Trainspotting at Point of Rocks, Maryland (12/12/2004)

I noted last week that I had written an email a long time ago about an encounter with a bird at the Point of Rocks parking lot many years ago. I proceeded to search for the email in my records, discovered it, and posted a blog – only to realize that I had already posted the same email in my blogs in 2015. I did a quick take-down of the duplicate blog! Some might have already noticed a blog that disappeared after having been announced. I messed up!

But, during that search for the forgotten email, I also discovered another email that covered my first ever visit to Point of Rocks. I thought it worthwhile to post this email. My perspectives of distances and the nature of the challenges along the canal and trail have changed with time.
*******************************

It was still somewhat dark outside when I left home shortly after 7am in the morning. I have a long way to drive today. I am extending my coverage of the C&O canal by going all the way up to Point of Rocks at Mile 48.2 on the canal. I am leaving the safe confines of Montgomery County and driving up into Frederick County, all the way to the end of Route 28. I am truly venturing into the boondocks and lands unknown. I drive past the fat happy cows (are they Holsteins?) and the horses poking their heads through the picket fences. I drive past the house surrounded by bird feeders at the corner of routes 28 and 85. That is some sight – seemingly broken bird-feeders all over the property! The house looks old and dilapidated.

It is cloudy as I drive. The weather looks gloomy, and not very inviting for a run along the canal. As I approach Point of Rocks after the long drive, I even begin to lose the radio channel that I am listening too. The program today is about civil rights goings-on in the United States in the 50s and 60s. They are playing songs about the company bosses and their union busting activities. The company owners actually resorted to murder in many cases. We are all so greedy in this United States of America. We do not want to pay for the true value of things. Do we really care for the working man? The talk turns to Israel and Palestine, and the recent report of the sufferings of the Palestinians as they try to move around. They are treated as less than human beings at the checkpoints. Even people who are sick, and women who are about to give birth and need to get to a hospital, are not allowed through. People are assaulted. These circumstances cause people to lose their humanity. The DJ came up with a great saying from Martin Luther King about the worst thing that can happen to people – that they become so apathetic and do not do anything to help others. This is what I found when I did a search on quotes by MLK – “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. Anyway…

Point of Rocks is a railroad junction on the old B&O railroad on the way from Washington DC to Pittsburgh and points north. The railroad crosses the Potomac at Harpers Ferry around mile 60 (all distances from now on are distances on the C&O canal!). There is also a railroad line here that branches off from the main line to Frederick City and Baltimore. I drive into “Smalltown USA”, with its old small houses, some of them abandoned and falling apart. Looks like things have not changed there for while. Point of Rocks has a small, very nicely maintained, commuter train station with lot of parking. Most of the railroad traffic here is probably freight trains, but there are also the commuter trains that stop here. I have to drive across the railroad tracks close to the train station, and over a wooden bridge crossing the canal itself, to get to the parking spaces for the towpath. The parking lot is right under the bridge that takes highway 15 over the Potomac river into Virginia. I hesitate to park here because the parking lot is close to the river level and seems to slope towards the swiftly flowing river. The lot is also quite empty. I do not want to come back and find the car in the middle of the river! I drive back to a spot further up the road where I had seen a couple of vehicles parked on the side of the road and pull up next to them hoping for the best. Things worked out OK except for the fact that I had trouble pulling the car out when I tried to leave – the wheels kept spinning in the mud. Next time I will be more careful. The hood of my car is now covered with brown spots of mud.

The run itself was uneventful. I had to wear my track suit because it was quite chilly. Because the trees were bare, I could see the wide river on the one side and the railroad tracks parallel to the canal on the other side. The tracks paralleled the canal until mile 45, but I did not see any trains. (There is an interesting story about the battle between the B&O Railroad and the C&O canal for the rights to the property next to the river in some places, especially where the cliffs came right up to the river near Point of Rocks.) The trail was quite muddy due to the rain the day before, and in spots I had no choice but to charge through the mud. I could not help noticing that the area was so flat that it was actually hard to find a private place to pee if one needed to. At this point in this tale, I will digress into a lesson on peeing in the woods on a cold winter day. (Those sensitive souls who are offended by this kind of stuff can skip the next paragraph.)

