September 26, 2009

Gwynns Falls pictorial

I've been back to the Gwynns Falls Trail since my first experience of it, and can now give a much clearer, more convincing case for how terrific a trail it is.  These photos were taken on two different rides, which accounts for the variance from overcast, cloudy sky to clear, sunny blue.  The other contrasts displayed in this series of photos are what make this trail so very cool.

Beginning in the neighborhood of Dickeyville, at the top of Leakin Park, and heading down through Gwynns Falls Park, the Carroll-Camden Industrial Area, Westport, and ending at Middle Branch Park.

View the whole series here.

September 15, 2009

Recent readings: Entering fantastic worlds

Despite the fact that we've yet to reach the equinox, autumn has come and, as usual, I'm being drawn to weird and unusual reading material.  I'll be into Poe and similar Victorian-era stuff by the time Halloween rolls around, but this year I've begun the season with more contemporary works.

I started out by re-reading Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, and continued with his acclaimed young adult book, Coraline (though I still haven't gotten around to seeing the movie).  Definitely a fun tale with a message of bravery for kids, Coraline's also an entertaining, quick read for adults.  (Last year about this time, I read half of his most recent young adult work, The Graveyard Book, and definitely need to pick up another copy to finish it.  Much more there to sink one's teeth into.  No pun intended, for those familiar with the book.)  

But while I accept that Gaiman seems to be acknowledged as the current reigning prince of weird literature, Clive Barker did it first and Gaiman is his heir-apparent.  Probably most well-known as a horror-meister thanks to the popularity of the Hellraiser films (based on his short novel, The Hellbound Heart), Barker's actually an incredible writer of fantasy.  The basic premise of most of his books (the same frequently utilized by Gaiman) is generally that of an ordinary, commonplace person thrust into a world beyond their imagining, who is compelled to travel a hero's journey and in the process finds him- or herself to be more than expected.  Standard myth-stuff, but it's the characters and the landscapes Barker creates that make his works so engrossing.


In the realm of young adult fiction, the first two books of the Abarat series are as amazing as anything created by L. Frank Baum, but the Wicked Witch of the West has nothing on Barker's dark villains.  And Dorothy's spunk pales beside that of Candy Quackenbush.  These books are full of nightmare and beauty, and are only the beginning of what's apparently intended to be a five-part saga. 


On a much more adult level, works such as my favorite, Weaveworld, contain a sensuality (and sexuality) that the kid's books understandably can't approach.  Descriptions of both people and places are vivid, and Barker's worlds are so fully, fantastically developed that they go beyond just drawing the reader in to making them want to enter the pages and inhabit these amazing realms.

  At the moment, I've just dived into Imajica for the second time.  It's been several years since my first reading, and so far it's both surprising and familiar at once.  The book's huge (I've got the original 800-something page paperback that was printed with a very tiny font), which is both a good and a bad thing.  Bad in that it's a pain to carry around, yet good in that the pleasure of it lasts for days.  It's definitely not one that can be read through in a weekend, no matter how much you're sucked into it.  As such, it's long-term escapism.  

I'm normally an empirically-minded pragmatist, and yet this story of forgotten magic and forgotten selves puts me into a mood to wonder what sorts of mysteries the real (or should that be "real"?) world has disremembered.  Which makes it a nicely appropriate prelude to the coming season of autumn and Halloween.  From Barker to Poe, one fantastic master to another. 

September 6, 2009

Gwynns Falls glorious

I have a new favorite place to ride. Selfish being that I am, the only reason I'm exposing it here is because I know my readership is so minuscule. And of those who do follow my babblings, most are not local, so the chances are slim that this wonderful gem of a place will become overrun due to my glowing review.

I first heard of the Gwynns Falls trail a few years ago but never took the time to look into it. While blowing some $$ recently at one of my favorite local bike shops, I noticed a stack of brochures for the trail that included a full map, so I grabbed one. A quick look showed that it passed through some areas of town that I thought might be more than a tad sketchy. So, while my curiosity was definitely aroused, I was also tentative about riding my snow-white, lycra-clad self through neighborhoods where I'd stick out like a sore thumb. So I did some googling, which led to two accounts of people being punched in the face or hit with rocks by miscreant youth in one specific area. Aside from that, though, the intarwebs turned up nothing but mentions of how nice the trail is. No one I found to ask about it went into much detail, but all said that it was an excellent ride.

With this weekend being a holiday one, my cycling options were limited. Everyone and their brother would likely be out on the rail-trails and at the parks where I like to ride, and I wasn't in the mood for crowds. That left either a rural road loop I've done a couple of times up above Frederick or, possibly... Gwynns Falls. Would the Labor Day hordes find their way onto this supposedly lightly trafficked trail and spoil my bid for solitude? Only one way to find out...

The trail begins at an exposed and barren commuter park'n'ride lot. How misleading. It quickly drops from the concrete wasteland into Leakin Park, a huge, amazingly natural urban park that was almost intersected by an interstate. I've been told that it was dramatically saved by MD Senator Barbara Mikulski and a crowd of protesters standing in front of a bulldozer, literally preventing it from tearing into the forest. If that's the case, I'm grateful and will continue voting for Mikulski each and every time she runs for re-election. (Now, if only she'd spearhead a crusade to clean up all the garbage along the creek...)

Within Leakin, the trail is a tangle of off-shoots leading to spots like the Carrie Murray Nature Center and the historic neighborhood of Dickeyville. The route I took by-passed these detours (leaving more for me to explore on future rides) and meandered along Gwynns Falls creek, transitioning from smooth pavement to old abandoned road to a crushed stone and dirt mix, and back to another stretch of abandoned roadway that finally, after 6.5 miles, spit me out into urban neighborhoods. This was the sketchy part, though the few people I encountered were perfectly pleasant. Another mile or so later, I was in the industrial area next to Ravens Stadium, passing old warehouses with fantastic architecture and bouncing over railroad tracks. From there, the trail heads either to Inner Harbor or down along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River to Middle Branch and Cherry Hill parks. For my first run-through, I kept things short by heading in the direction of the Harbor via a brief jaunt through the re-gentrified section of Federal Hill.

After walking through the crowds on the Harbor promenade, I locked the bike up and headed into the food court. It didn't take long to snag a greasy soft pretzel and lemonade and return to the bike, where I sprawled in the grass and ate, watching the clouds and gulls floating over the Harbor... totally, surprisingly, at peace with the throngs of noisy tourists.

The ride back was as peaceful and solitary as the ride down, easier because it was simple to re-trace my way, yet also ever-so-slightly harder because I was heading back up, literally, to Leakin Park. I was amazed at how few people I encountered throughout the day, aside from the Inner Harbor crowds, and I can't wait for the chance to get back up there. Next time, Dickeyville and Cherry Hill Park. And photos, in order to document the awesomeness of the best damned trail I've found yet.