Sunday, April 29, 2012

Beaver Lake Hike

The weekend was quite cool and rainy, until this afternoon. That's when I decided that I needed to get moving, if only for a little bit. I grabbed my little pack, camera, and GPS, and headed to Pocahontas State Park southwest of Richmond. There was time to get in a short hike of about 3 miles, counting walking from where I parked to the start of the trail. It formed a peaceful loop around Third Branch Lake, also called Beaver Lake. I didn't see many animals - mainly a few birds and a salamander. But I had a nice walk, got a little time in my hiking boots, and stretched my legs a bit. Here are some photos, starting with the map of my route.  I started and ended at the purple star, and went counter-clockwise in the direction of the arrows:

Here is a view of the lake from the trail:
 The trail starts in nice woodlands, and continues in this type of woods most of the way:
 I found this colorful centipede under a log:
 A nicely built boardwalk goes through a swamp and across the stream:
 You can't get lost on this trail, as these nice signs mark every turn:
 These two leaning trees seem to form a gateway to the stream:
 A stream flows placidly along through the woods:
At the lower end of the lake, near the end of the hike, was a boggy fringe with iris and sphagnum moss.  The moss reminded me of living in Maine long ago.

 These two trees, different species, have grown together at their lower trunks:
 A very ambitious beaver bit off more than he could chew here, and eventually either gave up or died of old age.  For a sense of scale, my hat brim is about 14 inches in diameter.

This tree was cut down by a beaver, some time in the fairly long ago past:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Marking Ten Years

Today marks exactly ten years for me.  No, not of blogging, but of surviving cancer: Hodgkin's lymphoma, one of many types of blood cancer.  The time has flown by since that April day in 2002 when my doctor looked at an X-ray and gave me the news.

I thought that I would reflect a little on some of the things that I've enjoyed in the outdoors over this time.  I won't list them all, just some of the highlights of things that I got to do because of really good luck that not everyone with cancer has.  I am really grateful to have had that time, while also hoping for more time ahead - I guess we all do that.  Well, here are some highlights of those 10 years.  I wonder what the next ten will bring?

2003 - about seven or eight months after chemo, I took my first hike: to Rip Rap Hollow in Shenandoah National Park.  A snail could have gone faster, but that was OK - I was alive and hiking again.  A month later, I hiked up Tumbledown Mountain in Maine to fulfill a promise I had made to myself the previous summer when I felt so ill and weak from chemo.  And that fall, my two brothers and I met for a camping trip in Colorado - our first time that just the three of us ever got together.

2004 - I visited the Everglades - a long held dream - and the Big Cypress Preserve in Florida.  Talk about being up to your @ss in alligators!

2005 - Not only did I complete my first ever marathon in Alaska (about seven miles of it were through the woods), but I also went on a bear watching day trip and saw an Alaskan brown bear catch a salmon.  I also made a trip to Glacier, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone National Parks - which still ranks as one of my best vacations ever.  I think this was also the year we swam with manatees in Florida, still one of my life's most amazing experiences - to have this gentle giant swim up to me.

2006 - I did a little hiking in the Adirondacks in New York, as part of a visit to my sister in her home in the Catskills.  One of the highlights of the trip was the incredible Museum of the Adirondacks in Blue Mountain Lake, NY.

2007 - I celebrated being a five year cancer survivor in style by hiking up Mt. Washington with my brother Nur 40 years after our dad took us there as boys.  Being a Philly kid, it was like nothing I had ever seen.  Also along on this trip in 2007 was my friend Dick, who is planning on doing the same three day hike this summer - and he is pushing 90 now.  How is that for inspiration to keep moving?  I wish I could join you, Dick.  This working for a living ain't what it is cracked up to be.

2008 - I hiked in Saguaro National Park, although with weary legs, after the Arizona Marathon.  I also spent several days hiking and kayaking with my brother Nur and my sister-in-law Martha in New Hampshire.  I also started this blog shortly before that trip to the Granite State!

2010 - After the Seattle Half-Marathon, I spent three days hiking in Mount Ranier National Park.  Then in the fall, it was back to Alaska for two weeks, where I went all over the place, including Denali, Kenai Fjords, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks.  A quick mental count (always dangerous) tells me that I have visited 11 new national parks in my 10 years.

2010 and 2011 - I finally went backpacking again with two trips to the mountains in Virginia.  Both times, I picked the coldest night of the year.

