Adventures With Bruce The Border Collie

Over the past few months, I have learned a lot about myself as a person, and as hiker/traveler.  I am from Long Beach, Long Island, where there aren’t any hiking trails.  We have the beach and a boardwalk, which are the town’s pride and joy, but we don’t have hiking trails. We have some paths on the side of highways that weave in and out of the woods, where people are able to walk, run, rollerblade and bike on but they aren’t beautiful scenic hiking trails like the ones here in Maryland.

I talked to some friends who are from Maryland and are fortunate to be able to go hiking and take advantage of all that Maryland has to offer. They gave me a book with a list of trails to check out. I chose three best trails I could find. I started with the easiest trail, and then quickly yearned to move onto the next  more challenging trails. I also wanted to make sure that the trails I hiked were friendly for my companion.

The first was a small trail located in Owings Mills, called Red Run Stream Valley Trail. The second spot was at Patapsco State Park, called Union Dam trail, which is located in Ellicott City, Maryland. The last one was Cascade Falls, which is also part of the Patapsco State Park, and is located in Elkridge, Maryland.

The Red Run Stream Valley Trail, located right here in Owings Mills,  is only a 20-minute walk from my house. I have been on this trail before and I usually go later in the day, but on this particular day,  I woke up at 6:05 a.m., made a light breakfast with a dark coffee before heading to the trail with my best friend, Bruce. We started walking to the trail around 6:45 a.m and got there just after 7:00 a.m. The sun was now up.

The trail is 4.8 miles. To begin the walk it has a paved path that is two miles and a side trail that is 2.8 miles. The paved path is where you usually find bikers, runners and casual strollers. As I walked the main trail I noticed how peaceful it is in the morning. Bruce and I were the only ones on the trail, so I was able to let him off the leash and run around. A mile and a half into the main trail there is a side trail that brings you into the backwoods trail. This is a great spot for the casual hiker. The path is a bit more challenging than the main trail. There are some steeper hills and less stable footing, nothing the average hiker can’t handle. While we were walking on the dirt path, I could hear the stream of water running down below so I decided to get off the path and venture towards the stream below.  Bruce and I got to the stream and walked along the edge. We reached a point of the stream where we had to go back to the dirt path or jump across the stream to the other side.

Bruce had no problem jumping right into the water and crossing. I had to find some bigger rocks to do a little hop, skip and a jump to make it over to the other embankment. The stream was beautiful. The leaves in the trees were starting to change colors and started to fall on the ground making it a wonderful fall hike. There was a ample open room for Bruce to run around. As we walked deeper into the woods, I felt like I wasn’t in Owings Mills anymore. I found this great place under a tree to sit down and take in the beauty. I was sitting on a bunch of roots from the tree behind me. The roots were the only thing supporting me from falling into the water. I sat there for a while. I took one picture to save the memory and put my phone away. As I was sitting down enjoying the view, I started to listen to the sounds around me. I could hear the water running down stream, which was a very peaceful and calming sound. The wind blew through the trees above me, and, I heard an occasional bark from Bruce when he couldn’t get the squirrel because it ran up the tree. After 15 minutes of almost absolute silence, I got up and started walking back to the main trail.

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When we got back to the main trail, we crossed over a bridge where the stream runs under it. It was an incredible view I noticed for the first time. I have crossed this bridge so many times, but I never stopped to appreciate it. The reflection in the water from the sky and trees was something I have only seen in a magazine or somethings. You don’t need to go far to find natural beauty. I have run on this route so many times yet my eyes had never noticed the beauty I had been running by so many times.  It’s like Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast if you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

The second adventure with Bruce took us to Patapsco State Park, Union Dam Trial. Before we started to walk down the trail there was a map to see the trails around us. As I was reading the map trying to figure out which route to take, a long, black-haired hippie looking guy walked up to check out the map also. I introduced myself and asked him which was the best trail to take and he giggled and responded, “Walk down to the river and just go with the flow man.” I am guessing he was a little high from the weed aroma I was getting.

When I walked down the first part of the trail it was steep and I almost fell a couple times. Bruce was running laps around me. When we got to the bottom, it brought us to a platform where there is a brief history board about Union Dam, which was just 20 yards away. Union Dam was first built in 1808. As you can imagine, the dam had to be fixed frequently since its original model. The dam was damaged by floods and hurricanes.  I read that the dam had to be rebuilt in 1817, 1867, 1912 and 1972. There were still remnants of the original dam visible. I thought it was pretty incredible that the dam had been there for that long. In 1907 Patapsco State Park was established. The Union Dam had to be removed in 2010 to restore the fish passage and allow the river to safely recover.

