Exploring Centralia.

I like running across pictures from the past that I never really had much of a chance to do anything with or look at much. Right after an event or trip, sometimes many of the photos get glossed over, because the memories are still so fresh and perhaps the images don’t do the experience justice. But months, or even years, later, these pictures might be seen in a different light. They jog the memory and evoke a feeling of nostalgia for the event that they portray.

Yesterday, I was looking through my digital files for some photos for another article I’m working on, and I happened across the album from a weekend last summer when some friends and I went mountain biking in Jim Thorpe, PA. On our way home, we made a spontaneous decision to stop in the ghost town of Centralia. I’d always wanted to visit, and it was only minutes off the highway that we would be driving anyway.

Centralia, PA is located in the heart of the anthracite coal region of the Appalachian Mountains. It was a small mining town, founded in 1866, with a population that hovered around 2000 residents. In May of 1962, an underground fire began that would rage for decades, rendering the community abandoned.

I didn’t really know what to expect when we visited. It was a lot more “normal” looking than I imagined. There were no plumes of smoke from the fires that are still burning, and many of the areas where buildings were torn down are grown-over. Nature is taking over, softening the image of a community leveled by disaster. A few homes still stand, as some residents refused to leave. We saw a couple locals as we were driving and walking around town, and they didn’t seem too pleased that we were there. I’m not sure I would be either, if there were a steady stream of tourists coming to gawk at my hometown.

We walked down an abandoned section of Route 61, which was closed and rerouted in 2007 because the mine fire threatened its structural integrity. The surface was becoming uneven, and some sections were caving in. Now, it’s commonly called the Graffiti Highway. Both the graffiti and the fire damage were pretty interesting to explore.

IMG_0460IMG_0484IMG_0488IMG_0495

IMG_0500IMG_5686IMG_5702IMG_5713

This website is a good resource for finding out more about the history of the town, both before and after the fire began.

Slush day.

“Slush day” doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, but it was, surprisingly so.

Last weekend we got 2 feet of snow. This past weekend, temperatures jumped into the 50s.

We weren’t too sure how conditions would be for riding, if there would just be deep slush everywhere that would make for a miserable, sloggy passage. But we weren’t just going to sit at home and wonder; we were going to find out either way.

We had a couple guys from Akron, OH staying with us for the weekend. They were using our place as base camp to go ride and snowboard. They were pretty stoked to get on some rented fatbikes from the shop and get the guided tour from the locals.

We met at Greenwood, but this time, headed up and over Stone Mountain on Barrville Road, then made a left on Flat Road Trail, which was nicely packed by snowmobiles. Barrville was melted just enough to provide some traction on the icy parts, but the descent was still a little sketchy.

I’d never done Flat Road in this direction—the only times I’d been on it were for Frozen Fat, and we always came the other way. The name is not very descriptive, as it is more undulating than flat, and it seems like there is somehow more uphill than downhill in both directions.

But that used to bother me much more than it does now. I really don’t mind climbing.

VIRB Picture

IMG_2926

VIRB Picture

IMG_2939

VIRB Picture

At the end of the gated section of road, we had a choice to make. Continue down the gravel road, or jump on the trail. I was pretty skeptical of the trail at first, as I thought there would still be a foot of snow on it, which was now quickly turning to heavy slush. But it turned out that it was only covered by a few inches, and while it was harder to pedal through, it wasn’t impossible. It was actually a ton of fun.

I love breaking tracks in the snow. We all took turns in the front to get the experience, and actually, in these snow conditions, it was often easier to break trail in the front than try to follow the line of everyone else.

Trying to ride in the tracks of those ahead is like riding a perpetual skinny. Get off the line just a little and you find your bike tires squirming, trying to figure out how to deal with the boundary between the packed track and loose snow on either side. Attention and balance are crucial.

VIRB Picture

VIRB Picture

VIRB Picture

Sass-xx was, as always, a blast. The gradual downhill through a mix of forests, clearings, and stream crossings is a favorite ride in any season or condition. I used to not be such a fan of riding it in the other direction (uphill) because it is so damn good in the downhill direction. But, just like Flat Road, it’s growing on me.

We decided to head up the more direct Sand Hole Ridge Trail instead of Deer Tick, and it’s a good thing we did. By this time, the slush was getting more and more slippery, and climbing in the stuff was getting increasingly difficult.

The sun was so warm. My sleeves were rolled up. I took my gloves off.

At the intersection of Beautiful Trail, we ran into Ryan and the dogs. He told us the rest of the trail along the ridge, as well as Chicken Peter, were very rideable. Sweet. There were only a few parts on Chicken Peter that required dismount.

Then it was time to climb Kettle.

Kettle Road from Coopers Gap to Rag Hollow Road is a long, steep grind. I’ve only done it a handful of times, probably because something in my subconscious tells me to avoid it whenever possible. Last time I had ridden it was about two years ago though, and luckily, I’m stronger than I was back then. This time around, I didn’t think it was so bad.

As I said, I kinda like climbing. Sure, when I’m doing it, I can’t wait for the top of the hill. But getting to the top of a hill is so satisfying. I’m not a fast descender, and I don’t care much for flying down hills as fast as I can. It’s fun, but it doesn’t give me that same satisfaction as making it to the end of a grueling climb.

We took in the vista, pedaled the last few hundred yards to the very top of the mountain, and made our way down the other side. The wet road flung dirt and slush in our faces. We hopped on Sassafras Trail to descend back down to the park, which was even more wet than the road in places.

VIRB Picture

VIRB Picture

VIRB Picture

VIRB Picture

VIRB Picture

By the time we got back to the vehicles, we were pretty soggy. At least it was the end of the ride.

When this day started out, I definitely didn’t expect conditions to be this good. I figured everything would be too deep and slushy to hit any singletrack, and I thought the gravel roads would be icy and harder to ride than they were. Don’t just sit inside and wonder. Get out there. You might be surprised.

VIRB Picture

 

Powder day.

This past weekend, “Winter Storm Jonas” dumped almost 2 feet of snow on us. This meant the end of singletrack riding for a little while (or until we get some trails packed in) and the dawn of the age of snowmobile trail riding.

Luckily, there are a number of options, and since the snowfall came on a weekend, the sleds were out in full force, nicely packing a path for us crazy fat-bikers.

We got a good group out on Sunday for an afternoon ride from Greenwood Furnace. Despite the fact that the road was pretty nicely packed, the consistency of the snow was pretty slick and “mealy,” so it was hard pedaling. Once we stopped, it was hard to get going again, so that was incentive to stay on the bike as much as possible. Some sections were nice and smooth while others were very rutted or loose. Trying to keep our balance through the tricky sections was a total body workout.

I was really happy to finally have a fat bike for stuff like this. The past two winters, I’d been running my half-fat El Mariachi, which was fine most of the time, except for when we got more than a few inches of snow. Once the snow got deeper, that 29er rear wheel would just dig in and make things pretty difficult. I remember trying to ride up Rag Hollow Road last winter in similar conditions, and not being very successful. I ended up walking most of it, which was a little frustrating when my riding buddies were way ahead, just pedaling away. Full fat makes a huge difference.

We made it to the top of Rag Hollow Road and from there, we decided that trying to come down one of the trails would be impossible. But going all the way down into Alan Seeger and around would be a little bit longer of a ride than we wanted to get into. We had seen snowmobile tracks coming down the gas line, so we decided to give that a try.

It was a hoot! Coming downhill in the powdery snow was a challenge, but so fun! It was almost like skiing. I would argue that often times fat biking is more fun than skiing for me, because I like the aerobic element combined with the adrenaline. Most of us crashed a number of times, but everything was covered in so much snow that it didn’t hurt.

I did a flying Superman move off my bike on Rag Hollow Road right into a snowbank, and came up laughing. Ryan was right behind me and got to see the whole thing, which I’m sure was hilarious. Then he did the same thing.

So. Much. Fun.

In Evan’s words, “That was perfect.”

VIRB Picture

 

 

 

Necessary.

I like to be outside. I like to ride my bike. I like to run.

But these things are more than just hobbies. They are necessary to my existence as a happy human being.

I wouldn’t call myself “naturally happy.” It seems like happiness comes so much easier to other people. Despite the fact that I have a great life, the doubts creep in too easily if I let my guard down. My own head is quick to turn against me. I have to work to feel okay.

For me, the most effective way of keeping the negativity in control is getting outside to ride or run or do some sort of aerobic exercise. Every day, or almost every day. I have to skip days here and there and it’s fine, but I’ve discovered that skipping more than a day is not. I get lazy and depressed, and then I get angry at myself. And then it’s even harder to get back on track.

It took me a long time to learn this. Though I’ve always loved the outdoors and for most of my life have been probably more active than most, I went through some rough times in college and began dealing with my sadness in not-so-great ways, namely excessive alcohol consumption on a regular basis (like every night) and smoking cigarettes. Then I started running, quit smoking, and began to feel a lot happier. I rediscovered biking not so long thereafter. But still, I didn’t realize just how important these activities are to me until very recently.

Mostly because I didn’t want to believe how important they are to me.

I didn’t want to “need” anything to feel okay. I had met a wonderful guy, moved into an awesome cabin and then house with him, liked my job, and had great friends. I should just be happy, all the time. I enjoyed running, biking, hiking, etc, but whether or not I felt like a normal human being shouldn’t hinge on whether or not I was able to get out and do those things on a given day.

Only a couple months ago, I began to realize, so what if I need to do those things? I’m not hurting anyone, myself included. Riding my bike every day is whole lot better than getting wasted every night. And I began to accept that yes, sometimes I do need to do things a certain way to cope. It doesn’t mean that I’m weak, or a terrible person, or that there’s something wrong with me.

Now I know that going outside and getting some exercise is a priority, and I’m okay with that. For a while, I felt guilty about going out to “play” when there were other things I “should” be doing. I felt guilty about skipping out on social events to go ride instead. I felt guilty about ducking out on visiting family or friends to go run for an hour.

But after days and days of skipping my workout to get other things done, and then not getting anything done anyway because I was too depressed, or not enjoying time with my friends because I was in a crappy mood, I realized that something had to change. The fact of the matter is, I cannot function well if I don’t get my outdoor aerobic activity fix most days of the week, and I need to stop feeling guilty about it. Because if I’m not happy, what’s the point of anything?

So this is why I brave the cold and snow and rain to ride my bike or go for a run. Some people think I’m crazy for doing that, but the reality is, crazy is what I am if I don’t.

1537447_10152140532960199_1974373913_o

 

 

Frozen Fat, Part 2: The Purple Dragon.

The morning began with coffee and bagels at Rothrock Outfitters. Then a drive out to Allegrippis, where fat bikes just kept pouring into the parking lot as we suited up for the second day of Frozen Fat: Sunday Funday.

Sunday’s ride focuses much more on silliness than endurance. It’s a rolling party. Costumes are generally involved. This year was the best for costumes yet. Evan certainly won the contest with his purple dragon outfit, but Jake’s ’80s-vintage ski suit, Ellis’s hand-me-down dress (which was Jake’s costume last year), and Brent’s borrowed Darth Vader underwear were pretty great as well. I had big plans to buy something crazy at Goodwill but life got in the way at the last minute so that never happened. I have more fun laughing at everyone else’s outfits than dressing up myself anyway.

day 2 brent vader

day 2 jake skullday 2 jake suit

It was the biggest group ride I’d ever been on. I didn’t count, but I’d estimate there were about 40 of us. Seeing so many people on fat bikes was a beautiful thing.

Of course we stopped for log ride opportunities, as well as the traditional fun and silly contests. Who can make it down particular sections of trail the fastest, but only after running to grab your bike from a pile, or making it across a slippery bridge while The Dragon tackles you.

day 2 dragon rush

316_SAW_frznft_DSC3713

284_SAW_frznft_DSC3658

day 2 run to your bike

Laughter abounds. Snow begins to fall. It’s a great day to be outside, on a bike, in the woods.

day 2 great peopleday 2 jalon

368_SAW_frznft_DSC3809356_SAW_frznft_DSC3792

Of course we had to ride up Sleek Dog on the way back up to the parking lot and stop and check out the new crazy log ride, for better or worse.

407_SAW_frznft_DSC3893

day 2 dragon tailday 2 shannon won

Back at the lot, we exchange beers and goodbyes. I really love the crew of people that comes out for this weekend. What a wonderful, crazy group!

day 2 fancy shoes463_SAW_frznft_DSC3994

It’s been great, Frozen Fat. ‘Til next year.

day 2 arctic pimp

All photos included in this post were taken by my good friend Sarah Anne Wharton of SAW Photography. She did an amazing job of capturing the essence of the event. More photos can be found in her gallery here (password is #frznft). 

Frozen Fat 2016, Part 1: Fire & Rain

This year was my third Frozen Fat, and it was definitely my favorite one ever. More fun, less “race-like,” and at this point, I know most of the people who keep returning year after year, so the event has the feeling of a reunion.

The “frozen” part was missing more most of the weekend, so it was more like Soggy Fat instead. It began to rain Friday night while we were at McMurtries Tavern, and the ride back to base camp was rather wet. Luckily, we had a bigger-than-ever fire to dry us out and warm us up. The rain continued into Saturday, but luckily it stopped just in time for us to begin riding. Trails were muddy, and stream crossings were deep.

ride through fire

That’s one way to keep warm. Photo by SAW. 

tall fire

“Them pallets burn good” Photo by SAW.

ryan splash

Splash! Photo by HK.

ellis

Photo by HK.

otter gap

Stuck in the mud. Photo by HK.

At the beginning of the ride on Saturday, our crew (which consisted of 15 or so of us local riders who are a pretty tight-knit group) lingered in the parking lot and waited for everybody else to leave. We rode really casually and stayed together for the first few miles before naturally splitting into smaller groups. I mostly rode with Phil and Shannon, and then Jared, Ryan, and Jake caught us after they had stopped a few times to remove obstructive trees with Jake’s “buddy saw” invention.

roll out

Rolling out. Photo by HK.

At the first checkpoint, we were greeted with a burn barrel, smiling faces, and a stromboli fresh off the fire. Actually, it was more like a wad of pepperoni with a little bit of dough around it. Just what I needed.

I shoved a piece in my mouth and grease dripped down my hand. Sarah laughed. You look like you’re in your element, she said. I was indeed. Sweaty, wet, muddy, high on exercise, with some of my best friends, shoving a wad of greasy pepperoni into my mouth.

burn barrel evan houck

Fire meat stick. Photo by SAW.

phil smiles

Happy, happy. Photo by SAW.

ryan wiener

Delish. Photo by SAW.

checkpoint snacks

Pepperoni wad. Photo by SAW.

checkpoint party

Evan, who couldn’t join in the first part of the ride due to organizer duties, was also at the first checkpoint hanging out. He wore Ellis’s “Pro Flex” jersey. I’m tagging in, he said. Ellis had tagged out, too hungover to continue, and was currently sound asleep in Sarah’s car.

So Evan got to ride with us the rest of the way, which was awesome. He didn’t get to ride last year because there was a lot more to worry about with two different courses.

We left the checkpoint and continued on Beautiful Trail and down Deer Tick, and then began the part of the route that I normally dread a little bit. The climb up Sass-xx and Flat Road Trail usually ends up kicking my ass. It’s gradual overall with some steep sections that just sap my energy, especially this far into the ride. But this time around, I felt pretty good. It may have been the lack of snow, or the fact that I’ve been riding a lot more this year than previously. Either way, it was a whole lot less painful than before.

climbing

ev bucksawsteffie tongue

I felt great until the second checkpoint. My legs were warmed up, on their second wind. Then we stopped. Evan and I split a soda, and we stood around the fire for a while. I got cold. Then we started again. My legs didn’t want to go. All the boys took off, and I pedaled up Pigpile ever so slowly. Until now, I had every intention of participating in the hill climb competition scheduled for this evening. Not anymore. I didn’t have it in me.

