The Wissahickon Valley
<< Weeks 18  & 19 >>

cassidy@netaxs.com

(As you can probably tell, this still ain't finished)


Fishermen, Wissahickon Valley

The recent death of my old college roommate at 39 caused me to swiftly and sharply reevaluate my life which has been centered mostly around work and watching "The Simpsons" after work. I'm resolved now not to waste my time any longer but to meet life -- if not head on, at least at a sharper angle.

So this weekend the mountian bike which heretofore had seen no mountain other than the slight incline between 42nd and 43rd on locust every morning on my 10 block jaunt to work goes in the back of my Chevy Blazer SUV which heretofore has only been in 4WD during snowstorms and the three of us, along with various other yuppie trinkets (like my Citizen Aqualand which -- to my great embarrassment -- has never been deeper underwater than the bottom of my tub ) my cell phone, and my Leica M6 tool off to the Wissahickon valley to climb a moutain.

As I am indeed -- like it or not -- solid yuppie, I go to the gym three days a week, lift weights, and ride the stationary bike, so I consider myself to be in better shape than most people my age -- but seven minutes into the mountain I'm off the bike, huffing like an asmatic, thinking that I'm going to barf. I drink a liter of water. A short break, I'm back on and two minutes of sheer 1 MPH agony later I'm at the top of the big hill. A few minutes rest and then off crossways over the mountain. Somewhere on my map I have apparantly confused the mountian bike trail with the mountian goat trail. It's impassable. Hannibal couldn't cross it: Two feet wide, strewn with jagged rocks the size of softballs. On the left is a 100 foot drop, on the right, a wall of trees and stone -- the path goes up and down like a Lutheran church service. And I'm off the bike as much as I'm on it. 10 minutes into my ordeal two uber yuppies speed past me bouncing from stone to stone as though navigating a country road. As they're passing one of them is saying to the other

"I never did understand what Gina saw in him -- he's so --"

"Rural," finishes the other one and 20 seconds later, they're lost down the trail.

Every time I think that I am near death from exhertion, I stop and take a photo or two. I try and coordinate my near death experiences with scenic vistas.

34 minutes into the ride my Very Yuppie digital speedometer tells me that my average speed has been a single mile per hour -- slower than walking. But my big break is coming soon -- 42 minutes lafter I started pedaling, the path turns down; down like the big drop on a roller coaster but strewn with loose jagged stones. I don't manage any greater speed for the next ten minutes, but then I'm disgorged into a clearing, a paved road. I let go of the breaks and speed through a parking lot. Next to a scenic bridge the uber yuppies are leaning against a Mercedes SUV with a pair of rail thin blonds in bike shorts & sports tops sipping gatoraide. Past them, down a hill is a sign that says:

Monistary --->

I shoot down the hill, towards the monistary like a stone from a sling. The cool air blows the sweat away from me like the breath of god. It feels marvelous. I crank the bike into its highest gear and pedal furiously until my speed tops 35mph. The hill turns slightly up and I cost to a stop outside of the monistary which sports a pasture filled with horses.

The paved road turns into "forbidden drive" a wide footpath which runs paralell to the Wissahickon creek. The riding is easy here and the traffic picks up -- bicycles, horses, pedestrians -- the architecture is fantastic and ruinious, like a lost city.

My muscles are burning, my legs like rubberbands, even my arms ache, and I can't tell why. But somehow, for some reason, I'm extremely happy right at this moment. I'm flying down the road -- trees steaching up over top of me, sixty feet -- the sweat from my arms and face like a wind lifting me into the air -- I streach out my arms and I am flying -- this is what it's all about -- me and my little Leica camera seeing my own world through the eyes of a tourist.

The major flaw in my photography these days is not technical, but practical. I'm devistatingly shy and talking to strangers is by forced effort, but one which I realize I need to continue. For this reason, I've set myself the trange goal of talking to and photographing ten people today. & Why not? This should be an easy place -- everybody's in a good mood -- it's a nice day.

I realize that what I should be doing is coming down here with a 4x5 and doing individual portraits. Besides the fact that it would be ore visually pleasing, I'd get more exercise carrying the 4x5, tripod and film holders around. Aside from teh fact that I have yet to use my 4x5 enlgarger once.

 

THE BATTLE OF GERMANTOWN

In early october, 1777, General Howe was holed up in Germantown with 9,000 troops, about half a mile from where I'm riding, another 3,000 in Philadelphia, and a reserve of 3,000 along the edge of the Delaware. American General, George Washington saught to dislodge them by splitting his forces (11,000 men including 3,000 militia) into four colums and advancing from the North, at night, through the woods. At three in the morning Washington's army, disorganized, lost in the dark and fog and making an awful lot of noise, tip off the British who prepare for the attack. Element of suprise vaporized, the American forces arrive at daybreak and begin the attack. Even without suprise on their side, immediatly the battle begins to look good for the rebels. England's 40th regiment, under the command of Lieutenant-Colnel Musgrave, flees before the attack and holes up in a large stone house at the head of the village and utterly refuses to surrender. Shots are fired, eventually canon are brought in, however the American forces are unable to dislodge their foe. Elsewhere though, the battle goes well for the rebels who drive the British into the city of Germantown, fighting fiercely from house to house. Soon, and without warning, a thick fog rolls into the town, visibility is cut drastically. A large collum of rebels are cut off in the fog and surrender. A militia force from New Jersey and Maryland fail to appear as expected and the American advance is driven back. Three hours later, when the battle was over, twelve hundred American soldiers are either killed, wounded or taken prisioner compared to five hundred of the adverse faction. Washington retreats to Perkiomen Creek, and several days later, the British army is moved from Germantown to Philadelphia.

I come to a stop near a wide riverbank where Dan, Beth and Bill are arguing as much as they are fishing. In the creek in front of us Dan points out the shape of an albino trout.

"He don't eat," bill says, "He's not interested in anything."

"How long has he been there?"

"Days," says Dan, "He's been here for days. But you can't interest him in anything."

A few knowledgeable casts drop minows practically on top of the ghost trout, but indeed, he is not interested.

"My son's in the army," Beth tells me suddenly, "he's 23 years old and whe's in Hawaii and he says that when he comes home he's going to ride the subway late at night looking for trouble." Then she asks, "Have you ever been robbed by a black man?" This appears to be of particular interest to her, as she asks me the exact same question several more times in the course of half an hour.

Dan and bill may or may not be brothers. They also may or may not be cousins, they also both may or may not be married to Beth. I hear versions of all of the above. Finally my body is willing to move again and I'm fairly certian that no one's going to catch the ghost trout, so I wish them luck in their endeavour and climb back to my bike.

Forbidden drive hugs the length of the wissahickon for a while -- broad and well kept, mostly flat as a board and inviting to the pedestrian or casual cyclist, but I'm vowing not to be the casual cyclist and some of the less traveled paths leading up the hills call to me. They're narrow, scenic, and grueling. Much of the time the slope is so steep that the front wheel of my bicycle is off of the ground as much as it is on -- each revolution of my back wheel spits out gravel and pitches me backward, balanced upon the rear tire, panting and hardly moving. It's like laying on your back and pushing a referigerator up a flight of stairs with your legs.

Around each turn is ome spectacular vista, some vast bridge or tiny creek each worth the endeavour of the whole climb.

I continually lament the fact that I have brought only black and white film with me.

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