Sunday, July 26, 2015

Here We Go Again

Mom and I left the house around 9:30 this morning, after seeing Pat and Bruce off.

Hoosier Bear was chilling with an iPad and the Kindle
After a not-so-quick stop at Sheetz near Mason-Dixon Dragway, we were off for the long haul.

Our first stop was the Flight 93 Memorial.
I didn't realize that Mom had been here before, but she remarked how much had been added since she'd last visited, so it wasn't a total waste of a trip. We also saw that a bunch of construction was still going on, so next time will be different still.

A very solemn place, to be sure.

Mementos were left among the trail between the parking and the wall of names.

This used to simply be a field. It's been transformed into something more.
Wildflowers abound
From there, we trekked to a nature reserve outside Sandusky, Ohio. I'd originally wanted to get to Kelley's Island, but I was no longer sure we'd have time to get there what with the ferry ride. So, we went to the Sheldon Marsh nature reserve for a bit, then to the East Harbor state park, where we would spend the night.

So, after I made a reservation (to make sure we could get a space with RV hookups), and less than an hour later, we were situated and ready for dinner at East Harbor.

It's after 10, so I think Mom's tired. More adventures tomorrow! :)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Hersheypark Happy

I decided to go to Hersheypark yesterday, since I didn't get to go last month when I originally planned to do so. Actually, I was going to go on Tuesday, but when I looked at how the weather was going to work out, Tuesday was still going to be hot and nasty humid, but a cold front coming through was supposed to make Wednesday gorgeous.

I made the right decision.

Of course, I started the day at Chocolate World.
The cows are kinda dumb
This isn't as good as it used to be, since they took the heat lamps out. 
The roll refiners are as chocolately as ever
So is the conch machine 
I liked the old "kiss" machine better, as it really looked like it was dropping the kisses
I get totally disoriented when entering Chocolate World now, since they renovated the entrance to the ride and took out a lot of the good stuff about the history and the cacao trees. I guess I go prior to a trip to the park out of nostalgia anymore.

I had arrived pretty early to avoid traffic and because I wasn't sure how bad the Baltimore beltway was going to be. It was an easy drive up with relatively few slowdowns, so I was done with Chocolate World by 9:30. The park didn't open up until 10, so I still had time to kill. I wandered around one of the Tudor Square gift shops (do they even call that area "Tudor Square" any more?), and then waited with the rest of the crowd until 10-on-the-dot. It was still slow going due to a bag check, which was less involved than entering Verizon Center for a Caps game, then I was in.

And for the record, I was allowed to bring in my "collapsible water bottle" (essentially a water "bag") full of water. This was nice as I just refilled it throughout the day instead of paying stupid prices for water.

After getting into the park proper, I stopped by Hospitality Services to inquire about the "Fast Track" pass. The analogous pass at Cedar Point allows you to bypass lines at most of the coasters all day, and a special (read : more expensive) version allows you to bypass lines at all of the coasters (specifically Top Thrill Dragster and Maverick) all day. Cedar Point also doesn't restrict pass users to specific seats.

Hershey's version, frankly, sucks. For $60, you can bypass a line on nine of their coasters (not Laff Trakk) once, and only during specific hours, starting at 11AM. And you can only sit in lanes 4 and 5, not the front. So, for a true roller coaster aficionado, it is worthless. If you're just looking to make sure you can cross a ride off your to-do list, sure. But while the Cedar Point Fast Lane pass is more expensive ($75 for a single Fast Lane, $95 for a single Fast Lane Plus, but they do offer discounts for buying more than one at a time), the unlimited nature of it, plus the fact you can sit in whatever row you want, makes it a much better deal.

So, it was time for rides.

First up was the good old Comet.
There is something awesome about wooden roller coasters and the feel of the car twisting and straining to remain on a track that varies ever-so-slightly over the years due to warping of the wood. This coaster was originally built in 1946.

