Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hibernia County Park, Chester County, PA, September 2013

Hibernia County Park, north of Coatesville,  was long on my list of places to hike. I'm fond of iron forges, and historic homes, and Hibernia combined both. Hibernia Mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the park offers tours of the home during the summer months. I arrived on Sunday of Labor Day weekend, just after the tours ended for the year. But despite that drawback, I put three miles under my boots, hiking on gravel and stone trails along the West Branch of Brandywine Creek, along the shores of Chambers Lake, and through the woods surrounding it all. 

As nice as the hike was, meeting people was nicer. Rediscovering the outdoors is rediscovering humanity, and on the whole humanity is worth meeting. I spent time talking with a man casting into Chambers Lake, and while chatting about fish I photographed him in action. Or at least tried to. I met an African-American family hiking and exploring the park's history as it relates to their racial heritage as Americans - iron forges have a mixed past, having both employed slaves when slavery was legal in Pennsylvania, and then often serving as stations on the Underground Railroad. And this Labor Day afternoon there were many children with their parents wandering along the creek and eating at the picnic tables. 

But as much as I enjoyed meeting people, I enjoyed being alone. Nature is the ultimate art, and no two people experience it exactly the same way. And when I was alone along Brandywine Creek, I felt as if this world was solely mine. Looking at the photo to the left, I feel the same.

For more information on Hibernia, please visit


Birthday Ride, New Brunswick, NJ, January 5, 2008

There is a tradition that cyclists ride their age on their birthday. I turned 48 today, and thanks to the extreme cold, my bike fit problems, and a broken pipe in my home a ride today didn't happen, let alone one of 48 miles. So to mark the day and remind myself what I'm working to get back to, here is the account of my birthday ride from 2008, with my friend Neil F. Aside from a couple of grammatical corrections it appears as I wrote it six years ago.

As odd as it is to find two Neils who ride together, it's odder to find two Neils who ride together and have birthdays two days apart. So in honor of our joint anniversaries we decided to celebrate by riding our ages. Or more accurately, my age, since I am the elder Neil by three years. So Neil F. plotted a 42 mile route in New Jersey and we planned our ride for Saturday, January 5th.

Our troubles began before we left. Our scheduled 10:00 AM start became an 11:30 AM start due to our laziness. For the first twelve miles or so we made good time, until we turned onto Rock Avenue instead of Rock Road, and took a nearly 8 mile detour through a bad part of Dunellon. At one point someone followed me on a bike shouting "Is that a thousand dollar bicycle?!" Neil F. ran interference for me, I dropped the hammer, and soon enough we were a block away from the guy, who stopped following us.

Some rerouting and my "guydar" got us back to the general area we needed to be in, but that required us to ride on Rt. 22 for a mile, and climb a steep grade to Washington Rock State Park. Once we spent a few minutes enjoying the view, we resumed the ride. Fortunately we had some downhills, on one of which Neil F. set a personal downhill speed record of 32 MPH.

After some more downhills, and more climbing, we noticed it had grown dark. I switched on my main headlight and helmet light. Neil turned on his new Trailrat headlamp. We called Neil's wife to pick us up at a location about ten miles away. And we headed uphill again. And again.

By now I was a little annoyed at the hills on the route. Based on my past experiences with riding in New Jersey I had expected a flatter trip. "Why did you have to route through all these hills?" I asked Neil, half exasperated, half amused.

"You're never satisfied. I don't give you hills, you complain. I give you hills, you complain."

"You sound wonderfully stereotypically Jewish when you say things like that, Neil."

"I do all this for you, and you kvetch. What you want to do, drive me meshu'geh?"

Shortly after this, my main headlight died. We tried to ride with just my helmet lamp, but I found I couldn't see road obstacles well enough, so we pulled over and attached my spare light. And onward we rolled. By now it was 5:30 PM, and very dark.

