Monday, November 2, 2015


Now we've moved into November, and in northeast Ohio the bright reds and yellows of October have faded to the russet and pale yellow of late fall.  Temperatures are starting to get lower at night, and the hours of daylight are shrinking.  This past weekend Daylight Savings Time switched over, so now the sun sets at 5:30 - just when I'm getting home from work.

The frenzy of early autumn outdoors activity is dying down for the most part.  People are packing away their summer toys and clothes, getting ready for spending the next few months indoors as much as possible.  There are no cars at the campgrounds, trails are becoming less crowded, and there's almost no one out paddling the creeks and rivers.  The wheel of the seasons rolls around again, and people hunker down to wait for the sun again.  Almost time for me to unpack the cold weather gear and resign myself to cold fingers and toes.

There have been quite a few rail trail miles for me since my last entry in late September.  I've continued to put in a bunch of miles on the Western Reserve Greenway Trail, the local rail trail that's only 5 miles from my house.  This is my default ride when I want to get in some miles and don't have the time to travel elsewhere.  It's a nice trail, with over 15 miles north of town in our county, which then continues on in the next county north nearly to the shore of Lake Erie.  The WRGT is just about the straightest, flattest rail trail around, as the railroad bed that it was built on traveled parallel to the river, instead of crossing over several drainages, and climbing in and of a bunch of creek valleys.  Some riders say that the it's boring to ride, because of the lack of variety in the terrain.  But there's plenty to see, if you keep your eyes open.

The Rock Creek bridge and observation deck.

Looking down from the bridge at the bedrock of Rock Creek.

There were three events on WRGT in the last 6 weeks or so.  The first was the First Annual Bike Ride with the County Commissioners.  One of the three commissioners showed up to ride, and a group of 15 or so bicyclists made the short 7 mile ride.

Ride with the County Commissioners on WRGT.
Then last weekend there were two separate dedication ceremonies.  The bike trail through town, as well as the county parks bike trail both recognized a local cyclist, Garrett Wonders, who was killed by a motorist while training for the Olympic cycling team several years ago.  Both ceremonies were well attended, despite the chilly fall weather.

The Warren Bike Trail is now the Garrett Wonders Bike Trail.
My Friday after work rides on the Little Beaver Creek Greenway have continued.  This trail is 45 minutes south of me, but it's the only local rail trail that allows night riding, so it's become my go-to Friday ride. Usually I ride the 20 mile round trip of the main section of trail end to end, a beautiful ride through rural farm country and Beaver Creek's stream valley.  However I did have an incident on the trail a couple of weeks ago that was less than pleasant.

I was riding along in the dark with my lights on, somewhere around midway, when an animal ran out in front of me.  It came down the steep hillside on my left and tried to cross the trail, but was stopped by the fence to the right.  It did an abrupt about face and bounded back up the grade.  It was only like 10 feet in front of me, and startled me enough that I rode off the edge of the trail and dumped the bike at about 15 mph.  It's been a while since I've crashed on pavement, and I've got to say that I don't miss it. Several bruises, more damage to my already screwed up left knee, and road rash that is still healing.  As for the animal, I originally thought it might have been a grey fox, but after looking at a couple of pictures I think it was probably a coyote (or maybe a chupacabra).  No real damage, but it's a good thing I had my helmet on, because my head bounced off that asphalt like it was a super ball.

I also headed a bit west and rode a section of trail new to me.  I've ridden on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail before, up near Peninsula, but never had been on the southern end, down between Massillon and Bolivar.  This trail isn't built on an old rail bed, rather it's on the road used by mules to haul boats up and down the Ohio and Erie Canal.  It was a gorgeous fall ride with only a few other trail users to be seen in over 25 miles.

The O&E Canal Towpath Trail on the banks of Tuscarawas River.
With mostly dry weather continuing I've managed to get in a bunch of mountain bike rides in the last 6 weeks.  Several times I've managed to get after work rides out at West Branch State Park (the local trails) including a couple of great night rides.  I also got in rides at North Road Nature Preserve here in town, and at Bavington in Pennsylvania.  And just this weekend I got my fastest lap of the year at Quail Hollow State Park (that would be 23 minutes flat, including time to stop for a dropped chain).

