Friday, June 25, 2021

Pennsylvania 2021 - Schuylkill River Trail Complete, From the Appalachians to the Tides

The second to last trip to PA. Previous installments: here is upper Berks County; here is lower Berks County; here is upper Montgomery County. Details of the last two (lower Montco and Philly) are below, but first, highlights.

As always, running and in particular running on roads is dangerous and you run the risk of getting killed. My blog posts are not intended as a guide for running these routes and if you use them as anything but entertainment, you're doing so at your own risk.

Notes on the overall trail:

The stretch through the first Appalachian Ridge, where the river exits the mountains from Port Clinton to Hamburg, is nice.

There isn’t much of a trail from Reading to Hamburg but the upper part of that through PA Dutch farmland is really pretty in the spring.

Through and just south of Reading there is a lot of interesting industrial backdrop.

The trail is pretty but unremarkable through southern Berks and northern Montco, where I ended up running 724 for a while.

Norristown isn’t as scary as you would think. It was at this point I most appreciated that this trail running project (like my run the length of Manhattan) was different from the trails I’m used to running. (Seriously! Change is nice.)

Conshohocken is about what you would expect. You can sneak between buildings to get off the trail right next to Conshohocken Brewing. Even once you reach the Philly city limits, it’s more rural-feeling than you’d expect. Everything about the Manayunk stretch is awesome, including Manayunk.

I finally got to see Wissahickon Park, which should be more famous.

The stretch past Boathouse Row and the Art Museum are cool as you’d expect. The boardwalk was nice on a hot day.

From there I just ran through Point Breeze/Grays Ferry, which was a bit sketchy at times. Then the industrial area in the very south of the city to as close as you can get to the confluence with the Delaware.

You may notice that the camera lens didn't quite line up with my phone case in some shots. If it bugs you, pretend it's an Instagram filter.

Above: a view of 202 I haven’t had before.

Above: Norristown didn’t look great but at no point was I uncomfortable for my safety on the trail.

The Blue Route is actually blue. I would’ve been really mad if it was painted orange or some shit.

Yeah go welcome yourself

Next few: the canal section through Manayunk was my favorite along the whole river, partly because of the canal and the trail itself, partly because of the neighborhood. And there were old-timey bicyclists.

Real mature, guys.

After I got to the south end of Manayunk I took a little side trip from Manayunk to Wissahickon Park, which I had never been in before. I was not a city guy when I moved to California and things like this continuously make me regret that I did not get to know Philly better before I left PA. A friend from California who later went to B-school in Philly extolled its high points to me and was shocked I had barely heard of it. There's also some great history - a house built in 1690 by the guy who made the first paper in America, the cave of a sect of Lutheran mystic Pietists that heavily influence American culture today and whose leader sat for the first oil painting, and Edgar Allen Poe wrote about it in 1844, "Morning on the Wissahiccon".* If I were going to be around Philly on a Sunday I would likely join the Wissahickon Chasing Trail folks.

The area under the overpass was labeled Lover’s Leap but I saw no views, nor places for jilted jumpers.

A popular urban rock-climbing spot I guess.

Above and below: are these not the Stella steps from Saturday Night Dead?

The Cave of Kelpius!

Then past Manayunk into the park and crew area.

Boathouse Row (or at least the crew racing area) extends further up the river than I realized. No idea of the history of the sport here, or indeed really who Kelly Drive was named after.

The Playing Angels. I vaguely remember running through here in the Philly Marathon in the late 90s. I think.

The back of the boat houses.

The Bard of the Central Coast (see here) made it all the way to Philly.

After these falls at the Art Museum, the river is at sea level. That is – at this point, I had come all the way from the mountains and reached the tidal zone.

I have already run the Rocky steps many times.

The next few are the boardwalk on the river, which was neater than I thought it would be.

From South Street I just went my own way through Point Breeze/Grays Ferry - the official SRT continues for a bit but is a dead end beyond South Street.

Found this kind of mini-food pantry here. Surprisingly and reinforcing the goodness of human nature, it was pretty full, and I did my good deed for the decade and closed the door.

