Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Archive for October, 2008

Ride through downtown Wilkes-Barre

Friday, October 31st, 2008

On Wednesday, I did a short ride during my lunch break. I wanted to try riding across the North Street bridge, and I had yet to ride in downtown Wilkes-Barre, so this was a good opportunity to try it.

Most people I’ve asked about riding in this area have said it’s not a very bike-friendly area. Drivers apparently aren’t accustomed to dealing with cyclists. But I have seen quite a few people riding around town, even if most of them are riding erratically and/or on the sidewalks. The real problem with this for me is that sometimes I get the sense that since that’s what drivers around here mostly see cyclists doing, they think I’m doing something wrong when I take a more vehicular approach — riding in the street instead of on the sidewalk, and riding in the traffic lane consistently, not swerving into the parking area when no one is parked there. But as usual, I find the more I hold my ground, the better off I am. Unfortunately, I occasionally feel some drivers think I’m intentionally holding up traffic by riding this way.

As I’ve driven around town a bit, I see a lot of potential for cycling. There are a lot of side streets, and even on some of the main roads, speed limits are generally low. And so far, I haven’t seen any major traffic.

On the other hand, I feel a bit of extra anxiety; the last time I tried to ride in an unfamiliar place, I got hit by a car. So, I’m taking my time trying to get to know the area and being extra cautious.

I set out riding from home and rode over to Pierce Street, which turns into North Street and goes over the Susquehanna River. This is one of two nearby bridges that take you over the river. The other being is the Market Street Bridge, which has very wide sidewalks that can accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. Normally, I wouldn’t advocate riding on the sidewalk, but I think a bridge is a different story. There are no intersections, driveways, or doors to worry about. Going into this ride, I wasn’t sure if the North Street Bridge had a sidewalk or path.

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Weird intersection at Market Street and Wyoming Avenue

Riding down Pierce Street was better than I expected. It’s four lanes, but traffic was light and I had no problems with motorists. As I approached the river on North Street, I could see that it did have a sidewalk. It’s much narrower than the one on the Market Street bridge, but I decided to ride there anyway.

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Crossing the North Street bridge

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Looking over at the Market Street Bridge

I turned on Main Street shortly after crossing the bridge. Wilkes-Barre doesn’t have much of a downtown to speak of, really. There are a few blocks of downtown area, but that’s about it. I found it was well-suited to bicycling. There was no specialized infrastructure, but low speed limits and frequent crosswalks, if anything, put me at an advantage. The only place I had a problem was at Public Square, where there is a very confusing two-lane roundabout. I have a hard time figuring out how it’s supposed to work in a car, let alone on a bike. I made it through, but I need to figure out a better approach.

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Downtown Wilkes-Barre

I rode by the Osterhout Free Library, where my wife now works. I wished I had brought a lock so I could see her. I think she was on lunch at the time, anyway. It’s the coolest library I’ve ever seen, as it’s in an old church building. It’s beautiful inside and out, although they are doing some major renovations, and it’s covered in scaffolding.

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Osterhout Free Library

Downtown Wilkes-Barre is an interesting. There are a lot of of old buildings, in various conditions. Some have been well-maintained, but there are some abandoned buildings that have fallen into disrepair.

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Some beautiful old buildings downtown

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The abandoned Hotel Sterling

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Another shot of Hotel Sterling

I’ll have to revisit this area with my wife and my good camera so we can take some proper photos instead of these snapshots.

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My bicycle at Hotel Sterling

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An interesting neighboring building, the Riverwalk Grille

After that brief detour, I rode back to Kingston on the Market Street bridge.

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Ongoing construction on the riverwalk trail

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Some information about the bridge

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My bicycle on the bridge

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Looking back at the North Street bridge, which I crossed on my way to downtown Wilkes-Barre

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Supports on the bridge

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Another bike shot

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Lamps

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Looking toward Kingston

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Arch detail

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Detailed work above the arch. Did something go here at one time?

Once across the bridge, I took the levee path over to the Forty Fort border, then rode home. A few flurries fell as I rode. The wind was also a major factor while riding along this wide open, elevated path.