There are some important things to remember about peeing in the wild. The first requirement is that of finding a spot where you will not be observed and you are not exposed. In these parts of the trail, it might just be a matter of looking left and right, since there are not too many people around. Find a protected spot where you do not expose too many bodily parts. This is most important for women, because on a cold day such as today, your butt can freeze. (You do remember that I had a potential story about “Turning the other cheek” last spring, don’t you?). The next few points are for the males. It is important to make sure you know which way the wind is blowing. You do not want to be dancing around trying to avoid the fountain. Third point – make sure your can feel your fingers. If not, you do not necessarily know which way you are pointed. Lastly, make sure that you really are done before you begin reinsertion. On a cold day, far away from home, you do not want any disasters of the wet kind. OK! Lesson is over. Back to our story…

I made my way past two camping grounds, Calico Rocks, and Indian Wells, as I followed the towpath south to the Monocacy River at mile 42.2. It was quite chilly and windy as I rested on the aqueduct. All of a sudden, I could also hear the sounds of the open, unimpeded by noise generated by the constant movement of my feet on the trail. There was this bird that was crying out from the trees in some kind of a pattern. Since I am clueless about bird-sounds, I imagined some mighty bird like an eagle or a hawk calling out. I could hear the rumble of traffic carried long distances because of the absence of foliage on the trees – you really cannot get completely away from civilization. There was somebody at the boat jetty banging on some metal part, disturbing the quiet. Off in the distance, the towers of the PEPCO power plant stood out over the waters.

I made my way back to Point of Rocks without incident. It suddenly felt colder and windier as I started my way back. I had to wear my gloves. Encountered only three or four people on the trail. Went past the overturned port-a-john on the trail at Noland Ferry. (Trust me, you really do not want to know any more about that!) Made it back to the car in good spirits. As I was sitting in the car relaxing with my donut and a cup of coffee, I heard the sound of a train headed into Point of Rocks. It was a train consisting for Amtrak Superliners pulled by an GE AMD-103. Soon after, I heard, and spied, a freight train rolling in. I quickly grabbed my camera, and rushed out of the car (leaving the radio on and the key in the ignition). I sprinted across the bridge over the canal with new-found energy in time to sight the train approaching from my left. The engineer blew the horn loudly, partly because the road crossed the tracks at this point, and probably partly because he sighted this madman rushing towards the tracks! Do not fear! I stopped well short of the tracks, to take my picture and to feel the thunder of the freight train drawn by the three powerful locomotives rolling by. Awesome!

As I was leaving Point of Rocks, I stopped by the train station to take a picture and was pleasantly surprised to see another freight train go by headed in the direction of Frederick and Baltimore. Point of Rocks is really a good place for trainspotting.

Got home by about noon. I have to cook the chicken for the next week. Teresa has a meeting with her small-faith group. I have to go for my music practice today evening.

Life goes on. Catch you later.
********************

I had an analog camera is those days. Here are scans of a few of the pictures I took that day. The water level in the Potomac, under the Route 15 bridge, looks somewhat high in the picture below.This is a picture of one of my old cars, the Ford Contour, parked in the old parking area that used to exist under the bridge in those days.You can see the tail-end of a freight train passing Point of Rocks station on its way towards Baltimore in the picture below.Just another note that the little house at the corner of Routes 15 and 85 where the bird houses were being sold is long gone. The space has been taken over by the forces of nature!

I used to eat donuts for breakfast regularly when going for my Sunday runs. That has stopped – for reasons that do not need to be expounded upon.

The PEPCO power plant mentioned above is now owned by a company called NRG Energy.

Published by

K. Joseph

I am an engineer by training. I am exploring new horizons after having spent many years in the Industry. My interests are varied and I tend to write about what is on my mind at any particular moment in time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s