Thursday, January 22, 2015

Winter's here, but have no fear if you've got the gear!

by Brian Schwarz

DATELINE DMV -- Winter's not so bad if you've got the gear. Layering is key to comfort when hourly weather changes lead to a faulty internal heat-regulating thermostat. Body temperature regulation can be easily maintained when you've got the essentials that sync with your particular outdoor activity and your ever-changing level of exertion as you transition from outdoors to in.

Not exactly a winter person - but having the right gear keeps me smiling!
The key to successful layering is having a good local outfitter, one who knows the weather and does the activities you do, in all seasons, in your specific region or the regions you're traveling to.

In my current little corner of Megalopolis, Hudson Trail Outfitters happens to be THE number one local outfitter in the DMV - the region that includes the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. From the Northern Blue Ridge and the Shenandoah to the Chesapeake, and all up and down the Potomac, HTO's outfitters are regional outdoor activity experts. And the company's bent on delivering "positively outrageous customer service" is why I've gotten involved as a manager.

The point isn't that HTO is the best in the business, although I'd certainly argue that's the case; It's that keeping your outfitting local will help you get the most out of your outdoor activity regardless of the weather outside.

You can't always count on the weather you'll get, but you can sure as hell get ready for any activity regardless of weather's whims by frequenting your local outfitter and learning from those who know.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Blurred Lines in the Wildnerness of Southern Megalopolis

“There are some who can live without wild things
and some who cannot.”  - Aldo Leopold
This girl at work today was telling me about how she hates wilderness. I thought, "Who hates wilderness?" She talked about trail maintenance and trail-use issues that impact her niche community within the outdoor recreation industry - cross-country skiers - and she was aghast when I told her I agreed that wilderness areas be free of the impact of mountain bikes and motorized, man-made vehicles of any kind.

I work for a local outfitter that does probably a third of its business in bikes, so she could have easily assumed I blindly support all types of cycling in our preserved natural areas. This could not be further from the case.

Then again, I'm a hiker. So as long as humans are allowed to lightly tread these areas free from the pestilence of mechanized contraptions, I'm happy. Even better if I don't run the risk of being knocked off a rocky path by a mountain biker whizzing by.

My colleague argued that horses do more environmental damage to wilderness areas than mountain bikers - who are vehement trail maintainers. And I shrugged with a retort that did nothing to make her feel she had not wandered ass backkwards into a verbal lock-down.

She had some good points, but hate? But how could anyone hate wilderness?

And this made me think, "Who is wilderness for anyway?"

"How do laws protect it?"

At the end of the day, the important questions is, "How do we foster a culture of conscientious wilderness use in an increasingly diverse society?"

Bottom line, leave no trace ethics remain important regardless of the sport or recreational activity one wishes to do in our fragile, remaining open spaces.


On Old Rag Mountain's busiest day of 2014 I was lucky to get a people-less shot!
Look at the map of wilderness sections of northern Virginia and eastern West Virginia. Notice how major routes from ports along the Chesapeake Bay thread whole populations of urban dwellers in the likes of Norfolk and Richmond, Baltimore and the Washington Metro. All these people here in the southern end of Megalopolis could be potential users of a very limited amount of wilderness spaces.

Any open space invites outdoor recreants, so potential users are many:


And residents of these areas come from a multitude of nations to coexist here. But wilderness law in America exclude some of these dynamic user groups, seemingly along facet lines that are force-filtered into perhaps the most-frustratingly partisan republican two-party system on earth.

In short, I guess my conversation with this colleague found us along blurred lines. Perhaps it's really time to start listening more than I speak. I want to understand what people are really saying.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Grass, pot, weed or whatever Catania calls it - DC measure may legalize marijuana

Earlier this week I took the Metro home from work and was accosted by a group of kind-looking people at the top of the escalator tube at Georgia-Petwork Station. This one guy wanted to know if I was registered to vote, and I said of course, so who are you pushing? He said it was an independent, this guy Catania. I asked if the guy supported Ballot Initiative 71, which would allow individuals (or is it households?) to grow up to three plants, possess up to two ounces of processed weed, or to gift an ounce to someone without being financially remunerated (a.k.a. paid). And the guy was like, well, I know I support it, but hold on, let me check.

Will Ballot Initiative 71 to legalize marijuana in DC pass, end discrimination? 
The dude swiveled his head around like the owl that attacked me in Rock Creek Park a few weeks ago and asked the guy campaigning behind him. That guy turned out to be the candidate, David Catania himself, who responded quickly that yes, indeed, he does support 71. He nodded when I said the result of reducing judiciary discrimination would be a profound net result. Then he chatted me up about his record of supporting some kind of medicinal marijuana measure in past. (I'm not hip to his record of like 15 years on the city council, but I believed him.)

So I voted this morning - for Catania and for Ballot Initiative 71 - and I was first in line in my little corner of the district, a neighborhood wedged in the far northeast corner of the 1st Ward, a.k.a. Greater Columbia Heights, which includes CoHi, Mt. Pleasant and Park View. Now I'm just waiting to see how this democracy thing works, so see if he and the ballot initiative win.

Are you about more than politics? Check out HikeyHikey! for local hikes and gear reviews, and Hiking Megalopolis to join a community of hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who support diversity in hiking.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pedestrian Living in Philadephia - the SEPTA Way!

Two months ago I moved back to Philadelphia after five years on the road. In that time, I hopped from Miami to Boston to desert cities in New Mexico and Southern California, living a semi-nomadic, car-dependent lifestyle. Now that I'm back, I've traded my vehicle for a SEPTA TransPass, and I'm loving my new pedestrian life here in this vibrant little corner of Megalopolis.

SEPTA (a.k.a. the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) refers to the greater Philadelphia public transportation system. The SEPTA service network includes buses, trolleys, subways, an elevated train, light rail and an extensive regional commuter rail network. You can get almost anywhere you want or need to go within the city and well into the suburbs - even to Trenton, NJ (where you can catch a New Jersey Transit train to New York City) and Wilmington, DE. (Check out the SEPTA transit map here.) Add a bike to the mix, and the possibilities are endless!

Bikes add unlimited flexibility to SEPTA's already amazing route network
One thing I love about SEPTA and living in the Philadelphia area is that you can get almost anywhere you need to go via public transportation. Add a bike into the mix, and the possibilities are endless. I'm not just talking about commuting between work and home. SEPTA is great for getting to and from all your favorite weekend activities, too.

If you're into shopping, SEPTA can get to all the major malls and high streets throughout the area. And if you like to be more active on the weekend, you can get to every park in the amazing Fairmount Park system via public transit. Love hiking or mountain biking? Check out Wissahickon Valley Park. No matter where you live in the city or suburbs you can get there by train or bus. You can even do a through hike on one of the three rugged single-track trails there - the Orange Trail, the White Trail and the Yellow Trail - by taking one SEPTA route to either Manyunk or Chestnut Hill and catching another route home.

There are some downsides to SEPTA, though, mostly customer service. Drivers on all routes are useless for anything but staying on the road. Don't try to ask them anything, like when the last bus runs or where to get off. They know, but they just don't want to be bothered. And don't expect anything from booth agents, either. They have no maps. They cannot give change. And they act like they have no idea where you can find maps or change - so don't bother asking.

SEPTA maps at North Philly's Fairmount Station, Broad Street Line subway
This isn't to say that the terms "good customer service" and "SEPTA" are mutually exclusive. If you want to get information, get maps or need to buy a TransPass with anything but exact change, I recommend you go to Suburban Station downtown or to the SEPTA store in the underground concourse near where the Market Frankford Line and Broad Street Line subways converge. These people are friendly and knowledgeable. Also, Check out @SEPTA_Social on Twitter. Ask anything anytime, and these folks are there to help you. They really know their stuff!

