Friday, June 23, 2017

Thank you, West Virginia; hello, Maryland!

I can hardly believe it, but I crossed into Maryland yesterday.  However, I'm not quite done with the wonders of West Virginia, which for me were mostly about amazing people and steep, leafy mountains!  For a good part of the distance walking the North Bend Rail Trail I was taken under the wing of West Virginia's ADT coordinator Sharon, and the network of people she and her husband know along the route.  After the aforementioned encounter with the couple in Salem it was pretty regular random acts of kindness as I covered the last three days to the Maryland state line.

These were rather ambitious days, as it turned out.  I'd been 'sheltered' from many of the hills while walking on a converted railway line, and although some real challenges were expected, I'd flattered myself that the Rocky Mountain crossing was pretty good training(!)  Anyway, the most mountainous part of West Virginia is in the eastern part.  From a conversation I had with a support person who was following a cross-country bicycle race (Race Across America), I learned that the slopes of the Appalachians include the most elevation gain per mile of any of the U.S. mountain ranges.  We're not talking about elevations at all comparable with the height of those in the west.  The highest point, Mt. Mitchell is 'only' about 6700', but I now have a new understanding of what Appalachian Trail walkers are dealing with.   During the past three days of  'hill climbing' I ascended and descended more 8, 9, and 10% grades than I wanted to count, and today I am feeling the accumulated effort! Have made it here (to Oakland, MD) in time for a week-end of stormy weather (which actually started early, raining both evening and morning on the camping place I left yesterday!)  And, BTW, I do know that I'm not finished with hill climbing yet...

There has been a real shift in my thinking in some ways, during the course of this endeavor.  For example, abandoned/ruined buildings have always fascinated and drawn me with the impulse to explore. But now this attraction is mixed with a certain poignancy as I pass so many shuttered businesses, houses falling to rubble, trash-strewn properties with (I imagine) no one left to care for them.  And I guess what's even sadder is that so many teetering buildings that look abandoned are, in fact, occupied. One listens to the rants of so many of our politicians and can only wonder, "What in the world are we thinking?"

Cool Springs Park.  Interesting camping spot, with a water wheel, antique farm equipment and an assortment of animals across the creek.

Monday, June 19, 2017

West Virginia and the North Bend Rail Trail

As you might have noticed from the last post, I was able to manage a visit to the Hopewell Nat'l Historical Park's Pre-Columbian mound site, which was breathtaking, as well as a detour to the Hocking Hills State Park area where I spent a happy day and a half hiking for the scenery(!)  A moment's twinge of something like guilt for my 'indulgence' in tourism was short lived as I remembered that, after all, 'paying respect to land and cultures' is a primary motivating reason for this walk.

A few days later I had a lovely visit in Athens, a very interesting island of progressivism (sort of like Yellow Springs), in the midst of increasingly conservative Ohio.  Now I am getting acquainted with the many different faces of West Virginia, an eye-opening and sometimes sobering experience.  A proud tradition of hospitality holds sway, and people generally fend off compensatory gestures, offering to share whatever they have, which, in some cases, is heartbreakingly little.  Trail (road) angels come in all economic conditions.

The North Bend Rail Trail runs roughly parallel to Route 50 between Parkersburg and Clarksburg. I walked 50 of the 72 mile stretch which was unpaved and, while fairly level, was sometimes challenging on the uneven grassy or gravel surfaces, which require a good deal more pulling (of my cart) than is usual on paved surfaces. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful stretch punctuated by cool, dark tunnels.  I kept my headlamp handy!

As has been the case all along, I've enjoyed innumerable blessings on a near daily basis.  But one incident has to be noted.  The other day was my b-day, and I had been planning on camping that night. But weather looked ominous, so I decided to seek out some cover.  In the town of Salem I was delivered to the home of an elderly couple, Suzie and Joe Davis, who keep a tiny apartment off of their garage, just for trekkers and transients!  And I heard some interesting stories about a few of their guests. Well, if that weren't enough this devoutly religious couple provided dinner, breakfast, and upon learning that it was my bday, husband Joe went right out to the Dairy Queen and came back with a bday cake.  I was overwhelmed...

Destination for a scorchingly hot day?

New state!

