Saturday, June 28, 2014

Walking on the Railroad All the Live Long Day

We set out to hike the Mason Dixon Trail today. Candy and I met at Chadds Ford Elementary School and set off about 8:05. 

This photo was taken on the
way back but it shows the blue
and white blazes. 
At this juncture the Mason Dixon Trail (blue blazes) and Brandywine Trail (white blazes) run together. About 2 miles in we realized we were only seeing white blazes. And even before we lost the MD-T, its blazes were few and far between. We had a map but the scale was small and the turn by turn print directions required me to wear my glasses. I had them with me but they are only for reading. They interfere with my depth perception otherwise. Not something you want on the trail.

After I got home I read the map and directions closely and I know where we went wrong but I'm certain there was no blue blazes there. Of course the field of stinging nettles we had just crossed through may have clouded our vision. As I type this - 4 hours later - my shins are still buzzing.

The path we were on was following a rail line. We had crossed it twice already. It was shortly after the second crossing that we should have come to a road-or so thinks the map. Anyway we opted to hop up on the rails instead of risking trouble on the Brandywine Trail. I had read that the BT is for members of the maintaining clubs only and permission was required to hike it. That is strange, I think, and briefly considered asking for forgiveness rather than permission. Maybe next time.

We followed the rail line for another 2 or so miles. The best I can glean from Google is that it is part of the Wilmington and Northern Railroad. This line appears to have many segments between Wilmington and Reading. Assuming I'm understanding what I read, one section is now part of the Chester Valley Trail. And another section was purchased by Berks County also with the intention of making it a trail. As we walked - without the knowledge I just shared with you - we thought perhaps they were going to turn this portion into a rail trail. It was a confusing stretch. In several spots there were railroad ties piled up as if at one time they were going to repair the line for trains. The piled up ties were old and starting to decay though. In parts there had been dumped huge piles of stone. In other the leaves had piled up. In one section a recently felled large tree had been dumped over the road railing; it's branches and leaves covering the tracks. At least we knew we would not have to jump away from oncoming trains.

We saw a stone structure that appeared to have been a station at one time and was now apartments.
We passed a farm stand setting up for the day. I asked one of the workers which road was running alongside us. She said it was route 1. That didn't seem right and on our way back she apologized and said she learned it was actually route 100.

We passed a large house with a barn, horses and dogs. There was an underpass here for the horses to get from the barn pasture to an open field on the other side of the tracks. Cool! The dogs were well fed and yappy and one followed us and ran ahead until the owner came down in a golf cart to call her back.

We continued on the rails until we saw a sign for the PA-DE border. We turned around here and headed back. We stayed on the tracks all the way to the first MD-T crossing then followed the trail back to our cars.

Walking the rail was rough. We tried to stay on the ties but they were too close together for decent strides and too far apart to go every other one. It was really hard to get any rhythm. This wreaked havoc on my hip flexors. I had to stop part way to stretch them and my hamstrings for relief. But it was this discomfort that kept me from going out for another half hour. I had thought about getting to four hours today. A good long stretch back at the car helped but no need to push it.

When I uploaded the Garmin info I took a closer look at the map and discovered we had crossed into Delaware and back out again before coming to that sign. The map also shows where I be-bopped back and forth over the rails on the way back trying to find decent footing. I never really did. All told we were out for 3.5 hours and about 8.5 miles. The walk along the tracks was slow going. We had to keep looking down to keep our footing.

On this hike/walk/rail hop we also saw deer, bullfrogs (these sang to us too) and lots of brightly colored dragonflies. It wasn't the adventure we thought we were headed for but it was still fun.

And Candy doesn't know it unless she reads this but she owes me a big thank you for not breaking into song several times. I kept hearing "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad" in my head. To see more photos go here.

Friday, June 27, 2014

"Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do...."

I outed myself on Facebook this morning (although Dave knew before that of course) so I guess it's time to come clean here as well.

I've set my sights on the 2015 Susquehanna Super Hike (SSH). I feel the need to explain myself if for no other reason than to see my thoughts in print to make sure they make sense. Of course now that I've said  it out loud it kinda doesn't matter if it makes sense. I have to try regardless. *shrug*

Why is admitting it a thing? I set the goal back in mid-May but I was hesitant to say anything out loud because in the year preceding that, I  had a lot of starts and stops. After having to give up on the Bob Potts Marathon in May 2013, and the three months it took to get cleared to work out again, I just couldn't seem to keep any fitness routine together. I know that's only embarrassing to me but it is (was). So my plan for the Super Hike was to hike my heart out this summer, see how it went, and then go public with my goal.

