To paddle or not to paddle…

Outside, giant, wet flakes fall from the sky. The wind gusts, blowing the snow sideways. Pulling on a suit of neoprene that is perhaps still wet from yesterday’s river adventures is anything but appealing. In fact, all I really feel like doing is curling up under the blankets with a good book or my laptop, and it would be the perfect day to do so without feeling like I should be doing anything else.

But the creek is rising.

Still, I waffle. We’ve gotten a lot of good Trough Creek runs in this winter. Is one more worth the discomfort of frozen hands and feet and the inescapable chill that seeps all the way to the core?

Evan decides it’s worth it. He makes the phone calls, sends out the texts. I’m still undecided. I could just run your shuttle, I say.

Tony and Jeff get back to us. They’re in. I haven’t paddled with either of them in too long, and the four of us would make a solid, fun little group. I’m more and more tempted to join in.

But it’s so cold out, for late March. This weather is all well and good in January, but shouldn’t it be just a little warmer by now? Especially after the harsher-than-usual season we’ve had this year. By this point, I’m more than winter-weary. We’ve been teased by warmth and sunshine, then the cold seems to return with a vengeance, reminding us to not get too comfortable just yet.

In the car on the way to the shop, I make a decision. I needed to paddle. If I didn’t, the boys would come back and talk about how much fun they had, and I’d be jealous. The weather is what it is, and the water is what it is…and if I didn’t embrace it, I’d regret it.

So I pull on my suit of neoprene, which has, thankfully, dried out since yesterday, and we load the tandem canoe on the car. There’s no going back now.

We drive to the creek, get on the water, and make our way downstream.  Jeff and Tony are continually smiling, happy to be back in boats after too long, and Evan and I are having a great day together in the tandem. My feet and hands are frozen, and when I get out of the boat, I once again think, this is the coldest I’ve ever been (I think this just about every time I get out of a boat after paddling in cold temps). But that’s all okay, because it was worth it. No matter how hard it is to drag myself out into the cold or rain or snow, it always seems to be worth it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After work.

It’s pouring as I leave work, drive to the store, get gas, load paddling gear. By the time I’m done Evan is almost ready, and we load the canoe together, the rain down to a drizzle now. It’s chilly and wet—the weather perhaps not ideal conditions for a paddle, but the creek is running high—perfect conditions for a paddle.

We drive down Rt. 26, music blaring from the speakers of the Subaru. We drop off the boat, drive to the take-out, and pull bikes from the back of the car. Fully-clothed in neoprene and dry tops, we hop on the bikes and begin the several-mile trip upstream to where we left the canoe.

Donning gear.

Donning gear.

Sun shines through the trees, offering us a little respite from the rain and cold. I lean my face toward it, basking, soaking up the warmth. It’s beautiful, the rays creating a glare on the wet pavement. Below us, the creek is roaring, swollen with muddy brown water.

The Shuttle.

The Shuttle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sunlight.

We step over chunks of ice to get into the canoe, and begin what will be a quick trip today. The water is big—waves crash over the front of the boat, and it’s a constant battle to bail it out. We blast through holes, leaning back and forth to balance the boat, me in the bow launching into the air and then crashing back down, nearly flying out of the boat without thigh straps.

The Put-In.

The Put-In.

Big water & big ice.

Big water & big ice.

We are communicating well today in the tandem, mastering a simple yet effective system—Evan calling eddies, me calling lines. It feels good to work so well together as a team. We laugh and shout and whoop through the wave trains all the way to the take-out, where we load the boat and pick up our bikes on the way home.

We get off the water just in time, as the sky has clouded over considerably and the temperature has dropped noticeably. By the time we shower and finish dinner and a beer in town, it’s freezing outside and snow flurries fall as we drive home together.

It’s days like this that seem to be the most satisfying—the days of unexpected sunshine and impromptu trips to the river and companionship with those we love, all after a day of work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photos by Evan Gross.

Glen Onoko.

Last Saturday morning, after an evening of jamming out to Cabinet and exploring the town of Jim Thorpe, PA, we hiked off the hangovers at Glen Onoko Falls, a series of waterfalls just outside town in Lehigh Gorge State Park.

Icy conditions made the trail treacherous, but luckily we brought our Yaktrax, which worked wonderfully. And the views were worth every bit of difficulty in getting there.

I think waterfalls are absolutely mesmerizing in their own right, but the beautiful ice formations we got to see at Glen Onoko were something else entirely. I think that this time, only pictures can do it justice.

Hiking up the trail through rhododendrons.

Early on in the hike—before it got steep.

Circular ice formations in pools of water in the small stream below the falls.

