Sunday, August 29, 2010

Shorefire Century Ride - 106 miles in Delaware

Three of us planned to do the Shorefire Century in Middletown, Delaware yesterday.  The weather promised to be good:  low 80s, low humidity, and little wind.  It doesn't get much better than that for riding.  Then we woke up to our dog having a problem with one of her legs.  It was not a life-threatening emergency, but she clearly needed to see the vet yesterday.  Rather than lose three paid registrations, he dropped me off at our friend's house and friend and I headed to the ride.

We got started around 7:45 a.m. and it was actually a little chilly.  The first few miles flew by and then we hit gravel.  That's right, gravel.  We had to ride about five miles of roads that had a layer of gravel on them.  Riding skinny tires on gravel is a great way to lose feeling in your hands and check to see if you have any loose fillings.  We found out later that the county was starting a poorly-timed repaving project and that the roads are not normally like that.  Fortunately, the gravel really didn't last that long and before I knew it, we arrived at the first rest stop, a little, somewhat grubby pizza place that would also be the last rest stop on the ride. 

The next leg went more smoothly since there were no more roads covered in gravel.  After the next stop, we made a mildly morale-damaging mistake.  The ride looped back on itself and the markers crossed at the first intersection after the rest stop.  We followed the wrong set, so we added four miles to our ride by the time we got back on track.  I was still in good shape, though, and four miles isn't the end of the world.  The third rest stop came right at the metric century mark.  At this point, we looked at the cue sheet decided to think about the rest of the ride as 3 shorter rides of 14 miles, 14 miles, and 16 miles each.

After that rest stop, my quads and triceps started to hurt.  I had been drinking plenty of water, so I wasn't thinking about dehydration.  The food served at the rest stops was long on sugar, but short on salt and substance.  About five miles out from the fourth stop, I ran out of gas.  I slogged through to the stop, drank more water, and cooled off in the shade for a few minutes.  We started off again and I felt a little better, but I was no longer able to focus on anything but watching each mile go by on the bike computer.  That, of course, only makes the miles go by more slowly.   

The last stop was at the grubby pizza place where they were serving slices of cheese pizza to riders.  My quads and triceps still hurt and my neck and shoulders joined the chorus of pain.  I drank more water and refilled my bottle before we left. We set off with at least the knowledge that we were on the last leg.  I suggested to our friend that when my odometer hit 100, I was done.  After all, I would have ridden a century at that point.  He laughed, but pointed out the car was not going to be at that point.  We hit the only hills of the ride in the last five miles of the ride.  They were not big hills, but they did give me a chance to stand up on the bike and use different muscles for a few minutes.  Seeing the turnoff for the parking lot was a huge relief:  the misery was over!

After the ride, I was trying to figure out what had gone wrong.  It was a little warm and I was drinking lots of water, but I think I wound up dehydrated anyway.  The pain in my long muscles did not feel like muscle weakness and I am not sore today, so I think it was related to electrolytes.  Normally, I drink some sort of sport drink in addition to water when I ride and I had forgotten to take it with me. For some reason, I never thought to dump one of my water bottles and fill it with the gatorade they had at the rest stops.  Complete foolishness, since I know about this stuff and even counsel people about it when I'm volunteering with Old Rag Mountain Stewards.  I basically made the ride much tougher on myself than necessary. 

All in all, even though it was a tough ride, it was a success.  It never crossed my mind to quit and we still rode a decent pace, in spite of everything.  I even enjoyed a lot of the ride.

No pictures today.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fifteen Miles of Old Farms - The Thornton River Area of Shenandoah

Three of us set out yesterday to hike from the eastern boundary of Shenandoah National Park at the Piney Branch Trailhead, where our North District PATC map indicated there was a trailhead and limited parking.  As happens with maps, conditions have changed and that is no longer accurate.  There is a locked gate and a No Trespassing sign across a private road where hikers were once likely allowed access to the park.  It is hard to say what happened:  The property could have changed hands or the landowner may have had a bad experience with people crossing his or her land to visit the park.  It is a good reminder to be respectful of people who live near the park so that everyone may continue to have access.

Fortunately, the Thornton River Trail was just a mile south of where we were.  We found a parking spot and set off west, toward skyline drive, with a slightly altered route.  The first 1.8 miles of the trail climbs very gradually along the right side of the Thornton River.  At the first trail junction, we turned right on the Hull School trail and began to climb. 

