I'll start with Ireland and keep it moving forward from there. Too much to write from before then, really.
I'll start with Ireland and keep it moving forward from there. Too much to write from before then, really.
This little online gizmo that I put together sums the trip to the Emerald Isle that the wife and I took for our honeymoon. It was a magnificent time, and we would love to do it all over again.
If you click on the map, you will be taken to the Google Maps page that shows our route, though the facebook picture links are no longer working.
Here you can read about our trip in as much detail as you can stomach!
This was a great cold weather tailgate with some of Ickes's coworkers from Shippensburg. We had a great time hauling about the cooler with the last of the season's Oktoberfest beer.
Once the game had started, we were off to the Phyrst in our new Irish attire to see the Michael O'Brian band in all of their glory. This was a great weekend that won't be forgotten.
The wife, an Ickes, and I spent a long weekend here, breathing the clean air and playing in the snow. Great snowboarding, great views, great food. They even have some beer made in-state now!
The mountain was cloaked in a thick cloud layer for the first two days, limiting the wife's visibility from the hotel. But as we went down the mountain, things were clear. The wife got to see this when we took a night snow cat tour, before things became clear, bright, and glorious later.
The comedy club, the hot tub, and the epic conditions in the Western Territory made this a great trip.
The wife and I journeyed to Philly and the neighborhood of Manayunk for a long weekend visiting Brighid. Highlights included drinking exotic pisco from Chile, exploring Manayunk's very hilly streets, wandering about Old City, and stopping in at some of the city's finest watering holes.
I spent a lot of time honing my photographic skills in very photogenic Manayunk. Once the sun came out on our last day, I couldn't take a bad picture!
Taking off two days and a weekend for what would prove to be a grand time, I set off on a Greyhound bus from DC. I found this to be an economical and very enjoyable way to travel. Well rested, I arrived for the spectacular aristocratic bar tour.
After recovering from this, it was great to spend some time with all of the seniors, despite the drenching that Happy Valley got that weekend. We finally made our way out to Duffy's in Boalsburg, and enjoyed more Herwig's food than anyone should. After the dedication of an infamous alumni center, things came to a glorious and (sadly) memorable close.
The wife and I were back in Shippensburg to see the boys, but more importantly to see some very old friends get married. We hadn't seen them for quite a while, but it was great to be with them at this time. We wish them the best of luck!
Of course, the party afterward was entertaining, and catching up with everyone in an atmosphere like that sure won't be forgotten anytime soon!
We were back to the Renaissance Faire with a new and larger party, including Aidan, who seemed to appreciate all of the festive people.
It might not be for everyone, but I'm certainly looking forward to going back again next year. I'll make sure to avoid the crawdads, too.
After living here for so long, we finally went out to Northwestern Virginia to see the Piedmont, the Shenandoah, and some of the myriad vineyards.
Finally, the sunset over the Shenandoah was perhaps the best I've ever seen.
On our second trip out, we went to Barrel Oak, Three Fox, and Fox Meadow. Each was lovely in its own right, with sumptuous facilities and great whites at Barrel Oak, fantastic reds and relaxing hillsides and creek hammocks at Three Fox, and finally grand wines with a grand sunset vista at Fox Meadow. Have a look at the gallery!
The wife and I were up for the Michigan game, and to see the O'Brian Band. The tailgating was great, but the Phyrst was a bit too grumpy for our taste.
A week later, I thought it a good idea for both Aidan and I to see Happy Valley in its Autumn splendor. Picking up Ickes along the way, we managed to explore much of the campus, in addition to taking a breather at Zeno's before an epic ascent of Mt. Nittany.
I know I had fun, perhaps enjoying the weather even more because of the nostalgia. I think Aidan had a good time too...
As a family, we went North to York for a weekend that included a 90th birthday party and the birth of a new nephew, Conor (now our Godson).
Our outdoor adventures, though, included a trip to the lovely Adams County Winery, which is set in a glorious location on the Eastern slopes of the long South Mountain range. The wines mostly tended to be sweet and easy, which isn't usually my taste, but the scenery was stupendous. The clouds were just thin enough to allow light to play gloriously on the golden leaves of the grapevines.
We were also able to briefly visit the church where we were married nearby for the first time in over a year, and we were greeted by snow flurries. I'm excited that Winter is on the way in!
We were up once again in York to see everyone, which is always wonderful. I love this time of year!
Aidan and I took a trip to Gettysburg to see some landmarks on the brisk afternoon of black Friday, and to see some Irish pubs. We also hit up Westminster, MD; New Cumberland, PA; and Harrisburg. I saw some wonderful pubs this weekend!
We went up to State College for the first time all together with Aidan. We wanted to see some snow since the DC area has been sorely lacking so far this year.
While extremely cold, the weather was beautiful. We got to see quite a bit of our family in the area too.
I added some of the best pictures to the photo gallery starting here.
