December 24, 2006

On meeting a fox in the woods

I've had a few encounters with foxes while meandering through the woods in my area. While I know they're generally considered to be pretty intelligent animals with highly developed senses ( Red Fox: Reputation and Description ), the ones I've run across make me wonder. From my experience, they don't really seem to be all that aware of their surroundings:

Encounter #1 - One afternoon while hiking the Seneca Creek Greenway trail, I see a fox trotting along between me and the creek, heading at an angle that would cause it to cross the trail just in front of me if I were to continue walking. So, I stop and just watch it. It's no more than a couple dozen feet from me, but it's totally unaware that I'm nearby. Finally, I must have moved or something, because it stopped dead in its tracks, looked my way, then took off like a shot across the trail and into the woods.

Encounter #2 - Hiking once again along Seneca Creek, on a narrow stretch with the creek immediately to my right and a steep hill immediately to my left, I look up the hill and spot a fox making it's way down the hill toward the creek. Like the last time, I froze and watched it. Same drill as above, except this time the fox turned tail and ran back up the hill as fast as its little legs could go.

Encounter #3 - This one involved two deer as well as a fox, and was quite comical. I'm heading down a short hill towards a curve in the trail at Worthington Farm (part of Monocacy National Battlefield ) when I see off to the side of the trail what appears to be a fairly large, hump-shaped rock near a tree. It caught my attention because there were no other large rocks visible, just trees, undergrowth, and old rotted fenceposts. As I'm going along, I suddenly notice that this rock has ears. I realize that that's no rock, it's a fawn and it's watching me. As always when I catch sight of wildlife, I freeze in my tracks. Out of the corner of my eye now, I also see a fox heading from the left towards the fawn. It's busy watching the fawn and is oblivious to me. I figure this is gonna be cool, to see a fox pass by without startling it. Like the others above, it's just trottin' along, apparently wondering why this little fawn is beginning to look nervous. Suddenly, the fox, the fawn, and I all hear a loud snort off to the left behind the fox. A full-grown doe now bounds onto the scene, the fox spins to look at her, then catches sight of me watching all three of them and spins again, and the next thing I know the fox, the fawn, and the doe have all disappeared practically into thin air. I cracked up laughing and continued on with my hike.

Foxes may or may not be smart, but they sure are fun.

October 19, 2006

A ride on the Great Allegheny Passage Trail

The Great Allegheny Passage is actually two trails that will soon be connected to form one 335 mile trail from Washington, DC, to Pittsburgh, PA: The C&O Canal National Historical Park towpath that runs 184.5 miles from Washington, DC, and the Cumberland & Pittsburgh Trail that will run approximately 150 miles once the section between Cumberland and Frostburg, MD, is completed in late 2006.

I had made my annual pilgrimage to Cumberland in mid-October this year, with the intention of pedaling as much of the GAPT as I could in a few days. It was pouring down rain the first day, so rather than subject my bike (and myself) to getting drenched, I took a ride on the Western Maryland Scenic Railway, which parallels the uncompleted final portion of the GAPT from Cumberland to Frostburg.

On the second day of the trip, under overcast skies, I drove out to Ohiopyle, PA (near Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater), to pedal the 11 miles from there to Confluence, PA, and back. I rode this section last year and loved it. Apparently, I'm not alone in that feeling: That 11 mile stretch is considered the most popular section of the PA portion of the trail. Unfortunately, I left my camera in the car.

On the third day, I began my ride at about 2 in the afternoon, heading NW from Frostburg, MD, under a partly cloudy sky. The plan was to ride roughly 17 miles to the Salisbury Viaduct just beyond Meyersdale, PA.

The uphill gradient from Frostburg is approximately 1.75% all the way to Deal, PA. From Deal to Meyersdale is then 0.8% downhill. Which means the best way to begin this ride, theoretically, is from east to west so that the last several miles coming back east are an easy downhill. We'll see about that...

Borden Tunnel, just a little blip of a tunnel compared to the one to come.

The first 4 miles from Frostburg are bordered on the left by the upper slopes of Big Savage Mountain, and on the right by a deep valley that you can almost see through the trees. Once you cross the state line into PA, though, there's a break in the trees that affords a nice little view. Unfortunately, by that point the sky wasn't quite as blue.

Savage Tunnel. Approximately a 1/2 mile long and normally lighted. Today, though, the lights were not functioning. No biggie, though, as I've walked through the Paw Paw Tunnel on the C&O several times. What was more unnerving was the fact that the weather turned totally grey and windy in the time it took to walk through the tunnel. I came out the other side and immediately wondered how long I had until it would begin raining. Oh well, so the bike and I might get wet. We came to ride, and ride we did.

One of the cool aspects of riding through this section of PA is the wind farms (which would be more easily visible in this photo if the sky had been blue). And, as I realized on the way back, one of the not so cool aspects of riding through this section of PA is that it's a very appropriate place for wind farms.

This ride was the first on which I've actually remembered to bring my camera, so I finally got some photos of my pony.

On the far side of the Salisbury Viaduct is a cow farm and a tiny little cemetery.

A portion of the viaduct is visible in the background of this shot.

Either the old train depot at Meyersdale or the far end of the viaduct are good places to stop for a break. At 16.5 miles and a little after 4 p.m., this was my turnaround point. I would have liked to have explored Meyersdale and taken more photos on the way back to Frostburg, but the fact that I'd made so many stops on the way up and had only about 2 hours till sunset meant no dilly-dallying. But I was confident that I could pick up some speed on that lovely downhill between Deal and Frostburg...

Coming out of Savage Tunnel on the way back to Frostburg. What wasn't visible in the first photo of the tunnel was the massive metal doors at each end.

Looking back up through the tunnel just before the end. Fatigue had set in on the way back, in spite of the downhill from Deal, and all I could think about during this second walk through the tunnel was those doors swinging shut and trapping me inside. This dark and creepy walk was too appropriate just a week and a half before Halloween.

And that lovely downhill from Deal wasn't so lovely. No matter what gear I was in or how hard I pedaled, I just could not get above 19mph. I was blaming it on the wind I felt pushing against me, until I looked up and realized the leaves on the trees were perfectly still. Must have been the rolling resistance from the crushed gravel trail (yeah, that's my story and I'm stickin' with it).

In spite of the grey sky, the black tunnel, and pushing myself to the point of fatigue coming back, it was a great ride of 37 miles. Next year, though, I'll start earlier in the day, and hope for clearer skies and lights in Savage Tunnel.

September 25, 2006

My intro to cyclocross

I don't do it, but I love to watch... Shots from the Charm City Cross race on 9/24/06, first of the MABRA series and apparently a hell of a success:

MTB pro Georgia Gould rocked the men's B category race, coming in 3rd. That's her above doing the flying re-mount, and below:

Just watching the race made my quads, shins and lungs hurt, but man, was it fun. For more info, read my report here: Team Estrogen Forum: Charm City Cross Race report