Ricketts Glen in Ice

Ricketts Glen in Ice

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Miley Cyrus "The Climb"

                When I met my wife Heather in December of 2007, we were completely different people. Now that we are approaching the 7th year of our acquaintance (August 15th was our 5 year marriage anniversary), we have both transformed for what I’d like to say is mostly the better. Yes, it’s true; we’re older. I have way more white hairs in my chin hair than I ever thought that I would, and while that aging looks sophisticated on me as a middle aged man, it means that I’m growing older, and older is not always better since I’m no silver fox. And as for Heather, I know how she feels about her white hairs; she beats them back with what’s in the Revlon box that is now sitting on our bathroom sink. They’re definitely not sophisticated when a woman isn’t even in middle age (she’s still on the good side of 40 – me, not so much).
            Gravity also has put some serious effects on us. It’s not like we were immune to weight around the middle to begin with, but in both of our times of employment trouble (my being reduced to halftime work after my graduate degree was completed at the end of 2010 and her being laid off in April of last year), we seemed to find a lot more opportunities to expand our middle with the stress and frustrations that come with not being “as” gainfully employed as we would like to. Sure, we picked up the slack for each other to get us through these times, but it was a very tough thing, and eventually, it became necessary to get back into the routine that we once enjoyed via a new routine that we hadn’t done before. Obviously, our work schedules that we transitioned into during this time hold us back from some of what we’d like to do, but like anyone else, we move through and do what we have to do.
            When we were in a good place with what we liked to do, that routine was the outdoors. In the long twisty journey of our time together, I was the “seasoned” hiker who did things like go to Ricketts Glen in the winter when I wasn’t hiking in the same old local spots around Berks County Pennsylvania or dreaming about the cross country vacations that I longed to take. She was the Ohio transplant who grew up in the flat world by Lake Erie. Originally, she came to Pennsylvania to meet a guy. He wasn’t the one, but I ended up being that person. Over time, we came to do a lot of things that the other person in the relationship likes. She showed me Longwood Gardens, radio friendly pop music / hip hop, and Mexican food (as I pronounce my Americanized versions of them: ta-sos, burr-uh-toes, and chinchillas). I showed her way too much MLBTV, Neutral Milk Hotel / the Polphyonic Spree, and the waterfall and vista hiking guides of Scott Brown.
            Prior to meeting Heather, my experience with hiking waterfalls was minimal, but after her first trip to Ricketts Glen, an essential factor that she would have to enjoy if we were to stay together, we started doing other waterfalls. I once thought all waterfalls were fairly civilized as far as trails go. Mind you, I had never been to Sullivan Run, so I didn’t know what “uncivilized” meant. However, we did Glen Onoko for the first time, and Heather scaled a wall and did rock shimmies and climbs to go with her root grabs. We went back on another occasion, and she did the in the water walk to the top as well. As time went by, we did many other waterfalls and trails. She did the 1,000 Steps, but she hated that. Nevertheless, she did it 2 more times since then.
            It seems that her husband is convincing. Well, it’s either that, or she doesn’t want to hear him pout.
            Over this time, I don’t think she appreciated my discussions of mountain shape as my interests moved from waterfalls to mountain vistas, but she was a good sport through most of it. The rocks of the Standing Stone Trail out from Allensville Road were not kind to her, nor were the long climbs to the top of Clark's View, but she did them to appease her husband’s interests. Sometimes, marriage is like that. Her husband in turn rewarded her with trips to a certain Italian restaurant, flowers (for the house and the garden), carte blanche on interior decorating and HGTV projects, and Kohls’ trips for clothing and jewelry and the like. Of course, there was also love, respect, and a goofy smiling face that also went with it, but yeah… one hand washes the other and sometimes, earrings are more appealing than said smile.
            Nevertheless, over these last years, the exercise has not always been easy, and that’s what mountain hiking is. It’s about balancing ourselves on the rocks. It’s about pushing to the top through sweat and humidity and dirt and grime and rocks and hoping that the view out from the top is clear for pictures. It’s about not falling in the water. It’s about talking to each other, holding hands, and having fun. Sometimes, it seems like more work than those last 3 things, but for the most part, I’d like to think it’s a lot of fun.
            And it’s helped take me down about 35-40 pounds… depending on what day I stand on the scale. As for Heather, she’s dropped 50 pounds (some days more) than she once carried. Some of this is due to walks on nice nights. Other parts of it is due to being healthy and not eating snacks. Cutting back on intake helps a lot for both of us. I’m not a vegetable healthy guy, so I have to sweat it off more. I don’t mind that. Like Jack Black, I like to eat. Many of us do. For Heather, she was willing to kick off the pounds with a foul smelling routine of juicing in the beginning of her current push to get to her desired goal (a man doesn’t ask a woman how much the goal is).
It really worked for her.
Recently, she was able to reward herself with a trip to the regular section of Kohls’ to go clothes shopping. If you’ve ever shopped in the “other” section, you understand how depressing this can be. First, it’s its own special section. Second, the styles aren’t styles. There seems to be way too much animal print, and there’s no sense of youthful or even thirty-something fashion. Just dropping to that point where things get “regular” or “normal” again seems to be a major change in so many ways. Guys don’t really understand this unless we want to be hipsters in skinny jeans and body hugging shirts with thin ties (and for as much as I enjoy Joel McHale, I don’t want to dress like him). Guy clothes is pretty much universal. For women, this just isn’t true.
Being there with her to enjoy this night that showed how much she changed over time was awesome and awe inspiring. For this, she can have whatever part of my paycheck she needs to replace the old with the new. Let the shopping spree begin! Besides, it was the reward I promised her for getting to this place (and on that note, my dad shed a fair chunk of weight recently, which caused him to have to get all new clothes – a proposition that seems nice until the credit card bill arrives – so I didn’t want Heather to worry about this necessity).
But it took a long path to arrive at this. Some days for both of us were better than others. Obviously, weight gain is a mix of not eating right, not exercising enough, and genetics, and it goes on easier than it goes off, even if that is just ounce by ounce. Taking it off is a good thing, and people who do it are to be commended, but does that make people “heroic” for doing what they need to do? I’m not here to debate that because all weight loss and getting in shape is good. People who make positive changes are role models to me.
More importantly, I am here to say that people who do positive things also have a responsibility to inspire others. I see teachers and role models as needing to be people to help others find the ways and the means to do it. Even if they aren’t ready for it now, maybe they’ll remember the words of advice later. No matter what that change is, sometimes, it has to be tough love. It’s what I needed to hear. That said, a doctor who wants to stay in business can’t say, “Lose some weight fat boy.” However, it’s what I needed to hear. For Heather, it was all about watching someone’s juicing journey on some online video. It was all about reading the dangers of certain foods that can play havoc on certain body types. Where this could reinforce some of the failure for some people, it served to move her through.
In the end, whatever it takes is the answer.
But getting to that point was a long journey. Prior to that transformation moment, at the end of 2012, my financial status went back to normal after doing a 2nd job I was never really happy with. We celebrated it by going to Jamaica. It was a fun time, but both of us were getting heavier from the stress. You can see the difference in both of our faces and what we did and didn’t want to do on that vacation. When a person lives with him or herself every day, there’s no sense of change other than what can or can’t be squeezed into regarding jean size. Of course, there’s a sense of the physical things that can and can’t be done, but yeah… the thickening of the face is just something that happens until a person chooses to reverse course.
And so we eventually found our reasons to not be those people in the year 2013. We chose to be skinnier and healthier. We’re a work in progress, but we use nature as the place to do our thing, in whole and in part. We chose to be different, and we worked at it. We have to keep working at it, or we could go back the other way, too. Positive mental commitment is what we did to get to the point where we could both go shopping for new clothes. I dropped 4 size 40 pairs of pants, and Heather replaced many shirts and pants already.
A year of work for her (and a year and a half for me) offer a lot of positive rewards.
However, when it comes to life, it’s all about being able to do the things we want to do with the bodies that we have. In the same way hikers hike their own hike, people need to live their own body place, and what that really means is can you do what you need to do with the body type that you have? For me, I was fitter and healthier and able to get into better levels of mountain shape. Heather was getting complimented by friends and coworkers. We were both more confident about our lives, although that’s a work in progress, and things just keep changing for the better.
Even if sometimes, it’s at a snail’s pace, it’s still a positive pace.
Recently, Heather and I went rappelling with Sara and Ben, 2 fellow hikers who have a serious interest in climbing and rappelling. The option was there to learn, and with that, we went to Tioga Forest to experience Sand Run Falls from the bottom and the top.
The trail in was relatively flat. There were a few creeks to cross, but it was rock hopping, and for that, we left the neoprene socks in the car. When we arrived back at the falls, we gazed up at them in sheer awe. Jeff Mitchell lists it in his Endless Mountains book as being about 25 feet tall. It was beautiful, and at several times before the clouds covered the sky, we saw a rainbow on the left side of it.
Getting in there to the amphitheater that houses the falls, we found a rope. Using it to descend (it’s not like we needed to, but it was there), we started the course that Ben would give us to do the rappels. The first part of that course was how to get into the harness and gear. It wasn’t pretty, but we did it. The second part was holding the rope while leaning back to see how much the gear supports us. Surprisingly, it felt very safe very quickly. I moved up the 60-75° incline and leaned back from rocks that were up higher. I walked down these backward. I felt good. So did Heather when it came to be her turn to do this.
From here, we looked for higher rocks to go down. After some deliberation, we went to a double ten foot drop. There was a ledge in between, which made it nice, but it also offered a chance to get out of it if it didn’t work. I went first and sat at the top while Ben patiently and knowledgeably gave guidance and a first rappel to show how it was done.
As I took my first step with him slightly below me, I felt good, and before I knew it, I was on the ledge. Then, I went over the ledge and conquered some of my fear of heights by doing the second drop. I was ready to do it again, and I ran up to the top and did it 2 more times.
This made me feel really good. After all, I’m the guy who can’t walk over bridges without fear. I’m the guy who gets scared watching video of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. Now, I was the guy going over the edge.
Heather did it, too. I’m not sure how interested she was in rappelling before the day began, but as things progressed, she was comfortable and confident, and now my wife was declaring to Sara, who had been taking pictures, and Ben that she wanted the big 35 foot drop that Ben was doing earlier. You know, the one with the 15 foot free fall at the bottom. This was the one that had the step-off into what felt like thin air at the top. I was going to try this too, but that first step, which was a doozy, scared me too much, so I opted out.
But that wasn’t it for Heather. For Heather, the option was there. As I waited with the camera on video at the bottom, Ben gave patient directions and went down beside her. The journey starts out slowly, but soon they are moving. Heather makes the first step, and the only way out is down. They keep progressing, and it seems like only seconds before they are at the free fall part, which is where they slide down the Batpoles to arrive safely at the ground to triumphant applause.
She has won. She has conquered her fear.
She has “done good!”
It’s a long way from that night she decided that juicing was the last resort for her. It’s a long way from being made to feel that some exercise equipment was going to magically change her from something to someone else only to have it start collecting dust a couple of weeks later. Until you’ve seen and felt that desperation that some magic change can make a change, you just don’t get it, but in the end, the answer was what I told her all along: mountain shape.
Mountain shape doesn’t mean climbing a mountain. It doesn’t have to mean rappelling down one either, but it does mean going out in the fresh air, in the forest, in the middle of nature, and just doing something you never thought you could do while you feel pure air fill your lungs as you exhale out in the confined nastiness to be something great, whatever that is, for yourself.
Prior to this descent, we both hiked up a small waterfall (about 12 feet). She did that well enough that it’s clear she could do Sullivan Run. It’s clear that if she had the gear, she could do parts of Ricketts Glen in the winter. There’s no need to wonder. She’s a tough as nails gal.
The options are wide open because when you can do 35 feet, you can do 350 feet. The only difference is a number. If you trust the rope, you’re OK. If you trust yourself, you’re golden. If you know, you don’t believe. You’re definite.
And that’s where my wife is… in that realm where all things are wonderful possibility for opportunity and experience.
Even if she didn’t do this, I’d still love her unconditionally, but now I can add her to my list of heroes who inspire me with their ability to kick back against the obstacles and overcome adversity. That’s what it’s all about.
That’s why my wife is my hero.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rollins Band "Do It"

            Walking step by step over the ridge of a mountain, I find that there is a sense of place and purpose. To be above the world on this monumental pile of dirt and stone, having ascended the steepness of its side while traversing switchbacks and makeshift stone staircases, is a moment of accomplishment. It is the forced breathing out of exhaustion as pride flows through the veins to reveal exactly what has or has not been done as it is punctuated with a victory yelp.

            It is the mathematical objectivity of everything. It is one person challenging him or herself to a contest. It is not a race; oh no, it really is “hiking your own hike,” but it is a game where the athlete competes against the natural antagonist beneath his or her feet to push up and over to victory.

For this, the hike is a sense of one foot in front of the other repeated again and again, the heaviness of the chest and the pain that runs through the calves and thighs getting replaced with a sense of “this is what I can or cannot do.” It is the backpack that is strapped around the hiker’s body hauling the necessary gear as it pushes down on the frame that is carrying it. It is the boots that the hiker wears on his or her feet as they protect the sole and the toes and the heel from the rocks that are balanced upon while the hiker climbs higher and higher to the place where he or she can ascend no more.

            And now that the hiker is here on the flat ground that hovers well over a thousand feet above the valley, he or she will know that IT has been accomplished by crossing miles of horizontal trail to arrive at THE PLACE.

            For me, there is a sense of accomplishment that I achieve while I am engaged in this action. When I have won my battle against the elements and I am walking along the top, I will be moving across the flat part that stretches out to the end of the field of view that you see all so “clearly” from down below. And yes it is flat except now the perspective of all things that it really is are completely different in that there are things going on beneath the tree cover that you could never imagine.

For starters, this new here is a place where I feel in control of things despite my abandonment of the other everyday nature of the world, the flat place that I exist in amongst the valleys and field. On top of the world in this new place, there are rock jungles and thick brush as well as infinite piles of stones jutting out from everywhere. Here, there is a sense of comparative speed in my movement, at least as compared to the place that is up or down, but there is also a sense of care in how I get to THERE and navigate my body around the boulders to reveal occasional openings from the thick forest, which will allow me to see the eternity of where all of the rest of you do your daily business.

Except now, I will be able to survey the vast sea of the world from the kingdom in the clouds, and I will be master of all that I survey.

Perhaps, while I am there, I will see the rectangular shapes of farm fields as they cut through the land to create new boundaries of a workman’s purpose through the once grassy fields that make up our Pennsylvania landscape. Maybe, I will see the trail as it cuts through the mountain in front of me. Inevitably, I will see the roads that drain the wild out of Penn’s Woods.

If I am unlucky, I will see your dwellings as they jut out above the forest, and I will see a view that is devoid of any and all wilderness. However, if I am given the eternal reward that goes with the hard work of my climb, I will see 4-5 mountain ranges in the distance through a clear blue sky that is occasionally punctuated by beautiful, puffy white clouds floating peacefully into the heavens. In the foreground, I will see deep oceans of green as the trees stretch out everywhere to reveal a place where Nature can live, undisturbed in its peaceful ways. As my eyes gaze toward it, I will breathe it in to replace the sea-level existence that I pushed out of me in the forced march to the heavens.

And in my head will be songs of energy, songs of peace, and poems of grandeur. Gone will be the words of the American Book of the Dead. I will temporarily discard the vampiric existences of the world that would attempt to bleed me dry. I will refuse to carry the burdens of hatred and resentment that are cast upon me and cast out from me. And as I walk away from pain, sadness, death, lost opportunity, and hardship, I will fill myself with love and only love to guide my effort to the perfect place, even if I can only be there for a little while.

This is the only place I can be like this, trapped in the effort of doing and not doing. It is a place where I am not responsible for the actions of others, and they in turn have nothing to do with my own. If I push faster or slower, it’s all on me. I like that. I know how to do what I need to do, and if I don’t, I will learn how to regroup while I am down there to gain new knowledge from others. I will seek out the skillsets that will make me better.

I will do what I need to do on my own to show you that I am capable enough so that I can be the one that you depend on, should you need me to help you get up and over. I will live fully and truthfully and purposefully to do this. I will not make the errors of the past. I will not give in to my thinking. Oh yes, I will rise up from the valley, from the ashes, and I will be the solitary man on top of it all. I will see the future, and I will push forward to make it mine.

What other choice is there?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Screaming Trees "Nearly Lost You"

“Squatches and chupacabras and puckwudgies, oh my,” I sang out in a voice that was meant to be a humorous one. How was I to know that my own words would be used against me?
On that evening, it was rapidly getting dark as I descended from Clark’s View on Jack’s Mountain, which is the true blue view that is situated way up above the Thousand Steps, and I was looking for something to amuse myself while I wound my way down through the switchbacks and across the dinkey trails. 
So far, it had been a relatively short hike, at least as far as time was concerned up until this point. The hike itself was a little bit longer and heartier though. Getting to the top of the Thousand Steps is most of the work on this trail. For me, it took 32 minutes and 8 seconds to push .53 miles from my car to the top of the steps, which include the steps that do and don’t count toward the totals. Considering that I was doing this hike with the remnants of allergies congesting my chest and considering that this was my best time ever for the steps, I felt pretty good about the whole journey that I had made – despite the sweat, my red face, and a very exhausted feeling that was being exerted from my lungs. In addition, while reflecting on how this was about 800 vertical feet of roughly 1,700 feet of solid rock and piled up dirt of this mountain in the middle of Pennsylvania, I knew that the worst was behind me, and I could just push myself out the rest of the way to the catbird’s seat that I was looking to trek up to.
On this particular evening, my time spent meeting with some of the guys from the Standing Stone Trail went longer than expected, so I was consciously aware that I was competing against the sunset when I went up the mountain. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to dilly dally, so I pushed it at hard as I could. With my Runkeeper on to tell me my 5 minute intervals, I acknowledged how I was doing well – a fact that the sun still shining in the sky confirmed. Before turning it on at the side of the Macho Dude, the moniker for my trusty Yaris, the girls’ cross country team, who had been running the trail before me, informed me that they did the steps in 23 minutes. This was faster than the trail runner that I knew who had accomplished this feat back in December, but it was slower than the marathon people who were conquering it in September. As it turned out, it was almost 10 minutes quicker than I could accomplish it.
My hat’s off to them.
Standing on the ledge looking down, I took my victory photo of my exhausted self, and I knew that I had a decision to make: “Do I go on or do I turn back?”
I opted to go forward.
I would at least get to the part of the trail that ended the middle belt on the mountain and turn around if it looked to be getting dark.

