Friday, May 23, 2014

Overlooks on Ridge Road, Michaux State Forest, May 2014

I'm a sucker for a vista. When I learned there were overlooks on Ridge Road, I headed there. What I found was both exciting and frustrating.

I left the Ironmaster's Mansion Hostel on Sunday morning and took Route 233 North. As the road climbed and crested South Mountain I turned right onto Ridge Road. For a PA forest road it was in excellent shape - dirt and cinder and gravel, but well packed. The driving was easy, and in about a mile I found the first overlook on the right. This vista is amazing but isn't on the Michaux State Forest map.

After walking a short distance from the pulloff, I was greeted with a spectacular view of Piney Mountain. It's not as nice as the view of South Mountain from Pole Steeple, but instead you can view Pole Steeple. The haze and my poor photograph don't do this vista justice, but if you look closely in the second photo you can notice a speck of quartz. That's Pole Steeple.

After I spent a few minutes trying to get a good photo and failing, I returned to my car and continued to the next overlook, Hammond Rocks. The first stop was flat, but Hammond Rocks is anything but. The rock formation offers decent views, the better the higher you climb. However, because its a drive up overlook its evidently easy for a disreputable element to reach. There was extensive graffiti on the rocks, and trash strewn around. I enjoyed climbing up the rocks but I was dismayed at the evidence left by other visitors. And when I realized a rock pile on South Mountain is the natural hangout of the Eastern Timber Rattler I decided I'd had enough. Back to the car and continuing down Ridge Road.

The final overlook, Spruce Run, takes some work to get to. Ridge Road deteriorates quickly once you are past Hammond Rocks. But I persevered and on my left was a pulloff with a view of the Cumberland valley. Again better shooting conditions and elevation mean a better photo. (Scott Brown in his photography books mentions standing on the roof of his Jeep to get photos, a feat I was not going to replicate.) The view was pretty, but under the circumstances not worth more than the couple of minutes I gave it. I resumed driving on Ridge Road, which after a bumpy descent lead to Mount Holly Marsh Preserve's entrance and PA Route 34. When I return to the preserve to hike I might come back to these overlooks and attempt photographs again.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Backpacking Project - Boots and Insoles

How did you spend President's Day?
Readers will remember three months ago I had a little fall at the Kimmel Overlook on the Appalachian Trail. The Emergency Room at my local hospital diagnosed a "soft tissue injury" in my right heel and sent me home with crutches and a boot. I used the crutches three days and wore the boot for four, and then took it easy for a few more. My first hike after the fall was ten days later, and I've been hiking since.

However, the past couple of nights at work I've had occasional tenderness in that same heel. I suspect its because I'm wearing shoes that don't support my arches. Or I should write my fallen arches, as like many fat and former fat people my arches are flattened. Since I don't want the problem to worsen either before or during my planned trip I'm going to get replacement insoles for my shoes and my hiking boots. Also, because I suspect this is the beginning of plantar facsiitis, I'm starting the stretching routines recommended for people with PF. Meanwhile my hiking preparations continue.


Mount Holly Marsh Preserve, Mount Holly Springs, PA, May 2014

Like Mount Alto two days before, my trip to Mount Holly Marsh Preserve was a thwarted hike. But I'll describe the preserve for you, and why I turned around.

Mount Holly Springs is the closest town to Pine Grove Furnace State Park. It sits in a gap in South Mountain. On the edge of the town and the edge of the mountain, off Route 34, is the Mount Holly Marsh Preserve. 913 acres of land on the mountain and along Mountain Creek are held by Cumberland County, with The Nature Conservancy managing 200 of them. The inkeepers at the Ironmaster's Mansion Hostel and a few other residents of the area recommended the hiking trails in the preserve as worth a visit. With the AT, Pole Steeple, Tumbling Run, the Bucktail Path, and a few other trails in Michaux State Forest, the preserve is often overlooked. So I was looking forward to being off the beaten path.

