Sunday, June 06, 2010

Hit the Outdoors

(News-Herald, June 3)This is a great time of year to rediscover the beauty in Venangoland. There are many places in this country where taxpayers spend millions of dollars to create parks that offer a fraction of the beauty that we wake up with every day.
It is time to leap back into it, time to make your resolution to get active and outside.
Bike trail mileage gets extended a bit further every year. New places to go, new slices of our own great outdoors to see by pedal or by foot. But if you do some bike trailing, remember a few basics.
Traveling on the trail with a companion, whether it’s friend or family, is a great way to make the miles fly by. If you can just keep chatting, you can travel so much further. If you can’t keep chatting, it may be time for a rest stop.
But if you’re traveling side by side, please take an occasional look behind you and make sure that you’re not a traffic obstruction. People behind you might use some of the standard alert hails such as “Left!” or “On your left” or “Passing on your left” or “If you’re still on the left side of the track in a few seconds, we are going to have a potentially painful interaction.” Of course, the people behind you might be painfully shy or excessively polite or too busy gasping for breath to wheeze out a hail.
If your companion is a dog, keep an eye peeled. You may know that your adorable two-ton Doberman won’t try to eat the approaching bicyclist, but the bicyclist does not know that. And while the trail makes a great dog walk (there are so many things to sniff!!), please remember that others will be walking there, too.
And be friendly. It used to be that everyone you met on the bike trail said, “Hi,” and most folks still do. It’s a simple custom. You don’t need to break stride, exchange phone numbers or propose marriage. Just smile and acknowledge other peoples’ existence.
For those who would rather paddle than pedal, the good news is that watercraft rentals are once again easily available. OARS (Outdoor Allegheny River Service) has gotten a variety of custom trips going as well as the standard creek and river trips.
There is no better way to see Venangoland than by water. Geese, ducks, heron are all traveling about with their families these days. Sliding down the river and creek, valley and forest rising up on either side, is like going back to the days that Native Americans traveled through this territory, or the days when this was colonial frontier.
As regular readers know, I prefer kayaks to canoes. Harder to tip over, closer to the water, easy to travel even when you’re on your own. There are plenty of places to acquire kayaks—you can buy them off the rack or even order them through the mail. But I recommend a dealer who can help you try out a variety of craft to find the one that best suits you— my neighbors at Wiegel on the Water fit that bill nicely.
Kayaks come in a variety of space-age materials. My own is about ten years old and is just as healthy as the day I bought it. A kayak is an entertainment investment that can last a lifetime if you wish.
Whether by trail or waterway, you owe it to yourself to get into the outdoors in Venangoland. There’s no question that there are bigger, more spectacular vistas to view. The Rockies, the Grand Canyon, even b-list outdoorsiness like the White Mountains and the Badlands of One of the Dakotas, can suck the air right out of your lungs with their awesomeness.
That kind of awesome can remind you of how breathtakingly amazing the world is, the giant scale of creation. But next to that level of splendor, it’s easy to feel like a tiny intruder, overmatched and out of place. That kind of nature can feel outsized and out of reach.
Here in Venangoland, there’s plenty of beauty that is near at hand, nature that is close and welcoming, reminding us that all this is beautiful, that it is right here, and that we are part of it. Instead of grand opera, it’s your best friend sitting with you on the porch.
You meant to get out there last summer, but somehow didn’t quite. Don’t make that mistake again this year.

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