The town trails at North Road Nature Preserve after raking.
West Branch SP trails with heavy leaf cover.

Sunset from the West Branch trails from a night ride.
My brother during a rest break at Bavington.
Some of the Bavington trails are overgrown with multiflora rose (my nemesis).

I even had a chance for a little overnight adventure a couple of weeks ago.  My wife was heading down to Columbus to visit her sister for the weekend, and the boy was off backpacking with the Scouts.  That left me with no adult supervision for the weekend, so I decided to pack the bikes and some camping equipment and head out.  I started with a night ride on the Sandy Creek Trail near Franklin, Pa.  This is a remote trail, way out in rural western Pennsylvania, and all through the ride I kept hearing the crashing of animals through the woods on either side of me.  Luckily the only thing that I saw were 3 porcupines wandering around the trail (no chupacabra this time).

Riding up to the Deep Hollow tunnel on Sandy Creek Trail.

After finishing my ride at Sandy Creek I headed further east, and by 10:30 had made camp near Robin's Island camping area on the Clarion River in Allegheny National Forest.  After Labor Day these campgrounds are pretty much abandoned, and I had the place to myself.  No need for a tent since it was just me and I was planning on leaving early in the morning

A tarp, cot and sleeping bag - home for the night.
View of the Clarion River from my campsite.
The goal of this trip was to investigate some multi-use trails on land recently put under Cooks Forest State Park management.  That meant getting way back on some rough dead end roads onto land I'd never visited before.  It was beautiful remote territory down by the river, but the trails themselves left a lot to be desired.  Mostly they were old logging road double track, and shared with horses - so the riding situation wasn't that great in the first place, and then it was churned up to mud by the horses.  Too bad, since this is such a perfect place for mountain biking. I can only hope that eventually PA DCNR wise up to how many people ride mountain bikes these days and put some effort into REAL mtb trails.

Old doubletrack near Cooks Forest - Boiler Trail.

More logging roads masquerading as mtb trails near Cooks Forest SP.

Plenty of rocks for trails!
Beautiful forest near the river.
Only one chance to kayak since the last entry, since it's been raining in small increments when it eventually does happen.  I took the middle half of the day off work last week and got on Beaver Creek for a quick run while the water was up.  I keep hoping we'll get a good rain event to bring up some of the Allegheny gorge creeks, but it's getting closer and closer to snow season...

I'll end up this post with some miscellaneous fall foliage pictures - gotta love the colors of autumn!

Northern Trumbull County.

Clarion River at Gravel Lick.
Mahoning River near it's mouth in Pennsylvania.
Late fall in Trumbull County.
Compass rose at a local trail.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Seasons Change

Yesterday was the first day of fall, and that summer feeling is fading from the air.  School is well under way, and Kenny is now submerged in geometry and Spanish.  The temperatures are starting to cool, especially at night, and leaves are starting to turn color in some places.

It always seems to me that the first touch of fall makes people double down on their attempts to get outdoors and have fun.  They can see the cold and snow on the horizon and hurry to get in as much outdoor time as possible before the weather chases them inside to wait for spring.  Even though I try to carry on having fun outdoors through the winter, I feel the same urge to take advantage of the nice weather before it goes.

So there's been quite a bit of bike riding, some camping, some hiking, and even a little bit of kayaking over the last month. The weather has been very dry, so the trails are in great shape - but of course that leaves the creeks so low that boating is mostly out of the question.

The weather was great for the Conneaut, Ohio D-Day re-enactment on August 22.  Kenny and I headed up in the morning to check out the encampments before the main event.  It was amazing to see all the people in uniforms from the middle of the last century - American, British, French and German troops each had their own area. The re-enactors buy their own gear and weapons, and come to this event all at their own cost, from all across the eastern U.S.

