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Clydesdales/Athenas (200+ lb / 91+ kg) Looking to lose that spare tire? Ideal weight 200+? Frustrated being a large cyclist in a sport geared for the ultra-light? Learn about the bikes and parts that can take the abuse of a heavier cyclist, how to keep your body going while losing the weight, and get support from others who've been successful.

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Old 07-18-09, 07:22 PM   #1
Neil_B
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Up!

It's been a down couple of weeks since my tour. I've ridden less than 35 miles since I got back because I'm still suffering from the severe chafing I had during my two week ride. I had to invest in a new Brooks because the old one was too wide for me. A friend died of an obesity-related condition. My weight continues to be 30 some pounds more than in 2008. The economy sucks and the Mets are falling to pieces. And....

Well, I could go on and on. You all know that. So I decided I needed to not only get out, but go up. So I pulled on my hiking boots, laced them, and went up.... to Reading. And then I REALLY went up!



Yes, that's a genuine imitation Philippine pagoda in the land of mustard and pretzels. In 1908 strip mining had made an eyesore of Mount Penn, the larger of the two mountains Reading sits between. So the mine owner decided to beautify the scarred area by building a resort hotel. The design capitalized on the continuing Victorian craze in the West for things Oriental. Construction was completed by 1910 but the planned hotel never opened. In 1911 the Pagoda and the nearby land were sold to the City of Reading. The building has survived neglect, a drive to tear it down during World War Two, and 100 years to become Reading's symbol and beacon. Yes, beacon - the Pagoda is lighted with red LED bulbs around each roof.

I climbed the 87 steps to the top of the Pagoda and was rewarded by an overview of Pennsylvania's fifth largest city. None of the four larger - Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, and Erie - have such a scenic overlook as this. Yes, each city has a great 'face' in certain locations, but only Reading has it from the air:





Mount Penn stands 1200 feet above sea level. Skyline Drive, the location of the Pagoda and a linear park, is a nice drive or ride, but if you ride it, bring your climbing legs. An eight mile loop I plotted on Bikely featured more than 1300 feet of climbing. And that's assuming you start on Skyline - I can't imagine how much hurt is involved riding up from Thun Trail along the river. Some streets in Reading have at least a 12-15 per cent grade.

Since I wasn't riding, I didn't have that to concern me. Instead, I took on one of the hiking trails near the Pagoda.



I figure I got in about 2-3 miles on it. The two thoughts that went through my mind when hiking were:
- there's nowhere flat on Mount Penn.
- this is where hiking boots go to die.

The trail was very 'rollery' and filled with loose scree. In some places it looked like an attempt was made to 'pave' the trail with flat rocks - perhaps this was meant for drainage? It was very hard to walk on. I regretted leaving my hiking poles in the car.



With two mountains on either side, Reading is known for mountain biking, and during my walk in the woods I was startled to hear three riders tearing down a path. I caught one of them in motion:



Just out of frame was the six foot drop he and his buddies cleared.

I wandered back to the car, took a few more photos at the Pagoda, and headed..... up.



More to come.
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Old 07-18-09, 07:59 PM   #2
mtclifford
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Sometimes a nice peaceful hike is a good way to clear you head. I find cycling is good for that too.

One thing you can take heart in Neil is the fact your adventures give so much hope to those around you. When I have doubts about what I can accomplish you are one of the people I look to and realize how much can be done and overcome. You are truly an inspiration man.
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Old 07-18-09, 08:14 PM   #3
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The Pagoda is at one end of Skyline Drive on Mount Penn. Even though the 1300 feet of climbing on my planned Bikely route was too much for me to attempt riding while sober or sane, I thought I might as well see it. So the Neilmobile sluggishly climbed the hills. The grades appeared to be consistently between 5 and 10 per cent as I went up. Finally the road began to level off. "I must be at the top," I thought. And then I saw it to my right:



"The William Penn Memorial Fire Tower" I said to myself. I'd heard it was closed, so I parked with the expectation that I'd just take some exterior shots. Then I noticed the small sign with the word "OPEN" on it.