So what broke me? Well, I started officially training Memorial Day weekend and I'm up to a 4 hour hike set for tomorrow. I'm feeling really good. Like really really good. So I posted to Misery Loves Company this morning.
"So trail RUNNERS... I have a serious question and you cannot offend me with your answers. I really want to know. Aside from the Susquehanna Super Hike which has HIKE in its name, How do trail RUNNERS feel about hikers in a trail running event that has a time limit that works for the hiker. This group (MLC) is so freaking friendly (and inclusive) that I think the answer is yes .And then I wonder if you can possibly be representative of the whole trail running culture. Thank you."
Their responses were more than supportive. The gist of the many responses was that many trail runners do hike or walk part of the courses anyway especially at longer distances. When you look at it that way, as long as I respect the trail and the other participants no one is going to care or be bothered by me.

I didn't post this morning with intention of announcing my goal. I was just curious because recently I've become aware of some trail running events that have time limits that (based on my current hiking pace) I could manage to finish as a hiker and I wondered if I should consider some of them as practice for the Super Hike. And then someone mentioned their own goal of the Super Hike in the conversation and I spilled the beans. It just felt like the right time.

Why not the 2014 hike? Start with the observation about starts and stops above. I need some confidence still. My goal is always to finish an event. I want to finish this one standing up! At least until I cross the finish line. :) I've got a plan and it has three parts. Pause while you roll your eyes, smile or outright laugh. It's ok with me. I'm secure in my dork-ness. ;) Plus I know I can't possibly be the only obsessive compulsive training planner.

Part I: Build up my physical and mental endurance. I think the mental is just as, if not more important, of the two. The Super Hike has two distance options: 23.4 or 29.6 miles. On flat ground (which it decidedly is not) I'd need close to 10 hours to finish either distance. That's a long time to be out on the trail. I started out at a 2 hour hike/walk at Heinz Refuge on Memorial Day weekend and I'm working up to a 10 hour hike on October 25th. October 25th is the last day of DST. During this time I also have to figure out what I need to eat and drink to keep moving and smiling that long (or longer).

I will be volunteering at SSH 2014 this year and when asked where I'd like to volunteer I asked for the finish line so I can see what it looks like to finish.

Part II: Strength building. Climb and descend everything I can get my feet on.
"This daunting trail challenge event on the Mason Dixon and Conestoga Trails alternates breathtaking vistas with steep descents into dark, scenic hollows followed by strenuous climbs to the next vista. Prepare yourself for the steep hills, rocky terrain and deep ravines of the Susquehanna Super Hike, an arduous, undulating and challenging course." - Super Hike Description from the KTA website. 
I am taking that statement very seriously. I will look to the Misery Loves Company group to tell me where to go to get elevation. I'm not shying away from hills right now but my focus is on hours. During winter it will be on elevation. Especially the descents. My Garmin tells me that I slow down on descents. I'm afraid of falling and I have to get over that.

Part III; Goal training. A schedule to get ready for Super Hike day. Part I of the plan is based in hours. Part III will be based on miles. And several trips to the SSH trails will be part of that.

So far I am having a blast. It helps I suppose that every weekend this summer has been gorgeous but it's more than that. Hiking and walking have always been fun for me. Running was kind of an accident really. When I decided to walk the Philadelphia Marathon in 2008 I joined a running group because I was afraid of being picked up by the SAG truck. Finishing last was ok with me but not finishing before time expired was not. So I joined the running group and ended up running 75% of the marathon. Then I got hooked on the people in the group - not so much the running.

I joined MLC because I love trails. Running them just wasn't doing much for me. But when I'm hiking them I can't seem to get enough.

So here I am off on another adventure. Thanks for reading.

Keep Smiling and Keep Moving.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Keep smiling and keep moving. You'll rarely feel worse and most times you'll feel better.

I wanted to bike today.

I woke up to a crashing against my second floor bedroom window. After a quick and heart thudding look out the window I determined the likely source was one of the two squirrels chasing each other up and down and across the trees. I think one of them missed the jump and ricocheted off my window. Hello! I'm up. (And the squirrels are fine BTW.)

My head was fuzzy and I wondered if a bike ride was really what I wanted to do. The answer was yes -- and no. I decided some breakfast, a bottle of water and a cup of coffee where necessary before making any decision. Unfortunately I was still fuzzy. after that. I must have inhaled too many allergens during yesterday's adventure.

