It was still dark when I left home at about 6:30am on Sunday morning to head out for the C&O Canal towpath trail at Brunswick, MD. The morning star and the crescent moon were still visible above the darkened homes, while a faint glow was beginning to show up in the sky just above the horizon.
I was about to get back to doing something that I had not been able to do for over a year. I was heading out to a distant location on the towpath all by myself for a very early morning run. And I had not been to Brunswick specifically for a much longer time. And at this point I was actually missing the experience. The change from my older weekend routine was made so that others could come out with me for walks in the parks on Sunday mornings. It was all for a good cause and a greater good, and something that I was (and still am) happy to be able to do.
It was 29° Fahrenheit when, following my old habits, I drove out to the nearby Starbucks for a breakfast sandwich and coffee. Surprisingly, they still served the spinach and egg white sandwich that had been my staple in the past. I picked up my food and drink and headed back to the car. It was a familiar routine.
In the distance, from the parking lot, one could see the faint outlines of the sunrise. The colors were beginning to change on the horizon. I got into my car and on the road to the highway as the diffused light from the sun began the process of gradually replacing the darkness with light.
The sun was rising behind me as I headed north and west on Interstate 270 towards Frederick. I had this strange feeling of familiarity, of going back to to an old place in my mind, and it felt good. I first stopped at the scenic overlook outside of Frederick to observe the colorful sky over the still shaded valley as the sun attempted to climb above the hills behind me.
Heading west out of Frederick, I continued to enjoy the experience of the sun rising into the heavens – as it lit up the sides of the houses with a golden light, a light that invited people to wake up and pay homage to a new day. I was lost in a pleasantly blissful state of mind when I made a mistake and took a wrong exit from the highway, and got on the road towards Point of Rocks, another location on the towpath. Feeling quite unperturbed by this unexpected turn of events, I exited this new road at a random intersection with country road whose name I did not even attempt to read, and then proceeded west along this local byway. After all, how lost could one get with the Potomac river to one side of me and the original highway that I had been traveling on to the other side. The winding road took me up a hill from which I got an unexpectedly grand view of a broad valley below me partially lit up the sun. This was the valley through which the Potomac flowed. I could see a distant water tower, perhaps at Brunswick, my destination by car; and also a hint of my ultimate destination on the trail, Harpers Ferry, the place where the Shenandoah river joins the Potomac to become a single flow, cutting though and creating a gap in the ridges of the Appalachian mountain range. It was an unexpected treat, but I could not stop to take pictures on the narrow road. Before I knew it the road descended the hill and I had found my way back to the road to Brunswick.
Crossing the railroad tracks at the train station at Brunswick the sun appeared to be struggling to rise above the treeline, but the railroad station was lit up in a weird shade of red.
A coal train stood in the shadows, waiting for clearance to head onward towards Point of Rocks and perhaps the power generating plant at Dickerson.
The view of the Potomac from the parking lot at the boat ramp below the bridge across the river was gorgeous.
I made my way from the parking lot on to the towpath and headed west towards Harper’s Ferry. The cold and brisk air, and the tall misshapen trunks of the leafless trees reaching for the skies all around me, triggered something in the brain. I was once again in my happy place.
Before long I heard the lonesome whistle of a freight train from further out west, probably miles away in the area of Harpers Ferry. I was quite sure it was headed my way. Within a few minutes the twin engines of the freight train appeared through the trees on my right as the sun lit up the trees beyond the railroad track.
The sun began to light up the trail as it rose, while my body began to react to the exercise by building up a sweat in spite of the cold. The numb feeling in the extremities began to vanish.
After about 3 miles, the lock house at Weverton appeared to my right, still partially in the shadows.
As I ran through this section of the trail, I peered through the trees on my left, the side of the trail where the river flowed, searching for the remains of the old town of Weverton that had been washed away by floods in times past. I did not see anything remarkable. I then passed through a section of the trail that was still completely shaded by the tall hills that rose across the river in Virginia. The birds were still waiting for the sunrise. I eventually broke out into an section of the trail lit up by bright sunshine. The bridge for the highway across the Potomac appeared in front of me in the distance through the trees.
Approaching Harper’s Ferry, I noticed that the steeple of St. Peters Catholic church was still in the shadows while other parts of the town were beginning to experience the direct rays of the sun. The Shenandoah river still lay in the shadows of the hills on one side of the town, while the Potomac flowed on its other side in bright sunlight, reflecting the clear blue of the cloudless sky above it.
As I turned to head back towards Brunswick, the sun had ascended high enough into the sky to be able to light up the entire area, including the trail. While it was still cold, and I was occasionally passing people who were all bundled up for protection, I was not feeling any of it. It was time now for me to focus on the “running” aspect of this outing. I needed to try to put my camera away into the backpack and set a more regular pace for the the trip back.
Having not run this kind of distance in quite a while, I was also beginning to feel the effects of the effort on the system. My heart indicated that it was still fine with the pace I was setting (which for some reason was becoming faster and faster according to my GPS device), but the muscles in my legs were beginning to complain. “Dude, we need some more oxygen, and why the heck did you leave the water behind in the car?!” My tracksuit was soaked in sweat. But I was also getting into a rhythm as my feet beat a tattoo on the towpath. I picked up steam heading east. I was in the zone!
I huffed and puffed my way back into Brunswick where the coal trail was still waiting to depart.
The tiredness did not matter at this point as the mind was in a very different place from the sore muscles. I got into my car and was soon heading back home after my Sunday morning visit to the Church of the C&O Canal. Alleluia anybody?!