Wednesday morning the Unit and I took off to the Fatherland (western Pennsylvania) for the Thanksgiving holiday. Most of the next four days would be filled with visiting family, eating, driving, eating, visiting family,
arguing, driving, eating, and driving. My hope for Black Friday was to get up at the ass crack of dawn and head out to Walmart to get my hands on one of two 90″ Sonie™ flat screen TVs for $19.99. I’m joking of course, my goal was to sleep off my turkey coma, continue our family visiting, and if I was lucky get a window of opportunity to drive up to the mountains for a hike. Goal accomplished.
I drove up to the Roaring Run Natural Area trailhead off of Route 31. At times I used to park in the same area for many of my mountain bike rides, but since bringing a bike was not possible on this trip, the next best thing was for me to lug my fat ass over the rocky rooty trails of the Laurel Higlands and take some photos with the Fuji X-T1.
As I headed eastward on the PA Turnpike the cloudy day got even darker, a misty rain started, and a dense fog set in just as my ears popped for the second time. I was stoked!
The mist was light, but the fog was so heavy that it caused me to miss my turn to the parking area on Fire Tower Road, a turn that I’ve made a hundred(?) times in my life.
Once parked, and sufficiently readied with camera and water, I sat off on McKenna Trail with the hopes of patching together a loop of sorts. It seemed it would be seven or eight miles, and totally doable as long as I didn’t waste too much time, or get mauled by a blood thirsty deer.
In the six years we’ve been away from Pennsylvania I’ve been back to the mountains to ride exactly once; this hike would represent my second visit. I really don’t know why I’ve been avoiding them. I think it might be that I KNOW I love them, and I’m afraid that if I visit them during our trips home, it will somehow spoil my new relationship with rural Michigan. I know that’s a dumb way to look at it, but I’m almost certain that’s what I’ve been doing.
Well, no more. Even though I was pressed for time I forced myself to make the drive east, and it couldn’t have been a better decision. From the time I entered the woods and started my trek upward through the misty forest I was in heaven. I’m a sucker for the woods, and can find happiness in them whether they are located 300, 9,00o, or 2,700 feet above sea level. But the woods located in the mountains of Pennsylvania just seem right, and it felt great to be in them again, and to realize that after six years little has changed. They are still beautifully old, root filled, rugged, and rocky. I still love them, and they still give back whatever you put in, whether it be on a mountain bike or stomping around in the fog and rain with a camera and semi-good pair of hiking boots.
Because I took too much time taking photos and standing in the woods listening to drops of water plummet from limbs hundreds of feet above while saying things like “shit, I love this,” my hike didn’t go exactly as planned. My map, watch, and knees indicated that if I continued on I might be about to bite off more wet November day in the mountains than I could chew. So, I turned around and basically did and out and back hike that came in at 6.5 miles.
Wildlife was a bit scarce and limited to some chickadees, woodpeckers, a dead mole, and some grouse that flew out from the brush as I hiked by and nearly caused me to shit myself.
When I got back to the car in the lot, I was riding a huge stoke. I was stoked to have let go of the holiday stress, and to have faced an old love to find that the love remains and is as strong as ever.
There was one more mission to complete: stop at the Six Pack Shop at the bottom of the mountain for some of their homemade pepperoni rolls! Sadly, this mission would be a fail. The store was still there, but there wasn’t a roll in sight. I settled for a bag of crap, too salty pretzels, and seeing that all these years later that group of old men sitting in the booth near the door is still there. Still wearing trucker hats, still wearing flannel, still wearing those creepy black Reeboks that only old men and serial killers wear, and still pounding one Bud tall boy after another as they plot the course for Trump’s America.
As I drove home I continued to think about the hike, and all those trips in recent years I wasted by avoiding the mountains. However, even with that reacquainted woodsy love still coursing through my veins, I found myself not only thinking of what my Christmas visit home might hold in store for me in the mountains, but also to returning home to central Michigan on Saturday night and planning my outdoor activities for the weeks ahead. I guess two loves can coexist.