Friday, November 27, 2009

Choose Your Battles

While others chose to fight crowds at at Walmart and Best Buy on the breezy Black Friday, me and some of the boys decided to duke it out in G-Dub. What everybody forgot, was that Black Friday is also a big hunting day. When we pulled into the lot, there was a boy of about 8 with his father, decked out head to toe in camo with rifle in hand. The way the boy swung the gun about had us all a bit on edge, especially since most of us forgot our brightest gear to don. Anyway, we all returned, more or less in one piece after climbing up Sherman Gap, riding the ridge over and descending down Buzzard Rock. Plenty of chills and spills to be had. Lets get to some images.




Chad on Sherman...



Poz over a respectable log...




Pat finds a line...



Pat and Andy climb...




Lots of texture out there...



Always a good idea to check the signs...



I always seem to be shooting into the sun...



Andy thinks twice...



The view to the north...



Almost a good shot...



Andy on the steps...



Andy at the bottom of the steps...





Looking to the east...



Click to enlarge and note the expressions...



Pat goes OTB...





The carnage...



Looking south...



Not sure if it had anything to do with the safety orange vest, but I haven't seen Andy shed so little blood on a ride ever...



Poz enters a steep switch back...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More Exploring

I headed back out to Greenridge this weekend for some exploring. I ditched the car and loaded up the bike, riding along this ridge where I had camped years prior, and continued out to see what the rest of the ridge was like. I found a nice spot to set up camp and quickly became obsessed with gathering wood. After an hour or so, I settled in for the night. Lets just get to the pics...

I like the looks of this sign...



No pavement here...



I have camped here before...



Warmth...









Love the colors here...



Self portrait by the fire...



Lots of history here...



Thursday, November 19, 2009

Returning to the Scene...

With many of my riding buddies down in Harrisonburg for the weekend, attending the Fixed Gear Universe Championships mountain bike race, I decided to take advantage of the mild weather and head out to Green Ridge State Park for some camping, riding and exploring of the surroundings as well as the self. I left home with the sun rising behind me sunday morning and had breakfast in the form of 2 sausage egg and cheese biscuits, courtesy of Sheetz. There were a lot of people camping over the weekend so i figured I would let things thin out a bit and went for a spin. I rode west from Bond's Landing on the C&O Canal to the Paw Paw Tunnel, then across the Potomac River into Paw Paw, WVA, where I picked up the CSX mainline and rode east to explore the famous bridge- tunnels of the area. The fat, low pressure tires of the Pugsley makes short work of most rail beds, and I rode it through a couple of tunnels before getting to the first tressle, where I rode along the grate in the center. I hate heights, so being able to see the river 30 meters below my tire was nerve racking to say the least. Oddly enough however, it was easier for me to ride across than it would be for me to walk it. I encountered several trains during my travels, but nothing to get in a twist over. I eventually came to a another tunnel about 200 meters long and was extremely washed out. The rail bed was unrideable and to the sides of the tracks, water stood shin deep. While one is in a tunnel, it is difficult to hear anything outside of said tunnel, including trains. So there I am, 100 meters into this mess of a tunnel and I see a train entering it at the far end at just the same time my light malfunctions. i stumble over tracks and through the quagmire with my bike to the wall where I began to search for a refuge, or or hole in the wall to duck into in just such an event. I ditched the bike in the watery ravine and felt around, finally finding safety. Luckily, the train was on my left, but that's not to say one wouldn't come on the other track and anhilate my transportation. This brought back memories of my last trip into the bowels of these hills to explore these tunnels...

... Phil and I headed out to Greenridge for the weekend in my parents' Jeep Cherokee who were out of the country at the time. We arrived At 2:30AM and were excited to be out there in a four wheel drive vehicle , rather than setting up camp, we drove about trying to find some roads to test the vehicle on. We found a small road off to the right of the main road which appeared to be less traveled and headed straight up the mountain. As we proceeded upward, the road narrowed and it wasn't long before we were running down saplings which stood in the middle of the road, but there was no turning back as the incline was too steep. It was at about this time that we realized we were not on a road but were driving on a horse trail and eventually came to a tree we could not drive over nor go around. We could either attempt to reverse the 1/4 mile+ down the steep incline or try to turn around. Discussing our options for a bit, we decided it safer to try turning around. As I made a 3 point turn and got the truck perpendicular to the hillside, it began to slide sideways down the hill. Phil, seeing the danger of the truck rolling over, grabbed hold of the roof rack to keep weight on the uphill side of the vehicle. Eventually we got the truck turned around and made our way to a favorite camp site which sat atop a cliff and overlooked the which the river wound its way through as trains passed over top by way of the famous Paw Paw bridge tunnels.