However, less than a quarter mile in I ran into flooding from the recent rains or snowmelt or the creek overflowing or the springs that give the town its name. Whatever it was, the trail was a mess, and I wasn't in the mood to get wet feet again. And I was out of dry socks anyway. So I turned around. I will be back, however. In drier weather.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Why Bother?

This post is prompted by a discussion on a couple of years ago. In a thread titled "Motivation or Tactics", a poster called Tractorlegs wrote that the back and forth between my friend Chris and myself in another thread was "rough around the edges." Perhaps. Its very hard for a super obese person to find the right track, for the penny to drop into the slot.  Finding the right way to change your life isn't easy. Nor is it easy for friends of a super obese person to always say the right thing.

I should know. I've been on both sides, now as a recovering super obese man who has kept a triple digit weight loss for eight years, and then as a 400 pound person. Ten years ago I was in Cambridge Springs, PA, at the 100th anniversary celebration of the famous international chess tournament the town hosted; I was there in my capacity as a board member of the Pennsylvania State Chess Federation, and Grandmaster and former US Champion Larry Evans was to discuss games from the event. 18 months later I'd hear my wake up call; but it was ringing there, when I was so tired I didn't have the strength to play in the amateur tournament scheduled that same day. I sat on the porch of the Riverside Hotel and rested.  None of the diet iced tea I was drinking was doing the trick.

A few years before Fritz, a player at my chess club, sat down with me and told me I had to lose weight, because he wanted to be playing against me 20 years in the future. I made some promises to try, which meant doing nothing, and simply wrote it off as Fritz dreaming about decades of crushing my Dutch Defense.

My point is that I had some desire to lose weight. Super obesity isn't super. It kills. Every super obese person knows it. I knew. And I could have died of it. Among my friends in the chess world I lost two in one year, Fide Master Boris Baczynskyj and former PSCF President Ira Lee Riddle, to obesity-caused illness. Boris "the Bear" was so big that when I gave him a lift in my Geo one time, we couldn't close the door, and I had to drive through downtown Philadelphia with Boris partly sticking out of the passenger side. Ira was so sedentary that at one tournament he was directing he had room service deliver to the lobby of the hotel so he didn't have to get up from the registration table. Had someone spoken to them as Fritz did to me so long ago, perhaps the penny would have dropped. Or perhaps not. Boris had as a chess student Pat Croce, and the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article and photos of the FM and the physical trainer and 76ers owner at the chessboard. Croce was quoted as saying that Boris had to lose a couple of hundred pounds, and Boris replied in his thick Ukranian accent "I have lost hundreds of pounds many, many times."

So why bother with a person who says they want to lose weight or get healthy but offers excuses or has little success? Because they bring up the subject. Doing so shows an interest, a desire, to change. And because you never know when that penny will drop in the slot. In my case it took one of my neighbors passing on to me a gym gift certificate after he heard about my trip to the hospital. But for two weeks after I was discharged I did nothing but live in a daze, knowing what I had to do but not being able to make myself do it. If I didn't get that two weeks for free certificate for Gold's, who knows what would have happened? And even after I'd gone twice and exhausted myself with seven minutes on the recumbent exercise bike, my diet was still garbage, and that didn't change until I read about my choices.

So why do I bother? Because people bothered for me. Its taken a lot of time and reflection for me to realize just how much I owe to so many people for helping me with my weight loss. They didn't have to, and they did. They persisted despite my lack of success or half-hearted efforts over the years. Can I do any less for other people?


Mont Alto State Park, May 2014

I wrote a year ago, in one of my first posts, this description: "Mont Alto State Park, opened in 1902, is the
oldest park in the PA DCNR system, and its one of the smallest. I have an unexplained fondness for this park. It's like one of your grandfather's cufflinks - old, cute, small, but useless when you think about it. Still, I like the park, and visit when I can.

"The park is on Route 233 on South Mountain, a few miles north of the Mason-Dixon line. The park consists of a picnic area, restrooms, a play area that's seen better days, a bridge over the West Branch of the Antietam Creek - yes, THAT Antietam Creek - and a carousel shell. Mont Alto was originally
an amusement park, and the roof of the carousel was used to cover a raised picnic area."