Well, those are some of my best outdoor memories of the last 10 years, years which I feel very grateful to have had.  I don't know if the next 10 can match some of these experiences, but time will tell.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Feel the Power!

For two years, my DeLorme PN-60 GPS has accompanied me on many of the hikes I have taken.  Any time one of my posts shows the track of my hike, that track was captured by my trusty PN-60.  It has been a reliable and valuable piece of gear.  My only complaint has been the battery life (and the fact that I can't clip the GPS to my pack belt.)  I bought a DeLorme rechargeable battery for it, the only one approved by the manufacturer, but the charge only lasts about 5-7 hours in the field.

Enter the CabBat Rechargeable battery!  I learned about this last week on the DeLorme forums, and it got rave reviews by people using it.  Most people were reporting 13-17 hours of charge in the field.  I decided to order one, and it came yesterday.  I cannot wait to try it out on a nice, long hike!  If it works as advertised, it is the only battery I will need for a day hike.  For a backpacking trip, I'll need to bring along some extra double AA lithium batteries if I want to have the GPS on during the entire hike, but that is OK.  13 hours is a huge improvement, and it might even last longer than that.

Because the battery is slightly fatter than other batteries, you need to shave the "ribs" in the back cover of the GPS so that the cover will be water-tight.  The photos on their web page were hard for me to interpret, so I asked the company that makes the batteries about it, and they clarified what had to be shaved away with a sharp knife.  I've included my own photo of this, and circled the points in red, green, and pink that need to be shaved down.  By the way, the company has been great to deal with on this, promptly answering any of my questions by email, and shipping the battery the day after I placed the order (which was done in the evening).  I got it on the second business day after shipping, and they even threw in a digital battery charger (my new CabBat battery gets recharged right in the GPS, by the way).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Richmond Slave Trail Walk - Part 1

Richmond, Virginia - along with Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore - is one of America's most historic cities. Built along the equally historic James River, Richmond is where none other than Patrick Henry proclaimed "Give me liberty, or give me death!" at St. John's Church. Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy for nearly four years, which resulted in plenty of drama and four years of destructive warfare as the Army of the Potomac went "On to Richmond." It was the home of John Marshall, the first chief justice of the US Supreme Court. But there is also a much darker and very inhumane side to Richmond's history: that of a major slave exporter and slave "punishment" center. Have you ever used the phrase "sold down the river?" Well, that phrase originated right here, and the "river" was none other the beautiful and historic James.

Even growing up in the north, I don't remember a lot of focus on slavery during history classes and its importance to our country's history, much less how truly awful it was. There was not a lot of emphasis on the fact that every one of the colonies and original states, plus Canada, had legalized slavery. Every one of the original states, as well as many others, has a slave history. The Slave Trail that I walked here in Richmond helps to preserve that part of our history, communicate it, and hopefully, to allow people to reflect on what it was like and what it meant.
The Slave Trail was completed recently by the City of Richmond to commemorate the countless thousands who were enslaved in Virginia, as well as Richmond's role in the slave trade - especially as a shipping point for the supply of slaves to other parts of the south. A combination of Virginia's soils becoming too poor to sustain tobacco large-scale production, the banning of the trade to ship slaves from Africa to the United States, and the invention of the cotton gin caused the demand for selling established slaves to the plantation owners of the deep south to skyrocket. For the thirty years before the Civil War, Richmond was the largest slave center in the Eastern United States, selling up to 10,000 human beings a month "down the river." Although some slaveholders freed their slaves in this time, many more profited by selling them as they would a horse or a cow or a piece of equipment. Families were torn apart in the process.

The Slave Trail follows peaceful and scenic riverfront woodlands, dramatic city views like this one, and the urban streets where slaves were warehoused, marketed and punished - as well as some milestones to early African life in this region.
I took enough photos and learned enough during my walk that I will be publishing at least one more post about it in the next few days, so look at this post as an introduction and orientation about my walk. The trail itself is just under three miles, but my walk at lunch time on Friday was 6+ miles since I had to walk to the start and then back to work from the finish point. Fortunately, I arrived at work an hour early and stayed late so that I could take the extended lunch needed to walk this distance as well soak in some of the volume of information on the walk. There are 17 interpretive signs along the way, although I was only able to find 14 of them. The exact route of the trail along Shockoe Bottom is confusing, and I easily could have missed a few signs there.

