Thursday, December 1, 2016
When I moved to Maryland in 1980 I heard about the annual Chesapeake Bay Bridge walk, across the four mile bridge between Annapolis and Kent Island, MD, and I wanted to do it.
Every spring, one Sunday early in May, the older span of the bridge that spans the Bay and connects the DC and Baltimore population to Maryland's eastern shore beach resorts was closed to traffic and open to walkers. It was free. All you did was show up and find a place to park or get dropped off at Sandy Point State Park ... and walk. They offered a free school bus shuttle back to your vehicle.
It was a huge party. Tens of thousands of walkers did it every year. As I said, I wanted to do it; but I kept putting it off. Walking was not my major form of exercise back then. I had better things to do with my time. Always some excuse.
Then one spring, some time in the late 1980's or early 90's they cancelled the walk due to construction or other problems. The bridge authority seemed to like not having to deal with this major logistical hassle. The event was cancelled again the following year. And every year after that. Eventually they stopped even bothering to announce the cancellation.
It was the end of an era. I had missed my chance.
Then in 2014 came a reincarnation of the event in a new form. The 'Ten K Across the Bay' Bridge Race was born. The bridge authorities probably liked this controlled event much better. You had to pay a pretty steep entry fee. Sixty smackers. The private, for-profit race organizers took over the logistics from the bridge authority, recruiting volunteers, arranging parking, shuttle buses, etc. The people who did the walk had to register and wear a number. Much less messy for law enforcement and emergency services. They had to announce their expected time. They are warned that if they can't keep a minimum pace they will be picked up by a 'sag wagon'. No all-day dilly-dallying on the span. They would be a fit and driven crowd. And therefore a smaller crowd. They would be off the bridge by early afternoon.
By the time this resurrection took place, I had all but given up hope of walking across the Bay Bridge. Too bad, too, because now I was an avid long distance hiker. Specifically a continuous foot-trail hiker, and the route of the American Discovery Trail (ADT) uses that bridge.
The American Discovery Trail isn't my favorite trail. It is discontinuous in three places. The Bay Bridge is the first. The other two are not 'correctible'. The trail route uses ferry boats to cross the Ohio River at Cincinnati and again across San Francisco Bay. Worse, the ADT has far too much mileage on roads and paved rail trails and not enough dedicated footpath, tramping the good natural earth. In fact they seem to consider foot-only travel an annoyance, because their turn-by-turn directions always give a road (bicycle) alternative to the foot-only sections. No, not my kind of trail.
But I need to hike from the east coast to Colorado. It's the goal of my 'Personal Continuous Footpath' (PCF) to hike to every place where I have ever lived, to set down a continuous string of footprints connecting them. I lived in Colorado from 1970 to 1980. It's the farthest west I need to hike to fulfill the PCF goal. And the ADT is the only continuous 'named trail' that crosses the US great plains. There is a new option in Canada. It's the most impressive trail in the world. The 'Great Trail' also called the Trans-Canada Trail, which runs 15,000 miles through every province of that vast country. But Canada is pretty far out of my way. The ADT, on the other hand, goes right through Colorado. It even has two separate routes across the great plains to get there. So if I want to stay on any sort of official trail, I'm pretty much stuck with the ADT. Even so, I would have to find an alternative route through SW Ohio to avoid that ferry.
No problem there. Just pick a road route. And now the gap across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge can be walked again, though only once a year, and only if I'm fit enough to do it at a pace of at least three miles per hour. Well I'm still young enough to do that. In fact I ended up doing the 10K in 1:45, closer to 3½ mph.
It was a beautiful day. I reached the staging area about 9AM.
I was set to start with the very last wave, the slowest. Our wave assembled at the start line at 9:30AM.
Runners had been crossing the bridge since sunrise. The race is advertised as the fifth largest 10K in the US. I was crossing the bridge with 22,000 of my closest friends.
The views of the bridge and the bay were spectacular on this bright, breezy, cool early November Sunday.
The organizers had everything covered. There was a port-a-potty every half mile on the bridge. Emergency vehicles stationed every mile. And enthusiastic staff stood ready to help and to cheer you on.
It was over all too soon.