I'm still fond of Mont Alto, and I had lunch there on my first day in Michaux State Forest. This time my post-meal hike was short again, although that wasn't by choice. I tried a trail from the parking lot across Route 233, but after a few hundred feet there was a blowdown, and I didn't feel like bushwacking around it. I had just read the park warning about the protected status of the timber rattler, and I took the warning "don't tread on me" seriously. So I backtracked and once again took photos around snowmelt-swollen Antietam Creek.That combined with lunch "under the big top" of the picnic area made for a pleasant hour.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Backpacking Project - Getting Used To The Pack in Corporate America

I have quirky ideas. One was prompted yesterday by the knowledge I have three weeks to get used to the backpack, and to carrying items in it. So I couldn't think of a better way to continue my 'training' on days I don't hike by carrying the pack into work. My office is used to my being 'weird' - after all, I spend my free time outside instead of getting drunk or watching television like normal Americans do - so I didn't get a second glance when I wore the pack to my desk. It was a light load, consisting of lunch, a few books, headphones and MP3 player, and a shirt in the bottom of the pack, but was a load and I feel it helped. My back is bad, and very bad at times, and those muscles need to get used to my Atmos.

I tried to have the pack match my attire. For some reason I couldn't find my orange tie, so I had to coordinate with my socks. I think it worked.

Still, good as I looked, and comfortable as the pack was, I long for the day I'm not wearing a tie and loafers, but my hiking shirt and boots, and earning the description "backpacker." That day is in three weeks.


Whispering Pines Trail and Pine Plantation Trail, King's Gap, May 2014

At the entrance to King's Gap Environmental Education Center is the Pines Day Use Area. Its the sole flat area in the park, and it holds two short trails, the paved Whispering Pines and the longer grassy Pine Plantation. As the names indicate, these are I walked both trails, which total a mile, before leaving the park during my recent trip to the Michaux State Forest. It was late afternoon and I was alone. The sound of my boots on the ground and the birds were all I heard, as I was surrounded by the smell of the pines and the light filtered through them. Although these trails have no technical challenges, no elevation changes, no vistas or waterfalls, I found my hike here to be as wonderful as any I've been on. A hike doesn't have to be busy or long to be fulfilling. Nor does a hiker have to do things to be filled.

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Backpacking Project - Pack List

Time for my preliminary list of gear I will be wearing and carrying on my three day trip on the Loyalsock Link Loop Trail. We are doing this over three days, two nights, for a distance of 18 miles, along with a potential few additional miles if we, meaning I, have more in the legs and want to see the rapids known as The Haystacks. Expedition leader is my friend Ian, and Baxter is the official dog.

I'm not listing weight of items below, and I've backed off my initial estimate of 9.5 pounds. That was unrealistic for a first time backpacker and for one my size - my clothes are bigger and I'll carry more food, for starters, than the tiny people who are over-represented in the hobby.

That said, here is the preliminary list:


One par of Cabela's Guidewear pants.
My typical hiking ensemble, minus the fisherman's shirt. 
One Columbia fisherman's shirt
Asolo hiking boots
Three pairs of athletic underwear
Two pairs of wool Columbia hiking socks
baseball cap
HIKE For Mental Health bandana
running shorts or swimsuit and athletic t shirt
Crocs for camp shoes

Its not the just the voice of my mother telling me to wear clean underwear; like many former super-obese people, I have a lot of loose skin, and I'm prone to rashes in certain places if I don't keep clean. I've found I can safely reuse wool socks a day before the ick factor gets to me. All of this clothing is synthetic or wool aside from the bandana and baseball cap.


Hammock I am being loaned for the trip. Ian tells me the weight of the hammock is 2 pounds, which includes the top tarp. He's suggested I use two additional coverings which will add 2 pounds to the shelter. In addition I'll bring a microfiber travel pillow.


Ian is loaning me an alcohol stove and titanium mess kit. I'll bring my spork.


Ian is carrying a water filter, and filling up in a stream should be easy. I'll carry a couple of water bottles on my person and in the pack.