The 2.7 mile route that I walked is shown on this map as the black and yellow track, starting at the south (red arrow) and ending at the north (blue arrow). The interpretive signs that I found are marked as little yellow squares, except for the historic church, which I marked with a church symbol. You can see that some of the route intersects and goes near the route I followed for my Richmond Black History Walk a week earlier, shown as a red track.

Here is the southern part of the Slave Trail, which starts at the Manchester Docks (marked with a red arrow) and moving along the river, past the flood wall, and then partway across Mayo Bridge.
This map shows the northern part of my walk, from the Mayo Bridge through Shockoe Bottom to the ending point, marked with a blue arrow at the 1st African Baptist Church.
Part 2 follows here...

Richmond Slave Trail Walk - Part 2

Last Friday, I walked the Richmond Slave Trail, an historic route from the Manchester Docks departure point where slaves were "shipped down the river" to the deep south, up through the areas of the city where the slave markets and an infamous slave jail - which one could also call a torture center - were located, as well as several important historical sites to Black life in Antebellum Richmond. Part 1 of my posts about this walk covered the route and some background information. This part of my account will have a couple more maps and some more photos and descriptions of my walk.

This map marks the route of the Slave Trail along the south shore of the James River, and has photo avatars showing where some of the photos seen below were taken. It also shows where Great Shiplock Park, a recent hike of mine, is located in relation to this hike. I've circled it in red on the map.This tranquil site, the Manchester Docks, is the starting point of the Richmond Slave Trail and was once a major slave export site - the busiest on the East Coast. Up to 10,000 human beings a month were shipped to other parts of the south from this spot for decades. Now, it is popular as a place to fish from.There were numerous placards - usually shown on my maps as yellow squares - along the way with illustrations and descriptions of enslaved life. This sketch shows how Africans were crammed into slave ships for transport to the New World. Something like one in eight people perished on the journey. I don't think the ships taking slaves from Richmond to points south were packed this tightly, but I imagine they were pretty miserable to travel in all the same.If not for the roar of traffic down I-95 over the bridge, you never would have known at times how close you were to a large city.Some of the worst outdoor advice I ever saw was "leaves of three, wipe with me." You should leave this bad boy be, and in any event, using it for toilet paper is a very, very bad idea. Poison ivy was common along this part of the trail.This board talked about the revolt of the "Creole," a ship that was transporting 100 slaves away from Richmond to New Orleans in 1841. 18 slaves overthrow the ship after it headed out in the open sea in international waters where they were outside of the laws of the United States. They headed to Nassau in the Bahamas, where the British government set them free. A decade later, the slave owners were awarded over $110,000 and a treaty was signed that assured that the British would not interfere in such cases again.In springtime, there are pretty flowers along the part of the path east of the I-95 Bridge. I wondered if the enslaved peoples heading this way towards the ships so long ago - ships that would take them far away to the large cotton plantations where life was typically more brutal than most Virginia plantations of the day - would have been able to take heart at all in any beauty along the way.Usually the trail east of the I-95 Bridge just had forest views, but at times, one could also see the river.The trail is now out of the pretty woods, but has nice river views as well those as of the downtown. The bridge is the very heavily traveled I-95 Bridge.This view of the trail and the river shows the flood wall as I approach the Mayo Bridge to get back to the north side.In this map of the northern part of the route I followed on the Slave Trail, you can see where I took the photos below:Mayo Island divides the James River at this point. Just upriver from this spot is the great blue heron rookery that is right in the middle of our good sized city.As the trail heads towards Shockoe Bottom, it crosses part of the Kanawha Canal. Enslaved men were once given the responsibility of navigating boats from the farms down the canal to Richmond with loads of tobacco to be sold.This photo is of the infamous Lumpkin Slave Jail Site, a place were slaves were held and punished - which could essentially amount to torture in some cases. There was once a large complex with several buildings owned by Robert Lumpkin here, known as "The Devil's Half Acre" among local blacks.The Slave Trail ends at the First African Baptist Church on Broad Street. The current building, now part of the Medical College of VCU, was built in 1876, but the original church was founded in 1841 when the white members sold their building to about 1,000 blacks. It was the center of life for Richmond's free and enslaved blacks at the time when gatherings of black people outside of churches was not permitted.
In Part 3 of my walk, I'll talk a little more about the Lumpkin Jail Site and the nearby burial ground.