In all, from leaving home to returning, it was an eight hour adventure to do six miles of hiking. A lot of driving, bus riding, and just waiting in lines.
Here is my GPS track of the race route.
Now all I have to do is hike the gap, almost all on roads, to Cape Henlopen State park on the Atlantic Ocean, where I've already hiked the eastern few miles of the ADT, and then make a short connection from the west side of the Bay Bridge to BWI Airport where I pick up already completed sections of my PCF. That completed section stretches south to Key West, FL, North on the Appalachian trail to Maine, and now west almost to Ohio on the North Country Trail. Keep following this blog. I'll be working my way steadily to Colorado, "God willin' an' the crick don't rise."
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
|One of the last views of the Susquehanna on a glorious fall morning. From here the Mason-Dixon Trail strikes out cross-country for a westward leg that culminates at the Appalachian Trail.|
It took me a couple months, hiking an out-and-back piece of trail two or three days a week, but I've now finished the entire 200 miles of the Mason-Dixon Trail. It was a varied experience. Highlights were the White Clay Creek Preserve and State Park in the east and the long section of trail along the Susquehanna River from Perryville, MD to north of Wrightsville, PA.
The Susquehanna is the heart of the Mason-Dixon Trail. It was originally envisioned by Bob Yost as a shorter trail, just along the Susquehanna. The connections are vital, though. They make the trail much more relevant. In the east the trail was extended to the Brandywine Trail north of Wilmington, DE, and the western connection is with the famous the Appalachian Trail near Carlisle, PA. AT hikers all see this sign as they follow the white blazes across Whiskey Bottom Road.
I clearly remember seeing it on my double thru-hike back in 2012. I knew that my brother lived right beside the M-D T along Christina Creek in Newark, Delaware, but now I knew that it was not just a little 'local yokel' trail. It was part of the grand network of connected INTERSTATE trails that I hope will someday become as vast and robust as the Interstate highway system.
The western section of the Mason-Dixon Trail says farewell to the Susquehanna and strikes out westward roughly following Conewago Creek. passing through Gifford Pinchot State Park with an alluring seven mile walk around the south shore of Lake that is the center-piece of the park.
But to get to the AT from Pinchot Lake it's all road walking. It wasn't the worst place to road-walk, though. Open farmland give the hiker a first and only look at real mountains along this trail.
Fall color was also near its ripe and shiny peak. Maples, as always provide the best show. Here are two roadside encounters of particular note.
The few sections of off-road footpath that weren't beside the river or Lake Pinchot provided some nice variety. There was this meadow walk through a state game land.
And there was this unusual dry creek bed strewn with evenly sized mossy round rocks.
On the road walk near Interstate 83 I was greeted one morning by this spectacular sunrise.
With this trail done, I'm going back to hike the Susquehanna Gorge to hike the eastern side, within view of the Mason-Dixon Trail route, but arguably an even better hiking experience. Watch for the next report.
Here is a composite map of the five day hikes it took to complete this segment of trail.
Thursday, November 24, 2016
|Misty morning on the Susquehanna above Safe Harbor Dam|
Although the Mason-Dixon Trail is 200 miles long, only thirty miles of it is designated by the US Secretary of the Interior as a National Recreation Trail. That thirty miles runs through the Susquehanna Gorge from Wrightsville, PA downstream past Safe Harbor Dam to about Holtwood Dam, and that section is the subject of this post.
It's one rugged hike, brutal really. I slogged through half a dozen or more steep rocky climbs and descents. The difference between the top of the steep bluffs overlooking the river and the elevation river-side is as much as 400 feet. Numerous small streams cascade down to the river through steep sided ravines, and if the trail is going to follow the river, it has to negotiate those ravines. In some cases the trail follows roads inland and avoids the worst of the terrain. In others the trail seems to have been routed through the very worst of the rocky ridge-spines that separate the Susquehanna from each tributary ravine. I got the impression that the trail designers wanted to 'show' the hiker special rock formations such as this 'Lemon Squeezer' with a view of the river through the trees in the background.
Well, you get the idea. The going was slow, the rocks were big and brutal, and the climbs were challenging. But the hiker gets his/her rewards. River views abound. Here's a sampling of some of my favorites.
