Experimental music, photography, and adventures

Archive for December, 2008

Ride around Frances Slocum Lake

Monday, December 8th, 2008

I was feeling pretty down on Saturday. Really, I’ve been feeling down since I found out I’m losing my job, but on Saturday I was feeling the very kind of existential angst I’ve been hoping to avoid. I planned to get up early with Sarah (she had to work), but instead I slept in and was moping around the house, not wanting to do much of anything. I didn’t even want to ride my bicycle! You know there’s something wrong when I don’t want to go on a bike ride.

However, I knew I would feel better if I did ride, and I forced myself to get off my butt and go ride. During the week, I had been envisioning a nice long ride on Saturday, maybe riding 30-40 miles and exploring a new area, maybe to the west or south. I didn’t really feel like planning such a route so instead I extended a familiar route into some new territory. Here is the route.

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The ride started on familiar roads. The Bunker Hill climb was harder than usual, probably because I’ve ridden significantly less in the past couple of weeks. Also, it was cold enough (in the 20s) that it was hard to breathe deeply enough to get enough air.

Since I have learned that some local mountain bike clubs ride along power lines at times, I’ve gotten curious about land access issues, and I tend to watch for places near power lines that look like they’d make for a good ride. I saw some great potential places from Bunker Hill Road, but I don’t know how to find out about how to get to them, and how to find out if it’s OK to ride there.

Trail following the power lines

This one might be a little difficult

Once I completed that long climb, I had a fun descent. I kept my speed down, as it was awfully chilly. Also, my bulkier cold weather clothes slow me down considerably. I’m realizing more and more just how difficult it is to stay comfortable when riding in the mountains. During the climb, I generated a lot of heat and pushed up my sleeves and unzipped my jacket to cope with it. But then as I (almost immediately) started down the other side, I had to pull my sleeves back down, and zip my jacket as far as it’d go. Almost immediately I began climbing again … you get the picture. I’m never on flat ground for very long around here, and I’m still learning the implications of that simple fact.

On my way up Manor Road, I saw a really cool geodesic dome house. The road was mostly climbing for the next mile.

Geodesic dome house

Green Road


I passed a Christmas tree farm where a family was cutting down a tree with a chainsaw, rode by a new subdivision that’s in development, and passed a tempting piece of land of questionable ownership. I almost rode there but decided against it. There was a gate, although there was a nice clear spot next to it that I could easily fit through.

Who owns this land? And can I ride on it?

I passed a few trailheads for trails in Frances Slocum State Park. Soon, I enjoyed a fun, twisty descent, a little climbing, and then I was at the main park entrance. I decided to ride through the park. I wanted some different views of the lake, and I thought the park roads would be fun to ride on. I was right.

A fun road

Main park entrance

As I rode through the park, I realized that a DCNR truck was following me. They pulled me over, and I was more than a little confused. I didnt’ see any signs saying the road I was on was closed, or anything like that. The park ranger got out of his truckand told me, “I just read your blog!” He said he recognized my bike. We talked about the park for a few minutes, he offered me a map, and I went on my way. He backed up to go back the way he came from. I guess he’d gone out of his way to track me down. So, if you’re reading this, Mr. Park Ranger, thanks for introducing yourself!

Frances Slocum Lake

I rode down to a pier, and walked out on it. The lake had a thin layer of ice on it that creaked and cracked as the pier moved slightly as I walked. I had some nice views of the lake, but it sure was cold. The wind was stronger than I realized until I was really out in the open.

The sun reflects off a thin layer of ice

The Trucker on the pier

I had a fun climb back to the road. It looked worse than it felt, actually. Then some big rolling hills took me to 8th Street.

The climb toward the park entrance

Looking behind me as I climb

I rode by the water tower, and it was interesting to see it up close, after seeing it from my mountain bike ride last weekend. It was bigger than I expected, I guess. It’s just barely visible in this shot from last weekend.

Water tower

Rolling hills (there’s also a big cemetery to the left, and some mountain views to the right)

Next I enjoyed a descent of a mile and a half. I once again kept my speed down, but even so tears were streaming from my eyes as the cold wind reached them. It’s a beautiful ride through a gap of sorts. I could have taken 8th all the way down to the valley, but I have done that a few times. I opted instead to climb Carverton Road and go down Bunker HIll Road, back the way I came. I had quite a bit more climbing, and I stopped by Frances Slocum Lake to get yet another perspective, this time from the dam at the southeast corner of the lake.

