Thursday, May 29, 2008

Welcome to Mike's Place: Riding the Hazleton Rails toTrails

Michael probably liked coming to the rise on this Pennsylvania hill overlooking Dreck Creek Reservoir. He might have liked to see the Canadian geese waddle to the water’s edge then float around in the Saturday afternoon sun. He may have enjoyed being surrounded by woods and new growth of ferns. I would like to think that some people hold Michael dear in their hearts, dear enough to remember him and dedicate a bench in his memory along the Greater Hazleton Rails to Trails. “Mike’s Place” was our first rest stop.

Rain kept us inside the coach for a few days so Ed and I needed to get some exercise. We found the Greater Hazleton Rails to Trails just by driving around. The main trailhead is located at the intersection of SR 93 and 424 in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. That’s where Ed oiled the chains of our infrequently used bikes. At least today, he would not grouse, “Here we go, hauling those bikes around. We never use them.”

A map displayed in the trailhead parking lot showed us our route. We could go four miles to Beryllium Road. If we made it seven miles, we’d be in Eckley Miners’ Village. Challenged, but not crazy, we opted to try the four miles. After all, four miles out means four miles back. Eight miles seemed like plenty for an afternoon ride.

The limestone surface and head wind made peddling slow even over the mostly flat terrain. Past the first mile marker, the surfaced changed to a dirt road with clumpy red rocks. We rode in the tracks left by truck tires from a time when vehicles used the road. We were descending a grade through trees. The road opened to a body of water – Dreck Creek Reservoir. We respectfully and breathlessly plopped down on a bench -“Mike’s Place.”

Ed read aloud from the Greater Hazleton Rails to Trails brochure he found in the trailhead dispenser, “The trail user will experience many types of wild life along the trail including deer, bear, ruffed grouse, wild turkeys, fox, coyote,” … and BUFFALO, just to mention a few.

“Buffalo!” I screeched, “You just threw that in to see if I was listening!” He laughed and so did I.

We didn’t see any of the wild life promised. The list needs revised to read: rabbits, robins, Canadian geese, butterflies, and bees, just to mention a few.

From “Mike’s Place”, we could see the spillway and knew the trail from here went downhill. “Are you ready to go,” Ed asked. I answered by throwing a leg over my bike. As we continued, the road narrowed and became rough with a black stones, not the red we’d been bumping over. We passed mile markers two and three. We never did see number four because we decided to turn back when the surface looked like an old abandoned blacktop road with lots of arteries branching off. A guy on an ATV zipped past us. If he’d have stopped, we could have asked for our bearing. All we had was the little pocket trail map.

We’d gone a little way when Ed challenged me, “Take your bike up the hill over there.” He pointed to the rocky hill off the trail.

“Are you kidding?” I whined.

“Just push it up there for a picture.”

I complied. The photo belongs on a calendar for extreme sports, steep grade, loose fist-sized rocks, except for me. I am standing near the bike, holding it back from gravity’s pull sure to send it crashing into Ed if I let go.

Back on the trail, we rode slow and steady along the slight uphill grade. When we got to the spillway, it was a head-down, puff and pedal climb but we made it back to “Mike’s Place”. We sat a little longer this time, but surely not as long or often as Mike must have sat there in his 89 years of living to deserve a bench in such a beautiful spot.

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