The wife, Ickes, Forner, and I drove the great distance into northern New York with our destination being the lovely town of Lake Placid in the midst of the Adirondack High Peaks. We went to Whiteface Mountain, explored a gorge, went snowmobiling, and generally just enjoyed this winter paradise.
This is only a blurb - I have a lengthy travel log on facebook (we must be friends, naturally).
My favorite landscapes and "artsy" photos are here.
Finally, I have a collage of my favorite photos that links to individual full-size versions here.
Our adventures in Virginia's wonderful wine country continue! I brought the notorious Darkness along with Aidan out to Barrel Oak in January for a short trip at twilight while the hills were snow-clad.
In March, the wife, Aidan, and I went out to Three Fox again, since we knew we would enjoy the early warm weather in the hammocks by the creek. We brought along a blanket and some picnic items for a grand time.
In April, I set out with Aidan into Virginia's Northwest corner with three wineries in mind. I visited Tarara first and was very impressed by the quality of their wines and huge seating facilities. I was then on my way through the green countryside looking for Breaux Vineyards, but I was sidetracked when I passed by the beautiful Hillsborough Winery. Overlooking rolling green fields and the foothills of the Blue Ridge, this site was quite the visual treat.
I was soon on my way to Breaux, which was laid out in a wonderful manner with wide, flat lawns overlooking the extensive vineyards. Like the other wineries, this was quite full and popular, and the offerings were quite nice. I stretched out with Aidan on the grass under a pine and enjoyed the fine weather.
I ended the day at Sunset Hills, where Aidan and I sat admiring the view from the very finely restored barn which is the winery's tasting room. It was a grand winery day, and there are still many more to visit!
In May, I brought Ickes to a Virginia winery for the first time, along with Aidan. We went to Barrel Oak on its first anniversary weekend, and enjoyed wonderful weather, wine, and views of the Blue Ridge. And after seeing a grand sunset, Ickes and Aidan enjoyed a well-earned nap on the way home due to their labors...
The wife goes away to visit her sister for a bachelorette party, and what do Aidan and I do? Roadtrip! Yes, despite the rainy weather, I didn't want to be cooped up in the house all weekend.
I had been meaning to get up to Pennsylvania's apple country to see the blooming trees, but I made a few stops on the way. First was beautiful Frederick, Maryland, which I've been meaning to visit for years. The rain had just stopped when I pulled into the happening town around 1 PM, and I walked to Patrick's pub along the green, tree-shaded streets. The pub was very nice indeed, but I had to be going.
Next was Mount St. Mary's University, the Catholic school and seminary along US 15 just south of Gettysburg. The weather had become overcast yet again, but I still enjoyed the old buildings and green surroundings, which were definitely conducive to prayer.
After the Mount, I crossed into Pennsylvania and got onto quite rural Route 94 at York Springs, where I drove Northwest into the verdant apple country at the border of Cumberland and Adams counties. The sun put in an appearance again, beautifully illuminating the magnificent hills and orchards. I played at being Ansel Adams, taking photos from an elevated position on my vehicle (though Adams actually had a platform installed on the roof, I merely have a tailgate).
Having plans to watch the Kentucky Derby with Ickes in Shippensburg at 6:30, I had to get moving, since I still wanted to take Aidan to the lovely Forest Isle campsite and for a short hike above it. We drove up into the hills and into Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Armed with my new topographic map of the area, I was able to easily find the parking lot that would have made our last camping trip much less strenuous. After showing Aidan the island, we were off up the mountain to Sunset Rocks, which I was inspecting for a future camping trip. I took a picture here on the cliffs, and then we headed back to the car and to Shippensburg.
At the Market Cross Pub, we watched Ickes lose a fair amount of money on the derby. We wasn't too happy, but we still managed to enjoy the English-style pub food. After this short visit, Aidan and I went back to Alexandria to get ready for the next day.
Aidan and I were out the door early for 8:30 AM Mass. After this, we were on the road in the rain to Annapolis, Maryland. It would be my very first visit there, and it turned out very well. I managed to blunder into the beautiful circle surrounding the State House, though I didn't even realize it until I looked up. Aidan and I then explored the area in the downpour, while I took pictures under my umbrella. The town's centuries-old layout made for a very intimate old town, with everything being quite close together. We visited two lovely Irish pubs, Castlebay and Galway Bay, where Aidan was very popular with the clientele. We also enjoyed the waterfront area, though I didn't get to see the Naval Academy. We'll be back!
The next part of our journey took us across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in a mysterious fog. We were bound for Rehoboth, which was a long but pretty drive through the amazingly flat, green farm country of the Eastern Shore. When we arrived at the beach, there was still some mist in the air. I took some pictures at the center of town and the beach, but I wanted to find a place where I could get the car onto the sand. Thus, I drove south through Dewey Beach and found a nice area. I bundled Aidan up and brought him onto the strand, which was littered with dead horseshoe crabs. Aidan really seemed impressed by the crashing waves, and I was too. I hadn't seen the ocean since I went to Ireland, and I missed it.
