Friday, August 9, 2013

Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

I'm tagging this as a hike, although I'm not sure its a long enough walk to qualify as one. However, since sets of steps are involved, its work.

I visited Brandywine Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in Ohio, twice during my trip. The first time was on arrival in the state. I met my friend Matty, down for the weekend from Michigan, and we headed out. Despite a road closure we eventually found our way to the new parking area and walked the short trail to the falls. Most of said trail was wooden steps, and we both found them a bit of a challenge. Matty had more of a struggle due to his weight and the fact the surgery to reconstruct his damaged leg was more recent, but we both got up and down OK.

The falls were spectacular, despite the summer water flow and a large log stuck at the base of the cascade. The best views were from the lower viewing platform, but the upper platform at the crest of the falls also provides good shots. Its possible to photograph from other locations on the walkway but I found there to be too much vegetation to get an effective image. Hiking is allowed in the gorge near the falls, and when Matty and I visited we saw a photographer parked near the far side of the base of the cascade.

I returned a week later during a day doing short hikes in the national park, but the photos were not an improvement on the evening shots I'd taken before. So I spent some time walking the new stretch of the Bike and Hike Trail. In 2011 when I rode the trail it switched to a horrible on-road section and I passed the falls without even knowing they were there. Now cyclists can take the Bike and Hike down the hill, over a trail bridge above a highway, and into the parking lot for the falls. Or they can continue past the parking lot, down a corkscrew turn and the trail brings you to the entrance to the upper platform for the falls. The trail continues on a closed road located just above the crest of the falls. When I visited, the trail was closed for resurfacing above the falls, so a rider has to get off the trail at Brandywine Road, as in 2011. Still, this is a big improvement for the Bike and Hike Trail, and probably helps bring more people to the falls.

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Raven's Horn, Golden Eagle Trail, Slate Run, PA

If you've seen the heading of this blog, you've seen me on the Raven's Horn. Now here's the story of my most difficult hike. 

The Raven's Horn is a rock outcropping on the east side of Pine Creek Gorge, just south of the town of Slate Run. The horn is reached by the Golden Eagle Trail, a nearly ten mile hike up and through the mountains that has been called the best dayhike in Pennsylvania by at least one authority. Most hikers complete the trail with the Raven's Horn as the end, leaving only a couple of miles back to the trailhead. 

This striking image was photographed by Chris, one of my two guides for the hike. Chris and his friend Lee met me on the last Saturday of my vacation to take me up to see the most impressive landscape I've ever viewed.
Our meeting is another blessing of the Internet. I first learned of the Raven's Horn on a Facebook group for hiking and backpacking in Pennsylvania. While I am a novice hiker, I read and post there so I can find places to hike and learn more about how to do it safely and successfully. Chris posted a photo of himself atop the Raven's Horn, I commented that I'd like to do it someday, and I received an offer to be guided up the mountain. A few messages were exchanged and a date set of August 3. The hike would be on the last weekend of my vacation, and I'd stop in the gorge to hike it before heading for home. 

We met at the Clark Farm trailhead on the Pine Creek Rail Trail at a quarter to nine. After introductions were exchanged and we gathered our gear we crammed into Chris' car to drive to the trailhead. While our hike was going to use the Golden Eagle Trail, we were starting from the old trailhead. When the Pine Creek Rail Trail was opened by the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the trailhead was relocated to opposite the new parking area at Clark Farm. The old trailhead is a little more than a mile away, south on Route 414 next to Wolf Run. 

It was a foggy morning, as usual, on Pine Creek, and we set off with the hopes the sun would soon burn the clouds off. I immediately ran into problems crossing the rail trail. It was elevated to keep it from getting swamped in a rain, and I had to climb down into the gutter and then back up. I walked a few feet to find a gentler angle and crossed. Meanwhile the thoughts in my mind were "I hope I don't have to do things like this the whole trip" and "I can't imagine what Chris and Lee think of my hiking abilities now."

Within fifty yards of the entrance to the trail there was a partial washout about five feet across. With some direction from my guides I got across. Then the narrow trail began to climb as it entered the series of switchbacks. Some of them were very steep, and I needed to pause to find my footing. I had borrowed Chris' Leki hiking poles, and was learning to use them. But gear doesn't make the hiker. 

I quickly realized I was in over my head hiking this trail. I thought having hiked Pole Steeple and Hawk Mountain that I'd be able to take on the Raven's Horn hike without additional difficulty. I was wrong. This was testing me as I've never been tested. Chris kept telling me "You are stronger than you realize", but I was too busy trying to find a way up the slope to hear him. 

I was even too busy to photograph the climb, or even notice how high we'd gone. I spent most of the hike looking at my feet and the ground ahead of me. Fortunately Lee was busy taking photos, and I should be getting a disc with them in the mail. The only acceptable photo I took on the climb was while resting on the only flattish area, getting a shot of Chris on snake patrol. Pine Creek Gorge is home of the Eastern Timber Rattler, and having seen them at the Raven's Horn on his last climb Chris was a tad obsessed with them. I began to refer to him as Saint Patrick.

