Monday, October 23, 2006

Baltimore is very cool

I know. I checked. I've realized that I don't get to the cool city 50 miles north of me often enough. Yesterday I took part in the Tour du Port, a bicycle event through Baltimore. I took the 21 mile trip, which went through all the neighboorhoods mentioned by the link above. People say the Inner Harbor can be a little too "touristy", a sentiment which I tend to agree with, but it's still great to ride or walk through there. Canton and Fells Point were super cool to ride through, the former being a revitalized waterfront neighboorhood, the latter reminding me of the cool things about Boston, Maryland style.

The one not terribly cool part of the ride was through Dundalk, but the tour route took us through not-yet-revitalized old warehouses and boarded up taverns, then through a semi-suburban run of the mill neighboorhood. After Dundalk came the real jewels of the bike ride. I arrived at Patterson Park, and believe me after I biked up the hill, I knew why Baltimore won a ranking of America's Fittest City! Just bike, run, walk, rollerblade, whatever up that hill enough times and you'll get in shape in no time. After Patterson Park came Brewer's Hill and Little Italy, both great little sections of town with old school architecture (Little Italy) and new row homes just past Brewer's Hill.

Federal Hill and Fort McHenry were next upon us riders after a little trip back through Inner Harbor. Looked like great neighborhoods with lots of tradition, especially Fort McHenry. Plenty of places to walk to, grab a beer, or whatever, not just on this part of the route but on most of it. I ended up at ESPN Zone to watch my beloved Pats cakewalk past Buffalo. Service was good, view of the game decent considering I was the only Pats fan I saw there, but I'm glad I ate elsewhere where appetizers only cost $8. The only improvement for the day would have been more and easier to find bike racks; I found the city to be otherwise very bicycle-friendly. The Aqaurium is somewhere I will get to when I get back up to Baltimore.

In summary, Baltimore is very cool, somewhere I see myself going back to many a time for many a reason. Inner Harbor was enjoyable, but many other neighboorhoods were even better. It's called Charm City for a reason. Even though I have only been there four times, Baltimore is one of my favorite cities to go to. I recommend it to anyone who likes walkable neighboorhoods, new urbanist revitization, history, beer, less pretension than say, oh I don't know, Washington (I live here so I can rip on it at will, I like DC if you know what I mean), and waterfront vistas. Charm City, baby!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Mountain Parks, Security-induced closings, helicopters, roadside hiking, and Frederick

Yesterday, I decided I needed to go hiking somewhere. With the Patriots being off on their bye week, it was the perfect time to get in an all-too-rare hike. So off I went to Catoctin Mountain Park and adjacent Cunningham Falls (MD) State Park. After making the 75 minute drive from Alexandria to Thurmont, I learned that a big part of the park I was planning to hike, with a decent amount of climbing and vistas, was closed to "provide security for the president and secret service." Okay, I know have a pretty good idea where Camp David is, and someone was there over the weeeknd. Before the FBI or anyone else comes after me, anyone who went to the park that day and found out about the closing could figure out the rough area of where it is in the Maryland mountains just by knowing the state and looking at a map of what was closed. Sometimes I hike to get away from everything Washington, or even DC; more on the differences between the two separate cities they really are in a future blog entry. No escape yesterday, with the helicopters hovering overhead for about an hour while I was trying to hike to a vista, which I finally found.

No problem, that part's supposed to re-open at 2 pm if not earlier, I can just get it later in the day. Right? Wrong, because I hiked down to a stream, back to Catoctin's headquarters building, and across to Cunningham Falls Park. While climbing to a rock called Cat Rock, I realized something that I should have known, being an East Coast native. This thing is, it is tougher to hike really quickly in the more humid air and ground consisting of a lot more jagged rocks, tree roots, wet leaves, et al in the east than people think. With some exceptions, in Colorado most of the trails, at least at the foothills level, are a lot smoother, oftern with ground so dry it feels like dry, soft rock. In hindsight, I find I was able to get speed going a lot quicker a lot more often out there, and I can't hike as quickly as I thought I would be able to on the "tame" eastern hills. Or at least I need a reason to explain how I climbed over 3500 vertical feet over 7 miles in under 3 hours last month on Pikes Peak, but would have to cut this trip short since it was already 3 pm and I had an hour of hiking left to the top of the next little hill.

Since I didn't want to be hiking near dark, or in the dark, I hiked about a mile or so on the side of the road on the Cunningham Falls side of the park (Maryland 77 divides the big park into the two parks) to get back to my car around 5 pm. I probably had until about 6:30 pm until it got dark, but I took a look at the park map and realized I had a lot further to go to hike everywhere I wanted than I first thought. So, like Willie Nelson, I was on the road again. This part was shorter than I thought it would be. It was a good thing that I cut the trip short: When I got back to the parking lot, I ran into the Outreach Coordinator at the REI that I work at. He mentioned that the temps in the park would drop 15-20 degrees as soon as it got dark. That's all I needed to hear to know I made the right call. Normally I like the cooler weather, but I'm trying to chase a cold, not catch one. I can always hike the other half of Catoctin and see the falls another time. Thanksgiving sounds good.

Hiking on the Patriots bye week has been an unofficial tradtion I have kept, since it gets me outdoors and into some fresh air, among other things. This trip almost did not end well. I decided to take some back roads out of the park instead of US 15, which I found to be very dangerous with the take a left and cross a 55 mph semi-divided highway after just a stop sign, no lights road. I saw a sing next to my house which I think metioned that if you steal anything from our dog, you will be shot. I totally understand caring for your animals, but that ain't something I see in the burbs near the city, either.

Now comes the part that didn't go well. Frederick is a mess traffic wise. Very difficult to make a simple turn off US 40 because of the traffic patterns, I can't explain it. In a nutshell, I went to a Chinese Food Buffet restaurant because I was really hungry; I'm just feeling better 24 hours later. I had to go to four gas stations to find a working air pump for my tire (thankfully on Wednesday I will have the slow leak fixed).

Before I go, useless fact of the night, courtesy of Crack Lite, I mean Versus (formerly ONL). Tonight the last two Stanley Cup Champions are playing, Carolina and Tampa Bay. This is the first time two American-born coaches who have won a Stanley Cup have coached against each other in the same game. That is at least a lot cooler than the Johnathan Cheecho sitting on a surfboard, he's just here to remind us the hockey season has started commericals.