Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Some perspective

The Dolly Sods Wilderness; not Pittsburgh, but not too far away.

Always in big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread.  It is the ancient fear of the unknown, and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into.  What you are doing is exploring.  You are undertaking the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is an experience of essential loneliness, for nobody can discover the world for anyone else.  It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone.

- Wendell Berry

Thursday, June 14, 2012

PA in Runner's World

It's not Pittsburgh exactly, or even Western PA, but Pennsylvania's Rothrock State Forest is Runner's World's current Trail of the Month.

Check out the write-up here.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Yellow Creek State Park

Been doing a lot of work east of town lately and exploring that area, so write-ups on Crooked Creek and the northern section of the Laurel Highlands Trail should be on the way.  For today: Yellow Creek State Park in Indiana County along Route 422, about 90 minutes from Pittsburgh.

I ran the southern side of this park on a very muggy, muddy morning after the recent Irene-induced rains, but still found it enjoyable for the most part.  Based on the official map, I'd planned on doing about 5-6 miles connecting the Ridge Top and Damsite Trails.  I did that, and a bit more.  With better research I would have realized that much more than a half mile separates the two trails, and it's a winding route between them. 
This park is popular among mountain bikers for good reason, and they've done a nice job of mapping things out.  Check out the RideYC.com web site before venturing out, and I'd suggest printing their map as well.  Here it is.

What I ended up doing was the Ridge Top Trail to the South Shore Singletrack to the Damsite Trail to the Bear Cave Loop and back, which was about 10.2 miles. 

The Ridge Top Trail is great.  Lots of stretches through pine forest, some fun rolling hills, a few small creek crossings (or just runoffs from the prior day's rain) and good, mildly technical terrain. 

The rest of the trails were a mixed bag, though generally on the positive side.  The South Shore Singletrack meanders a bit too much in its easternmost sections, but is very fun as you move west.  The biggest creek crossing of my run--roughly shin-deep and about 8 feet wide--was somewhere along there, and was very refreshing on a hot day.  The Damsite trail is pretty standard fare, and same goes for the Bear Cave Loop with a tough climb thrown in there. 

I did get a bit off-track onto one sticky, buggy, disgusting stretch of mud on my way back around, which I suspect might have been the Billygoat Trail.  I reckon you'd best avoid that area unless you find yourself there during a drought.

I looped through the Ridge Top Trail again at the end, and enjoyed it even more the second time around, knowing where to let loose and where to exercise a bit of caution.

Finally, I was thoroughly pleased that I'd parked near the beach, as a dip in the cold lake (with a Power Ade from the nearby pop machine) was the only proper finish to this slow, poorly planned jog.

The takeaway: a very nice park that I'd be open to exploring again.  As for the trails themselves, certainly not on par with Laurel Highlands or McConnell's Mill but, then, there's a lot to be said for ending your run in a deserted lake.

(And I should mention the birds.  If you're into fowl, put another in the plus column for this park.  I saw several falcons, some wading birds (Heron?) and a huge owl along the way.)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Brady's Run Park (Beaver Co.)

If you live up this way or happen to find yourself about an hour north of Pittsburgh, settled right between Route 51 and I-376 is Brady's Run Park.  A nice pond in the valley of two steep slopes makes for a nice setting if you're in the mood for some tough climbs and occasionally confusing trails. 

Here's the trail map.

The Brady's Run Trail (including both North and South) offers about 6.25 miles of nice singletrack, with some random roads and doubletrack thrown in here and there.  The map recommends a clockwise loop for mountain bikers, but after running it in both directions I think I'd advocate the opposite for runners.  Not only is it easier to find the initial trailhead for the North trail, but if you're willing to push through two serious, if short, ascents, you will be repaid with some very fun, slightly more gradual, meandering descents.

Here's the route I took second time around, parking at the ice rink and starting from the small parking lot just across Brady's Run Rd. from there (the trailhead is to the left if you're standing in the lot, uphill into the woods):

Unfortunately you won't see much of the lake on this trail, except at times from a distance.  You will see two annoying sections of seemingly endless switchbacks, one on each side, but I guess that's better than taking these hillsides straight-on (although you will do that, too, in places).  You will also see some minor creek crossings and and a few fallen trees, but no serious obstacles.

About a mile in you'll come up behind a baseball field and the trail will dump you out on the road.  I'm not actually sure that I took the right trail from there, but I just sort of wandered across the road and back into the woods where it looked worn and followed it, but whether it was the right trail or not, who cares.  It got me to the back of the lake, where I was able to again cross Brady's Run Rd. to get on the South Trail.

All in all this park reminds me a bit of Riverview: nice trails, but steep in some sections and confusing in others.  I wouldn't drive an hour out of your way to run here, but if you happen to find yourself within 20 minutes or so of the park, it's definitely worth exploring.  Here's the elevation profile for the counter-clockwise loop:

Based on that alone, it may not look any easier taking it one direction or the other, so all I can say is that I enjoyed it more running it in reverse.

One tip: next time I find myself here on a hot day, I'll definitely start at the west end of the lake, so I can end my run in the water instead of the radiating heat of an asphalt lot.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Thumbnail Review: Sewickley Heights Borough Park

This is a beautiful little park off Fern Hollow Road in Sewickley Heights.  A partially marked trail system provides...  I have no idea, but probably 3-4 miles or more of doubletrack and mild singletrack through picturesque Pennsylvania woodland.

A map from the Borough will cost you $4, but you shouldn't have any trouble fumbling your way around this relatively small park.  As a few points of reference, if you hit a creek, you're at the lower edge of the park and probably want to make your way back uphill.  If you hit a large open field, you're at the peak of the park and right by the parking area. 

Despite its size, though, the woods feel quite removed from Pittsburgh.  A great place for a short run.  Here's a suggested 2-mile figure-eight that may or may not roughly track the trails I did with the spouse and hound last weekend:

(click for larger view)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Off the Road Again

No local trail reviews in this post; just a personal update.

As bad luck and reckless training would have it, that sluggishness referenced in the February 17 post below turned out to be the beginnings of a torn soleus muscle, likely triggered by PJ McArdle hill repeats on the prior weekend. As it further turns out, cani-cross with a recently retired and newly adopted sled dog is not the wisest sport to undertake when one’s soleus is starting to tear. So, two weeks after that post and eight weeks before the Big Sur Marathon, my right inner calf swollen and pulsating with pain, I realized I probably wouldn’t be running in the Big Sur Marathon this year.

The doctor ordered seven weeks of rest, and aside from two very painful test jogs in the middle of those seven weeks, I abided. A lot of chilling, a bit of stretching, an increasing dosage of cycling and an occasional foray onto the elliptical eventually found me still feeling the pain in varying degrees at the end of six weeks. And then it suddenly subsided.

I was still signed up for the marathon at that point, though knowing I wouldn’t be ready. So I down-graded to the 9-mile option despite uncertainties about whether my leg could even handle that much in its semi-healed state, particularly given the hills of that course. A few more sessions on the indoor bike, a lot more stretching, and two meager runs proved joyously pain-free, so I gave it a shot

Sunday morning in Carmel-By-The-Sea, the weather was perfect: about 55 degrees at the 6:45 a.m. start reaching above 60 when I crossed the finish, without a cloud in sight. The 9-miler followed an absolutely beautiful course, mixing Highway 1's pavement with the beach trails and park roads of Point Lobos Natural Reserve, which meandered along the coast and through tall pines. Without question it was the most scenic run of my life--if a bit bittersweet in light of my original plan--and my leg held up just fine to my delighted surprise.

All this to say I’m back on the trails, thank God.