The tower was indeed open. Pagoda Skyline Inc, the not-for-profit that runs the Pagoda, had opened the tower one Saturday a month. While I was excited that I'd come on the right Saturday, I didn't look forward to the 167 steps to the observation platform. But nothing comes of nothing, a journey of 167 steps begins with one, and I went up.





But at the top I was rewarded. Despite the climb, despite wind so strong I had to take off my baseball cap lest it be blown off, I was glad I went up. In the distance I could see Limerick Nuclear Generating Station, about 25-30 miles distant. I live just past them, a millimeter to the right. If the final set of steps to the top of the tower were open and the day were clear, you could see Philadelphia, 60 miles away.



And as good as Reading looked from the Pagoda, it looked more so from the tower. In this photo you can see the whole valley. In the distance, somewhere under the tree cover, is Shillington, a suburb of Reading and the birthplace of John Updike.



Below you see Skyline Drive level out for about half a mile before it descends the mountain. Somewhere in the distance under the tree cover on the left is the town made (in)famous on a 'reality' television program called Jon & Kate Plus 8. Reading's claims to fame - the railroad on the Monopoly board, manufacturer outlet shopping, John Updike, and basic cable TV 'celebrities.'



Here's more of Mount Penn. Is someone trying to hide a Pagoda under the trees? I can see it!



More of Reading and the Schuylkill River valley:



When I came back down from being up, I chatted for a few minutes with Gene, a local cyclist. He'd not only climbed Skyline Drive, but he'd been riding in and around Reading since a little after seven that morning. And he was doing it on a beach cruiser. Gene not only gave me advice on other things to see in Reading, but posed for me with his ride.



The rest of the day was UP mentally even as I came down from Mount Penn. Thanks to Gene, I found Gring's Mill, the Wertz Covered Bridge, the Historical Society, and some Civil War reenacters and their campsites. And seeing that he conquered Mount Penn on a cruiser gives me hope one day I'll be able to ride Skyline Drive myself. Because no matter how down I get, I like to go up.
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Old 07-18-09, 08:26 PM   #4
zoste
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Very nice! Great pics and a good day for you...But

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... the Mets are falling to pieces...
that's a good thing, no?
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Old 07-19-09, 02:02 AM   #5
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Awesome way to spend to the day. I did yard work,

My knees whimpered a bit with all the stairs, but I would still give it a go just to get to the top.
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Old 07-19-09, 02:03 AM   #6
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The Mets falling to pieces is not a good thing for a Mets fan.
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Old 07-19-09, 02:16 AM   #7
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Awesome way to spend to the day. I did yard work,

My knees whimpered a bit with all the stairs, but I would still give it a go just to get to the top.
87 steps to the top of the Pagoda, and 167 to the observation platform on the fire tower. I was surprised I didn't have trouble with the stairs. Here's the stairs at the Pagoda:



Here's another view of the tower, complete with the vintage Smoky Bear sign:



And the interior of the fifth floor of the Pagoda, showing the 'lucky' bell. Tradition is that ringing it brings good luck.



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Old 07-19-09, 02:46 AM   #8
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The rest of the day.

Wertz Covered Bridge, the "red bridge." Why the description is used I don't know, because all five covered bridges in Berks County are red. The bridge is closed to motorized traffic and maintained by the Berks County Heritage Center.



Wertz Bridge is 229 feet long, the longest single-span covered bridge in Pennsylvania. I don't recommend climbing up on the Burr truss as these Reading natives are doing:



The dam at Gring's Mill. There's a four mile bike path, paved and gravel, running between the Mill and past the covered bridge. This Union Canal bike path will eventually form part of the Schuylkill River Trail, if it's ever completed.



Why there was a mock Civil War encampment at the Berks County Heritage Center I don't know. I've yet to come across a history of Berks County that mentioned a Confederate invasion.



And finally, I arrived after closing, so I couldn't get close, but here's a distance shot of the visitor's center at the Daniel Boone Homestead in Birdsboro. Boone was born here in 1734. I might come back tomorrow to explore the grounds and see the restored farm buildings.