The line was fairly short, and even for the front seat, I only waited about 15 minutes. I figured that even though the Comet is the coaster closest to the entrance, most people were probably going straight to Laff Trakk, the new coaster at the park.
Going up the first hill
Since Skyrush is right next to the Comet, that's where I went next. I'd downloaded the Hersheypark app, which said the wait time was about 20 minutes. Well, if I wasn't a rollercoaster snob and in line for the front, it would have been close to that. As it was, it wasn't for another 45 minutes before I got seated.
A weird perspective shot, but this is the first hill of Skyrush, the tallest ride at Hersheypark
Skyrush was the new "wing" coaster at Hershey three years ago, and I remember liking it then. I also remember thinking I liked it more than I did the similar Gatekeeper coaster at Cedar Point. However, it has not aged well, and the ride was very jerky and uncomfortable, to the point that it had me remembering my first ride on Kings Dominion's Outer Limits, where my head hurt so badly after being slammed around that I thought I had a concussion and spent the rest of the day on the Lazy River. I didn't want to spend my day nursing a headache, and the wooziness subsided while I was in line for the sooperdooperLooper, but needless to say, I didn't go back to Skyrush the rest of the day.

And yes, since SDL is right next to Skyrush, that's where I went next, and like Comet, the line, even for the front, was short.
Cell phone insurance covers loss, right? ;)
When I was little, the g-force going into the loop used to cause me to almost black out, probably due to my low blood pressure. Some rides still do cause the "tunnel vision" I associate with the struggle to stay conscious, notably the Millenium Force coaster at Cedar Point.

It's hard to remember a time when Hersheypark didn't have the sooperdooperLooper; it's been there since 1977, and I am pretty sure the first family trip we took to the park was in 1976. The coaster was a big deal at the time, as it was the first looping coaster on the East Coast.

From the Hollow, it was time to climb the hill towards the Kissing Tower and the next coaster on the list, Great Bear. I'd been told at Hospitality Services that the ride wasn't running, but I'd seen it in action (with riders), so I knew it had been fixed. The app said the wait was 20 minutes, and once in the front row line, I waited a total of about 30 minutes before riding. The app was very accurate with the wait times it was giving, which was why I was apprehensive about trying out Laff Trakk or Fahrenheit when both of them had wait times from 45-75 minutes every time I looked.

I considered wandering over to ZooAmerica, after Great Bear, but decided against it. They have some turtles and tortoises, but I've seen pretty much anything they have to show. In fact, I see a lot of it close up on my own, such as last weekend in Paw Paw!

I was feeling a little hungry, so I grabbed a quick lunch in the former Minetown area, then it was down into the original Pioneer Frontier, where the Trailblazer resides. Shockingly, the line was ridiculous for the little coaster, and once I was about to ride, I found out why; only one train was running. The other train had braking issues and couldn't be put into service. I seriously waited longer to ride the Trailblazer than I did Skyrush or Great Bear, and that's kind of embarrassing.

But, like going through Chocolate World, there are some things I must do on a trip to Hersheypark. Riding the Trailblazer is one of those things.
Recreating a photo I took many, many years ago with 126 film
It's interesting to note that the Trailblazer is the second oldest coaster in the park, having opened in 1974.

Storm Runner was up next on my docket. The app had been reporting wait times ranging between 10 and 20 minutes, and I spent less than 30 waiting for the front line.
It starts off like Top Thrill Dragster, but only goes up 150ft
I really like Storm Runner; it's tucked away far enough from the rest of the park and 10+ years old now, so it doesn't get ridiculously crowded. While the first part (the launch and the "top hat" hill) are similar to Top Thrill Dragster, this ride is literally twice as long, as the hill is followed with a few inversions.
Storm Runner doesn't have issues clearing the hill
I considered Sidewinder for a few minutes, but usually I find the boomerang coasters to be pretty rough rides with little reward. I skipped it in favor of heading over to the Midway area for some more wooden coasters and maybe Laff Trakk.
I skipped Sidewinder
Wildcat was first, primarily because it's the first one you get to as you enter the Midway area. Having opened in 1996, it's seasoned in pretty well.
Wildcat, version 2.0
Then it was to the Lightning Racers. I chose Thunder first, as the line for the front for either train appeared equal, but Thunder was apparently the big winner for the day.
The first drop. Lightning's track to the left.
Bottom of the drop. I actually didn't intend to take this photo. I think I was in the process of putting the phone away after the previous pic.
Thunder came in first, as to be expected. I exited, looped back around and rode Lightning, which lost by maybe two feet.

I decided at this point to try out Laff Trakk, as the park's app said the wait time was 60 minutes. I figured it wasn't going to get any better, plus what I knew of the ride, there wasn't exactly a "front seat" to wait for.
"Laffing Sal" at the ride's entrace. This mannequin was creepier than a clown.
It took just over an hour from getting into line to exiting the ride, so again, the wait times on the app were pretty much spot on. Was it worth an hour? Meh. It's inside, and decorated with blacklights and lots of fluorescence, reminiscent of an old-time funhouse. Even the queue line includes a house of mirrors.