We watched a re-enactment of a battle over a bridge near the beaches on D-Day, then got a spot for the main battle.  Though they lacked a big armor presence, the landing craft, artillery and aircraft made for an amazing, and very touching, recreation.  This was our first trip to the event, and I'm sure it will be something we'll be going to every year from now on.

I took quite a bit of video of the battle of the bridge, but it gets so blurry when downloaded to Blogspot that it's not worth putting on the blog.

Since we missed out on a real vacation this summer we tried to get as much time off as possible for the Labor Day holiday.  Kenny and I headed over to Allegheny National Forest near Cooks Forest State Park on Thursday afternoon, hoping to beat the holiday crowd and get one of the nice dispersed campsites along the Clarion River.  We got over to the river around 8:00, just about half an hour after a surprise rainstorm brought a couple of inches of rain and high winds to the area.

We managed to get a good site near Robin Island, just before the road was blocked by a downed tree.  It was getting dark as we set up our tents, but we've been camping so many times before that we could probably set them up in total darkness.

Diana had to work on Friday morning, but headed over just after lunch.  The rain brought the river level up from barely runnable to a good low level, so Kenny got in his first solo river kayak trip while we were waiting for here to arrive.

Kenny on the Clarion River.

Diana did manage to find her way to our site, and with the extra gear she brought we finished setting up our campsite.  We had three tents (one for Kenny, one for us, and one for the gear), a big tarp over the eating area and a tarped off shower spot in the back of the campsite.  Kenny even had his hammock set up by his tent for serious relaxing.

Diana took Kenny for some go kart racing and lunch while I took a short kayak ride down the river, with a bike shuttle.  It was amazing how many people were out paddling - I'd never seen so many non-rental boats on the river in one day before.  The high point of the trip was the surf wave at Heath Station, just upstream from Belltown.  There is an old gas pipeline across the bottom of the river, about a foot in diameter.  When the water level is right it makes a really nice, wide surf wave that's just perfect for kayaks.  I spent half an hour surfing, and then later Ken and I came back for another little surf session after lunch.  If we hadn't got the rain the night before the level would have definitely been too low, but it was absolutely perfect for us.

We stayed till Monday, so that made for 5 days out for Ken and I.  There was more boating, some bicycling, hiking, and plenty of relaxing.  We all went up to Leeper to eat at the Sawmill one evening.  All in all it was a pretty great mini-vacation and I'm glad that we got a chance to get out in the good weather.

Diana and I at Beartown Rocks.

Beartown Rocks trail.
View over Clarion River Valley from Beartown Rocks overlook.

Clarion River near our campsite.

The next weekend I had hoped that there would be enough rain to make the streams come up so that I could kayak.  Turns out there wasn't enough rain for that, but it was enough rain to make the mountain bike trails soft.  That left me wondering what to do, so I decided to try out a new paved trail, over at Goddard State Park in Pennsylvania.

Goddard State Park, Pennsylvania
It turned out to be a great place to ride.  They have a 12.25 mile loop around the lake, with about a mile of it on park roads, and the rest on paved trails.  These trails aren't flat and straight, like the rail trails around here.  Instead they have plenty of short hills, and lots of curves.  It was so much fun riding that I came back Sunday to ride again.  This place is definitely moving into heavy rotation on my list of fun places to ride!

Lots of hills!
There have also been plenty of bike rides in the last month, both on pavement and on dirt.  I got several rides, including a couple of night rides, on the mountain bike trails at West Branch State Park.  And I got plenty of miles on the Western Reserve Greenway Trail and Little Beaver Creek Greenway.

Evening approached on Little Beaver Creek Greenway.

Sunset at the same spot the next week.

The descent into the Gorge at West Branch State Park.

A fellow trail user on Western Reserve Greenway.

Leaves starting to change color on the Western Reserve Greenway.
There should still be plenty of time to get in another camping trip or two, and hopefully we'll get some rain soon so that the creeks run.  And there is always the opportunity to get out and ride, even if the weather turns.  Autumn is always a special time of year, and I'm looking forward to getting out and enjoying it.