At about the 40 mile mark Neil F.'s Trailrat light went dark. He got it working again, but it kept going out. Since we had completed Neil's 39 miles of birthday, I offered to end the ride now. That would mean I'd need to ride a 42 mile ride on another day to get my birthday logged. Neil F. refused to end today's ride, telling me that "We are a team. We're finishing together." So we slogged on through the night with Neil's flickering Trailrat.

Eventually the Trailrat gave out completely. We pulled over while Mr. Fixit began to attach his backup light, a Maglite flashlight strapped, rubber-banded, and velcroed to his handlebar. After ten minutes attaching it, he tried it only to have the light fail after a few seconds. As I glanced around in a "What now?" pose, I noticed my bike computer was showing 42 miles. About now it began to sleet. We declared the ride over and called Neil's wife to pick us up. We rode back about a mile to a major intersection so she would have a landmark to pick us up, I leading and calling out obstacles to the lightless Neil behind me. In another 15 minutes we were picked up, and driven out to a celebratory dinner.

There was one unexpected consequence of the ride, however. I hadn't planned on being out so late or so long. I had long ago exhausted my ride food and water. I was still OK to ride, if not strong, by mile 42 and 43, but I was seriously bonked by the time I had dinner about 7:30 PM. Despite sitting in a warm eatery, dressed warmly, I was cold and my hands were shaking even 25 minutes into the meal. Fortunately a full dinner in good company cured the problem.

Total miles for the day, 43. Over 3000 feet of climbing.

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Black Rock Sanctuary, Phoenixville, PA

Black Rock Sanctuary is a short walk on the banks of the Schuylkill River at Phoenixville, but it has significance for me as the first place I hiked following my knee replacement in March 2012. The small county park has a circular paved walking trail, less than a mile long, but it's attractive and has interpretive displays along its length. My first attempt at the Interpretive Trail, six weeks after knee replacement and with a cane, required an hour to finish the walk and caused me to fall asleep in my car when I finished. Six months later the walk, including stops for photos, took less than forty minutes.

For more information on Black Rock Sanctuary, visit . I plan on hiking at Black Rock, on the Interpretive Trail as well as other trails in the park, frequently in 2014.

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Hills Creek State Park, Wellsboro, PA, October 2013

I came to use the bathroom. I stayed to hike. That's how I met Hills Creek State Park.

I'd arrived in PA very late after a six hour drive from the Catskills, and spent the night sleeping in the back of the car at a Wal-Mart parking lot. I'd hurt my back two days before in a fall on a hiking trail. I was grubby, sore, cranky, and tired. And when sore, cranky, and tired I hate being grubby. So after visiting an overlook on 15 South and finding the restrooms not suitable for giving myself a 'birdbath, I searched the map for the nearest state park.

Hills Creek State Park sits on 407 acres of land and water, astride Hills Creek and containing the lake created by damming. The lake features boating and swimming at your own risk, and had I brought my swimsuit with me I might have gone into the cold water. Instead I located the bathhouse, found it open, and made myself more presentable and comfortable. On this October day I had the place to myself.

Now feeling better and in a better mood, I hiked. I was still tired, and so my determination and stamina were nowhere to be found. I stuck with a ramble along the lakeshore. I hike a mile, perhaps more, but I don't know the total, and don't care. The day was overcast, but not gloomy, cool but not cold. Fall was around me, and it was fall in Tioga County, my favorite spot in the state, and perhaps the world. John Donne wrote "In heaven its always autumn", and even though he never visited the banks of Hills Creek I can't help but think this day is what Donne had in mind.

 After the hike I sat on a bench and had lunch, staring out at the lake, wishing I could be here forever. Unfortunately I knew I had to find a place to stay that night, and my plans didn't include camping at Hills Creek. So I headed back to the car, refreshed in body and spirit. I'd been searching for a place to refresh, and in more than one way I'd found just that.

