Thursday, April 10, 2014

Looketh Over There

Time has passed, and according to the calendar on the wall spring has sprung.  By now we're almost 3 weeks past the end of winter and we're finally starting to get some weather that is somewhat spring-like.

But we've regularly had temps down into the 30's at night, and when I was out last weekend there were stray snowflakes drifting down out of the sky with the thermometer reading 36 degrees.

The oldest trick in the book - call it spring and it's going to snow.  Older than books even.  And I'm not convinced yet that we're not going to have this oh-so-funny prank pulled on us this year.  I still look out the window when I get up in the morning with a sneaking suspicion that everything is going to be covered with a layer of white.  It will definitely be a while before I believe winter is gone this year.

That's fresh snow on the Western Reserve Greenway on March 25.

As the seasons start to change I start looking forward to changes in the things I can do outdoors.  We've had a temporary pause in our trail building efforts, since the area we're working in has a tendency to hold water in the spring.  But I think I'll be heading out that way this weekend to see if the dirt is starting to firm up yet.  It doesn't have to be dry enough to ride - just dry enough that we don't sink in the water and mud up to our shins.

Another one of the things in flux this time of year is the bicycling destinations.  During the winter its more likely that I'll be riding on pavement - rail trails or the road.  And as the weather warms and dries it allows me to get off the pavement and get back to riding singletrack in the woods.  This change is starting to happen now, but most of the trails are still not ready for bicycle traffic.

But with the snow pack starting to diminish in March I was lucky to be able to get in quite a bit of pavement riding - my total for the month was just over 230 miles.  That meant a bunch of rides on the Western Reserve Greenway, and also quite a few rides on the Little Beaver Creek Greenway.

Open trail on the Western Reserve Greenway.

Little Beaver Creek Greenway, and the creek with some water in it.
Active rail line next to the LBCG trail brings commerce from Youngstown.
Another rail trail, one that I checked out in March for the first time, is the Stavich Trail.  It runs parallel to the Mahoning River from Lowellville to New Castle, PA.  This is another great ride - one that has curves and hills - and even some lumpy pavement on the Lowellville segment.  It joins the other transportation arteries in the valley as it heads into Pennsylvania.

From the left - road, Stavich bike trail, railroad, gravel maintenance road, and Mahoning River.
The trail is another that parallels an active rail line for a part of the way.  In the two hours I rode there were 6 trains - but they go by fairly quickly and the trail quickly quiets again, with only the birds and wind for company.  And there does seem to be quite a bit of wildlife out this spring - they must be as anxious for a good meal as I am for a good ride!  Since the beginning of March while riding I've seen dozens of turkeys, a whole bunch of deer, beaver, opossum, trumpeter swans, and about a million squirrels.

I've also taken the bike to work so that I could try to get over to Mill Creek Park and get in a little bit of a ride during lunch.  Turns out that it takes just over 15 minutes to get there, so I'm limited to less than a half hour of riding.  But I just discovered that if I head out parallel to the river that I can get to the Stavich Trail parking area in exactly 10 minutes, so I can get in 40 minutes of riding during lunch.  So I'll be doing that on nice days this year for sure!

East Cohasset bike road in Mill Creek Park, Youngstown.
Last Saturday I took advantage of the recent rains and headed east into Pennsylvania with my kayak and bike for an adventure at East Sandy Creek.  I always enjoy the drive into the Allegheny valley and choose a back road route for the best scenery possible.

My car with boat and bike, parked at Kennerdell overlook above the Allegheny River.
After verifying that East Sandy Creek was at a level that I'd be able to paddle I stashed the kayak in the woods and headed back west to the Belmar trailhead for the Sandy Creek Trail.  I left the car there and got the bike ready for the ride back upstream.  The first notable feature is the old railroad bridge, high above the river, that was renovated for the trail.

Sandy Creek Trail bridge at Belmar.
View of the Allegheny Trail bridge over the mouth of East Sandy Creek.
The trail is always an enjoyable ride, with a mix of rocks, woods, and creek that keeps the scenery interesting.  The builders incorporated five old railroad bridges in the lower run, each with views into the creek valley.

Sandy Creek Trail scenery.
East Sandy Creek from one of the trail bridges.
The trail also goes through a .3 mile long tunnel that has been rehabbed in the last couple of years.  Now it's a fairly easy passage through the dark - before it was a wet mess, complete with piles of bricks that had fallen from the roof.