Ken on baritone sax at the Apple Cider Festival parade.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Rolling With the Changes

Time for another blog update, and it's not going to be the one I thought I would be able to write.  I was planning on writing about the bike tour on Greenbrier River Trail that my son and I planned on taking.  But that didn't happen.

I don't want to spend a lot of time complaining, but here's what happened.  Three days before we were supposed to leave an uninsured driver hit my car at a stop light, which caused enough damage to total the car.  With all the hassle because of the uninsured motorist, and the trouble with my insurance company on getting a rental car that I could take to WV I was forced to cancel the vacation.  It took almost two weeks to get things straightened out and get a new car - and then it broke down within the first week and took a major repair.  But that's all history now, so no use dwelling on it.

Broken wheel number one: my totalled VW.  Lucky the bike didn't get ruined as well.

Broken wheel number two: the other front wheel is pointed straight ahead.
Ken and I did manage to get the bikes out for an overnighter at Clear Creek State Forest, Kennerdell Tract.  So we did get to use the pannier systems that I made, and it turned out that while they do work they need some tweaking to get them perfect.

Ken on his bike, getting ready to ride into Kennerdell.
You can see them on the photo above. Diana got us four waterproof bags on clearance, for something like 80% off.  So I bought 100 feet of 1 inch black nylon strapping, and designed and sewed up two harnesses that hold the bags on the bike.  They hold quite a bit of stuff, but I can see that I'm going to have to start investing in some ultra-light camping gear if I want to actually do some real touring.

Our bike packing trip turned out great, with nice warm weather.  We camped at almost the exact same spot where we stayed last time we headed out there, a nice ferny section of woods not far off of the gravel forest road.  We used our new tent for the first time, and Ken got to be camp cook.

Ken loves it when I take his picture.  Observe the enthusiasm.

I'd like for us to be able to get out on at least one more overnight bike trip before the season turns.  I'm thinking of a paved bike path trip over by the Allegheny River, probably from Emlenton up to the campsite on Sandy Creek Trail, then back the next morning.

Bike camping map - Allegheny River Gorge area

And we've got a long weekend planned for Labor Day, with Diana actually able to get the whole weekend off work.  Hopefully we'll get a bit of rain so that we can camp over by the Clarion River and get in some kayak time.  But even if it's dry we'll be able to get out and camp, and that's good enough!

Classic lines at the LaBrae car show.
On to the next topic!  It's been about 7 months since I started watching my calorie intake and increasing my amount of exercise, all in an effort to shed some weight that I'd put on over the previous year.  This wasn't the first time that I'd tried this since turning 50, and there was no reason to really expect any more success than I'd had at earlier efforts.  But I figured that limiting my calories (including eliminating sugary foods and drinks from my diet), and adding a basic weight training program could only have good effects in the long run, even if my weight didn't change much.

The first couple of weeks were tough.  I definitely have a sweet tooth, and eliminating Mountain Dew from my routine was harder than I expected.  But I kept at it, even if there were no noticeable changes for a looong while.  But after about two months I started to notice a difference - maybe that's just how long it took my metabolism to get used to a different nutritional balance.  And now after 7 months I'm down about 25 pounds - from 205 to about 180.  I know it's not a huge difference, but for me at 5' 5"  I feel a LOT better without that 25 pounds. And since I'm not planning on returning to my old diet there is hope that the gradual weight loss will continue for a while.  If I was able to drop another 15 pounds I would be extremely satisfied.

With the weight loss and all the extra rail trail miles I put in during the extra rainy months of June and July, it seems like I'm riding my mountain bike pretty well this year.  Trails finally started to dry out towards the end of July, and all the local trails are finally in great shape.  I've had some great rides out at West Branch on the fat bike, as well as on my Gary Fisher Marlin.  And the trail crew has repaired the trails at Quail Hollow, making the trail better than it's ever been.

West Branch State Park, Rock Run Trail.

The skinnies on West Branch's Exit Ramp Trail.