We awoke early in the morning to the sound of several motorcycles making high speed passes on our camp, but upon closer investigation, found the buzzing motorcycles to be horseflies cruising by our tent. Phil and I cooked breakfast and quickly polished off our eggs and bacon before jumping in the vehicle, eager to explore areas before unreachable in a 2-wheel drive car. The two of us had a short lived obsession with trains so it was no coincidence that the area we chose to camp in was riddled with miles of track. We crossed fallen trees and traveled roads untouched for decades to reach the prized bridge tunnels. We followed the services roads that paralleled the track bed until they would disappear at a bridge or tunnel, then back track and pick it up on the other side.

At one tunnel, the service road terminated, but had a road on the other side of the track bed which traveled forth. There was an area where the tracks had been forded with gravel piled up. The two of us inspected the makeshift crossing for a minute before cautiously making our way across the three tracks. Phil stood watch to make sure the truck clear, while the signal above shined red in both direction, indicating the tracks were clear. I pulled up the gravel embankment, as Phil looked on with care. As the Jeep's front wheels made their way to the top of the first rail, Phil hollered at me to stop, but as i applied the brakes, the tires of the truck slipped right over the other side of the smooth track, and the Jeep crashed down on its frame rails and slid back, wedging the rear bumper in the gravel. Phil and I paced frantically about, scavenging through someones makeshift dump for anything to jam under the tires to give traction. Returning with a railroad tie and an assortment of other trash, Phil and I arranged and rearranged the objects in a feeble attempt to grip something, but to no avail. With the signal now burning green on the track where the truck sat, the two of us grew frantic knowing there was only a few minutes until a 330 ton locomotive would come rumbling around the bend, so i placed the railroad tie beneath the front bumper and lifted. I am not by any means a beefy guy, but with the fear of losing my parent's transportation, I was overcome with what can only be described as super-human strength and lifted the vehicle 6" off the ground, but it still wasn't enough.

Phil and I now realized our attempts were futile and abondoned ship to try stopping the train, for now we could hear the grumble of a diesel locomotive in the distance. We jogged toward the source of the sound, about 1/4 mile before passing a pile of gravel that stood a good 20 feet high at the apex of a right hand turn. Rounding the bend, the 2 of us now shook in fear as we could now see the headlights of the approaching iron monster. We stood in the middle of the tracks waving our arms, trying to signal the engineer to stop, but all was clear as far as the eye could see, so the train continued on, full steam ahead. As the train made its way around the bend, all of its wheels locked up sending a piercing scream and shower of sparks from the wheels as the engineer hit the emergency brakes. Phil and I just stood and looked on in horror as the fully loaded freighter continued to slide. Making contact with, the mighty locomotive just pushed it along for about 20 meters, the entire time bucking and spraying gravel before making contact with a switch and becoming airborn, at which point the truck began to spin before being struck in the rear door by the second locomotive, pitching the vehicle like a toy 25 meters off the tracks with a barrage of gravel, luggage and dust. Phil and I couldnt belive our eyes as we looked on with jaws agape, hiking back toward the carnage. walking in silence, I turned to Phil and in classic denile said "Maybe its just the quarter panel." Phil replied with silence and a raised eyebrow and continued to walk.

The train eventually stopped about a 1/4 mile after applying brakes, at which point the engineer exited the locomotive and began walking toward the wreckage. We all met at the mangled remains of the vehicle to assess the damage: the engine had been cut off at a 45 degree angle with most of the front portion of the truck missing altogether; the driver's door was now embedded in the center console; and the rear hatch was now crushed into the back seat. Upon arrival, the engineer casually appologized and explained how he had hit 9 cars and that CSX had paid for every one of them. He asked where we were from and when we replied Bethesda, he asked if it was anywhere near Baltimore, that he was going there and offered us a ride. I said we didn't but knew that the CSX mainline traveled right through Kensington on it's way to Baltimore which was 5 minutes from my house at the time. The engineer led us back to the third locomotive, gave us beverages and told us to make ourselves at home. Phil and I sat in the captain's chairs, danging our or arms out the window and exchanged looks of amazement, recounting all of those nights watching the diesel monsters rumble by and now be right there at the helm. It almost made the loss seem worthwhile. The train sat for 30 minutes before the engineer walked back to our locomotive. We knew the ride was over before it even began. The engineer told us the train would be getting inspected in the next town and we couldn't be on it; that we would have to get off. As the train began to rumble away Phil and i contemplated jumping aboard, but just stood there, as luck didnt seem to be on our side that day.

Phil and I walked into the town of Paw Paw, WVA which consisted of a country store, a gas station and a bullet factory. We walked by the general store where a young man was having a nervous breakdown and crossed the street to the gas station where where Phil put in a call to an AA club where he knew a friend would be. A strange voice answered and Phil asked for his friend who was finally tracked down and got on the other end. The fellow had no car or even a license for that matter, but Phil told him to find someone with a car and get out there to scoop us up, that he would explain later. Phil told me he would be there to get us in 3 hours.

