Monthly Archives: July 2013
I received the message on Saturday night. My friend Mike was once again in Pennsylvania, stuck for the weekend with his truck at a plaza. He said I should come up and take him for a hike. A scan of the state parks near his location turned up Nescopeck, the most recent addition to the system and a park I’ve not spent much time in. I told Mike I’d pick him up, and began to look up trails.
During the drive up Sunday I anticipated the cooler temperatures and refreshing breezes I’d find as I climbed into the Endless Mountains. Instead I found the same feeling of walking into hot, wet felt I experienced outside Philadelphia. As we started on the Nescopeck Trail the temperature was near 90 degrees and the air was still. We both brought water and paced ourselves, but I found hiking a trail a trial. The Texan with me took the weather in stride. “Y’all call this hot, and its nothing.”
“Yeah, we call it hot, and you call it Sunday.”
The Nescopeck Trail wanders through the woods and along Nescopeck Creek. Exploring along the banks of the creek brought the only respite from the heat we experienced. The Native American word “Nescopeck” means “deep, dark waters”, and the while the creek wasn’t deep, its coffee-colored flow justified the name.
Mike and I spent several minutes wandering the banks, climbing up and down on rocks. I took two hard landings when I slipped, both slips within two minutes of each other. While I didn’t fall or hurt myself, I was shaken, and I was sorer than usual when I got home that night.
At one point along the creek a beaver dam had helped create a deeper, still pool. Seeing the reflection of the sky on the stillness reminded me of the first chapter of Genesis. “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” wrote one of the King James translators, and seeing the heavens reflected on the creek gave me a better understanding of the verse.
Our hike continued as a loop involving the Nescopeck Trail and a couple of others, bringing us to three miles of walking in woods, along the creek, and around two lakes. We were sweat-saturated, hot, tired, thirsty, and hungry, but we’d had a good time.
I’ve always been drawn to Lance Armstrong’s story for his struggle against cancer, rather than for his Tour de France wins. So despite the revelations about Armstrong’s drug use over the past year I’m still fond of his books, although not as much as I was in 2007 when I published this review on my old blog.
It’s Not About The Bike
Lance Armstrong, with Sally Jenkins
Every Second Counts
Lance Armstrong, with Sally Jenkins
Every cyclist has hills to climb. Sometimes they are small, like the hills in my hometown. Sometimes they are large, like the hills on the Tour de France. And sometimes they are the climb of your life.
In 1996 Lance Armstrong thought he knew about hills. He’d climbed a lot of them riding his bike as a child in Texas, and then as a professional cyclist. But it wasn’t until he was diagnosed with testicular cancer that he fully understood what it was to climb, and by his own admission, truly be a man. He proved himself by conquering his disease, and returning to life and to cycling changed physically – 15 pounds lighter – and as a person. It’s Not About the Bike is the story of Armstrong’s metamorphosis.
I know people who survived cancer and yet the sheer horror of living through chemotherapy didn’t hit home for me until I read Armstrong’s detailed account. The author’s bravery extends to not only beating the disease and returning to cycling but also to his nothing held back recounting of his illness. Even details that some might find odd in a sports biography – what athlete openly discusses his sterility, for instance? – work in this context. Perhaps we didn’t need to know how his first child was conceived, but winning is about excess, isn’t it?
Armstrong and his co-author Sally Jenkins reunited for a sequel, Every Second Counts, continuing Lance’s story. Unfortunately it’s not just Hollywood that has problems with sequels. Like a novel protagonist without an obstacle to overcome, Every Second Counts becomes a second serving of Lance’s life and career highlights. Sports fans will read it for just such matters, but impressive as seven Tour jerseys look framed on the wall, for me it reads as a long afterward to the real event. Lance won his victory when he returned to life after cancer. Would all such climbs had a triumphant finish.
I’ve expanded and revised this review from its previous publication on my old blog.
The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty
Smithy Ide doesn’t have it easy. He’s 279 pounds, 43, a smoker, and drinks too much. He’s stuck in a boring, dead-end job in Rhode Island. He has no social life. And then he loses his parents the same week he discovers his beloved but insane sister’s body lies unclaimed in a morgue in Los Angeles. While drunk, he starts to clean out his childhood home, finds his childhood Raleigh bicycle, on a lark decides to coast on it to the end of the driveway, and….. well, I won’t go further with details. I want you to read this warm-hearted novel, and not just because it’s a tale well-told.
One of the themes the author plays in the book is something that anyone who has worked to lose a lot of weight will recognize. The Memory of Running is what might be called a “travel novel”, meaning a work in which the protagonist embarks on a journey physical and spiritual. The author makes this point by emphasizing that Smithy is on a “quest.” Both Twain’s Huck Finn and Voltaire’s Candide, two other quest-followers, come to mind as distant cousins of Smithy; indeed, Candide and Smithy share empty-headedness as a feature of their personalities. However, unlike Huck and Candide, McLarty’s hero is trying to work out his physical problems as well as satisfying their quest. And like many people who lose weight, Smithy, as he travels and his weight changes, grows as a person. Often fat people, trapped by their girth and their lifestyle, live the life of passive despair that Smithy ‘enjoys’ at the start of the book. McLarty’s use of this ‘weight loss trope’ is subtle; he’s helped here by having the clueless Smithy narrate the book.