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View of the mountains from the levee path

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The levee path

One interesting thing about this area is that there are numerous small towns (boroughs). In under 7 miles, I went through three or four different boroughs: Kingston, Wilkes-Barre, Forty Fort, and possibly Edwardsville (I’m not sure exactly where the Kingston/Edwardsville border lies).

It was a good little ride. This area may not be as bike-friendly as Bloomington was, but so far I have not had any problems. I’m looking forward to exploring more.

Larksville Mountain

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Yesterday, I decided it was time to test my mettle and planned a short ride up Larksville Mountain. I had driven out this way before and wanted to see if I could make the climb on my bicycle. Here’s the route.

It was chilly and overcast — great riding weather. I rode out of Kingston and into Edwardsville. Traffic was light, and drivers were courteous. After a slight road construction delay, I was on my way.

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Approaching Edwardsville

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Riding through Edwardsville, mountains in the background

The climb started innocently enough, there were even a couple of switchbacks. But then the road got steeper, and mostly stayed that way for nearly two miles.

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The climb begins

I have to say, I knew this was going to be difficult, but it was harder than I imagined. While no single part was too steep to pedal up, the climbing was simply relentless. I had to stop probably three times during the climb to catch my breath.

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Looking back, for a glimpse of the mountains on the other side of the valley

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Riding past a cemetery

The climbing did let up briefly a couple of times, which was good because I needed flatter ground to stop and rest. A few switchbacks were in place, but at times they did little to lessen the grade. Of course, I don’t have photos of the steeper parts. I was too busy riding.

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Switchback

I entered a pattern: climb for a while, rest for a while. I was aware of the fact that with the twists and turns and steep climbs, it’d be tough for motorists to see me. Here, my mirror came in handy, and I learned that if I rode closer to the center of the road, I’d be more visible. Then I could always move to the right to make it easier for cars to pass me. Since I was going maybe 5 mph, pass me they did. I was in the lowest gear on my Long Haul Trucker, which is a very low gear indeed, and I was pedaling hard and a lower cadence than I’d like just to keep moving.

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Gaining ground (looking back again). It’s hard to believe I came from the valley below.

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View at a power line right-of-way

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My bicycle

Finally, the grade lessened, and I even got to coast for a couple of minutes, giving me a false sense of security. Was I at the top? At first it felt like it, but as the road gradually climbed further, I realized that wasn’t the case. The road got steeper once again and I climbed another half mile or so, finally cresting the mountain and starting down the other side.

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Deceptively easy

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Never has a “Reduced Gear Zone” sign been a more welcome sight

Larksville Mountain Panorama
Panoramic view from the top, looking down the other side.

I had been planning on riding down the other side, then turning around and riding back. But I decided I’d had enough climbing. I turned onto a residential street to get a photo of the valley and ended up talking to a retired guy who was out getting his mail from the mailbox. He was quite a character, and we discussed everything from bicycles to diesel engines, bike and car tires, “those crazy French bikes,” the local climate, etc. He described his commute to Mountain Top, a town on top of a mountain on the other side of the valley, where at times it’d be snowing at his home on the mountain, he’d drive through the valley in the rain, and end up in Mountain Top with snow falling once again, all due to the change in elevation. I’d expect this kind of thing in bigger mountains, but it didn’t occur to me that the same would happen in smaller mountain ranges (we were at around 1400 feet).

I turned back. I had been hot on the way up but now felt quite chilly, and I didn’t have my jacket with me. I’ll have to make sure to carry it more often. What was a punishing climb was now a blissful, but challenging descent. My brakes got a good workout, and I found myself wishing I had gotten the Kool Stop salmon pads instead of the black ones I ended up with. They worked fine, but the black ones aren’t as grippy as the salmon pads.