After this, we drove home uneventfully. The only thing I did was stop here to find a replacement for a shot glass I lost years ago. I'm really glad that I got to see so many new things this weekend, and I think I'll have no problem with things to see any time soon!
We journeyed up to Penn State once again to see the wife's youngest sibling, Patrick, graduate. Though always nice to see, I'm happy that I have no further college graduations to watch for a while!
Knowing that hotel rooms around graduation time are nigh-impossible to come by, we booked into a B&B in somewhat-nearby Spruce Creek. The Deer Hollow B&B was delightful, affording grand mountain views from its hillside location. And both the hospitality and food were top-notch!
The family and I decided to get out of the house for this, and we were really hoping that it wouldn't rain. First, we had lunch at the wonderful Buzz Bakery in Alexandria, which also happens to serve up a fiery pastrami sandwich.
Then, after a bit of shopping, we were off into the Blue Ridge, this time bound for Sky Meadows State Park, where we hoped to take in the views and clean air. Unfortunately, the sky grew dark and a chill wind began to blow, so our visit was cut short. It was a beautiful place though, with a very fitting name. Having retreated, we drove home in some very heavy rain.
After a very long engagement, this happy couple was united at last! We, along with the rest of the family, spent a marvelous long weekend in beautiful State College (three times in a month!) to witness this. Best wishes to the newlyweds!
Aidan's pictures from the weekend are here.
Aidan and I had a day off, so I took him along on a semi-aimless mountain drive while the wife was at work. It was really only semi-aimless, though, since I did fully intend to find some examples of natural mountain beauty. I knew that I wanted to see the sun set around the Fox Meadow winery that the wife and I had visited the previous Autumn. I had directions to get there, but nonetheless I got lost, and drove about the mountains on the east bank of the Shenandoah river. I found a bridge that was very nearly submerged, which didn't stop brave drivers from crossing over the torrent. I also crossed a mountain with only the sun as my guide on some very rough country roads, while being pursued by two dogs. However, I finally found the vicinity of the winery just as the sun was getting low. I wasn't able to find a vista facing the sunset directly, but I'm still very happy with the photo displayed to the side. It would be wonderful to see scenes such as these from one's own window!
Only a short hour's drive from Alexandria, the Chesapeake feels worlds away from the DC area. This lure brought Aidan, the Darkness, and I out to Kent Island on the Summer Solstice to enjoy the weather. I was anticipating a grand sunset on this partly cloudy day, so after we drove about the island, we settled on Hemingway's, a restaurant sporting a wide lawn along the bay facing the bridge. We dined on crab-based delicacies (well, I did) and watched the slowest sunset of the year. I'm very happy with how this photo came out. And I think Aidan had a great time too!
The wife and I had a weekend escape in beautiful Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. We had a relaxing time seeing some of our old favorite sites, and I put the best photos from the weekend into a collage gallery.
We were in Wilmington, DE to visit Aidan's Godparents for the weekend. Although the city isn't too exciting, Brighid and Dan's parish church was a sight to see! I found the church so appealing that I set up a slide show here. We also had a good time at a local Irish pub, and Aidan got to play in a very unusual chair!
I've rediscovered and come to better appreciate Shenandoah National Park over the course of seven visits this Summer. In the heavens, I've seen the sun rise and set, the stars and planets sparkle, and a bevy of meteors streaking by. Raptors soar about in the air, while below distant rivers sparkle, hemmed in by hazy mountains near and far. In the deeper woods, I've climbed crags, walked along waterfalls, and seen countless deer, four bears, and smaller animals like raccoons. I've shared much of this with Aidan, seeing him learn to walk with confidence, or witnessing the awe in his eyes as he stares in wonder from the heights, or listens to the rush of a swift creek. All this in only a few Summer visits, and I know that I'll be back many more times as the seasons change! The park is a truly magnificent place.
The family continued its yearly tradition of visiting the Renaissance Faire in beautiful early Autumn weather. Aidan has improved so much in making his way around the place since last year, of course!
I resolved to go on vacation alone to see my old room mate Eric. I convinced him to road trip with me all over the huge state in his amzingly speedy little Mazda. There is such a great variety of magnificent scenery in the West!
I put together this collage gallery to show some of my favorite photos from the trip.
In this gallery I have my favorite "artistic" and landscape photos.
Finally, here I've posted a travelogue on facebook that describes all of our adventures in detail (of course, I need to have granted you permission to see this).
Of course we've been continuing to drive into Shenandoah as the Autumn colors get ever brighter!
I don't know if I've ever looked forward to an Autumn quite as much as this one. I really wanted to experience a lot of it outside, indeed as much as I could manage while juggling responsibilities.
To this end, Aidan and I went up to Pennsylvania to visit my mom, who came along with us on an afternoon's tour of Pine Grove Furnace. We appreciated the wild color of Autumn in full swing, and managed to (mostly) avoid the rain while still building a campfire and scorching some hot dogs.