The Marlin at West Branch S.P.
Even though we're already in the last month of summer we still have a bunch of stuff on the schedule, including a trip up to Conneaut, Ohio tomorrow to watch a D-Day re-enactment.  I'll remember to take lots of pictures for the next blog post!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Having an Adventure

It's no secret that I like to get outside and do things - hiking, camping, biking, kayaking etc.  These are the things that I enjoy - they revitalize me after spending so much time doing the things that MUST be done. Getting out in the sun and trees - or the rain and swamp and mosquitoes - or the snow and wind and dark - lets me forget about all the business and nitpicking of my everyday world.  To me so much of that everyday stuff just falls into a category labeled 'FORGETTABLE MINUTIA' - things that you can just as well forget the moment the task is accomplished.  On the other hand, heading outdoors to have fun falls into the category 'ADVENTURE'.

Maybe it's not adventure the way that you think of it - not the Technicolor, fight for survival, travel to distant climes type.  But to me it's a whole process of knowing what to do, getting things ready, getting yourself there, and having unsupervised, unscripted fun.  And it is always an ADVENTURE.

Most of the time things go pretty smoothly, more or less the way that I had planned.  And that's because I've been there and done that before.  I know what works and what has failed in the past.  I realize that things don't always go smoothly and allow for emergencies and other unplanned events, and I'm not going to pout if I get a boo-boo.  I'm not pushing for maximum adrenaline when I head out.  My goal is usually just to have some fun and get some exercise while in the Great Outdoors.

Over the years I've noticed that the ability to plan and have an ADVENTURE isn't necessarily something that everyone can do.  It takes experience and plenty of mistakes to know how to do things the right way.

For starters it takes knowledge (or research) about where to go to do what you have in mind.  Where is it okay to back country camp?  What trails are going to be good to ride?  What level is that creek going to be? Are there bears (or snakes or sasquatch) in the area?

And you have to be able to figure out what gear and equipment you'll need, and know how to use it.  You need to be able to figure out the logistics of the trip as well.  How far to emergency services?  Is there phone reception just in case?  How will you get from downstream back to upstream?  Is there enough car space (and gear, and food etc) for everyone on the trip?

Most of all you have to be willing and ready to just DO IT.  Lots of folks want to go out and do stuff - they daydream about camping, long bike trips, relaxing canoe rides - but the inertia of familiar and comfortable surroundings is too much, so they end up staying home and holding down the couch.  To bring out one more cliche - you've gotta WANT to do it.

This last weekend there was an interesting forecast - the region was supposed to get between 2 and 4 inches of rain over two days.  That ruled out a mountain bike adventure, because the trails were already wet and muddy, and two more days of rain would only make that worse.  But if there's going to be rain then the creeks may rise...  As the rain began to fall I was online, watching the range and intensity of precipitation.  By 10:00 Saturday I knew that the rain was falling hard on the area that I wanted to travel to - northern Clarion county in Pennsylvania.  I wanted to get a kayak ride on one of my favorite easy whitewater runs, Deer Creek.

I made this map over 10 years ago to help me find what creek is going to run when it rains.

It took me less than an hour to load my car with my kayak, bike, gear and supplies for a day on the water.  Before noon I was on I-80 heading east into a steady rain.  Before too long I was on the other side of the Allegheny River and getting off onto Canoe Ripple Road at exit 53.

I headed a bit further east, stopping along the way to look at Canoe Creek.  It's a smaller watershed than Deer Creek, so it fills up faster and can act as a sort of gauge for other area creeks. When I stopped on the bridge and checked it out the water was high enough to paddle - something of a rarity for a creek this small.  But it's quite a bit more difficult than Deer Creek, so I kept moving to the next watershed.

Canoe Creek, class III at a runnable level.

It only took five minutes to get over Huckleberry Ridge and to the road across the mouth of Deer Creek.  Moment of truth - would there be enough water?

Deer Creek at medium high water at the take out bridge.

If you look at the creek from the take out bridge and can see all the rocks on the stretch just upstream from the bridge, then the level is low.  Today you could barely even tell the rocks were there, so the creek was good to go.  Time to get this adventure moving.

