virginian on the ridiculous

A first Virginian long run beat up the birdlegs, despite all of that hilly mileage conditioning on the SWCP.  Nineteen miles to loop around the south and then north banks of the James River.

There are two excellent foot bridges that cross the water from downtown: the flat, slightly-bouncy-when-you’re-running Potterfield from Browns Island, and a more humped one directly under the Belvidere Street bridge to Belle Isle.  On this occasion I took the latter, snaking across the island to join the excellent and mildly-rugged Buttermilk trail heading west.  I then joined Riverside Drive through Westover Hills, a quiet, but winding road with a fair few blind corners to navigate, and then had the worst road section of the day, luckily short, on Forest Hill Avenue, crossing above the Powhite Highway.  There’s no sidewalk, not much of a shoulder, and not really anywhere for the runner to avoid the four lanes of speeding traffic here.  I kept to the left, which seemed the slightly less egregious side of the road to be on, and had a fair old wait to cross over when I needed to.  There’s no obvious alternate route to avoid it to keep following the river west.

I turned north as soon as possible to wind through a quiet residential area of Willow Oaks and, after a wrong turn or two, made it to the car park and trail head in Pony Pasture, a small waterside park with short loop trails, kayak put-ins, and fishing points.  First through the woods, and then back on to Riverside Drive right by the riverbank, this section made for flat, pleasing and speedy running.  One has to keep a close look out for a right turn onto the Huguenot Woods Trail further west to maximize off-road run time.  This path leads a short distance under the Huguenot Bridge and to a parking lot where Riverside restarts once again.  I looped south and then north to cross over the wide concrete expanse of the bridge to recross the river.  A wide sidewalk on both sides of this bridge, I’m happy to report.

Remaining on the lefthand side of the bridge road, there’s a narrow, unmarked, gravelly trail called the Gambles Mill Corridor according to gmaps.  I sought that out to run north alongside a country club golf course, and then swung right and east along the top of the course on the start of the return journey back towards downtown.  There are then a number of options to pass through the residential neighbourhoods to the east of the University of Richmond.  I spent some time along Grove Avenue before snaking southeast on a few fairly uncomfortable, uneven, bricked sidewalks through Windsor Farms.  There is probably a more foot-friendly route through here somewhere.  Heading as close to the river as possible, I then crossed the Powhite again via Douglasdale Road to meet Maymont Park.  One could then either head for the North Bank Trail or up through Byrd Park, but I somewhat randomly chose a street route due east and north of Hollywood Cemetery, and then up to the main VCU campus, turning right towards downtown.

Overall:  a varied and interesting long training run.  A few places are a challenge due to the proximity of heavy, fast-moving traffic and no pedestrian spaces, but the trail sections make up for it.  Street running on the northeast side of the river was generally no problem and not a million miles from similar sections of e.g. Queens in NYC.  Sadly there doesn’t appear to be a way to avoid that short section on Forest Hill Ave. if one’s heading west to the south of the river.


muddy desert bubblage

Towards the southeastern corner of the coast of the inland Salton Sea to the east of Anza-Borrego State Park in Imperial County, California, lies a volcanic seam that feeds a geothermal power station not far outside of the desert town of Calipatria.

On the corner of two dirt roads just south of that station a little of the geologic energy escapes through the concrete-like substrate of a barren ‘field’, known as the Mud Pots. Bubbling just under the surface, hot liquid mud laps up to form sculptured mounds and chimneys to create a bizarre mini-landscape of unique hills and depressions.









As one gets close to the active holes in the ground, the air is hot and sulphurous. The ground gurgles and bubbles with interesting sonic quality: varied and weirdly anthropogenic depending on where one stands and listens.


‘standing on the edge of the [croton] dam, I am… ‘

Having hiked a good chunk of the lower half of the Croton Aqueduct trail from Yonkers to Tarrytown a few weeks back, yesterday we returned to pick up the path where we left it and continue further north to Croton-on-Hudson.  The route,  somewhat fragmented in terms of actual trail, takes one up via Sleepy Hollow, through an uninspiring part of Ossining (maybe all of Ossining is uninspiring?), and then northeast and away from the Hudson River up the southwestern side of the Croton River to the impressive New Croton Reservoir Dam and Croton Gorge Park.

At the northern end, there is actually more path than indicated on online maps, allowing fewer miles along busy roads than expected.  Hitting some turns and road crossing needs diligence, however, with trail marking somewhat wanting in places.