Following my goal to experience the majesty of the mountains in Autumn, I dragged the family South, chasing the changing leaves through Blacksburg, Virginia to the Southern Appalachians and the Great Smoky Mountains. I thought it was incredible to see the much larger mountains there, decked out in grand swathes of gold and orange. It was a magnificent place, and Asheville also felt like a wonderful town.
It's practically an obligation for Penn State Alumni to return to Happy Valley for football, and I can't imagine a more entertaining obligation to fulfill! The usual adventures took place: late and lazy tailgating, couch surfing, frat parties, the Phyrst, and very little sleep. Grand stuff, and I hope I get to more games next year!
The final stages of the wife's pregnancy and the arrival of our daughter put a bit of a hold on my mountain travels over the Winter, but we did still manage a few visits towards the end of the season.
When Fiona was just a bit over a month old, I got away for a day at Whitetail with Ickes. It was a warm, late-season day, and the snow was slow and sticky. I also hadn't been on my board (still beat up from the last trip) for more than a year! Thus, feeling defeated, we drove to nearby Mercersburg for the delightful Flannery's Tavern. I could've stayed there all day...
The wife was at a wedding shower with Fiona, so Aidan and I went exploring with vague aims. Our area was on the West bank of the Susquehanna, Northwest of Harrisburg (map). I picked this since I wanted to learn about the coves of Appalachia, which may not be what you think they are. We drove through some interesting farmland and saw some scattered snow lingering from the harsh Winter. After leaving the cove, we stumbled upon the pictured covered bridge. I lived in Pennsylvania for much of my life, but I can't specifically recall every having seen one before this! I really hope to see more.
Another wedding shower had us in Old Forge, home of delightful pizza. Aidan and I got to try the famous Arcaro & Genell's pizza at the source for the first time! The bride's family was wise enough to hold the shower here!
Aidan and I then ventured to Ricketts Glen State Park for some brief waterfall-watching, which inspired a future hiking visit.
Then, picking up the wife and Fiona, we all drove to distant State College. On this chilly visit, we met up with an old friend, toured the campus, and once again had delicious Clem's BBQ, this time on the side of Mt. Nittany. However, you might be surprised - this Penn State visit didn't include a stop at a single pub! What's happening to me? Still, all in all, it was a fun whirlwind tour!
The kids and I had a grand time on this barrier island before the bugs took over for the Summer! It's a great place to run on the beach by the crashing surf, and for a walk in the woods by the marshes. I think this would be a fine place for an early or late season camping trip, and I really hope to take advantage!
Following an urge to see waterfalls, I planned a roadtrip to the Alleghenies for some new sights. Thus, this past April, with the kids snoozing in the car, we set out early from Alexandria to cover the long miles. We drove along I-68, traversing the highlands of central and western Maryland through alternating periods of rain and mere haze.
Eventually Aidan got a bit cranky, so we left Fiona asleep in the car and stopped at a Burger King so Aidan could run about in the playground, and we could have some food. Naturally, Aidan would have been perfectly happy to play here for hours on end, since he has no insatiable urge to explore the woods. However, I had to drag him away, bringing the last of his onion rings along for the ride.
We were shortly turning south onto US-219, a route that soon began to look strangely familiar. As I soon learned, my friends and I had traveled this route on our way from southern Pennsylvania to Snowshoe Mountain, West Virginia over six years before. Then, we had been driving in a fierce snowstorm that created very treacherous road conditions. On this day, however, even the rain was disappearing as we drove on.
As we drove further south, I recognized some more things. First was the town of Accident, Maryland, which may have an interesting history with such a name. We then passed the self-proclaimed Smallest Church in the 48 States, which was indeed a shack-sized building among some very large trees. Next, we came to Deep Creek Lake, and I realized that this was the enormous lake among the mountains I saw years before. It mystified me then, as did the steep ski slopes leading down to the lake shore. Even in late April, there were still large patches of snow on the slopes of Wisp. It was really quite the sight! Also quite beautiful, even on this wet and overcast day, were the few arms of the lake that I explored. I imagine that a vacation to this fine mountain lake would be grand (even if it is a fake lake).
Only a few miles past Deep Creek Lake on its southwestern side was our destination, Swallow Falls State Park. This is a small but beautiful preserve along a wild portion of the Youghiogheny River, which includes a number of waterfalls, as well as some very large hemlocks and white pine. Some of these stands have never seen the axe! Thus, these woods are very dim and largely free of undergrowth.
Both the Youghiogheny and its tributary Muddy Creek were well used by folks fishing, and I imagine that fishing here would be a splendid experience, being surrounded by so much natural beauty.
The kids and I explored the small park, and admired the beauty of the forests and the waterfalls. We probably could have stayed here longer, but another destination was calling - not overly far away in West Virginia.
First, though, I stopped briefly at a country store for some sort of souvenir to remember this lovely place. I wandered in, and, not really being interested in much, I picked up a quart of maple syrup - I'm a huge fan. I spoke with the woman behind the counter briefly, telling her that I was completely unaware that maple syrup could be made this far south. My ignorance was partially removed, and she also told me that as a child she made the syrup on the family farm. I'm really glad that I bought it, and I've since learned that Garrett County produces some fine maple syrup.