Well, it's Saturday, so I better get outside and make the most of living the pedestrian life on this beautiful Philadelphia day! I'll be taking the Broad Street Line north to Olney Transportation Center to catch the L bus over to Chestnut Hill (it's cheaper that way than taking Regional Rail). Then I'll be thru-hiking the Wissahickon this afternoon, catching the 27 bus from Wissahickon Transfer Center to head back to Center City afterward. It's all part of living MyFitLife2Day!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Serendipitous meeting with Scythian while hiking Wissahickon Gorge

During a recent hike on the Wissahickon Gorge Orange Trail, I stopped by an old road house called Valley Green Inn at about the halfway point to enjoy a cup of coffee and some lunch on the front porch. Just my luck, there was a group of guys inside playing live Irish folk music.

D.C.-based Irish folk sensations, Scythian
The group, it would turn out, was Scythian, a D.C.-based Irish folk band. They were there celebrating a birthday or something (from what I overheard), and they were playing to a small and intimate crowd of family and friends. At the same time the band was playing, a bald eagle flew along Wissahickon Creek and perched in a tree opposite the inn. What a nice bit of serendipity! Word spread quickly, and within minutes all the inn's patrons, including members of the band, were on the porch staring up into the trees waiting to see the eagle fly.

I'd never heard of Scynthian, but loved the music I heard. I did some research online and found they have a new album called "It's Not Too Late" (2012), and I also found an interview of them on YouTube (see above). To my pleasant surprise, I was happy to learn Scythian would be playing a show here in Philadelphia May 17 at the St. Francis Xavier School Auditorium, in Grey's Ferry. Presented by the Grey's Ferry Boxing Club and the Secular Oratory of Philadelphia as part of The Village Square series, find details about the show and get tickets here.

On a side note, I just saw that band members Andrew Toy and Josef Crosby refused to play a a gig for the anti-equality National Organization for Marriage along with their band mates in order to take a stand for marriage equality. Thanks for your support, guys!

Friday, November 2, 2012

NOT a spa weekend in Palm Springs

Head east out of LA on the Transcontinental Highway (by way of the Pamona and Moreno Valley Freeways), and just beyond Gorgonio Pass cut right through the wind farms onto North Palm Canyon Drive. You'll hug the mountain until eventually shooting straight through the heart of "main street" Palm Springs, as the name of the street you're on turns to South Palm Canyon at Tahquitz Canyon Drive.

Turn left here and you'll hit the airport. Continue on, and you'll reach a sharp left bend that would take you down 111's canyon-cutting push through Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert en route to Indio. Here, though, go straight, to where South Palm Canyon Drive ends at the Indian Canyons trailheads. Pay the Cahuilla Tribe rep at the toll booth (it costs a little less than 10 bucks) and hike as far as you like, up through Palm Canyon itself, taking the wilderness roads and trails from canyon floor to high desert until reaching highway 74 somewhere in the PiƱon Flats.

Imagine cutting through wind farms, NOT on a spa weekend in Palm Springs
You'll need to camp somewhere along the way before hiking back to your car - or hitch a ride I suppose. So while I realize logistics may keep you from actually doing this, I hope if you do that you'll post a comment about your experience with attempting it on HikeyHikey or at my HubPages. If you think I should figure it out and report back to you, let me know that, too.

NOTE: This post is the first of 30 in 30 days I'll be making to the MyLifeinMegalopolis blog that I'll be using as fodder for my upcoming book, My Life in Megalopolis: At the intersection of geography and human propensity.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Grit Makes Cities Great - revisited

I wrote the essay below, "Grit Makes Cities Great", eight years ago after moving from the gritty streets of the original megalopolis - Metro New York/New Jersey - to the tropical megalopolis of South Florida. Now, as I'm weeks away from moving to yet another megapolitan area, my first on the West Coast, I thought I'd re-post it. I don't know why, but I have a feeling I'll find grit in SoCal, even though I plan on spending much of my time above the clouds hiking the Transverse and Peninsular ranges.

