Saturday, June 24, 2023

Sister's Campout 2023: Changing it Up

The day before I leave for the southern district of Shenandoah National Park to join my sister Laura for our annual sister's campout week, I made the decision to outfit a borrowed truck for the week while my own truck has been sitting idle at a repair facility with a thrown piston rod awaiting a new engine. It's been a very expensive summer so far. One I can hardly afford. But my son, a conservation photographer who is off on his own adventure north of the Arctic Circle, has gracioulsy let me borrow his Toyota Tundra so I can make this trip. Changes to how I do things. Changes to what I can take. But I am incredibly thankful. 

Clearly  not my truck

With less that 24 hours before I go, I build a tent and gear deck for the Tundra then, as if on cue the mailman shows up with the new truck tent I ordered two days ago. Granville, a gear, truck, and tool company from Canada has supplied me before with very decent equipment - but only when I've been in Canada at a bricks and mortar store. (Looking at you PEI, NB, NS, ONT) This is the first time I've puchased a Granville product online while not in Canada. Affter some initial fooling around with assembling and positioning, the tent is set up and I decide this might work! The real test will be this week in the Appalachians with the daily storms and rain showers. 

Trying on the new truck tent

I went to the dealership to retrieve my gear so I could repack it to fit the new ride. A parts department person came out to ask me what I was doing and I told her about how my own truck is my "road home" and that I basically have to move everything to the Toyota to make this upcoming camping trip work. "You don't have much stuff. Do you take a bunch more from home?" I tell her no. I camp in my truck shell and everything I use to stay weeks on the road (besides food) fits in and under the built in bunk. She looks incredulous. "Geeze," she says. "We have a 40-foot RV and we still tow a utility trailer behind it because we have so much stuff."  I can't even imagine.

Missing my ride

When I built my F-150 out a few years ago, I remember deciding how much stuff I really wanted or needed for a comfortable two week to month long camping trip.  It wasn't hard to scale everything down to four categories: kitchen/pantry, clothes, sleep system, gear. From there it was a bit like backpacking, considering essentials and what I wanted to provide for both Amos and I. But when it came time to reorganize and repack to fit my son's truck, I took another look and decided I could do with another round of slimming down. It wasn't hard, save for making room for the new truck tent.

Goodnight, Susquehanna

After all was sorted and packed, Amos and I took one last stroll down to the river. This time tomorrow we'll be snug in the truck tent in Shenandoah National Park. On the river the rains, for now, have ended and a river-blue sky soothes retreating storm clouds into the twilight.  It's been too long since I've had a break. Too long since I've taken a long hike or sat on a summit in awe of those ancient mountains.  A  lot has changed in a year's time. A lot of changes were made today. And, it's time to think about making some more changes in the months ahead.  I've made a few serious commitments in the last year. And, I've unmade some, too.  All in an ongoing attempt to lighten the load and experience the solace of a different trail. 

May we not neglect the silence
printed in the center of our being.
It will not fail us.

~Thomas Merton

Friday, June 2, 2023

PA Memorial Day Ride: Enola Low Grade Rail Trail

 Enola Low Grade Rail Trail: Red Hill to Turkey Hill, Out & Back 20 miles

My "backyard rail-trail" the Enola Low Grade is only minutes from my  home across the river and thus I am biased when I say that it may be one of the best rail trails in the region. Gloating aside, I took my first-of-the-year bike ride on Memorial Day morning in May which is probably the latest start I've ever had to my biking season. Sounds like a good reason to extend my winter riding to make up for lost miles and days this spring.

The deck is decked out on the Safe Harbor Trestle

Like banners and flags put out for the holiday, there are symbols of late spring and the start of summer all along the trail, but you have to stop now and then to find and enjoy them. I took four walking breaks over twenty miles just to look for nature's sign that summer is upon us. Eagles were everywhere, of course, as were Osprey and Great Blue Herons. The frequent release sirens from the Safe Harbor Dam drew birds up and down river to the bubbling waters in expectation of fish. 

Human and avian fishers were hanging close to the dam

Mountain Laurel near the Turkey Hil Trailhead

Wild Carrot in the brushy edges

Greybeard and Mustard near Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve 

Tulip Poplar blossom 

By the time I'd reached the Turkey Hill trailhead I noticed a huge increase in visitors to the trail. People walking, jogging, biking, birding, railroad history buffs, sight-seers, and many Mennonite and Amish families pulling picnic coolers on wagons crowded the trail. My friend John was out on his e-bike helping people spot eagles and landmarks on the river. I just missed the only snake of the day as a father and daughter backpacking the entire trail for the weekend (35 miles) had only then just assisted a beautiful Milk Snake into the woods out of harm's way. "It was gorgeous!" said the twelve-year old hiker, carrying full kit for the first time but looking very proud of herself for the effort.

What happened here?

A family of ten occupied an entire picnic table near a bent and braced overhead tower beam and were roaring with laughter as each came up with a silly tale for "What Happened Here?"  The eldest son took home the prize with his hilarious tale of a giant ox racing an engine and crashing into the beam when he turned to look back at the engine behind him. Clearly this maneuver cost the ox the race! 

Highview, Round Top, Wrightsville Bridge line up behind the Conejohela Flats islands

Pequea Creek from Martoic Trestle

Mid-morning the tempertaures were rising along with the number of people on the trail. I biked east over the Martic Trestle where the crowds were smaller but the dust was up. My face and legs were covered in the limestone dust that rose in swirls behind every rider. At my end point, also my starting point, at Red Hill Road everything was caked in white stonedust, me and my bike!


Susquehanna Greenway Partnership on the Enola Low Grade Trail