One of the grandest vistas on the west side, here on the Mason-Dixon Trail, can be had from the top of 'High Point', which has been preserved as a York County Park. From the summit you can see many miles of river to the south, and a fine stretch to the north as well.
Most of the length of the river below Wrightsville is contained behind three dams. Conowingo backs up the river just above where it becomes tidal. Holtwood Dam is placed right where the river flows freely again, just above the upper end of Conowingo's impoundment.
Safe Harbor Dam does the same for the Holtwood impoundment.
In the view of Safe Harbor Dam above you can see a high railroad trestle crossing the Conestoga Creek, just below the dam. This trestle is on an abandoned rail line and remains the only closed part of a 30 mile rail trail that I will be hiking and reporting on soon. This section the Susquehanna gorge has great trails and great vistas on both sides, and arguably the quality of the hiking experience is actually better on the east side. Looking across to the east side from near Fishing Creek, one can see the two prominent windmills atop Turkey Hill.
The granddaddy of all the views along this section is the view from Turkey Hill looking up river toward Wrightsville. Stay tuned.
The Mason-Dixon Trail doesn't follow the river everywhere. As I mentioned there are a few road walks. The trail also meanders through the canyon of Oyster Creek and a few other larger tributaries.
There's also a section of open high meadow walking through the Native Lands Heritage Park.
At the north end of the section, the trail passes under the old US 30 bridge at Wrightsville.
This is a pedestrian friendly bridge. Hikers could make use of it and the Norman Wood Bridge to do a multi-day circuit hike of roughly 75 miles encompassing the best trail experience on both sides of the river. Again, I'll be exploring the east side in an upcoming post.
Below is a map of the track I took over six out-and-back day hikes between the Norman Wood Bridge and Wrightsville along the west side of the river. For my money this is some of the best hiking east of the Appalachians and north of Florida.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
The Riddle of Amish Culture by Donald B. Kraybill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I grew up in the late 50's and 60's in SE Pennsylvania at the fringes of Amish country. It was a rare sight to see an Amish horse and buggy in those days. Last week, on a beautiful autumn Sunday, driving a seven mile stretch of PA 372 southwest of Lancaster, heading to a hike of the Mason-Dixon Trail, I lost count after passing more than two dozen buggies.
It was probably visiting Sunday, not a church Sunday. I could not have reached that conclusion had I not just finished reading Donald Kraybill's comprehensive documentary about the enigmatic ways of the Amish people.
I had been away from the area for fifty years and just recently returned to help my Mom and Dad during and after my Dad's final illness. The Amish population had multiplied seven-fold in those years. With such a significant presence around me, I thought it would be worthwhile to read up on these people in order to get a quick education on 'what makes them tick'. Kraybill's book was recommended, by name, within the fictional text of 'The Atonement' by Beverly Lewis, a novel about an Amish woman with a secret past (see the review below). The book has wonderfully filled many of the gaps in my understanding. It is a comprehensive resource, and I recommend it.
What this book will not do is give you any understanding about what it feels like to be Amish, or what their day-to-day life is like. For that I believe Lewis's 'The Atonement' provided a good glimpse. What Kraybill's book does is provide an academician's clinical, scholarly perspective on the culture and beliefs of this sect that has successfully remained separate from the American mainstream but yet has managed to integrate smoothly into the greater society whose values it largely rejects.
Kraybill's main purpose seems to be to explain how the Amish have managed to do that, how they have maintained a viable community on their own terms despite prohibiting education beyond the 8th grade, despite avoiding owning automobiles, despite prohibiting electricity in their homes, and despite becoming a major tourist attraction for the region.
In a nutshell, the Amish do change and adapt to changing times and technology. While hiking I would frequently see Amish in their farm fields pulling modern farm implements with draft horses, as many as six and eight. The wheels on those implements are always steel, not rubber. I could clearly hear the sound of a gasoline engine, mounted on the implement, operating the machinery. When driving past an Amish farm there are no electric wires running from power poles on the street, but their pastures are encircled with electric fences. Propane tanks are prominent beside the large, neat homes. And I frequently would hear the sound of a large generator humming beside the barn.