Finally, the bicycling references in the book are modest; the bike serves as escape, transportation from Smithy’s past and present, and as a symbol of that past. However, McLarty did his homework; the route Ide rides through Pennsylvania, for instance, roughly follows PA Bike Route S. But the book’s not about the bike. Nor is it about weight loss. But anyone who is fond of bicycling or has at some time had a problem with obesity will find this novel entertaining.
Following the abandonment of my 2011 bike tour across Ohio and Pennsylvania, I stayed with my friend Peter near Akron and did day rides. The first was on the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath, north of the town of Clinton. And the ride set the tone of the rest of my vacation – warm, sunny weather, good trail conditions, and something to see every mile.
And that started in the first mile. The O and E towpath trail, unlike others I’ve ridden, has been reconstructed and planned for the visitor, not for a canal horse. In other words, there are overlooks and plantings and boardwalks and many other signs of thought for the cyclist, hiker, and walker. The trail surface varied from pavement to fine gravel to something a bit coarser, but overall the conditions were very groomed.
I passed through the historic town of Clinton, where I purchased fluid and took photos. I was particularly struck by the drive-through store selling beer and other drinks. I’ve never seen a drive through store in PA, and especially not one selling alcoholic beverages. (Pennsylvania has very strict and odd rules about the selling of beer and other drinks. But that’s a discussion for another time….)
Then I rode down the gravel path to Canal Fulton. I rushed to make the last ride of the day for the canal boat, and just made it. The visitors center held my bike for me while I spent an hour going up and down the canal four miles round trip. It was a warm day, and I felt sorry for Dan and Prince, the ‘motor’ of the boat. I hope they both got hosed down and some nice oats afterward.
The towpath surface became rougher as I went on. The rains this spring caused some washouts, and the trail surface had a messy ‘patch’ job. After riding further down the towpath I crossed the river and road and took the parallel Old Muskingum Trail into Crystal Springs hoping for better conditions. My new choice wasn’t much better than the old as far as the surface went. However, it was more dirt and less gravel, and the dry weather left the ground hard and smooth.
I crossed the river back to the towpath on the High Bridge in Crystal Springs. This historic span is closed to motor vehicles, but remains open for access to the Old Muskingum Trail. A week later I’d be floating a canoe under it.
I stopped at seventeen miles and more than 100 photos for the day, at Bridgeport Quarry trailhead.
After making a last minute decision to take up my friend Peter’s offer to host me in Akron, OH, following my abandoned cross-Ohio and PA tour, I decided to set up day rides during my stay. On learning Bike Forums poster Homeybe was passing through Ohio on his way back to California, I contacted him and set up a time to go riding. Since he had a road bike, I searched for a suitable route. However, I was handicapped by my lack of knowledge of good roads in the area. Finally I selected Akron’s Bike And Hike Trail, one of the oldest rail-to-trails project in the state.
Homeybe arrived about 2 PM and we were at the trailhead about 2:30. Or so we thought. It turns out we stopped short of the entrance to the bike trail. So we headed a mile or so down the road to the next park. After circling it, we couldn’t find the trailhead. So after checking at the entrance we’d discovered we were still a little short. Another mile down Ohio Route 91 and we climbed onto the trail.
“Climbed” is the right word. Most rail trails have a flat or near flat grade. The Bike and Hike has rollers like I’ve seen on PA roads, but never on a trail. I learned the name “Akron” is derived from the Greek words meaning “high place.” The rail-trail designer had to have majored in Greek and excessive literalness. I had a hard time keeping up a conversation with my co-rider. After one climb I had to pull over. “I have to catch my breath” I huffed and puffed.
“It’s over there waiting for you” said Homeybe.
We resumed and coped with the trail, which uses a combination of rolling bike paths and city streets. I pushed myself pretty hard to keep up with Homeybe, who is an ultracyclist and veteran of RAAM and the Furnace Creek 508. It wasn’t only to stick with him, however. I’ve too often been described as someone who ‘tools around with a camera’ on rides, and I wanted to give my all to show people, including myself, what I was capable of.
At one point we stopped and talked about my physical condition. I was probably too apologetic about my weight, my back, my knees – I enjoyed my friend’s company, but I felt embarrassed to be riding with someone of his abilities. I don’t aspire to race, but I do want the stamina and ability one finds in an athlete. I know what I don’t have, and I work around it to make my goals. But I still know what I don’t have.
