Friday, February 21, 2014

To Cherry Hill and Back, November 2007

Another blast from the past. I rode on several tours with Neil Fein, ranging from overnights such as this one to the week long trip from Pittsburgh to DC in 2008. This account was first published on my old blog. I've made a couple of corrections and added photos but aside from that its as I wrote it in 2007. The bike I rode, a Trek Navigator, I sold in 2012.

"It's 9:30 Saturday morning, and I'm here with Neil B. on the Shoyelkill Trail - "

"That's pronounced 'School-kill', Neil."

" Schuylkill River Trail, under the radioactive power lines near Norristown, and I am starting my five day tour." Neil Fein turned off the hand-held tape recorder he was talking into and looked at me. "What do you think of it?"

"It's so high-tech I'm surprised you didn't start the entry with "Star-date."

And so began the latest adventures of Neils on Wheels, opening, as usual, with sniping. When casting about for an excuse for us to go on another bike tour, I discovered Neil F. hadn't been to Philadelphia in years. At the same time, Neil was deciding he wanted to attempt a longer multi-day tour, and so we hammered out a plan; ride from Norristown to Philadelphia, cross over the river, and stay with friends of Neil in Cherry Hill. The next day he would go on to his next stop, and I would ride back home. Several hours of train rides for Neil F. and two hours of pedaling for me from our respective homes brought us to Norristown on a cold Saturday morning.

We hurried down the trail, Neil on his mountain bike, I on my Navigator. I would have used my hybrid, but I wanted to test the Navigator on a longer tour. It definitely showed its limitations as a touring bike. I will not be writing verse about the thrill of riding the Navigator, unlike Neil F., who wrote a rock song about his mountain bike.

We reached the Art Museum about 12, and began to search for a place to have lunch. We rode towards
City Hall and posed for photos in front of the LOVE statue. After looping around Broad, Market, and Chestnut, we stumbled on a Mexican eatery that featured weak salsa and bad 80s pop music. "I used to listen to this all the time" Neil said about one tune. "I'm not sure which is worse, knowing you listened to it, or that you admitted it" I replied.

After lunch we rode into Old City. Riding on cobblestones wasn't the wisest thing I've done, and Neil didn't enjoy our riding behind the horse-drawn carriages filled with tourists. But still I enjoyed showing Neil the city, and I got to know it better as well. We rode onto South Street, made 'emergency' stops for a guitar shop and a bookstore, and warmed up with cider and coffee at the Philadelphia Java Company. The area was filled with bicycles, and as much as I enjoy living in the country, that afternoon I envied the lifestyle of the urban cyclist. Oh to be young, thin, and riding a fixie to a coffeeshop!

Recaffienated, we headed out for more sightseeing - the Society Hill Synagogue, the Athenaeum, and a historical marker for Johann Nepomuk Maezel on 5th Street that I, in my role as Historian for the
Pennsylvania State Chess Federarion, helped dedicate in 2004. Seeing it was getting late in the day, we began to search for the PATCO station. Rather than riding through Camden and risking appearing in a Daily News headline on Monday, we took the good advice BCP members gave us and crossed the river on a train.

PATCO soon had us wishing we had ridden through Camden. The machine ate our tickets, and after we purchased new ones, the handicapped door got stuck and we had to haul my heavy Navigator over the turnstile. But soon enough we were on board for Cherry Hill.

There had been some minor routing problems on the tour so far - I'd missed some turns downtown, and we circled the 8th and Market block because I missed the PATCO entrance the first time - but I made a bigger error in choosing the station to detrain. I chose Woodcrest, not realizing that Haddonfield was a lot closer to our destination. It also transpired that Neil F. wasn't expecting us to take the train, and I was expecting him to map the route from the station. So we found ourselves at Woodcrest without a map or cue sheet. Neil couldn't reach our hosts for directions - they were Orthodox Jews and observing their sabbath, and thus wouldn't answer the phone. Neil's wife was home, however, and she plotted out a route for us, which I took down over the phone. During this frustrating time, my friend refrained from getting revenge for the hard time I gave him for leading me into a salt marsh in Cheesequake State Park during our last tour.

By 6:45 we arrived at our destination, and spent a pleasant dinner and evening with our hosts.

The next morning, after breakfast, Neil and I went out and inspected the bikes, and attempted to inflate my tires with a 30 year old floor pump of our hosts. My tire pressure was lower than I'd like, but still ridable. We left together at 8:00 AM, and rode together for the first mile. Then Neil F. wished me luck and turned off, while I continued onward towards Haddonfield PATCO station, where I would take a light rail train over the Delaware River into Philadelphia.