This will be my basic bike camping recipe of Knorr's instant items, packaged tuna, and oatmeal. I'll have fat person snacks with me, especially on the first day. Tea will be English Breakfast, as I need a strong brew in the mornings.


Paper, camp soap, toothpaste in a plastic bag, toothbrush. I'll have to ask Ian if I should bring my own trowel. I think I should; I'd feel uncomfortable borrowing his knowing what he'd used it for. Since we live in Ticksylvania I'll spray and carry repellent and use sunscreen.


Camera, cell phone, batteries for camera, lightweight headphones, MP3 player. These and the car keys go in my pockets, not the pack.


Osprey Atmos 50


Inexpensive aluminum poles from my friend Chris.

What am I overlooking? What am I doing wrong? I know you have an opinion, please share it in the comments.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Tyler Kulp, 1986 - 2014

Last weekend we said goodbye to Tyler Kulp, father, husband, musician, and brother of my friend Sayre. The 27 year old was killed in an automobile accident on May 3. There will be others who will write about Tyler's musical gifts, or the wife and child he leaves behind, or the many lives he impacted - I refer you to the obituary notice in the Reading Eagle for that information. I want to focus on on the lives he touched through helping one man - that being his brother, and his role in Sayre's transformation from a 430 pound man who saw his life circling the drain to an athlete.

The Reading Eagle ran a profile on Sayre and his weight loss in November 2010. Reading is one of the largest cities in Pennsylvania, and the Eagle is widely read, so Sayre's life change was the talk of the town. In the article,  Sayre's little brother gets due credit for assisting in the transformation and teaching him a new sport. "His brother, Tyler Kulp, 25, of Muhlenberg Township, an ultramarathon runner, has been a big motivator, particularly when they work out together at Planet Fitness in Muhlenberg Township. "My brother said to me, 'If you really want to keep with the weight loss you have to start running,' " [Sayre] said."

In a post to Sayre expanded on the role his brother played: "In the early Spring of 2010, my brother (an avid runner) encouraged me to get into recreational running to help aid in my fitness goals. I ran my first 5k at an event called "Shiver by the River". The name was appropriate .... I am proud to say that I finished the race (not in last place, either!) My time was just ahead of my brother's finish time for the 10k event."

To put this into perspective, Sayre's weight loss had begun in October 2009 and at first the only exercise the 430 pound man was able to do was walk. He'd added cycling to the mix shortly after. The Shiver By The River series of running events takes place from December to March, and he already was being guided and taught running shortly after starting his journey.

Would Sayre have taken to running without his brother's prodding and help? I don't know. Fortunately we don't have to think about what didn't happen because it did happen. Still, one can speculate, and I'll do just that.

Super-obesity isn't just a number on a scale, its a way of seeing the world. Part of that life view for many super obese people is learned helplessness. Quite simply, you don't think you can do things, so you don't try. Having someone in your life who is both supportive and pushes you to do more and have new experiences helps the super-obese person to discover that they CAN take charge and change. In my case I made a friend at my gym who constantly pushed me to work out harder, and to stop thinking of myself as a 400 some pound guy. It seems to me for my friend Sayre his brother filled such a role.

And by helping his brother Tyler Kulp wound up helping many people indirectly. I've never met a recovering super-obese person who hasn't wanted to help others starting where they did. Sayre has proved true to form, having given advice and training to others in person and online at and Fitocracy for years. This includes me, for Sayre advised me both on my short time running and my one bike race. (Let me add I took up running against medical wisdom, and my problems had nothing to do with Sayre's advice.) So Tyler Kulp's aid to his brother paid off for many people Tyler never met.

I was one of the fortunate people to have met Tyler. I've ridden on a bike ride from Pottstown to Reading and back with him, I've bowled with the Kulp brothers, and we've exchanged messages online. And I took photos at Sayre's first 10K run, where Tyler ran to support him. Sayre had lost 150 pounds by then. The second photo was an attempt at a portrait of the Kulp brothers; I'd asked for them to be less stiff, and Sayre responded with the pose to the right. What Tyler thought of it we will never know. What we do know is his aid to his brother flows on in this world, and we are fortunate it does. Rest in peace Tyler.

