Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mason Dixon Trail: Map 7 - Northeast to Perryville, MD

Saturday August 9, 2014:  Northeast MD to Perryville MD, 11 miles

Kim and I continued on our Mason Dixon Trail this past Saturday to complete the MDT  from Chadd's Ford PA to Northeast, Maryland, a trek we started Memorial Day Weekend and will continue until we finish all 200 miles of this National Heritage Trail. Today's section completes the last reach of MDT east of the Susquehanna.  Map # 7 shows a fairly straight trek of 11 miles, a nice mix of road walking (oh, how we've gotten used to this!) and what was described as a well-marked path through sandy pine woods, grasslands, and barrens. Think bobwhite, woodcock, turkey, wildflowers!  By 5 o'clock in the afternoon the map was crunched into a ball and stuffed into my cargo pocket. We called it the Stupid Map, Joke Map, Map of Lies, the Map of No Use. Kim and I ate our end-of-the-trail celebratory ice cream and snowball in exhausted silence. Then we started laughing. What else could we do? 

MDT does not pass by the most scenic views.

 "When the situation is hopeless, there's nothing to worry about." 
Edward Abbey, 
The Monkey Wrench Gang, 1975.

Now I'll say this up front: Cecil County has some mighty fine natural areas. I've been to a few, I've seen them myself. But DO NOT HIKE this MDT section if you want to see any of those. The trail crosses behind an iffy-at-best trailer park after walking a road mile in search of the sandy path into a mixed deciduous and pine woods. Here is where I had my first sad. The trail is used as one long unending community dump. Throw in a couple of mean dogs and a lot of squalor.  Note to MDT Club:  Relocate the trail!

Blue blazes look more like lichen.

Leaving mean dogs, trash, trailer park behind we followed what we thought was the MDT through a set of confusing loops and connectors courtesy of said trailer park's four-wheeler riders, leading to an array of bigger junk, mostly burned furniture and disemboweled vehicles. We stopped the first time. Kim pulled out her GPS. I pulled out The Map. Where was the straight line path? I squinted at a tree. Kim squinted at a tree. "Is that lichen or is that a blaze?" We decided it was a blaze and followed the four-wheeler trail. Note to MDT Club: After relocating trail, add fresh bright blue blazes.

Flood debris bridge over raging torrent - not.

The Stupid Map then said something about crossing a stream on some wet rocks and something else about a parallel trail should the ABSOLUTELY NO TRESPASSING and BEWARE OF MEAN DOG signs bother us.  We added a few more loops through a very new condo development while trying to avoid the nasty neighbors who made it very clear they had nastier dogs than those in the trailer park. We wandered up a flood-battered stream trying to find anything that would pass as a blue blaze on the other side. No such luck. The GPS gave our location as being somewhere in Cecil County. That was helpful. All we needed to do was to find a cable right-of-way and happily re-enter the woods.  Note to MDT Club:  Revise the map. It is now a joke.

Look! Nature in tire ruts! Broad Leaf Arrowhead in bloom. 

We blundered across driveways and sneaked  through weirdly inviting poison ivy-covered fences - it gave me a warm Santa Claus kind of feeling to just drop in on people having breakfast on their back decks. And then, like a sign from above, there was a blue blaze - quick, follow it! Through a patch of woods we skipped! The Trail! We Found the Trail! Until we came to a road crossing and saw the best of the most clearly marked blazes of the day (the second one) on the other side of a chain-link fence clearly placed to discourage hikers. We followed the fence all the way around this property and house in hopes of intersecting the trail beyond the backyard. The Map of Deception gave me a paper cut. Note to MDT Club:  Talk to the guy who closed the trail with a brand new chain link fence.

Nature's barbed wire.  Greenbrier vine.

We snagged spider webs like nobody's business. When our spider web stick ran out of batteries, my face collected them.  Yellow jackets? No problem. The pain and swelling goes away eventually.  Nature's version of barbed wire - greenbrier - seemed to utterly enjoy itself reaching out to slice our legs with needle straight thorns. There was blood. So isn't this story fulfilling some definition of heroism? "Pain? What pain? I can take it!" We found the trail again (see faded blaze picture above) and cheered "It's straight to the Restoration Hardware Industrial Park!" And it was straight - straight into a twenty foot high bank of thorny thicket with a twelve foot high fence adorned with razor wire at the top. The trail was nowhere to be found. "Let's just walk around the outside of the fence until we come to the trail on the other side!" I said cheerfully. HA HA HA HA HA HA! Right. Note to MDT Club: Please send a thank-you note to Restoration Hardware security for being off-duty today.

There was no way around. I forgot my machete.

We tried to bushwack our way around the complex. We went up and down the twenty foot embankment twice trying to find the path The Joke Map said was surely there. More thorns. More blood. We made it as far as the first corner and LO! The fence was a little loose at the bottom. Kim pulled and tugged and Oh-Tro-Lo-Lo! It seemed to be just enough room for us to squirm under. "Do you think we'll get in trouble?"  "Oh! I hope so! Let's get arrested so we get a free ride out of this place!" "PLEASE SOMEONE ARREST US! LOOK TRESPASSING! HERE WE ARE!"

