Sunday, December 31, 2017

Our 52-Hike Challenge 2017

On January 1, 2017 as Ann and I were headed to Harper's Ferry WV for our first hike of 2017, Ann told me of something she read about on a hiking site, a 52-Hike Challenge in which participants strive to make 52 hikes in a 52-week period. She asked if I might be up for it. Why not?

Our real challenge is that I work 6 days a week and 7 days some weeks. That leaves fewer than 52 days a year for hiking especially if you factor in days off for sickness and really bad weather. In any case, challenge accepted for the calendar year 2017 and this is our saga.

Hike (click through)
Aug 13, 2017
Aug 6, 2017
Jul 23, 2017
Jul 17, 2017
Jul 9, 2017
Jul 4, 2017
Jul 3, 2017
Jul 2, 2017
Jun 25, 2017
May 21, 2017
May 14, 2017
May 6, 2017
May 4, 2017
May 3, 2017
May 2, 2017
May 1, 2017
Apr 30, 2017
Apr 23, 2017
Apr 16, 2017
Apr 9, 2017
Apr 2, 2017
Mar 19, 2017
Mar 3, 2017
Feb 26, 2017
Feb 19, 2017
Feb 12, 2017
Feb 5, 2017
Jan 29, 2017
Jan 1, 2017


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Moulard Duck with Blackberries

Moulard Duck with Blackberries
I'm still getting used to this whole cooking at home thing. Monday night, I still had a couple Moulard duck breasts left from closing the restaurant and Ann asked for them in some Asian style. Looking about the fridge, there wasn't a lot in terms of garnishes, but I did find a few blackberries from the farmers market, some celery, carrots, and an orange sweet pepper.

The duck breast is scored, seared, and roasted until rare/medium rare, then rested, sliced, and fanned on the plate. For one garnish, I made a quick salad of julienned carrots, peppers, and celery which was tossed at the very last second in a dressing of soy, black vinegar, agave, sambal oelek, and sesame oil. For the blackberry garnish, I did a quick gastrique by caramelizing minced shallot in sesame oil then adding blackberries, black vinegar, and agave and seasoning to taste.

Really simple and 15 minutes start to finish.

Cooper's Rock, Morgantown WV

Sunday morning, having spent the night in Morgantown after dropping Carter off for college, we skipped the Starbucks in the lobby of our hotel and drove a few blocks to a local coffeehouse called The Grind for our morning coffee. We each downed a decent cup of coffee and a bagel before setting off for nearby Cooper's Rock State Forest just minutes east of Morgantown on I-68 for our 29th hike of 2017.

This hike was planned as an escape from the emotional drain of moving the last child out and as part of a long weekend celebration of closing the restaurant. After a couple weeks of Carter ramping up the mouth and belligerence in preparation for separation from us, culminating in a nasty series of comments belittling Ann for calling a short sock a footie instead of a no-show, we were ready for peace and quiet on the trail.

Looking forward to that peace on arriving at the park, we didn't yet know that we were in for the hands-down worst hike of the year, but it didn't take long for the clues to start appearing, starting with poorly signed trailheads and too many cars at the Raven Rock trailhead. Very quickly it would become apparent that the published trail map was not at all useful. We would meet another hiker later who would say that, "This map is shit!" We agree.

We parked at the Raven Rock trailhead and made the quick walk to a rocky bluff under a power line overlooking an elbow in the Cheat River far below. Of course, the first thing I did was to slip and bury my left foot in a mud hole. I was wearing my Keen sandals, so naturally they filled up with debris making walking just so much fun. Ultimately, I emptied most of the trash out at the overlook. I was wearing sandals because Ann left her socks back at the hotel. I gave her mine and wore my sandals, which I find very comfortable to hike in.

Alas, we could never escape the voices of a large group behind us. This group would catch us soon after our arrival at the rocky bluff and they would be joined quickly by four more children on mountain bikes. We looked around briefly and then took our leave of them, seeking peace and quiet.