The west portal for the tunnel on the Sandy Creek Trail.
A little further upstream and I got to the area where I'd hidden my kayak.  I hauled the bike in and started the change from biking gear to boating gear.

Leaving the bike, and getting ready to get in the boat.
On the bank, ready to put-in.
The creek was a little bit high from the rain.  East Sandy Creek is one of those creeks that has a fairly narrow range of water levels for paddling.  If it's too low you're in for a miserable day of scraping over rocks in search of a deeper channel.  And if it's too high the rapids start to wash out and the fun level drops appreciably.  But it was the first paddling trip of the year, and I was satisfied with what I got.  My camera stayed in the dry bag for the entire paddling portion of the run, so there are no shots from the creek, other than at the put-in and take-out.

At the take-out. The creek runs into the Allegheny River just out of frame to the left.
After finishing the run the third part of the East Sandy triathlon begins - the long carry from the creek back to the Belmar trailhead.  It's about 3/4 mile and includes the climb from the Allegheny Trail up to Sandy Creek Trail.  Seems like I'd forgotten just how little fun this part really is...

Looking up at the Sandy Creek Trail bridge, from the Allegheny Trail.
'The Cardiac Climb' - time to carry the kayak up the 66 stairs.
Taking a break on the carry back across the high bridge.
It was a great trip and I had a good time, though it took most of the day and left me feeling way more tired than I expected.  Still, I had plenty of energy the next day when my brother suggested we take our mountain bikes down to the trails at Bavington, Pennsylvania and see if they were dry enough to ride.  I was glad to take the chance, and was pretty sure that there would be at least some sections of rideable trail.  When we got there we found that the trails were almost all dry enough to ride, though there was considerable trail damage from some inconsiderate equestrians.

Matt at Bavington.
This was the first non-snow mountain biking of the year and it was SWEET to get out and spin some miles on the dirt.  All the rail trail riding had my legs feeling good, and my breathing was up to the challenge.  The Bavington trails are a great destination for riders who are looking for an intermediate trail without the crowds.

Quality singletrack!
The upcoming weekend looks like nice weather, but Sunday is Kenny's Boy Scout fundraising dinner, so there will be extra demands on the schedule.  But I hope to get out at least one day and get in either a mountain bike ride, a long rail trail ride, or a kayak trip. 

If it doesn't snow that is.

The natives are restless.


  1. What a great looking day for you to post a tri-athalon, cycling, Kayaking, stair climbing. Nice. Isn't it surprising what we will put up with when spring comes crawling along and the desire to just be outside in the countryside doing something. As summer rolls along I actually become picky about weather conditions that in the spring I am happy to get on my bike and ride. Imagine living somewhere like Arizona and turning your nose up at riding because it drops down into the 50's????

    1. Jim,
      After this long winter I think a lot of people around here were absolutely climbing the walls in anticipation of spring weather. Once the weather finally turned (and we DID get another snow after the post above) the crowds on the rail trails and at the parks were something to see.
      I'm not quite as picky about the conditions, but I have pretty much given up the dead of winter kayak expeditions. The cold just kills the joints in my hands, so enough of that.
      But now it's warm enough for Full Steam Ahead! Mtb trails are drying out and I'm ready to ride!

      Steve Z

  2. That looks great! I like the self-shuttling with car/bike/kayak...VERY intermodal. I fear that were I to stash my boat or bike anywhere around here it would not be there when I got back. Or not...a stout lock would help. A long time ago in a magazine called Small Boat Journal there was an article about a Swedish guy with a trailer for his kayak that he pulled behind his bicycle.

    @ Jim Bangs: Pretty tricky substituting Arizona for Florida, Coach, but we all know who yer talkin' about. And I DO ride when it is in the fifties...that beer don't deliver itself, ya know.


    1. TJ
      The population density is pretty low in the woodsy areas where the creeks lie around here. And I've got a couple of tricks for picking hiding spots where people wouldn't tend to explore - up steep hills or through nasty brush thickets. So far (knock on wood) I haven't had any stashed equipment discovered while I was on an adventure.
      Some places though I have to lock stuff up. Carrying a two man canoe up a ridge through the woods is not something I care to do, so when I do a canoe trip at Beaver Creek State Park I do lock the boat to a big sign post at the parking area (the necessary gear still gets stashed up the hillside though).

      Steve Z