Climbing Carverton Road

View from the dam

Looking the other way from the top of the dam

After that climb, I got to go downhill briefly, and then had another 300-foot climb before I could start the descent down Dug/Bunker Hill Road. It was simply brutal, but I knew I had nearly three miles of descending ahead. I got another great view near the top.

View from Dug Road

It was another eye-watering descent. It’s got a lot of twists and turns, so I kept my speed in check. It’s a thrilling ride, especially since the road skirts the edge of the mountain and you can see a long way down. My ears popped probably three times on the way down.

It was a most enjoyable ride. Even though I only got to see a little new territory, I got to explore some new places, at least. And the ride did lift my spirits, as I thought it would. I’m still trying to get used to how challenging the rides are around here, though. I rode 20 miles and was gone nearly two hours, climbing 2400 feet in the process. In Bloomington, I could do my ride around Lake Lemon, about 35 miles, in about the same time (then again, that ride had less than 1300 feet of climbing).

I need to start thinking of my rides in slightly different terms; in the past, I’ve paid more attention to distance than anything else, but that doesn’t tell the whole story here.

Losing my job

Friday, December 5th, 2008

I found out a couple of days ago that the company where I’ve worked for the past two and a half years is folding. Well, sort of: really, it’s mostly being absorbed by another company. However, that company does not need a Web developer. This means that come the first of the year, I’ll be out of a job. Thankfully, I think most of my coworkers are safe.

So, I’ve sent out some applications locally, but there aren’t a lot of openings in my field. I’ve also considered going the consulting route; I could probably pick up a client or two who used to use my company’s development services, and do projects for them on a contract basis. If I could find another client or two, I could be in decent shape.

I’ve also considered reinventing myself. I could be a clown makeup artist, a jukebox repairman, or maybe even a garbage man. Any suggestions out there?

Seriously, if anyone out there knows someone who needs a Web developer, either in the Wilkes-Barre, PA area, or in a telecommuting scenario, let me know!

Mountain biking at Frances Slocum State Park

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

Last Sunday, I wanted to get out for another ride. I decided it was time to check out the mountain biking trails closest to our house, in Frances Slocum State Park; it felt silly that I hadn’t ridden there yet, and Black Friday’s snow biking put me in the mood for some more mountain biking.

I awakened Sunday morning to some of my least favorite riding conditions: temperatures hovering just above freezing, and steady rain. I’m not a big fan of riding in the rain, but it’s especially bad when it’s that cold. And, I’d rather have snow than cold rain. Snow doesn’t usually soak you as much, and is a lot more fun.

However, I was hopeful. I was heading to higher elevations, and I hoped that there would be snow in the park. I wasn’t really expecting much from these trails; I had read there were maybe 5-6 miles of them, and of all the places people in the area had suggested riding, these trails hadn’t come up once. But, they are just about 6 miles away. Now that’s convenient!

When I arrived at the park, I found that the precipitation on the mountain was closer to sleet than rain, and there was a thin coating of snow on the ground. This was definitely preferable over the rain in the valley. I saw a couple other riders leaving as I was arriving.

Here is a map of my ride. It was about six miles long with about 1,000 feet of climbing. Note: for some reason, not all the photos are showing up on this map. I can’t fix it now, but I wonder what’s up.

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Light snow by the trailhead

Almost immediately, I had to get off to walk a large log pile. I might have attempted it if the logs weren’t coated in snow and very slippery. The trail followed the edge of the lake for a while, offering some fantastic views. There was a thin layer of ice covering the lake, and it was a wonderful dark and dreary day. However, the trees helped to shield me from the sleet quite a bit. I was a lot more comfortable once I was in the woods.

View of the lake from the trail

One of many log piles on this trail

Frances Slocum Lake

It took a long time for me to find my groove. The trails were riddled with rocks and log piles, and at first I wasn’t sure how good my traction was, so I didn’t even attempt some of the technical parts. At other times, I choked during climbs, thinking my rear wheel was going to spin out under me. I soon realized that in fact my rear wheel wasn’t spinning out — I wasn’t even giving it a chance. It seemed as if surely these wet/snowy rocks would be too slick for my tire to grip, but that proved not to be the case. I love the rear tire on this bike (Kenda Nevegal). If anything, it was probably overkill in Indiana, but I was glad to have such an aggressive tire on this ride.

While I was a little frustrated with my performance at first, I soon came to appreciate the design of these trails. Obviously, a lot of work has gone into them, and there were numerous features that looked impossible but proved to be quite ridable, and even more exhilarating. I could also tell that if I could just find my rhythm even the technical parts would flow very well.

A scary-looking, but ridable, rock-armored creek crossing

The trails were blazed in different colors, but there were no signs with the trail names on them. I had printed a map, and was glad to have it, but I decided early on to follow the existing tracks on the trail. I figured whomever rode here before me probably knew where they were going. I could always get the map out if I got turned around.

I had a bit of climbing to do, but it wasn’t too bad. The trail followed some strange old stone walls for some time.


Stone walls

Suddenly, the trail spit me out in a clearing, with some decent views of the surrounding land. The trail also got smoother, faster, and flowed better, for a while. I was really enjoying myself.

Riding through a clearing

There was a significant amount of climbing, but it never felt like too much at once. It was broken up by short descents and other fun stuff. This was one of those rare rides where it seemed like I got to do more descending than climbing. I knew that wasn’t so, but it sure felt good, regardless.

By the time the trail started throwing technical challenges at me again, I had found my groove, and I had a better sense of how much traction I had in these conditions. I tackled the rocks, and roots, and log piles more aggressively. I was clearing most things and having a blast doing it. I still had to walk a couple of bigger log piles, and there was one section with four log piles in a row that was just too much. But overall I was riding very well, even flowing over huge stretches of rocks, and liking it.

This entire section of trail was armored with rocks

Snowy tire treads on rocks

Tricky creek crossing

Fast, flowing trail

Several log piles in a row

Now that’s fun!

After a long climb and another fun descent, I found myself back by the lake. I paused to take some photos and just enjoy the scenery.

Log piles on the way to the lake

Frances Slocum Lake



Another shot of the lake

I rode back to the car, but quickly decided I was going back out. Incredibly, I had ridden less than four miles at this point. It felt like a lot more, but I still felt great and there was a trail I hadn’t ridden on yet, and I wanted to check it out.

I appreciated the first part of the trail more the second time around. Some of the log piles were still more than I wanted to attempt, but I did much better on the rocky stuff, and generally kept my speed up. I reached the trail I wanted to see and followed it. It was a bit less technical than the main trail, but I had a lot of climbing to do, and a whole lot of roots interfering with my efforts.

Rocks and roots

More flowing trail


My bicycle, resting against the boulder

I got a little turned around and thought I had gone the wrong way. The arrows of sorts on the trees were a little hard to follow at times. The trail got very steep and I left my bike to go explore on foot. The trail I wanted seemed to go in two different directions, so I wasn’t sure what to do. I went back to my bike and went the other way, but I soon found myself back at the main trail. I headed back and went up the steep climb, which required some walking. Once I finished that climb, I had a lot of fun descending ahead of me. I didn’t take many photos during this section; I was having too much fun! I went by the clearing again, which had even better views this time around, and the trail turned into a gravel path for a while. It wasn’t as challenging, but I appreciated the fun and easy riding for a few minutes. Around this time the rain started in earnest, although I stayed fairly dry thanks to the trees, except during the clearing.

Wide gravel trail

Looking down at my rear wheel

Reaching the clearing again

There were still a few technical challenges ahead of me, such as a rooty drop down to a rock bridge creek crossing, and loads of rocks toward the beginning of the trail. But I was riding better than I had the whole ride. I found my rhythm and floated over some pretty rough stuff a lot better than I thought I could. But in the midst of all that were more flowing sections of trail. These trails strike a great balance between the technical sections and fast sections where you can really let loose.

Dropping down to a creek crossing, then climbing immediately back up

Easy riding alongside the lake

My bicycle by the lake

Bike by the trail

Parting shot of the lake

I got back to the car, and discovered it was raining harder than I thought. Almost immediately upon exiting the woods, I thought to myself, “this is miserable!” And indeed, the conditions seemed worse for the rest of the day than they did during my ride. Partially, they were (it got rainier), but also, being out in the woods on my bicycle kept me physically warm, and mentally comfortable. This was a great ride, on a day in which I easily could have just stayed home (and a day on which road riding would have been miserable).

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