Richmond Slave Trail Walk, Part 3

In my previous posts about the 2.7 mile long Richmond Slave Trail, I've given you some general background and maps. Then I gave some more detailed descriptions and photographs. In this last post, I want to talk about one particularly important site: Lumpkin's Slave Jail. This must have been a truly awful place in it's time, and was given the nickname the "Devil's Half Acre." Owned by Robert Lumpkin, the site served as his home, a hospitality center for slave holders coming to do business with him, and as a holding pen for slaves waiting to be "sold down the river." An estimated 300,000 slaves were held here up from the 1840's until the end of the Civil War. It also served as a punishment center, and a place to "break" slaves into submission in exchange for money if their masters felt it necessary. Based on some of the descriptions I have read, you could substitute the word "torture" for "punishment." Here is one such description of the treatment of a man named Anthony Burns, who escaped slavery to Massachusetts but was returned to his master under the Fugitive Slave Act, where he was confined in Lumpkin's Jail for four months:

"There he was destined to suffer; for four months such revolting treatment that the vilest felons never undergo, and such as only vengeful slaveholders can inflict. The place of his confinement was a room only six or eight feet square, in the upper story of the jail, which was accessible only through a trapdoor. He was allowed neither bed nor air; a rude bench fashioned against the wall and a single coarse blanket were the only means of repose. After entering his cell, the handcuffs were not removed, but in addition, fetters were placed upon his feet. In this manacled condition, he was kept for the greater part of his confinement. The torture which he suffered, in consequence, was excruciating. The gripe [sic] of the irons impeded the circulation of his blood, made hot and rapid by the stifling atmosphere, and caused his feet to swell enormously. The flesh was worn away from his wrists, and when the wounds had healed, there remained broad scars as perpetual witnesses against his owner. The fetters also prevented him from removing his clothing by day or by night, and no one came to help him. The indecency resulting from such a condition is too revolting for description, or even thought. His room became more foul and noisome than the hovel of a brute; loathsome, creeping things multiplied and rioted in the filth."

I try not to judge people, but Robert Lumpkin must have been a very brutal man to have run such a place. It is hard to visualize the suffering and despair that must have occurred here. Now, traffic roars by on I-95 and Broad Street, people park their cars, and medical students rush to their classes and their rounds at the hospital. When I first moved to Richmond, this site was unknown, and I walked by it every day for months from where I parked my car in Shockoe Bottom, never having a clue that such a place had existed here. It is good that the place was discovered, and brought back into history.

Lumpkin was "married" to one of his former slaves, Mary Lumpkin. I doubt that a legal marriage to between blacks and whites could have occurred, but they had five children together. In some ways, Lumpkin must have been a real family man as well as a cruel man. He sent his mixed race daughters to finishing school in Boston, and later sent them and his wife to Pennsylvania for a time so they would not be sold as slaves to pay off some of his debts. He died shortly after the Civil War, and Mary allowed the former jail site to be used as a school for blacks. It became known as "God's Half Acre."

Here is what Lumpkin's Jail site looks like now, with several informational placards.
This photograph, from Smithsonian, shows the excavation of Lumkin's Jail site. It had been buried under a dozen feet of soil, and parking lots covered some of the historic burial grounds.In this photograph of Antebellum Richmond, looking west, I've circled in red where Lumkin's Jail Complex was. Just a short walk away from this spot is the State Capital and, now, the Virginia Civil Rights Monument. The concept of blacks having civil rights in Lumpkin's time would have been totally foreign.This placard has a drawing of part of the jail site.Someone put some flowers at this sign about the Old Negro Burial Ground, a place where deceased slaves and poor free blacks were once buried.The sign at this spot asks people to show respect for this site, part of the historic Negro Burial Ground.This historical marker tells the story of the Execution of Gabriel, who attempted to lead a rebellion in 1800. He was betrayed by two fellow slaves, captured, and hung at this spot.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Richmond Black History Walk

Run training and then running the Shamrock Half Marathon at Virginia Beach and the Monument Avenue 10K 13 days later last weekend have beaten my legs up a bit, left me with a sore left knee, and dominated my physical activities time for the last four months. As you can see if you follow my blog, I've had no real hiking time lately. But with this incredibly early spring, that had to change, and it did yesterday with my walk to black historical sites and monuments dedicated to black people in our fair city of Richmond. This was a walk I hoped to do during February, Black History Month, but could not get to it. Yesterday, having worked a little longer earlier this week, I finally had the opportunity to take a long enough lunch hour to get the five miles in while stopping for traffic and photographs, plus to eat my PB&J sandwich.

