Hiking Hogback

I haven’t done a hike since forever, so it was time to get my butt out to Shenandoah National Park. Thankfully, the weatherman delivered a picture perfect day.

I left at 7 am on a Saturday and the traffic gods were kind. I drove US 211 through Sperryville Va to the Thornton Gap entrance to Skyline Drive. US 211 is a beautiful drive. It reminds me of drives in West Virginia. The road climbs gradually until it gets to the Park then it twists and turns as it climbs over the Blue Ridge.

I have to make a confession at this point. I’ve lived in DC since 1984 and, until today, I’ve never driven on Skyline Drive. It’s a work of art. Easily one of the best roads I’ve ever driven on. Every couple of miles is a pull off where you can take in a breathtaking view of mountains and valleys.

I parked the car and headed into the woods, eager to take on the Hogback Mountain hike from HikingUpward.com. The undergrowth was lusher (more lush?) than I am used to which added a bit of mystery to the location of the start. I guessed right and was soon working my way to the Piney Branch Trail. The trail headed gradually downhill. After all the walking I did in Scandinavia, my legs were having no troubles negotiating the path. Piney Branch lead to a small stream which I managed to cross without immersing myself.  I turned onto the Pole Bridge trail which led to a fire road that took me back up to Skyline Drive. The warm, dry air, the gentle breeze and the green everywhere was floating my boat.

After crossing Skyline Drive I picked up the Appalachian Trail and started going up. The climb to Little Hogback overlook raised my heart rate but was not overly strenuous. The views were just fabulous. Somebody take a picture! Oh, yeah. I did.

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I ate an apple and drank some water and thank the gods for coming up with the colors green and blue.

Then I hiked over to Hogback Mountain. Over is a term of art. I hiked down a bit then started hauling my ass up. And up. And up. Switchbacks and stone steps and up. My breathing became labored but, after a few minutes, my lungs caught up and I cruised (slowly) my way to the top. The view was pretty much the same. Green, blue, rocks, farms, puffy white clouds. Ahhhh.

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After overdosing on scenery, I made my way through a stand of mountain laurel and another stand of ferns. When I die, cremate me and spread my ashes among these ferns. It was so peaceful walking through them.

The trail made its way down. Who am I to argue. I walked down with it. Soon I was back at the car with 7 1/2 miles of hiking in heaven behind me.

My pictures from today are on my Flickr page.

My only complaint about this hike is the fact that the second half of the hike takes place very close to Skyline Drive. It’s hard to lose yourself in the moment when your contemplation is interrupted by a motorcycle engine. This is a quibble though. .

Also, my co-worker Kelly asked me how difficult this hike was. Except for the climb up Hogback this one is a breeze. Most of the other hikes I’ve done in this area start low and climb to Skyline Drive. This one mostly just winds back and forth Skyline Drive so you really don’t have to work all that hard.

Manassas Gap: A Short Hike on the AT

The floor refinishing job in our house is done. All that is left is the move back into the rooms which will happen on Thursday. In the meantime we are staying off the floors as much as possible. They look great but the air in the house is a tad stinky. (Not nearly as bad as I expected.) So getting out of the house was the plan.

I decided to use the perfect spring weather for a hike. I drove to Linden Virginia to do a solo 2 1/2 mile out-and-back hike on the Appalachian Trail. Last year I did a similar hike a few miles to the north at Ashby’s Hollow. It was pretty tough. That section of the AT is called the roller coaster for good reason.

This hike started 100 yards from I-66 and went up. And up. And up. Most of the climbing was done through as series of switchbacks. For the first half mile, I could hear the traffic on the interstate. Once I put the mountain between me and the highway I was good to go.

I stopped to take pictures as I went. Not because I was seeing anything particularly spectacular but to put space between me and two women who were hiking together. I followed a spur to check out an overlook. It was pretty but I’ve seen the view 100 times before from the highway below.

