Thursday, September 12, 2013

Presque Isle State Park, PA, July 2013

As usual, I tried to cram too much into a traveling day. I left Akron early in the morning, and headed towards my first stop, the southern end of the Western Reserve Greenway. After riding there I headed on towards Erie and my first visit to Presque Isle State Park. I write "first" as I'll undoubtedly be back.

Presque Isle isn't an island, but a peninsula. The French name means just that, "almost an island." If you look at a map of Lake Erie, you'll note a large clawlike peninsula jutting out into the lake, protecting the city of Erie. That sandy, flat strip of land gives Erie, Pennsylvania's fourth largest city, one of the best natural harbors in the world. In the war of 1812 the US Great Lakes fleet was moored at Erie, and Presque Isle timber was used in the ships Oliver Hazard Perry led on September 10, 1813 in the Battle of Lake Erie. To protect the fragile ecosystems and the land's historic significance Presque Isle is preserved as a state park.

My riding route was based on the one provided in a guidebook, but in my haste I made a mistake in my starting point. I chose the Tom Ridge Environmental Center parking lot, which seemed like a good idea until I discovered its located on a hill overlooking the park. The roll downhill was fun, but I wasn't relishing the climb back up at the end.

Once I reached the park a mile later I had flat ground to cruise on. Bikes aren't restricted to the bike and walking path, but I saw no reason to not use it. This was a summer weekday, and traffic on the path was busy. I had to use caution as I passed walkers, wobbly beach cruiser riders, and the occasional slow surry.

Had I arrived earlier I'd have taken in more of the sights. My cycling guidebook suggested taking a water taxi to Erie and riding through town back to the park. I could have packed my swimsuit in my panniers and stopped for a dip into the cold lake water. Instead I was on a tight schedule to get to my friend Troy's farm in Cambridge Springs, so I sped through my 14 mile ride. I stopped at the Perry Monument, the lighthouses, the beach.....had I arrived earlier I could have visited Perry's ship the Niagara, which is moored in Erie, but that will wait until next time. Instead I stopped at the Perry monument, both lighthouses, beaches and moorings and overlooks..... I packed a lot into two hours.

The climb out of the park and back to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center was difficult, but I made it. My seven miles an hour was slow, but my cruising speed was higher when you consider how often and how long I stopped. Next trip Erie and Presque Isle gets an entire day, and perhaps two of them.

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Flight 93 Memorial, Shanksville, PA, July 2012

My trip to Ligonier and western Pennsylvania in 2012 ended with a visit to the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville. I'd planned on stopping on the way to Ligonier a week earlier, but I was running late and arrived after the memorial has closed for the day.

The entrance on Route 30 was clearly marked, and I had no trouble finding it. The road leading to the memorial is long, which allowed me time to reflect on what I would see, and remember what I had seen nearly 11 years ago. This seemed accidental, as the reason the road was so long was that the crash site was far from any road.

Distance, however, was built into the memorial design. After parking I visited a plaza with displays on the men and women of the flight, the events of September 11, the counterattack on the terrorists in the cockpit, and the crash. I passed through a small partially enclosed seating area and began a long walk to the memorial wall. Along the paved path is a small wall, with notches cut into it for people to lay tributes. I passed flowers, notes, watches, coins and patches and medallions as I walked towards the wall.

The wall itself was imposing, a series of marble slabs joined together into a continuous ribbon of stone. Each of the slabs has a name of a passenger or crew member of United Flight 93. From a distance the snaking line of white marble induced a hush in people walking towards it. I didn't hear anyone speak above a whisper as I approached the wall. I know some people have criticized the design of the memorial as lacking a heroic element, but I'm not sure a conventional statue or monument would have had the intended effect.

The emerging tradition at the wall is to photograph every name. The boy in the photo and the man cut off to the right are doing just that. The boy at the time of the attacks was probably too young to understand what was happening.  He's obviously learned about 9/11 and has respect for the sacrifice made on Flight 93. I've seen some boorish behavior at historic sites, including people sitting on gravestones at Gettysburg, so I was heartened by what I saw here.

As I returned to my car I stopped at the seating area and wrote out  a message on one of the cards provided. The message to the right isn't mine, but one I agree with. We honor those who died at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and those who came to save lives after, but the people who fought terrorism that day lie in a field in rural Pennsylvania. They weren't soldiers; they didn't intended to fight when they boarded the plane. But when they had to, they fought.

America is a country built on ideas and ideals. Those can fall and change at any time, which is why they, and America, need to be defended. Whatever happens to the United States in the future, in a Pennsylvania field there will be a patch of ground that will always be American.

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A Taste For The Woods: 2013-09-08

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A Taste For The Woods