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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Falls Church Five-O: Happy 生日/誕生日to me

Yesterday, Flag Day, was my birthday, and I might as well admit the truth: I've turned fifty years of age. I hope this means I've entered middle age, and that I'll live to a hundred and beyond, but only time will tell. For my birthday, I gifted myself earlier this week with a hearing aid. All those years I'd been complaining that I couldn't hear things clearly, only to be told I was making excuses, have now been determined to have been based in fact: the hearing in my left ear is so far below normal that it has finally warranted needing to use amplification. It goes quite nicely with the new pair of reading glasses I acquired a couple of months ago. There's nothing like aging gracefully.

To celebrate this gap day between my birthday (yesterday) and Father's Day (tomorrow), I treated myself to a hike. In recent weeks, I've been trying to build up my knee strength by upping the ante when it comes to weekend walking: a few weeks ago I returned to the trails on an "Easy" route, according to my AMC's Best Day Hikes in Washington, D.C. guide (Cosca Regional Park in Clinton, Maryland); the following week, it was an "Easy to Moderate" trail (Antietam National Battlefield); and last week I tackled a "Moderate" path at the Manassas National Battlefield Park. So this week I sought out a trail dubbed "Moderate to Difficult", which turned out to be Sugarloaf Mountain in Dickerson, Maryland. To be honest, though I was huffing and puffing during much of today's hike, especially near the end (the result of age, being out of shape and the ongoing recovery from knee surgery), Sugarloaf Mountain was hardly "difficult", at least not in the sense that Old Rag Mountain was. In fact, it was a very enjoyable four hours and 5.3 miles (8.5 kilometers) on a not-too-hot sunny (but shady) afternoon.

Starting out on the Green Trail, which led from the parking lot at Sugarloaf Mountain to the summit. I was a little leery at first - my hiking guide talked of a sharp ascent over granite rocks, and when I saw people climbing up the sides of a rocky outcropping using ropes, I wondered if I had made a mistake. It turned out they were learning how to properly scale rocks, and the path to the top (a short walk, as it turned out) remained much like what is depicted in the above photo.

The view from the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain, 1282 feet (391 meters) above sea level. The view was actually very impressive - the pictures I took from the top didn't do the vista justice.

The view is presented in somewhat better fashion in this self-portrait

A couple of zoom views from the top. The waterway in the first picture is part of the Monocacy Aqueduct, constructed in the 1830's.

After checking out the view from the top, I soon made my way down to the Blue Trail, a circuit five miles (8 kilometers) in length that eventually made a loop back to the parking lot. The terrain was always changing, with plenty of ascents and descents, and some switchbacks. At times I was in dense forest, at other moments I was passing through small clearings. During the nearly four hours I was on the trail, I encountered quite a few people, yet there were long stretches when I had the mountain to myself. There were plenty of bees, birds, butterflies and lizards, but no deer, though I did see some tracks in the mud, and at one point heard the sound of a large animal running through the woods.

This old cairn stood on the 1019-foot (311 meters) summit of the mountain's northern ridge, and was a good spot to have lunch. From here, I made my way over to the White Rocks, an overlook offering a North View and a South View. First, the North View...

Two long-distance views...

A close-up zoom-in view...

Another self-portrait...

...and a video.

For the South View, I repeated the pattern:

From White Rocks, it was a long walk back to the parking lot. Though I was starting to get pretty tired by this point, my knee was holding up well, a very encouraging sign.

The last photo is the view through the trees from the parking lot. Next weekend, I'll try one of the "Difficult" hikes. Seeing as my last-chance Chinese exam is next Friday, it'll either be a celebratory walk or a scouting trip for a suicidal plunge over a steep cliff. In any event, I'm going to miss the scenic rural roads like those I drove along on my to and from Sugarloaf Mountain today.

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