Where the Trail Crosses the Road

Social distancing and masking is the protocol at warm-up time in the lot.

August 7, 2021, 4:20pm – Allentown, PA

Yup, by the sheer grip on the wheel at 9:30 and 2:30, and the pedal to the mid-metal, I have transported the loaded Silver Bullet and myself to Allentown, PA. Ten bucks gets the choice parking spot behind the Hamilton Family Diner, one block from J. Birney Crum Stadium, home to DCI’s East Coast Championships. This year the field is limited to six drum and bugle corps one night rather than 20+ corps over a two-day period. Tonight, the line-up will include a special performance of the all-aged corps, the Hawthorne Caballeros, and the touring junior caravansaries: The Cadets, Boston Crusaders, Bluecoats, Spirit of Atlanta, and Music City. 

Cedar Creek Park, Allentown, Pennsylvania.

I am sitting in Cedar Creek Park, an emerald necklace of greenspaces, paths and ponds that extends beyond the stadium meandering through the neighboring Muhlenberg College and fine residential homes that make up this part of town. I have had many walks along the paths on both sides of Cedar Creek. Normally at this hour, dozens of busses begin to arrive with the legions of musicians and performers disembarking for the warm-ups before they perform. Also, on a normal year, this is one of the final shows of the season and the members are approaching the peak of their abilities, as individuals and in unison with others. So far, I have seen only two live shows, tonight being the corps fourth after three shows in the Boston area. 

Galbreath overlook on the North Country Trail, Clarion, Pennsylvania.

I am peacefully in situ without the smell of diesel and the cacophony of drums and hornlines scattered across the area. The only interruption is the occasional disrespectful motorist on two and four wheels that have loud exhausts. It will be so much more peaceful in 2050 with all electric vehicles. Gone will be the smell and the noise. I have vowed that when the Silver Bullet is done, I will no longer own a spark plug. However, being the hypocrite that I am, I will consume and burn over 150 gallons of fossil fuel in pursuit of this story. From Boston, to home in Vermont for one day and then on the road yesterday to the southern Adirondacks for leg-one to Allentown. 

Denali happily having completed the Adirondack Park.

Here is where the trail crosses the road, as I was in search of Denali, a long-distance hiker that I met last week in Vermont. She is hiking the North Country Trail, the longest National Scenic Trail that links eight northern border states from North Dakota to Vermont. She is hiking the trail from the eastern terminus in Vermont to Cincinnati, OH this season and I was her guide through the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area and the Champlain Valley. Serendipitously, her trek coincided with my plan to visit my sister at her camp just a few miles away from her journey’s end yesterday. She welcomed the hospitality after her weeklong journey through the wilderness of the Adirondack Park. A shower, laundry, dinner, Lawson’s Finest Liquids – The Space In Between IPA, and a comfortable bed replenished her before descending into the Mohawk Valley along the former Black River Canal this morning. I imagined her feet propelling her along the blissfully quiet towpath at the human/mule pace, while I was weaving and dodging, mostly hugging the high side of the left land, at breakneck speed in the Volvo. I will look forward to less curves and hills once I enter the mid-west next week. Meanwhile, I see a bus pulling up. I will keep you posted. 

The Whipple Bridge over the Black River Canal, Boonville, New York.

August 8, 2021, 3:00pm ­– Lucinda, PA

I am nestled into my hammock in the bug-proof sanctuary of my net at the Highland Shelter on the North Country Trail. Today, I traveled four hours from Allentown, PA to Clarion, PA. Trail steward, Dave escorted me into the wilderness here this afternoon after we had a reunion beverage at his home nearby. Dave and I met on a pivotal day two years ago during my DCI tour at a trailhead nearby. While on tour in 2019, I was running each day and chose a trailhead at random by searching on the web and looking for signs. I noticed a sign for the North Country Trail and pulled into the parking area. Dave was gassing up his DR mower to mow the trail. This was the beginning of a two-year adventure discovering and participating in the America’s longest National Scenic Trail. This year while on tour, I plan to hike or bike a short segment of NCT each day while I am in PA, OH and NY on my way to and from Indianapolis, IN. It appears that my blog is becoming a mix of the NCT story as well as the DCI story.

Trail steward, Dave at the Highland Drive Trailhead on the North Country Trail.

It is a contrast in stimuli. Today, I am completely bathing in nature, the only sounds being the flies and other insects outside my sanctuary, and the background ring in my ears. Last night was a different story. It is time to catch up on my Allentown 2021 drum corps story. Well, the busses and trailers arrived and it was like old-home week again. Even though it was Allentown drum corps-lite, as there were only six corps present and fewer fans mingling around, I totally felt the spirit. Things were different. Signs were ever present, asking the fans to maintain 20 feet distance from the corps members and staff, and there were several areas cordoned off with yellow caution tape for the members to warm up. This did not deter me from getting some great personal connections from a slight distance. I masked up and wore my Drum Corps World badge. My vaccination card was also in the lanyard pouch. Watching the Bluecoats hornline do their communal stretching exercise was a real treat. They gathered in a loose circular scrum and as they stretched from side to side, the psychedelic stripes gave a very trippy feal as the lines moire’d. I did not linger in the lot because it was time for drum corps and a special performance of the Hawthorne Cabaleros was not to be missed even though it would have been great to catch the Bluecoats warm up their chops. 

The Boston Crusaders closer.
The Bluecoats prop team at work.

As the Cabaleros started off the evening, I had a flash back in time when my brother and I went to watch them and other great corps in the early 70’s. I am not sure whether they were all-age corps or junior or both, but the Hawthorne Cabaleros were a favorite. It was a perfect night for drum corps in the stadium that I love. And, the fans gave back the love in such a way that brings out the best performances. For some reason, the Allentown performances truly highlight the hard work and dedication that the staff and members have endured working together. Their cohesiveness in drill is ever more evident, and the clarity and power of the sound is notches above. Every corps performed the best of the season, leaps and bounds above when I witnessed them live last week in Boston. Of particular note of the evening is the reaction to the BAC program from the peeps in the stands – totally outrageous mayhem and applause. I am looking forward to a repeat again tomorrow in Akron. I want to give a shout out to Matt, former Cadet and educator for connecting and sharing the history and love of the activity that we share. It is guys and gals like Matt who teach and inspire kids with music. As a substitute teacher, I can attest that Covid-19 has put a serious dent in the music departments’ pool of students. You, me and Matt, need to do everything we can do to close that gap and build back the music programs. I feel that future posts may delve into this further.

The Bluecoats brass on the way to their warm up location in Cedar Creek Park.

One more observation before I put this computer away and go for a hike: it is the dedication of the volunteers and the staff this year during the Covid affected comeback year. I have taken note that the crews are lean, and many are older alumni who did their share for many years ago but are stepping up again. I want to give and extra-special shout out to the young lady with Spirit of Atlanta hooking up the electronics, almost single handedly including pull-starting the generator on the 5 yard line. You go girl!

My home away from home at the Highland Shelter on the North Country Trail.

6:30pm

I have returned from 4.1-mile total, out and back hike on the North Country Trail. Respectable considering it is 85 degrees F. A walk in the forest without a sole around is comforting and needed after the miles traveled in the Volvo the last several days. The Silver Bullet is comfortably parked at the trailhead just a few hundred yards away, so it is an easy walk back to it to get the gear that I forgot, such as my headlamp. I will pick up another Lawson’s Finest Liquid and some Seriously Sharp Cheddar from Cabot Creamery out of the cooler, as well as my rain fly, just in case. I am all alone, so far. This really makes me feel empathetic about Denali and the several nights that she has slept out in the forest over the 15,000 miles of backpacking the national trails. Tomorrow, I hope to publish this segment with photos and head to some more amazing drum corps in Akron, Ohio. It is the home show of the Bluecoats. I feel very fortunate that I am familiar with the entire Beatles anthology, because it is so diverse and richly woven into this year’s repertoire. I will keep you posted as they rip my face off.

The Clarion River.

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