We drove further south on US-219, which took us into West Virginia. This route brought us over some very high ridges, and we soon saw wind farms above us. Driving on, I noticed a sign for the Fairfax Stone, the point marking one of the sources of the Potomac River and the boundary of a very large colonial land grant. We took a diversion to visit this historically important, yet altogether unimpressive site. After all, it is just a small spring, though it was interesting to imagine the Potomac far away, cutting through mountains, forming gorges, and finally meeting the Chesapeake.
We drove on to Blackwater Falls State Park, and I was thoroughly astonished with the magnificent waterfall and its gorge. This park has a very large and well-built boardwalk down to a first-class vista of the falls. I lingered with my tripod for a bit, trying to get the perfect blurring of whitewater, and I am fairly satisfied with the result.
After this the kids and I explored the park a bit in the car. We drove along the road above Blackwater Canyon, enjoying the scenic vistas and appreciating the large park lodge, which we may well visit sometime in the future. At the edge of the park, we stopped at the short Lindy Point trail, and I jogged out to the vista by myself. This trail meandered through dense woodlands and bushy thickets to a stellar vista of the canyon far below. The colors of the trees were fantastic, as they were still blooming and budding in these highlands.
As we drove back to the park entrance, I stopped at a vista that I had already passed, and noticed a series of cascades across the canyon that seemed to cover the entire vertical distance from rim to floor! Through the haze and dim light, I couldn't manage a decent photo, but I later learned that this series of waterfalls is called the "Falls of the Pendleteon," and can be explored on foot, though it is very precarious. This looks like a very good reason to return to the park!
Aidan got another chance to run around as we stopped at a small lake in the park. He was quite content to run in the grass and toss bits of gravel around. It doesn't take much to keep him entertained! However, he wasn't too happy when I had to put him back into his car seat for the long journey home.
Our route home started with WV-93 E, which passed through some of the poorly drained highland bogs that I had only read about. Here, among pools of water, small scrubby bushes and mosses dominated the landscape. It was wildly different from the park that we had just left, and very interesting to drive through.
Soon after, we came upon the enormous, imposing power station at Mt. Storm, along with its massive artifical lake. The whole facility did appear to be a blight on the landscape, and West Virginia has certainly been irresponsibly exploited in the past. This is an extant example of this continuing status, though much of the state has recovered - nature is quite resilient. After coming home, I was shocked to learn of how most of the state's forests had burned a century before, when railroad sparks ignited massive fires in the debris left behind from clearcutting. Since I learned of this, I find that the current beauty of much of West Virginia is even more impressive, though it would have been heartbreaking to see it one hundred years ago.
Soon we met up with US-50, an old route that crosses the country from Ocean City, Maryland to Sacramento, California. Heading east, the route seems to descend forever, going over countless ridges and traversing many narrow valleys. The light was fading fast, though I was able to appreciate the soft, fresh green of the many ridges. I think some very interesting photographs could be made in this region.
The rest of the journey in the dark was uneventful, as we passed Winchester and met up with familiar interstates. I'm just happy that I have so many wonderful, pristinely beautiful natural areas within a few hours of home. Living near DC certainly is convenient for my highway adventures!
We had a very busy Spring in our favorite local mountains
We drove North once again for a wedding in Wilkes-Barre, but we didn't restrict our adventures to the town! The whole family went for a brief walk in Ricketts Glen, and I took a little morning walk at Seven Tubs too. The sight and sound of falling water is one of the many lures of the mountains.
The kids and I woke up very early for a journey into the rugged mountains of Eastern West Virginia. Among our exciting adventures:
This famous Appalachian scenic route traverses more than 400 miles between Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. The kids and I drove it from Shenandoah as far south as Lexington, VA.
A few memorable visits:
The PA Renaissance Faire has been a family favorite for many years. We visited a few times and really got a kick out of the kids' excitement.
After seeing how marvelous the Alleghenies could be in the Spring, I wanted to introduce them to the wife in their lovely Autumn colors. The route to Blackwater Falls was very colorful, though the colors at our destination were a bit past their peak. Still, we did have a good day!
Our visits during the most photogenic time of the year:
The Don and I met up to join this surprisingly large and well-organized bike ride through the city. We trimmed ourselves out in flat caps and old tweed blazers, but were astounded to see the wonderfully varied old-fashioned styles that so many folks wore very well. It was a grand time to ride across so much of the city on a beautiful Autumn day. Since so many hundreds of riders were there, it was no problem to ride on normally busy streets such as Pennsylvania Ave and through frantic Dupont Circle.
This ride is organized annually by Dandies and Quaintrelles, a DC social group with a focus on old-fashioned style. I hope to join this ride next year, and maybe see some more of their events too.
