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.