The changes to the Amish 'Ordnung,' their strict oral code of conduct, are selective, slow to evolve, and made to balance their deeply ingrained 'Gelassenheit' (humility), their mandate to separate themselves from modern ways, and their literal interpretation of biblical canon, with the practical reality that they need to make a living. I won't provide 'spoilers' by explaining further. Suffice it to say that Kraybill manages to very successfully 'crack the code' or solve the Riddle.
The book is a 2001 update of the original 1989 volume. It is about time for another update. Though the Amish seem to be thriving, the Lancaster settlement continues to face challenges, not the least of which is their burgeoning, indeed exploding, population. The average Amish family has six to eight children. Their population doubles with each new generation. All these new 'plain folk' need to make a living. Traditionally they were farmers, but God's not making more land, and suburban development around Lancaster is raising land values and turning farm land into housing subdivisions.
Bottom line: The fate of the Amish Culture remains uncertain. Their story is an ongoing, dynamic one, and it's fascinating. They are adapting to the twenty-first century in some surprising ways, and Kraybill provides an excellent guide to understanding these sometimes enigmatic practices. His 2001 edition remains relevant and highly informative, but for how much longer?
* * *
The Atonement by Beverly Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Lucy Flaud is Old Order Amish from Lancaster County PA. She is single and 25, almost too old to marry, and she holds no hope of ever finding love. She harbors a deep secret so shameful that she does all she can to avoid thinking about it. What she knows is that this secret disqualifies her from ever being worthy of happiness. She has not taken communion for nearly a year. When her long time close friend Toby asks to court her, she refuses, both in person and in writing.
We learn that Lucy's shameful past involves a relationship with an 'Englisher,' a worldly outsider. That relationship is over but now she seems to be getting dangerously familiar with another outsider.
As the story unfolds we follow Lucy's frantic attempts to drown her painful memories in selfless volunteer service, yet events keep prying open her self-imposed seal on the subject of her past.
Author Beverly Lewis has written dozens of novels describing various facets of Amish life. I cannot say from personal experience whether her characters and their actions and their language are true to form but they certainly appear to reflect the self-effacing 'Gelassenheit' mindset that dominates Amish culture, their heavy emphasis on family bonds, their mistrust of the ways of the outside world, their unshakable work ethic, and their humble, abiding Christian faith. I picked up this book because I'm currently living in and hiking through the sprawling Lancaster Settlement and wanted to begin to explore the culture of these distinctive people.
Regardless of whether Lewis is faithfully depicting the culture, her story is a page-turner. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I recommend it without qualification and hope to read more of her work.
View all my reviews
Thursday, October 13, 2016
|Two-state view of the lower Susquehanna Gorge, Conowingo Reservoir, from 440 foot Bald Hill.|
Looking for a memorable hiking experience that offers plenty of thigh-burning mountainous terrain but no mountains? Want a hike that provides consistent close encounters with, and spectacular views of, one of the nation's great rivers? Then head for the Mason-Dixon Trail along the west bank of the Susquehanna. It has no peers.
I'll be reporting this bit of trail in two segments, the lower and the upper Susquehanna, each about thirty miles in length. Both sections offer miles of wild-land hiking along the steep-walled escarpments that the river has carved for itself out of rolling Pennsylvania and Maryland farm country. As said, there are no mountains here, but the elevation difference between riverside and the adjacent high ground is as much as 300 feet. With numerous tributary streams plunging off the high ground into the river, a trail following the river inevitably descends and climbs many times over.
Is the Susquehanna River really one of the nations greats? Yes, in two different ways. First of all, at over 300 million years old, it is the second oldest continuously flowing river in the world. It pre-dates the formation of the Appalachian Mountains through which it delves. Its second claim to greatness is the volume of flow. Of the rivers in the continental US (lower 48) that drain into the sea, only the Mississippi and Columbia Rivers have greater discharge. If you multiply this quantity, the expanse of flowing water to be experienced, by the number of miles of nationally recognized foot-only trail, away from roads, that are within view of the water, then this hike is far and away number one in the country.
