Monday, June 25, 2012

Garrett County Gran Fondo: Not Quite As Strong As Last Year

Last year, we rode the Savage Century in the Garrett County Gran Fondo.  It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in one day.  After 103 miles and 12,700 feet of climbing, we swore we were done with it.  Then January rolled around and memories were made hazy by the freezing cold chilly mild winter weather that we had this year.  When the registration email came, for some reason, we signed up again.

Last year, we were also training for RAGBRAI, which involved nearly 500 miles of riding over 7 days.  Training for the Savage Century made RAGBRAI much easier, and in the end, we were really glad we put in the time training for it. This year, we had none of that added motivation for training.  In fact, in the spring, I got into a funk where I didn't really want to ride at all.  Then Michael had knee surgery seven weeks ago.  I did get a couple of good rides in on Skyline Drive and he got one short ride in, but we simply did not get the time in on the saddle that we had last year.

With that in mind, we decided to try to salvage something out of our registration.  The weather was absolutely perfect:  sunny and in the low 80s.  That was much better than last year's high of 55 and occasional rain.  We started the ride thinking we might do the metric century (62 miles).  The first leg of the ride is deceptive:  It only has one real climb and is otherwise downhill.  Michael felt pretty good at the first rest stop, so we continued on the 62 mile route.  The climbing began in earnest as soon as we left the rest stop.  By the time we reached the top of the first series of hills, Michael was starting to suffer.  We arrived at a point where a shorter ride intersected our route and I asked if he wanted to continue or take the cutoff, which would leave us with a 50 mile ride.  He sort of balked at cutting the ride short, but finally agreed.

Last year, I was really proud of the fact that I didn't walk at all on the entire route.  This year, I left my dignity in the ditch and I walked twice.  I just didn't have the leg strength to push myself up the steepest sections of two of the hills.  Amazing what a difference training makes.  All in all, it was a decent ride.  I do wish I had been more dedicated about getting the training in, but there wasn't any way for Michael to train more before the ride this year.  We did both manage to finish the ride under our own power.

One of the ridge-top sections of the ride.  If you enlarge the picture, there is a large quilt square on the barn.
At the finish line.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Half Moon Lookout: Lots of Flowers on Great North Mountain

Sunday was one of those perfect June days that almost never happens:  low humidity, highs around 80 and bright and sunny.  We went out with a friend to the Great North Mountain area to do a 10 mile circuit including Half Moon Mountain.  We certainly didn't expect solitude on Half Moon Mountain, but we got it.  We saw one small group of Boy Scouts twice (they were doing the loop in the opposite direction).  I also didn't expect to find quite as many flowers as we did.  I saw four that were new to me.

From the parking lot, the Bucktail Trail follows an old roadbed around the mountain.  The already easy ascent was made easier by me stopping and taking pictures of flowers every few feet.  After about a couple of miles, the trail left the roadbed, turned east and began climbing along Halfmoon Run.  There wasn't a lot of water in the run, so the stream crossings were easy.  At the very top of the valley, the trail follows the streambed itself for a short distance before climbing steeply to the top of the gap.  It wasn't quite as steep as some of the craziness we've seen in Pennsylvania recently, but it was definitely a respectable climb. 

From the gap, we continued climbing up to the top of Halfmoon Mountain, where there are ruins of an old fire tower.  Ripe blueberries slowed our ascent, but they were worth it. We took a break at the top and enjoyed the view to the south of the Trout Run Valley.  Returning to the gap, we picked up the Halfmoon Trail and began the walk back to the car. The rest of the hike was easy - just weaving in and out of drainages along the side of the mountain.  At one point, we could hear crows across the valley making a fuss and crows near us answering them.  This continued for several minutes before the ones near us joined the crows across the valley.  I'm not sure what they were all upset about, but much drama ensued.  We could hear the ruckus as we walked for the next ten minutes.

Another beautiful Sunday in the woods.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
A butterfly on top of Cirsium discolor (Field Thistle).
 Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed)
 Solanum carolinense (Horse Nettle) on the Bucktail Trail
 Chrysogonum virginianum (Golden Star) along Halfmoon Run.
 Scutellaria incana (Downy Skullcap) along Halfmoon Run.
Looking south from Halfmoon Mountain over the Trout Run Valley towards Big Schloss and Tibbet Knob.
 The ruins of the lookout on Halfmoon Mountain.
Aralia hispida (Bristly Sasparilla).  This was one of the flowers I hadn't seen before this trip.  Click to enlarge this one:  There is a small caterpillar and a number of other insects that can be seen on the flower.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Summer Flowers: Whorled Loosestrife

Lysimachia quadrifolia (Whorled Loosestrife) is a pretty little yellow flower that blooms in June and July in the Mid-Atlantic.  The plants grow about three feet tall and the leaves are whorled around the stem.  Often the flowers will bloom all along the stalk of the plant.  Its range includes all of the eastern U.S. and Canada, except Florida.  It does not occur west of the Mississippi River.  Its scientific name comes from Lysimachus, a king of ancient Sicily.  The legend says that he used a different member of the genus to calm an angry bull.