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A slight climb before the descent

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The steep downward slope sign reads 1 1/2 miles

I kept my speed down during the descent. Since I’m not familiar with the twists and turns, I was extra careful. Some turns were even slightly banked, which was pretty cool, although some were not. I made it down the mountain in a fraction of the time it’d taken me to climb it. It was a grueling climb, rising over 1,000 feet, mostly in about two miles, but also very rewarding. It’s amazing to stand on the mountain and look down at the valley, knowing you’ve arrived at this point high above under your own power. It makes you feel very strong, but at the same time, it’s a humbling experience. Truth be told, Larksville Mountain kicked my ass, I just lived to tell about it.

Hickory Run State Park

Monday, October 27th, 2008

No riding this weekend. I was going to ride on Sunday, but decided spending the day exploring the area with Sarah would be a better way to go. I was right.

We drove down to Hickory Run State Park to do some hiking. First, we tackled the Hawk Falls trail. It’s a 0.7-mile out-and-back trail. As usual, we stretched a short hike into a long one, taking lots of photos and exploring every nook and cranny along the way.

The trail was wide, much like the one I hiked with my mom at Nescopeck State Park the previous week. But this trail surface got rougher as it went, and was hillier, so it was more challenging. Still, it was a fairly easy hike, but a lot of fun.

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Wide trail

The trail started with a smooth surface and went gradually downhill the whole way out. We were following a stream called Hawk Run. We crossed the stream, which was really gushing (presumably due to Saturday’s rain), on a bridge.

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Sarah on the bridge

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Hawk Run

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The trail

The trail continued following Hawk Run. We got a nice overhead view of Hawk Falls and climbed out on some rocks to get a better view. There was a Pennsylvania Turnpike bridge nearby, which meant some highway noise and a manmade structure interfering with the natural setting, but at the same time, it added an interesting element to the scene.

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Roots

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Foliage

Waterfall
Hawk Falls

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Sarah, and the rocks down which we climbed

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Sarah, with mountains in the distance

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Turnpike bridge

As we hiked on, we saw Mud Run, and found the confluence of Mud Run and Hawk Run. The water from both was flowing quite vigorously, and combined with Hawk Falls, the sound mostly drowned out the highway. There were some impressive sights and sounds, to be sure.

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Sticks/roots dragging in the water

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The trail by Mud Run

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Turnpike bridge

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Hawk Falls

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Another shot of Hawk Falls

Here, the trail ended and we turned back. What was a gradual downhill hike to this point was now a gradual but constant climb. We made quick work of it, though, this time around.  We’d hike a lot faster if we didn’t take so many photos, but we see no need to hurry. Hawk Falls, and the streams and forest were all quite enchanting, and we savored every moment.

Next, we drove to another trailhead to hike part of the FIreline trail. While that trail is 2.5 miles long, we only hiked about half a mile out, turned around, and hiked back. We wanted a good view of the mountains and read that there was a nice vista there. Plus, it was getting dark, and we wanted to be done before it did so.

The Fireline trail is another wide one, but this one is rated “Difficult.” The part we hiked was easy, so I can only assume it gets more difficult as it progresses. We were hiking toward the nearly-setting sun, and the whole mountain was glowing as a result. The ruddy rock surface to the trail, combined with the golden light, made for an almost alien appearance.


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Fireline trail

We reached the vista and heard a huge flock of some kind of migratory bird above us. There was a massive cloud of birds, and they made quite a racket — I have no idea what kind of birds they were, and I couldn’t get a good shot. But we had great views of some surrounding mountains, and the Lehigh Gorge. Shooting into the sun made it difficult to get good shots — the valley was fairly dark, but a few turned out well. I could see coming back to this spot at different times of day, during different seasons, etc. I’d love to watch it evolve.

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The sun, about to set over Lehigh Gorge

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Sarah, getting the shot

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Us

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The sun sets

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The whole scene

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Sarah

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Me, enjoying the view

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Red rocks on the surface of the mountain

It was quite a beautiful setting. I can’t wait to go back and explore more of the 23 trails at Hickory Run. The neighboring Lehigh Gorge State Park has 20 miles of rail-trails waiting to be explored, white water rafting, etc. I’d love to go camping at Hickory Run for a weekend, and explore both parks. There are even designated bike routes between them.

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