The biggest attraction of the ride is the "spinning car," which really doesn't "spin" because it's limited to a 50 degree turn. So, in some of the curves of the track, the car rotates so that you feel like you're going through sideways. For a car person, it's probably akin to drifting through a turn. In any event, the rotation means that you'll actually never experience the ride the same way twice, but because the rotation is limited, if you're facing backwards from the start, you're not actually ever going to be facing forwards on the ride. I was in that backwards facing seat, and maybe once the excitement dies down, I'll try the front seat to see if it's any better. Otherwise, this isn't worth an hour's wait, to tell the truth.

I considered waiting for Fahrenheit after this, but that coaster just doesn't appeal to me enough to wait over an hour for the front row. Maybe I'm jaded after the last time I waited for it, and saw multiple instances of line-jumping and idiocy that annoyed me to no end. But I walked on by and went to chill for a little while by riding the Dry Gulch Railroad and the Monorail.
The ridge above this has several "Indians" ready to snipe this guy
Crossing over the footpath and Trailblazer
Where the crossover loop used to be
I remember when the ride included a little skit here that my brother and I both earned "marshal" badges for participating in 
Kissing Tower ascending, as seen from the Monorail
Cocoa bean storage
The original factory smokestacks
I went back to several of the coasters I'd already ridden afterwards, plus the Wild Mouse, then called it a night around 9PM. I was going to try to grab some beer at Troegs for Pat, but it turns out that their General Store closes at 8PM. 

As per my usual, the last thing I rode was the Carousel.

Built in 1919 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company
I grabbed some chocolate I haven't seen around here (vanilla creme Kisses -- oh my god, so good!) and then I hit up the Warwick Hotel for dinner before making the struggle home. I should have gotten a room, as I don't remember most of the trip back. Yikes.

So now, it's time for final preparations before the road trip. As I said before, this will be the longest week and the shortest week ever. Right now, it feels very, very short.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Paw Paw

So, way back at the beginning of June, we were going to go to the Paw Paw Tunnel campground so that Pat could fish and I could explore the tunnel. But between the two of us, we didn't have a vehicle that was driveable and capable of carrying everything we wanted to bring with us. So, the trip got put on the backburner.

Until this weekend.

Finally, nothing planned prior, and the last weekend before mom and I head out west on the road trip, so even though it was raining at home on Saturday morning, we waited until the precipitation was minimal, then loaded up the Lightning and headed out.
A little spider in the arbor vitae, weathering the rain
The neighbor's ridiculously huge sunflower, loving the rain
This was also the weekend of the Packwood ProSolo, which I missed last year due to taking on the resource teaching position at work. I was missing it again this year, but because I no longer own cars competitive in the SCCA autocross classing structure after the SEB decided that the WRX and the STi were the same car with different turbos. I was sad to be missing it, but I honestly haven't been missing autocross at all so far this year, and I'd be hiking and seeing beautiful scenery this weekend anyway.

We were using Waze for our directions, mainly because I downloaded the Schwarzenegger Terminator voice, and Pat just wants to hear the "Get down!" any time there's a car on the side of the road or whatever. Anyway, it took us out I-70 until Hancock, then instead of taking I-68 towards Cumberland, the directions had us take US522 to Berkeley Springs, then WV-9 to Paw Paw.
WV-9 is fun, twisting and turning along the Cacapon River, until you get behind someone slow.
We got to the campsite and set up our stuff by 3PM. This particular site is like Antietam Creek, in that you can't park next to your site. It's also unlike any other site we've been to, in that it looks like someone's big backyard, split up into 10 campsites. Five of those are marked "group campsite," and at first, it looked like only two individual sites were open. I looked at the tags still on the others where nothing was set up, and the two sites that were shaded by walnut trees were actually vacated, so we moved what we'd brought out already and got the tent and all set up at site 9.
Our tent, and the only other individual camper for the evening
We chose our precise area for the tent poorly. First off, we didn't check for walnuts and branches underneath the tent. Secondly, we kept having walnuts fall on the tent overnight. At least the air mattress made the former problem a non-issue.

