Monday, August 13, 2018

Going Home; Leaving Home




Home is a slippery word.

On the one hand home can mean the place where I’ve gotten my mail for the past 12 years, on the other hand, and with just as much sincerity, it can mean a place I’ve never actually lived in at all.


Two days after leaving Lake Glendale I slid the door of The Van open and greeted the sunrise from the driveway of Mom’s condo; from home.  Which is really weird when you think about it because Mom and Dad bought this condo 30 years ago and I haven’t shared an address with them for 47 years.

One of life’s little oddities I guess.


As usual, summer here at the condo means an abundance of color


and stork-legged Sandhill Cranes casually wandering by on their way from one place to another.

For most of the 37 years I’ve lived in Texas, ‘going home’ has meant coming here to this condo, yet, in addition to this place never having actually been my official address, I rarely even sleep in the condo when I am here, preferring to stay in The Van out in the driveway where I have all my ‘stuff’ and my ungodly early hours won’t disturb normal people.

Yet somehow there has never been any question about this place being ‘home’.


On the other end of the ‘home’ spectrum; leaving home; are Mom’s parents.

After saving up for years, grandfaher, a Belfast taxi driver and grandma, a housemaid, bought passage on a less-than-luxury ship, packed all their belonging into a single suitcase each, and left Ireland, and much of their family, for the US.


Though a few relatives had already made the move before them (To Canada but grandfather couldn’t find work he liked there so soon came on to the US. At least that's the story. . .) there is some mystery about the actual circumstances that drove those two, my grandparents, from their ancestral home.

1927 is squarely in ‘the troubles’ of Northern Ireland so there are the inevitable rumors, rumors only fueled by the fact that my grandfather was a hard, secretive, unbending, hard man, (I know I said hard twice, but in this case its appropriate) but at this point it seems like the real facts have died with his generation.

Regardless of the why, my grandfather would never again set foot in Ireland and I suspect he knew this when he left.

When I look at this suitcase I try to imagine what he was thinking, what he was feeling, as he picked it up, hefted all he had to claim in this world in one hand, and took his last steps on Irish soil as he made his way onto the ship.


The suitcase is still in fine condition 91 years after being carried onto that ship, and my Mom is a master at preserving things, if not like new, then at least in the condition she found it in, (She still uses the same electric frying pan she cooked meals in when I was a kid! And it’s just as shiny and unblemished now as it was then.) so I choose to believe that the wear on this handle is from my grandfather. That imprinted there in the leather are the remaining traces of my grandfather’s hands. Traces dating back to the day he left home.

I also like to think that if I knew how to read them, those traces, I could interpret the why’s and wherefores’ of that leaving.

            If I could read them. . .








Thursday, August 9, 2018

Circling The Drain – – I Mean The Lake




It’s Sunday morning (June 19 in real time) and it’s time to start heading on up to Michigan for the family reunion, (Mom really doesn’t like it if I’m late. . .) but first there’s plenty of time this morning for one last hike.


Though I have to admit that I’m kind of over this hot-and-humid-jungle stuff found here along the Ohio River.  Oh sure, this time of year it’s hot and humid back in Central Texas too, but at least there I don’t have to deal with the abundant, or rather over abundant, ticks and chiggers


and instead of being ensnared in a claustro-tunnel of green, I can see through the woods a little, as this photo above, taken along one of the trails on our property, shows.


But at least this 3.5 mile trail sticks fairly close to the shoreline of Lake Glendale


which allows for frequent glimpses of a longer view than just the leaves of the next fern there three feet in front of my face, or rather the spiderwebs between me and the fern there three feet in front of my face.


I pick up the trail just a few feet from my campsite just as the overnight fog is starting to lift


and the sunrise start to this hike adds a little color to the view.


Shortly after setting out counter-clockwise around the lake I come across the cleared ground of a combination picnic/group camping area.

Ever since I arrived on Wednesday the road into here has been blocked off so I guess no one has reserved the place.

Not that I’m complaining!


Standing in the same place I took the previous photo, I turned towards the lake and took this one. If you look close you will see three other creatures


that also aren’t complaining about the people-free picnic grounds.


Leaving the turtles to do their – well – turtle stuff,


I quietly worked my way a little farther around the lake,


at one point getting lucky enough to capture this flora-and-fauna vignette through the choking surrounding vegetation.  


Whatever this signpost was trying to say, it has been forever silenced now.


Near the eastern end, the swampy end, of the lake two unnamed (As far as I have been able to determine anyway) creeks feed into the lake.  The first is not much more than a slightly wetter area in the already wet of this low ground but the second is somewhat more substantial and the concrete crossing certainly looks worse-for-wear, but is still easily negotiated, especially by a two-sticker like me.


Crossing the unnamed creek means I’m now headed west and by sheer luck of timing a streak of orangeish light from the rising sun sneaks in through a narrow gap in the trees, zips over my right shoulder, and makes the end of this fallen log glow as if it's lit from within.

A few seconds either way and I would have missed this.