The trees are just starting to leaf. This allowed me to see a long way through the dense forest down the side of the mountain I was climbing. When I was little, I broke a rule about staying near home and went for a hike in the woods that began a mile away.  It seemed like I was walking forever. It was really only about a mile. There was a thick carpet of pine needles and the pine trees muffled sounds of the nearby roads and suburbs. For some reason, this hike called to mind that one.

The AT is very easy to follow. This section of the trail is well maintained (by volunteers, I might add). I had passed the two hikers before the spur. When I came back to the AT, they were a few hundred yards ahead. I fiddled with picture taking allowing them to get out of sight.

I wanted some space from people and things. My wife and I have been confined to two rooms that are crammed with furniture for the rest of the house. This and a week in the office including attending a retirement reception for our old boss, made my introverted self feel very much trapped.

I was alone. And Asian man, perhaps 50 years old, came bounding down the trail in my direction. He had a big smile on his face. Then I was alone again. Slogging up the hill. I’d smile too if I were coming down.

Then I head footsteps behind me. Within minutes a bearded hiker with a backpack came past. He was moving at a steady clip, much faster than me. We said our hellos and he was gone.

At times the trail flattened out and my pace picked up. This was not a race. I spent most of my attention on the rocky path in front of me. If you look away while walking you’ll trip for sure. So you have to focus on the task at hand. If that isn’t meditative I don’t know what is.

Eventually I came to a shelter built for AT hikers. A middle aged man, his teenaged soon, and the hiker who blew by me were talking. The hiker had begun his trek at the start in Georgia. He was nearly halfway to Maine. The boy aspired to hike the AT with his father. They were doing their first recon of the trail on the date that the boy had set back in December. (This is one determined kid.)  The hiker told us some tales. He wasn’t hiking for some great spiritual experience. He just like to hike and had the time and the money. Why not. He seemed like a totally normal bloke out for a 2,200 mile stroll in the woods.

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After about 30 minutes I headed back down to the car. The going was much easier. No wonder the Asian man was smiling. I passed another northbound through hiker. I told him about the shelter and the through hiker I had met. “He’s my partner.”  No wonder he wasn’t lonely.

We went our separate ways. Two more Asian hikers came through. Maybe this was a coincidence. I had read that in Japan walking in the woods is held in high regard. Perhaps it was a cultural thing. Japanese researchers find hiking to be good medicine for the stress of urban life.

Another half mile and I came upon what looked like a husband and wife. They smiled but didn’t say anything. They were wearing ear buds. I cannot for the life of me understand why you’d wear earbuds in the woods.

After about two miles of downhill trudging, my lower back (which I had pulled a few days ago) was starting to rebel. To ease the strain, I broke into a trot. Of course, this made my knees angry. To take my mind off the discomfort, I looked through the trees down the mountain, trying to pick out the trail as it switched back and forth.

Back at the car, I ran into a man who was about to head up the trail for an overnight hike. He had no information so I told him about the shelter at 2 1/2 miles. Maybe someday he’ll just keep on going all the way to Maine.

The pix I took are over on my Flickr page.

I was thinking of driving to Philadelphia tomorrow to watch the Nationals play. I’ve never seen a game there. I tweeted the idea and none of my tweeps seemed he least bit interested in joining me. So I guess I’ll do a long ride somewhere. The Cross Check is itchin’ to get out.

 

 

 

Not a Bad Start

For all the time I spent shoveling snow, I am surprised that I covered as much ground as I did this January.

  • 10+ hours of snow shoveling, including 15 minutes today to liberate my bikes
  • 1 hike on the Billy Goat B and C trails to start the year right
  • 446 miles of bike riding
    • 10 on Little Nellie
    • 105 on Big Nellie
    • 331 on The Mule
    • The Cross Check took the month off
  • 10 bike commutes for 301 miles
    • 9 on The Mule
    • 1 on Big Nellie

I probably gained 10 pounds because of beer and junk food. It felt like it yesterday when every mile felt like and ordeal, but today’s 26 mile jaunt was much easier.

On my ride today, I found a new pizza and beer place. To celebrate the end of January, Mrs. RC and I will check it out. It’s tough work but somebody has to do it.

 

Let’s Just Dupe 2015

I had such a good year last year that I decided to do exactly the same hikes and bike rides every day this year. (I’ll wing it on the 29th.)

Okay, I’m just funnin’ you.

But today I did do the exact same hike as last January 1. It’s a coincidence. Really. I had a few hours to get some outdoor time and I didn’t feel like riding a bike for the fifth or sixth day in a row.  So I drove to Great Falls Park in Maryland and hiked the Billy Goat B and C trails. This hike is pretty flat, has a few easy rock scrambles, and is six-ish miles in length.

There wasn’t any wildlife in view, unless you count kids and dogs. There were some four and five year olds out there with their parents. A few were whining. Mostly they were just scrambling all over the place. Cute.

I did my best to hike fast. The trail was dry in most places. So I got to trucking. Temps were in the high 40s and low 50s, very comfortable.

The one interesting feature of the hike was the height and flow of the Potomac River. It has rained quiet a lot here recently and the river was moving fast. It was fun to watch. The lack of leaves and the gray sky made for a rather dull landscape though.

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Falling in would be a bad idea. Other than a quirky looking tree, there wasn’t much to note visually.

Last year when I did this hike, my head was as bleak as the landscape. I am grateful that this year my mind is in a much better state.

Winter returns to DC this week with temperatures below freezing for most of the week. January is a good time to recharge your batteries. I have a stack of books on my nightstand. As matter of fact, when I put Dead Calm down, the U-20 submarine had just launched a torpedo at the Lusitania. I wonder what happens next….

Pictures of the Year 2015

Pool Noodles for the Win: Sam got us organized. We were going to occupy the Pennsylvania bike lanes to get barriers installed between 13th and 15th Street to keep cars from making illegal u-turns. Somebody got the idea of using pool noodles as props, to indicate where the barriers would go. Afterward, Dave carried them off. I think they took him to the nervous hospital later.

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We all had a blast. Human bollards come in many shapes and sizes. Here’s the Katie Lee model. It’s generally impervious to u-turning cars, but can be moved aside with tickets to Packers games and Phish concerts.

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Here’s Sam, the mad genius behind #biketivismdc. It’s funny what getting run over by a car does for your determination to make streets safer.

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Kelly Biked to Work!: Kelly sits across from me at work. She had hip surgery which meant she couldn’t run for weeks. So she took up bike commuting. The smile means it was a success.

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To her credit she really got into the bike commuting thing. Here she poses at an underpass on the Four Mile Run Trail. A few days before rising water during a downpour caused her to abandon shelter and head into the maelstrom. She survived and added a snorkel to her bike commuting gear.

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Like Father Like Daughter: I went to a bunch of baseball games this year. Katie Lee and I attended a couple of games together. She is a meticulous genius at scorekeeping, an art she learned from her late father. At one game, there were two little boys in the row in front of us attending their first baseball game. They were trying to figure out how to keep score. Katie moved down and gave them a game long tutorial. It was an act of kindness that just knocked me out. Somewhere her dad is smiling.

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Posh Bike Parking: For some inexplicable reason, our office building started getting all environmentally conscious this fall. Without telling anyone, they replaced their absolutely crappy bike racks with a pretty awesome, secure bike room. Combined with the gym and showers one floor above, it’s a pretty darn bike friendly place to work.

Here’s the before shot.

Bike parking

Here’s the after.

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No Wrong Plan: Ryan, Kevin, and I rode from Pittsburgh to DC. It was my first bike tour in a decade. Here we pose in Georgetown’s Waterfront Park at the end of our trek. Any resemblance of me to Hoss Cartwright is entirely coincidental.