My friend assured me that HE was working when riding, that he wasn’t in prime riding condition at the moment, and he was enjoying the day. At one point he told me “there’s only one great cyclist out here today, and I’m riding with him.” I quickly scanned the trail before I realized he was talking about me.
And the ride resumed. Roller after roller. Finally we turned south on the homebound section of the loop. As we passed along a major Akron to Cleveland highway, Homeybe said “it looks like that’s the last of the rollers.”
We then crested it and saw more of them. I stopped and swore. But I got on again.
I was running low on water, and at one point I pulled over and sat down for a few minutes. I’d almost crested one more hill, but didn’t quite make it. After ten minutes we pushed on. Five minutes later I began to have dry heaves. The coughing made me dizzy and hurt my back. I stopped and dismounted unsteadily as Homeyba held my bike. I sprawled on a lawn, helmet off, rolling over on my side. The homeowner came out and brought me a pop – what in PA we call soda – as I tried to get myself together. The pop and some more water down, fifteen minutes later I was up and riding the final four miles or so back to the car. It helped there were only two serious rollers on the route. The final mile and a half back to the car I wound up walking near half of, since my legs were spent and I was still feeling ill. Homeybe took care of putting my bike on the rack while I sat in the car cooling off.
It was a mixed bag of a ride. The route gave both of us more of a workout than we expected. I’ll never say Ohio is flat again. I’m disappointed I failed to avoid bonking – since I do bike touring I should be able to recognize the symptoms before I redline. Yet, I still think I did OK. I may not be able to ride like a RAAM participant, or climb like Contador, but like them I’m able to give everything I have to the job. Now that I have straight legs and knees that function normally the task before me is to have more to give….
On my trip to Ohio in 2011 I finally did something I’ve wanted to do for years: I paddled a canoe. With the help and hire of Ernie’s Bike Shop and Canoe Rental I went solo six miles down the Tuscarawas River north of Massillon. My arms felt spent the next day, but the effort was worth it.
The Tuscarawas is a gentle river, about 4 feet deep this time of year. Still, I was so nervous at the idea of canoeing that I was wearing the PFD in the van taking me to the put in spot. After five minutes instruction from the driver, I was afloat. Here I’m approaching the pedestrian and bike bridge in Crystal Springs.
I had only one difficult spot during the trip, and its shown in the photo. I was warned that due to the river level being so low and my weight that I could get caught up on rocks. Success went to my head as I’d managed to avoid getting hung up. I was so intent on navigating the ripples ahead I missed the overhanging tree to the right. I lost my baseball cap, and almost lost my glasses. Oh well. A small price to pay. And despite running into the branches of the tree trying to avoid the shallow water, I still got stuck. However, I turned the boat around and let the current pull me free, rather than try to get out of the canoe.
At the start and end of the trip I needed assistance. Getting into a canoe wasn’t too bad, but getting out provided to be a small challenge. Fortunately the shop had someone there to help me, and I was standing on the bank soon enough. I hope to repeat my journey on the water during my Ohio vacation next week.
A couple of miles past here the trail deteriorates to detours, broken glass, and youths throwing firecrackers on the path. Turn around and head back north!
I considered riding the connecting Sippo Valley Trail. But there’s not much of a connection at the moment. A bridge on the trail was burnt down by arsonists a few years ago and never fixed. I decided one set of detours was enough and returned to finding the towpath. When I found it, I also found rougher trail conditions. While navigable, it was a bumpy ride.
My travels for the day ended at a small trail park south of Messillon, err, Massillon. The highlight is a sculpture of Ohio native and American hero John Glenn. There was still light, and the towpath continued south, but I’d had a full, exciting afternoon, and I was so euphoric I felt I was in orbit.
I received a question about the tip jar I’ve added to A Taste for the Woods, and I thought a fuller explanation is in order. But first, let me state what the tip jar isn’t – its not a tin cup. I’ll be outside, and writing about the outdoors, even if the jar is empty.
That said, writing is both an art and hard effort. If you like what you read on A Taste for the Woods, and feel inclined to say thank you in a tangible way, the button for the tip jar leads you to PayPal. Buy me a cup of coffee or a spare tube. If you like the blog but don’t feel like leaving a tip, that’s OK as well. Leave a thank you in the comments section if you are moved to do so.
Much of my upcoming vacation should be in Ohio, and I’ll have my bike with me. My plans are up in the air, as my friends are the large determining factor in what I do. That written, the rides discussed include the Holmes County Trail, the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath, the North Coast Inland Trail, and the Western Reserve Greenway.
The Western Reserve Greenway figures large in my plans at the moment, as this 43 mile stretch of flat, traffic-free, North to South pavement is a sizable chunk of a route from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. The total distance is 115 miles between the waters at Ashtabula and East Liverpool, and the bulk of it is on rail trails – the Greenway, and two other trails near Youngstown and Lisbon. If I can figure out lodging arrangements, I could complete my first bike tour since 2010. I have unfinished business with Ohio, having been defeated on my abandoned 2011 tour.