Cheat River from Raven Rock

Annie at Raven Rock

The Required Boot Shot

Cheat Lake from Raven Rock
We headed back in the direction of the car, hoping to pick up a side trail in the direction of the main overlook and hopefully make a nice loop hike of 7-9 miles. The published map being crap and many of the trails being unmarked, we never did find the trail that we were seeking. We took a trail that led us back to the hard-surface road and there we picked up the well-traveled Roadside Trail in the direction of the main overlook.

Corydalis sempervirens, Rock Harlequin

False Foxglove, Aureolaria spp.

Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare

Pale-spike Lobelia, Lobelia spicata

Lactuca canadensis, Wild Lettuce

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain, Goodyera pubescens
As we approached the main overlook through the woods, it became clear that we would be sharing the view with hundreds of people and that wasn't something we were looking forward to. I had to talk Annie into at least going to see the view, which was fine, but essentially the same as the one we saw at the much less crowded Raven Rock.

Cooper's Rock Main Overlook

Also Cooper's Rock Main Overlook

Part of the Cooper's Rock Overlook
After a couple of minutes on top of the overlook, I wanted to see the Underlook Trail below the overlook and perhaps go see the rocks on the Rock City trail and ultimately, go see the pig iron furnace at the park. While it was cooler on the Underlook Trail, we couldn't get away from the noise 100 feet above our heads and as we were getting to the upstream end of the trail, we met a busload of WVU freshmen out for their pre-semester adventure. Nothing against them at all, but that was the last straw for us and we beat it for the car and the bar, calling it a day after a measly 5-mile hike.

The Underlook Trail

Overlook from Below

Water Erosion Detail
Dealing with the hundreds of people at the Cooper's Rock Overlook was enough to sour our whole day and we decided quickly to go back to the hotel rather than to subject ourselves to more of this overpopulated park. Too many people with screaming kids, bus loads of college students, poorly signed trails, road noise, blaring music, a shitty trail map, and uninteresting trails are just a few reasons why you should avoid Cooper's Rock State Forest for serious hiking.

Chestnut Brewing being closed on Sunday, we ended up at Morgantown Brewing during a quiet lull in business midafternoon. This let us unwind with a couple of beers out on the back deck in relative peace and quiet, peace and quiet punctuated every now and again by the elevated train cars of the WVU PRT system quietly whizzing by just over Ann's shoulder.

Post Game at Morgantown Brewing


Entertained by WVU PRT Trains
After beers and a late lunch, we headed back to the hotel for showers and a nap. The first thing I did was drag my Keens into the shower and use the shower wand to give them a good scrub. They were still damp later on when we went downstairs to the Bourbon Prime bar to have cocktails and a light supper.

I was in the mood for a Crusta cocktail, despite the bourbon all over the bar. After I spied the requisite ingredients on the bar, I asked the bartender for one, fully expecting that I would have to give her the recipe, which I wrote out for her. After 15 minutes of her making smoke-infused bourbon drinks, we finally got our cocktails. They run a smoke gun into a decanter, swirl the bourbon in the decanter, and then make the drink. The whole process takes about three minutes, which is way too much time when you're running a bar and service bar with a single bartender.

Bourbon Prime Bar at Our Hotel

Crusta Cocktail
After dinner, we headed upstairs to watch the latest installment of Game of Thrones, the final act of our mini-vacation in Morgantown, feeling pretty let down about Cooper's Rock.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Morgantown WV

It's Friday late afternoon and Carter is head down in his brand new laptop that just arrived via Amazon, the dogs are cowering in corners because of the daily rumbling of August thunder, and Ann is in Carter's room comforting herself about losing her baby to college by packing and repacking Carter's belongings.

Carter is getting ready to go out for the last time this summer, but we have asked him to be home reasonably early for the early morning ride to Morgantown that will make him officially a Mountaineer, joining the 4-year party that they call college.

