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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I Think It's Good to Go Out Cause if You Don't You'll Never Make a Memory that Will Stay - Hawk Mountain, Hawk Rock, Tallulah Gorge, Longwood Gardens, Money Rocks, and the Horseshoe Trail

            After a long summer semester, things finally wound down with required prep / shows / grading last week so that I could go outside and play. It couldn’t have come soon enough. Though only one of the 2 colleges I worked at finished up early, it was still nice to have time for myself before and between when the last 2 nights of class transpired.
If you’ve read this blog at all, you know that, for me, there’s nothing better than finding myself under the blue skies and little fluffy clouds when I’m starting to feel like I’ve been confined inside in the stifling claustrophobia for far too long. Long work days kind of do that to people, but there is a cure, and for me, it’s called getting between the trees. No matter what happens with my Parkinson's, I have made a promise to myself that I will enjoy nature in some way as long as I possibly can. 
This condition will not take that from me. I can give up a lot of things, but to see the world's beauty, even if only from a roadside stop, is something that my soul needs to thrive.
            The week began with a long walk at a botanical garden in the Philadelphia over-spill (Longwood Gardens - 1077 acres offers a long walking opportunity) on Sunday through to a local county park (Money Rocks) and onto a local long distance trail (the Horseshoe Trail) to arrive at a vista on a national long distance trail (Hawk Rock on the Appalachian Trail) before proceeding to the culmination boulder hike at a local international conservation destination (Hawk Mountain), I spent the 5 days before heading to Georgia for proper vacation in hiking style.
            Different hikes / walks offer different things. Longwood obviously offers flowers for as far as the eye can see, but they also offer some trail type areas in the “outback” field part along with paved paths in the main walled-in area. We no longer try to take it all in on every visit (why we buy a yearly pass). We’ve seen it all before in some incarnation or the other for the past decade, so now my wife and I tend to do sections of the park instead. This time, we went to see the new fountains, which are very ornately sculpted and magnificent in their European attire.
            I’m not feeling particularly poetic at the moment, so I’ll just let them describe their own beauty.

            As for Money Rocks, it’s not a very big park. There are multiple trails through the area, but there is a main loop path that goes for about 3 miles. This descends into the rocks themselves, which are a boulder pile spread out above a huge wall. They’re covered with way too much graffiti for their own good, but during the day, they tend to be pretty much empty of visitors. It also helped that it was hot enough that most people didn’t want to go out in the 90° heat of summer.
            The trail itself is pretty manicured, though a little bit rocky. For Pennsylvania, it’s fairly smooth, though some of it is small rocks thrown here and there. Compared to some places (see Hawk Mountain), it’s a yak trail. There’s not really a lot of elevation, but it is a little bit rock-strewn in that quick ascent, so navigating that is helped with tree branches.

            The hardest part of both Money Rocks and the Horseshoe Trail was the bugs. As I said, neither had a lot of elevation in the section I was in, but they did offer the bugs a fine dinner with the nasty stank of my sweat from the intense heat of summer. Here, the Horseshoe Trail was actually worse than Money Rocks since the bugs were fogging up around me in a haze of gnats and mosquitoes. If you’ve never hiked in the intense heat of summer, that’s the biggest drawback. Heat sucks, but sweat is doable (if you bring enough water to offset it), especially if you think (like I do) that it’s an opportunity to sweat chubbiness off, but the bugs... they really suck because swatting 1 means 8 more appear.
            Now I’ve never been a fan of bugs, but ever since my diagnosis last fall with Lyme Disease (right after Parkinson’s - they found it while looking for possibilities for diagnosis), I’ve really hated nasty biting insects of all forms. I know that I talk a lot about Leave No Trace, but bugs… those critters can go the way of the dinosaurs (even if they are essential foods for things I do like around).
As for all the thoughts and theories of what Lyme may be, I know that Parkinson’s has actually has effects that mirror Lyme, but the one symptom that stands out is that the tremor is different (resting for Parkinson’s, during movement only for Lyme). Nevertheless, there’s also loss of energy and things like knee pains with both of them. If all I had was Lyme, the PD meds wouldn’t have worked, so I know what I have (especially with regard to all the symptoms that are PD only). In the beginning, it was hard to figure out what was what for the second bit of my diagnosis (there was a gap of a few weeks in the Lyme diagnosis), but fortunately, the Lyme was fairly recent and not transitioned into the cerebrospinal fluid (as to affect brain functions seriously). A spinal tap figured that out for sure, and now, the PD meds are helping to retain the old hiker me as I move to life with it and without Lyme (though traces of it will remain despite the Doxycycline that killed the infection).
            And that means getting out in a world where these nasty creepy crawlies lurk. Life is to be lived, and I choose to live life as much as I can.
            If you’re interested in the Lyme / Parkinson’s Venn Diagram world, see HERE and HERE.

