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Christmas Hike 2008

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Last year, Sarah and I hiked at McCormick’s Creek State Park, in southern Indiana, with my family. That day was unusually warm, at 47 degrees — I wore a sweater, for a hike on Christmas day!

Well, it looks like the Christmas hike is becoming a tradition. This year was a lot different, as it was just Sarah and me, and here in NE Pennsylvania, we had snow and ice to contend with. We both were (and still are) sick, but it was great to get out anyway.

We went down to Nescopeck State Park, where mom and I hiked when she came to help us move in. Sarah and I had never been there together. We decided to hike the Creekside Trail, and now that we have done a little snowshoeing, we felt confident enough to bring the dog with us.




Wide trail, mountains


Another view of the creek

Rob, running alongside the creek

The trail was wide and easy for a while. It had snowed, warmed up, and then re-froze, so there was a fairly thick layer of ice on top of the remaining snow. It was very slick, but no real problem with our snowshoes. The crampons dig into the ice and have a very strong grip.

There was one thing we hadn’t counted on, though, that caused us some problems: with all the melting snow came some flooding. Parts of the trail were underwater, and we had to find a way to cross the water where it wasn’t too wide.


A thin layer of ice hovered above the water

Wide creek

Sarah found a good way to cross flooding in a couple of different places. She was a really good sport about it. We managed to step over/through the water without getting wet.

We reached a point where we were ostensibly supposed to continue in the direction we had been heading. However, the arrow pointing to the Creek Side Loop in that direction had been painted over, and there was no trail visible. We had to instead head back on the Fern Trail.

What happened to the trail on the left?

Another view of the creek

The icy/muddy/slushy Fern Trail

At one point as we hiked, Rob was clearly watching some kind of animal. Eventually a rabbit jumped up and Rob took chase. He didn’t catch it, but it was good to see Rob acting like more of a dog (he normally just lays on the couch).

Rob, stalking a rabbit

Shortly thereafter, we saw some tracks that I can only assume were bear tracks, unless there was some kind of bow-legged guy with weird boots hiking there previously. Can anyone confirm this?

Bear tracks, maybe?

Fern Trail

After a while, the Fern Trail reconnected with the Creekside Trail, and we headed back toward the car.


Sarah and Rob

Another creek

Back at the car

We really enjoyed our hike, despite the flooding problems and disappearing trail. I hope we can keep the Christmas hike tradition alive, as it’s a great way to celebrate the holiday and spend some quality time together.

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.

Winter mountain biking setup

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Since I’ve done a few snowy rides recently, on very different trails from where I rode back in Indiana, I’ve noticed some serious shortcomings in the way my mountain bike is set up. Here are the problems I’m experiencing, and what I plan to do about them. Of course, now that I’m getting laid off, anything that costs money is going to have to wait.

Poor traction

I already replaced the Kenda Blue Groove I had on my front wheel with a Panaracer Fire XC Pro, on the advice of my closest bike shop, Main Bike World. I’ve only done one ride on the new tire so far, but it worked very well. Now, I’ve noticed the rear Kenda Nevegal isn’t gripping too well. It’s fairly worn anyway.

Possible solutions: Get another Fire XC Pro (2.1″ wide) to put on the rear wheel. Or, get a Fire FR (2.4″ wide) for the front, and move the 2.1″ tire to the rear wheel. I’m leaning toward getting the wider tire for the front; I haven’t needed it yet but once the snow gets deeper, I think I will need it.

Clipless pedal problems

My Shimano SPD cleats are always getting leaves, mud, snow, and ice stuck in them, often to the point where I can’t clip in at all, or I randomly come unclipped. It’s infuriating. I am constantly having to bang my shoes on the pedals to try to get anything caught in the shoes to fall out. It’s especially bad when I have to push my bike for a while; when I try to get back on the bike, my shoes are clogged.

Cold feet – even with shoe covers, my feet get cold.

Possible solution: Put platform pedals on my mountain bike. I switched to platforms on the road when I got the Trucker, and I love the ability to wear any shoes I want. I’ve been sticking with clipless pedals on the mountain bike, and prefer them in general. For winter, going with platforms would allow me to wear my hiking boots, which keep my feet warmer and won’t get so clogged with snow and ice. Bonus: I have an extra pair of platform pedals laying around.

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