Before long, we turned left on the Piney Ridge Trail.  This area of the North District was one of the more heavily populated in Shenandoah.  Stone walls and house foundations were everywhere and we also came across an old family cemetery along the way.  As we climbed higher, the trail leveled out in several places.  On these flatter spots, we found old orchards with apple trees and blackberries still growing.  Few of the apple trees had any fruit on them and, with one exception, the fruit on those that did were tiny.  Just after we turned south on the Appalachian Trail, we found a tree with relatively large apples on it, some of them ripe.  We paused for a few moments to eat a few.  They were tart, but good.  While we were eating, another hiker passed and gave us a funny look. More apples for us!

After a quick mile, we arrived at Elkwallow Wayside and the pandemonium of Skyline Drive.  We took advantage of the facilities and decided that we could not pass the store without getting a blackberry milkshake as a reward for the climb up from the valley.  We sat in the shade for a few minutes, enjoying our milkshakes and people watching before continuing south on the Appalachian Trial.  The trail skirts west of the wayside and then climbs up above Jeremy's Run.  This was probably the steepest climb we had all day.  Fortunately, it was short.  After nearly three miles, we turned back east on the Thornton River Trail and made our way down to Skyline Drive.  From there, we had five miles back to the car.  On our way down to the valley, we passed an old rusted out car from the 1930s.  We also startled a bear that ran off before we got the chance to see it. 

All said and done, we hiked 15 miles yesterday, which is the longest hike we have done in quite a while.  Although the trails we hiked yesterday are used more frequently than the ones we've been hiking over the past several weeks, they are still very quiet.  Not including the wayside, we only saw seven other hikers and four of those were in the four miles were were on the Appalachian Trail.

Summer is definitely winding down.  Although it was hot and humid yesterday, higher up on the mountain, the leaves are yellowing on the underbrush and beginning to drop.  Blackberies, one of the last summer fruits, are nearly done.  I am sure there is more hot weather ahead of us, but fall is not far away.

Pictures (click to enlarge):

A butterfly along the road where we were waiting for a friend.

Trees pulled down by bears trying to get to the berries on them.  The bears are pretty happy to use the human trails to get around.

Mushrooms along the trail.

An apple tree on the Appalachian Trail.

Butterfly on a thistle at Elkwallow Wayside.

Impatiens capensis (Jewelweed) near Elkwallow Picnic Area.

 Symphyotrichum patens (Late Aster) along the Thornton River Trail)

Aureolaria flava (False Foxglove) on the Thornton River Trail.

Verbesina alternifolia (Wingstem) along the Appalachian Trail.  Composite Family

The next two photos aren't great, but they show some flowers I haven't seen before and I thought it would be worthwhile to include them. 

Prenanthes trifoliata (Tall Rattlesnake Root).  This plant has uniquely divided leaves and is typically found further north than Shenandoah. Composite Family.

Lobelia inflata (Indian Tobacco).  I included this one because it shows the marker of the Lobelia Family:  Flowers in this family all have a lower lip with three distinct lobes.  This plant is pretty small, about 8 inches tall and the flowers are less than 1/2 inch long.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lancaster Metric Century Ride

We took the weekend off from hiking to participate in the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Metric Century Bike Ride with a friend of ours.  A metric century is a 100 km (62 mile) ride.  The Lancaster Metric Century travels through rural Pennsylvania, crosses about half a dozen covered bridges, and at the end of the ride, they serve ice cream. 

One of the hard things about these types of rides is that they go through beautiful areas, but the reality is, I am not actually going to take pictures while on the ride.  It is too hard to break my momentum during the ride to stop and pull of the road, out of the way of other cyclists, to take pictures.  I have tried in the past, carrying a camera in my jersey, but I end up with one shot of the crowd of cyclists at the lunch stop.  We were able to solve this problem this time, because we had to drive up to Lancaster the day before the ride.  We spent the late afternoon driving part of the ride route taking pictures. It is a really beautiful route and I am glad we had a bit of time to drive part of it.

We got started this morning around 8 a.m. under clouds that were threatening to rain.  It felt a lot more like October than August.  The first ten miles flew by and, for the first time ever, I willingly opted to skip a rest stop.  We just had good momentum and I didn't need food or water at that point.  We saw a number of Amish people headed to church in their buggies.  We also saw (likely Mennonite) women on their bicycles, presumably also headed to church.  We rode over the indentations in the pavement from the steel-wheeled tractors used by Mennonite farmers. 

After lunch, the weather deteriorated and we were riding in heavy downpours at times.  By the time we finished, we were soaked through, covered in road grime, and a little chilly.  All in all, it was a good ride and we finished more than an hour faster than when we rode last year.  That is mostly of an indicator of how little training we did last year. 


Alfalfa with corn on each side.

A farm along the route.

Another view of the windmill.

Tobacco in front of a farm.

A covered bridge along the route.

The interior of the covered bridge.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

You Hike in the Footwear You Have...

Yesterday, our day started with this conversation at the trailhead:

"Did you grab the boot bag when we left?"