Great old hotel in downtown Parkersburg, WV - the Blennerhassett

Welcome to the North Bend Rail Trail

Cairo, WV

This trail has lots of tunnels - flashlights necessary!

PS - I got interviewed by a reporter with an Athens, OH newspaper.  Lots of inaccuracies, but here's the link, for anyone who wants to have a look. You'd probably have to copy/paste the whole line, as it won't work as a direct link... sorry.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Indulging in awesomeness...

Mound site at Hopewell  Culture National Historical Park 
Hocking Hills State Park

You can climb this tower; nice view and the only phone access around!

Along Route 56

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Yikes! Talk about complex a routing guide! And some more serious hills start here in Chillicothe!

 "  ...Cross under US 35. Turn S on grassy bench and in 360' turn back toward corner of highway D50115 -82.8341 837 fence (no bench). At corner of fence, begin arc that leads to an opening in a pile of logs that line the north edge of this grassy fill area with no established, marked trail. Do not climb over highway fence. In 920', ford an intermittent stream in broad swale and begin long ascent on benched trail with several switchbacks. In 3900', turn SE onto old skid road that undulates and winds along a wooded ridge. In 2300' as skid road begins ascent, turn SW onto footpath that returns to the skid road in a saddle in 780'. 560' SE past a fenced microwave tower is a wonderful view of the Scioto R. valley from Hang Glider Hill. Trail joins service road and descends W to saddle where road turns sharply S and descends more steeply. At the bottom of the hill (2100'), service road turns NW parallel to CSX tracks. In 1500', service road turns W across the CSX tracks and through gate. 1.472..."  

Well, this part is certainly meant for walkers (read that - backpackers!)  Much of the guide reads something like this and although there are alternate routes for cyclists (or my cart) it is all given east to west, making it all but impossible for the 'directionally-challenged'!  I will have to do my best on roads.  They do get considerably more 'wind-y' from this point.  And hillier, too!  In about Frankfort (15 miles back) the terrain changed abruptly, from the flatter, glacially impacted southwestern part of Ohio, to the part that is sometimes referred to as the Appalachian foothills.  I have poured over the American Discovery Trail instructions for hours and do not know how to rejoin it at this point, without giving myself a headache!

Yesterday was a good walk day on another converted rail line, mostly through woodlands fragrant with honeysuckle and other flora I couldn't identify, chattery with birdsong, and alongside a river for much of the way.  I have paused here in Chillicothe to consider my route going forward and, at the moment, can't say that the way is at all clear!   Offers of camping hospitality, showers and meals continue to blow me away.  As do the amazing and kind people I am meeting:  a farming family transitioning to sustainable practices; a hard-working and crusty campsite owner who 'gets it' - lone liberal among his Republican friends; and a Native horsewoman living on her late grandmother's land beside the (former rail line) trail. This area is a rich center of ancient Native American sites, with burial and astronomical mounds dating back several thousands of years. Certainly worth exploring, though, for logistical reasons, this is most likely not in the cards for me this trip.

And, for the record - almost to a person, the folks I've met DO care about the environment! Sustainability is not simply the preoccupation of a fringe of  'tree-hugging progressives'.  Hey, even corporations are getting on board!  Updates to follow...

How far?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Xenia, OH -- Routing is more complicated, and 'flatness' will soon be a relative term...

Crossed into Ohio about a week ago.  And as expected, route planning in this state is a little more challenging than it was in Illinois or Indiana, thanks to my trail-mapping coordinator/friends from those states! There are many good bike paths in Ohio; the trick is to find the ones that run in the right direction!   As I'd also heard, there wasn't any assistance to be had from the Ohio ADT trail coordinator; sorry to say so, but there it is!  So I am plotting an (approximate) west to east path, walking on bike paths where they exist, and roads when they don't, or I fail to discover them. Have been visiting Yellow Springs and Xenia - interesting 'happening' towns, and may rejoin the ADT in Chillicothe in a few days.

Richmond, IN was a major site on the Underground Railroad route, before and during the Civil War era.  The town has many really old homes, some dating from the early 1800's and beautifully restored.  There are many more that are (sadly) falling to rubble. (It is easy to forget, having lived in the west for so many years, that buildings are, for the most part, older in the east.)  Richmond is about half the size of Muncie and appears somewhat depressed economically.

Stayed with 'rustically' loving host-angels (and a couple of enormous dogs) on the way to Richmond, after a random, serendipitous meeting, and with an interesting Couchsurfing contact once I got into town.  My trailer towbelt arrived at the Post Office there. (Great relief!) And not for the first time, I sat out some storm days before crossing into Ohio. (What a wimp, right? Am doing the same thing here!)  I am equipped to walk in the rain, as long as I have a dry destination at the end of the day.  Also can tolerate some rain while camping, if it's not too prolonged or severe.  Which is the problem.  There have been waves of weather (serious rain and thunder/lightening storms) coming at intervals.  Makes the walk strategy that much more tricky...  The other night there was a tornado warning; I had to ask a neighbor for advise on procedure, but the weather was not moving in our direction.  In 1974 this town (Xenia) was all but wiped out by an unusually large twister, and I've spoken with several people who remember!

First stop in Ohio was in a small town with a lovely, generous Lutheran pastor and his family.  I was billeted in the church building, and got to hang out with the family.  Also had a great, if brief visit with a Couchsurfing host a few days ago, who happened to be a recent pilgrim on the Spanish Camino Santiago , She, too, is surrounded by a large, hospitable family and extended family with whom I spent an enjoyable evening over meal prep, and general efforts to make myself useful!

Heading for Chillicothe tomorrow, a 3-4 day walk,  I understand that much of the way will be along bike paths and that the weather outlook is better (fewer ominous-looking blips!)

In Old Richmond, IN

Mural commemorating Underground Railroad towns

Pastor Cavendish and family

Monday, May 15, 2017

About five more walk days to Ohio, but meanwhile I'm having a great time in Muncie, IN!

One of the things I have learned about Hoosiers is that they're serious about their wide expanses of mowed green lawn - acres of it sometimes, in the more rural areas. Of course one must own a riding mower to cope with so many hours of lawn care.  This also means that the elderly folks can still get out there and mow!  I have seen lots of elders, (presumably) happily engaged in this sport.  Sort of an eye-opener for someone from a 'drought-state' city with no grass to her name, at least not of the lawn type!

The walk since my last post has been largely pleasant, especially the stretches of bike/ped path called by various names, and stitched together with some back roads to comprise the ADT (American Discovery Trail.)   I'll be on the Cardinal Greenway for about the rest of Indiana.  Only one day was particularly challenging; this was spent almost entirely on narrow county roads, the pavement along the edges crumbling, shoulders nonexistent, and traffic surprisingly heavy.  This is part of the recommended route and I think it would be equally hazardous for a bicycle! Not everyone wants to 'Share the Road'...

My replacement towbelt might be expected in Richmond, IN by the end of this week, if I am lucky.  It will be about 2-3 days walk from here (Muncie), and I elected to spend a few days in this town rather then hurrying to Richmond and then waiting.  Muncie is the home of Ball State Univerisity, the bequest of the Ball family of Ball Glass fame. There is a lot of interesting stuff going on on campus; today I visited the Owsley Museum of Art, the Rinard Orchid Greenhouse, and also got to look in on a demo happening at the Glick Center for glass.

Have also met several wonderful hosts/trail angels, both via random connections and through the Couchsurfing app. Much lively and interesting conversation has ensued.  Abundant causes for gratitude. There have also been some rainy nights in motels, as well as the most noisy camping place I've ever experienced (a tidy campground right alongside the Interstate!)  Off again tomorrow, and hoping for merciful weather!

Bridges through the town of Marion

Met another cross-country walker - with a very tiny backpack!  He was headed west.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Many blessings, and a dash of disaster!

In the early 20th century the land within 30-50 miles of the Kankakee River in northern Indiana was one of the most visited wetlands recreation areas in the U.S. However, its agricultural potential won out in the end, and gradually the river course was altered, wetlands drained, and now cornfields prevail. The soil still looks amazingly rich, much of it nearly black when it is wet. It's been wet most of the time this season!  Springtime planting is still waiting for warmer, drier weather.

A day's walk from LaCrosse I stayed with the last of my prearranged and generous host-angels in a lovely setting along side of the bike/ pedestrian trail. Most of the people who have taken me in as I start out this year are American Discovery Trail advocates/stewards/promoters. On this visit I had a rest day to wait out the weather.

The first part of the following day's walk was a stretch along the trail after which I followed a highway heading for Tippecanoe River State Park. Rain started after a few miles on the road, and a nice fellow in a truck offered me a ride to the park entrance. As I was preparing for the rest of the walk through the park to my rustic little cabin, I made the horrifying discovery that I no longer had my cart's towbelt(!) And it doesn't seem to be recoverable. Which is rather a problem. I have been variously pushing my load, and pulling via a rigged up rope and bungee system. It is doable but not ideal. So the solution must be to replace the belt whenever I can arrange this... certainly before I tackle any major hills!

After another day's walk I had made it to a tiny lakeside community, with a storm in the forecast and an invitation to stay until it had passed. Another timely and very generous offering! This time I was able to reciprocate with some 'housekeeping' and by baking a batch of cookies!

Am camping tonight near the town of Denver, IN, and hear that it may freeze overnight!

This little rusty silo went down a few weeks ago in a 50mph windstorm!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Hello from LaCrosse, Indiana!

Many blessings to report already on this walk installment.  Starting with mercy from the airline (American) over a baggage check-in question that could have resulted in a $150. extra charge(!) I have enjoyed hospitality in 4 different places so far, as I get on with the task at hand and try to reorient myself to consecutive days of walking a fair distance.  The first walk day was only about 5 miles and I had thought that there would be a couple of 8 - 10 mile days after that.  But I'd got it wrong, and instead have done 15+ miles in these last couple of days...  Weather has been varied; Wednesday was hot, and then yesterday(especially) and today were cold, overcast and windy. Lots of rain expected tomorrow, and an opportunity to see if I've adequately rethought the wet weather walk strategy.

People have been awesome and generous.  Road angels in the Chicago area, and then in Crown Point, Hebron and here in LaCrosse, Indiana.  Sometimes people let me make an offering of my own, but mostly I'm on the receiving end - still learning how to say 'THANK YOU!'  My appreciation is yuuge!

One note on flora; the lilacs here are immense, and growing everywhere. They're in bloom now and it's a very heady perfume downwind!

Back to cardinal country!  (Sorry about the screen...)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Counting down - again!

This feels familiar -- one week out from 'lift-off', scurrying around to finish whatever must be done, or else put off for the next several months.  And indulging in a little nostalgia in the form of a line from a poem, leftover from the days when I aspired to write such things!

'The faces of arrival and departure are winking at me
from between the lines of my oral history...'

...written during a 'creative period' spent at Tassajara Zen monastery, during which every rock and twig seemed laden with inspirational potential.  The 'oral history' was a talk every new student was asked to present, called a 'way-seeking mind' talk.  Now here I am again, sharing my way-seeking mind with whomever may be inclined to tune in(!)

In the San Francisco Bay Area it is spring in spades - after a drenching winter local flora is greening up, leafing out and, as it continues to rain, celebrating the season in a riot of new growth (much of it needing to be trimmed!).  I have connected with several generous Chicago and Indiana  hosts to send me off as I begin the last 1000+ mile leg of this walking venture.  It will be interesting to see if politics/national mood plays a part in my encounters with people this season; it has not done so very often in the past.  News media falls so far short of reflecting the great diversity of opinion and concern across this country.  Though I am very grateful for the presence of our '4th Estate', in most of its many forms!

Will post again from the trail - the American Discovery Trail!

What luck to have a walking trail accessible right from my neighborhood!

Monday, February 20, 2017

'Unconditional' activism

Here are a few more thoughts from last week; both seem important.

First of all, on the subject of activism - A friend and I were recently discussing the ever more urgent need to engage actively in standing up for our principles - and for liberties we have probably been taking for granted.  In particular, how can we know that our efforts are having an impact, and, more to the point, I believe, is it necessary to see concrete 'results'?   Lately it seems to me that such assurances (of results) are a luxury and that activism is simply our responsibility, whenever and however we can participate, and whether or not we are convinced of or can see its effects.  Many of our actions will be 'fruitless' in practical terms, but we cannot let that fact silence our voices.

And speaking of taking things for granted - in my several seasons of pilgrimage so far, it has never been so clear to me as it is now,  that I might not have the nerve to embark on this walk were I not a white person.  That thought has certainly crossed my mind regularly in past seasons; it's just that in our present sociopolitical climate it becomes even more painfully obvious!