Mayhem at Blue Marsh Lake

Perhaps we should call this “skipping-work karma bites Rich and Zhanna in the ass”?! Read on …

About six weeks ago, Rich came home from work in the morning and said he had something to ask me. On the table was a form for a company picnic. “Hersheypark?” I asked. “That doesn’t sound like your kind of adventure.” “Ah, but there’s a plan,” he said. Apparently, employees who were scheduled to work the day of the picnic would get a free day off—with a catch. They had to actually attend the picnic (or at least pick up their tickets at the park on picnic day) in order to gain their free day.

Rich and his co-worker, known to me only as “Camping Guy,” had complementary situations: Rich and I could get relatively cheap tickets, which we could then turn over to Camping Guy, who could then bring his kids and their friends. Rich and I, meanwhile, would leave the park after meeting up with Camping Guy and handing off the tickets, and would have our own adventure somewhere in the vicinity. This also gave us a reasonable opportunity to visit the Victory Brewing Company, our favorite microbrewers, makers of the inimitable St. Victorious, Hop Devil, and my personal favorite, Storm King Stout.

The day was hot and steamy already when we arrived at the park around 8:30am with our mountain bikes on the car. No one questioned that; neither did they question why we were exiting the parking lot just a half-hour later. We were headed east toward Blue Marsh Lake Recreation Area, ready—so we thought—to tackle some or all of the 30 miles of mountain bike trails offered there.

Blue Marsh Lake is a project of the Army Corps of Engineers, somewhat reminiscent of Beltzville Lake near Lehighton. As always, we stopped first at the Visitors Center to pick up maps and to get a sense of the overall feeling of the park. The center was not staffed, but maps and pamphlets were on display, and an overlook offered a view of the dam and a small corner of the lake. This small building is architecturally interesting, with rounded walls and the overlook, which wraps around the back side.

While at the Visitors Center we met two rather goofy New Yorkers asking for directions to Stilling Basin. We directed them and headed off a few minutes later on our own toward the Basin.

The grassy lake shore near the parking area serves as a popular fishing spot. While Rich prepared his bike and himself for our ride, I took some time to observe the area and the activities taking place. My benchmark radar must be in good repair, because I spotted an orange witness post from across the lot, and I wasn’t surprised to see that a disk was indeed set about two feet from the post. We decided to ride first, and take our benchmark photos later.

The trail’s rolling hills were a challenge on this steamy, sticky day! We were drenched in sweat just minutes after starting out from the Basin parking lot (of course, the rocky, steep section just a few hundred feet in didn’t help). Though my legs and lungs felt strong throughout the morning, I was finding it more and more difficult to breathe. Even worse, though, were the difficulties we had in following the trail! The brown posts serving as blazes/directional markers were placed in the oddest of locations, very rarely at the intersections where they’re needed! It was only by (good) luck that we stayed on the trail as long as we did, and only by (bad) luck that we unknowingly veered off it at several points. Our goofy fellow riders caught up with us several times, and we in turn tried to ditch them several times. I’m sure they were very pleasant and would have been find companions had we been in the mood, but neither Rich nor I were feeling cordial toward tagalongs at the time.

There were many pleasant sections to the trail, areas where Rich and I both were able to relax and chat, and we agreed that on a dry Fall day the trail would probably be a more pleasant experience. Today, even the thrilling area of singletrack around Mile 5 was spoiled a bit by poison ivy hanging over the trail borders and scratching and swiping evilly at our ankles as we rode by.

The best parts of our ride were the tricky little hill that I managed to get up on the third try, and the foot-wide snapping turtle sitting smack in the middle of the singletrack trail. (Rich tried to wheel his bike over the turtle’s shell to add a tire track for the amusement of the next rider to come along; the turtle was not amused and snapped sharply at Rich’s wheel!)

The worst part was Rich’s leg cramps. It’s so hard to see him in pain, and even worse when there’s nothing I can do to help, and when it prevents him from fully enjoying our adventures. Totally beat by the humidity, we left the trail system just before Mile 6 and decided to ride the roads back to the parking area. Even the roads weren’t accurately represented on the map, and we were confused here as well, not to mention getting more exhausted by the minute! Rich even entertained the idea of hitchhiking back to the parking area, and then driving back for me and the bikes. Instead, we rode just a bit further and came across a gravel road that took us near the boat launch area. From there, we navigated ourselves back onto the trail and, with the miles going slowly due to Rich’s debilitating cramps, hobbled, hiked, and rolled our way back to the parking lot. I don’t think either of us has been happier to see our vehicle in a very long time!

The cool lake water was perfect for washing off the mud and blood from our few slips and falls, but it brought back Rich’s cramps. I helped him out as best I could, and then we took some quick photos of the nearby benchmark and its lovely surroundings.

Though exercise is often its own reward, the reward we’d been waiting and pining for all day was on its way. Or, rather, we were on our way to it: the Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown.

We arrived just before 5:00pm, and the place was already packed. It’s located in an old Pepperidge Farm warehouse in a strange little industrial complex on Acorn Street. A chemical smell hung over the parking area. The inside of the brewery, however, was simple and spare, and not uninviting. Inside, the only scent was a heavenly trace of beer in the air!

Faced with so many interesting choices, we took our time deciding and finally ordered a pair of Throwback Lagers, a springtime seasonal brew. It was light and extremely refreshing after our long day in the heat and humidity! We shared a small pizza appetizer (the Napa Valley, with spinach, artichokes, and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses). We both agreed that the toppings were delicious and the crust was perfectly crispy outside, chewy inside—the way we’d make it ourselves!

At some point, we ordered a glass of the Abbey Six to try. I loved it! It was spicy with some sort of very faint clove taste. Because I can’t resist trying fish & chips anywhere I go, provided malt vinegar is available to accompany it, that’s what I ordered. And because he usually can’t resist BEAST, Rich ordered the barbecue brisket sandwich. Both were fresh and flavorful, and filling! I ended up helping Rich finish his sandwich, and neither of us had room for dessert. The opportunity to talk and laugh with him, trying to keep the leg cramps at bay, thinking back over our adventures and ahead toward the night of relaxation ahead of us, is a treasure to me.

We split the driving duties on our way home. Rich needed a nap by Allentown, and I was happy to take over.

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