My hike of the Lower Susquehanna began at the Norman Wood Bridge, which connects Lancaster and York counties. The bridge was built in the late 1960's. When I was a kid going to church camp in the area (Camp Donegal), it was not there. I remember it being built, remember what a great short cut it provided us to get to the camp.
|Norman Wood Bridge as seen from the river bed downstream|
This is Amish country. As the Lancaster Amish Settlement continues to grow, it is expanding across this new bridge. There's also a hiking trail that crosses the bridge called the Conestoga Trail, and I took the time to hike a three mile piece of that on a quiet Sunday early morning before starting to explore the Mason-Dixon Trail. As I walked across the bridge I was passed by as many Amish buggies as motorized vehicles.
When I came to Camp Donegal as a kid one of my strongest memories is hiking down to the river. We followed a foot trail in deep rhododendron growth beside Mill Creek to where it empties into the river just below Holtwood Dam. I loved the many waterfalls along the creek, and loved exploring among the pools and boulders on the river bed. That was twenty years before the Mason-Dixon Trail was conceived. Today the Mason-Dixon uses the lower part of the trail I hiked, passing the best of the waterfalls before climbing steeply to a viewpoint overlooking Holtwood Dam. Here's the waterfall.
And here is a good view of Holtwood Dam, not from the Mason-Dixon Trail but from the Conestoga Trail on the eastern side of the river.
Along the west shore, the Mason-Dixon Trail offers more than spectacular scenery. There is history too. In places it follows the course of the old Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal, built in the late 1830's. I started this segment at Lock 12 ...
... and ended in the town of Havre de Grace at the head of the Chesapeake Bay at the final lock, with its embedded 1839 dedication stone.
In the background is the white painted steel structure of the US 40 bridge, which the M-D T uses to get across the river. Unlike the Norman Wood Bridge, however, pedestrians are not allowed to cross here. You have to find a ride.
In between these two points there are more wonderful sights than I can possibly show. There's more history, mills, furnaces, and ruins. There is Conowingo Dam and Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant, which, along with Holtwood Dam, continue to supply the area with electricity. There is a 2 1/4 mile river-side bike trail called the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway.
That follows an old railroad track that usurps some of the even older canal tow path. There are marinas and boat launch areas with wonderful river views.
And then there are the little things. A baby box turtle.
Tree bark that seems to be begging for a kiss.
And the first of the fall color among the Sassafras leaves. I decorated one of my hunter-orange hiking shirts to commemorate this species.
There was one section of trail near Peach Bottom where they are desperately seeking a maintainer. Here I encountered a completely impassable section with an ad-hoc bypass, and lots of thick underbrush.
But that was the exception. The bulk of the M-D T along the Lower Susquehanna was a wonderful experience, and I highly recommend it.
Here is an overview of the GPS tracks of my wanderings, sometimes employing short cuts in the six out-and-back day-hikes that I used to cover this segment.
Fall means hunting season, the first frosts, and some of the best hiking conditions of the year. More to come.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
"You can't go home again."
Thomas Wolfe made that phrase famous. It was the title of his posthumously published 1940 novel, and it has since made its way into widespread popular usage.
It's true. But it's not true at all.
I knew the truth in 1980 when I returned to my home grounds after ten years away in Colorado. Nothing was the same. The old touchstones that lent comfort and security to my youth felt empty and stale, worse, unreachable. The new me reacted to the familiar places and changed people in new ways, making them all seem alien. It was scary, a rude lesson. I think I was having what my generation called a 'mid-life crisis'.
Mid-life is far behind me now. Now, as I come back home to these once familiar places where I first dreamed my innocent dreams, I find that I have sorted the bitter from the sweet, the hopes from the reality, the past from the present. Couched in a new more robust security of maturity, I find that home is still there after all. It had never disappeared. Rather, it had become legend.
A good legend is timeless. So as I left the Mason-Dixon Trail and wandered the streets where I grew up on the north side of Wilmington, DE, I looked for the timeless. And I found it.
Rockford Park with its wide sweeping sledding hill, its century-old iconic water tower overlooking Brandywine Creek, and that rock where my brother and I posed for Dad in 1953. They were all still there. Look at the headline photo up top. Every crack and crevice of the rock looks the same.