"No. Why?....Oh."

"Well, we drove all this way, we might as well hike at least some of the trail today."

Thus began our 11 mile hike in Chaco sandals.  We will occasionally see people hiking in sandals and wonder if it is comfortable or, on Old Rag, how they avoid stubbing their toes.  In general, I've never felt like it was something I needed to try. 

We started up the Broad Hollow trail, which follows an unnamed creek for a little over a mile before climbing towards Sam's Ridge.  Based on the flowers growing directly in the middle of the trail, I think fewer people hike Broad Hollow than even Sam's Ridge.  Trail maintainers had been through in the past few weeks to cut the underbrush back.  Otherwise, it would probably have been fairly overgrown.  This was good as our biggest concerns were poison ivy, snakes in the grassy areas, and stabbing our feet with sticks lying on the trail.  We took a quick break for lunch near one of the largest Tulip Poplar trees I have ever seen.  Tulip Poplars grow fast, but I think this one must have escaped the clear-cutting that occurred over much of the area in the 19th century.  A little while later, we ran across the ruins of an old farm. 

At the junction with Sam's Ridge Trail, we were feeling pretty good, so we turned west on the Hazel Mountain Trail.  After a short mile, we turned south on the Catlett Spur Trail to hike up towards Hannah Run Trail.  Catlett Spur was really pretty.  At one point, we walked through a large area covered in Clintonia borealis (Yellow Clintonia).  Their flowers have long since faded, but each plant had a stalk with blue berries on it.

We turned toward Skyline Drive on the Hannah Run trail.  All of a sudden, there were more flowers than we had seen in the previous four miles.  The trail up to Pinnacles Overlook was steep, but well-switchbacked.  We saw a family of four headed down the trail with no water and had to remind ourselves that we were not working.  At the overlook, we found a tree to sit under while taking a break and watching the car tourists pull up and drive off.  Goldenrod and asters were blooming, signs that, although it is still hot outside, summer is on the wane.

Back at the junction, we headed east on the Catlett Mountain trail.  We passed through an old farm with a couple of apple trees and blackberries.  From there, we turned south on the Hazel Mountain Trail and connected with the Pine Hill Gap Trail.  This trail was a challenge because it was steep and covered in gravel.  There were a few flowers blooming, though and we caught a couple of views of Old Rag.  Soon, we arrived at the park boundary and a short road walk back to the car.

It was a good hike.  We had the option to shorten the hike several times and we always felt like we could keep going.  We never saw any snakes and we managed to avoid most sticks, but we did see plenty of poison ivy.  We'll see how that turns out over the next day or so.  The sandals were all right, but by the end, without the cushion of socks and insoles, my feet were pretty tired. I don't think I will adopt them as regular hiking footwear.

Pictures (click to enlarge):

Massive Tulip Poplar

Quiet Broad Hollow Trail

Prunella vulgaris (Self Heal) growing in the middle of the trail.

 Silene stellata (Starry Campion) on the Hannah Run Trail.

Campanula divaricata (Southern Harebell).  The flowers on this are tiny - about 1/4" wide.  It is a member of the Bluebell family.

Campanula americana (Tall Bellflower).  This is also a member of the Bluebell family.

Helianthus divaricatus (Woodland Sunflower)

Butterfly on Red Clover at Pinnacles Overlook.

Goldenrod in front of Old Rag at Pinnacles Overlook.

Asters on the Hannah Run Trail.

Sassafras trees make a tunnel on the Catlett Mountain Trail.

An interesting fungus on the Catlett Mountain Trail.

 Coreopsis verticillata (Whorled Coreopsis) on the Pine Hill Gap Trail.  If you look closely beneath the two folded petals, you can see the legs of a tiny spider that has closed the petals with its web.

Green acorns on the Pine Hill Gap Trail.

Old Rag from the Pine Hill Gap Trail.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Weekend Off and a New Flower

We took the weekend off from hiking for two reasons:  We are training for a metric century (100 km or 62 miles) bike ride that is happening in a couple of weeks and I strained a muscle in my calf, so I am giving it a chance to heal.  That doesn't mean we didn't get outside.  We did a 52 mile bike ride yesterday in western Montgomery County. It was a great ride.  The weather was perfect and we encountered very little traffic on most of the roads. 

Today, we went for a short walk in Rock Creek Park, where I saw a flower I had never seen before:  Mimulus alatus (Winged Monkey Flower).  M. alatus is a member of the Figwort family that blooms in late summer in damp places.  It is very similar to Mimulus ringens (Monkey Flower)M. alatus has leaves with short stalks, while M. ringens' leaves are stalkless.

We'll be back out there next weekend.

M. alatus in Rock Creek Park.