Saturday, June 8, 2019

Colin Fletcher


Colin Fletcher was born in Wales, educated in England, and served 6 years in the Royal Marines during World War II. After four years farming in Africa, he moved to Canada and then in 1956 to California, where he hiked the deserts and mountains from Mexico to Oregon,  detailed in this book...






... and in 1967 he was the first man to hike/bushwack the length of the Grand Canyon, off trail, below the canyon's rim, a two month journey. The book details this spiritual odyssey and oozes of his philosophical ponderings. 




He is credited with inspiring the explosion of backpacking in the country with the publication of this landmark book in 1968, in which he asserted that the best roof is the sky, and in which he eloquently and authoritatively shared his sage advice, hard-earned firsthand knowledge, and outspoken opinions. There have been 4 editions of this book, each updated to stay current.





The book's third edition was my guide and inspiration when I began backpacking in 1998. Over the years, I went on 60+ backpack trips in 52 different forests and wilderness areas across America. It was a bit expensive initially outfitting a family of four with equipment, but we got our money's worth, and I continued solo backpacking or with a buddy after the family trips ended.

In 1989, Fletcher shared his secret worlds and how we can break free in our minds by hiking the wilderness...






His 1989 raft trip down the entire 1700 miles of the Green and Colorado Rivers stirred my desire for such adventures and led me to undertake trips in rafts, kayaks, canoes, and houseboats covering 777 of those same miles.




To ascertain the springs which were the source of the Colorado River, he backpacked into Wyoming's Wind River Range, above Upper and Lower Green Lakes. My oldest son and I retraced that backpack in 1998.  

Many are unaware that until 1921, the Colorado River began in Utah at "The Confluence" where the Green River (from Wyoming) met the Grand River (from Colorado.) The name "Colorado River" was derived from the Colorado Plateau through which it flowed as it carved the Grand Canyon. The Grand River emanated from Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and gave names to such places as Grand Lake and Grand Junction, Colorado. In 1921 (coincidentally, the year Fletcher was born), due to intense lobbying, the Colorado Legislature renamed the Grand River as the Colorado River. But the facts remain that the Green River is 300 miles longer than the Grand and also drains a larger area, and geographers thus consider it the "master stream" and its headwaters in Wyoming as the source.

As Fletcher neared the end of this river journey, he felt very poorly on a hike up to a high point and went back to his camp to recover. Five months later, well after this adventure, an arterial blockage required a coronary bypass, thus explaining why he had felt "crummy, pretty deathly" for a few days.

At the age of seventy-nine in 2001, Fletcher was struck and seriously injured by a vehicle while walking to a town meeting near his home in California. His survival was attributed to his excellent physical condition. Within a year of the accident, he was back on his feet and walking daily. Fletcher died in 2007 as a result of complications from a head injury sustained from being hit by the car six years earlier.














Saturday, May 11, 2019

Unusual Sights Seen on Bike Trails

Over the last 20 years, I've biked over 40,000 miles on over 240 trails in 37 states, and here are some of the unusual sights I've seen while biking.

The first is a sign you never seen in Chicago...




...but lest you think it a strange sign to see, here's what I regularly run into on the Shark Valley Loop Trail in Everglades National Park which I've biked about a dozen times...







Bridges are often encountered on trails, and this trestle is all that remains of a 1911 bridge on Florida's Legacy Trail which travels from Venice to Sarasota.





This interesting bridge takes Florida's Nature Coast Trail over the historic Suwannee River in Chiefland. The 1335 foot long bridge was built in the early 1900s and had a 150 foot long swing span section which rotated to allow steam boats to pass. It no longer swings open.



This is the "Land Bridge" that spans I-75 near Ocala, Florida. Yes, that is vegetation growing on this bridge which carries wildlife as well as bikes, walkers, and equestrians safely over the interstate highway.





Here's what's on the bridge...





Here's the view from the bridge...






While biking the Yarborough Linear Trail in Ft. Myers, this osprey swooped into the canal and caught a fish, and then rotated the fish to make it aerodynamic and flew away. Fun to watch! Look closely and you'll spot the fish in its talons...





While biking Ohio's Creekside Trail, I stopped at Beavercreek's  impressive 9/11 Memorial which featured several photo displays of the attacks...







...as well as the centerpiece of the memorial, a 3 ton multi-story window casement which spanned floors 101 to 105 of the north tower, just above the point of impact of flight 11.  It is 25 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Three staircases in the tower were destroyed making escape impossible for those above the impact and dooming 1462 people. Two of their local Beavercreek firefighters (who had gone to Ground Zero to assist in recovery efforts) drove to New York in 2011 to pick up this steel remnant.





Alaska's Girdwood Trail ("Gird to Bird Trail") travels alongside this "ghost forest" created when the 1964 Alaska earthquake sent seawater into the forest, killing all the trees. The 9.6 earthquake, the second largest in recorded history, lowered the ground here eight feet, putting the forest that was here below the high tide line of Turnagain Arm and flooding the spruce forest with saltwater, killing all the trees. But since salt is the best preservative, the trees remain intact, supported by the three feet of silt deposits that were left by the tide. 






The Girdwood Trail also had this 105 MM recoilless rifle (M27A1) pictured below which was used to relieve the snow load before potential avalanches could crash down the mountain and destroy the Seward Highway and the Alaska Railroad tracks at its base. Ultimately, the highway and tracks were moved west to the shore of Turnagain Arm to prevent avalanches from blocking them, the old road was turned into the bike trail, and the gun left as an exhibit.





I discovered another ghost forest on Georgia's Jekyll Island, also created by seawater. Here's a small portion of this area...



Arizona's Ghost of Coyote Mountain Trail took me through open range, and this bull was eying me and starting to approach me as I passed, clearly communicating that he was about to defend his ladies if I stuck around!




The ambitious and very active members of the Ocala Mountain Bike Club have been constructing wood structures in several places in the Santos/Florida Greenway mountain bike venue.





This one descends into a deep sinkhole...



In Flatwoods Wilderness peak near Tampa, I came across three young raccoons, two of which scampered up trees as I stopped to get out my camera. The curious critters obliged with this cute shot...




Here's a sign you don't often see. The Venetian Trail in Venice, Florida, passes the high school baseball field, so someone with a sense of humor posted this warning sign.






Some bike clubs and communities dress up their trails with sculpture. Knoxville's Greenway Trail has this one...




Wisconsin's famous Elroy-Sparta Trail has "Ben Bikin'," a huge statue of a mustachioed 19th century biker atop a Victorian-era "penny-farthing" high-wheel bike, located a half mile from the Sparta visitor center on South Water Street.






Ohio's Little Miami River Trail...



Florida's Lake Mineola Trail...





Ohio's New River Trail...



Minnesota's Root River Trail...




And the SWAMP Mountain Bike Club's Croom Mountain Bike venue in Florida's Croom State Forest has this piece of art on display...






I saw this rather unusual hunting blind (bunker?) along Michigan's Musketawa Trail. My first thought was, "Are the deer armed in this state?"




Finally, since many trails occupy former rail lines (hence rail-trails), I often see refurbished railroad cabooses on display as seen below on Florida's 46 mile Withlacoochee State Trail.






...and Ohio's Little Miami Trailhead in Xenia...



...and Georgia's Silver Comet Trail...



You can also learn a bit of interesting history on some trails. Ohio's Alum Trail was dedicated to Marshall "Major" Taylor ("The Cyclone") who was the first African-American to become an international superstar and attain a world record. For 16 years he was a champion racer on three continents, though he had to race mainly in Europe because he was banned from racing in segregated areas of America. In 1899 in Montreal, he set 7 world records, including riding the mile in 1 minute 19 seconds -- 46 miles per hour! In a world without cars, motorcycles, or airplanes, cyclists were the fastest humans on earth.






He died in 1932, impoverished and forgotten in Chicago, and was buried in an unmarked grave. Years later, bicycle magnate Frank Schwinn and pro racers reburied Taylor in a prominent part of Mount Glenwood Cemetery in Chicago, and in 1979, the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Columbus, Ohio, became the first club founded to honor his principles and accomplishments.


DeLand, Florida has dozens of murals celebrating the town's history, one of which is over 100 feet in length. Below is one copied from an 1890s era photo showing winter tourists...




Venice, Florida similarly celebrates its history with murals like these...



Venice was the winter home of the circus so this mural...






Saturday, April 20, 2019

Biking Florida's Pensacola Bay Trail


This multi-use trail runs along Via de Luna Drive and Fort Pickens Road in Pensacola Beach, Florida.




It is on Santa Rosa Island, a couple miles from the mainland, just south of the town of Gulf Breeze. A toll bridge gets you to the island. The trail follows the road and later becomes a bike lane on the road. The road's speed limit is 35, so if you want to deal with vehicles, you can get a 50+ mile ride. The actual trail is not that lengthy.



Once you leave the town, you have views of the Gulf to your south and Pensacola Bay to your north, with white sand predominating. If you head west, you'll reach Fort Pickens, an interesting fort completed in 1834 and active until 1947.



There is no shade, so be sure to bring plenty of sunblock and water if you're heading on a long ride.




Also, be prepared for strong winds. There's not much around to block it!







 It mostly runs along the two roads but does offer great ocean views along the way - never straying more than about 100 yards from the Gulf-front and most of the time it is closer than that. 





Additionally, the trail continues to the bridge along Pensacola Beach Blvd towards Gulf Breeze from the intersection of Via de Luna Dr and Fort Pickens Rd. The bridge is bicycle and pedestrian friendly but there's not much once you get past the bridge area in Gulf Breeze for biking. Walking/running is supported via standard sidewalks beyond that area.


Parking can be found:

  • At the corner of Via De Luna and Fort Pickens Rd
  • At the western end of the trail at the Park West area
  •  Approximately .75 miles from the eastern end of the trail at the public beach parking lots

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Alabama's Chief Ladiga Trail

Alabama's Chief Ladiga Trail runs 33 paved miles on the former Seaboard/CSX right-of-way from Anniston to the Georgia border where it connects to the 61 mile long Silver Comet Trail. Both trails have been celebrated as "Hall of Fame Trails" by The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and together represent the second longest continuous paved rail trail in the country (after Minnesota's Paul Bunyan State Trail's 112 miles.) This trail was an 18 year, multi-city and multi-jurisdictional cooperative project. It is named for the Creek Indian chief who signed the 1832 treaty that surrendered the tribe's remaining land in the area. Below is the trailhead at Anniston's Woodland Park. The trail begins slightly above grade but soon is at ground level as it traverses woods, prairies, wetlands, a college, and several small towns. The trail is flat, smooth, scenic, mostly-shaded, and well-maintained.



Entrance to each town on the trail is marked by these attractive signs...



It was late March and green and pink foliage was breaking forth...



...and the kudzu probably would soon be awakening, too...





The trail passes through the Jacksonville State University Campus alongside the fraternity and sorority buildings.






The old Jacksonville train depot was restored in 2010...




Mileage markers let you know where you are...



I was on my way home, driving from the Everglades back to northern Illinois, and was time-limited to only a 20 mile round trip on the trail, but I'll be hitting another section of this lovely trail on my next trip. I'm especially anxious to do the northern section that traverses the Talladega National Forest.


You can reach the Anniston Trailhead by taking exit 185 north from I-20 through Anniston on Route 1, then onto McClellan/Route 21, then left onto Weaver Road, and finally left on Holly Farms Road to Woodland Park.


You can also park in Jacksonville and Piedmont.