September 6, 2009

Gwynns Falls glorious

I have a new favorite place to ride. Selfish being that I am, the only reason I'm exposing it here is because I know my readership is so minuscule. And of those who do follow my babblings, most are not local, so the chances are slim that this wonderful gem of a place will become overrun due to my glowing review.

I first heard of the Gwynns Falls trail a few years ago but never took the time to look into it. While blowing some $$ recently at one of my favorite local bike shops, I noticed a stack of brochures for the trail that included a full map, so I grabbed one. A quick look showed that it passed through some areas of town that I thought might be more than a tad sketchy. So, while my curiosity was definitely aroused, I was also tentative about riding my snow-white, lycra-clad self through neighborhoods where I'd stick out like a sore thumb. So I did some googling, which led to two accounts of people being punched in the face or hit with rocks by miscreant youth in one specific area. Aside from that, though, the intarwebs turned up nothing but mentions of how nice the trail is. No one I found to ask about it went into much detail, but all said that it was an excellent ride.

With this weekend being a holiday one, my cycling options were limited. Everyone and their brother would likely be out on the rail-trails and at the parks where I like to ride, and I wasn't in the mood for crowds. That left either a rural road loop I've done a couple of times up above Frederick or, possibly... Gwynns Falls. Would the Labor Day hordes find their way onto this supposedly lightly trafficked trail and spoil my bid for solitude? Only one way to find out...

The trail begins at an exposed and barren commuter park'n'ride lot. How misleading. It quickly drops from the concrete wasteland into Leakin Park, a huge, amazingly natural urban park that was almost intersected by an interstate. I've been told that it was dramatically saved by MD Senator Barbara Mikulski and a crowd of protesters standing in front of a bulldozer, literally preventing it from tearing into the forest. If that's the case, I'm grateful and will continue voting for Mikulski each and every time she runs for re-election. (Now, if only she'd spearhead a crusade to clean up all the garbage along the creek...)

Within Leakin, the trail is a tangle of off-shoots leading to spots like the Carrie Murray Nature Center and the historic neighborhood of Dickeyville. The route I took by-passed these detours (leaving more for me to explore on future rides) and meandered along Gwynns Falls creek, transitioning from smooth pavement to old abandoned road to a crushed stone and dirt mix, and back to another stretch of abandoned roadway that finally, after 6.5 miles, spit me out into urban neighborhoods. This was the sketchy part, though the few people I encountered were perfectly pleasant. Another mile or so later, I was in the industrial area next to Ravens Stadium, passing old warehouses with fantastic architecture and bouncing over railroad tracks. From there, the trail heads either to Inner Harbor or down along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River to Middle Branch and Cherry Hill parks. For my first run-through, I kept things short by heading in the direction of the Harbor via a brief jaunt through the re-gentrified section of Federal Hill.

After walking through the crowds on the Harbor promenade, I locked the bike up and headed into the food court. It didn't take long to snag a greasy soft pretzel and lemonade and return to the bike, where I sprawled in the grass and ate, watching the clouds and gulls floating over the Harbor... totally, surprisingly, at peace with the throngs of noisy tourists.

The ride back was as peaceful and solitary as the ride down, easier because it was simple to re-trace my way, yet also ever-so-slightly harder because I was heading back up, literally, to Leakin Park. I was amazed at how few people I encountered throughout the day, aside from the Inner Harbor crowds, and I can't wait for the chance to get back up there. Next time, Dickeyville and Cherry Hill Park. And photos, in order to document the awesomeness of the best damned trail I've found yet.


Jon said...

you know that your readership isn't that small... and that if i was in the same baltimore region that i'd check it out


sounds like a temple to me...


Groover said...

I hope Barbara reads your blog so she'll know how to capture your vote. Glad you had such a pleasant ride and I can't wait to see pictures of a snow white clad rider. You are a brave woman. :-)

KaliDurga said...

Ha! There won't be any photos of me, Groover, just huge old sycamores and beech trees, 19th century architecture, street murals, egrets along the waterfront, and such :D

And Jon, if you do ever find yourself in the Baltimore region, I'd be happy to be your guide to Gwynns Falls.

birds fly said...

The Gwynns Falls Trail never seems to be busy. I have ridden it many times and rarely have seen other cyclists, except during Tour Dem Parks. I think it's because it's sort of out of the way, and if you're riding to it from the city it's not necessarily easy to get to, depending on where you're coming from. If you're coming from southwest, it's not bad, but if you're coming from the north or even center of the city, it's a convoluted trip and you have to travel on some bike-unfriendly roads. It's a shame it's so under-utilized, though, because as you found out it really is a great trail!

KaliDurga said...

See, that's my dilemma: On the one hand, you're right that it's a shame the trail is under-utilized because use is what protects these places and keeps them from being otherwise developed. On the other hand, the fact that it's so isolated and empty is what draws me there, knowing that it's a place where I can escape.

I haven't done Tour Dem Parks yet. I'll be doing Tour de Port for the third time this year, but it's definitely a completely urban route. A very fun ride, but not an escape ride.

birds fly said...

Yeah, that's definitely a dilemma. I know I wouldn't enjoy riding there as much if it was as crowded as, say, the NCR Trail is. Eventually the plan is for all the city's trails to connect, though, so it may become more accessible in the future.

I'm on the fence about Tour du Port. I have problems with paying that much money to ride my bike, even though I know it's for a good cause. A bunch of my friends are doing it, though, so I still might spring for it.

birds fly said...

York Heritage is definitely a nicer section, and somewhat less crowded. One time a small group of us rode up to York on a Saturday in the fall and camped overnight, then rode back the next day. Traffic was pretty light once we got past Parkton.

The house is coming along...we hosted a birthday party for a couple of friends this weekend, so that fired us up to finish making the place presentable. Fiznit loves the house, mostly because there are so many more places for her to sleep. She has always been creative in that regard!

Spent some quality time birding at Cromwell Valley Park both yesterday and Sunday. Have you ever been there? Good hiking, and right off the beltway should you find yourself up in these parts anytime this fall.