I drove up to the put in and locked up the boat and my gear, then dropped off my bike at the top of the hill halfway through the shuttle, and returned to the take out.  The first part of the shuttle involves a mile plus walk up the 300 foot tall ridge, made even more fun by the steady rain.  At the top I got my bike out of the woods and did the rest of the shuttle - nearly two miles of downhill gravel road through a hemlock forest.  At the creek I got my boat ready and locked up the bike.  Looking at the 'gauge' I realized that the creek had come up 6" while I was doing the shuttle.  That meant it could come up another 6" while I was on the creek.  This was more water than I wanted, and it made me nervous as heck.  But I figured to take the most conservative lines and get through the ride in one piece.

The boat locked up by the creek at the put in.

I was right - the water was higher than I'd ever seen it before.  I set a good pace and skirted the biggest of the waves, always keeping an eye out for trees in the water.  After an hour and a half I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the take out bridge come into view downstream.  A good run with no incidents, although it wasn't nearly as much fun due to the high water level.  But that's how it goes sometimes - not exactly perfect.  It took a little while to gather my gear and load up, and then it was a drive back west to Ohio.

And that was a good adventure.  Not the best, but good.  Sunday morning Diana and I got up fairly early, and sat around drinking tea.  I told her about the trip, and said that it was likely that the water level would have come down enough to be at the perfect level this morning.

One thing I have to acknowledge is the role that my wife plays in all this.  Diana is almost always willing to let me get out and play, and makes plenty allowances for my adventure prone personality.  So when I wistfully mentioned that the water was likely perfect, she gave me the okay to head back over that way if I wanted to.  Of course I DID want to, but I hadn't actually thought it would be possible.  But you don't have to tell me twice, so I gathered up all my gear, reloaded the car, and headed back east.

This time when I looked at Canoe Creek the water level was down quite a bit.  Despite 3" of rain this tiny watershed was already running out of water.   I hoped this would be a good sign for Deer Creek. When I pulled up to the take out bridge and looked at the rock I was using as a gauge I couldn't believe that it was entirely under water.  That meant it was way too high.  Disappointed, I decided to go up to the put in and take a photo or two for future reference.

That iron plate is my 'gauge' at the put in.  This is a good level.

I use an old iron plate from the old bridge as my gauge at the put in, and was flummoxed to see that it was showing a lower, friendly water level.  After a minute I figured it out - the water at the mouth was really high because the Clarion River was way up with all the rain, and it had backed up the water at the mouth of Deer Creek to show a false high!  In a jiffy I stashed the boat, left the bike, and started my hike up the ridge from the take out.  To make things even better a local stopped while I was walking and offered me a ride to the put in!  One million thanks to friendly locals - they can really add to the experience.

This time the water was right where I wanted it.  I was able to pick the biggest wave in most of the rapids (though there was enough wood in the water to force me into secondary lines several times).  This kind of easy whitewater on a wide waterway like Deer Creek is just a blast - lots of water in your face with very little real risk.  There were several great surf waves along the way, so I had plenty of opportunities to play along the way (I did keep out of the big Double Surf Wave though - no desire to swim!).

This time the run was so much fun that it was a disappointment to see the take out bridge ahead.  The sun was out, the water was right, and this adventure could not have worked out better.  Well, maybe ONE thing could have been better - I could have NOT lost my house/work keys somewhere along the way.  But hey, at least I still have my car key!

Storm clouds blowing over the Allegheny highlands.
Heading home I took a little detour and headed up around the northwest corner of Shenango Reservoir.  Along the way I stopped and looked at a little creek - small enough that its likely that no one has ever paddled it before.  But the topos show it has some gradient and a big enough watershed - and it has a rocky stream bed...

Booth Run.
Hmmm.  Could this be the scene of an upcoming adventure?  Could be!

(PS - I made a GoPro video of the second day's run and edited it together as a kind of guide for other paddlers interested in the run.  It's kind of long, and probably only really interesting to other kayakers, but it does give an idea of what the creek is like.)