The wife and I decided on a Christmas gift of a relaxing mountain retreat, and she picked the North Fork Mountain Inn, an isolated hideaway in Smoke Hole Canyon. We did quite a bit of relaxing in the inn: eating huge meals, watching Cool Runnings, stargazing, and cleaning out the cookie jar. On the wilder side of things, we took a few hikes and rode out the fierce night winds in our pine-scented room with the fireplace blazing. It was a pretty nice trip for the dead of Winter in West Virginia!
P.S.: The Inn has a fantastic cookie recipe that got rave reviews from my in-laws even when I left out a full portion of a certain ingredient. It's why I kept cleaning out the Inn's cookie jar!
I had been riding my bike to work since last Summer as a semi-desperate way to get some exercise. I really hate exercise without any other purpose, but getting a workout on the way to work made sense. I ended up getting into cycling even more than I expected, and before long I was looking for more of an outlet than just my daily commute. Fortunately there are many great bike routes in the DC area. I settled on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail since its length is something that I felt I could do in a day. It also ends close to the West Virginia border and the historic town of Harpers Ferry, which I had been wanting to revisit for years.
After much route, camping, and gear planning, I was ready to depart. I'd cleared everything with the family, and, leaving them all asleep, I left the house at approximately 7:40. I rode through the dim morning, arriving at the Four Mile Run Trail at National Airport at 8:27, 10.87 miles later. It was then only 15 more minutes until I arrived at the trailhead of the W&OD at Shirlington. I then cruised through this narrow Arlington section, travelling gradually uphill. I saw the first sign of the old railroad with a caboose at Bluemont Junction, which I stopped to examine. An hour after picking up the W&OD I was crossing I-66, 8.5 miles from the trail's start. Obviously I wasn't making good time, but I was enjoying the sights. While resting on a bench near I-66, I observed that living along the trail in this section would make for a nice commute in any direction, but it would be quite steep.
My first big rest stop was at the Vienna Whole Foods, where I took my leisure for half an hour. I was reading a bit of my designated ride book, The Southern Appalachians by Charlton Ogburn. His naming of these mountains as the "Range of Shadow" as an antithesis to John Muir's "Range of Light" resonated well with me, and I intended to speak with my father-in-law on the subject.
I inadvertently reset my odometer when pulling the bike from the stand, but I knew the store was at mile 11.5 on the W&OD, so I began recording references from this point in my journal. It was only a few minutes before I was admiring another W&OD caboose in Vienna. I didn't stay for long, and less than seven miles later I believe I saw the first long vista of the Blue Ridge, which was probably the smaller, Eastern Bull Run Mountains group.
Nearly 19 miles past Vienna, I came to the enormous Luck Stone Quarry flanking the trail. This area also seemed to be constantly, gradually uphill, which made me want to inspect an elevation profile. It turns out that while the trail does have a generally uphill trend when going West, I still felt like I was going uphill most of the time even when coming home! Most of it is mental, apparently. Anyway, in this area I saw a longboarder taking advantage of the slope by heading the other way without effort. Looks like a grand time! And in Ashburn, there was some very tempting BBQ adjacent to the trail, which almost made me forget about my packed food! I'll have to stop in on my next trip...
Happily, I made the Leesburg limits at 12:55. These limits are quite a distance from the city center - I crossed at least two creeks and continued uphill. I was musing that "spin class" seemed ridiculous for anyone with an actual bike. I wrote this down then, and don't recall the circumstances well, but I never liked exercise for just that - hence this long bike tour, touring being part of the fun.
By 1:16 I was in Old Leesburg, at the Loudoun County Courthouse. This was 34.9 miles on the W&OD, and about 48 miles from my front door. In the narrow streets here, I decided not to pass an old Maserati for hopefully obvious reasons. I was impressed with Leesburg's antique character, having never been. After a brief walk through the town center, I rode a few blocks back to the trail for a pleasant lunch and lie-down on a shady lawn. At this point in Ogburn's book he was writing of the Great Valley of the Appalachians (the Cumberland/Shenandoah): "...converting a trackless wilderness into a continual agricultural paradise." He was referring of course to the German and Scotch-Irish settlers who cleared this wilderness since the Eastern side of the mountains was quite occupied at that time. This reference to my ancestors was quite interesting, especially since I was pedaling my way to the book's subject region.
By 2:04 I had left Leesburg. Despite my rather large lunch, I stopped 25 minutes later at a fine point to photograph a beautiful red-roofed house along the trail. I needed an excuse to stop anyway - the steep grade in this area left my legs quivering and I was amazed that I was still hungry and eating!
At 2:50 I was in the small town of Paeonian Springs, admiring a house with a lovely blooming tree. I followed the sign here to a general store for an orange soda, though I smashed my sunglasses as they fell when crossing the highway here. Fortunately, I had just recently crossed the high point of the trail, and I was soon finished. I didn't record the time, but I explored Purcellville for a bit and got some new sunglasses at Nichol's, a fine old hardware store.