Circular ice formations in pools of water in the small stream below the falls. If only that were warm water…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Checking out the ice formations. Shortly after this picture was taken, Evan heard a crack and started moving away from the falls---just in time. That large piece of ice on the left in the photo came crashing down as he was heading back towards us.

Checking out the ice formations. Shortly after this picture was taken, Evan heard a crack and started moving away from the falls—just in time. That large piece of ice on the left in the photo came crashing down as he was heading back towards us.

After the ice fell.

After the ice fell.

I especially liked the pillow-like formations.

I especially liked the pillow-like formations.

As we got to the falls, a few guys were just packing up from ice climbing here.

As we approached the falls, we passed a few guys who had been ice climbing here. Evan and Steve ended up finding an anchor they had left behind in the ice.

Discovering how it works.

Discovering how it works.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Panorama ice at the next falls up.

Panorama ice at the next falls up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ice cave.

Ice cave.

Steve and Tammy in the ice cave.

Steve and Tammy in the ice cave.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We thought about going behind the waterfall, but decided it looked a bit too sketchy.

The last waterfall at the top. We thought about going behind the waterfall, but decided it looked a bit too sketchy.

Swatara in the snow.

Early this past Friday morning, fueled by coffee and bagels, Evan and I loaded the last of the gear in the car and the bikes on the new roof rack, and set off eastbound, ready for a weekend of exploring new territory, outdoor adventures, and an evening of great live music with our friends Steve and Tammy.

We were headed to Jim Thorpe, PA to see the band Cabinet (who, by the way, was fantastic—definitely check them out if you’re at all into bluegrass), and the plan was to mountain bike in that area on Friday before the show and all day Saturday. It turned out that the snow there was too deep to ride the areas we had wanted to, so we amended the plan a bit and decided to meet up at Swatara State Park instead, which was on the way to Jim Thorpe.

Swatara’s mountain bike trail system is made up of six interconnecting short loops, totaling approximately 10 miles of flowy singletrack that winds through mixed forests and over small streams. This weekend, the trails were still encased in snow, but it was a rideable crust in all but a few areas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was still cold when we started out—in the mid 20s—but we warmed up quickly and so did the air, and soon temperatures were climbing into the 30s. It took me some time to get used to riding on a trail again—deep snowpack has rendered the trails back home unrideable for the past few weeks, so the little bit of riding that I’ve done lately has either been on the flat ice of the lake or the road. I felt awkward and clumsy and a little bit lacking in confidence as I navigated the ruts left by frozen footprints on the more popular trails closer to the parking lot. Dropping tire pressure, and then dropping it some more helped immensely, as did time on the bike to get used to riding singletrack again.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This was also my first ride testing out the Thompson titanium handlebars I had put on a few days before. I “won” the bars at last years Dirt Fest by riding over a group of guys on a Mukluk (yes, true story), and they’ve been sitting around for months since. But recently I decided to give them a try, and I was curious if I’d notice a difference in flex or feel. The jury is still out on that one—I’m going to have to ride them in a variety of conditions and on some familiar trails once the snow melts to make any definitive judgement on noticeable differences or whether I like them or not. Stay tuned for that verdict.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At one of the streams, we stopped for a break, and over a snack of deer jerky, Steve and Evan began eyeing up a log crossing. The approach was sketchy, as there was no clean, straight line to get onto the log, so the first few attempts were thwarted fairly quickly. There were quite a few step-offs, some of them graceful, some of them not, and a couple of them ended with the bike in the water. Steve finally made it across, and Evan decided enough was enough after fishing his bike out of the stream, water pouring from his pogies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We ended the ride just as the snow began to turn to a granular slush, and basked in the midday sun, marveling at the ability to stand around in our riding attire without becoming immediately chilled to the bone, before making our way up the highway to Jim Thorpe for the next part of our weekend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For more information and latest updated trail conditions at Swatara State Park, visit the Susquehanna Area Mountain Bike Association.

We made it.

It’s been a long winter. A winter that, for those of us in Central Pennsylvania, has been harsher than many of those in recent years. We experienced more days below zero or in the single digits than I can remember, and snow has been on the ground nearly continuously all season.

I’m usually not one to complain about winter. I don’t mind the cold that much, and I love the snow. But I can’t deny that I’ve recently come to be winter-weary, and I’ve been more than ready for spring for a while now.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Improvised sled for hauling things too and from the cabin since driving in has been impossible for the past month.

Lotta snow--February 16, 2014.

Lotta snow–February 16, 2014.

This weekend, I think we’ve finally seen the light at the end of the tunnel of winter. It’s been sunny and warmer (in the 40s), and while our lane is still snowed in and we’ll still be hiking a half mile or so to get home for a little bit longer, I think the days of bitter cold are over. Today, we got to turn the clocks forward an hour to begin Daylight Savings Time. Never before have I been so excited for that extra hour of light in the evening as I was this year.

Evan, myself, and the dog took advantage of this first extra hour of light by taking a walk in the woods near the cabin, exploring unknown areas so close to home and enjoying the rays of sunlight that were still filtering through the trees at an hour that we were so used to being pitch black.

I think that now, we can officially say we made it through this winter, living together in a 120 square foot cabin with no running water and a woodstove for heat. It certainly hasn’t always been easy, but it’s definitely been an adventure, and this spring will be more appreciated than most.

6:15pm and there's still sun.

6:15pm and there’s still sun.

The ice commute.

It was early, just after dawn. I glanced at the thermometer on the porch. 3 degrees Fahrenheit. Which meant that away from the protected alcove of our cabin, it was even colder. It was just cold enough to make me second guess my decision to commute to town by bicycle this morning. I thought about bailing out—it was cold enough that I shouldn’t feel too bad.

But I knew I still would. Feel bad, that is. And after all, this wasn’t just any commute, it wasn’t even just any bike ride. Evan and I were supposed to be meeting our friends Jake and Tony to ride from our house all the way to Huntingdon on top of the ice on Raystown Lake. Conditions were perfect—an extended period of exceptionally cold weather meant that the ice would be more than thick enough to be safe, and there was a thin layer of powder on top of the ice, providing traction without too much rolling resistance.

I knew that no matter how cold it was, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. So I bundled up, resigned myself to cold feet, and the two of us headed out, meeting up with the others down the road.

On the lake, the rays of the morning sun and the beauty of the steam rising off a patch of open water in the distance made it seem just a little bit warmer, but by the time we got to town, my feet were still frozen and ice crystals decorated by eyelashes (and the men’s beards).

2014-02-12 08.37.25

2014-02-12 08.39.44

2014-02-12 08.53.45

Ice mascara?

That evening, we began the commute home in just enough time to catch the sunset on the lake, and watch the surrounding mountains turn purple and the trees transform into ghostly silhouettes against the dark gray-blue sky. We took a detour from our morning route to stray towards the center of the lake, until the ice grew noticeably thinner and free of snow. The open water interacting with the ice created a haunting song, and we stopped and stood there at the edge of the snow-covered ice for a while, mesmerized, listening to the murmurs of the lake and looking down into the black abyss underneath the clear, frozen layer in front of us.

Riding beside a no-wake buoy is just plain weird.

It’s hard to believe this place is packed with boats most of the year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Testing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Eventually, as we began to grow cold, we hopped back on our bikes and continued towards home.

The next day, the skies dumped nearly a foot of snow on us, rendering the ice commute much more difficult, maybe nearly impossible.

I’m glad I didn’t bail that day, because as it often is when it comes to riding bikes in the winter, the chilly feet were worth it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A colliding of seasons.

A light drizzle falls as we say our temporary goodbyes and mount our bicycles, briskly pedaling up the lane, then coasting down the ice-and-snow-coated gravel to the hard road. It feels warm—with temps in the 40s reminiscent of the spring thaw, especially compared to last week’s single digits and below-zeros. It’s warm enough that I don’t mind the rain, and it is a welcome refreshment rather than a chilly nuisance.

As we begin to climb, my hangover-less body is grateful that I made the choice to limit my beer consumption at the party the night before. Tires crunch through a thin layer of snow on top of wet dirt. It’s a gradual uphill, enough to get the blood flowing, the lungs pumping, but still allows for conversation and observation of the surrounding world. It’s quiet, no one else stirring this Sunday morning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Before I know it, we’re at the top, looking down over the lake and dam. Mud flies in our faces as we descend, careful not to slip on a patch of ice. It was nice to ride without snot freezing in our noses, no windchill burning our faces. The descent was still chilly, but not in that body-numbing, bone-chilling way that is so familiar in these winter months.

We reach the closed section of road, and then we’re riding on snow again, ice waterfalls falling down the cliffs to our left, the thawing river flowing far below on our right.

We stop to admire the ice. Evan breaks off a piece, posing for pictures with it in a variety of goofy ways. Giggling, we get back on our bikes and continue, all the way back to the shop, where hot showers await.

Before the snow could melt completely, winter returned in full force the next day with its icy grip on the land. But the brief weekend respite from the freezing temps was much appreciated, a hint of the spring that is to come, someday.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA