Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A river runs down it

I went camping with friends this past weekend at Rickett's Glenn state park in northern Pennsylvania, about three hours from Philadelphia. The park has an eight mile trail that runs alongside two large streams that wind their way down through a gorge and meet up at the bottom. There are 22 waterfalls on the way, and as you pass by them you walk beneath trees that are hundreds of years old towering overhead.

I drove up from the city on Friday night--and between the rush-hour traffic, some last-minute packing, and the 8th straight day of overcast, rainy weather, I didn't arrive at the campsite until almost midnight. I go camping pretty regularly, so even in the dark and the rain I was able to get my tent up pretty quickly and stow my gear away. I went to sleep with the sound of the rain falling among the trees onto my tent far below.

I awoke the next morning and could tell right away that something was different. I opened the flap to my tent and was immediately taken back by a blinding light that poured inside. I made my way to my feet and saw a strange, vaguely familiar golden orb that was hanging in the sky. My lips began to form the word as my mind searched for its name. s...ssu...sun. Sun. Yes--I was almost sure that's what it had been called.

After a week of miserable weather, Saturday was a perfect day to be outdoors. The sky was bright blue and there wasn't a cloud in sight. The air was crisp, but warm under the sunlight, and the trees in that part of the state were an explosion of color. After whipping up breakfast and filling our backpacks with water and food, we were off.

The first half of the hike was all downhill. The path literally runs right next to the falls and gets very steep and narrow in alot of places. The wet leaves and moss-covered rocks kept us on our toes, and there were a few bottlenecks as we passed the scores of other hikers coming up the trail from the bottom. The whole park is an old growth forest, and even though it was an extremely sunny day, it was like twilight down at ground-level beneath the towering oak, cherry, and hemlock trees. The entire time we walked down through the gorge, the rushing water filled the air with a low roar. It had the same relaxing effect on me as when I'm reading a book on a beach late in the afternoon with the sound of waves endlessly breaking in the background.

It took us about two and a half hours to reach the bottom, and we took a short break for lunch. We needed the energy, because the hike back up to the top was a significant workout. It took us well over three hours to get back to our starting point, and we had definitely worked up a sweat by the time we had finished. And I'm a big fan of finding good meals served with a stylish preparation in the new restaurants that keep popping up in Philadelphia, but every once in awhile nothing beats a hot plate of Dinty Moore stew over a fire after you've been hiking all day.

Saturday night was spent laughing and catching up with my friends around the campfire. The sky was just as clear that night, and being far away from the light pollution of the city, the moon and stars shone extra brightly overhead. We put out the fire around 1 a.m., and between the workout that day and the clear mountain air, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the sleeping bag.

Sunday was just as nice outside. We had breakfast again and then took a short hike around a lake that was the source for one of the streams in the park. Here's a picture I took from the shore:

Pretty soon we packed up, threw our gear into our cars and began the drive home. As each mile brought me back closer to the city, my mind started to wander to the to-do lists, bills, and projects at work that waited ahead. I turned off the radio and rode in silence for awhile. And in time, I found that if I concentrated hard enough, I could just make out the sound of roaring water.