Having passed the switchbacks, we began to walk around the rock formations. The horn and other outcroppings along the way appear to be slate or similar rock, and there are some very odd shapes sticking out of the hillside. Having passed them we began to approach the Raven's Horn. Again the climbing was difficult for me, but by this point I'd become a little more confident in my abilities and trusted the hiking poles a bit more.

 In a few minutes I was at the top. 

The Raven's Horn is unlike other overlooks I've been to. Pole Steeple in Micheux State Forest and The Ledges in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, for instance, have a big 'platform' or series of platforms with multiple viewing locations. Ditto Hawk Mountain, which is a flat pile of rocks. The Raven's Horn is a flat, round, and small 'platform' jutting out. At most I'd estimate no more than three adults could stand comfortably on it. 

For our trip first up on the horn was Chris, who posed for multiple shots. Then Lee got on it for a minute. Then it was my turn. Chris suggested where to step to get on it, and said I should bring the poles for balance.  I did, and posed for a few photos, Chris shouting directions to me.  I was a little nervous, but the danger was thrilling. As the photo shows, its quite a drop.

But the view was amazing. Chris said this was the best weather he'd ever had hiking up here. In the photo you can see Pine Creek, the gorge, and to the left the gorge containing Wolf Run. The view from the horn is easily 180 degrees and more. The photos don't show it, but there was a red tail hawk riding the air currents in the gorge as we drank in the scene. 

Having drank our fill of the horn, we packed up and headed back down. Chris was cheery and talkative as usual, reminding me "You did it! You hiked to the Raven's Horn!" I was forced to be "Negative Neil" and reminded both of my guides that I had to get down before I could celebrate. Some might think I was putting a wet blanket on the celebration, but for me this was hike was a test, and I don't celebrate a test until its done. I could put a foot wrong, slip, or worse. I kept reminding myself that "I can do all things through Him that strengthens me", but I paid respect to that power He gave me by focusing on the task at hand. Having reached the horn I wasn't going to throw it way by being cocky. 

The descent was slower than the climb. I was extra careful, perhaps excessively so. At the start I slid down a steep portion on my backside, and in a couple of places I used hand over hand. I used trees as a brace to get down a couple of times. But it wasn't always caution that slowed me. I was tired, it was warmer than when we started, and fatigue seems to make my dropped right foot get more wayward. I didn't fall the entire hike, but I slipped a couple of times. Also, my Asolo hiking boots weren't tight enough, and I felt my feet sliding forward in them as I went down slopes. 

Once off the rocks, it was the slow series of switchbacks. Then at the end the partial washout along Wolf Run. This is where Lee slipped, part of the trail crumbling under him. He grabbed the bank and avoided falling onto the rocks in Wolf Run. Once Lee was safely standing again I crossed on what was left of the trail. Then after signing the trail register, it was a short walk to the car. For Chris and Lee, at least. I still had to climb the berm to the rail trail. I began to search for an easier slope to walk up. Then Chris extended his hand, and while I'd refused handholds on the hike up until now, I took it. Between the two of us I got up to the rail trail and Chris raised my hand in triumph. 

Now I celebrated. The enormity of what I'd done swept over me. Yes, I had help. But still, it was a hike I'd never imagined I could do. I wept. But only for a moment. We had to get back to the car. And I had to get out of my boots. 

We drove back to the trailhead, I changed back into my trail runners, and Team Raven's Horn posed for a photo. While this isn't the trail entrance we took, it stands in well. Chris, Lee, and I said our goodbyes. I sat in my car wondering "what next?" I had my bike with me, I could have changed into riding gear and put in some miles on the rail trail. Or even just sat on the bank and watched Pine Creek. But even though it was still early afternoon, I felt anything else I did that day would be an anticlimax to the hike. So I drove to Jersey Shore, had dinner, and drove home. And nearly a week later I'm still pondering the question "what next?"

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Holmes County Trail, July 2013

In a previous post I wrote about a ride on the Holmes County Trail and concluded with the thought I'd ride it again next time I was in Ohio. Well, I followed through on that pledge during my recent vacation. This time my companion on the ride was my host Peter, riding his trike. We completed the thirty-two miles of trail, passing Amish in buggies, on bikes, and on foot, and passing through towns, woods, and farmland. The day was sunny and warm, but not brutally hot as had been the week before.

Peter is, like me, a man with artificial joints. In his case they are a knee and a hip. So for this trip we had three natural hips, one natural knee, two men, and five wheels. Its amazing what distractions you think of when riding, isn't it? The last time I'd visited Peter he was recovering from his hip replacement and his riding was as limited as his stamina. Two years later I was struggling to keep up with his trike. I later found out we were both struggling - Peter was riding faster than he normally did to keep up with ME. We both paid for it the next day, with Peter resting and I spending the day hiking instead of riding.

We started the trail in Fredericksburg. Our turnaround point this time was the Killbuck Sweet Shop, where we had lunch at the outdoor table. The shop wasn't open last time I was here, and it has a good reputation among trail users, so I was glad to eat there this time. The shop is a short ride past the trail end, on a low traffic road.