You see, time changes us, and it tries to change everything around us, but after we live the reality it gradually becomes legend, and time only amplifies a legend.
246C Thomas Drive, Wilmington, Delaware, part of the newly constructed Monroe Park Apartment complex, is now 246C Presidential Drive, Greenville Place Apartments, Greenville, DE. The landscaping trees have gone from spindly sticks to majestic monarchs. But the bones are still the same. The pattern in the bricks is the same in the photos from 1951 and 2016. Look to the left of the door for the ones with dark staining in the second photo headlining this post.
The legend is this: It was 1951. When my Dad finished his PhD and took a job at DuPont for $480 per month he rented an apartment in Monroe Park, sight unseen. There I had my first adventure, wandering off on my tricycle until I got lost. I ended up trying to escape across a field beyond the apartment complex with older kids throwing rocks at me. Mom came to the rescue.
After two years we moved to a duplex at 1410 Riverview Avenue, just four blocks from Rockford Park.
The house had a wonderful front porch then, with room for a swing, rocking chairs, and even a table. Somebody ripped out that porch, but the bones are still there. And the legends. I still have the big scar on my knee that I got trying to ride a 24-inch bike that was taller than I was. Dad had just taken the training wheels off my little bike with the 14-inch wheels.
I started school at newly constructed Highlands Elementary.
That playground was paved even way back then. We stayed there until I finished the fourth grade, then we moved out into the country to our new house on White Clay Creek.
I've covered the White Clay Creek memories and trail reports previously. This report is about the rest of the Mason-Dixon Trail east of there to its eastern terminus at the white-blazed Brandywine Trail near Chadds Ford, PA.
There's a fair amount of road walking on the M-D T connecting White Clay Creek with Brandywine Creek. But there's a nice walk through the Auburn Heights Preserve where the huge Victorian-style Auburn Heights Mansion stands.
There's a museum devoted to early steam-driven automobiles there, and every year in mid-September the owner, now in his 90's, holds an antique car show and opens the mansion for the public to tour.
The trail then crosses into Pennsylvania and plunges into some nice woods, part of the a conservancy property in Southern Chester County.
Other parts of the conservancy property continue to be farmed by the owners, and the M-D T is routed through the heart of some of the corn fields.
The trail here winds for a couple of miles, taking the greatest advantage of this off-road oasis before more road walking. Finally one last bit of off-road trail takes you beside a Sunflower field ...
... and then on to join the Brandywine Trail along Brandywine Creek.
The Brandywine Trail runs north from there to connect with the Horse-Shoe Trail. To the south it comes to an end in Wilmington near Rockford Park and my early childhood homes. This is a proprietary trail for members of the Wilmington Trail Club. It crosses some private land where the owners only allow passage during club events in the spring. I hiked that with the club's annual spring group-hike on a rainy Saturday this past April.
Leaves were not out on the trees yet, and views of the creek were abundant.
The trail makes use of this old bridge across the creek ...
... and passes an even more historic covered bridge.
A few days ago I hiked the connecting route from the southern end of the Brandywine Trail to Rockford Park, and as I got there I found preparations underway for a Charity 5K walk/run.
It was sponsored by the local branch of Lutheran Community Services. I had the time, it seemed like a good cause, so I signed up on the spot and even bought a t-shirt for an extra contribution. It turns out that this was the 25th anniversary run, and somebody had put together a quilt made up of all 25 of their t-shirts.
The course covered most of the roads through Rockford Park and also came out on Pennsylvania Avenue where we had a lane closed just for us.
I finished the 5K in 51 minutes, which is a brisk walking pace for me, then bade them farewell and headed on back to the Brandywine Trail on some quiet roads along the creek.
Fall was approaching and the weather was cool and comfortable for this set of hikes. Below is a composite of the GPS tracks that I recorded as I walked, connecting me from White Clay Creek to the North-South Brandywine Trail and my early childhood homes.
Next I'm headed west and to hike the western part of the M-D T which runs along the west bank of the Susquehanna River from near Chesapeake Bay all the way up to north of York, PA. Keep watching this space.