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In Williamsport, Maryland, we stopped at the Desert Rose Cafe for breakfast. They made us sandwiches for lunch. Inside the bags they included napkins. Each one had a personal message. Such nice people. Such good food. Eat there. (They speak veggie and vegan too!).

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Going Up: I did quite a lot of day hiking this year branching out to Shenandoah National Park for several exceptional hikes. All my hikes were solo except for this one with Ultrarunnergirl. She kicked my ass all the way up to Little Hawksbill, the highest point in the park. Then the mountain kicked my ass all the way back down.

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On my 60th birthday, I hiked Old Rag. It was a tough hike and convinced me that rock scrambles are for the young and frisky. Also, the thin.

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Glory Days: Mrs. RC is a very talented quilter. When I had to quit running about 25 years ago we talked about using my race t-shirts to make a quilt. Nothing came of it until she made the quilt as a surprise for my 60th birthday. What an amazing gift. Oh how I wish I could run like that again.

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Around the World in 19 Days: My kids were living in Sydney, Australia and Phuket, Thailand. We decided to go visit them. While in Australia, Mrs. RC and our daughter Lily went to Uluru for dinner under the stars. Here we enjoy a drink just before sunset.

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After trips to Melbourne and the north island of New Zealand, we headed for Phuket. The island is very hilly so everyone rides a motorbike like this one my son Eamonn uses.

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We paid a visit to Big Buddha. He was aptly named.

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Lily made friends with a baby elephant.

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Cookies and Cider: I did a bunch of event rides this year. The Cookie Ride had a good hook. Cookies at every rest stop. Here I pose with a human cookie along with Paris and Lisa.

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I missed my two favorite rides of the year, the Backroads Century and the 50 States Ride, which both occurred while I was traveling. I swore off the Cider Ride last year but decided to give it a go after they moved it into November. Finishers got this cool mug. Thanks to Michelle for her event magic on behalf of WABA.

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Sunrise: The year is nearly over but I am pretty sure that the new one will start something like this. Thanks for reading.

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My Top Ten of 2015

The year began with a paper lantern rising in the post-midnight sky over Old Town Alexandria. I hoped it was a sign of good things to come. Here in no particular order are the highlights of what followed:

Around the World in 19 Days: When your kids move to the other side of the world, you have a perfectly good excuse to go visit them. We flew via LAX to Sydney to meet up with our daughter who was studying abroad at Macquarie University. We explored Sydney, Uluru, and Melbourne in Australia and Rotorua in New Zealand. Then we flew to Thailand where our son now lives, teaching English at a school in Phuket. We flew back via Abu Dhabi and JFK, completing our trip around the world. Speaking of travel….

Six Days without a Plan: I did my first bike tour in ten years, riding 370 miles from Pittsburgh to home, nearly entirely off road in six days. Kevin and Ryan made for good company. The Meth Man not so much. Earl and Anne, two friends from my years in Boston,  met up with us for Mothers Day brunch. And we saw the Pirates execute a triple play at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Speaking of baseball….

Where’s My Ring?: I pretty much went all in as a Washington Nationals fan this year. I attended 8 or 9 games (one was a rainout) and watched dozens more on the tube. In the process I discovered the wonderful bike valet service at the ballpark, bottles of ice water (mostly ice) sold outside the stadium, and SeatGeek, a web service for cheap seats. Sadly, the Nats completely fell apart in August and September ending with the sad display of a bad apple reliever choking the eventual league Most Valuable Player. Speaking of things surly…

Getting Surly: My bikes were getting old. And so was I. So I decided to buy a new one, just for riding events and such. I bought a Surly Cross Check on the enthusiastic recommendation of a half dozen friends who own one or wish they did. I’m still working on giving it a name. My fleet of now four bikes carried me over 7,000 miles this year. Speaking of mileage….

