Monday, June 29, 2009

Buttermilk Spring Trail

Sunday was a pleasant but warm summer day, but I didn't want to drive a huge distance to hike. But just miles away, right in city limits, is a nice and semi-wild riverside park, the James River Park. It encompasses some islands, and different chunks of land along the James. I hiked the Buttermilk Trail, which has a four mile loop. Some of it is so narrow that you can hear the traffic on Riverside Drive. Other stretches feel so remote that you feel like you could be 50 miles from a city. And many parts of the trail go along the river. It was a very pleasant way to get some exercise and see some nice scenary without spending a fortune in gasoline.

Here are some photos of my hike:

Lots of the trail was very narrow, going through dense woods and understory.

Other parts were wide and level, like this stretch going along a side channel of the river.

Leaves of three, leave it be! Plenty of this bad boy in spots, and in narrow trail passages, it seemed almost impossible not to brush up against it.

A birch along the river channel.

As I crossed over on rocks to the 42nd Street Island to explore for a bit, this skink allowed me to get fairly close. Note the blue tail.

These rocks are coming off the 42nd Street Island. The James River is about a half mile wide at this point, with lots of rapids and rocks. It is un-navigable by anything larger than a canoe or kayak.

The water moves quickly and with such a pleasant sound through channels around the island.

After two miles of hiking, I reached the Boulevard Bridge, with the Carilon in the distance in Byrd Park. Plenty of times with Team in Training over the past four years have been spent crossing this bridge on foot. At this point, the trail doubled back to the start, with most of the two miles back on a parallel foot path, some of it going through woods so thick and remote that I ended up going in a circle for a little while.

Trumpet vine is so pretty. I wish there had been some hummingbirds here.

Pretty wildflowers near the end of the hike.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ticked Off in Amelia WMA!

It isn't often that I quit on a very doable hike, but that happened today in Amelia Wildlife Management Area, run by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. My original goal was to do a 6 mile loop. There are not maintained trails per se, just old woods roads and other such pathways going through woods and fields, often quite grown up with tall grass and brush. So it is a bit of a challenge to find one's way on this hike.

I got the idea of going here because the ODATC was going to do this hike yesterday, but cancelled it. My original intent was to go along with them, and after it was canceled, I decided to go by myself today, having never been there. There is a nice sized lake that the hike skirts the shore of, and the potential promise of seeing some wildlife. And I did see wildlife, tons of it, mostly with eight legs and in a very friendly mood. After going about a mile and picking at least two dozen ticks from my clothing, I decided to try this one in winter some time and turned around. I continued picking a few ticks off all the way back to the car, and even just before jumping in the shower at home!

I heard oven birds and cardinals calling, saw an unidentified yellowish warbler, and several interesting kinds of mushrooms. I also saw a wasp dragging a large wolf spider that she had paralyzed for her progency to get their start in life from. But the dominant wildlife were ticks - lots and lots of ticks!
Here are some photos from my short, tick plagued hike:
Very cool yellowish-orange mushroom
There was no marked trail. Some of the track was fairly open like this;
Other parts of it were grassy and brushy, like this, with plenty of ticks to go around
Interesting tree
Not sure what type of flower this is, maybe some type of a black-eyed Susan
This mushroom was so pretty, and this little area of the forest floor almost looked like it was on fire from it
Muddy stream on the way to Amelia Lake, and from there to the nearby Appomattox River
Queen Anne's Lace (or similar)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Remembering my First Backpacking Trip

With Fathers’ Day approaching, I thought I would write, in part to remember my Dad, a very short story about my first backpacking trip. It was in August 1969 in the Adirondacks. Now technically, my first real backpacking trip, to mystical Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, would not occur for two more years after that point. My grand and unforgettable misadventure to Isle Royale was precipitated when three seemingly unrelated things - an ex-girlfriend, a car magazine, and a football - somehow came together and colluded to send me on my way to Lake Superior. But that is much too long of a story to tell here. So I will tell this one instead, and will include a “few trips down memory lane” at the very end.

So, then, my first “sort of backpacking” trip was this camping trip with one night of “backpacking” in the Adirondacks with my father. I say “backpacking” in quotes because my Dad had a real backpack and carried most of our gear – I should say his gear. His pack had an external frame and the big padded hip belt, and I had never seen such a thing before. It was an amazing piece of equipment! I had the old style canvas “Army – Navy” surplus rucksack, and carried my clothes and some personal gear. Who knows, maybe I had my heavy hatchet and knife along for that trip, too – something sure kept digging into my back despite the relatively light weight of my pack! At the time, I felt like a true outdoorsman when I carried those two objects around with me while camping out! Hey, cut me a little slack! I had turned 18 just weeks before, on the exact date that Apollo 11 lifted off for mankinds's giant leap to the lunar surface.

My parents were a few months away from finalizing a most bitter divorce, and I had the chance to spend a week with my Dad. When he asked me where I wanted to go with him, I immediately said that I wanted to camp in the mountains somewhere. My little brother, two years my junior, had picked the Woodstock Festival of Rock and Roll lore and legend, and I could have done that with them. But I wanted to camp out. So we headed out to the Adirondacks, a good drive from where my Dad lived in North-coastal Jersey, and an even longer trip from my home in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

I can’t remember a whole lot about the specifics about what we did each day of the trip, other than these four (1) we hiked up Mt. Marcy, the tallest mountain in New York; (2) we camped in campgrounds around the Adirondacks most of the time (3) one night we hiked up Mt. Whiteface and camped out on its side; and (4) it was the last time I ever went camping with my Dad. After that point, college, grad school, job, family, distance, and life always seemed to conspire to get in the way of a camping trip together. So I am really glad that I had this opportunity, and that I took it.