            Wednesday, I was feeling stretched from the nearly 6 hot miles on Tuesday. The bug bites were itching, but I was confident that I could use bug spray to defeat them, and I did when I eventually got myself to Duncannon, Pennsylvania, to ascend up through the thick boulder paths of the upper section of the trail to Hawk Rock.
            I’ve been there in all seasons, but I’ve never really gotten a good look at the river due to either fog or winter conditions (which I also wrote about HERE earlier in the year when I wrote about my ascent and how people looking out for people with disabilities on the trail isn’t a bad thing; in fact, I take it to be that it shows they care instead of think I’m incapable to do it on my own).
            On this day, the view was stellar, but it was also super hot. The bugs didn’t join me, but a lot of high school girls from the local cross country teams did. It was nice to see so many non-traditional hikers on the Appalachian Trail. These girls trained hard and motored up the mountain. In fact, when I was done at the car, a group of girls came back to their car looking like they just got ready for school. I was sweating like a pig in the mud (as pigs do at 84° or more, a mechanism that helps cool off their skin), and they were like, “Oh, let me straighten out my pony tail. It’s time to go to the mall! Why is he so sweaty? Did he just walk 20 miles?”
            It’s definitely nice to know that there are young people into the outdoors and keeping fit. Enjoy it while you can. You never know when you won’t be able to anymore, so live every day to the fullest. Godzilla and King Kong could rampage tomorrow.

            For this, I live my hiking life in the way that I’d like one more hike of a lot of the greatest hits trails before I can’t. That’s why I finally took the time to do the back trails of Hawk Mountain for a culmination of the week hike. I’ve been to this raptor sanctuary before, and it’s always a magnificent view off the North Lookout (top of the page). The South Lookout is neat, too, but other than the mountain directly in front and the River of Rocks, it doesn’t offer the challenge that the back end did.

            I never knew how long the trail was, and when I thought of going previously, I wasn’t sure how long it would take so that I could be sure I could shower prior to teaching evening classes, so I never risked being on a watch. Now, I’m glad that I didn’t because I took about 5 hours to do about 4.7 miles.
            The rocks were worse than anything I’ve ever been through, but fortunately, I was inspired by ninja to do this American Ninja course training session. To put it into perspective, I actually broke into a sweat going down the mountain. The boulders were so omniscient that they required slow movement and trekking poles to walk over and through them. It took me an hour to get to the Golden Eagle Trail from the top since I was being very careful with my balance.

            There’s no point getting into an accident on a solo hike, especially when nobody other than me is going to be able to take my tubby self back up the trail – not fun.
            The Golden Eagle was about 800 feet to the upper reaches of the Skyline Trail to East Rocks. I took another hour to slowly go up it after a little stop for a few photos at the River of Rocks, propping up many a tree as I did.
            Finally, the top offered a flat walk for about a couple “city blocks” before it traversed into a rock jungle that just offered more and more obstacles. Along the way, it also offered 3 different ascents that went straight up into vertical hand over hand climbing. The final one was 30 feet tall, and the other 2 were significantly vertical as well. I took them all on despite my fear of heights.
            Frankly, to not get over that was to retrace my steps. It’s a heck of a lot easier to go up than back over 4 rocky miles, especially with minimal food and water left after a long hot hike.
            When I ascended the rock pile, I startled a young couple who all of a sudden saw this crusty day-hiker popping up from out of nowhere. We made small talk before I pushed the rest of the way out to victory and something cold to drink (pink lemonade – sweet!). Let it be said that air conditioning and cold beverages are a great reward at the end of a hard day’s hike, and this was the toughest hike I ever did that wasn’t in the exposed desert (the Wave on the Utah / Arizona border) or in waterfalls, be they frozen at Ricketts Glen or climbing up them at Sullivan Run.

            The next morning finished my week with dropping my wife off for work and then using her work pool’s hot tub to unwind before a day of getting things together for our trip to northern Georgia to see her sister’s family.

            While most of this trip has been grading, we did go to Tallulah Gorge State Park to see a couple waterfalls with her and her 2 children. It was another hot descent down 600 or so steps to take in the waterfalls and a suspension bridge over the gorge. As I said, I’m not one for heights, and I was scared as all can be, but I did it. I was also happy that my wife and her sister’s kids did so well with it, too. This was the first “serious” hike my wife did since her ACL accident in 2015, so it was good that she was able to trust herself and her zombie ligament again (when an ACL is replaced, it comes from a donor corpse, if you aren’t aware).

            The rest of this week promises more hiking as my grades are now in (quite a few A’s, which is good for 2 fast summer courses). The only question is will the weather hold up from rain, which the forecast predicts.
            Personally, I really want to go outside. I’ve already got cabin fever after 2 days of work!

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