After I got caught up on the brief history of Union Dam, I did exactly what Matt the Hippie said. I walked down to the edge of the water and walked along the flow of the river. There were only about 50 yards until we hit the woods and had to walk up and follow the trail again. It was a little dirty; I got to the top of a hill and found myself on an old  railroad track with no trail to follow. Bruce and I turned around and began to walk up river. It was a great trail with some tough terrain, but not too crazy. We walked for about three miles then stopped at a little beach area to eat a snack and play fetch. While Bruce was running around I  saw a big tree that was fallen over the river and it looked stable enough to walk across. I lifted Bruce up and then jumped up and we both started to walk. This side of the trail was way better! I am guessing that it’s the side that gets the most sun during the day because it still had leaves on the trees. As we were walking I couldn’t believe how pretty it was. There was a spot we walked past where the branches made a tunnel and the leaves around it were golden. It was really incredible. I had never seen anything like it. We walked a little bit farther and found a spot to sit down and just enjoy the perfect fall afternoon.

I found an unbelievable spot to take in an amazing view. It was on a steep hill and I saw a tree to sit against and a big rock to prop my feet up on so I didn’t slide. The view was UNREAL! The sun was starting to slowly drop and there was a bridge that the sun was setting over. The sunlight was coming through the walls of the bridge. I was going to take out my notebook and pen but the view was so nice I couldn’t look away. I put some music on my phone, took one picture and put my phone away. I sat back and enjoyed the splendor of it.

About ten second after I took the picture and put my phone down, the most amazing thing happened. A gust of wind came through blowing the leaves off the top of the tree. The leaves started to gently fall onto the river and float away. It was one of the most peaceful moments I’ve ever had in my life.

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ready to hunt some squirrels

On the walk back to the beginning of the trail I decided instead of walking two miles all the way back to the tree that we walked over to cross the river, we just walk straight and find somewhere to cross when we got there. We walked about one mile and we were back to the beginning of the trail but on the opposite side of the river. We still had about 45 minutes of sunlight left, and it was so nice out I wasn’t worried about crossing over yet. There was a picnic table down by the river. I sat down to take a break and jot down some quick notes so I didn’t forget anything. Afterwards, I decided to explore the area. There was a big boulder in the middle of the river and enough big rocks for me to jump on and get to the boulder. When I got to the boulder did a slow spin to just get the 360 view. The sun was starting to set and you could see the reflection of the bridge appearing in the calm part of the river. While I was on the boulder I saw a mass of rocks sitting there, it took me about 15 seconds to notice that someone placed the rocks there strategically. It was a couch made of rocks, and it was actually quite comfortable. I sat down with Bruce. It was an incredible way to end to the day.

Once the sun set we, walked back up to the parking lot. This was when I noticed I am really out of shape. The trail back up to the parking was tough! I guess when I was walking down I didn’t realize how steep it was. But the way back up, I realized. I got about halfway up and almost had to stop and catch my breath. But I fought through it and made it to the top without stopping.

For the last stop of my journey, I planned on going to Cascade Falls. I was very excited because I hadn’t seen any type of waterfall in while. Waterfalls are an amazing part of nature. So I texted two buddies who said they wanted to join Bruce and me on the next hike. I picked them up around 1:45 p.m and we headed to what we thought was Cascade Falls. When we arrived, our GPS brought us to Peaceful Pond, which was a great little spot if you are looking for a quick stroll. But it wasn’t what we were looking for. We headed back to the car, and as we were leaving the parking lot, I saw the Park Headquarters. I stopped in and asked where Cascade Falls was. They gave me directions but it was another 30 minutes away and the sun wasn’t going to be up much longer. We were only a few minutes drive to Union Dam where I was the week before, so we decided to go there instead.

My friends Dylan and Johnny both saw my pictures from Union Dam the week before and wanted to check out the rock couch. When we arrived at Union Dam their excitement started to build. We got down to the main path and began the walk. I brought them in the same route I took the previous week. We didn’t make any stops, though. We took a straight shot right to the rock couch. It took us about 45 minutes to walk. On the way we had to walk over the log that lay over the river and Johnny had a little fall. He wasn’t happy. When he got up he was all wet and said, “Freaking nature man,” Johnny isn’t the most enthusiastic outdoorsman.  When we reached the rock couch we all took a seat for a few minutes. Dylan was amazed by the couch and how comfortable it was. He was so inspired, he started to make one himself. I got up and joined him and Johnny stayed on the couch and looked at his phone.

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Union Dam

Building the rock couch was so much fun. I haven’t done anything like that since I use to go camping when I was in middle school. I missed making things with my hands from scratch. When the couch started to come together it is very satisfying. Each piece is like a Tetris piece. And when you get one to fit just right there really is nothing better. It took us a little over an hour to complete the entire thing. I was exhausted afterwards. I already knew my body was going to be sore the next day, but it was well worth it. As we were building the couch, I started to think about the people from Human Planet and how this is what they basically do every day but on a much more extreme level. It is there life. So I had a tiny glimpse of the hardship they go through.

Over the past couple months I have been working on this project and it has taught me a lot about hiking and myself. A few things I’ve learned from this: Do your research before you go. Bring a backpack with snack and water. Going alone is nice but having a couple friends with you is also a good time. Observe your surroundings, and stay off your phone. Appreciate this time, sit down and do some self reflecting. Be spontaneous.  And lastly bring a pen and paper to write down things you don’t want to forget. I hope now that this project is done my hiking doesn’t slow down. It really gives you time to think about life and what you really care about.

Travel fast when young

Travel slow when wise

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