Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Archive for December, 2008

Larksville/Plymouth mountain

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

On Sunday, I almost didn’t ride. It was a very nice day, but I just wasn’t feeling it. But sometimes Sarah knows me better than I know myself, and encouraged me to ride. I’m glad she did; it was a great ride.

I planned a ride in mostly new areas. First, I’d explore an area I found in Google Earth that I thought might give me some interesting views of Bunker Hill, where I frequently ride. Then, I’d climb Larksville Mountain, but do it a different way than in the past, and ride over to Plymouth Mountain before dropping back down into the valley.

I am really enjoying planning rides with my GPS — it’s far easier than my usual method of taking screenshots, cropping them, writing out directions, and printing everything out, usually spanning several sheets of paper. Now I just click where the turns are and while my GPS does not have autorouting capabilities (and therefore just shows a straight line from one point to the next, not following the roads) it’s good enough to get me where I’m going. I usually mess up following the GPS at least once per ride, but it nearly always seems to be in more congested areas (in town) where it’s easier to get back on track. Here’s the route I rode. It’s nearly exactly what I had planned.

View Larger Map

I started climbing nearly immediately. A couple of short climbs at first (now, half a mile is a short climb) got my blood pumping, and in the 40-degree heat, I felt awfully warm. I did manage to get an interesting view of Bunker Hill, and a good look back into the valley, shortly into my ride, from Courtright Street.

Courtright Street Panorama-smaller
Panoramic view back into the valley, from about 200 feet above it

Bunker hill, as seen through a chainlink fence

I found an interesting little trail by this school and followed it to see if there were better views. No such luck, and I dropped my camera along the way. I picked it up on my way back. It was fun to ride offroad briefly.

Side trail

I rode through a residential area near Courtdale that looked in Google Earth like it might have some good views of Bunker Hill. Unfortunately there were no gaps in the houses where I could look. I think there would have been some nice views from some back yards. Alas. A few places I saw in Google Earth and hoped to go were signed “Private Drive.” One didn’t have a sign, and I rode up it only to discover that it was in fact somebody’s driveway. Someone came out of the house, they were cool about it, and I told them they should have a sign; I thought it was a road.

Clearly signed driveway

How am I supposed to know this is a driveway? It looks incredibly inviting, too

Having had limited success in the residential area, I rode over to Corby Street for what turned out to be a brutal climb, riding 500 feet over the course of a mile. It was splended: a pretty, quiet, effectively one-lane road. But it was long, and steep at times, reaching a 20% grade at one point. No section was unridable, but I had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath take some photos. I saw the remains of a couple deer alongside the road, and wondered if they had been shot and left there, or if something else had happened. They seemed fairly picked clean, so I get the feeling something must have devoured them.

Scene on the way to Corby St.

Up …

Looking back … you can see the distant mountains on the other side of the valley, and you can almost make out some buildings in the valley itself

Brutal climbing

A very helpful mirror, mid-switchback

More climbing


The grade let up a bit as the climb wore on. But then something unexpected happened: the pavement ended and it became a gravel road. This was unexpected to me because I have found very few gravel roads in this area. I was pleasantly surprised, and had some fun with it. Fortunately none of the gravel sections were terribly steep. The gravel in this area is strange, very dark and reddish in color. It was hard-packed gravel, with a smooth surface and not much loose rock on top. This made for fairly easy riding, even if I was still climbing.


Laundry hung out to dry

Once I reached the top, I stopped to rest a bit and take in the scenery. I hadn’t expected to see Bunker HIll from here, but there was a clearing, and I had a nice view. I was exhausted from the trip up, but it felt very rewarding to be at the top.

At the top, looking back

Corby Road Panorama
Panoramic view of Bunker HIll from Corby Road

While I was here, I wanted to see if you could go mountain biking by the power lines. These were clearly marked as private property/no tresspassing, and I assume they mean business. Blast.

The Trucker alongside Corby Road

Power lines going the other way

A look at where I was headed — slick gravel road

The road got wetter and had a slick, greasy surface almost more like mud. If it had been mud though I would have just sunk in.

