Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cambridge Springs and Me, Then and Now

I recently returned to Cambridge Springs, spending two days with my friend Troy on his farm. I've been to Cambridge Springs before, and this small town in Northwest Pennsylvania has strong connections to my life changes in the past decade.

My first visit was in 2004. Cambridge Springs is best known for an international chess tournament held in 1904, and my visit was to coincide with the celebrations of the anniversary. I was 400 some pounds in the photo to the right, and was so fatigued from the drive the day before I couldn't play in the amateur tournament. (Yes, I was too tired to sit at a table playing chess.) I remember sitting on the porch of the Riverside Inn and staring at the landscape and the nearby French Creek. I wasn't part of that landscape, I wasn't interacting with it, I was a spectator. I was living, sort of, but wasn't alive.

Let's move forward almost a decade. Nine years and a triple digit weight loss on and I'm outside. In the photo I'm riding along the very same French Creek that I once observed from a distance. (The photo is from the Ernst Trail in Meadville, not Cambridge Springs, but its close enough.) Cambridge Springs might be a small town and Meadville only slightly bigger, but they are surrounded by the wonders  and glories of nature. I am a decade older but I'm alive in ways I'd never have imagined back in 2004. Cambridge Springs used to be associated in my mind with the living death of super obesity. Now its a place I go to when I want to get out.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

High Rocks, Ralph Stover State Park, PA, August 2013

Thanks to a conflict with work commitments, I had to scrap a planned trip to Lehigh Gorge over the Labor Day holiday. In my search for day hikes I could take instead I came across Ralph Stover State Park and its High Rocks Vista. 

Ralph Stover is located north of Philadelphia, along Tohickon Creek before it flows into the Delaware River. The park has an interesting history. The main part of the park, along the creek, was opened in the 1930s. The High Rocks area, consisting of the vista, was added later thanks to a gift from novelist James A. Michener, a native of the area. Michener found himself a very wealthy man thanks to the success of his first book, Tales of the South Pacific, and his one percent share of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific, based on his book. Being charitable and having the money to do good things led him to purchase the land and donate it to the park system in 1954.

Parking for the vista is across a gravel road from the trailhead. The trail itself branches in two, with a flatter option following the road and the typical up and down running along the black metal fence at the edge of the cliffs. The Tohickon Gorge itself is over two hundred feet deep, and the sheer rock walls are favorites for rock climbers. The trailhead has the usual warning about death and injury if you aren't careful, and this was reinforced for me by a trailside memorial at the first overlook. 
I hiked a bit more than a mile. It was late in the day when I arrived at Ralph Stover, and I was still feeling ill from the flu earlier in the week, so prolonged exertion wasn't in my plans. The hike along the cliffs wasn't difficult although I did choose my footing carefully. Had I arrived earlier in the day I might have seen rock climbers, since the park was giving classes that morning. I saw a couple of people at the first overlook but aside from that I had the trail to myself. I continued on the trail past the metal fences, which meant I passed from Ralph Stover to the adjoining Tohickon Valley Park, owned by Bucks County. Using the trails in the county park its possible to hike down to the creek, but I didn't have the time or desire this evening. But I had enough joy staying atop the cliffs, looking down. 


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Gear: Footwear for Hiking

Being both heavy and balance-challenged means I have to pay attention to my feet. Add in getting used to a normal gait and flat arches and you will understand why I have to choose wisely my footwear for a hike. Some people can hike in anything; I'm not one of them. 

At times the choice is easy, and at others its not. Decisions, decisions. On my left foot is a Brooks Cascadia trail running shoe, size 13. For a hike of five miles or under, or one that isn't on difficult terrain, its my shoe of choice. It provides good traction and even better arch support. Readers of this blog might have seen them in my posts about Pole Steeple and Tumbling Run. The shoes took abuse there, getting soaked at Tumbling Run and one of them taking flight during my Pole Steeple hike. They are holding up well, are much lighter than hiking boots, and look good too.

On the right is one of my Asolo hiking boots, size 12. The Brooks Cascadia was purchased post surgery, but the Asolo boots were acquired in 2010 when I began to become more serious about hiking and wanted to compensate for my bad knees as much as possible. I save them for something technical, most recently being the Raven's Horn hike. Unlike the Cascadia, I need some kind of arch support in them, and I'm still shopping for the right one. 

Also, my feet are still shrinking as I recover from the knee replacement and lose weight. Currently the boots are just a hair too small, but I expect soon enough they will fit as perfectly as they did when I purchased them. I expect to need a smaller size in the Cascadia too when its time to replace them; I dropped two shoe sizes, from 14 to 12, when I dropped 160 pounds in 2006, so I expect I'll be a 12 again soon. 

