Friday, February 1, 2019

Running the Schuylkill River Part III: The Lower Schuylkill River Trail, Plus Other Southeast Pennsylvania Awesomeness

When last we left our illustrious hero, I had reached the Schuylkill County line up at Port Clinton, thus completing old Berks County.

Tl;dr I've now reached a point 25 miles from the mouth of the Schuylkill and I took some pictures and ate a lot of Italian food, but I forgot how much January in PA can suck. As always, thanks to the volunteers, local political leaders, organizations and voters who created and support the Schuylkill River Trail.

The Lower Schuylkill River Trail

On this visit I was planning to follow the Schuylkill River Trail (and surface streets where necessary) all the way to the mouth of the river by the old naval shipyards, but weather and family got in the way. That is: most days I was helping older family members with financial things, and I don't want my wife and kid stuck in the hotel while I play this stupid game, and a rideshare back and forth to the Philly suburbs is expensive. Also, twice the windchill went below zero and I'm not running in that nonsense. During my most recent visit, I got to the Schuylkill County line up at Port Clinton. Two visits ago I reached the border between the "upper" and "lower" Schuylkill River at the Berks-Montgomery County line. At the time I actually found this terminology offensive. "Upper" implies the dark interior of the continent, an undeveloped, backward, godless country filled with hostile and superstitious natives. And Dutchmen aren't THAT superstitious anymore.

(I make jokes about the land of my birth, but to regard PA with unalloyed positivity would be exceedingly un-Pennsylvanian. Still, I do love it, and it was actually nice running in the winter at least when it wasn't way too cold, looking at wildlife and seeing areas close to where I grew up that I never knew about. Winter doesn't shut down outdoor activity completely, even in Pennsylvania.)

So this time, I started at the Berks-Montgomery line in Stowe. (Note that I consider Stowe to be the Leesport of Montgomery County.) Very quickly the official trail ends and I ran a good chunk of 724. Not recommended! Do not do this based on this be g or for any other reason, or you risk getting hit and killed (and if you sue me this sentence will be "Exhibit A".) There was ice on the branches where they touched the river as you'll see below, but no "floes". I noticed a lot more cardinals along the trail than I remember seeing as a kid, not just along the SRT, but everywhere in the area. The next group are from around Pottstown.

Above: looking upriver from the Hanover Street Bridge. Below: looking downriver, with Limerick visible in the distance. It's starting to get pretty metal at this point along the route.

See? As I progressed toward the nuclear plant, it got so metal bro.

Notably, a bridge had collapsed at Dairy Road in Parker Ford and I'd read before my trip that they'd closed the trail there. So, I magically teleported across without trespassing through the closed part! Amazing! Note, I consider Parker Ford to be the Leesport of Chester County. Below that: some very metal-looking industrial structures in the area too. I think the section between Spring City and Phoenixville at the Cromby Trailhead is the most metal section. I feared I'd been transported to Silent Hill, but Centralia is actually near PottsVILLE, not Pottstown.

The SRT is overall well-marked, although the mile markers you can find upriver from Phoenixville (like the one above) disappeared below Phoenixville.

Real mature guys.

The next few are from Phoenixville, which has become the local hipster paradise (must be delayed effect from exposure to the Blob.) Phoenixville does have a remnant of the old canal, partly frozen on this day, and the last working lock. The river was very high and fast with lots of debris after all the rain the day before. French Creek near its mouth on the Schuylkill is actually quite a steep-banked little tributary, almost like a small canyon. Might have to kayak that some time! If you look closely, along the canal you can see one fellow sitting and waiting, who by the looks of him has been waiting a long time.

The area around the mouth of the lower Perkiomen Creek it turns out is also really pretty; years ago I often drove through upper Montco from Reading to Lansdale and found that area (e.g., around Schwenksville) dark and depressing, which is why this surprises me (note: also drove through Schwenksville on this trip. Not as bad as I remember. Did that have to do with my own frame of mind at the time? Nah, couldn't be.)

Old painted mile markers around Valley Forge (if that's what they are) seem to use the distance to the very mouth of the river at the shipyards, and therefore don't match the mile markers above Phoenixville. Also, as it warmed up this day I repeatedly heard ice cracking around me and decided to help it along like the eight-year-old I am.

I saw some wildlife I wasn't expecting including the poor squished fellow you see here, who probably wasn't moving fast enough in the frigid temperatures to avoid bicycle tires. I keep seeing stands of bamboo along the trail as well (like the one below), as far north as Berks, all the more conspicuous for remaining green in winter. Prediction: in 100 years bamboo will be a major invasive up and down the East Coast. (It's not a secret. Articles about invasive bamboo in Philly in 2014 and 2016 here and here.) Twelve years ago I saw a patch of it, ironically, on the battlefield at Yorktown, Virginia.

On the way back we hit Sly Fox Brewing (the one by the airport in Pottstown, though they're adding locations.) Not only are they a SRT sponsor, they have awesomely named beers, like the HAL 9000 Hoppy American Lager - "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't brew that." Also, great article here at about the booming PA microbrew scene. Frankly, San Diego has been a little stale and full of itself for a year or two now (YEAH I SAID IT.) No really.

Other Berks County Adventures

I also got around Berks while I was there, and finally got to a few places that I'd wanted to visit. But first, food recommendations: of course I got back to Oakbrook Brewing, maybe my new favorite brewery, that I made it to at my last visit. Two new restaurants I made it to and highly recommend were Anthony's Trattoria in Pennside (used to be Spazio's) and Say Cheese, a brunch place on Penn Ave. in West Reading - delicious, but watch out for check creep! I wanted to meet some friends at Schaylor Brewing on 222 south of Shillington but the snowstorm took care of that.

Above: Leesport. I consider Leesport to be the Leesport of Berks County. Next two below: the Conrad Weiser house. His remembrance:significance ratio has to be about the worst of any figure in early American history. Read about him. (It doesn't help that Franklin unfairly ignored Weiser's contribution in his account of the French and Indian War in his famous autobiography.)

Above: Pennsylvania winter sunrise. Below: my mom remembered this hole-in-the-wall soft pretzel place that was in Reading on Laurel between 6th and 7th, near the old Joe's Restaurant. It's on maps and there's a sign there, but it just looked like someone's house. (Added later: they've closed after 74 years. My timing sucks.) Disappointed, you can see I then went to get beer at a Weis Cafe just after 8 a.m. Thank you Weis - you have proven PA is no longer under shariah law with respect to alcohol (since you can get a beer at 9am in Morocco, which actually is a Muslim country - see end of the post here.)

One night I went up to Mt. Penn and from Skyline Drive got some nice shots of a clear winter sunset over the city, and of course the Pagoda. The sunset was fantastic, not unlike a California sunset, likely because, as in California for most of the year, there was little moisture in the air. Of course nothing pleasant in Pennsylvania ever comes without a price, and this low absolute humidity only happens when it's five degrees Fahrenheit, which was the case when I took these pictures.

Above, you can just make out five distant contrails of planes heading southeast.

Not sure if it counts as alpenglow if it's on trees.

Above, the white-out squall as seen from Flying Hills. I saw two bald eagles over Flying Hills on this same day - another sign of comeback (I even forgot that I saw one in northern Berks back in May!) This squall is the one that caused the 27-car pile-up on 222. Below, after the polar vortex had passed over, the winter sunset with the Philly skyline. Below that, the remains of my squid-ink pasta at Ristorante Pesto on Broad Street in South Philly, which you're only hurting yourself if you don't go there. In fact it was so good that I showed my compassion by not eating a particularly obstinate clam (and I show mercy toward mollusks, bivalves or otherwise, only rarely - lest you doubt my mollusk-torture credibility, please see the end of this post, or partway down in this one.)


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