Before I reach King's Highway, Rt 41, which would take me to the station, I passed historic Colestown Cemetery. A friend of mine from California had emailed me the day before I left that the happiest time of his life was spent in Cherry Hill nearly two decades ago with his father. Mike's dad passed two years ago. My friend, perhaps not entirely jokingly, asked if I would say Hi to his father for him. Although he isn't buried there, the gates to the cemetery were open, and there were no mourners present to be disturbed, so I rode in and spent a few minutes circling the grounds. None of the residents seemed to be bothered. And yes, Mike, I did convey your good wishes.

Reflection over, I rode on to Haddonfield. The town of Haddonfield is very pretty, and wished I had time to linger in town. In particular there was a bike shop I wanted to visit, but it wasn't open and I had miles to ride. By 9:10 I reached the station. PATCO is said to be bike friendly, but yet again I needed to push my heavy Navigator over the turnstile because there was no working handicapped entrance. I eventually got over and got on a train, and arrived at 8th and Market about 10:00 AM.

Once on the street and on two wheels, I made a straight line towards City Hall. I noticed a sign hanging from the building advertising the Philadelphia Marathon, but I didn't pay attention to it. I should have. But I was more concerned about navigating downtown. I found the layout of streets to be confusing, and I wound up circling the Convention Center while trying to find a way to get to the Parkway. I eventually took Vine Street to the Free Library.

Once there, I discovered the Parkway had been blocked off for the Philadelphia Marathon. I walked and rode on sidewalks looking for a way to cross over to the trail on the other side of the road. I didn't find it until just before Main Street in Manayunk.

Meanwhile, I was searching to cross the road for more than just the desire to get to the other side. The weather was getting colder and rain was beginning to fall. And whatever I had for breakfast wasn't digesting well. So when there was a break in the line of runners, I sprinted across the road and got on the sidewalk, then rode the sidewalk up into Manayunk. I crossed again at a spot where some young people were heckling the runners - for some reason they spared a 240 pound cyclist. I parked at Human Zoom, made a purchase, and asked to use their bathroom.

Feeling weak, I rode the Towpath out of Manayunk rather than try the "BCP route" over the local hills. I reached the SRT with a number of problems. I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast several hours before, and I was afraid to do so with my guts in a knot. Yet if I didn't eat, I would bonk sooner or later. And while I had a water bottle, I didn't know if my stomach woes were caused by breakfast or something nasty in the water bottle. So I rode on in the cold, eating breath mints for whatever sugar they had in them, and hoping something close to the trail was open.

Nothing was. The Outbound Station was closed. The Liberty gas station near the Cross Country Trail entrance was closed. Vending machines along the route weren't working. And the rain was picking up. I zipped up my jacket and rode on.

Eventually I reached Norristown and headed for Dunkin Donuts, where I drank hot chocolate to warm up, and had a donut and muffin to fuel. And became sick again. I pushed off and headed back to the trail. Eventually I reached Gold's Gym in Oaks, just off the SRT, just after 3:30 PM. I'm a member there, and after becoming ill yet again I knew I was never going to make the remaining 12 miles back to home. I might manage the flat parts of Oaks, Mont Clare, and Phoenixville, but not the hills of Kimberton during the drizzling cold rain and without daylight. ( I did have lights on the bike, but it wasn't the bike I was concerned would fail. ) I called a friend of mine who picked me up.

So while the weekend ended with a whimper instead of a bang, I had a good time, and I hope next trip downtown to spend more time enjoying the city.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Weigh In, February 20, 2014

Yesterday I wrote that I was skipping the weigh in because I couldn't put weight on my injured right foot and thus couldn't stand on the scale. Well, I'm able to do that today. I stopped using the crutches last night and while I have some soreness when walking I can stand normally. So today's weigh in is....

310. Two more pounds gone. And I'm on course for sometime in April never seeing my weight start with a "3" again.

As I wrote above, I'm off the crutches. And I've given up the 'boot' the hospital gave me. I've returned to work and aside from getting some assistance with a few tasks I'm functioning normally. The warm weekend promises to offer some good hiking, and I'll cautiously attempt a short walk or two. My injury turned out to be a lot less severe than I expected. I'm back.