Our trip back was a little more leisurely than the ride out. We were both fatiguing, and my problem with my hands going numb continued. Also, I found more spots I wanted to photograph. Peter didn't mind waiting, having brought his lounge chair for the occasion. The thirty-two miles I rode were the longest ride I've completed since my surgery 16 months before, and the ride marked the one year anniversary since I resumed riding on my new knees. In July 2012 I rode one mile and was so wiped out I fell asleep afterward. A year later I rode more than thirty times as far and was alert when I was done. What a difference a year makes.

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Freedom Trail, Tallmadge, Ohio

I needed a recovery ride. I'd done my longest ride in two years the day before, and pushed myself hard at the end to avoid getting rained on. I was tired, and I needed a slow bit of pedaling to unwind. Fortunately, Metroparks Serving Summit County had the trail for me.

The Freedom Trail is a new multi-use path in development on an abandoned commuter rail line. The trail currently runs 4.2 miles in the city of Tallmadge, but plans are for it to continue into Akron and connect with the Northside Station of the Cuyahoga Valley Railroad and the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath. On the other end, Portage County will bring the Portage Trail to a connection, which will mean residents of that county can have an off-road path into Akron, north to Cleveland, and south as far as the towpath goes. 
I was joined on this ride by my buddy Aaron, and Aaron's pal Samson. Aaron rode and Samson walked, connected to Aaron's bike by a special mount on the seatpost. Samson seemed enthusiastic. Then again, he's a German Shepherd. The trail itself is wonderfully planned, wooded for most of its length. For much of the ride I couldn't even hear traffic noise. Once we passed the small Metropark on the trail and entered downtown Tallmadge road crossings and traffic noise were there, but aside from waiting at crossings we had no trouble. 
Or, I should write "we humans had no trouble." Samson has been on long walks and rides before, but at the turn around point Aaron noticed his dog was bleeding on one of his paws. Something on the asphalt surface, or the gravel next to the trail, irritated his pads. My friends took it easy riding back, walking the bike at times. Samson is a strong dog, and after a couple of days with his paws wrapped he's recovered and reportedly wants to go for another run/ride with his human.

 I finished the ride, and the day, with ten miles. I rode back and forth near the end while Aaron was talking to Samson and checking his paws, which explains my increased mileage.

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The Ledges, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

My last hike in Ohio was, like the others, easy and flat. Following a ride on the towpath with Aaron, and the full lunch at The Winking Lizard in Peninsula, I traveled a few miles to the east and visited the Ritchie Ledges, or "The Ledges" as the trail called them. Like almost everything in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, The Ledges are easily accessible, being just a short walk from the parking area. The direct way is to cut across a mown field next to the parking lot, but I chose the marked trail. One disappointment was that Icebox Cave, a highlight listed in my trail guide to the park, was closed to protect the bats that inhabit that hole. With that side trip out, my hike was one mile long.

The trail itself started as a crushed gravel surface, switching to dirt at the turn off for the overlook. The trail was level, and was free of rocks until I neared the ledges. Even then the rocks in the trail were nothing compared to what the average Pennsylvania hiker faces in his state. I found the hiking very easy. Once I was done at the ledges I had the choice of cutting across the field or continuing on the trail another mile or so. I chose to take the short cut across the field and go back to my host's home to pack.

As for the overlook itself, it must be more impressive in late fall or winter, when the leafless trees block less of the view. Still, I enjoyed looking at the valley the river carved out, and I'll probably do this hike again next time I'm in Ohio. Perhaps Icebox Cave will be reopened then.

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Statistics from Ohio 2013

Statistics, to at least one reader, ruin the "zen" of a ride or hike. But Man is a classifying and counting animal. So here are some statistics from my recent vacation in Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, and Pine Creek Gorge.

Total number of miles ridden on my bike: 241. This is more than the total number of miles ridden in 2012 and all of 2013 up until my vacation.

Longest ride on my bike: 36 miles. My longest ride since July 2011.

Trails I rode: Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath (three times), Old Muskigum Trail, Holmes County Trail, Freedom Trail, Sippo Valley Trail, North Coast Inland, Western Reserve Greenway (twice), Ernst Trail, East Branch Trail, Presque Isle State Park trail. All of them aside from the towpath, Old Muskigum, and Holmes County were new to me.

Total number of miles hiked: 10

Longest hike: 4 miles. (Most difficult hike I've ever attempted - the Raven's Horn.)

Even though I prefer hiking to riding, I did a lot more riding than hiking. The main reasons were that I have a cycling event in September, the MS City to Shore, I am training for, and because most of my friends are cyclists and not hikers. And since my friends prefer riding trails to riding on the road, most of my rides were on trails. The only road ride I did of any length was a back and forth to lunch in Meadville following a trail ride.

Aside from the good time I had with friends, I'm pleased with my efforts on vacation. I was active in a way I haven't been in a long time. Now to keep that momentum going.

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A Taste For The Woods: 2013-08-04

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A Taste For The Woods