Grit Makes Cities Great
Originally published in Tongue Twisted Traveler blog, summer 2004

For the past year, since my return to Miami after a two-year stint in Newark, I've been looking for signs of a mature city, something that would draw memories of the Northeast. I came south to escape the snow, but I'm really missing the grit of a city with some miles on her. In Miami, so much of history lies in the last 50 years, and the focus is more directed to one glaring aspect--its chance relationship with the cold war and growth as a transnational suburb in exile of Havana--while tourism has flourished to disguise this fact to the rest of the country. There is also a visible history here, from 20th Century architecture to a unique blending of Latin American nationalities. But Newark, which has lived a sort of transnational existence itself, hosting wave after wave of newly arrived immigrants throughout each of the American centuries, is somehow more deeply layered, more complex.

Newark, arguably the downtown of metro New Jersey, has a tight, defined city center, with brick buildings dating back to the 1600s, interspersed with structures of varying degrees of modernity and use, and roads leading out in all directions to cities of major importance to both the colonial and industrial eras. Major routes run in eight directions: north through Passaic, Paterson and Hackensack; northeast through Union City, West New York and the Bronx; east through Jersey City, Manhattan and Brooklyn; southeast through Bayonne and Staten Island, south through Elizabeth, New Brunswick and Perth Amboy; southwest through the Plainfields; west through Irvington, Summit and Morristown; and northwest through the Oranges, Bloomfield and Montclair.

Built up before cars and trucks came to clog northeast Jersey's network of roads, Newark, as a city in constant evolution and transition, has an urban landscape that came alive during industrialization and all but died in the wake of suburbanization. The highways here were built as afterthoughts, along rivers, through blighted neighborhoods and atop long bridges of rusting steel. Roads curve and dip, one below the other, emerging again out of cold, cracked cement marked sporadically with graffiti and stained with chemical runoff. In the midst of all this, a new urbanism is taking place that does little to sweep aside the scars characteristic of such a harsh history, so they remain visible, unique marks of progress for current generations to marvel, to learn from and to admire.

Miami, too, has its history, its unique built environment, its culture. But one must look harder to see it, study more deeply to understand it and ultimately be willing to go off the beaten path to discover what lies beneath its glossy skin. While geography won't permit such a radiant existence for Miami--the Everglades hem in the west, the Keys are the end of the road just a few hundred miles to the south, and in the east there is just blue ocean, with paths only known to ships and sailing vessels--the city radiates in other ways. Within these natural boundaries a city has formed with distinct design. Above the surface, it seems Miami is jailed within an inflexible grid, with Miami Avenue on the x axis and Flagler on the y. But on the ground there is variation as the Miami River, Biscayne Bay and an old network of canals, as well as the Interstate 95 and several freeways, cut off parts of each quadrant at irregular intervals that defy logic or reason. Through it all, neighborhoods survive in a sort of organized chaos among the constant beauty of sky, plants and water even as half-century old cement structures in some places beg for paint and a little more care.

For better or for worse, redevelopment is underway in select neighborhoods of both Newark and Miami. Their characters will evolve, as Miami sets to open its doors on a new cultural center and opera house and Newark works to expand its subway and light rail network. But what makes the future for each of these cities so interesting are the roots of their respective pasts. So I'll keep on searching for grit in Miami, because I know it's there. It's in Overtown and Liberty City, Opa Locka and Hialeah. I've seen it in Allapattah and Little Havana, too. Hell, it's even in Coral Gables, Coconut Grove and Miami Beach, if you know where to look. So Miami may never compare to the great cities of the northeast, just as U.S. cities could never compare to the great gritty cities of Europe. But in time Miami's own brand of grit will become fully known, and it will truly earn its position as one of the great cities of the Americas.