So, after setting up the tent, Pat immediately went off to fish. I followed him down the path to the river just to see what it looked like there.
Upstream from the campsite
Downstream, where Pat was fishing
Then, I jumped on my bike to see the tunnel. It wasn't very far.
The campsite is just west of here.
The western entrance looms large. The eastern opening is barely visible.
There is a little water in the canal at this point, and it looks as if park rangers actually drive through the tunnel if they need to go this way. I walked down to the water to look.
Little fish!
There were a few little sunfish poking around, which I thought was funny. Then, it was back up to the tunnel mouth. I turned on the lights on the bike and started to walk through.

It's not really this bright
There were some other people in the tunnel at the same time I was, including a moron with an unleashed dog. As soon as I realized there was a dog approaching me, I just stopped. It was too dark, even with flashlights and bike headlights, and I didn't want to surprise the dog. I don't understand why the dog's owner didn't have it on a leash, especially in the tunnel. Canal towpath regulations require dogs be on a leash at all times, and even the friendliest dog can react badly when scared or surprised. It's really in the dog's best interest to keep it on a leash. Anyway....
I saw this partway through the tunnel
Getting closer to the other side
The tunnel is just over 3100ft long, the longest structure on the towpath
Coming back out into the stifling humidity wasn't pleasant. And the next part of the towpath was still on a boardwalk, as the shale formation through this section was still unstable.

I jumped back on my bike and proceeded to find the first of several locks! 
Lock 66
Lock 64, or as the sign says, "Lock 64 2/3"
The locks were completed in 1850, concurrent with the completion of the tunnel, but for some reason still have 1910 stamped. Maybe a repair?
There were tons of painted turtles, sliders and cooters on the logs between miles 155 and 153.

Lock 63 1/3
Another view of Lock 63 1/3

There's a hiker-biker campground (Sorrel Ridge) right around mile 154, and that's where lock 62 (and the remains of a lockmaster's house) are. But, there were a lot of people already there when I came through, so I didn't stop at first. I figured I'd stop on the way back, so I pushed on to 153.

Lock 61, looking upstream
Looking downstream from lock 61
 Just past lock 61 was the mile marker.

I turned around then. It turns out that the next lock isn't for another three and a half miles, so I probably made a good decision.

So, despite weird people looking at me, I took some pictures of the remains of the house at lock 62 on the way back, before dealing with the tunnel again.

Unlike most of the houses I've seen, this one has what appears to be a concrete foundation
Back to the tunnel
When I got back to the campsite, Pat was milling about, considering switching to his "topwater lures," and was happy that he'd caught several smallmouth bass, albeit small ones in the 8-10 inch range. Knowing he'd be out for another hour or so, I opted to head west on the towpath to see what the opposite direction held.
Abandoned railroad bridge just west of the campground
Obligatory mile marker
There wasn't much between the campground and mile 158. There's the Purslane Run hiker-biker campground, which evidently also includes a cemetery where cholera victims from the 1830s were buried. I didn't know about the cemetery, so I didn't check it out.
At 158, I turned around and came back.
Stay out!
I don't know what it is between the towpath and the river from 157-158, but there were yellow "POSTED : NO TRESPASSING" signs throughout the area. Maybe it had something to do with this.
Walter White camps in western Maryland?
Seriously, it seems like there's some farmland or something there, and the owners use it for their own private campground and party area.

There is a waste weir near there, too. It's in a lot better shape than most of the ones I've seen previously.
Waste weir and spillway at 156.6
So, once back at the campsite, we settled in for dinner on the campstove. Pat had brought some bratwursts and the DuClaw Misfit chips I'd picked up on Friday, so we were set.
 After that, Pat went to fish yet some more (trying for bigger fish with bigger lures, which failed).
Sun's getting low.
It was finally getting dark enough to call it a night, so we sat and chilled for a while before going to sleep. It was hot and humid enough that we didn't start a fire in the fire ring, and in fact, let the fire die down in the campstove between cooking brats. Pat did bring his battery-powered Makita fan with him, but it cooled down enough that we didn't use it. We just didn't sleep inside our sleeping bags, and it was fine.
Little catepillar on the tent door when we woke up
Evidently, he woke up just after six, while I slept pretty solidly until just past eight. After getting cleaned up and changed, I got the campstove going and had our usual breakfast sausages cooking when Pat came up from the river. He'd caught a few more little smallmouth bass, and was ready for food. After breaking down the stove, I asked when he thought he'd want to leave -- it was about 9:25 -- and he responded, "Maybe in an hour or so?" He'd planned to bike up towards Purslane Run to see if he could find any better spots up that way, but I was thinking, an hour isn't a whole lot of time to do anything.

In the end, I decided to walk down to the Tunnel Hill Trail, which is a two mile trail that goes up and over Sorrel Ridge. It is the trail that many of the tunnel laborers used to get to their job site, and in fact, there are interpretative guides on the ridge that show where their shanty town and school were located. There were two sites on the ridge where laborers actually dug shafts down in order to speed up the construction of the tunnel. So, instead of just digging from the two ends, there was also digging in the middle.
This is a Division Superintendent's house, similar to a lockmaster's residence. Paw Paw Campground is in the backyard
I didn't really plan to hike the entire two mile trail. But then, I just kind of got into the groove once I got up the steepest part, which is right there near the western entrance to the tunnel.
Raspberries along the towpath
Flowers along the Tunnel Hill Trail
Looking down on the western opening to the tunnel from the trail
Eastern Fence Lizard
I rounded a switchback in the trail, and heard something scurrying through the leaves. The glimpse I'd caught in my peripheral vision showed me it was something small. I stopped, looked, and saw a little eastern fence lizard, about five inches from nose to tail. She looked around at me, then I moved on.
Glancing over her shoulder
I saw quite a few more of these during the trek along the trail, but absolutely none on the towpath itself.
Overlooking part of the Paw Paw Bends of the Potomac River
The highest point on the trail is past the halfway point, and I reached that around 10AM. I felt committed to finishing the trail then.
Heading towards the highwater mark,
There were quite a variety of mushrooms along the trail

As I approached the flat area where the shanty town had been located, it dawned on me that there was a flaw in my plan to finish the trail and come back via the tunnel.

I didn't have a flashlight with me.
No flashlight in the tunnel? Whiskey might be a good option.
However, I did have a portable phone charger, which at the time was hooked up to my phone. Not that it mattered, since we'd had zero service upon our arrival. What a curious thing that was, to be forced to be cut off from social media and texting and emails. When I realized my charger had a flashlight on it, I pulled it and my phone out of my pocket to disconnect it and make sure it had enough juice to function as a flashlight.

Imagine my surprise to see that my phone had blown up while crossing Sorrel Ridge. Evidently, I'd had service at the top of the hill, and received a ton of notifications. The moment to check them had passed, however, so I cleared the notifications list, saw that the flashlight worked, and continued on my way.
Delicate lichens covered a lot of things at the crest of the ridge and on down to the eastern trailhead
Lichens and moss mixed
Another mushroom
Flower at the trailhead
Heading back up the trail to the tunnel
Little flower in the shale
The shale slabs are still prone to breaking apart. Here, the rust of iron in the rock is evident.
It was definitely hotter in the ravine area of the canal, but upon approaching the tunnel entrance, the temperature began to drop. It was very comfortable inside the tunnel, especially after the hike. 

One thing I was trying to find was a marker for mile 155. I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be along the boardwalk leading to the east opening, or if it was inside the tunnel itself. While I subsequently learned that 155 should be along the boardwalk, I did find many more of the survey markers.

Turns out that they mark 100ft increments through the tunnel, plus there are two additional ones marking where the two shafts were originally built. There is also one at each opening.
The light at the end of the tunnel.
The towpath is very uneven and at times treacherous through the tunnel. 
The "bumper" kept boats from damaging the brick
Survey marker outside the western opening
So, upon arrival at the campsite, I see that Pat's already started putting stuff in the truck, so I pack up my sleeping bag and break down the air mattress, then help move everything over to the truck. Sadly, our time at Paw Paw had come to an end.
Hoosier Bear checks out the Division Superintendent's house
Pat was fairly happy with the fact that he caught a lot of fish -- and no failfish... I mean, fallfish -- either. He's still searching for the elusive walleye, or at least a "legal size" smallmouth bass, but I can't help but think he was happier with this trip than he was with some of his other recent trips where he either caught nothing or just fallfish.

Though, he did have a funny fallfish story that I wish he had video to go with. Evidently, at one point where he was wading, there was a squarish stone nearby. He said it looked like the remnants of something manmade. Anyway, while he was casting from that spot, he saw a fish approaching, and he identified it as a fallfish. Inside of being scared by Pat's presence, the fallfish then proceeded to the stone and started rubbing up against it. All I could think of was when a horse is shedding and rubs against a post to help with the itchiness of the shedding hair. I just wish he'd gotten video. It sounded hilarious.

So, now we're home and prepping for my road trip and Pat's babysitting of the spaz dog. This is simultaneously going to be the longest week and the shortest week ever.