Following my brief exploration of Purcellville, I set out along the road past the end of the trail. A few interesting things stood out in this quite pastoral section: the curious glances of a bull, some snake roadkill, and vineyards I visited in 2009 that I thought were quite distant. The Hillsboro Road took me out of town to the Charles Town Pike, and SR 671 brought me to the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship. I still had a trek to make, though - gravel roads were slow going with my narrow tires. Following the trail map, though, I made it to my isolated campsite - though I did have to carry my bike across a creek! This was not too much fun considering how heavy it was with all of my gear. Still, after all of this slogging, I was happy that I had made it to the day's destination. It was 5:17, and I had covered 73.26 miles. This works out to a mellow 7.6 miles per hour over nearly 10 hours.
Deep in the woods, I quickly covered myself with some "Maxi-DEET" and examined the site. It was pleasantly studded with countless small pink and white flowers, as well as some purple, blue, and yellow ones that I didn't notice right away. Besides this, it was well provisioned with dry firewood. However, I soon found that I made the mistake of carrying everything that I needed to cook a hot meal except a pot! Quite angry with myself, I realized that I had set out everything I needed when I packed, but decided that the pot needed a good washing. I knew at that moment that it was sitting on the drying rack back in the kitchen, 73 miles away! Annoyed for carrying this now useless gear nearly to West Virginia, I sat down to a simple meal of salami and pasta sauce, along with the cookies and energy bars I was saving for the rest of the ride. I also set my oatmeal to soak, hoping it would be edible by daybreak.
It was pleasant to organize my campsite alone in the quiet woods. I was happy to start a rather sweet campfire with only one match, using my small bit of lightweight drier lint as tinder. Somehow I didn't think my usual method of carrying lighter fluid would be appropriate for a bike tour! Other camping highlights include wandering about in spandex or longjohns while washing/drying my outer clothes (since no one was around). It seemed that no one had been to this site in months, if the old debris in the fire ring was anything to go by.
I finally started reading by firelight around 7:40, and enjoyed the occasional sounds of a woodpecker at twilight. As it grew colder, I moved closer to the flames to stay warm. After the marshmallows ran out, I turned in at 10:30. Having oriented my tent to face the sunrise, I hoped to wake with it.
The next day began rather drearily with raindrops hitting the tent. When I woke at 6:43 AM it was 58 degrees in my tent and probably much colder outside. To add insult to injury, I found my front tire completely flat! It must have had a slow leak that drained it overnight. Fortunately I was able to take my wheel and the soaked oats into the tent for breakfast. I fixed the flat and was off, crossing the creek barefoot this time.
The rain had let up, and I made it back to the main road, stopping at the center's HQ to make payment. It was a few miles downhill and then along a busy highway before I was in West Virginia. I was dreading the return climb but determined to have a good time on my brief visit to Harper's Ferry. I crossed the Shenandoah River on US 340 and walked my bike through the hilly town, admiring the sights despite the overcast sky. I walked up the Appalachian Trail a bit, explored a ruined church, and stood on Jefferson's Rock before retreating to the Town's Inn for breakfast. Right after this I walked over to St. Peter's for Mass in the lovely little church above the town.
It was going to be a long ride home, so I cut my visit short and left town at 12:22, 81.56 miles into the journey. The climb back up Loudoun heights that worried me was surprisingly not too painful. At 1:29 I was back on Hillsboro Road, stopping for coffee at Stonybrook Organic Farm. This was a nice place to relax, especially since the rain returned here, this time in earnest.
Half an hour later I was in Purcellville, where I stopped to get my bike's chain looked at. It was making some unsettling noises, but it seemed to only need some lubrication. The bike shop is located in an old mill, and appropriately called Trail's End. It features lots of old wood in the rafters and flooring. The folks here were impressed with the distances and the weight of my loaded bike, especially as we lifted it into a repair stand! I was told that I might finish the trail in three hours with an average speed of 15 miles per hour - not the case for me! I also learned that the bike shop building is the third oldest in town, pre-dating the train's arrival.
Across the way is another old mill building, holding a comfortable and well-appointed restaurant called Magnolia's, which seems to use the old structure just as well as the bike shop. Here, while reading my book on the Southern Appalachians, I chatted with a waitress who broke her fingers recently while hiking at Amicalola Falls State Park, the Southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. She was kind enough to chase me out of the restaurant as I left, reminding me that I left my book. However, neither of us seemed to notice that I forgot to take my leftover food - I would miss that reuben sandwich later in the day!
I wasn't even in Purcellville for an hour - I left by 2:40 and pedalled on through the rain, which was quite driving at times (however, before I left, I made the only panoramic photo attempt on the trip - it's a narrow thumbnail in the right column). The forecast hadn't mentioned any of this, naturally. I was riding along with little to note, coming to Herndon at 4:28, 25 miles down the trail. This portion was at an average 13.8 miles per hour, which I think is a bit more respectable. I did find that this much unbroken time in the saddle did become uncomfortable.