Saturday morning Ann and I are up just before 7:00 and head downstairs to make coffee and walk the dogs. It is an emotional morning for Ann. We throw together our daypacks for Sunday's planned hike at Cooper's Rock State Forest, but I can tell that Ann is distracted, just going through the motions. I'm sure she has forgotten something and I'm equally sure she doesn't care. I try to keep my mouth shut. Losing her baby is hard.

Post coffee, I go through the massive game of Tetris that is packing all of Carter's stuff into the Jeep. I went to college with less than a quarter of the amount of things that are piled on the garage floor, including a huge bean bag chair that will take up a quarter of the volume of the Jeep. I manage to get it all in, just. There's not much room for us humans. It will be a cramped three-hour ride to Morgantown.

In an effort to control something in her life that seems out of control right now, Ann announces that she is driving and that is just fine by me because I slept two and a half hours the night before, after getting a blow-off email from a job that I had been pursuing since May. I content myself and make the time pass by trying to identify roadside wildflowers at 75 miles per hour. The list numbers greater than 30 as we approach our exit off I-68.

At noon, traffic in Morgantown is insane with the crush of arriving students, many of whom like us have no idea where they're going. It is a circus at Carter's dorm but we finally manage to find an RA in the street who talks us through where to park and unload. We would come to find that parking in Morgantown is as scarce as hens' teeth.

A Happy-Sad Goodbye
Student volunteers have carts to help schlep the freshmen students' belongings to their dorm rooms, in Carter's case, on the 9th floor in a block of similar looking dorms surrounding a bit of green space, carpeted in artificial turf, emblazoned with the WVU logo. We finally get all Carter's stuff to the correct room and Ann proceeds to help him unpack, her final act for now in the mom dance. I stay out of the way and do what I am told. She holds it together for the most part, but the tears are really close to the surface.

Mom Helping with the Unpacking

The Bean Bag Throne
By 3:00pm the ordeal is over for us and I escort my weeping wife to the car, parked six minutes away at the hospital. While Ann was unpacking Carter's stuff, I was scoping the map for beer. I know Ann needs some anesthesia. We make for nearby Mountain State Brewing on the river and a few hundred yards from our hotel.

They have just three of their own beers on tap (their brewery is in Thomas, right next to Davis, where we visited Labor Day Weekend last year), an IPA, a lager, and a stout. The beers are all acceptable, but not extraordinary. I choose the IPA and Ann chooses the lager over the stout: it is too early for dessert. After my IPA, the bartender volunteers that they have a couple of other local IPAs from Chestnut Brewing on guest taps. I taste both and they are both exceptionally good.

We finish the afternoon with some nachos, a flatbread pizza, and conversation with a couple from Louisa VA also in town to drop off  a daughter. It turns out that he and I grew up in the same tiny town of Earlysville VA and although he is five years younger than me, we know a lot of the same people. In between reminiscing about back home, we comment on the deplorable state of affairs in Charlottesville, the clash between white supremacists, protestors, and the cops.

Damping the Sorrow
Late afternoon, we head the quarter mile upstream to check in to our hotel and after getting situated, we decide to walk off some of the beer on the Monongahela Rail Trail which runs between the hotel and the river.

Monongahela River Ten Floors Up

Morgantown Dam

Walleye?!?!! Who Knew?

Tottering Spotted Sandpiper, Actitis macularius

Bird's-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus

New York Ironweed, Vernonia noveboracensis

Bouncing Bet, Saponaria officinalis

Joe-pye-weed, Eutrochium spp.
After our walk and showers, we're still stuffed from our late lunch, so we decide to skip dinner and turn in early in anticipation of our hike on Sunday at Cooper's Rock State Forest. It's been an emotionally grueling day.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Third Winchester Battlefield

Well, I closed the restaurant Saturday night after 15 years and that brings us one step closer to moving to Oregon. It was and is a very tough thing to do and I'm feeling exhausted from a month of packed dinners. It was a great send-off to be sure but it has sapped me both physically and mentally. As a result, we took off from hiking last weekend and this, or at least, we made no plans for this weekend.

