A Three Hour Tour
November 3, 2005

I woke up to such a fine and beautiful morning, and was only just a little disappointed none of the photo enthusiasts had decided to join me. On the way to dropping my daughter off to school, I asked her if she wanted to play hookie and spend the day with me outside looking at the leaves. She is more disciplined than I, and she thought that might not be such a good idea. First I spent some time at Zubal walking back on an adjacent lot to my home which is a perfect candidate for a nature reserve. On this walk I took some nice photos and saw and heard a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets. I have only heard/seen this species for the first time ever this fall. Their song is a very beautifully high pitched series of notes which resemble an old style telephone ring. I believe this species is only around at times other than the summer, they tend to breed in the boreal forests of the north rather than here. They are quite a cute and perky little bird, seemingly with hardly a care in the world, simply flittering around together from branch to branch in the thickly wooded areas eating berries.

Next I decided to ride my bike from Zubal to the Roaring Run trail in Apollo. It took about a half hour to ride on the country roads (I avoid the main roads) to get to Nasers Grocery store just before the bridge over to Apollo. There I purchased a hoagie sandwich and took it along, intending to enjoy my lunch along the biking and hiking trail. A few minutes later I was at the trail and commencing to make a few compositions of the fall foliage along the Kiskimentas River. I took my time riding my bike along the trail, relishing each passing moment of vivid yellow hughs radiating toward my eyes; it can be dangerous to ride that way, but the trail offers only a few dips where riding astray may cause bumps and bruises. It was worth the risk. Halfway down I stopped at a particularly splendid specimen of brightly colored tree, where the sun shone through branches which swooped on down toward the slowly flowing water of the river. This became another opportunity to snap a few more photos, and a perfect place to break for lunch, taking advantage to keep my eyes trained on the pretty scene before me, rather than my mundane-looking but tasty sandwich.

After my yummy lunch I reluctantly relinquished my vivid view and headed on down the trail, again my head tilted fervently right enjoying the illuminated leaves. Normally I would stop by the upcoming bridge over the Roaring Run Creek, and head on up that pristine old growth area neatly lined with rhododendrons and beech trees. This time, however, I decided to keep to the bike trail along the Kiskimentas and proceed into the unfinished trail areas, still abounding with scars from this area's coal mining past. This part of the trip was rather rough going especially for my road bike which has very thin tires, and I had to walk the bike at a few areas because the trail was either too rocky or too muddy.

Even with the overall dominance of the old coal strip mining remnants, the areas beyond were richly adorned with the colors of autumn, and the trip yet endowed itself with a feel of fall beauty. As anyone who explores a new trail or part of nature may often experience, I was gaining a deeper sense of 'Have I gone too far down a dead end trail?' The further I went, the more this feeling clouded my thoughts and begged me to turn around. Yet this time I was a little more prepared than the last time I had traversed this trail. I ventured further and into muddier and rockier sections where much mining had obviously taken part, perhaps one hundred or more years before. The coal was all along the trail and was leaching out of the barren hillsides. Yet again I asked myself: "self, should I turn around"? But no, I had researched on the internet and found several roads which seemed to abut this area, but what the online maps that I used do not show is the elevation. Luckily at this juncture I found an old mining or gas well access road which led me almost straight up a hill.

Of course at this point I had long since dismounted my bike, and was proceeding to walk my poor friend up the steep hill. The road led back around to a vantage point above the old mining area where one could get a wonderful view of the entire valley behind me. Once far up I could see that only the area directly below subsisted of the unnatural scars of a time gone by; well beyond that one could see the river and all of the ridges which line the valley. The scenes at eye level were quite picturesque, so I stopped to enjoy for a while and took a few more pictures. This style of landscape panorama photography has never been my forte, but sometimes a picture, as the saying goes, is worth a thousand words, and is a great spurrer of memories that I had hoped to preserve. Even just the recollection of this scene, and what the picture might look like, evokes the imagery in my mind.

So as I proceed further up this road, with fields on my left, and glacier scored old growth woods on my right, I become aware that the temperature has climbed to a more comfortable range for me, perhaps 70F, and suddenly I'm beginning to be attacked by what seemed to be hoards of ladybugs. They would float gently through the air, up from the field below, and land all over my legs, arms, and any point on my body with instant contact. Although I don't believe they really do bite all that much, the sensation was not really a pleasant one, so I increased my pace after stopping to swipe a bunch off with my hands. It was my stopping to empty my boots of debris that caused the initial build up of ladybugs, and in retrospect, it was a rather funny situation.

Soon I was clear of the valley and the fields below, and I hit a Y in the road. I chose to go to the right, thinking that would be the place where a township road would perhaps meet up with this gas access line. By this point I had passed several gas wells and knew for sure that was the purpose of these roads, and as I wound my way around this large hill or ridge area, I was now able to peer way up the valley to the north, the opposite end of the river from which I had travelled, and again the view was breathtaking. A few more minutes and I reached another gas well and, of course, a dead end. It's one of those moments when you feel exuberance and regret all at the same moment. But the regret quickly faded when I realized how spectacular the view really was. I paused again to snap some more photos, all filled with joyful enthusiasm, and in that moment my cell phone rang. Odd, how when one feels they are at the top of or at the end of the world, how quickly one can be snatched back into reality with a bit of technology.

Well again, all during this phone call the ladybugs began to advance upon my position again, assailing my every appendage with unrelenting accumulation, and en-mass the horde suddenly started to become daunting. I had to quickly and politely end my conversation, and git-going again to avoid their persistent onrush. Turning back from this dead-end, which, if one thinks about scaling a great mountain, it's difficult to characterize an ascent to such a lofty and noble view in such an ignoble manner, I proceeded back to the point of my so-called wrong turn at the Y.

I proceeded up the left-hand side again wondering if it would be yet again another dead end. Down below my position I could see water through the dense vegetation. I can only assume that this 'lake', it had to be a lake because I was still quite a ways up this large hill, was of man-made origin, as it did seem rather 'black' as if it were some sort of retaining realm for the water before the old mining district below. Further up the road I could perceive what had to be another T which was perhaps the township road I was looking for.

Relief was mine at last, I realized my goal was acquired, and now I could actually ride my bike again, with satisfaction in knowing I would not have to pass back down the long incline and retrace my path through a less than pristine landscape. The beauty of the fall foliage was aligned all along this old cindered road which I was certain would lead me back to civilization. From there it became less about the trail, less about a goal, and more about biking. I decided to try to bike back home as fast as I could. I was fairly certain of the course, having the map pretty much in mind, and started to breeze along at a fast pace. Of course I did have to stop once or twice when a great scene lent itself to another making of a picture, and I did, but for the most part it was an enjoyable ride back home, which, by this time had given me an opportunity for about a three hour tour, a three hour tour. Whosoever would have joined me, would have enjoyed it.

© Douglas A. Bauman