Labels: ,

Urban Hike, Ohio City, Cleveland, Ohio, July 2013

I'm not sure of the definition of the word "hike", or how it differs from "walk." And in the case of a so-called urban hike, the distinction is even less. That said, even though I'll never be a fan of cities, they are 'outdoors' and such a walk, especially with friends, can be fun.

Last month in Ohio I met my friends Aaron and Matty for one such hike. We traveled through the Ohio City section of Cleveland, across the Cuyahoga River from the downtown. Our first stop was the most impressive, the West Side Market. Like Philadelphia's Reading Terminal, the West Side Market uses an old rail station building. The building is impressive now and must have been very grand when it was used by the railroad. One end of the main building has an observation walkway, and I took advantage of it for photos.

Matty is still recovering from his car accident last October, and the hike was kept to a little more than a mile to not stress him. We stopped for a few minutes at a bike shop to drool over Brooks saddles and get out of the heat. I can't imagine ever riding a tall bike, and just looking at it made me dizzy.

As I was walking around I began to get a feeling of deja-vu. At first I thought it was because I saw hipsters riding on fixies and was reminded of Philly, but then as we returned to the West Side Market I realized I'd been here before. In 2007 I visited Cleveland and rented a bike from nearby Ohio City Bicycle Co-op, and rode on a Bike to Work day event. Our turn around point was the little park opposite the West Side Market. Back then I was still trying to change from an indoor person to an outdoor one. Standing across the street from the market, I reflected on how far I'd come. Then I came to Ohio to research in a library. Now I came to be outside.

The hike ended with a disgusting spectacle. My friends were tempted by an offering at the market, and tried head cheese. I was revolted by the mere idea of such a product, but my companions delighted in eating slices of it in front of me. Still, I was lucky. There were items even more disgusting they could have eaten.

Labels: , , ,

Ernst Trail, Meadville, PA, August 2013

Following my trip to Ohio I spent two days visiting my friend Troy at his organic farm outside Meadville, PA. Troy was eager to show me a couple of his local bike trails, and my first morning we headed out to the Ernst Trail. The five mile main line of the Ernst uses part of an old rail line that crossed land owned by Ernst Conservation Seeds, a company that sells native plant seed for restoration of natural areas. According to Troy one big client of Ernst is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, who uses their seed mixtures for medians on highways. For more about Ernst and their products visit

We started our ride at the small trailhead on the outskirts of Meadville. Immediately the trail won my heart for having a covered bridge in the first half-mile. Covered bridge purists will note that its not 'authentic', but no matter, I enjoyed riding through it and enjoyed its landscaped setting over a small stream. Troy was happy to see it again as well since his farm helped pay for it. I was happy Troy stopped, as he's far faster than I am.

The trail passes through one of Ernst's fields, and then follows French Creek for a couple of miles. I live near another French Creek, and Troy's is a much bigger stream. Its also more scenic, with benches and an observation platform allowing the rider or walker to take in the views. On this hot August day the shade was welcome, as I was working hard to keep up with Troy. My friend had a bike that was new to him, and while it looked small, it fit him well enough he could use his powerful and organically fed muscles to drop me like a hot rock. Fortunately this was a trail, and I was unlikely to get lost.

The main branch of the Ernst ends at a small park outside of town. But a mile before the end the trail branches off onto an extension. We doubled back and found the new stretch of trail, so new its surface hadn't been improved with pea gravel or pavement. As for the route itself, it runs two miles through some secluded woods and farmland, rolling up and down small hills and at one point using the driveway to a trailer park. We were the only riders on the extension and I loved it for that reason. And the scenery was as beautiful as any I'd seen in Westsylvania.

By the time we'd returned to the truck we had 14 miles of riding for the day. Troy was feeling "peckish" and suggested we ride to one of his favorite places in Meadville for lunch. Voodoo Brewery was less than two miles from us, and I found the ride to be less fearsome than I thought it was going to be. The climb from the trailhead was work, but doable. Yes, I am riding through a crosswalk in the photo, but I was following Troy's lead and besides, Voodoo was right there.

I was rewarded for my riding effort with the best veggie burger I'd ever eaten. It was made with locally sourced vegetables, and was red with beets.
It was so good I was able to ignore the fact my friend sitting next to me was downing beef tongue tacos. I can't speak to the beer selection, as I don't drink, but Troy was pleased with his choice on National IPA Day. As for the bar itself, Voodoo struck me as hipster without the aura of smugness one finds in such places in Philadelphia or New York. And there wasn't a single fixie parked outside. I'm not a person who frequents bars, but I'd come to Voodoo for the food if I didn't live six hours away.

We finished the ride with 17 miles and full bellies.

Labels: ,

A Taste For The Woods: 2013-09-01

This page has moved to a new address.

A Taste For The Woods