A street ride was not a good idea. I did not feel up to traffic, hills and blind curves all of which are in abundance all around me. The bike was already in the car so I  headed to the Chester Valley Trail.

I parked by the Wegmans in Malvern figuring  I could pick up some produce before heading home. I rode west on the CVT first. This section is pretty much flat as a pancake. No reason or opportunity to coast which was a good thing. After yesterday, spinning wheels on the bike was a good idea and on the trail it was way less boring than on the trainer.

I returned to Wegmans with just over 9 miles done. My head was clearer.
Although not completely it was enough to keep going. The trail was full of people and bike traffic. Still it was better than cars.

I took the trail to the east from Wegmans in Malvern to the end near the Wegmans in King of  Prussia. This was the first time I rode past Devon Park Road and over the bridge that crosses 202. For some reason I think that is a neat thing ... to ride over all that crazy traffic on 202 right where it dumps onto 76. It truly doesn't take much to make my day.

All told I covered 26 miles. I didn't bring anything to eat though and was pretty hungry at the end. And I still wanted to stop in the store for produce. Not the best idea but I did manage to get in and out without buying out the store.

I still feel a bit fuzzy in the head from allergies but I also feel buzzed from exercise.

Keep smiling and keep moving. You'll rarely feel worse and most times you'll feel better.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A little of this and a little of that adds up to a grand adventure.

Today was a walk day. I wanted to get to 14 today.  The Independence Day walk will be close to 15 and that's in two weeks. I met Sara at Pawlings Road. Candy had messaged me the night before to let me know not to wait for her she wasn't going to make it. Turns out she was double booked.

Sara and I walked the Audubon Loop together. I left Sara at the split between the loop and the SRT. She left to head to a volunteer job at the Philly Tri and I continued on. My mind was still not set on my route. I had changed it up a bunch of times last night. One of the great things about starting at Pawlings Road parking lot (PRPL) is the variety of routes you can put together. That can also be a burden when, like today, one can't make up their mind.

The real debate for me was how much I wanted to or should stay on pavement since the walk in two weeks will be all pavement. About a mile or so down the SRT from PRPL is a cut off to the River trail which runs between Betzwood and Pawlings Road. The River trail is an unpaved trail. I took about twenty steps past the cutoff and turned around to go back and take it.

I took the River Trail back out to Pawlings Road. The River Trail is one of my favorite trails. It's in bad shape right now. The harsh winter and rainy spring have left it washed out in places and littered with downed trees and debris.  I was glad I wasn't trying to run it.

At the end I followed Pawlings Road, Ferry  Lane and Valley Forge Road (Route 23) back to Valley Forge Park. This is not as annoying as it sounds. About 90% of tis route had nice wide shoulder to walk on.

Back at Valley Forge I stopped at Washington's Headquarters restroom to pee, wash up and empty my right shoe of some stones. WARNING: this next part may be TMI for some people. *shrug* Why is it that controlling the urge to pee is totally doable UNTIL one walks into the rest room. Then it's like a switch flips and one find oneself dancing like a two year old as one tries to free oneself from the hydration pack before sitting down. And one must remove the pack because - well mostly just because - but also because they have automatic flush toilets which ALWAYS go off before one is ready and hasn't had time to check to make sure all personal belongings are accounted for.

From Washington's HQ I decided to take the Chapel Trail back to Station Road. I could have taken paved VF Loop (Joseph Plum Trail) but I really like trails. And I have never gone end to end on the Chapel Trail (until today). I've done all of it in pieces from either end but never all the way through. Most other times I was with others and we had set mileage or time on a weeknight. Other times I was with Pete and the MLC trail runners. And well Pete rarely follows a trail from end to end. I'm not complaining. I love those adventures. Just stating the facts. Once before  i set out alone to go end to end but it was during some construction at the Station Ave end and so there was a detour.

A big thank you to the mountain biker who to extra care to make sure I heard him coming up behind me on the trail.

At the end of the Chapel Trail I went up over the creepy 422  pedestrian bridge. it's been a long long time since I was over that. Didn't miss it one bit but it was the most efficient way to get to where I was going. I picked up the River Trail at Betzwood and completed a loop back to my car.

I had no idea what the mileage was on the road portion of my adventure today. So I was amazed to see 14.22 miles when I got back to the car. In the end it was probably 70/30 pavement to trail.

I think I've reached the limit of my hydration pack. The volume has held up ok to now but if it had been hotter or if I been working more hills I don't think I'd have made it. Another issue is pockets. I've rigged pockets to carry food and electrolyte tabs the last two outings but it's not enough.