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Camp Michaux, Michaux State Forest, October 2013

In May I visit the ruins of Camp Michaux, the former CCC and then top-secret WWII POW camp in the woods outside Pine Grove Furnace State Park. In October following my hike up Pole Steeple with Jacob we headed back to the camp. Jacob is a veteran and has an interest in history, so he wanted to see the camp. 

During my previous visit and the October follow up I saw numbered markers scattered throughout the ruins. We thought there was some guidebook available, and it turns out we were correct. The website

has a link to an ebook of the walking tour, and the explanation of the various markers, ruins, and structures at the camp site. Hiking isn't difficult at the ruins but its very much at your own risk, since the woods contain bear and timber rattlers, and poison ivy grows in the area. Its not a walk in the park, in other words. Still, I hiked a mile with Jacob and we both enjoyed our little walk in the woods through the camp and across Tom's Run. Next time I'm out I'll bring a printed copy of the ebook and give Camp Michaux the tour it deserves. 

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Chickie's Rock, Columbia, PA, September 2013

Readers of A Taste For The Woods, if any, might have noticed my love of overlooks. I drive to them, hike to them, ride to them, and would fly to them if I grew wings. One September day I headed out to the Susquehanna River to visit Chickie's Rock, a county park north of Columbia on the Lancaster side of the water, so I could reach yet another overlook. 
As usual, I got a late start, ran some errands on the way, and arrived later than I hoped. I also took a wrong turn in Columbia and headed south along the river instead of north. I passed the National Watch and Clock Museum twice, and as usual I couldn't find the time to visit. And on arriving at the park I took a wrong turn on the Overlook Trail, climbing up a hill on a trail to the right. While the climb was worth it to wander around on the hilltop, there was no vista, only trees. 

I came down from the hill and resumed hiking on the Overlook Trail. I met a father and his two young boys and began chatting with them. This is never a smart move on my part. I combine balance challenged and clumsiness in one jumbo-sized package, and soon enough I found a tree root I didn't see. I stumbled about a dozen feet forward before I righted myself. I felt the mechanics in my artificial knees move in a way they'd not experienced since physical therapy a year before, but aside from a moment's shock I was OK. I made an impression on the kids, however, for during the rest of the hike they were cautioning me about what to avoid and how to avoid it. 

 Even after the near-fall, and the shock of the near-fall, the vista at Chickie's Rock was worth the, err, trip. The views up and down the river were breathtaking, and had I climbed down a couple of the rock scrambles I might have captured even better images.

There is a hiking trail running from the Overlook Trail to a more 'family oriented', AKA easier to visit, segment of the park a mile and a half south of Chickie's Rock. Not wanting to be caught far from the car after dark I hiked back to my vehicle and drove to the other vista. The entrance is on the left side of the road northbound from the Columbia exit off of Route 30, and only a few hundred feet of the exit. Had I come to this park first I might never have gone to the Rock itself, as the views up and down the river were wonderful. I arrived at sunset, and despite my having a point and shoot camera managed to capture some of the majesty of day's end as the sun sank behind the hills. I hiked about two and a half miles that day, but as usual when I reached an overlook I traveled much further.

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Pine Hill Bridge, Ulster County, NY, October 2013

Near the Town of Shandaken in New York is the Pine Hill Bridge.  Unlike most of the covered bridges I've visited, Pine Hill is new construction, having been built in 1992. The bridge spans Birch Creek outside the Bellayre Mountain Day Use Area, and is just off New York Route 28. When I visited the bridge, and the day use area, was closed, but walking around the barricade wasn't difficult. I did keep my visit short as a precaution. The best view of the bridge is from the Day Use Area side, so I parked near the entrance on the roadside and walked across.

For more information on this beautiful span, visit . I agree with the writer at that website that the bridge looks best from this side but it looks great any time of year, not just winter. And in fall the Catskills run riot with color.... how can you resist shooting then?

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A Taste For The Woods: 2014-01-05

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A Taste For The Woods