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Backpacking Project - The Pack

thank you for making a pack that fits a 48 inch waist. thank you for helping me find it last night


Scenic Vista Trail, King's Gap, May 2014

This is the story of my four mile hike on a two and a half mile trail.

I didn't intend to do the longer distance. When I spent my last afternoon on my recent trip to the Michaux State Forest I headed towards King's Gap Environmental Education Center. The state park is located near Mount Holly Springs, outside of Carlisle, and is about six miles by trail from Pine Grove Furnace State Park. King's Gap in its previous life was an estate, and the mansion house is now used by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for conferences and events. Sitting on a hilltop, the patio of the mansion commands a fantastic view of the Cumberland valley. On a good day you can make out Carlisle a dozen miles distant.

But while the mansion and the view is a draw, its not the only one. The park has several views, and it has trails like our forests have deer ticks. For a relatively small park there are a bewildering array of hiking possibilities, and most of them intersect at one point or another. Blazing is inconsistent, with an array of colors and shapes and signs to direct the hiker somewhere or other. Add in a hiker who needs all the help he can get and, well, you'll see.

I selected the 2.5 mile Scenic Vista Trail, and promptly headed in the wrong direction down the wrong trail.  I soon corrected myself, and hiked beneath the patio of the mansion and and around to the south. The SVT soon merged with the Bucktail Path to Pine Grove Furnace, and just as soon diverged. The Bucktail headed south and the SVT headed back up and down around the mountain. I'd neglected to note the park trail map was a topo, and didn't bother to note all those elevation lines the trail crossed. Still, the weather was nice and the trail surface pleasant by Rocksylvania standards. And about a mile and a half in I was rewarded by the promised scenic vista.

Once seen, I continued down the mountain. I was curious how they were going to manage to get me back to the start. After a continued downhill, followed by crossing a flooded portion of trail, I noticed this trail was, in fact, not a loop. Not expecting to do a long hike I'd not brought water. Still, I wasn't terribly thirsty, and I thought I'd see this trail to its end.

I eventually came out at a day use area on the four mile drive up the mountain. I met a runner there, who advised me my best and shortest option to get back to my car was to follow the park road up. Although walking on pavement wasn't appealing, I did it, and began to hike up the road. Fortunately about a mile in I noticed the Mansion Trail crossed the road, and so I followed the half mile climb up the side of the hill. I emerged from the trail a few feet from where I started. Although I'd made mistakes, having been careless in map reading and not bringing water, I was proud of myself for completing a four mile hike with nearly as much elevation change as the Pole Steeple adventure the day before. Perhaps I'm getting the hang of this, I thought. Now if I could only learn to read a map.....


Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Reader's Challenge Contest

Are the readers going to make me get my shoes wet again?
OK, readers, time to make me your puppet. This blog is many things, but its in a diary format and driven by doing what I want to do and where I want to go. Its now your turn. Where do YOU want to see me go and write about on A Taste For The Woods?

The rules are simple. Post a comment to this post, to the Facebook group telling me where I should go and
what I should do - hike, backpack, ride, canoe, or whatever. On June 1 I'll take the four most popular suggestions and let the readers vote. Winning suggestion I'll follow up on during the summer or fall, depending on which season is most practical.

There are a few restrictions. One is that the destination must be within a four hour drive (roughly 200 miles) of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. That gives you about half of PA, all of NJ and DE, most of MD and parts of NY and WV to choose from. The four hour rule is simply so I'm not spending all day driving. Also, I reserve the right to reject a suggestion if its beyond my abilities or my health - for instance, serious whitewater, which is beyond my abilities, or running a 10K, which I can't do as running is something I'm medically restricted from.

So far the top two suggestions from the Facebook group are hiking in World's End State Park and hiking in and around the town of Jim Thorpe. Keep them coming!

Now, GO!


A Taste For The Woods: 2014-05-18

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A Taste For The Woods