Not far away is another historic homestead, that of the Lincoln family. The Lincolns eventually moved to Kentucky and from there to Illinois. A great-great grandson spent some time in DC in the 1860s.
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Old 07-19-09, 04:22 AM   #9
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Thanks again for the great photos and another stroll down memory lane. The last time I was up near the Pagoda was in the early 70s. Somewhere up there is (was) an area designated to fly model airplanes (control-line not RC). It was 3 or 4 large asphalt circles. My older brother would build and fly (crash) model airplanes. A model airplane club from Reading would have their competitions and shows there and my brother with occasionally take me along.

Isn't here a restaurant up there that is built like an old English castle? I think the name is something like Stokely or Stokesay Castle?

Whenever I head up to Schuylkill County to visit family, I still look for the Pagoda atop Mount Penn.

Thanks again !!

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Old 07-19-09, 07:18 AM   #10
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Thanks again for the great photos and another stroll down memory lane. The last time I was up near the Pagoda was in the early 70s. Somewhere up there is (was) an area designated to fly model airplanes (control-line not RC). It was 3 or 4 large asphalt circles. My older brother would build and fly (crash) model airplanes. A model airplane club from Reading would have their competitions and shows there and my brother with occasionally take me along.

Isn't here a restaurant up there that is built like an old English castle? I think the name is something like Stokely or Stokesay Castle?

Whenever I head up to Schuylkill County to visit family, I still look for the Pagoda atop Mount Penn.

Thanks again !!
I passed the model aircraft field you wrote about, but I didn't see any restaurant on Mount Penn. Speaking of castles, Reading High School looks like one. I should have stopped for a photo.

BTW, the official reopening of the Pagoda is next Saturday. It's been undergoing renovation the past year or so.
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Old 07-19-09, 07:49 AM   #11
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Neil,
Thanks for the idea of a place to go and see in the area. I have been reading this forum for a while and am getting up the courage to get a bike and head out. When I am out walking the trails around the area I see people on bikes and think that would be nice to do. But being a 51 year old uber-clyde (6’2” and 400 lbs) I just could not see me on a bike.
But you guys make me see it’s possible.
Gary
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Old 07-19-09, 08:27 AM   #12
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Neil,
Thanks for the idea of a place to go and see in the area. I have been reading this forum for a while and am getting up the courage to get a bike and head out. When I am out walking the trails around the area I see people on bikes and think that would be nice to do. But being a 51 year old uber-clyde (6’2” and 400 lbs) I just could not see me on a bike.
But you guys make me see it’s possible.
Gary
PM sent. We have to get you on two wheels.

Neil B.
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Old 07-19-09, 09:00 AM   #13
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BTW, here's the Bikely route I mentioned. 9.50 miles, 1274 feet of climbing. If I did it I'd need to change the starting point to the middle, since I could use the parking lot at the Pagoda.

http://www.bikely.com/maps/bike-path...-Skyline-Drive
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Old 07-19-09, 09:16 AM   #14
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Here's an alternate route, using parking on the Thun Trail just outside of town. 18.50 miles, 1850 feet of climbing.

http://www.bikely.com/maps/bike-path...ount-Penn-Ride
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Old 07-19-09, 11:52 AM   #15
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Thanks Neil. It is always great to see the areas of others.

A Pagoda in Pa? Of Course!
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Old 07-19-09, 12:33 PM   #16
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Thanks Neil. It is always great to see the areas of others.

A Pagoda in Pa? Of Course!
It was amusing to note the large number of Asians touring the Pagoda when I was there. And yes, they had cameras with them.
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Old 07-19-09, 12:43 PM   #17
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Thanks Neil. It is always great to see the areas of others.

A Pagoda in Pa? Of Course!
http://www.readingpa.gov/

Reading takes the Pagoda seriously. So seriously the cops wear this on their uniforms:



http://www.readingpa.gov/police_pagoda_patch.asp
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