Lehigh Greenway Rail Trail, Flagler County, Florida

(This is a guest post by my friend Sayre Kulp. Readers of A Taste For The Woods are familiar with Sayre, but for those of you who just started here, his story is a remarkable testimony of a changed life. At age 28, in 2009, he weighed over 400 pounds. He took up walking, running, weightlifting, and cycling, and dropped 160 of those pounds. You can follow Sayre's fitness life on Facebook:

Sayre currently resides in Florida, and took some time to write for us about his favorite places to walk, run, and ride. )

Florida has a wealth of bike trails (most of them paved). There are a number of very long, very popular trails that draw tourists from all over, and I’m sure I’ll talk about them at some point. But right now, I’d like to clue folks in to one of the pleasant little surprises I’ve found since moving down here just over a year ago, the Lehigh Greenway Rail Trail.

The Lehigh Trail is located in Flagler County on an abandoned railroad corridor comprising 195 acres. The
railroad spur once carried cement and other materials to and from the Lehigh Portland Cement Plant in Flagler Beach. The trail connects US 1 north of Bunnell with Colbert Lane, running through the center of Palm Coast, through Graham Swamp and ending just west of the old Lehigh Portland Cement Company. Surrounded by trees for most of the way, the trail provides a safe, non-motorized way to travel among the cities of Bunnell, Flagler Beach and Palm Coast. In the 3,000-acre conservation zone of Graham Swamp the trail has elevated views of the surrounding wetlands. The trail starts with a wooden boardwalk style bridge and goes west for a couple hundred yards through the Graham Swamp Conservation Area continuing on to the old railroad bed. This is a very active wildlife area with birds, alligators, turtles, snakes, deer, otters, armadillos and ferrel pigs.

While this trail is relatively short, (only about 6 ½ miles each way), it has yielded some of the best wildlife viewing experiences I’ve had in the Sunshine State. This trail is especially good for beginners as it is flat, well paved, and offers a wide variety of scenery in a reasonably short distance. It is near the top of a short list of trails I would take visiting outdoor enthusiasts to experience.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Upcoming HIKE For Mental Health Pole Steeple Hike, May 3

I am leading a hike for the non-profit HIKE For Mental Health. On Saturday, May 3, at 10 AM, I'll be leading a group of hikers up to Pole Steeple, down the Appalachian Trail, and back to the parking lot, on a four mile loop.

As I wrote in the hike description, "The outdoors is for everyone, but I didn’t think it was for me. When I weighed more than 400 pounds and was depressed, I never thought I could climb a mountain. I did when I hiked Pole Steeple. This is one of my favorite hikes, and I’m thrilled to lead a Pole Steeple adventure for HIKE For Mental Health."

To register for the hike and for more information, go to


No Weigh In, February 19, 2014

I'm skipping the weigh in this week because of my accident. I'm still not able to stand and put weight on my right foot, which means any result from the scale will be suspect. That doesn't mean I've given up on weight loss, just that I'm postponing the measuring of it.

As for how I'm doing, I'm still using crutches and finding them a drag. However, the bruising and pain are reduced from Sunday, and I expect I will be off crutches and using a cane by the end of the week. I took a day off from work, and resume today. As motivation I've scheduled an "away" hike in central Pennsylvania three weeks from now, and like my Route 501 trip its to a place I've never been.

One additional problem with my accident is that the bike fitting I wanted to schedule for this week is pushed back. Depending on how I feel, and the weather, next week I'll be taking the bike to the shop and working with them to make adjustments to stop my hands going numb. Hiking has always been my first love, but cycling is what got me active and outside, and I miss that part of my life. It will be good to be on the bike again.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Appalachian Trail south at PA Route 501, February 2014

Winter hiking is challenging. Over the President's Day weekend I found out how challenging it can be. 

I haven't done an "away" hike in a while, and on researching places to visit and stay I came across the Route 501 shelter on the Appalachian Trail. Unlike most AT shelters, its close to the road, and also unlike most shelters, its fully enclosed. True, its not heated, but I wanted to try winter camping anyway. And according to maps and conversations with other hikers the AT is relatively flat north and south of the road crossing. Add in the fact my friend Robert Myallis is Pastor at nearby Zion Lutheran and I found a way to make a weekend of it. I'd hike, drive down the mountain to attend services, and camp at the shelter. 

A complicating factor came from the sky. Three more snowstorms dumped over a foot of powder on the trail. And while PENNDOT cleared the roads, the trail would still be snowed over. A friend who lives nearby hiked the trail a couple of days before I arrived as a favor for me, breaking the snowcover. But still I knew it would be a lot of work hiking in it. On the recommendations of a few friends I purchased Kahtoola Microspikes for my boots. I'm old enough to remember when people put chains on car tires for added traction, and these work the same way,,, but with added 'spikes' to grip on snow and ice. Another product along the same lines are YakTraks but the Microspikes have a much better reputation among outdoor people.Yes, the Microspikes cost a little more, but I felt I got value for money. 
The third snowstorm came through on Saturday morning, and so I delayed my trip 24 hours. While I don't mind hiking in snow I'm not fond of driving in it, and because I'd been away from home for a few days because of the previous storm I didn't have my gear assembled. 

Sunday morning I headed to Jonestown, PA. I attended services at Zion Lutheran, chatted with my friend the pastor, watched him do a double-take when I said I was going to camp in sub-freezing weather, and left. It was about 12:30 when I arrived at the trailhead parking lot on Route 501. Already snow was melting, and the lot was a sea of mud. 

I changed clothes in the front seat of the car. In retrospect I'm not sure this was the wisest move - what if someone parked next to me, and wondered why a fat guy was undressing? But the lot was empty, and its a non-scale victory that I could change from a suit to hiking gear in a few minutes. 

As far as what I DID wear, here is the list: a rabbit-fur lined hat with ear flaps from Cabella's. A Columbia fisherman's shirt. My Cabella's "Guidewear" hiking pants. My Asolo boots with the Microspikes and foot warmers. My heavy winterweight jacket, I don't know who makes it and I've had it so long the label's faded. And my Descente winter cycling gloves. I had planned to change into winter baselayers but it was so warm out and breezeless I stuck with the underwear and socks I'd worn to church. 

The trailhead parking lot is on the north side of the road. I crossed, the Microspikes feeling very odd under my feet. But once we were on the trail I didn't notice them at all. Between the white blazes, the sign of the Appalachian Trail, and the footprints my friend Mark left I had no trouble following the path. Going was slow, but my sense of wonder was growing. Already I could see ahead what I came up here for. 
The Kimmel Overlook, or Lookout, or Vista, or whatever you want to call it, gives a southerly view of the entire valley. And its only a tenth of a mile from the parking lot. The AT dips down a small hill to the edge of the overlook. I felt more confident knowing I had better traction on my feet, as the snow was very packed here.

 But the snow wasn't so packed that I didn't have slow going. The biggest problem for me is what other hikers call "postholing." I would be walking along on packed snow powder, and suddenly the snow would give way under my foot. This was jarring to me, and made my progress on the trail slow.

Between the postholing and the generally slow progress of hiking through a foot of snow I'd decided to skip camping. I knew no matter how far I hiked today I'd be too tired, and possibly too stiff, to hike tomorrow. So after a mile I turned around.

The trip back over the same ground I'd just walked wasn't any easier. While the trail was beautiful, and the overlooks breathtaking, I kept postholing and struggling up and down the rises the AT is known for. Going down was the hardest, as I have a fear of falling, and looking down triggers it.

Finally, back at the Kimmel Overlook, it happened. Why I don't know, but I began to lose my balance. I frantically jabbed my hiking poles into the snowpack and stepped back with my right foot to try to stop falling. I felt my ankle turn. Yes, the Microspikes and poles had helped me from tumbling down the face of the overlook, but I now had an injury.

I took my time hiking out. Fortunately it was a tenth of a mile, and the ankle hadn't swollen. I thought nothing of the ankle turn. I'd suffered them before and I'd probably have them again. But this turn was different. When I walked or applied weight I had pain in my heel, and soreness in the back of the ankle. When I had problems walking at the game dinner that night at Zion Lutheran I began to think I had something more serious than a simple turn. When I arrived home and couldn't walk from the car to the house I knew I had a problem. I drove myself to the Emergency Room at my local hospital, and used a hiking pole as a crutch to get in the door.

The diagnosis after xray and examination is that I don't have any broken bones, but probable soft tissue damage. I'm on crutches and wearing a protective hard-soled 'boot' for the near future. I don't expect to be out of action for long, and I'm already planning hikes and rides once I am able to get back outside. Shoes like the one on the left look much better in pairs, and I want to get the pair of them dirty from a hike.


A Taste For The Woods: 2014-02-16

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A Taste For The Woods