For the next few outings I'll experiment with our backpack with the hydration pack inside it. With that I'll have plenty of room for extra water and food. I don't know how this will (or will not) work. It's all about trial and error right now. I don't want to buy a hiking vest or pack until I get a better feel for how much I need to carry to get through longer hikes. I could stash supplies ahead of time or travel in circuits that come back to the car frequently or plan routes with stores for supply stops but the first two ideas don't appeal to me and the last could end up being a waste of money. So for now I'll work with the backpack.

I'm working up to a 10 hour hike on the last day of DST, the last Saturday of October. Unless the backpack gets to be too much I'll work it until then at least.

Next week:  Time on the Mason Dixon Trail.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

In Which My Garmin Dies and I Have to Explain Weebles

25 bike miles today. I rode with the bike club from the Art Museum to Conshy and back. It's my longest ride this year but not my longest ever. That was 28 miles last September at the Cycles and Cemeteries Ride.

Today's ride was along the same path as the C&C ride - the SRT and the Towpath. We had to enter the towpath at a different spot than usual which meant a longer ride on Main Street in Manayunk. It seems people there are used to cyclists though and we had no issues with irate drivers as we hurried along in the driving lane. We did have one woman fall off her bike because she couldn't unclip but fortunately no injury or accident.

Once again I am amazed at the cyclists that won't stop at red lights (including those in our group). But the thing that really got me today was the guy texting while riding. Really? One handed riding looking at your phone.

36 miles this weekend walking and biking. I'm pretty happy about that. However, my Garmin died so a lot of my feet miles will be estimates for awhile. I really don't mind that. Before the Garmin I did it that way all the time. What I'll miss is the map at the end. I thought it was cool. It doesn't take much to make dorks smile. ;)

Dave commented after my last post that he thought 'weeble' was a great word. He did not know "Weebles Wobble but They Don't Fall Down". I guess Canada didn't get Weebles. So for anyone else who didn't get the reference here is a clip of a vintage Weeble commercial.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Norristown Farm Park Walk

Mother nature has been really kind to us lately. I don't know if it's apologies for the harsh winter or lulling us into a false sense of security before an equally harsh summer. Doesn't matter I'm enjoying every minute of what we have now. Third weekend in a row with gorgeous gorgeous weather.

Two weeks ago I walked; last week I hiked and today was a walking week. In case you are wondering (if not skip this part) I define walking as more or less flat, more on paved surface than trail and hiking has more contours and climbing on mostly dirt, rocky or tree root paths. My goal for the summer and fall is to build the length of my hikes but with the Independence Day Walk coming up I need to get some pavement miles in too. So today was a walking day.

I drove out to Norristown Farm Park. I've never been there. Not for lack of trying a few times. Stuff happens ya know? Here is the Garmin info which includes the map of my walk. I spent most of it in the park with a spur out and back to the Schuylkill River Trail. I think there is a nice bike ride to be ridden along the SRT and then over into the Farm Park some day.

I have to remember electrolyte and fuel on these longer walks. I had nothing with me but water two weeks ago and I felt it toward the end. I did bring a snack today. Chocolate covered raisins. I ate them at the 2 hour and 3 hour marks. So my energy level stayed good. Right at the end - the last half mile or so - I felt the shiver I get in my face and head when my electrolytes are low. On a warmer day I would have been in trouble earlier. I need to watch out for that.

My legs were rough after the 10 mile at Heinz Refuge two weeks ago. Not horrible but definitely feeling the walk so today I made sure to stop roughly each hour to stretch everything. I also did a stretch before getting into the car. I didn't weeble getting out of the car when I got home and I still feel pretty good now even after spending some time sitting on the porch, so the stretches were a good idea. I know that's not news but it's new for me to be mindful and actually do it.

My pacing according to Garmin was better at the end than the beginning. That is due mostly to stopping a lot at the beginning to take photos. However, mile 11 - 11.5 was UPHILL so I'm pretty proud of having the energy of mind and legs to power up anyway. The effects of the snowy Horseshoe Trail hike back in March has stuck with me more than I thought it did.

Some pictures of today's walk

Can you hear the water rushing? I could have stayed here all day. 

See the color in the clouds? That's real not photo-shopped. 
EDIT: My friend Michelle just told me about a plasma burst from the sun on Wednesday that "was not aimed directly at Earth, but could deal a "glancing blow" to the planet's magnetic field on Saturday (June 7), possibly amplifying northern lights displays" according to this article. How cool is that!