The reservoir at the end of the trail was first created by damming the Croton River in the mid 1800s, and Croton Lake, as it was first named, was the first out-of-city drinking water course for NYC.   The dam itself was completed in the early 1900s, then the tallest dam in the world:  a good 600 m plus in total.  Water from here now only supplies a relatively small percentage of NYC’s potable source.

The flow of water has quite the roar:

One can walk right across the top of the dam, and having done so, we hiked down the other side of the Croton River on quiet, suburban streets to the Croton-Harmon MetroNorth station.  Just over 17 miles total from Tarrytown station.

river west

One benefit of Manhattan life, and the situation of the island, is that within the hour, one can transition to a relatively non-urban setting.  A close and easy means of achieving this is to hop over the George-Washington Bridge, via the south-facing foot and bike path, and head north on the west side of the Hudson River through the Palisades.

The Palisades Interstate Park in New Jersey includes a cumulatively fat mileage of trails primarily running north-south, but including intriguing (and often steep) linking paths that take you east-west between the clifftops and the river’s shore.

Hence, you can create your own custom loop to and from the bridge entrance depending on how far you want to walk and how much climbing your pins do or don’t fancy.  We recently did the very same, heading north along the tops and looping to the river and back, utilizing the Long, Shore and Carpenter’s Trails.  Waterfalls (audio below), landslips, interesting building remnants, ornamental gardens, circling raptors, etc. abound.


Re-reading Bill Bryson’s Lost Continent recently reminded me of my own, on-a-whim visit to the Geographic Center of the Contiguous United States in early June, 2013.  In an attempt to stay off interstate highways as much as possible to see a bit more of the country while driving east from Denver, CO (vaguely) towards NYC, I took US-36 across northern Kansas; a long, two-day, straight route through very gently-rolling hills, grassy agricultural fields, and very little else.  Northern Kansas is very wide and mainly empty.

On Day One soon after crossing the state line, I stopped off at a few rather sad, grim, empty small towns in a vain attempt to find palatable coffee.  I recall St. Francis in particular being desolate, beaten-up and largely devoid of human activity (and available coffee, palatable or otherwise).  The few people I did see out and about were largely very large.  Passing through the superbly-named Bird City I did indulge in taking a quick detour to ogle at the family-named post office, convenience store, city signs, city hall, etc.

I spent the night in a violent rain storm in the town of Norton.  Less of a town really, more just one main road with a couple of gas stations, a dollar store, and a Dairy Queen.  I think I dined that evening at a gas station Subway.  Living the high life.  The next morning I drove a further 75 miles east to the tiny conurbation of Lebanon where I took a 90 degree left turn north on route 283 and then another hard left to head back westward.  The Geographic Center of the US lies at the end of a narrow road through flat agricultural fields with nothing in view, no buildings or landscape features or animals or people, for a couple of miles.  Arriving there you are confronted with a small, highly-manicured park with a flag pole, a tiny white chapel, a park bench and a picnic shelter.  The chapel is apparently relatively new due having been rebuilt after a speeding, semi-conscious farmer nodded off one afternoon in 2008, failed to notice the T-junction, and drove straight into and through the original.

How one goes about determining exactly where the centre of a huge and irregularly-shaped country like the US is, I am not completely sure.  Someone did as early as 1918 however, and this isolated patch of Kansas lawn has since been deemed the location to plonk that particular marker down.  Should one want to visit a more modern interpretation of the centre of the nation, one has to travel much farther north to a similarly exciting locale, Belle Forch on the western end of South Dakota just north of Deadwood.  That particular interpretation of what constitutes The Middle takes into consideration Hawaii and Alaska, but somewhat creatively treats the Pacific Ocean, British Columbia and the Yukon as if they do not exist, and conceptually digs up Alaska and Hawaii, drags them over land and water, and sticks them to Washington state and southern California respectively.  I suppose one would have to float a flag somewhere in the sea off the coast of California otherwise.

There is really not an awful lot to see at the monument in northern Kansas and it’s kind of pointless really, but the day I visited was a glorious one.  I wandered as far as I could within the confines of the park in a warm, gentle breeze, under a clear, deep-blue sky, surrounded by twittering birds (sound snippet below).  Somewhat predictably, I had the place to myself for as long as I wanted.  As much as the sign showing distances from here to Seattle, Miami, San Diego, Bar Harbor etc. was distracting to look at for a minute or two, that wasn’t all that long to be honest, so I retraced my steps and continued eastwards towards Kansas City.