Wednesday, January 28, 2009


When the weather is this nasty in the south, the schools all close. When school is closed after-school programing is closed. When after school "work" is closed, cars that get driven too much can be worked on. When I'm at the parents' place and I can't drive my car, it seems two options are presented to me: I can enjoy a quiet day with the fam, or I can jump on Dad's bike and head to the park. I chose the latter, pumped the tires, greased the chain, threw some hot tea in the pack and hit the field.

The family home looks out on a long corn field flowing into the landscape-dominating facade of Old Rag Mtn. a few miles distant. The field is a shortcut I deemed the best way as the bike crunched through last night's ice and into yesterday's snow. Making my way across, the tires spun but with some effort the ripped foam handle-grips obeyed and in no time I was passing the lake where Mom and I went ice skating last week. Rt. 231 was impressively clear, but Revercombs Corner and Nethers Mill were still solid ice as I peddle-slip, peddle-slipped my way to Old Rag's upper parking lot.

I parked the trusty Mtn. Track bike in the closest spot as I was the first one on the Mtn. today... well, actually second, the one car in the lot sat running and I judged that the driver might have spent a cold night out by the sounds of the heater running on full blast and the snores emanating from the open window.

Donning Yaktrax, I sipped a cup of hot tea and cracked the first few steps in the unbroken trail. Upward into the thickening mist I went until I passed my second, then third pileated woodpecker of the day. Each large red-headed bird letting me come a little closer than the last. Maybe it's the Tao of the single mountaineer without much of a job, and even less for possessions, who doesn't know what he's missing, but it's these types of experiences which leave me feeling so blessed. With every step a little more mist could be seen clinging to the surrounding needles, leaves, trees, and rocks till nearly the the whole world was frosted white. It was as if I had stepped with my cartoonish bright clothes into a black and white photo of a winter wonderland. Even the spider webs glistened with the fine frozen mist clinging heavily.

Nearing the top I noticed the cold wind losing its nip. It seemed a warm breeze was coming from the south and the higher I climbed the more snow was blowing off the trees. I stood atop the Mtn. in a thick fog with a cup of tea and watched as a bright white spot on a tree became clear and dripped. Snow and ice underfoot was becoming slush and soaking my feet. I headed down, retracing my steps on the ridge trail. The trees were now for the most part wet and the delicate crystalline structures gone with the wind. I must have woken from the surreal dream of hibernation where frozen formations would flourish only to find that it was now spring.

Just before a constricting pile of boulders the trail squeezes down I may have spotted a white rabbit descending. I followed it into the steep hole and when I came out below I was again in wonderland. The Mtn. had put back on its winter finest and I turned to my vast (minuscule) meteorologic knowledge to contemplate. Since normally as you travel up in elevation the temperature drops three to five degrees for every 1000 ft. of gain and today's weather seemed to be doing exactly the opposite, I decided it must be a temperature inversion. Satisfied, I poured myself a hot tea and proceeded down. Making it back to my noble red steed for the day I found that the only other car in the lot still housed the now warm fellow. His windows were up, the car off and he appeared alive, so I didn't bother his slumber. Placing my climbing helmet on my head I prepared to mount this fine piece of mountain bike machinery.

Stepping the right pedal down the left came up and correctly bumped the pretty sweet kick-stand and it popped up into the riding position. Now I don't if you've ever had the opportunity to ride such a high quality piece of two wheeled zero emissions vehicle delight down the steep road below the upper lot when it's coated in solid ice, but I don't mind telling you something about the experience. It's great! I had now embarked on by far the most adventurous part of my day and the ice coated brakes assured it would not stop before the hill had ended. The wheels slid, ice cracked out resistance, snow crushed and slush soared sideways. Parts of that old gem of a bicycle may have rattled off, the ripped foam grips ripped some more and if there's a record for the ice speed bike descend of that road I'm sure I bettered it. Even with all the speed my down hill trajectory was anything but straight. The few thoughts in my head not related to holding on for dear life consisted of wondering if the guy sleeping was really waiting on a snowplow, hoping that a snowplow did not come right now, a few quick prayers and a possible curse. Way to many years of doing way to many dumb things at way to young an age had quite possibly culminated in this moment and managed to keep me afloat till the road leveled. A quick thank you Lord went up and the rest of the ride was a cool breeze back home.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Icy Paths

Last weeks ice storm crystalized the park, closed down sections and devastated many trees. Every year these storms wreak havoc on the roads and trails. They are as dangerous as they are destructive but with a watchful eye and a safety consciousness normally reserved for higher peaks I fully recommend going out to see the unparalleled beauty which awaits!
If your worried about it, I would also recommend a guide.

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