 L. quadrifolia on the Ridge Trail on Old Rag (Shenandoah National Park, 2010)
Another example on the Indian Run Trail in Shenandoah National Park (2011).
This isn't a great picture, but it does show the whorled leaves that characterize the plant (Tuscarora Trail 2012).

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Solo Hike in Massanutten: Little Crease and the Tuscarora Trail

Michael was out of town and all of our other hiking friends were busy, so I decided to do a solo hike in Massanutten in the George Washington National Forest near Front Royal, VA.  If you haven't hiked out there, Massanutten is often jokingly referred to as an old Indian word meaning "land of many rocks."  That is definitely true, but I like it because there are often interesting plants and occasional views from the top of the knife-edge ridges. I chose an 11 mile loop on the east ridge, which would skirt the summit of Little Crease Mouintain.  My plan required a 2 mile road walk at the beginning to close the loop.  I parked at the Tuscarora Trailhead on Virginia Route 613 around 12:30 and headed down the road.  I never like walking on country roads that I'm unfamiliar with.  Territorial yard dogs scare me and tight turns can be dangerous if a car comes around them quickly.  Fortunately, I dealt with neither of those and was soon enough at the start of the Sherman Trail.

The Sherman Trail immediately began a three-mile unabated climb.  Unfortunately, I was mostly sheltered from the breeze, so it was a stifling start to the hike.  I arrived on the ridge to a welcome breeze from the west.  From there, I turned south on the Tuscarora Trail, which follows the top of the ridge for a little over a mile.  About half a mile from the Sherman Trail, I started finding ripe blueberries!  At first there were only one or two, but then a came into some sunny spots and they were everywhere.  The only downside:  My hiking pace suffered because of the sweet blueberry goodness.  I got a couple of nice views to the east before descending into a small valley.  I passed Little Crease Shelter and climbed an old roadbed over Massanutten Mountain.  I made good time descending the last two miles back to the parking area.

I didn't see a single other person on my entire hike (except for a couple of cars on the road).  I did see a lot of interesting plants.  It was a very good day.

Pictures (click to enlarge):
Yucca filamentosa (Adam's Needle, Yucca).  If you enlarge this picture, you'll see Yucca Moths in the flower.  Yucca Moths and Y. filamentosa cannot survive without each other.  The moths pollinate the flowers and lay a few eggs in them.  The larvae of the moth feed on the seeds produced as a result of being pollinated.  The moths lay only a few eggs in the flower so that the larvae do not eat too many seeds.  More details here.
 An interesting little cricket (grasshopper?) on the flowers of Heuchera americana (Alum-Root).  The insect is about 1/4 inch long.
Anemone virginiana (Thimbleweed)
Chimaphila maculata (Striped Wintergreen).  As the name suggests, the leaves of C. maculata stay green all year long.
A spider in an elaborate web along the trail.
Triodanis perfoliata (Venus's Looking Glass) along the Sherman Trail.
Ripe blueberries!  These did not last very long.
The black raspberries weren't quite ready for prime time yet. 
 Looking east towards Shenandoah National Park.
 Look closely.  There is an Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporos undulata) hiding against the tree bark.
 I startled this little Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina), making it retreat into its shell.
 Scutellaria incana (Downy Skullcap) on the Tuscarora Trail.
If anyone knows what these ferns are, I would love to know.  They are about three feet tall and were growing in a dense colony.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Skyline Drive

We got out for a ride on Skyline Drive yesterday with a friend.  Michael was able to ride with us this time, so that is progress.  It was a perfect day:  just a little cool in the shade, but warm in the sun and not too much wind.  The climb from Front Royal to the top of Dickey Ridge is always tough: 6 miles of non-stop climbing.  The screaming descents make it all worth it, though.  One of my favorites is the 1,000 foot descent over three miles from Hogback Overlook to Elkwallow Wayside. 

Michael made it up the first two hills before his knee turned him back.  He was lucky enough to see a young black bear on the way back to the car.  I made it up and over Pinnacles in the Central District, to Jewel Hollow Overlook (near milepost 36).  I had intended to go to Skyland, but hail turned me back.  By the time I got to Pinnacles, the heavens opened, soaking me with freezing cold rain.  Michael picked me up at Pinnacles and I opted not to descend to Thornton Gap on wet roads.  Our friend made it all the way to Thorofare Mountain Overlook at mile 40 and back to Thornton Gap, braving the slick, wet pavement. 

It was a tough, but great ride.

 My bike at one of the overlooks.
Following our friend down the mountain to Thornton Gap.