Now here's where I have to use some discretion. We took pictures of what happened next, which was basically illegal and funnier than all get-out. But we don't want to demonstrate on this blog what it took to peel back the fence and trespass inside the industrial park for fear someone may try to duplicate it or implicate us in this, our  crime of desperation. So just imagine those pictures HERE:

We waved at the security cameras. We walked a half mile across the back of the asphalt lot. We watched longingly for a security truck. We stopped and took pictures of the multihued truck trailers parked artistically in a storage lot. We waited for a loudspeaker, an alarm, a deep voice annoucning us as trespassers. None came. We found our way out by rolling commando-style under the back gate at the far end of the park. Then we ate lunch. It was good.  We made some notes, like "Remember to pack bolt cutters, hacksaw, and wire snips" for our next hike.  Hayduke lives.

Note to MDT Club:  Please make a MDT commando patch available for those who successfully break into and escape the industrial park.

The Map of Lies shows not this large object ahead.
Foy's Hill is a large dome of unconsolidated gravel, sand, and clay leftover from the great ice age melt-off when the interbraided Susquehanna and the Delaware Rivers dumped huge loads of sediment here. It's a beautiful barrens forest of pitch pine and grasses that will soon however be bulldozed for a sand and gravel quarry expansion. I had another sad after seeing all the survey stakes. The Map of Jokes and Deception described thrilling views from the top of Foys Hill. We would see the Bay! But no. We weren't anywhere near the trail.  But we did have a beautiful view of a Horton Waterspheroid.

Sand barren grassland habitat - soon to be a sand quarry expansion.

Sixty-four foot high Horton Waterspheroid - we used to call these water towers back in the day.

To save the loss of any more blood, and what was left of our energy, we decided to follow the service road down to Rt. 40 and hoof it west to the intersection with Rt. 7, where we easily found the blue blaze again - on the sign post in the middle of the median strip between cars and trucks roaring by at 70 miles per hour. We crossed, collapsed at the quarry gate, and had some more lunch.

Road walking down Rt. 7 - The Old Post Road.

Past the 1836 office of the Principio Furnace, destroyed by the British in 1813. Our second iron works of the MDT.

James Run Formation marking the Fall Line on Principio Creek
There are some good things to be said about walking. Not many, but some. Walking takes longer, for example, than any other known form of locomotion except crawling. Thus it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed. I have a friend who’s always in a hurry; he never gets anywhere. Walking makes the world much bigger and thus more interesting. 
You have time to observe the details.- Ed Abbey

Passing by the historic iron furnace, mansion, its associated graded school, built by and named for the 1800s iron master George P. Whitaker , I was reminded of how important the geology of this area was to early industry and settlement. It kept my mind off the long hilly walk and the increasingly humid air. Hiking across the bridge at Principio Creek we stopped to admire the ultra-mafic, metamorphosed, weathered, and strikingly beautiful chutes and ledges of the James Run Formation. This formation surfaces in a few Piedmont creeks from here to west of Baltimore and south to the Potomac. We stood on wedges of a terrane one belonging to a volcanic island arc that formed over a subduction zone during the continental collisions of the Pre-Cambrian. These are some incredibly old rocks. Think Aleutian Islands or Hawaiian Islands caught and crunched up like the Map of Doom and Deception in my pocket.

Nearing the end of the Cecil County trek.

We turned into the community park at Ikea Way just coming in to Perryville, then dog-legged a turn on to an old carriage road, now grassed over and part of a greenway that follows along behind the VA hospital. We saw a picnic table and had some more lunch. I put my head down on my backpack and moaned softly into it "Omphimumphitaaabummpledo."  "Yes," Kim confirmed, "Only a mile to go." Regaining our pace and stride (more like a limping stumble) we topped a hill and looked across to Havre de Grace at the far shore of the Susquehanna River! The Chesapeake to the south! The Boxcar Ice Cream Shop to the north!  Map #7 completed at 11 miles in 8 hours. Note to MDT Club: We did this despite the Map of Horrors!

We ate our end-of-trail ice cream and snowball in exhausted silence in Perryville.

To celebrate, we drove down to the beach near Kim's place, toasted  Teddy Roosevelt with a Coors (he once stayed in the small hunting lodge here to hunt geese and ducks on the Susquehanna Flats), and played with Stanley the Welcoming Committee. Stanley's smile made it all worth it. We made it to the Bay and will soon cross the Susquehanna! Onward!

Stanley welcomes us to the Chesapeake!

The Chesapeake!

We're really not mad at the MDT hiking club. We understand that some areas are developing quickly and that maps become outdated almost as soon as they are printed. Be sure to check the club's website for updates, but in our case, there were no mentions of trail conditions. What if each county's hiking clubs organized clean-up days, or brush-clearing weekends, or re-routing meetings? I worry that for someone coming a distance to do this section - not from around here as Kim and I are - they could get very lost and even more discouraged than we were. Re-routing must happen to avoid the trailer park. I hate to say it, but no amount of clean-up days will address the apathy and disrespect people have for the trail here. 

Check for updates to the trail here. The chain link fence is mentioned on Red Toad Road. It might have saved us some time and wandering to follow their suggestion but where's the adventure in meandering through another development?

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