Sunday, October 29, 2017

PA: Mason Dixon Trail, Map 2: Codorus Furnace to Gifford Pinchott State Park


Map 2/ Mason Dixon Trail: Codorus Furnace to Pinchot State Park, 20 miles

Kim and I have been putting this section off for a year and a half. We're almost finished section hiking the MDT, a 200-mile-long trail that runs from one end at the Appalachian Trail in Whiskey Springs, PA to Chadds Ford, PA. We started in Chadds Ford and have been making our way west for two-and-a-half years with pretty regular hikes until we got to Map 2. The idea of twenty miles of road walking was not very exciting. During our great delay we did other weekend hikes, celebrated First Day hikes twice, led a Camino group hike, took the kayaks out, all the while not saying out loud to each other, "I'm not excited about 20 miles of road walking. You?"

Codorus Creek
So here we were, parked at the historic Codorus Furnace on Codorus Creek, early on Saturday morning. No matter how many times I looked at the map, the little red trail line overlaid the thick black road lines without exception. No dirt paths. No river walks. We left my car in a wooded lot at Pinchot State Park a half hour before, so we knew there was only one way to retrieve it. Start walking.


I-Beam Trail Blaze, courtesy C.C. Beth at Steelton, PS

Most of the roads were quiet and had little traffic to dodge, but some were dangerous with no shoulder and heavy traffic. All in all, we're glad we did it in one big day hike - even though we made it to my car in the dark. There is an ecology to roads that combines the human endeavor of planning and building transportation routes (and the vehicle technology that use them) and the vegetative corridors, risks to wildlife, and pedestrian traffic. It's a strange ecosystem of man-made and adaptive nature that keeps the hiker on their toes. We jumped off the road several times to avoid being smacked by rear view mirrors, being flattened by enormous dump trucks, and cars going way to fast. I think I did as much side-stepping and forward walking.

Injured Black Vulture juvenile.
We met a juvenile black vulture on the side of the road and it broke my heart to have to leave the poor thing stuck there with a broken wing. The road kill draws scavengers and young vultures haven't figured out how to dodge oncoming cars. Just a short way up  the road we were sprayed with gravel and dirt as a car intentionally roared at us, spinning wheels into the soft shoulder as it passed us.

Goodbye, Susquehanna! Looking south, its waters bound for the Chesapeake Bay.

Last long look at our iconic river. Looking north towards York Haven.

We said goodbye to the Susquehanna River that has been a beautiful companion since Havre de Grace, Maryland, seventy miles back. Now the trail headed inland and upland to the northwest into the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  We met a giant snapping turtle at the Wago Club. It was awesome.

This giant snapper has all the awesomesauce.
Road ecology is really a thing in ecological sciences. It started with Lady Bird Johnson, First Lady to Lyndon Johnson, who envisioned a better way to manage roadsides. Because of her wildflower planting initiatives and beautification projects we became more aware of how our roadsides look and function as habitat, minus ugly signs and trashy edges. York County townships do a nice job of keeping their roadsides trash free and a little on the wild side. Except for the LOUD overpass and off/on ramp fast food signage at the intersection with I-83, the entire twenty-mile section was free from billboards. 

A pretty stretch of creek-side road, virtually trash free and pleasantly wild.
But the same couldn't be said for some stretches of road-trail that passed through some interesting rural neighborhoods. We tried to admire the junk-filled yards, collapsing houses, confederate-flags-over-trailer homes, and various vehicles in the woods. We saw cabin cruisers permanently docked in the forest, Winnebago campers lurking in giant stands of dark bamboo, lawn ornaments from the 1960s arranged between sheds and shacks, and many campaign signs that haven't been taken down since the election. The folks in these parts wanted to make sure passers-by know for a fact that their candidate won. Lest we forget for a minute.

A junky stretch of roadside that would drive Lady Bird Johnson crazy were she here to see it. Photo by Kim.

Thankfully much of the MDT along roads was lightly traveled and very pretty in fall colors.
It's interesting to note that in Pennsylvania, road walking is almost as popular as trail walking. I see dozens of people every week strolling country roads, risking life and limb. I've got several routes I like to walk from my home but I always pick low-traffic times and wear obnoxious colors. Kim and I tried to walk side-by-side but traffic necessitated single-file or jumping off into the brush. In some sections we were walking through suburban neighborhoods with sidewalks but still I observed people walked in the road. So I didn't last long on sidewalks. Especially with lawnmowers spewing dust and cut grass into our path. Let the allergies commence.

I-83 is known for its deer collisions, bawdy billboards, and truck traffic. It is LOUD.
The steady up and down progress as we began the climb into the Appalachian foothills offered a few change-ups from pavement. A single gravel road. A few pretty creeks with dramatic drops and gradients. During the early years of our nation, this was mill country. We saw a few foundations of old grist mills and mill dams. Immigrants flocked to York County during the early 1800s to find work in the mills down on the river and in the uplands. We walked through Manchester Town (Borough) , named for Manchester, England, where many immigrant mill workers came from. We walked past several home conversions for many of the red brick one-room school houses. 


An old mill road.
Little rural enclaves of small homes and rustic properties minded the roads through Andersontown, and folks waved and smiled. We walked past an a chainsaw artist's house with his finest work on display in the yard. His work made the Wago snapping turtle look almost amateurish. This guy loved solar panels, too. Yay, chainsaw artist! We passed horses grazing in small pastures and stepped aside to let riders and horses have the skinny shoulder. The sun was sinking low as we passed the Mountain Grove Chapel where we heard a choir member inside tuning up for evening service.

This guy's yard was amazing.
Fresh paint. Photo by Kim.
With just a few miles to go the sun slipped behind our first big hill and we walked in twilight up from our crossing Beaver Creek. The woods were getting active with deer and Kim was lucky to catch one with her camera crossing the road between us. I was actually beginning to worry a little about hunters and wished I had worn my blaze orange baseball cap - but I did have on my obnoxious yellow-green marathon shirt on. Kim was decked out in orange everything. 


This is when I started thinking about blaze orange at sunset. Photo by Kim.
By the time we got to the state park it was too dark to follow the tiny bit of unpaved trail to my car. So we skirted the curvy mountain road to the parking lot for about a half mile, sticking tight to the guard rails and shoulderless edge. There were hunters coming out of the woods, gathering around their trucks in the lot near my car and it helped to have their headlights blazing to light up the parking area. We had completed our twenty-mile trek entirely along roads and were glad to be done with it! We were both sore and stiff, but no worse for wear. Our next section is through Gifford Pinchot State Park and a section of PA Game Lands, back on dirt trail, heading steadily northwest towards our end at the Appalachian Trail. Next time I have to remember to be as orange as Kim.

Last picture before there was no more light.

Reminder to self: Dress like Kim for next section hike.

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