Hiking the Catoctins

I went hiking on Hog Rock Nature Trail in the Catoctin Mountains yesterday.  It was really great.  I got there just after the park opened, and except for a small group of hikers at the Vista, I had the trail to myself.  I went past the Vista and started on the Cunningham Falls trail, but doubled back after about an hour.  Honestly, I wanted to go all the way to the Falls, but I wasn’t sure how long it would take and I had things to do back home.

At the start of the trail there’s a little box with a trail map.  I quickly read the note inside the box that said there were a lot of trees down due to the hurricane, which I took to mean Hurricane Irene from last August.  If I had read the entire note, I would have seen that it referred to the 2003 hurricane, Isabel. Which confuses me just a bit, because there were so many trees down that it was a little sad, and I think I’d remember all of those trees being down during my previous hikes.  I think the park lost more trees due to Irene.

I didn’t bring a camera with me because all I wanted to do was hike for the sole purpose of hiking.  But I couldn’t help but take some shots with my phone.  I guess once you’re into photography you’re into it for life.  There were a lot of wild flowers, maybe weeds that dotted the landscape with tiny dots of color.

Fortunately, there was a small spring flowing from somewhere uphill.  I sat down for a few minutes with eyes closed just listening to the babbling water, the rustling of the chipmunks in the dry leaves, the woodpecker doing his thing, and the other birds calling out to each other about how wonderful this morning was.

I love the serenity.  I love the mountains.  Going there makes me feel whole.

Driving Home with Irene

I left Rutland, VT shortly after 8 am Sunday morning, August 28.  The rain had started sometime after 11 pm Saturday.  Irene had come.

I knew the trip home was going to be interesting.  I had been watching the Weather Channel as much I could Friday night after arriving in Rutland throughout Saturday evening after returning to Red Roof Inn after dinner with Josh.  The Weather Channel was reporting that the effects of Irene would be felt around the I-81 corridor, my soon-to-be destination.

When I packed for the trip back to Castleton to move Josh back to his dorm, I prepared for the rain and wind.  I had my gym shoes, my cap, and my jacket.  I knew an umbrella would be useless.  I knew the rain would be an issue but the wind more so.

Along the Adirondack Northway electronic signs indicated, “FOR YOUR SAFETY EMERGENCY TRAVEL ONLY.”  Five, six, seven … I lost count of how many of those signs I passed.

It was a good thing I had planned to take I-81 home instead of the NY Thruway, because as I approached the junction for the Thruway, the travel alert station notified its listeners that several sections of the Thruway were closed due to either flooding or downed trees.

I take US 20 through Guilderland and Duanesburg, NY to get to I-88 that then takes me to I-81.  Most of Guilderland was shut down due to no electricity and some debris in the road.  Duanesburg was an obstacle course of debris, fallen branches, and a downed tree that a crew was already working on, directing traffic, as only one lane was open.

There weren’t many cars on I-88.  That was a good thing, because when there were pockets of cars, the backsplash from their tires made driving even worse than it already was.  Lots of debris on the road.  Downed trees along the sides of the interstate.  Calming streams that I passed in the past were now angry torrents of water, brown, ugly with mud.

The wind seemed the worst on I-81.  There were times when the gusts slapped my car and jerked me to the point where my shoulders were getting sore from managing the steering wheel.  The rain would lighten up in some spots and then rage again.  So much debris.  Flooded farms.  Broken limbs from tall trees laying alongside the road.

I get a local AM radio station on during most of the trip.  Most of the areas I was traveling near were either without power or were experiencing or bracing for flooding.  All of the malls were closed.  The cinemas were closed.  People were being told to stay home.  Stay off the roads.

And here were the handful of us making our way to wherever it was we were going.

I stopped in Lenoxville at exit 206 to gas up at the Sunoco station where there is also a Convenient store where I get a deli sandwich.  Closed.  No power.  Not good news when I’ve got about a quarter of a tank of gas.  So I drove two more exits to find a mom-and-pop station that was open and charging $0.40 more per gallon.  Oh well.

Further down the road I stopped at the rest stop only to find they were locked up.  No power.  Oh well.  Good thing it wasn’t a bathroom emergency stop.

At one point just south of Wilkes-Barre the sky got darker and what looked like fat prongs of dark gray clouds slid down and the wind gust knocked everyone’s cars to the left.  I wondered if this was what it looked at felt like when a tornado was considering forming.

About 2 miles before the I-83 exit the clouds gave way to blue sky and sun.  It was still windy, very windy, but at least the rain was over.

Josh called me once during the trip to see how it was going.  My sister called me twice to check on how the drive was, to make sure I was going to make it home okay.  She and my brother-in-law cancelled the trip out to Maryland because of Irene.  They were supposed to leave Sunday night but because of all the weather reports and the electric outages, they felt it was a good idea to stay put in Illinois.  You just never know what to expect when a weather event such as this is taking place.

There was a little bit of cleanup at my house.  Some branches came down in the backyard but didn’t cause any damage.  We got lucky.  Things could have been worse.

Now, Josh, in Vermont, is pretty much stranded on campus.  They had one transformer blow which controls their Internet access.  Some cars in one of the lower parking lots are topped with water.  Much of the area is flooded.  Vermont got hit hard.

I’m still tired from the trip.  My upper body is achy.  It was stressful in many ways.  I’m glad to be home.