Richmond has a lot of very awful baggage in the treatment of our black population. But that has changed dramatically, and monuments to black citizens that would have been unimaginable here just 20 or 30 years ago now exist. I would imagine that some of the old segregationists are turning over in their graves. I've wondered sometimes: what if we had picked some other characteristic than skin color, eye color say, as a basis to racially categorize and discriminate against people in our history? As someone with green eyes - a very distinct minority - how different would my life have been? As a lad, would I have had to drink at a separate water fountain and not be able to be served at a restaurant? Gone to a substandard school? Been viewed with suspicion wherever I went among brown eyed people? Been forbidden to marry a brown eyed person? Fortunately, legal discrimination is consigned to the history books in the USA.

My route, shown here with a arrow marking the start and end, was a hair over five miles. I walked in a counter-clockwise direction. I took a lot of photos on this nice, but cool and windy, spring day. A few of them are shown here as thumbnails on a map of my route, and you can see the bigger images throughout my post: A bit of my walk passed through Jackson Ward, a heavily black neighborhood that was the center of black life in segregated Richmond for much of the 20th century. Maggie Walker lived in this home, now a national historic site. Walker was the first black female bank president, and the first woman to charter a bank in the United States. This statue celebrates the life of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, a famous stage personality and tap dancer from Richmond. Nice row houses in Jackson Ward on Clay Street: This is the Virginia Black History Museum on Clay Street: In Jackson Ward, I happened on this reminder of Good Friday: Can you tell that this cool building was once a dairy? Man, oh man, if you want some amazing Thai food in a fabulous location, the Thai Room at PGT Beauregard's is the place for you! Eat lunch in the beautiful and serene outdoor patio garden on a nice day, and you won't want to go back to work! I promise! The suspension footbridge under the Robert E. Lee Bridge leads to Belle Island, once an awful prisoner of war camp but now one of my favorite walks in town. Whoever did this graffiti is a good artist, and added some color to an otherwise ugly concrete railroad support pillar: Part of the City of Richmond rises above the Haxall Canal: "The Headman" sculpture by Paul DiPasquale celebrates the labor of the many blacks, enslaved and free, who labored on Virginia's canals, and their importance to early Richmond's commerce. The artist also did the sculpture of Arthur Ashe (which I did not have time to walk to) and that of "Connecticut." You can take a little ride on the canal in a boat. One of them is named the "Maggie Walker," whose house I saw earlier in Jackson Ward. Henry "Box" Brown was desperate enough to become free that he had someone nail him inside a small box and ship him to Philadelphia. This monument celebrates his escape. Go to this post if you want to see how small the box is. Main Street Amtrak Station now has trains running again: A few years ago, the Reconciliation Monument was dedicated here. It shows two embracing figures, and commemorates Richmond's role in the trafficking of enslaved Africans, whose forced labor helped build this country. Richmond was the second largest slave trading port in the USA, but it got plenty of help. Along with Liverpool and Benin, it formed a triangle whose three sides supported unimaginable suffering, agony, and misery. Identical monuments exist in the other two corners of that triangle.
Although we may not like to think about, we might wish to give pause and consider how prevalent slavery still is today in our world, in economic situations and in girls and young women forced to work in sexual slavery.

The Virginia Civil Rights Monument is, along with the FDR monument in Washington DC, my favorite monument. I love these words of Thurgood Marshall that are carved on the monument: "The legal system can force open doors and sometimes even knock down walls, but it cannot build bridges. That job belongs to you and me." Are we up to the job in our increasingly polarized and uncivil society?"It was like reaching for the moon," said Barbara Johns, a schoolgirl at impoverished Moten High School in the early 1950's. But her efforts, and that of many others, ended up in the Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling that outlawed "separate but equal" in 1954. 11 years later, the Civil Rights Act passed, and Thomas Jefferson's words "all men are created equal" began to ring true 188 years after they were penned. The state flower is the dogwood, shown here with old City Hall in the background:Near the end of my walk were these gorgeous rhododendrons in Capital Square, in bloom much too early but beautiful all the same: