Posts Tagged ‘hiking


Clearing my head

It was a great night last night. Met up with the Cally girl, completed the Jam Quest (long story), had dinner and then we joined a Mardis Gras pub crawl. The night was fun, but this morning I ended up with a GINORMOUS hangover. We’re talking up at 5am watching Star Trek reruns, falling asleep, waking up at 6:15, flipping the channel to something else, falling back asleep, etc. until about 10, when I figured I needed to do something … anything … to get rid of the damned thing.

So, I opted to break out the camera and go for a little hike.

I used to hike all the time, until I hurt my ankle last year. Now, whatever this injury was, it was a doozy, because it’s always nagging me. Not enough pain to keep me from doing stuff, but certainly enough to let me know something ain’t right.

It was a beautiful day, so I opted to cruise out to Deer Lakes park. Deer Lakes is one of the neatest, yet completely under utilized, parks in Allegheny County. It has plenty of trails that are used by hikers, mountain bikers and people riding horses, stockedĀ  man-made lakes for fishing, and a disc-golf course, among other things.

Deer Lakes Park

Deer Lakes Park

You know, I was gonna write a really in-depth blog about my day out there, about how I think a lot of Western Pennsylvanians take their parks for granted or never seem to use them (Deer Lakes is pretty much empty — except for the opening day of trout season. Today I bumped into 3 people playing disc golf and 2 guys gearing up for an mtb ride — and saw NO ONE in the woods). But, instead, I’m just gonna let my pictures tell the story, because quite honestly, I need a nap.

Geese abound.

Geese abound out there ... and I hate them. They're nasty little creatures. Walking through them on the path, some of them hissed at me. I think one called me a Mick.

Theres a deer in the dead center of the photo, and one off to the right. It aint called Deer Lakes for nothing!

There's a deer in the dead center of the photo, and one off to the right. It ain't called Deer Lakes for nothing!

I call this the moss snake because, well, it kinda looks like a giant moss snake.

I call this "the moss snake" because, well, it kinda looks like a giant moss snake.

A lot of downed trees, which will make the return to mountain biking more of a challenge.

A lot of downed trees, which will make the return to mountain biking more of a challenge.

Dont know if this was a domestic dog or a coyote track. Ive heard that they can be seen roaming around certain areas at dawn.

Don't know if this was a domestic dog or a coyote track (there were no human footprints or fresh mtb tracks anywhere along the trail except for mine). I've heard that they can be seen roaming around certain areas at dawn.

This tree has been like this for years. But I always stop to check it out, cause it looks cool.

This tree has been like this for years. But I always stop to check it out, cause it looks cool.

Im working on a theory that the obviousness of the trail is directly proportional to the number of blazes that will mark it.

I'm working on a theory that the obviousness of the trail is directly proportional to the number of blazes that will mark it.

Bear or Ewok. Hmmm. Yub yub!

Bear or Ewok. Hmmm. Yub yub!

Just a beautiful day.

Just a beautiful day.

Still a little cold outside...

Still a little cold outside...

So if you find yourself with extra time on your hands, and it’s a nice day out, break out a camera and go out for a little hike. It’s amazing what you’ll find out there.

07 event: Roaring Run hike…

Without a doubt, this is one of those “You had to be there” events to fully appreciate what all went on. The joy, the pain, the absurdity, the psychological scarring of children, and vague parallels to “The Wizard of Oz,” certain Grimm fairy tales and “Gilligan’s Island”–it can’t easily be put in to words, but I’ll do my best and add pictures throughout.

Now, the point of this hike was to do a little exploring in the areas of Roaring Run that I don’t know. For the most part, I know all the mountain biking trails, but there’s a mish-mash of leftover logging and mine roads throughout the 650+ acres, so why not hike around with friends and see what’s out there?

Well, I should have known right off the bat that something was amiss when I showed up at 9:50 and most of the people were already there. We departed promptly at 10:30, which is a first.

The crew at the pavillion. Fast Jason, Pete, Not-so-fast Jason, Dan, Mazz, Christina, Rick. In front, Celeste and Cee Cee. (pls forgive me if I got their names wrong, Christina)

Now, the first part was actually kinda boring, because it’s about 3 miles just to get to the area that I wanted to explore. We took a little side trail to break up the flat walking on the Rails to Trails, and that’s when Christina’s daughter Celeste started jumping in the slushy snow and issued the fateful words: “Well, I’m supposed to get dirty!” Oh, if she only knew what was going to happen in about an hour or two…

The happy times. Please notice how clean Celeste is here...

Dan in the foreground, NSF Jason and Pete in the back.

So, we finally make it out to where we want to be. We’re at the head of the “Cave Bear” Trail, but Christina is worried that her kids won’t be able to make it back if we get too far out. Trying to compromise, I look up the hill and say, “Well, why not head up there and we’ll walk back in the direction of the cars.” We all agree. Cue the “Gilligan’s Island” theme, this is where “The weather started getting rough…” part comes in.

The beginning of the end.

So, we climb to the top of the hill. Or what we thought was the top of the hill. This is where the “Wicked Witch” from “The Wizard of Oz” makes an appearance…it was as though the spirit of Rachel Carson descended upon us, and what was a nice, easy trail rapidly became something … else. We didn’t know what to expect, as this was the “exploration” part of the event.

At the "top."

So, we’re cruising along on a logging trail. Everything is still good. We’re lost, but everything is under control. Everything has gone according to plan.

And then we make the fateful turn off the main road, and started across a former coal field. It should be noted that most of us, at this point, had soaked shoes and cold feet. The temperature was in the 40s, so all the snow was melting, and the ground was muddy.

Notice the coal and orange dirt...and the distinct lack of a trail.

This is where everyone on board the “Minnow” was cursing the Skipper and Gilligan, and yet couldn’t quite mutiny because they were still the best chance of getting to safety. I’ve never felt more empathetic to sit-com characters in my life.

We then came upon some holding ponds.

The ponds...false hope.

“Ah-ha!” I said. “I know these ponds! The trail should cut right on top of the ridge behind them. We can pick it up and we’ll be back in no time.”

Except, in hindsight, these weren’t the ponds I thought they were. Apparently, this one makes about the third or fourth of these 2 pond combos that I’ve seen out there. So, you guessed it, no trail to pick up. We all kind of laugh about it, because it’s adventurous, and that’s what we’re there for.

And then the Wicked Witch struck. There was a huge niche in the ground, and we probably could have made it across if it were all adults. But we have the kids, so we decide to go up the hill and around it. Remember that Rachel Carson hill right behind Sheetz? Think of that. Except muddy, and dead brush that pulls out of the ground when you grab on for safety.

That's a heck of a drop...

We ended up on another mining/logging road, and things were looking good again. But in reality, this was just the eye of the storm. On the horizon, the sky was getting darker with rain/snow clouds, and I issued the following statement: “I think this is looking familiar.” Again, in hindsight, this was equivalent to Frank saying, “This is an easy hike.” But luckily, everyone was still in good spirits, and the humor was flying. I even said, “Man, if I knew it was going to be like this, I wouldn’t have signed up for my own event.”

Not-so-fast Jason helping Celeste across a tiny creek. Notice the dirt factor is getting higher.

We then ended up basically following deer trails or making our own. I knew we were getting closer to the parking lot, but couldn’t imagine why we hadn’t hit one of the biking/hiking trails. And then I spotted one. “We need to go down there!” sounds easy enough, but when the hill is fairly steep, that’s easier said than done.

I eventually became the slide-down-the-trail blazer. I put one foot in front of me, basically sat on the other and slid down the hill. We eventually convinced Cee Cee and Celeste to follow me down.

Rick, Pete and Christina. The children are behind the tree, cursing my existence. And notice my path in the dirt on the right...

More help down the hill.

Oh my, those clothes are DONE.

We eventually came out where Eli climbed the rock triumphantly on the previous Roaring Run hike. For the first time in about 2 hours, I knew EXACTLY where we were.

We started walking out along the Rails to Trails again. Rainbows shined, unicorns greeted us and bluebirds chirped wonderful songs and draped us with wonderfully smelling flowers. OK, not really. But it sure as heck felt like it.

Ah, on the trail to civilization.

Oh, but that’s not the end. No no. About 1/4 of a mile away from the parking lot, it started to rain. Not hard, mind you, but drizzling. Rick yelled back to me, “Thank you for keeping the rain away until now!”

So, we all link up again at the pavilion. I’m was fully expecting to be pummeled by Cee Cee’s and Celeste’s tiny fists, as well as by everyone else’s bigger fists. But everyone was still good natured and laughed about it. Hey, I said we were going to explore…and boy howdy, did we!

So, lessons learned from this hike:
1) When Three says that he doesn’t know where we’re at, he doesn’t. And don’t buy into the “this looks familiar” line.
2) Butt-sliding down hills is remarkably fun. But Christina offered a word of advice for women: “Wear a thong, cause granny panties don’t cut it.”
3) At some point in her life, Celeste will write a book called “Men: Why can’t they ask for directions?”
4) Surely, my status as “tour guide” for MI hiking events is under scrutiny, and could (wisely) be revoked.
5) When things go awry, good friends make bad situations fun.

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