped just about the time we got everything covered. Ain’t that the way of it? Hey, we survived and that’s all that really matters. Besides, we were heading back to the campsite to … take a shower. Bully! We don’t care so much about getting wet, but trying to get our biking clothes dry for tomorrow’s ride can be tricky in the confined space of RVan.
Bike Data: 33.12 miles; 7:00 hours total time; 4:44 bike time
Friday July 24, 2010: Twin Streams to Naweedna …
Pine Creek Rail Trail: Blackwell North to Darling Run (II) … Then Home …
Pine Creek Rail Trail (info)
Pine Creek Rail Trail Map (static)
Pine Creek Rail Trail Map (scalable)
Well, it’s the weekend and the work-a-day people are out. We are covered by a clear, blue sky and the temperature and humidity are in check. All of this contributes to … lots of people out recreating. Normally we would be heading to the Darling Run Parking Area and preparing to ride the new 8 mile northern-extension of the trail. However, that portion of the trail mostly traverses private land with little tree cover and is likely to be hot once the morning sun warms things up. Thus, we opted to do a repeat of yesterday’s ride … at least part of it. We’ve decided that this will be our last day. The primary factors contributing to this decision are: Sunday is Mom’s birthday, Sunday will bring equally large numbers of recreators, there’s a front coming through promising to bring some rough weather and we are both saddle sore. Bully for Teddy – he might have been on an actual saddle, but the horse was doing most of the work! Reluctantly, we will be heading home this afternoon.
As we were pulling into the Blackwell Parking Area, we were greeted by a large group of Amish/Mennonite women all wearing the same style dress and little white bonnets. They were giggling and getting organized for a day’s biking. OMG, there are a lot of these Amish/Mennonites. Sometime over the last year, I read an article about how their population is increasing. We can certainly see the effect … and the number of small children insures it will continue.
We started down the trail and shortly after getting out of the outskirts of Blackwell, we started hearing the two-toned call of an immature Eagle (LINK: #8 on the list). We stopped to see if we could find the bird, but the growth was too thick. Thus, it was an Eagle heard but not seen. But a bit farther down the trail we did get to see some interesting stuff.
There are signs informing you about Timber Rattlesnakes at the beginning, middle, and end of this section of trail. With no accompanying roads and little in the way of human encroachment, this is prime rattlesnake habitat. In fact, Morris (where we stayed last night) has its very own Rattlesnake Roundup. Thus, we are always watching the trail for sticks that turn into snakes. So far we hadn’t seen one, but our luck was about to change.
Our Safari style of biking means I’m usually following Janie. She tends to focus on the surroundings more than the immediate trail ahead. Consequently, she tends to run over a lot of sticks. At one point, there were three small twigs in the trail and she managed to hit each one of ‘em. Well, that’s all well and good until one of the sticks turns out to be a snake. Last year she actually ran over a small Garter Snake.
So the point is, when we are in snake territory, I tend to pay a lot more attention to elongated things in the trail. Thus, I tend to ride en echelon so I can scan the trail ahead. Sure enough we soon came across an elongated lump in the road. After seeing the turtles, I thought maybe … as we got closer it became evident that this blob was another form of reptile.
It was a Timber Rattlesnake about 3 to 3.5 feet long, dark and mottled with black eyes, and fat – very fat. The trail signs describe two color varieties: Yellow and Black. The yellow variety is basically golden yellow with a darkish diamond pattern and yellow eyes; the black variety shows a contrasting, lighter pattern and has black eyes. This particular snake seemed to be a hybrid of the two with black eyes. It was heading from the creek side to the valley wall side and was about a fourth of the way across the trail. Hmmm, what to do? There isn’t enough room to get by on the creek side and the other side is the head end; if we spook it, it might move right in front as we try to pass. Okay, we watch for a while and it decides to turn and head back to the creek side. Yay! We got a good, long look, and now we can proceed down the trail unencumbered.
True to the Valley of Kings moniker, we were seeing lots of Kingfishers. This isn’t new except for the fact that we are seeing ‘em sitting on rocks in the middle of the stream. Usually, we see them either flying low over the water looking for a perch on overhanging bare-branch where they can get a good view of their prospective meals. It seems odd to see them hunting from such a low perch on rocks that are barely emergent. Maybe it has to do with the sun angle. Hey, whatever works, right?
Did I say Mergansers were common? We came across a flat rock out in the creek. It was maybe 3’x4’ … and completely covered with 25 Mergansers (Janie counted ‘em). There was another, smaller rock nearby with four more – overflow parking. A little farther along, we came across a female Mallard ushering one chick along the shoreline. This may be the first Mallard we’ve seen on Pine Creek.
The Tiadaghton Rest Area is about halfway to Darling Run and a convenient spot to stop for a snack. We generally sit on a picnic table down by the water’s edge and scan the far shore for activity. When we did that this time, we were rewarded with a good view of two River Otters. We knew they had been reintroduced into the area, but had never seen them before. This pair seemed to be different in size – probably an adult and pup. They were working the shoreline heading upstream by alternately slithering over exposed rocks and swimming the open water between. Really neat … but all too fleeting.
We were heading down the trail with a feeling of real contentment after having seen the Otters. We came to a slight curve in the trail where we could just see the gaggle of Amish/Mennonite girls heading our way. They had stopped in the trail and very quickly we saw why. A Black Bear came ambling down off the slope, stopped in the middle of the trail, took a quick look at us and then the girls, and gambled off into the tall weeds lining the creek – never to be seen again by us on this day.
Holy crap, a Rattler, a pair of River Otters and now a Bear – what a day. Very satisfied with ourselves, we got to a good turnaround point and headed back toward RVan and home. About halfway back, we saw another large stick in the trail. Yep, another Timber Rattler. This one was about the same length, but much thinner and more yellow than black. It was moving fast, so we didn’t get enough time to check out the eye color before it disappeared in the fringing weeds. Still a good sighting.
Not much farther we saw yet another questionable stick in the trail. This one was much thinner and turned out to be a Northern Water Snake about 18” long. They look remarkably like Copperheads except for being much thinner and lacking the characteristic large, triangular head … and the fangs … and the venom. We took a good long look at it and then headed on down the trail to finish our ride. Another 116 miles of Pine Creek Trail in the books.
Bike Data: 21.42; 3:45 hours total time; 3:09 hours bike time
We took PA-414 back to Morris and then onward to US-15. When we got to the US-15 (future I-99) ramp, we found a new and very large Exxon plaza advertising $2.61 gas. That’s over a dollar less than our home price, so we pulled in to fill ‘er up for a cool $40 – and that was only a little over a half tank. What price glory?
We like to get at least one milkshake when we are out on the road for a while, so I asked Janie to use the Internet connectivity to see if there was something in Mansfield. Sure enough, there’s a Wendy’s there and a Frosty will do, so we got a couple of small Frostys and continued on to Painted Post were we connected with NY-17 (I-86), which we took to I-390 and, eventually, Naweedna where we arrived at four, unloaded RVan, and sat placidly on the porch while enjoying an adult beverage, turning beer into urine, and reliving the memories of our recent outing. (Sigh)