Turning the Odometer: I hit 60 in August. My brain still can’t believe it but my body does. Denial only gets you so far in life. I celebrated by hiking Old Rag. My advice is to do this hike long before your 60th birthday. Mrs RC made me with a quilt  from my old running t-shirts. This totally surprised me with it even though she made the thing right in front of me. Still, turning 60 was inescapably depressing.  Speaking of depressing…

Goodbye Blue Mondays: I started the year dealing with rather severe depression, not the “I’m sad” kind but the clinical kind. It’s a drag just thinking about it. I forced myself to socialize (see below), ate vitamin D supplements (I had a severe deficiency), and began daily meditation at the repeated suggestion of a friend. You could say that when it was over I had become comfortably numb. Speaking of numbness…

My Right Foot: I also started the year with a mysteriously numb right foot. I saw a neurologist who was incredibly enthusiastic, competent, and beautiful about my case. She sent me to a physical therapist who gave me a set of exercises including bird dogs, side planks, and nerve flossing that I still do every other day. On a whim, I went for a Thai massage. It didn’t do a thing for my foot but it was just about the most relaxing 90 minutes I can recall. “Use your third eye, John.”  I also went to an acupuncturist who didn’t do a thing for my foot either. He did fix a pain in my upper arm and recommended some orthotics for my shoes. Speaking of shoes….

Ramping Up My Hiking:  After each of my hikes last year, my back and knees were killing me.  The second I put the orthotics in my shoes, my back felt better. I did ten hikes this year, most of them in Shenandoah National Park and a little further north on the Appalachian Trail. All but one were solo hikes. The exception came when Ultrarunnergirl kicked my ass all the way to the top of SNP and back. My knees and back hardly protested. Speaking of protests…

What’s a Park It?:  Bike riders in DC had been getting hit by cars turning illegally through the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. I attended a protest that was designed to bring awareness to the fact that new barriers called Park Its had not been installed on two blocks of the avenue. The protest was successful (the Park Its were installed a few months later) and was a great opportunity to get together with friends old and new. Speaking of new friends…

Do I Even Have a Fusiform Gyrus?: Three months after apparently meeting me at a December 2014 holiday party, a woman walked up at a post-ride reception and said “Hi John.” I had no idea who she was. She later said I needed to have my fusiform gyrus checked out. So began my improbable friendship with Katie Lee. A few days later we spent four hours in a booth in a downtown tavern. Two peas in a pod, pod people you might say, engaged in an incredibly intense conversation. I felt as if I had caught lightning in a bottle of Shiner Bock. On my way home for the first time in months the fog of my depression had lifted. Like a paper lantern. I know a sign when I see one. Thanks for showing me the score, KL. 

Encore, you say?….

Sitting in the Lap of the North Wind: A year or so ago, Mrs RC bought me a CD of celtic sounding music by a Quebec folk group called Le Vent du Nord. As luck would have it, they played very small venues near DC twice this year. We were in the second row for both performances, practically in the lap of the foot drumming, song singing, fiddle player. Even though I studied French in high school and college I can’t really follow their lyrics but I have no trouble enjoying their hurdy gurdy fueled music. Tres bon.

 

November by the Numbers

On the whole, November turned out to be a pretty decent month. The weather was unseasonably warm, except for a few days when I froze my ass off. I rode to work 15 times. My long ride was a 55 1/2 mile cavort through DC to Bethesda and back.

The Cider Ride turned out to be quite a lot of fun. It was especially good to see so many people I knew at the afterparty at the Dew Drop Inn.

With the exception of a single commute on The Mule, I rode only two bikes this month. Little Nellie took care of the rest of the commutes. My Cross Check handled weekend duties.

For the year I now have ridden 6,908 miles. Of that, 4,556 miles were just getting to and from work. About 1/2 the commuting miles were on The Mule. A third were on Little Nellie. A sixth were on my increasingly little used Big Nellie.  Since August, practically all my fun rides have been done on my Cross Check.

I did a long solo hike near Harper’s Ferry.  The views were fantastic.

I have had very few injuries this year. A back spasm now and then. And a numb foot that is mostly trouble free these days. All the biking and hiking (plus some therapeutic conversations with friends and meditation) have rid me of the depression that dogged me last winter and spring.

Let’s see if I can finish strong and break through the 7,000 mile barrier before the snows come.

A Year in the Woods

This was my second year of doing day hikes. Early in the year I made a list of hikes that I wanted to do on my white board at work. I modified the list, adding three hikes that friends of mine did during the year and taking off two hikes, Bull Run Mountain and Sky Meadows, because they are in an area that is infested with ticks. (One of my coworkers contracted Lyme disease at Sky Meadows.)

Hike List 2015

As you can see I cross off quite a few hikes.

To get the year off on the right foot, I went up to Great Falls Park in Maryland and did the Billy Goat B and C trails. I had done this last summer and enjoyed the route but not the heat. This is about a six mile hike, mostly flat.  It was a good way to start the year.

For the next several months I forgot about hiking. I don’t honestly know why. When I realized that I had missed some of the year’s best hiking weather I kicked it into gear on the first weekend in June and re-visited Rock Creek Park. This time I did the Valley and West Ridge trails in a counter clockwise direction. It’s a good hike, about 10 miles or so.

It was time to get away from the city. The next weekend I found a hike online that seemed to offer some solitude. It was an out and back hike on the section of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia known as Ashby Hollow. The trail was rocky and the the ups and downs lived up to the nickname Roller Coaster. I was amazed that through hikers did this section of the trail carrying big backpacks. I saw a couple too.  More power to you folks.

I was on a roll. A luck would have it Ultrarunnergirl was looking to go for a hike in the Shenandoah National Park. We headed out to White Oak Cannon. Here, she advised me to buy a year pass to the National Park system. Great idea. We hiked up the canyon, enjoying waterfalls all the way up.  At the top of the trail we took a fire road up to Skyline Drive. At her suggestion, we hiked up the steep trail to Little Hawksbill, the highest point in the park. Hiking down beat the crap out of my legs. To get back to the start we took the Cedar Run Trail. This was a pretty trail but it was also rocky and the rocks were slippery. Ultrunnergirl’s iPhone went for a swim. She went for a rock slide near the end of the hike. This was my first non-solo hike since college. It was also my first hike in Shenandoah National Park. If you live in the mid-Atlantic and do not take advantage of this park you are really missing out.

A couple of weeks later, I headed back to the park for a hike up Little Devil Stairs.  This was pretty challenging and involved crossing and re-crossing a stream. Well worth the early wake up on a day off from work.

I took the rest of July off.

I started August with a hike on the exotically names Potomac Heritage Trail. It was not the best hike but it was close to home. Then, in mid-August, on my 60th birthday, I did the most popular hike in these parts, Old Rag. It was quite challenging. I was a bit annoyed by the rock scramble. At one point I had to wedge myself into a gap between two boulders and hike vertically, with my back against one boulder and my feet on the other. Not my style at all. The view from the summit was pretty darn nice. If you want solitude, find another hike.

In September we took a long vacation in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand. We did a whole mess of walking including an easy short hike at  Kata Tjuta in the outback.

Kata Tjuta Walk

 

After returning home, I made my way back to Great Falls Park in Maryland for an easy hike along the River and Gold Mine Loop trails.  I’d done each of these before but separately.

The next week, I drove to Prince William Forest Park down near Quantico. The trails here are not very well marked so I was a bit confused as to where I was or where I was going. Nevertheless, I cobbled together a pretty successful loop hike.

My last hike (unless I get really motivated in December) combined two hikes near Harper’s Ferry. Maryland Heights and Weverton Cliff offer fantastic overlooks of the Potomac River, Harper’s Ferry and the Shenandoah River.  This was my longest hike by far. Probably about 3 miles longer than I was comfortable doing.

I am learning what I like and don’t like about hiking. I am not a big fan of rocks. I don’t like rock scrambles. Nor do I like rocky trails. I am not a big fan of fording streams either. I am afraid that I am going to turn an ankle, fall, or get soaked. Since most of my hikes are solo, any one of these would be bad news.

So that’s how I put my best foot forward this year. I hope next year that I do more hiking with friends. So if you live in DC and wanna go for a trek in the woods, I’m all ears.

Two Hikes near Harper’s Ferry

A friend of mine used to hold health retreats near Harper’s Ferry. If the weather was good, she’d take her guests for a hike. I honestly don’t know where she took them but when I started hiking I search for hikes near Harper’s Ferry. There are two hikes that are very popular. They each include an overlook with spectacular views of the Harper’s Ferry area.

I began at the Harper’s Ferry train station. My year pass for all national parks allowed me to avoid the $10 parking fee. Thanks again, Ultrarunnergirl.

Off I hoofed across the railroad bridge from Harper’s Ferry to the C&O Canal towpath, all the while looking at Maryland Heights across the way. I am going up there?  I headed northwest along the path for a half mile, crossed the empty canal, and a two-lane road and the climbing began on the Maryland Heights hike.

Up, up, up. This trail is relentlessly up. And steep in some sections. I was breathing pretty heavily until my lungs caught up with my legs. I took a side path to what I thought was the overlook but it was just an old battery. The Heights were strategically important in the Civil War. There are batteries and a fort along the trail.

Up some more. The trail began to narrow and become rockier. I hate rocks in a trail but that’s what most of the trails in this area are like.

#hike #Marylandheights #harpersferry overlook

I crested the hill and now found myself winding back down to the overlook. More rocks. The leaves on the ground made footing slippery. Soon I was at the overlook. Well worth the effort, especially on this beautiful fall day. A young couple was canoodling so I decided to take a couple of pictures and head back up to the main trail. On the way up I must have passed 20 people coming down. So much for canoodling in peace.

Back on the main trail I took a right to climb to a ridge line. It was really steep and rocky but I just kept at it. Soon I arrived at an old stone fort. I would have hate to have had to build this thing. There’s no structure to the fort, just stone walls.

During my hike I twice was passed by a group of ultramarathon runners. Essentially these people are speed hikers. How they managed to move so fast without turning an ankle is beyond me. They were apparently doing and out and back run because I saw them again about 30 minutes later.

I headed back down on a mercifully smoother trail paralleling the ridge. Judging from the number of people coming up, this must be one of the most popular trails in the area. I was grateful to have arrived before the crowds.

Back on the towpath I headed south east for about 3 miles. The views of the river were magnificent and the sound of the water rushing over the rocks was incredibly calming.

I was now on the Weverton Cliff hike. This also the Appalachian Trail. I ate my apple and watched a parade of 20 fully loaded hikers coming my way as I walked to the steep trail to the cliff. This sucker is tough going. I would not want to do it with a full backpack. The backpackers that I saw were pretty scruffy but they moved with deliberate speed. Not fast, exactly, but they were relentless and focused.

Across the railroad tracks, up a side trail, under a highway, up some more trail, across a street and the real fun began.

Up into a seemingly endless series of switchbacks. The bigger trees had all dropped their leaves but the undergrowth was bright yellow and orange in the slanting fall sunlight. It’s good to have pretty when you are suffering.

On the Maryland Heights descent I fell when the leaves gave way under my feet. I just landed on my butt and slid. As I climbed up to the cliff and woman did the same thing right in front of me. She just laughed it off.

Switchback after switchback then finally a sign pointing the AT to the north and the overlook to the south.

I had to hike down a few extremely hundred yards to the overlook but the view was really excellent. The sun had come out and I basked in its warmth for a few minutes as I watched the sunlight glittering over the Potomac River.

View from #wevertoncliffs #hike #harpersferry

I dreaded the hike down but found it to be surprisingly easy. I passed a woman who looked to be well into her seventies. I sure hope I am that fit when I am her age.

