The practice rides for the Pittsburgh to DC biking event continue. Since it could be quite hot at the time of the ride at the end of August, I thought it appropriate to not try to go out of my way to avoid the heat while training. We were notified of a heat advisory by the National Weather Service last Thursday, with predicted heat index values between 100 and 105 degrees. Since there was work being done in the house in the morning I could only get on the trail around 11:00AM. This was perfect for training! This being the first time I was subjecting myself to such conditions, I decided to be more cautious than usual, carrying extra water, and splitting the ride into two parts, with the ability to shorten the ride easily if I wanted to.
It was not too bad riding under the trees, but the heat did take its toll on me over the long run, and I was struggling towards the end. Even though I was hydrated and had eaten enough, I was tired and dragging. I was glad that I had decided to shorten the ride. The ride did have its interesting moments. I encountered some suicidal Canada geese parked right across the trail who refused to get out the way of the speeding bike. They just stood and stared. I am actually scared of these birds when they are with their young ones, as was the case here. They hiss and chase after you. Fortunately, no goosicide ensued. Then there was the squirrel that decided to take off across the trail as the bike was approaching, misjudged the speed of the vehicle, and unexpectedly made contact with the bike. It was fortunate for all involved that it did not get caught in the spokes. The crazy animal continued its mad dash across the trail. I did not stop to see if it was hurt. I saw an unexpectedly large number of great blue heron in the sections of the canal that were watered. I suspect that they were fishing. I could actually see reasonably sized fish swimming in the waters when I stopped to have a snack.
Friday promised to be less humid and I set out very early in the morning to do a complete ride starting at Williamsport, MD, biking past Hancock, MD. I was going out of my way to ride a new section of the trail. I had covered these sections of the trail on foot previously, but that was a very long time ago.
I had been hesitating to start rides far away from home for a while because I do not have a good bike rack for transporting the bike on the back of the car. The bike rack I am using is very old, designed well before the Prius with its broad spoiler came into existence. (Even today the options for getting a newer and more suitable bike rack that is capable of transporting the woman’s bike (that is another story) on the Prius are limited.) I finally ended up using the simplest solution, something that I should have thought of in the first place, which was to fold the back seats of the car and push the bike all the way into it from the back. This is possible because the Prius is a hatchback with a wide rear opening. The new strategy allowed me to drive further out from home, and on the highway, without having to worry about something untoward happening with the bike and/or the car during transportation. I will have to deal with the dust from the trail that collects in the vehicle later.
It felt especially thrilling to set out out this part of the trail on a still cool morning, remembering how it used to feel in times past, but this time making much better speed and covering more distance than I used to in the past.
In no time I had reached Dam 5 on the Potomac river. This is the point at which the canal ended for a short distance before starting up once again further northwest. Canal boats used to be pulled along the side of the river in this section.
Beyond that I passed McCoy’s Ferry and then Big Pool. Soon after I got to the spot where I could have taken an alternate route using the smoother WMRT that parallels the C&O canal for the next twenty miles or so. Instead, I stayed on the towpath thinking that the ride had not been too bad until that point. But it was about to get worse! A few miles out I came to Little Pool and a section of the towpath where they had just laid a thick layer of crushed stone on the trail. Unfortunately, the stone was new and had not been compressed enough to set into place. Previous riders had not yet created a track clear of loose stones. The ride became much rougher and uncomfortable.
As the trail passed the town of Hancock, I transferred to the WMRT for the rest of the ride. I rode the smooth asphalt into a mountainous section of the trail, passing though the Roundtop State Park. Looking down the hill through the vegetation, I could sometimes see the the towpath running beside the Potomac well below me. The trail itself ran through some very beautiful surroundings. It all felt awesome, but I was missing some of the sights on the towpath like the Round Top Cement mill because the WMRT ran above the ruins.
I turned back after riding for a little while longer, and after having lunch. This time I stayed on the WMRT till its very beginning before shifting back to the towpath. Got back to the start of the ride in good shape.