By this point in my life, I had plenty of experience with the Thousand Steps. This effort would be by 8th trip from the bottom to the top. I had been to Clark’s View on 3 of these trips. However, I wouldn’t see it until my 3rd visit to the mountain due to some poor understanding of what it means to hike a “marked” trail.
On that third trip, my wife H was spending time with her family after getting laid off from work. The loss of her job wasn’t totally unexpected, but at the same point, it was something that was now causing chaos in our lives because all of the worry about it happening had finally happened. As I was busy during the week with working at 2 different schools, it was decided that it would be better for her to go and be with her family than to spend the days alone at home. This way, she would have people to be around, and it wouldn’t feel so lonely during the day. The days are always the worst time when things aren’t going the right way, so she didn’t mind going to be with her family at all, nor did I mind giving her the green light to go off to the wild blue yonder since it was just as easy to have a computer to work with there as it was to be here. Thus, it became a no-brainer of a decision.
For me, I was going to take the time to work on my writing, which was something that I always did when she went away to see her family. However, this time through, I wasn’t really inspired to write. Sitting down at the computer, the white screen stayed pure, and I just couldn’t motivate myself to get back to any of the writing that had filled the end of my previous year. Instead, I felt inspired to really get out and hike for the first time in ages, so after the first weekend at Angel Falls, I chose to go back to the Thousand Steps Trail in Mount Union.
While not a waterfall park, which was most of what I was obsessed with at the time, the Thousand Steps Trail near Mount Union, Pennsylvania, was a relatively dry mountain (save a stream at the bottom and some permanently wet steps at the top). I had hiked it before, in 2010. On that first journey, I found the trail as a result of looking for information on Indians Steps, another trail that featured manmade steps up a huge Central Pennsylvania mountain. However, the Internet gave me the search result that was these particular steps on the Standing Stone Trail, and I went there instead.
What can I say? It just worked, and frankly, it seemed fated to be.

The Thousand Steps are divided into sections of steps. Some of them are about 50 steps. A few are about 100 steps. That said, there are a couple really long sections of steps that seem to be about 200 steps. The last section before the final steps has the aforementioned water hazard, which gushes through it during the wetter seasons. This is something that always takes my mind off of the fact that there are 36 more steps after the 1,000th step. After this, things level out for a time so that the hiker who looks to accomplish it can walk over to the Dinkey House and “marvel” at the idiocy of the graffiti that was left by the local drunk kids.
When said hiker ascends past the Dinkey House, the trail winds around the mountain after going up another 50 or so stairs. Those steps feel steeper than the original ones, but in all honesty, it’s just the exhaustion and effort that is filling the legs and chest from the most serious ascent up the mountain.

On the first day that I hiked it, there was a lot of fog and mist kicking up into a consistent and annoying rain that was getting worse and worse. It wasn’t pouring, but it was a steady pissing kind of rain. Despite this, I could see a view of Mapleton sitting behind the Juniata River from a viewpoint that was located just over the vertical middle of the mountain. Of course, at that time, I had no idea how much higher that the mountain went, but the truth was that from the top of the stairs, I had only ascended 50% or so of the mountain. To be honest, the Thousand Steps weren’t even 40% of the mountain. A good hundred and fifty or so vertical feet of that was just walking up to the sign that says that hikers are about to step onto the actual steps, which is different than the non-actual steps that a hiker has to go up before them. Getting to this vista meant going up another little hill, and pushing across a long straightaway through the orange wisps that were painted onto the trees.
At the very end of this straightaway is a double blaze. However, behind it is what looks like a trail. In fact, it probably was a road to get rocks out of the quarry that had originally been situated at the top of the Thousand Steps Trail. If you were to go hiking up said mountain, you would see a lot of these dinkey grades, which are cut into the mountain’s various boulder fields. The ones above the Thousand Steps are quite an image to look back on, at least if you ask me about their impressiveness. Nevertheless, throughout the mountain, there are other remnants of roads that appear to lead to places, but in actuality, they just lead to brush piles of debris and new growth. Other dinkey grades do make up the pathways of these Central Pennsylvania trails.
Since this section of the Standing Stone Trail really did look like a trail, I took the double orange as a sign of “really, really!” for what was the trail and what wasn’t. I can’t say why, but it seemed to make sense. As a result, I proceeded through the wet forest world in search of whatever I could find on that day, which was a very wet boulder field.

Since that time, I’ve come to learn that the double orange blazes are actually markers to redirect a hiker to where he or she really, really needs to be, but I would challenge some of the people who paint the trees to really think about how and why they are redirecting things with a double orange blaze because sometimes, it just veers a few degrees off of where the trail seems to flow (especially when the mountain has been pre-carved by miners). That said, other times, there seems to be a drunken yak trail across sections of the rocky mountain top that is logically twisted and rambling in its inability to hold a straight line while racking up miles on tired and aching feet.
For the most part, all that a hiker has to do is stop and stare and contemplate where he or she will see the next orange (yellow or blue) mark on the trail. If said person pauses and stares long enough, these marks are generally within 10-50 yards of each other. Most of it is depending on the clear view that a hiker has up through the trail. On that note, most of the concept of a clear view is how long and hard that the trail was used to break it into a thoroughfare as opposed to what looks like a well-used deer trail.
In this case, I should note that it’s clear that there had to be a double orange marker because it involved spinning in some ballerina move to find the other orange marker that was shifted off to the right, higher in the woods, resting comfortably, though hidden, on a switchback that led up the mountain. On that day, that’s why I never noticed the switchback up the mountain, which was located at about 60% of the way up Jack’s Mountain. Buried in the leaves, it doesn’t even register as the supposed path pushes forward and around to scenic images of rock piles that cover acres and acres of the backside of the mountain. Nevertheless, while stomping through saturated leaf-covered floors of the mountain, I realized that I hadn’t seen any bright orange wisps in quite a while. This meant that I needed to find my way back to the path with the rain pouring down through the tree canopy. To be honest, being this far from the trail wasn’t exactly my idea of a fun day, but on that day, getting back to the actual trail was a very real problem. This debacle got all the more real while I watched as the sky darkened to reflect that this rainy day spent lost in the upper mountain was coming to a close and that what was passing for daylight on a rainy day was almost over. With it, the chances of finding the trail again relied on “being here now” and clear thinking that would help me find the trail again as based solely on the logic of where things should be in respect to where I was, which if the truth was known, was a couple hundred feet from the level that the trail was on. In addition, since I was still back further than where the actual trail went up the mountain, I wasn’t anywhere near where the quasi trail that I walked onto met the real trail.
The loose translation of this was that getting back was going to be a problem.

And on the day that I had this dilemma, I eventually pushed back my worry and focused on going back up the mountain so that I could gradually wind my way back to the trail.
Simply put, there was no other choice.

After about 10 nervous minutes, I smiled happily as I saw the orange wisp on the dinkey grade, and from there, I wound my way down the Thousand Steps to make it back to my car without being trapped on a rainy mountainside over night, but if truth be told, there was an anxious stretch there as the Xeroxed pages and prints out disintegrated into wet ink and nasty paper that wasn’t even possible to read.

A year later, when I went back on a sunny day in late spring, the switchback hid quietly in the upper reaches of the mountaintop. Perhaps, a self-righteous idiot might say, this is more the fault of the person painting the trail markers than the guidebook. More likely, it’s the hiker’s own dumb fault since he or she didn’t have his or her stuff waterproofed and protected enough, and he wasn’t totally aware of everything that he needed to know to ascend said mountain properly.
Either way, with that lack of ability to identify the trail, getting stranded became a potentially serious problem since the paths that looked exactly like the trail did when I was going in except they were changed to something unidentifiable on the way out, and to put it honestly, that’s always a problem.
What’s more is that this is with watching where my wife and I were coming from to avoid a similar mistake!
Only when she and I came back from said rock pile and found the trail did we see how the trail pointed back to where it came at a very sharp 135° angle. At that moment, I knew that the next time that I headed up to the highest heights to see it properly, I wouldn’t get lost, but this didn’t do us any good on this trip. Sure, we saw the rocky backside of the mountain, and sure, I spooked a snake that moved very quickly to get away from me, but the fact is that we didn’t get to the real destination on the trail on that given day. As a result, things felt incomplete, for at the end of our picnic lunch by the rock pile on that late spring day, wanting to go to the very top of the mountain seemed like adding a lot of extra steps after an already long journey. I knew at the time, and I know now that it wasn’t a wasted day, but sometimes, when I’m trying to find my way through unmarked trails, the fun of the hike is lost on the effort to make sense of my surroundings, and for this, an adventure that should be fun is actually dangerous work.
I resolved to learn from this and be more careful the next time out.

To that end of completing the uncompleted journey, something in me chose to go back to this trail in very early May of 2013. I can’t say for sure why I went to it when I could have gone to any other trail in the state, and I can’t say what I was feeling driving up Route 322 to get myself to Route 522 and then onto 22. Sure, I had my copy of Scott Brown’s Pennsylvania Vistas book. I had been to a few of them. Well, actually I had hiked to the Pinnacle and the Loyalsock Canyon Vista at World’s End State Park, but I didn’t drive to the top of that one. I did walk to the top of the Pinnacle, which I didn’t really remember other than the vista, but there were a lot more real mountain tops that I was led to believe that I could be entertained by. I had been to Bear Rocks and Bake Oven Knob as well, but I never looked at Bear Rocks as a vista. Rather, it was a rock pile like Knife’s Edge located down from it. Bake Oven Knob was just a drive to a parking lot at the top of a manicured dirt road. It had a pretty view, but it wasn’t spectacular. It wasn’t bad, but it was never “AWE INSPIRING!”
However, Scott Brown’s book seemed to say that the trick was using his book to find a way to get to the really good ones. From his written experience with waterfalls in the great Keystone State, I knew he was right about it.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that he Thousand Steps Trail is not in the book that Mr. Brown wrote. The Throne Room and Sausser’s Stone Pile are. Priceless Point, a grand vista that is now on private property, is right off of the Standing Stone Trail. Momument Rock, which is located down from Priceless Point is. Yes, from those hikes, the Standing Stone Trail is well-represented, but the only real mention of the Thousand Steps is a mention of how someone can look back from the Throne Room on Jack’s Mountain, which provides a good view of the steps from almost 10 miles away.

However, that view, which I will take any day of the week, was still a couple of months away. On this day, I was going for a view that I never knew had a name until it blew me away with the obviousness that it was for Joe and Betty.

In very early May of 2013, the hike up the Thousand Steps was much like the one from 2011: hot and humid. I was prepared with water, guide book, and everything else that would fit in my Camelbak day pack.

I knew what I needed to do, and I set out to do it in order to get to whatever was up and over the top of the mountain. I ascended and pushed, up over and across the switchbacks and rocks and logs that littered the path. I wound through steps that boots and erosive rains had carved out over the years, and I wandered through to a sort of opening, which inspired pictures, but not quite whooping oohs and aahs. That was the feeling that was yet to come as I moved up to the second set of switchbacks on the side of the mountain. And as I came to the upper realms of the mountain, the world opened up, and when it did, it was beautiful.

It was too early in spring to be covered in leaves, but it was getting there, and getting there was good enough for me. There were the oohs and aahs of Joe and Betty’s view, and it really was life-changing!

So there I was at Clark’s View, and when I got there, I left behind a lot of feelings that I had for arbitrarily going to see waterfalls, and I began to contemplate a transition in my mind, which was to go see vistas and views via the biggest mountain climbs that I could possibly attain.

And if the events of the weeks and months could be revealed at this time, I would tell you that I began to prepare myself to get ready to hike that trail and to be a member of the club that takes care of the trail, and I finally began to take myself back from the apathy and lazy morass that I had fallen into.

But this is not that story.

Thus, before I did that, I would have to get down from the top, which meant I would have to reach the top, so I began pushing my way up the remaining vertical to get to Shorb’s Summit. Standing on the flat top, I felt elated, but that was it. I saw no view, so I walked over to the other side, and from there, back down the mountain.

There have been changes to the top since the guidebook I was using went to print, and as a result, I walked down a dirt road that seemed to represent the other half of the loop trail. I followed it into the town of Mount Union and back across Route 22 to my car. This was a hot ordeal in exposed sunlight and nervous wondering of where would I come out onto the highway and how long would it take to get back to the car from where I did come down.

In the end, the answer was well over a mile from the car.

I’ve never gone that way again (always preferring to take the same trek back down again), but yeah, that first day was an adventure that I returned safely from.

Like the other adventures I was on, I followed the rules I learned while hunting with my dad. These included keeping my cool and turning around every so often to see what the trail looks like when I’m walking the other way. I have generally felt confident doing this, even if it occasionally meant going off the grid in places like the Wave. I understand the feeling that my wife had when the Bisti Badlands of New Mexico’s emptiness scared the beejesus out of her, which is why I agreed to turn around before we got to a place we couldn’t get back from.

In the end, it’s hard to argue with another person’s sense of feeling “safe.” If it were just me, I’d be more willing to travel dangerously, but that’s my take on my life. For better or worse, I’m a little more reckless there than I am with my wife’s life.

            It was now 16 months later, and I had come to understand a lot of things about the Thousand Steps and the Standing Stone Trail. I had lost nearly 40 pounds of anxiety and self-effacing ugliness from around my body in a quest to get myself into mountain shape, and I had gained a lot of athletic ability that I hadn’t had in ages as I was now able to do many things that I hadn’t been able to do for a long time.

            I was comfortable on the mountain. I was in a race against myself and the ghosts of previous trips to be able to be something more intense and powerful as I pushed myself to the vistas and views, through the rocks and overgrowth and water obstacles, in order to see and experience the stuff that other people couldn’t in many different conditions that they found too difficult to achieve.

            Truth be told, it made me feel like something more, and I liked that.

            On that night in late August, I was moving upward toward Clark’s View. I was kicking it hard through the rocky switchbacks. I made easy work of the short ones and I fast walked the long ones. I passed the vistas and the rock piles. I moved up through the eroded paths, and eventually, I wound my way through the final switchbacks to the view. The sun was still shining, but barely. Its light was extinguishing quickly. That was all right though since I had my headlight contraption that would shine brightly enough in front of me to guide my way down through the trees.

            At first, I didn’t really need it, but I had it on as the sky went darker and darker and darker still. As I reached the downward incline to the switchbacks, it was now really dark, and that made me realize something very important: I couldn’t see in front of me without the light.

            “I hope I have enough battery power to get me down.”

            Sure, I had my cellphone, but I didn’t have a flashlight app on it at the time. Instead, I would have to turn it on to a white screen and hope I could get through if the worst happened. Nevertheless, as I would journey through the darkness of the trail, other pressing needs had started to concern me first.

Chief amongst these was where the hell did the orange wisps disappear to?

            The path still looked like a dinky grade, but the orange was gone. Things looked recognizable, and that was good, but as they started to seem exactly the same as everything around me, I comprehended how the dinky trail overran the actual trail down into the woods as it became “nothing” to me.

Had I passed my exit? Was I lost?

            And as I thought of these things, another thought filled my head: “shortcut the journey down to the next grade, which is where you need to be anyway.”

            The pause was discernible. The idea seemed to comfort my fear as it wondered what I should do. Fortunately, my trained mind responded back in the negative. Rather than get myself in trouble like the old, uninitiated me would have done, I backtracked the path, instead, and I saw nothing that looked like a path downward, which I might have missed, so I turned around and walked back the path and looked for the next orange. Soon enough, I found it, and soon after that, I found the real path that I had to be on.

            My ability to learn and comprehend proper trail behavior had saved me from a twisted ankle or being lost in a dark mountain forest at about 830 at night. Had I been so stupid, I could have been on the hill all night, but now, I had made a change for the better. I was initiated. I wasn’t a danger to myself. I was capable of getting myself out of trouble.

            Life was good, at least for now.

“Squatches and chupacabras and puckwudgies, oh my!”

            It sounded funny, and in many ways it was. Saying it was a way of passing the long straightaways in the dark much like seeing how well my line of vision could guide me if the light that I was wearing on my head went out. The answer to that was not very. The answer to where each of the specific paranormal creatures that I had mentioned was remained unanswered despite my stating it aloud.

            Thus, I changed my statement to a new refrain of “Squatches and chupacabras and puckwudgies and gray aliens, oh my!”

            If I thought hard enough, I could add other cryptids of the great American wilderness to the mix, but this group seemed to be enough. I was moving and journeying quickly enough. My Keen boots were very kind to me at helping me get through the woods in comfort and safety despite the presence of rocks and branches jutting out here and there.

            Nevertheless, the only thing that my boots could do when I saw those 2 reflective white “eyes” was to move me forward with excessive speed in the shortest amount of time possible! I looked again, and they were still there. Were they some kind of hellhound or bear or deer or other nocturnal creature on the mountain? Were they some evil monster that would come and devour me? I never turned around again to see. I just chose to assume that they were the remnants of some marker to private property or the like.

            I listened for the rustling of leaves, but heard nothing. Perhaps, the monster wouldn’t need to rustle. Maybe it could fly or leap and devour my chubby ass!

            But nothing came.

All the same, I didn’t like my odds, so I kept moving down through past the view of Mapleton and on to the top of the path above the Dinkey House, which led me back down the makeshift staircase to the final path to the top of the Thousand Steps.

As soon as I hit them, I knew I was safe even if it was still dark as can be. The trees that I thought would open up above the stairway were nowhere to be found. Instead, it was a tunnel down through to the bottom. However, it was a tunnel that I would carefully travel and feel in my upper thighs as I took each stair step by step.


Eventually, almost 700 steps later, the staircase did open up, and as it did, a million stars shined above the town of Mount Union. Each one of them was in perfect place, and the ghosts of the ancestors of old would have been able to tell you what these arrangements were as they identified the constellations as the Gods and the monsters of myth. To me, they were just a perfectly illuminated end to a great hike up into the sky.

Being there in that specific world made me wish I had a camera that could take pictures that would reveal the stars to an audience who was at home, an audience who was wondering what the heck I was up to since I wasn’t there. Since I was hiking AGAIN. Nevertheless, I had no such camera to justify my reason for wanting to be there. It wasn’t like I needed one, but sometimes, I just liked to explain it so that she would know what being in a place like this means to me. On many days, pushing the mountain path and ridgeline was the only thing that I was in control of. It was the only thing that made sense. It was what it was, and when I was doing it, things were good. When I wasn’t, I often felt out of control. She knew this, and so she understood my need to be in this world.

And while I wanted to share it with her more than I did and often do, this memory, like so many others, would have to go unpreserved in digital history.

It would just have to be a story for tomorrow morning.


I took the last of the steps on the Thousand Steps and confidently fist pumped my victory until I began to descend the final stairs. That’s where it occurred: my foot kicked through leaves that covered a hole that grabbed and shoved my foot around so that I could feel it – hard. My trekking poles balanced me from falling on my face, at least until I fell near the bottom of these steps, but that first fall hurt like a “bad dawg” (as a former Air Force friend from Louisiana might say), and with it, I hobbled the last of the distance out of the trail, still smarting, still cursing, and that’s what caused the second fall. Nevertheless, I made it to the car and contemplated driving home late into the night. It wasn’t a pleasant thought, but it was part of the task if I wanted to go hiking up in this neck of the woods.

Do what you need to do… and go to Sheetz and get some Gatorade and something to snack on. Cinnamon rolls sound damn good.


A few weeks later, I was on the Appalachian Trail at Lehigh Gap. The trail out of Pennsylvania from there goes over a bridge that crosses the Lehigh River. From there, it shifts right to turn up a street and switchback into a slightly rising trail that goes up a steeper trail. The bridge stands high above the water, and for someone like me who is not a fan of heights, it’s a disconcerting feeling. However, after walking the river trail to it, I pushed to the middle of the walkway, which was lined by a cement wall. I stayed away from the edge because I don’t like edges. Being near the edges makes me feel a welled-up sense of nervousness. On this particular bridge, I had to talk myself forward because to refuse to go over it might make the several hour journey worthless, so I did what I needed to do, and I wandered up and through the trail, pausing momentarily to talk to 2 through hikers who were sitting out with a camp stove while waiting for their female companion to make it out of the rocks to join them.

I knew about the rocks. That’s why I was here. Hand over hand is what the Facebook groups and guidebooks promised. I wanted a challenge. I wanted to ramp it up a notch. I hadn’t done much hiking since the trip to Oregon fell through. Sure, I did 3 15+ mile days in Ohio, but that was Ohio. That was flat. The bugs bit like a “sum bitch” (as another Air Force friend from Tennessee would say). A lot of mosquitos died on those treks. A lot of them got through and bit me.

Nevertheless, I wanted to hike without bugs. I wanted to hike with vertical ascent to promise me a trip up through to something really good. That’s why I was here. That’s why I didn’t think twice when the girl appeared and warned me of my need to climb on the rocks. She had a backpack. I just had a daypack. I had poles. I could do it.


This was going to be a nice long hike, unlike the 2 mini hikes up to the top of the Thousand Steps. I was going to hit the ridge and push on. I was going to see the American flag that was painted on the rock high above the river.

Even if it was graffiti, it was a more artistic form of vandalism. It wasn’t phalluses or swear words or names of love or nicknames given to some wanna be thug 15 year old kid. It may have damaged the natural surroundings, but it was a statement of patriotism – whatever that means, and I had seen the picture, so I wanted to see it in person.

So off I went up the mountain.


The beginning part of the trail was a typical wooded Appalachian Trail ascent. There were rocks. There was some good elevation fairly quickly, and there was me, walking up it without my trekking poles. Walking like that made me realize how much they help me, even if they are annoying to carry over flat sections of local trails like the Horseshoe Trail or on any trail in northern Ohio, which would have to really try to be flatter than it is.

Eventually though, after some breathing and sweating, the woods opened up and the rocks appeared, but soon after they did and I shifted myself over them, the trail’s wisps vanished, and the question became “right or left.”

I went right. It looked like the rocks went right because they formed a path through to some place that looked like I could ascend it. As I ventured in that general direction, I found my way over the rocks, climbing them, balancing on them, sliding up and down them, and walking on them. I went and went until I saw no wisps and the rocks seemed to dead end without a way up, so I turned around and went left. As I did, I retraced my way over the rocks, climbing them, balancing on them, sliding up and down them, and walking on them. Occasionally, as necessary, I went through brushy sections, too. Eventually, I found a painted arrow that said to go left, but as I did, I stopped when I saw a vulture-looking bird sitting on the rocks in front of me. However, this bird didn’t have the typical ugly red head. Instead, it had an ugly white head. I took my pictures to send out to other people so I could figure out what this bird was in the hindsight of having Internet assistance. When I did this that night, most people seemed to want to say that it was a turkey vulture despite the lack of red head and my constant statement that it didn’t have a red head. In the end, the answer was the only other vulture in Pennsylvania: a black vulture. Nevertheless, as with identifying snakes and critters in Facebook groups, the conclusive answer was that many people have an opinion, but not everyone’s opinion means anything.

Some people are really good, but other people… I’m just saying.


To go left, I moved forward to get the bird to fly back to rocks that were further away from me. This technique worked, and I found my way over the rocks, climbing them, balancing on them, sliding up and down them, and walking on them. The rocks went up, and they also went down. Here a rock, there a rock, everywhere a rock rock… I thought about going up, but there was a wall of rock in front of me, and I wasn’t going to ascend there because the path had to be one that, even if it were climbable, would have to support dudes and gals with serious backpacks.

This wasn’t that kind of trail, so I went down, and as I did, I found my way over the rocks, climbing them, balancing on them, sliding up and down them, and walking on them. As I repeated this same process, I was starting to get tired and sweaty, and I was wondering if I missed the wisps. There had to be wisps, even if there was a Leave No Trace policy in effect. This was the frickin’ Appalachian Trail. It runs over 2,100 miles from Maine to Georgia. People need to be able to move through it fairly consistently without getting lost, but here I was, and even though I knew where I was, and even though I could look down and see that bridge that I was nervous to cross, I didn’t see a path up to the top of the mountain, even if I went down to find something that humped back up.

Simply put, there were no wisps to guide me.

And what’s worse, I had now left the trail behind me. I couldn’t see where it went down into the woods. I knew what kind of limits I had on time. My Runkeeper was telling me how far I wasn’t moving every five minutes. Sure, I was finding my way over the rocks, climbing them, balancing on them, sliding up and down them, and walking on them, but you see, I was in the same hundred yard or so stretch at the top of the mountain. I could see the top of the rock pile above me. I could see the start of the forest below me, but I couldn’t figure out how to get up or down, and for some reason, I wasn’t thinking about going down to go up, which seemed like the way that it would have to be, the place that I had to get myself. Instead, I was calling it a day. I was contemplating how to get down, and I was ripping up my legs and arms and hands while moving through the rocks and the brush.

And as I was finding my way over the rocks, climbing them, balancing on them, sliding up and down them, and walking on them, I was feeling the futility of the moment when I heard voices up on top of the rocks above me. I listened closely, and there they were again. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but it was clear they were there.

I yelled up the only word that I could think of: “Hello!”


I yelled again and again.

I heard them say something, but I was reflecting whether I was feeling the sensation that Aron Ralston did, the realization of fear in my voice, as I yelled out for help that I couldn’t provide for myself. However, they were going to be my guides, so I needed to yell something different, and so I yelled to them again.

“I’m down here!”
            I could see them looking over the edge.

“Can you see which way the trail goes?”

They said something, and I shouted that I couldn’t understand them.

They responded a little bit louder, shouting, “It’s to the right.”

I took their advice, and I found my way over the rocks, climbing them, balancing on them, sliding up and down them, and walking on them as I saw a path down to the bottom of this maze of rock that I was stuck in.

“Is this it?

“No. It’s to the right.”

I kept moving, and eventually, I really did see it, the real, clear, marked trail that went to the bottom. When I arrived there, I realized that, apparently, the first time that I moved to my ascending right, I had really moved significantly further away from the trail, which was over on the left, than my prior guesstimate told me that I did. The discarded beer cans that I saw while moving around looking for the trail were just a sign of drunken kids partying at the top of the local mountain. They had nothing to do with the trail. I should have paid their presence no mind whatsoever.

They were simply here because the trail guided people to a place to party undisturbed in the woods, but they weren’t necessarily showing that the place that they were at was a specific place that was designated for anything other than teenage inebriation.


And so I moved down the mountain, confident that now, I could get back over the bridge, but as I moved down the mountain, I was exhausted, and I somehow found a side trail to the bottom of the mountain, which wasn’t the trail I went up, but it was now the trail that I was going to be going down. It was overgrown, but it was one of a hundred trails that seemed to wind around this place in some way shape or form, so it would have to do, and as I kept pushing through it, it brought me out to the bottom, eventually, where I wandered to the highway and crossed the bridge, taking pictures of the river and the bridge as I did. As the sun started descending and the shadows cover the area, I got to the car, and finally set myself off to drive home before it got too late.


The drive home wasn’t as long as the drive up, and I even got to see a doe bound across the winding country road in front of me. That was one more deer than I had seen on the mountain. Any wildlife that is encountered is always a good thing, and it keeps me awake, which is more than a lot of music can do, even rawk tunes to vibrate the car’s interior sound world with the power of loud guitars, drums, and shrilled out vocals.

Yeah… it’s all good, even if I didn’t reach the top. The pain in my legs, the learning experience, the sweat poured into my shirt, and the feeling that I just wanted to be at home, with my wife, in my house, not on the mountain… I was going home.

And then I was there, and when I went up the stairs and into the house, sweat all over my shirtless form, I saw my wife, and I went over to kiss her. When I moved back to talk to her after the fact, she looked at me.

“What happened to your shorts?”

“What do you mean?”

“They’re ripped in the back.”


Somehow, when I found my way over the rocks, climbing them, balancing on them, sliding up and down them, and walking on them, I had managed to shred the part of the shorts right dead red in the center rear!  This gave us both a good laugh as we talked over the other details of the trip.

And it should be noted that I shredded them big enough to leave a huge hole there, too. Anyone driving on that road could have seen it, but fortunately, I didn’t know any of them, so it’s not like they could try to embarrass me with the details.

Nevertheless, to that, I owned it and laughed at it while I thought to myself about the lesson I learned with the climbing as I posted them to my Facebook wall, and while I did, I took to the message boards and asked about the trail.

“It’s not where you think it would be.”

I took that as a sign that it wasn’t just me who had trouble navigating the Appalachian Trail at that spot.

Other people responded that they hadn’t done that section because of the difficulty involved. For me, even in the aftermath of defeat, I still felt good to have been up there, but a part of me began to think about getting back there in the spring or maybe the early winter when the trail isn’t as hot and nasty.

And as I did, I realized that there are many things I have learned, but I still have more to learn. I don’t think I’m a danger to myself on the trail, but I do realize that the consequences and places that we, and especially I, go can bring danger to the self.

We don’t go looking for it, but it finds us.

We learn how to deal with it when we find it, but it can still do a number on us.

Lesson learned for next time.