And it’s not like there’s loads of places where sunlight can get all the way to the ground around here.


Shortly after taking this photo a kayaker drifted in from around the point near that white tree.

I sat quietly and watched as the kayaker gently drifted along the shoreline with the occasional, slow and deliberately soundless stroke of the paddle.

I didn’t take any photos of him/her, or otherwise make myself known, because whoever it was deserved this solitary moment to themselves.


If you look close in the highlighted area of this photo what you are seeing is the plethora of spiderwebs I’ve collected on my hat this morning. In addition to keeping a close eye on my light-colored pant-legs for the telltale dark spot of rampaging ticks and the tiny red dots of vicious chiggers, I’ve been pulling webs off my face and spitting out the little bits of bugs and spiders that come with them ever since I stepped onto the trail. The downside of being first out.


So it was a relief to step out onto the cleared ground, the web-free environs, of the Pine Point Picnic Area which is on the opposite side of the lake from the campground.


Adjacent to the picnic area is the official beach and the only place swimming is allowed on the lake.

If it looks kind of gatey with lots of NO signs posted around, that’s because it is.

The beach is run by a concessionaire that want’s blood $4 from anybody using it. To that end the picnic area is separated from the beach by a high fence (Just visible on the far side of the trees two photos ago) and the only way in is through this building.


Saddly, if you want an early-morning or sunset swim you are shit-out-of-luck because the concessionaire has taken banker’s hours and one-upped them so your swimming is restricted to the absolute worst UV hours of the afternoon. But during those hours they are more than willing to sell you overpriced grill-food, goggles, and water pistols for your swimming enjoyment!

Of course this is our own fault since it’s a direct result of our unwillingness to pay for the upkeep and running of our own public lands.


This medallion marks point R5 of the State Water Survey.

I don't know what that is either, but they do have a facebook page, which to me pretty much guts their credibility. . . but that's just me.


Once I get across the dam at the head end of the lake the sun is going to be shining right off the lake into the camera, so I will leave you with this last photo taken from the dam looking out across the 82 acre lake. (Swimming gulag area just visible as a string of dots, buoys holding up the official boundary rope, to the left)

In the meantime there’s a slot at a Fort Wayne Walmart, 430 miles away, waiting for me so I better wrap this hike up and get on the road.







Monday, August 6, 2018

Ferne Clyffe State Park






Over the previous two days I’ve managed to ride all of the Tunnel Hill State Trail south of Tunnel Hill. By real biker standards not much of a feat, but you may have noticed that I’m not a real biker.

Anyway, that leaves everything north of Tunnel Hill, all the way up to Harrisburg, unexplored, including the supposedly quirky little museum there in Stonefort, which actually used to be the railroad town of Bolton before the actual Stonefort, about a mile east, where the railroad was originally slated to go, and so named because it occupied a semicircular walled site of either a village circa 500 AD or perhaps an animal trap since the open south side of the semicircle is an unscalable cliff, not content to by bypassed by the railroad, sidled west a bit and got the post office and railroad station renamed, although some residents stubbornly held onto the Bolton name for several more years which confused the crap out of things! (The fact that the townsite straddles the Williams and Salinas county lines doesn’t help matters either.)

The original Stonefort site, now called Stonefort Bluff, sits out there just south of CR-16 and just west of Bill Hill Hollow Road, although it looks like if there’s anything left, it’s buried under the trees now.

But all that is going to have to wait for another trip, because after two successive days on the Quad-B I’m putting her on the rack and limping heading off to Ferne Clyffe State Park, up there in the top left corner of the map above, for some good old-fashioned hoofin’-it.


The good news is that there is no day-use fee for Illinois State Parks, the bad news is that getting info about, or decent maps of Illinois State facilities is, in my experience - well let's just call it difficult.

The web sites are so superficial as to practically impart no useful information at all and the maps, if you can find any, are incomplete at best and often confusing. I was unable to find the map pictured above on-line at all and I only managed to obtain this paper version at the Shawnee National Forest Headquarters.

I tried to research the park’s primitive camping sites before leaving on this trip but reserveamerica are only interested in the hookup sites that earn them money so other than the briefest of mention that they exist at all, I could find no real information about the primitive sites,not even where in the park they might be.

Even this map. accredited to the Illinois DNR, doesn’t seem to bother with the primitive sites, some of which are located along that little spur-road just above the “P” that I’ve marked above.


Which also happens to be where trail 9, the short Rocky Branch Trail, leaves from on its way to connect with the Happy Hollow Trail I’ve picked for today’s hike.


Depending on which source you are going to trust, Happy Hollow Trail is either an 8 mile difficult slog or a 5 mile moderate hike, or somewhere in between.


Based on my own personal experience I would call it a 5 mile difficult hike, especially when hiked during record heat.

After an initial drop down the bluffs on the east (Red) there is a nice amble along Pine Creek (Green) then an abrupt 180 and a climb up the bluffs on the west side of the creek (Blue) from where you work your way back down towards the creek though areas of managed food-plots where stuff the local animals like to eat is available. (Brown) Of course, to cap it all off, there’s the daunting climb back up the east bluffs to where you parked.


And before I actually get out there and hike this thing, you see that lake to the right of my track? Quoting from the official park pamphlet; “16 acre Ferne Clyffe Lake offers additional recreation opportunities” but “boating and swimming are prohibited”. So apparently you can look but don’t touch! Which might seem restrictive but is deemed OK since the state designates 'looking' as a recreational opportunity.


With a plan in place I headed out before dawn in order to cover the 30 miles between my camp and here and still get an early, heat-beating start. But even with a plan the lack of signage in the park meant two wrong turns before I found the right trailhead.

It turned out that this trailhead parking lot is also a primitive camping area with sites behind as well as in front of The Van and a couple more sites up along that road leading into here. If you look close, just past The Van’s windshield you can see a small pop-up camper that has been horsed by hand into one of the primitive sites.

All the other sites were empty, which being a Saturday I found somewhat surprising, but then again maybe there aren’t very many of us foolish enough to be out camping in this unseasonable heat. . .

Even that pop-up was gone by the time I finished my hike.


But never mind, the first few feet of the trail were wide and easy and I was ready to clock some good old-fashioned foot-miles while giving the saddle-sores on my butt a break.


But that wide and easy crap didn’t last long before the bluffs started making themselves known.


But with fresh legs I made my way down, and down, and down, with little trouble and much enthusiasm, though that didn’t stop me from throwing the occasional worried look over my shoulder, as the thought that I had to climb back up this trail at the end of the hike niggled at the back of my brain.


Once I made it down to the relatively cool, if buggy, and of course, muggy, Pine Creek I soon forgot about that climb back up out of here.


Especially when I came across this stone-work


that was clearly an abutment for a bridge that at one time serviced the barely discernible road that cuts up through the woods roughly along that sun-dappled line there.

I couldn’t help but stand there where the road once was and wonder about the people who built this bridge and why, but since I haven’t been able to find any info on this lost bridge, that was all I could do; wonder. Which is a shame because here is yet another lost piece of history that somebody put a significant amount of time and effort into.


If there is one thing that dominates early morning trails, no matter where in the country they are, it’s spider webs.


Eventually, at the far southwest reaches of the trail, it turns back to the northeast and briefly tracks along the border of the park which is shared by a farm over there on the other side of the fence.

Being a Saturday I really expected there to be other people on the trail, and eventually there were, one single couple, but I hadn’t run into them yet.  So far the auditory part of my hike, with the exception of my own footsteps, has consisted of nothing but natural sounds, but here, as I was standing at the fence line looking across the empty field, I found myself serenaded by, some of you have probably already guessed this, the distant but incessant drone of a lawnmower. . .


Up to this point the trail has actually been a 4-wheel track for ease of maintenance, but here it started some serious climbing up the western bluffs and abruptly pinched down to a narrow foot-trail


scrambling up the slope between rock outcroppings,


that included some impressive shelter-bluffs.

(Shelter bluffs are more overhang than cave but offer similar protection without the risk of a grumpy bear coming out of the cave behind you.)


At one point the trail comes out under this arch which is very similar to the arch along the Natural Bridge Trail at Bell Smith Springs


which I hiked last year and is about 18 crow-flight miles due east of here.


Like the Natural Bridge Trail, Happy Hollow Trail switchbacks up to pass just above the arch too. Though this arch is about a third of the size of the one at Bell Smith Springs, it’s still impressive, and tempting to walk and cavort on, which I didn't since I figure it receives enough abuse as it is. (Besides I don't really do much cavorting anymore. . .)


Most of Happy Hollow Trail is also a link in the River to River trail, and although I saw a half dozen of the R-to-R blazes along the way, for some reason I only managed to capture this single, seriously out of focus, shot of one.


Once the worst of the climbing was over I started coming across a series of these food-plots designed to attract wildlife.

The couple I mentioned earlier were coming around the trail the other way so had just passed these food-plots before I got to them, clearing out any wildlife that might have been dining there, but that’s alright, back down there near the farm I came across a pretty good sized buck that they probably won’t be able to catch sight of either.


By now the heat and some overly aggressive blood-pressure meds (90 over 50? That doesn't sound right to me. Does that sound right to you?) had sucked the starch right out of my legs so the descent back down towards Pine Creek was welcomed, right up until I found myself at the foot of that initial stretch of trail again - you know - the one with a significant vertical component to it.

Oh well, if I want to get back to The Van I don’t have much choice but to start climbing, although I’m pretty sure by the time all was said and done, it took me nearly as long to climb back up that last little bit as it did to cover the whole rest of the trail.

One step, two steps, pause, lean heavily on the hiking sticks to counteract noodle-legs and gasp at that near 100 degree air while trying to convince myself that I’m simply enjoying the view and not really dying. Repeat, over and over and over and over – and over.

Oh come on! Just how far is it to The damn Van??