The “backpacking” part of the trip was the most memorable. We had hiked only a couple of miles up to a lean-to on Whiteface Mountain, where we cut some spruce branches and made a comfortable bed in the lean-to. From there, we had hiked another mile or so, sans packs, to the summit of Whiteface. An auto road allowed cars to drive up, and there was of course a decent restaurant, where my Dad bought us dinner. Such luxury! So there was no need to carry a stove or a lot of food on that trip, or eat deviled ham out of a can. The other nights in the Adirondacks were based on driving to a campground and setting up my dad’s 500 pound canvas umbrella tent. I’m exaggerating, of course – it only weighed 487 pounds – but my purpose is to show how clueless I was about backpacking in general and going light in particular. That lack of knowledge and skill came back to bite me in the butt many times when I encountered the triumvirate of the football, the car magazine, and the ex-girlfriend that propelled me on a truly serious backpacking trip in 1971!

Now cut me some more slack! I know that today, unless one was desperate and freezing, one would never make a bed of spruce branches high on a mountain. But we did then, 40 years ago this summer, and I still remember how good those boughs smelled as I was falling asleep that night. I remember the quiet and stillness of being alone, just the two of us, on the side of the mountain. The silvery crescent of the moon hung like a beautiful pendent of God's over the side of the mountain. Even though I have only managed to go backpacking perhaps a dozen times or so since then, it was at that moment that the difference between a noisy, car choked campground and being away from all that, carrying what you need with you, and exploring the outdoors on foot first truly crystallized as a concept in me. For that moment of revelation, and for this one last trip to the outdoors with my father, I am grateful.

Here are few old photos that I scanned in from the past...

Me at 18 in our lean-to on the side of Mt. Whiteface

My Dad on the summit of Mount Whiteface

Me on some rocks in the Adirondacks, two months out of high school and a month away from college

Monday, June 8, 2009

Craggy Gardens

I decided to visit my son in Asheville, North Carolina for the weekend, both to see him for his birthday and to help him out with some things. So I got in the car after work Friday, loaded the CD player with music to keep me going during the long drive, and headed south. I drove until I was tired, spent the night in Hickory, and got there in the morning. After visiting for a while, we took a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and ended up doing a short (0.7 mile up and 0.7 mile down) hike to the top of Craggy Gardens.

This has gorgeous views for minimal effort. It felt great to be back in the mountains! Here are some photos from this short hike - towards the end, there is a picture of something I've never seen on a hike before.

Rhododendron in Team in Training colors! Very appropriate, since I would be meeting the TNT Virginia cycle team the next day and cheering them on in the 100 mile Fletcher Flyer race. The next three shots show views from the top:
Aren't the Blue Ridge Mountains gorgeous?

Here is a shot of me with my turtle hiking staff that my sister gave me for my birthday a couple of years ago.

Looking north up the Blue Ridge Parkway from the top, it looked like a storm coming in.

View of the mountains from the lower overlook.

Close up of rhododendron bloom - so pretty!

The trail at times resembled a tunnel

This twisted tree made a nice "picture frame" for a large rock in the background

On my hikes through the hills I’ve trekked many a mile
Seen lots of wonderful things, and this one made me smile
For I’d never before seen a pretty bride-yet-to-be
Dressed in her white gown sitting high in a tree

View of Craggy Dome (elevation 6,085) from the trailhead parking lot (elevation 5,640)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Back Bay on the Last Day of May

I had a beach weekend family visit going on, and the weather was perfect for the beach. The surf was warmer than last week, and it felt great to get into the Atlantic for more than 5 minutes of shivering. But today, I went back into Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge for a short 3.5 mile hike. Like my second hike of last week, I went along the West Dike Trail.

A killdeer scuttled along the path in front of me, crying plaintively. It would alternatively slow down and speed up, depending on how close I got. My assumption was that it had a chick or nest nearby, and was drawing me away. After about a quarter mile of this game, it flew back whence we came.

The breeze was strong at times, but despite this, the dominant wildlife was deerflies. They attacked in swarms, buzzing all over, landing on various body parts, punching some holes through my skin, and often dying as a result. A few mosquitoes joined in at times, adding to my impressive bite collection from last weekend. One of these was totally engorged with my blood before I saw her and made her pay a very steep price for her meal. I have my own souvenir from this encounter, a quarter-sized itchy red area.

The dominant vertebrate wildlife for this hike was American egrets. I saw dozens of them, but they are very skittish and would always fly off the moment I got within about 100 meters. I also saw great blue heron, some unidentified ducks, two ospreys, and a ruby throated humming bird. The wildlife treat of the day occurred on the hike back when I spied a doe in the tall marsh grass. After watching for a few minutes with binoculars, I realized that she had two cute little spotted fawns with her. They were mostly hidden in the grass even though they were standing and running around. They would be no more than a week or two old this time of year.

Here are a few photos from my hike.

Impoundment along the West Dike Trail

This marshy area had at least a dozen egrets scattered about it

A forested area with twisted live oak

Looking back to the north along the trail

All that remained of this rabbit was some fur, skin, and bones. His removal from the gene pool allowed some other creature to remain in the pool at least a little while longer. I saw a number of live rabbits on this hike. They must be a very important food source for bobcats, fox, and great horned owls in the refuge.

In the middle of this photo is an egret in flight. They never allowed me to get even remotely close.

This doe was the proud mom to two tiny and cute fawns, but they were too short and too far away to show up in the photo.