The road turned and for a while I rode toward the sun. There was a bit of snow and ice here and there, and the sun’s rays reflected off the slippery road surface, nearly blinding me at times.

Snowy cornfield

Strange road surface

Bright reflections

I was on flat ground, briefly, and even passed some cornfields. I have seen very little agriculture here in NE Pennsylvania; there just isn’t much flat ground, except in the valley, which is fairly developed. But here, on top of Larksville mountain, is some flat(ish) land, and farmers take advantage of it where they can find it.



I soon realized that I was not, in fact, at the top of the mountain. In fact quite a bit of climbing was still ahead of me, but it was much easier. It really didn’t even feel like climbing, after the Corby St. madness.

More climbing

Rolling fields

Barn Panorama
Barn, with a strange military-looking truck

As I climbed, it got colder and the road got snowier and icier. But it wasn’t anything the Trucker couldn’t handle, even though it still simply has the stock tires.

Icier road


Eventually, my GPS beeped and the screen said I was approaching Mountain Road. This I knew to be paved. Riding got easier after this point, although I had a lot of fun on the gravel roads. I had a little bit of confusion at the intersection but eventually figured out which way to go.

West to Mountain Road

I took Weaverton Road for a while, which had a few ups and downs. I was still riding toward the sun, and apparently here they’d had an ice storm. The trees here were covered in ice, and the power lines crackled as they swayed in the wind, breaking the ice. Bits of ice crunched under my tires, having fallen from the trees, and the crystalline branches refracted the sun’s rays, creating quite a spectacle.

Ice-covered trees, becoming prisms

Orange sunlight (the camera captured it this way)

A bend in the road

I came to an unmarked intersection and took a moment to figure out which way to go. I made sure to snap a photo of a “Mountain Rd.” sign; surely I can use this for something.

Mountain Rd

The quiet road meandered a bit before plunging down into the valley. Near the beginning of the descent I passed a house where members of the Wyoming Valley Mountain Bike Association were wrapping up a ride. I figured it must have been them, and waved. I later verified that it was, in fact, them.

I don’t normally stop to take photos while I’m descending, but this time I did. There were some great views of the valley on my way down the mountain. It was a long, steep descent of nearly two miles, and I was glad I hadn’t gone up that way. Now that would hurt. It’s amazing bombing down the mountain and coming around a turn to see the valley open up below you.

Icy trees by the power lines (Is this where they do the Chinese Downhill?)

A few rolling hills before the plunge

Mountain Road Panorama
Panoramic view of the valley from Mountain Road

A closeup of part of the view

Hill – Trucks use low gear

The road drops steeply at several points

Another great view

It’s a bit of a struggle to focus on the road with these views ahead of you. With all the curves, and the sand on the road, I took it very slowly and probably only hit 30 mph. I can’t imagine how fast you could get going if you really let loose.

Now most of the way down, but still some great views

I rode across part of the valley I haven’t really seen before, parts of Plymouth and Edwardsville. I took back roads; some people seem to ride on Wyoming Ave / Route 11, but it seems awfully busy to me.

I had a couple of interesting incidents as I rode back toward home. First a guy was out talking to some buddies and recognized me, saying “I saw you taking photos at the top! Long ride down?” Of course the only response could be “The ride down was quick, the ride UP was long.” Funny that he recognized me.

A few blocks later I saw some kids out riding BMX bikes, and struggling up a small hill. I flew past and one of the kids’ jaw dropped and he said, simply “Woah!” It’s obvious people don’t see a lot of serious cyclists around here and this is the second time a kid has seen me and reacted like I was some kind of superhero. It’s flattering, but mainly I hope they are impressed enough to ride more themselves. I probably could have stopped and said something, but I pressed on.


Residential scene

Run-down garage

Somewhere around Plymouth/Edwardsville

Another interesting, somewhat run-down building

This was an incredible ride, and what amazes me most is that it was only 16.5 miles. In these mountains, a 16-mile ride can feel almost epic, and I was gone for about two hours. Of course, it had some 2,000 feet of climbing, so that is part of the equation. But there was such a variety of scenery (urban, rural, mountainous, steep, flat, dry, muddy, icy, paved, unpaved, agricultural, residential, industrial) that I felt like I had ridden much further.

Back Mountain Trail on foot, and some nighttime photography

Monday, December 15th, 2008

On Saturday, we hiked part of the Back Mountain trail. We had contemplated going to a state park for a more challenging hike, but then we fell asleep on the couch and by the time we got moving again, it was too late.

It was a chilly day, in the 20s, and there was a little bit of snow and ice in places. Despite our late start and the cool weather, we managed to hike about 4 miles.

Back Mountain Trail

Toby Creek

Slightly revised fees

Sarah and Rob


The Back Mountain Trail has some beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, it’s rather noisy, with PA Route 309 running right below it. I found the noise a little more bothersome on foot than it is when I’m on my bicycle. Still, it felt great to be outside.

Rock face and trail

Ongoing construction — I need to find out what this structure is. They were doing some welding.


A nearly-vertical cloud

It was getting dark quickly, so the photos get pretty dark here, but they depict the moment well, I think. I could mess around with them and try to make them brighter, but the growing vagueness as darkness fell was part of the allure.
Sarah and Rob again




Heading back. The glowing dots are street lights for the highway below

Power lines

Getting darker

Glowing trees

A few times I used rocks, trees, or handrails in lieu of a tripod. This worked fairly well. I tend to forget how much I enjoy nighttime photography. After we got home and ate dinner, I set out on foot, camera and tripod in tow. There are a couple of beautiful church buildings in the area that are illuminated at night. I did  some exposure bracketing, and I planned on making some HDR images, but in my view the plain night shots turned out better. So, no HDR shots here.


Saint Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church (and full moon)

Dome on St. Mary’s



Stained glass

The Church of Saint Ignatius Loyola

This must be either Mary, or St. Ann (Mary’s mother)


Reflection in a neighboring building


Hitting 3,000 miles, and discovering more of the levee trail

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Yesterday, I finally hit 3,000 miles of riding for the year. Last year I hit the big 3K in October, so I’m behind, compared to last year. But of course I have had a number of major life changes this year. I am just thrilled that I made it to 3,000. Now, I’ve ridden 6,592 miles since I started keeping track last February.

The other day, I discovered a whole new section of the Levee Trail system. In the past, I’ve stopped at a “no trespassing” sign, but I rode past it and while I thought the trail ended at K-Mart, it continues past that for a while, and then connects with a strange, apparently unnamed road that connects to a road close to where I live. This means there’s a closer access point to the trail that avoids a lot of traffic. Needless to say, I was pleased to make this discovery. The section I explored was paved; there were also some gravel and dirt trails branching off from the main trail that I have yet to explore.

The scenery is quite varied, with some sections feeling nearly rural, and some residential, industrial and retail areas. First, here’s the map.

View Larger Map


Market Street

Getting on the levee trail

Another view


It’s strange, the “NO TRESPASSING” sign is right by the railroad tracks. There is an identical sign on the other side, but the trail is open on both sides. I guess they just don’t want you crossing the tracks?

Railroad tracks

A water tank of some kind

Kmart — the trail also goes by some other stores. It could be useful for actually getting around.

Riding toward the mountains

Some (probably abandoned) fuel tanks


Another view of one of the tanks

Z&B Body Shop

Unmarked road. This section feels almost rural.

Signs of industry

Dirt road. If I’d been on my mountain bike, or it hadn’t been so muddy, I would’ve checked it out more

Even though I was close to home, I turned around and rode back the way I came. I wanted to explore some more and ride a few more miles.

Small gravel trail paralleling the road

The trail let out behind a business

Another church

I just noticed a limo in the above photo. What the heck was a limo doing in the seedy underbelly of Edwardsville?

Industrial buildings and distant mountains

An abandoned restaurant, or something

Tanks again

These things cool. Notice the staircases don’t go all the way down anymore


Abandoned Amoco center. Peak oil? Localized economic woes?

Abandoned Amoco

Strange walkway

Messing with perspective

Gravel road/trail

Dirt trail. This will be fun to explore, at some point. It was a muddy mess.

There seem to be a lot of offshoot trails. This will be fun to explore, and maybe I’ll map out the entire trail system.

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