Berries, splashes, giggles.

The day was clear, sunny. Warm, but not too hot. Friends arrived just as I was finishing up my morning coffee. Brent, ready to go as usual, in all his cycling garb. Jake, still clad in the flannel that he slept in, the alpacas running down the hill to greet this strange-looking, long-bearded, plaid creature. And Jalon, stumbling up the driveway, styrofoam coffee cup in hand, still half-asleep. 10am was apparently too early for him on a Sunday.

We set off for Rothrock State Forest in two cars, bikes hanging off the tailgate of Brent’s truck. All Salsas. “All we need’s the chips,” remarked someone. I don’t remember who.




A road closure caused us to take the long way around, and we were nearly an hour late meeting Allison in the parking lot. Luckily, she didn’t mind. We rolled in, smoke pouring out of the hood of Brent’s old Chevy from a power steering fluid leak. He laughed it off.

We began. A slow, rocky uphill crawl to the top of the ridge. I was tired, still recovering from the illness that’s plagued me for the past two weeks. Sickness in the summer sucks. It’s been going around lately, it seems.

I asked Brent multiple times if he wanted to pass me. He said no, he liked my pace.

But despite my burning legs, my technical game was on. I cleaned my only unconquered rock garden on the Tussey Mountain Trail. Success felt so good.

jalon log

nut buster

jalon gets it

The berries were thick on the ridge, spilling onto the trail, the thorny bushes scratching our arms and legs. Jake stopped to clear some of the more gnarly ones, and Jalon took the opportunity to forage. We joked about stories we could tell people to explain our bloody scratches. Maybe we were attacked by a gang of bobcats.


Jake took us to what he called the “Toilet Bowl,” a circular cutout in the earth. We rode circles inside of it. It was dizzying, but so much fun.



We continued, down the mountain this time, on one of my favorite trails. It was sandy, mountain-laurel-lined, with a number of small drops. And at the end, a perfect stream crossing.

We stayed at the stream for a while, riding back and forth, giggling. I felt like a little kid. It was impossible not to laugh from pure joy. Jake rode wheelies. Jalon somehow fell over in the middle of the stream.



jake goes down

water play

water play 2

brent splash h splash

Soaked, we coasted to the car our way back to the car, and stopped for ice cream on our way home.

Tandemonium on the Lower Trail.

This past Sunday, Evan’s parents visited us for the day. We took bikes to the local rail-trail, the Lower Trail, where we were joined by my parents, who decided to try out a tandem bicycle for the first time.

Evan and I rode our new Salsa Powderkeg (more on this bike later), and my parents borrowed our Santana touring tandem. I wasn’t really sure how they were going to do, or if they’d like it. I know I was pretty skeptical about the whole tandem thing at first. I thought I’d get frustrated not being in control, or not being able to see ahead of me. I do sometimes, but I definitely like going tandem a lot more than I thought I would.

My parents seemed to like it too. At least they said they did.


We rode from the Alfarata trailhead to Williamsburg and back, with an ice cream stop in Williamsburg with money that my dad found in his backpack. Thanks, dad!

On the way back from Williamsburg, Evan’s mom got on the back of the Powderkeg with him, and I rode her bike.

I’ve been on the Lower Trail so many times growing up that it’s not a place I frequent very much anymore—I generally seek more hills and rocks—but it’s a great place to go with a group of mixed skill levels just to have a chill time and be outside. We all had fun, and the weather was perfect for it.

two wheels, one paddle.

Evan and I are the featured artists this month at the Huntingdon County Arts Council gallery, The Art Space. We are displaying our photography and my writing. Much of the work on display has been featured here on my blog, but it’s been really neat to see it all hanging on the walls in one place.

We held our artists reception last night, and it was wonderful! We got some really positive feedback, and had a lot of people tell me that they’d love to get out and do some of the things we do, which was really great to hear. I saw so many people who I haven’t seen in a long time—college friends, college professors, friends from where I grew up, my parents and a lot of their friends. We had a great turnout, and I’m super pleased with how the reception went and how our show fell together. I spent too many hours staring at the wall, figuring out how to arrange things, but in the end, I am totally satisfied.

Thank you to Evan for putting up with me being stressed out all week about hanging the show, and for doing the public speaking at the opening, which I dread oh so much. To Erica for facilitating our being there in the first place. To Paula for making delicious food. And to everyone who came for the enormous outpouring of support which we received.

Praise from my college English teacher.

Our show will be on display at The Art Space until July 28th. Huntingdon friends—check it out.


Bicycle commuting.

I remember when it used to be a big deal. It wasn’t so long ago that riding the 15 miles to work seemed like it warranted a lot of extra effort—waking up earlier, packing extra clothes, making sure to allow enough lee time in case of a flat or dead legs. Then when I got to town, I’d have to shower, change, make myself look presentable for the world.

Or so I thought.

What I discovered when I actually started doing it on a regular basis is that it’s not a big deal at all. It doesn’t require much extra effort once you’re in a routine and have your gear down pat. And looking presentable is way easier than it might seem, even as a woman.

Though I had been wanting to get into such a routine for a while, it was something that seemed too easy to put off. I always seemed to have the perfect excuse. I woke up too late—every day. I didn’t have the right bike for it—I only had my mountain bike. It was raining. Or too cold. I didn’t have time. I loved to ride, and I loved to ride roads, but I just couldn’t seem to get myself to ride to work whole lot. It was too easy to get that extra hour of sleep or relaxation time in the morning and the just hop in the car and drive the 20 minutes into town.

Then I got a road bike. Well, not really a true road bike—more of a gravel/touring sort of bike. A Raleigh Willard. The timing wasn’t great, as the bike became mine just before the cold and snow set in, but come spring, I was one step closer to making this whole regular bicycle commute thing happen.

I got a rear rack, and a nice set of Ortlieb panniers for it, eliminating the need for an unwieldy and uncomfortable backpack.

My trusty steed.

My trusty steed.

I guess the big catalyst that really forced me to start riding to and from work more was the fact that Evan and I have been sharing a vehicle for months. In the winter, both of our schedules were much less busy, so it wasn’t such a big deal to carpool, and for me to wait around in town until he was done work, and vice versa. But come spring, both our lives became more hectic. I got a job with and started my own map-making business, meaning I was doing a lot more work from home, but still commuting into town nearly every day to work my job at Boxers Cafe. Evan started needing to be at work super early, and stay later in the evenings. Our schedules didn’t mesh so well for carpooling anymore, and he needed the truck a lot more for hauling boats and bikes from one place to another for work. The fact that I was busier too meant that I had a lot less time to just go out and ride “for fun.” And so, I turned to my bike for transportation, and I turned a commute that I’d have to do regardless into an opportunity to get a ride in.

At first it was a big deal. Riding required that I planned ahead. But it wasn’t long before it became routine. I keep all my tools, a rain jacket, and other essentials in frame/seat bags on the bike. I throw my work clothes and shoes in a pannier in the morning, and I’m off. It’s way easier in the summer when it’s warm. There’s less to think about when it comes to clothing. I’m lucky that my job allows me to wear what I want, so on hot days I’ll usually just bike in whatever strappy tank top I’m wearing to work and just change my shorts and shoes. I’ve stopped worrying about taking a shower when I get to town—I just slap on some deodorant and tie my hair back. Usually, on days that I ride, people actually tell me I look great, because I have that healthy glow of having exercised already.

I feel better on days when I ride to work. I need my alone time in the morning—that use to mean I needed to wake up early to sit with a cup of coffee and not be bothered so that I could mentally prepare for the day. Now, that ride to work counts as my alone time (I still need coffee though—that will never change). Some days, I don’t feel like riding, but I have to, because Evan has already left with the truck. But soon as I jump on the bike, those feelings of reluctance go away, and I become lost in the zone of my legs pumping, heart pounding, wind blowing past my ears.


It helps that we live in a place that is perfect for road riding, with a plethora of back roads and scenic views at the crest of every hill and around every bend. There are a number of different fairly-direct routes from our house to town, ranging from 12 miles straight on the main road, up to 20 miles or more on winding farm roads, and everything in between. Some days, I barely see a car. We are so lucky in this way, that it’s so accessible and easy. The hardest part is committing the time and energy, and just doing it.

And when you do, it feels awesome.


Juniata River Sojourn 2015.

Following last year’s unexpected weather events and resulting lake paddle instead of the planned river paddle, I think everyone was pretty excited to get back to moving water for the Juniata River Sojourn this year. It was time for the Frankstown Branch on the 3-year rotation cycle, though there were some changes to the previous itinerary for this section of water.

We used to do a couple days on the Frankstown Branch, then move over to the Little Juniata for a day, and finish in Huntingdon on the Mainstem. However, the nature of the Little Juniata is much different from the other rivers—it’s tighter and more technical, and is conducive to a shorter, more maneuverable boat instead of the longer recreational and touring kayaks that many people tend to bring on the Sojourn for the many flatwater sections. And so, as the new organizers of the event, Rothrock Outfitters decided to eliminate the Little Juniata day, instead extending the trip another half day to Mapleton.

Sojourn 2015 - upper section - 3

Sojourn 2015 - lower section - 3

Maps I made of the 2015 Sojourn route.

This year there were about 50 participants, mostly familiar faces, but with a few first-timers. Most people arrived Friday afternoon into the evening, in order to set up camp and hang out. The Sojourn is as much a social event as it is a paddling event, if not moreso, and the evening campfire is always a highlight.

I arrived at the Sojourn after work on Friday evening, after grabbing ice and some pizza for Evan and others who were already out there. As I was driving west on Rt. 22, I heard the storm warnings on the radio, and arrived at camp just before the rain arrived. Along with the usual suspects, I found two familiar faces I didn’t expect to see this weekend—Don, an old paddling buddy of the guys at the shop that I’ve crossed paths with a few times in the past but never really got to spend a whole lot of time with, and Luis, an old friend of my family who I haven’t seen since I was in high school.

I caught up with those I hadn’t seen in a year or more while getting cozy under an easy-up to escape the precipitation. The night wore on, the rain finally stopped, and we built a fire.

Mark goes at the hot apple pie under the blue LED lights we set up in the easy-up.


around the fire people

Panorama attempts.

Panorama attempts.

The first evening was my favorite, mainly because I wasn’t tired yet. After a couple nights of too little sleep and days spent in the sun, I start to fade fast, and staying up past midnight becomes out of the question (I really wish I wasn’t one of those people who need a lot of sleep). But Friday night, I was one of the last to go to bed. I slept in the back of the yellow van, on the cushy bench seat that is the perfect length for my 5’3″ body. This spot has become a favorite resting place for events involving Big Yellow.
I awoke with dawn in the morning. It was still cloudy, but already warm. These next few days were supposed to be hot, humid, and stormy. The forecast was right, though the rain always waited until we were off the water and setting up tents to grace us with its presence.

van wake up

Waking up.

don setup

These flowers had fallen overnight, covering a group of kayaks.

These flowers had fallen overnight, covering a group of kayaks.

big yellow

Because of our proximity to the Lower Trail (by proximity I mean we were right on it), a rails-to-trails project connecting our put-in with the campsite and beyond, sojourners were encouraged to bring bikes to ride to the put-in while the outfitter shuttled their boats and gear. There only ended up being 6 of us that took advantage of this opportunity, despite the easy ride.

Jeff and I brought our fixies, which were super fun on the flat trail. The comfortable pace was a fast one, and we just cruised along, chatted, and tried to avoid hitting chipmunks that would often dart into our path.


jeff fixie


The morning went smoothly—there were no vehicle issues (which tends to be a norm on any sojourn), and we actually put on the water on schedule (which never happens). The water was low though, and it did take us longer than expected to reach the lunch spot at Williamsburg, and subsequently to finish at the end of the day. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as that infamous day on the Little Juniata years ago, when it felt like all we did was walk down the river and pull boats off of rocks.

jodi mike penni jenell

many boats

coming down rapid

jeff don

boats at lunch




That evening, the rain held off for the most part and we got the lawn games out. Life-sized Jenga was a huge hit! I actually got to set up my hammock, which I’d just found after spending a year thinking that it was lost forever (it somehow ended up in Houck’s truck on the sojourn last year), and spent the night in it without getting rained on. It turned out this was the only night of the trip I could do this, so I’m glad I took advantage of the opportunity.

tony hammock


mark blue

evan blue


Sunday was a hot one. The water guns came out and swimming commenced. Some swims were intentional, others were not. But at least when it’s hot out, those unintentional swims aren’t so bad either. put in

tony surf

Tony tries out the new Jackson Karma RG that we got in at the shop.

water fight

Water fight!

evan guide


As soon as we pulled off the water at Edgewater Acres, our camping spot for the night, it began to storm, and it never really stopped for very long. We watched lightning flash over the cornfield as we downed cans of Perpetual IPA. Later that evening, I joined in a tasting of Penni’s homemade wine, which is a sojourn tradition. The dandelion was delightful, but the banana not so much.

On Monday morning, we had a lot of flat water paddling before portaging the Warrior Ridge hydroelectric dam at lunchtime. There is a path to make the portage relatively easy, but it is muddy, rutted, washed out, and in need of some TLC. We are in the process of trying to fix it up a bit, and during the lunch break, sojourners helped to clean up some of the trash along the path while we carried train after train of boats.

trash muddy portage


Cooling off.

evan board

We ended up in Huntingdon, and after beaching boats at Riverside Park, there was a swarm of people back to the water for a dip. Later that evening, we all headed over to Rothrock Outfitters for an open house, and Boxer’s Cafe for food and live music by Nick Miller.



My sojourn experience ended on Monday night because I had to work elsewhere on Tuesday, but the group paddled another half day to end up in Mapleton to complete the journey. Next year, we’ll be starting in Mapleton and heading all the way to Duncannon.

For more info on the Juniata River Sojourn, visit the Rothrock Outfitters website.

Moss balls.

Alright, so what’s a moss ball?

carissa big ball better It’s a plant that is removed from its container and instead wrapped in dirt and moss. Its more proper name is kokedama, a Japanese word which translates to “moss ball.” Imagine that! The practice of gardening in this manner started in Japan, and then spread across Europe and to the United States. I first heard about it from my friend Alicia, who actually had a get-together last night to make these balls of moss. It’s a rather simple process: First, choose what plant you’d like to use. We were making specific mosquito-repelling balls, but you can plant just about anything in this manner! I chose to use a citronella plant for mine, since I’ve been wanting one anyway. pre twine Remove the plant from any container it may be in, and wrap the topsoil in sphagnum moss that has been soaked in water (you simply need to grab a bucket, fill it with water, throw the sphagnum moss in, and you’re set to go). Then use some twine to secure the sphagnum moss in place. Don’t overthink this step—random patterns will do. Tie it off and you’re set to start your next layer. twine raylenepack it Next, grab a handful of peat moss, dunk it in the water (the same bucket as the sphagnum moss is fine), and add it to your ball. Completely cover the layer of sphagnum with a layer of peat moss. It may have a tough time sticking—try wetting it more and be patient as you pack. Once you have a layer of peat moss completely surrounding the ball, it’s time to add the final layer, sheet moss. Cover the ball once more, and finish it off with another round of twine. Remember to leave a section of twine with which to hang the ball. And, you’re done! post twine look To keep the moss ball moist, dunk it in water for a few minutes once every week or so, depending on the climate. You can bring them inside in the winter, just make sure there is something under them for when they drip.

Here are some more articles I found on the topic:

Bloom Magazine

Gardenista ball bike

A-rattling we will go.

I’d been to Rattling Creek, in Weiser State Forest, a couple months ago, and absolutely loved the rolling singletrack punctuated by fun rock gardens that the area offers. So, when some of our friends decided to head up that way again, I didn’t hesitate to tag along.

Lately, I haven’t been wandering too far from home. I’ve been busy with work, enjoying just spending time at our still-kind-of-new abode, and instead exploring new places close by. And so, despite the fact that Rattling Creek is only about 2 hours away, I looked upon this day trip with a childlike enthusiasm. We were going on a road trip.

This enthusiasm was heightened by the fact that we’d be making the drive in my friend Brent’s 1987 Volkswagen Vanagon, which he’d just fixed up with a new engine and is a seriously cool fun-bus. And so, at the crack of dawn, the Vanagon came rolling up my driveway and Brent, along with Brendan and Jake, came spilling out with cheerful greetings and excitement mirroring my own. We all piled in, and were off, over the mountain to Big Valley and then onto Rt. 22 east.


We met up with a couple more friends, the Mongolds, at a picnic area parking lot in Weiser SF, where they were jamming to some bluegrass tunes, as per usual. We gathered up our riding stuff, switched out pedals (Brent had forgotten his SPD shoes, so the Mongolds were able to bring a pair of flat pedals for him to ride), and started out climbing some gravel doubletrack.

Most of the trails we rode were the same as last time I was here, but in a different order. We started in the middle of the trail system this time, rather than on one end, so it broke up the uphill a little more (last time, it was mostly uphill for the first half and mostly downhill for the second), and the long downhill section was in the middle, not the end.

Shortly into the ride, we stopped to check out the hang glider launch at the top of the mountain. Brendan took this opportunity to replace the tube that had been giving him trouble (not 15 minutes into the ride, he got a flat), and I took the opportunity to take pictures.


the view

grassy black & white


grassy tammy


brent black and white

close flowers

After the hang-glider launch, we headed out the ridge along the aptly-named Rock’s Ridge Trail, which features a number of cool rock “bridges” of sorts that are fun to play on. We spent time at each of them, trying and re-trying to clean the line, in most cases successfully. I did get a couple scrapes out of Rock’s Ridge Trail, both of which happened in totally unimpressive ways (i.e. the ol’ clip in and fall over trick). But hey, it’s been at least a month since I’ve drawn blood while biking, so I guess I was due.

tam tam rocks it

jake rocks it

steffie tam tam

the line

tam tam yeah

After the rocks, it was all downhill for a while, on Rattling Creek Trail, which winds down the mountain and ends up at its namesake stream. The trail was so much more grown in than last time we rode here, and the mountain laurel was in full bloom. The pink of its flowers contrasted with the lush green of the surrounding forest made for a beautiful sight.

mtn laurel

tam smiles

At the creek, Jake decided to jump in, and the rest of us splashed water on our heads and faces to cool off in the heat of the day. Jake also attempted to catch some of the small fish we saw swimming around, but with no luck. We continued on our way, deciding to do a small extra loop that we hadn’t ridden last time on Rugged Trail, across the highway from the main trail system. By the time we completed those 3-ish miles, I was starting to get pretty exhausted, and it was time to pay for that nice, long downhill on Rattling Creek Trail. It was mostly uphill back to the car, with some pretty technical sections. I could tell I was getting sloppy, my lack of riding over the past few weeks becoming evident. But we made it back to the vehicles, and we determined that parking at the bottom of the downhill was indeed the way to go—get the uphill and more technical stuff out of the way when we’re fresh, and save the downhill and the stream for last.

jake jumps in


catching fish

steve tammy

After the ride, we hit up the Carsonville Hotel for burgers and a couple brews before piling back in the Vanagon for the trip home. Another great day of riding with great people.