As we waited, we were approached by two local stoner kids around 14 or 15 who asked if we were from out of town. Maybe it was Phil's cut off jeans and pink T shirt that gave it away, but probably the 2 youths just saw a couple of unfamiliar faces in town. We told the kids that we had been hit by a train, but they didn't buy it. Phil said "Come' we will show you." The 4 of us walked down a dirt road toward the scene making small talk, but the youths scampered off, spooked by a freak lightning storm. Although the night sky was dark, the blackness was interrupted by a sea of stars which made the lightning seem even stranger. Phil and I made our way to the top of a hill where the trees cleared to make way for the railbed, and found at least 200 people around the wrecked truck which seemed more like the scene of a plane crash. Local police, CSX and Amtrac police, search and rescue, media crews, and curious by-standers were busying themselves in the immediate area. We soon realized the flashes we once thought to be lightning, were actually flashbulbs popping at the wreckage. Phil and myself, emotionally drained, non-chalantly walked up to the jeep and began to unload our most expensive belongings.

A voice shouted out "Hey!" and an officer came running over to the truck. "Is this your truck? he continued.

Me paying the officer no mind said "Yeah," as I continued to unload my valuables.

"Call off the search!" the officer shouted and everyone in the area turned to see what was going on. Phil and I then noticed there were people everywhere with flashlights looking for bodies. The officer then turned back to me and asked why we hadn't left a note. I thin pointed out the note that still lay between the bent wiper and broken windshield and continued to rummage through the vehicle. We grabbed all we could carry and returned to the gas station to wait. Every couple minutes, a car would roll through and the occupants would ask if we were the ones that got hit by the train before rolling away snickering.

About 3 hours in, a blue Caddy came rolling in and Phil's buddy jumped out of the passenger seat. The driver's window came down to reveal an aquaintance who we will call "Jack," who was quite drunk and belligerant, but we were happy to see him none the less. We asked where the car came from and "It's a friend's," was the best answer we got. To this day, I'm pretty sure the car was stolen. Phil drove and as we twisted our way though the mountain roads, "Jack" stomped on Phil's foot which was already heavy on the accelerator mumbling"Let's go, I don't have all night." Phil's face flushed with fear as he white-knuckelled down the road at 90 mph, but soon enough, "Jack" let up on Phil's foot, while Phil let up his grip on the wheel and sunk back into the leather seat for long journey home... (words from old journal entry)


In the end, the train would pass, my bike safe and I thought it best to turn back than press my luck. I headed and set up camp atop this fabulous ridge where I sat around the fire, taking tea and jotting down thoughts, deep in contemplation.

Morning fog...





En route to Paw Paw...



The Paw Paw tunnel...



The first of several tunnels...



The first of several tressels to ride across...



Endo's-eye view en route to Stuart tunnel...



Note the moat. It gets much worse inside...



Deep in the belly of the beast...



Encounter with a train on a tressel...



I should know better...



Not easy for me, but beats walking across...



Derelict staircase...





In the morning, I awoke to the call of the rooster, but decided to roll around for a couple more hours before starting my day. I ate a little and had some tea and coffee before dropping down the road a short way to bonds landing where I would head east on the C&O canal for 30 miles into Hancock where I was immediately hollered at by an older woman on a bicycle. "Are you familiar with our town?" she shouted. I stopped and we talked for a good 15 minutes. She told me where to eat, about the rail trail through town, her son and her travels to this point in her life. The 69 year old named May took a couple pictures of me, then I asked to take one of her. She was camera shy, but eventually my charm and persistence won her over. Not so long ago, someone told me "On this journey of life, sometimes you find a gem." May is one of those gems, as is the person who told me that. The entire ride to Hancock, I looked over at the river which seems to be perfect for a paddle trip. Maybe one is in order for the summer. Wildlife spotted includes 2 large piliated woodpeckers, 2 eagles, a group of about 15 wild turkeys and over 100 turtles; all of which bailed into the water 1 by 1 as I approached. Waking up to that rooster reminded me of this poem written by my grandfather we found last year while cleaning out my grandmother's house...

The Rooster

He pulled his head from under his wing,
and sharply glanced around.
He cast an eye toward heavan, and then upon the ground.
He flopped his wings and fluttered
down off the roost he came,
well known for his pugilistic fame,
he strutted out through the lot with his high comb on his head.
Glistening in the twilight
was that big Rhode Island Red.
To wake the country 'round
up toward a post he flew.
Rearing back he responded,
cock - a - doodle - do.

Written by:
Alfred Shearer
1923






Reflections...






Derelict tressel...



Riding across an old tressel...



Derelict tunnel...



I should have brought a better light...





Paradise?









Photo courtesy of May...



She made my day...