But over coffee on Sunday morning, Ann asked me if I wanted to talk a walk. Given that it was a beautiful day and beautiful days come along rarely in August, I figured a stroll around the neighborhood would be OK. She had other things in mind though and said we were headed up to the high school to follow some trails through the woods on the Third Winchester Battlefield. Well, OK then. I had never been there before and was mildly curious to see what was to be seen.

So just a bit of history before the tour of the battlefield. Winchester, thanks to its location on the major north-south routes through the Shenandoah Valley and the major east-west routes through the gaps in the Blue Ridge Mountains has always been an important place in this part of the world. And in the Civil War, the side that claimed Winchester could control the travel and shipping routes both north-south and east towards DC. And so, it was the scene of many important battles and the city changed hands over and over again during the course of the war.

The battle that raged along Opequon Creek and Redbud Run in 1864 has come to be called the Third Battle of Winchester and historians consider it one of the most, if not the most, important battles in the Shenandoah Valley. Fast forward 150 years: the Civil War is big business in these parts and there are a lot of people dedicated to preserving the battlefields from development. Third Winchester is a relatively large park with about 600 mostly contiguous acres open to the public, free of charge. It spans a good bit of the northeast corner of the intersection of VA Route 7 and I-81, bounded by 7 to the south and 81 to the west.

We ended up walking 5.1 miles at a pretty good clip because we weren't wearing packs and it is almost entirely flat ground, with the exception of the Redbud Run creek valley. We started at Millbrook High School and walked through the woods into the open fields, walked to the westernmost boundary along I-81 and then south through the woods on brand new trail to the trailhead behind Winchester Gateway shopping center, then north across the creek to the trailhead on Redbud Road and back again to the car. I think five miles at a good pace constitutes a hike on our part and so we are counting it against our 52 hikes for this year.

One of Dozens of Interpretive Signs
One of the neat features is this tree-covered alley running west-northwest towards the Hackwood mansion, built in 1777 and the site of a makeshift hospital for this battle in 1864. The alley runs right through the center of a field and this is the only tree cover. Some of the trees are very old indeed and some of the Osage Orange trees are as big as any I have ever seen.

Hackwood Alley

Looking South over Battlefield

Common Germander, Teucrium canadense

Blue Vervain, Verbena hastata

Sweet Pea, Lathyrus latifolius

Goldenrods Finally Starting to Bloom

Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare

Neat Seed Pods

Spotted Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis

Sweet White Clover, Melilotus albus

Narrowleaf Tick-trefoil, Desmodium paniculatum

Huge Osage Orange Clump, Maclura pomifera

Horses at Hackwood Farm

Redbud Run Lined with Marsh Mallows

Marsh Mallow, Hibiscus moscheutos

Flowering Spurge, Euphorbia corollata

Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
Given the open field habitat, we saw a lot of milkweeds, including these brilliant orange Butterfly Weeds, but also thousands of Common Milkweeds (A. syriaca) and in some of the wetter areas gorgeous pink Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata).

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa
We saw at least three different kinds of yellow asters, including the one below. While I want to say from location that it is Helianthus decapetalus, 10-Petaled Sunflower, the leaves are all wrong. I wish I knew enough about sunflowers to do more than guess about which one this is. It is a stunning plant, towering above my head.

2-Metre Tall Sunflower, Perhaps Helianthus divaricatus

Picket Fence on the Battlefield
So here I was just a very few weeks before we leave this area for good, learning that there is an awesome place to walk just a couple minutes from my house. I wish we had discovered it long before now. Third Winchester Battlefield is worth a couple hours of your time to explore.

Our 52-Hike Challenge 2017

On January 1, 2017 as Ann and I were headed to Harper's Ferry WV for our first hike of 2017, Ann told me of something she read about on ...