Here then are some musings on rain-riding:
I stopped at a pub in Herndon for some tea, hoping to warm up. I was quite soaked, and apparently the barmaid took pity on me. Though they strangely didn't have tea despite being an Irish pub, she wouldn't let me pay or tip for the many sodas I drank instead.
I was back at my mileage reset point, the Vienna Whole Foods, by 5:46. I note here the wildlife spotted on the trail:
While reading at the Whole Foods, Ogburn mentioned the term Pointillisme, which is a very apt description of the buds of Spring, which was very true for me in the Blue Ridge and at my campsite. I suppose I was already missing the woods as I slogged Eastward through soaked suburbia.
I seemed to need continuous feeding, so I stopped briefly at Lazy Sundae in Falls Church. Finally, the W&OD was over at 7:08 PM! I was very proud, but still had a ways to go as twilight fell. Coming into very familiar territory near Alexandria, I reflected that it was nice to see the same waters as I saw at Harper's Ferry. I was also quite happy that it hadn't rained since Vienna. The trip ended fully when I rolled home at 8:34 PM.
This short trip is probably only going to increase my motivation for some more cycle touring. Despite the mishaps and annoyances, I had a grand time. I'm really happy that I'm able to do this.
Our family took a short vacation to the high, cool ski resort of Snowshoe to escape potential hurricane flooding. While the storm proved to be weak in our area, the excuse for a trip was well worth it! I think the trip merits its own page, which can be reached here.
One of my oldest friends celebrated his wedding to a fine woman and I...forgot my camera! It was, though, a memorable event and a beautiful wedding. I do hope to obtain some Ickes pictures in the future so I have some photographic evidence. After all, I had his camera most of the time...
Penn State still feels like home, even if we haven't lived there for years. So we spent a few days there for our fourth anniversary, visiting many of our old haunts. Real highlights were climbing Mt. Nittany, dinner at the tavern, peeking into some classes, and staying at the Reynold's Mansion in Bellefonte.
A long-unexpected marriage began in fine fashion with a finely-dressed groom (and company). Good food, friends, dancing, and surroundings made for a grand time.
A fine camping trip alone in the mountains - I wrote it up quite extensively with photos here. All of the solitude put me in a very thoughtful mood...
There are also further details on the hikes here.
Another fine Autumn day for a tweed ride! Once again the Don and I joined the throng in a long and meandering ride across the city, beginning at the heights of Meridian Hill Park. The well-dressed throng passed through many neighborhoods and had a fine stop and photo-op at a bike shop halfway through.
Kent Island is a cool place to visit, only a short drive away. It feels like a huge change of pace from our local environs. On our latest visit we had some grand seafood from It's the Pits before heading down to the wild-seeming Matapeake Beach to watch the sunset.
We made a trip out to Philladelphia sans-kids on a cool March day. On our brief city visit we had great coffee at La Colombe Torrefaction and drove about University City. While walking in Center City we couldn't help but notice the droves of green-clad young people seemingly celebrating St. Patrick's Day a week early. I won't be forgetting what one quite drunk guy said to me on the street: "That's a boss suit, Boss."
Antics aside, it was nice to see the Drexel Theta Chi house, but of course the real reason for the trip was to see one of the wife's college friends celebrate her wedding. The food was sumptuous and seemingly unending, and the decor certainly had a bit of "local flavor."
St. Patrick's Day was a little less green and a little more sandy (just a little) than normal. I took the kids across Delmarva to Rehoboth and Cape Henlopen State Park. Naturally Aidan got himself soaked despite the chilly air. We also stopped briefly in the nearby town of Lewes to admire the old streetscape and to get some local coffee.
The Don and I had a pretty good time with standard camping fare - hiking, lounging, cooking over open flames, and the like. It was quite frigid overnight but the weather was perfectly clear.
The family and I spent a few fine days in State College and its environs in early Summer, enjoying the milder temperatures and nostalgia. We had a good time walking our favorite streets, relaxing in the Nittany Lion Inn, eating at Herwig's, Doan's Bones, The Corner Room, and The Creamery, and swimming in the Lake at Whipple Dam. I also discovered, much to my delight, that Aidan loves pokey sticks from Gumby's! I very memorably carried these back to the Inn on my bike. I was reminded, not for the first time, how much fun it would have been to have had a bike when I was actually living at PSU!
My most entertaining and physically draining bike tour was this past Autumn. Over three days I rode from home to the Blue Ridge, and cycled along the crest. It's written up in some detail here. Check out the pictures there too!
Aidan and I went to Shenandoah NP for an overnight camping trip, and squeezed a lot into a short time. We cooked, we climbed, and we explored. Aidan developed a keen talent for carefully roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over a campfire. He also earned the moniker "mountain goat" for his fearless climbing through the rocks on the Bearfence Mountain hike. When it became too precarious, we had to turn back, and he was not happy. He has told me he's rady for more, though!
The first tweed ride on the new bike! This year's route took us through some more parts of the city I hadn't seen, including Galaudet University. The stop in the Arboretum was also quite nice. I wonder how many years this thing can run before Autumn weather turns sour...?