Thus I entered the Point Breeze neighborhood. At one point I think I was being followed. Once I crossed Passyunk Avenue, I lost him. The demographics changed dramatically at that street. I should note I was sad I couldn’t deviate from the course and have some Cambodian food. From then it was boring industrial areason. The next few are of the I-95 bridge. Even the Mother of All Highways must arch high into the air to clear the great mouth of the sacred Ganshowehanne!

It was fitting that my run should end so close to the Tastykake plant, which had done its damnedest to keep me from physically being able to complete it.

And finally, there it is - the closest you can get to the mouth of the Schuylkill on the Delaware, at the Vance Brothers Launch.

I went back to the Tastykake plant where my wife picked me up (fittingly.) I had run the Schuylkill River Trail.

No trip to Pennsylvania is complete without going out into the country at night to look for charming murder houses with candles in the window, and this one in Green Hills, Berks County did not disappoint.

Safety Always First

"But wait! You didn't run to the source of the river, or indeed even the stretches of trail in Schuylkill County!" you say. While your passion for this topic and attention to my blog is a clear sign of intelligence and good taste, here I must set limits dear reader. For one thing, I don't have any nostalgia for the parts of the river above Port Clinton. But more importantly, for safety reasons, I am now declaring that I have run the Schuylkill River Trail, because I've run the non-suicidal part. These are fun projects that I do for the hell of it, and I'm not willing to trade safety to score imaginary points. (See my similar decision on my run around San Francisco Bay.) The official website shows, unbelievably, official trail on Route 61 from Schuylkill Haven to Pottsville, and again above Pottsville to Frackville. 61 is a fast road with many turns, a narrow shoulder and no barrier or separate trail. I was shocked to find this as I began, then abandoned, planning for Schuylkill County. It's fine to have a road doubling as the trail and I did use roads at many points, including 724 in Montgomery County - which is still safer than what they're asking you to do here. I would actually recommend that the Schuylkill River Greenways Commission either fix the map to show a planned future trail for those stretches, before someone takes them at their word and gets run over.

After Returning Home

After being in the green summer of the East Coast, Sonoma County looked as parched as ever. Part of Hood Mountain had finally reopened so I headed up there.

A random wildfire in western Colorado.

Okay yeah OKAY YES WE GET IT man

Not an old chassis up on the mountain - tags had a 2020 sticker. This vehicle burned in the Glass Fire.

*Poe's article about the Wissahickon is an interesting historical artifact. Since the U.S. did not extend much west of the Mississippi at that time, the article demonstrates the interesting anachronism that it's an article about the American outdoors, and there's nothing about the Rockies, the Sierras, the Cascades, or the deserts and forests and canyons in between. But it's actually quite interesting for several reasons - Poe is not known as a nature writer, he effectively extols the virtues of backcountry beauty only accessible on foot; it does so specifically in the great state of Pennsylvania; it captures some of the intrinsic conflict when we try to encounter nature in "itself", invariably affected by the human observer's definition thereof; and most importantly, it makes fun of England, and English people. (In the link scroll down to the bit about Ryanair.)

To wit:
"...the sweeter portions are reached only by bypaths. Indeed, in America generally, the traveller who would behold the finest landscapes, must seek them not by the railroad, nor by the steamboat, nor by the stage-coach, nor in his private carriage, nor yet even on horseback — but on foot. He must walk, he must leap ravines, he must risk his neck among precipices, or he must leave unseen the truest, the richest, and most unspeakable glories of the land.

"Now in the greater portion of Europe no such necessity exists. In England it exists not at all. The merest dandy of a tourist may there visit every nook worth visiting without detriment to his silk stockings; so thoroughly known are all points of interest, and so well-arranged are the means of attaining them. This consideration has never been allowed its due weight, in comparisons of the natural scenery of the Old and New Worlds. The entire loveliness of the former is collated with only the most noted, and with by no means the most eminent items in the general loveliness of the latter."
He goes on to say:
"Now the Wissahiccon is of so remarkable a loveliness that, were it flowing in England, it would be the theme of every bard, and the common topic of every tongue...The Schuylkill, whose beauties have been much exaggerated, and whose banks, at least in the neighbourhood of Philadelphia, are marshy like those of the Delaware, is not at all comparable, as an object of picturesque interest..."
Settle down there Poe. Stick with making fun of the English.