I made it back to the towpath in good shape and headed for Harper’s Ferry. At this point I was wishing I had brought more than one apple. I was hoping I wasn’t going to hit the wall. I started following a guy with a backpack on. He didn’t seem to be putting any effort into his stride but I still could not keep up with him.

So I looked at the sunlit yellow leaves, watched a bunch of vultures soaring next to the rock face of Maryland Heights and enjoyed the final two miles as much as my tired body would allow.

If I were to come back to Harper’s Ferry I think I’d park at the base of Weverton Cliff, hike up to the overlook turnoff and take the AT north. Despite all the rocks, it was a pretty damned nice hike. Maryland Heights was just as hard but the crowds would put me off a return.

My Flickr page has all the pix I took.

No Spokes Just Laces – A Hike in Prince William Forest Park

I know it’s a blog about bicycling. What can I say? It was 40 something degrees outside when I finished breakfast. I didn’t want to freeze my noo-noos off riding a bike so I decided to go for a hike.

Prince William Forest Park is located right next to Quantico and just off busy I-95. Sounds like a crappy place to hike doesn’t it? Well it’s not.

The park is owned by the National Park Service. Since they are not a charity and since our government is run by a bunch of fiscally incompetent cheap bastards you have to pay a fee. Fortunately for me, I bought and annual National Parks Pass. (Thanks again, Ultrarunnergirl, for telling me about this.) I got in free.

I drove to the park on US 1 because I-95 was, as usual, a parking lot. US 1 is some kind of ugly. For some reason I have lived near it for most of my adult life. South of DC it is an urban planners nightmare.

Having endured nearly an hour of suburban and exurban ugly, I was ready to commune with the forest. Prince William did not disappoint.

I am somewhat notorious for my inability to navigate trails. I always screw up. I found that the trail markings in this park defied comprehension. At one point a mountain biker (I think he was riding illegally but he knew where he was and I didn’t so more power to him) gave me directions. I hiked the Laurel Trail to the South Valley Trail which foll22278796395_595eed0555_zows the south fork of the Quantico Creek. The best part about these trials was the fact that they were smooth. Some of the trails I’ve hiked in Shenandoah National Park and Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland are so rocky that my feet are killing me after a mile or two. Not here. Sure there are a few rocks now and then and some tree roots but sure footing was the rule of the day.

Quantico Creek sure is pretty this time of year. Leaves were changing from green to yellow, brown and red. T22281844875_69700a106f_zhe leaves on the ground made a perfect swishing sound as I walked through them. Sunlight cast spotty shadows all through the surrounding forest.

Now and then I passed small waterfalls. Pretty for the eyes and the ears.

After a few miles along the creek I turned north, headed for the Turkey Run educational Center. I wasn’t looking for learnin’ I was looking for the Turkey Run Ridge Trail. This trail took me back to where the bike rider had given me directions. Along the way, I spooked a deer who was getting a drink in the creek next to the trail. It was a young buck with rather short antlers.

For quite a while I thought I was lost. I passed a couple coming my way. I had seen them on the South Valley Trail earlier so I knew they were hiking my loop in the opposite direction.

The finish was uphill back to the Visitors Center. The wind picked up. Trees started groaning as they swayed and rubbed trunks together. It made a spooky sound. Halloween’s coming, isn’t it.

Despite my proximity to one of the busiest interstate highways in the eastern US, I couldn’t hear any of the traffic. Just the sound of the forest.

The temperature was just right. Mid 50s with very little humidity. I barely broke a sweat. I wore a base layer under an old sweatshirt and shorts.

Tomorrow it’s back to bike commuting. It should be near freezing and dark when I leave home. I’m breaking out the winter gear and my new bicycle death ray. During the day tomorrow I’ll see if I can telecommute for the next five months from Buenos Aires, Christchurch or Melbourne. Maybe if I brought my boss a pumpkin spice latte (better him than me).