I caught up with the rest of my group towards the end of the trail. Everybody was pretty tired, and the temperature was dropping. We all donned the layers that we had stripped at the beginning of the ride when we realized how warm it was (near 40 degrees). We headed downhill, down the bone-shaking Sassafras Trail. But it wasn’t all downhill quite yet.

Spencer Trail had fooled me once in the past—it looks all nice and flat on the map, and it is, for a while. Then you hit the wall, a steep climb in the middle of all that nice-and-flat-ness. You get to what you think is the top, and it keeps going for another couple hundred yards.

Jared threw in the towel and started walking. I stayed on the bike in my granny gear, pedaling only about as quickly as Jared was pushing. I made it to the top, and then it was truly all downhill to the finish.

jared

Killer climb. Photo by SAW. 

The fire at the pavilion was more than welcome, as by this point we were all pretty thoroughly soaked, both from sweat and the moist outside surroundings. We discovered that quite a few people had cut off Spencer and just boogied back the road, which had been a tempting thought. It was very rewarding to have finished the entire course though.

I didn’t map it like I usually do because I needed to save my phone battery, but I think it was right around 28 miles of mostly singletrack.

I headed home, threw on some dry clothes, put meatballs in the crockpot, and headed back to Camp Seguin for the evening festivities.

It turned out that no one had any hill-climbing in them, so that never happened. After riding all day, then putting on warm clothes and settling in by the fire, it’s pretty hard to get motivated to go pedal uphill for a few miles. Instead, we just baked ourselves next to the fire and worked on draining the kegs before most of us called it a pretty early night.

around the firebrent ellis jake hang

dinnerfire communityevan thumbs upjalon yastro

john jared laugh

tony smiles

ladies

Unless indicated, all photos used in this post (including those with no captions) were taken by my good friend and brilliant photographer Sarah Anne Wharton of SAW Photography. She did an awesome job capturing the essence of Frozen Fat. Thanks, Sarah! She took so many great photos that I had a really hard time choosing what to include with my post. More photos of the event can be found in her gallery here. Use the guest password #frznft to access.

Also, check out my recaps from previous years here.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Push through the mud.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m going to risk sounding like an egocentric, self-obsessed, narcissist for a minute here.

I love this photo of myself. Of all those that exist, it’s remained a favorite ever since it was taken in November 2013. Evan and I had decided to ride from our cabin to town via the shoreline of Raystown Lake, a journey that ended up taking much longer than anticipated. We figured a few hours, but we were out all day, arriving in Huntingdon just after dark, with no lights. There were unrideable sections of deep mud, and cliff-like rocks that were so steep we had to hike-a-bike up into the woods for a while before once again finding rideable sections of lakeshore.

Despite the hardships, it was a great day.

When I look at this picture, I see a person that I like—a woman pushing her bike through the mud on a drizzly November day, enjoying herself despite whatever physical and mental challenges arise, continuing to move forward, regardless of how slowly, getting wet and dirty and loving life.

This image of myself and the memories attached to it make me feel confident, and I am motivated to continue to adventure and explore.

It’s funny how a simple photograph can invoke such emotion. I suppose that means it’s done its job, and Evan was successful at capturing the moment in its entirety.

I am not always the cool, confident, happy chick that I see in this photo. I spend more time than I’d like to admit succumbing to fears, doubts, depression, and laziness. Most days of my life, I fall short of my expectations. I make mistakes. I hurt people I love. I am not fast enough or strong enough or productive enough. I often wish I were someone else. I wish I were more outgoing and social. I wish I needed less alone time so that I could be a better friend and less sleep so that I could get more done. I wish it were easy for me to accept myself the way I am, and forgive myself for my shortcomings. But instead, happiness does not always come easily, despite the fact that my life is undeniably great, and the negative spirals in my head take control a little too often.

But little by little, I’m trying to learn to ward off the negativity. Progress is slow, but I keep trying to move forward, pushing through the mud. 

In 2016, I will keep pushing. I will ride more and run more and go farther and longer, but I will also be more patient, understanding, forgiving, and kind, both to others and myself.