The Alligator And The Turtle

It was a very curious scene indeed!  We came upon it during our vacation down south in  the South Carolina Lowcountry, on Hilton Head Island, along the eastern shore of the US.  It is an area of great natural beauty, of woods and waterways, and of human habitation that tends to blend in with the surroundings.  The thick vegetation, and especially the old oak trees with the Spanish moss hanging off the branches, gives the place a unique look and atmosphere (especially in the fog).  Birds of different kinds, including egrets, herons and cormorants, abound. The squirrels are constantly creating a racket and startle you as you walk through the neighborhood.  It is a good place for a vacation.

Soon after our arrival we learned that alligators were quite common in this area.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving come from parts of the country where alligators are not a common sight, the opportunity to see a real live gator in its natural surroundings was something special to be hoped for and anticipated.  During the early days of our stay we did see a few of them with their heads and noses sticking out the water, but it was only towards the end of the trip that we got a good view of them out of the water.  (There are a couple of related pictures in my earlier blog about our vacation.)    But the big surprise was on the day before we departed the island, when we came upon this large alligator sunning itself on the shore on the other side of a canal.  Perhaps you did not notice it or pay attention to it when you chanced upon the relevant picture in my blog about our vacation, but there was a big turtle sitting next to the head of the alligator.

You have to picture the scene, where these two very dissimilar creatures are next to each other, and nothing is moving except for perhaps the head of the turtle that is turned to look at the disturbance that we are causing from the far shoreline.  The gator can perhaps see what is going on without moving its head.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is this huge gator that in my imagination (and to my limited knowledge) looks like an old male.  Here is this big turtle (which may be a yellow bellied slider) sitting next to it. Nobody is moving.  It is quiet. It is a very peaceful scene.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe human imagination wants to believe that these two creatures are two old and wise friends who are simply hanging out with each other.  But alligators can also eat turtles.  They are capable of cracking the turtle shells.

The experts tell us that these creatures are not capable of thinking the way human beings do.  I am sure people who study these particular creatures more closely have a logical explanation for the scene that was playing out before our eyes.  Indeed, for all we know, such a scene may not be uncommon to the locals. But for those of us who are less informed, we will have to use our imagination. The turtle and the gator must simply be good old friends. It is really a moment of magic that defies our natural instinct based on what we have been taught all our lives. Indeed, for some us, the opportunity to simply see an alligator in its natural surroundings is in itself a magical moment!

Weekly Photo Challenge: H2O

This looks like a very broad category to me.  I have so many pictures that cover so many different aspects of H2O!  I remember the early morning scenes with the mist and fog over the river, reflections of the fall colors over the waters of a lake, the beauty of snow and ice of winter, the sea at sunrise or sunrise from a beach, the storms with the heavy rains and even flooding, and even the pollution of the H2O caused by humanity.  And that is not a complete list….

But this time I am going back to my recently completed bike ride from Pittsburgh, PA, to Whites Ferry in Maryland to address the theme.  It seems to be a good fit, because the ride, for the most part, took place beside rivers.  ( Read on and you might also get a short lesson in geography!) The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail-trail that we followed from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD, essentially followed some of the tributaries of the Ohio River (which itself is a tributary of the great Mississippi that empties itself in the Gulf of Mexico).  From Cumberland onward, we rode the C&O Canal towpath which runs along the Potomac river. This river runs east, the opposite direction to the rivers we rode beside up to that point, and it empties into the Chesapeake Bay and the mighty Atlantic Ocean.  The Potomac and the Ohio and its tributaries flow into two distinct watershed areas on the two different sides of the Eastern Continental Divide and the Appalachian mountains that we rode over.

The Ohio river forms in Pittsburgh at the confluence of Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers and flows in a northwesterly direction out of the city.  We began our trip by riding upstream along the Monongahela river  (in a southeasterly direction).  We crossed the river over a former railroad bridge at one point.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We got to McKeesport, PA, where the Youghiogheny River joins the Monongahela.  From then onward it was further upstream and continuing southeasterly along the Yough. The skies were clear on the first day. We crossed under the Banning Railroad bridge.  (I found a video of this bridge in use in 2011.  I don’t know if it is still in use.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The river was extremely muddy on the morning of the second day of the ride due to overnight rain.  You can see the mud from the abandoned railroad bridge below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sediment had cleared up by the time we crossed the Ohiopyle low bridge over the Yough into Ohiopyle, PA.

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The Casselman River meets up with the Yough at Confluence, PA, and from that point on the GAP followed the Casselman on its way upstream. It was misty early in the day when we left Confluence.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This is view of the town of Confluence from a bridge over the Casselman.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The skies had cleared by the time we got to Rockwood, PA.  The Casselman river looked more like a gentle stream at this point.

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We crossed the Eastern Continental Divide on the GAP and descended into Cumberland, MD. The rest of the ride up to the final destination of Whites Ferry followed the C&O canal along the Potomac river. This was what the canal looked like in the area near Lock 75.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a section near Hancock.

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The Paw Paw tunnel burrowed under a mountain to allow the canal a more direct route  that avoided the bends in a meandering section of the river.

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We saw many aqueducts over the canal along the way. The remains of the Licking Creek Aqueduct are shown below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The river itself was quite peaceful for the most part.

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We also saw a couple of dams that were used to supply water from the river to the canal.

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And there there were some other H2O related experiences during the trip that I remember. This picture was taken on a pedestrian bridge over the Casselman river in Confluence early in the morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The following picture is of the house at Fallingwater built by Frank Lloyd Wright.  The house is built over a waterfall.  You can take steps down from your living room directly to the water that flowed under the house.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe red waterfall shown below is the acid mine drainage (AMD) from a former mine along a section of the GAP closer to Pittsburgh.  We did (and continue to do) a lot of damage to our environment!

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We experienced H2O everywhere during our trip (and hopefully H2O is also seen in all of the pictures I selected for this blog!).  And I should not fail to mention that without large quantities of H2O to drink, we would not have survived the long hot days during our bicycle ride!

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Edge

My response to this week’s theme is perhaps not completely coherent.  It is a set of pictures with a few different interpretations of the topic.

I was originally on the edge about submitting the following picture, but what the heck!

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This person in the following picture is sitting on the edge of a cliff,img_3074 while these folks are peering over the edge of a cliff overlooking the Kinkon Waterfalls in Guinea, West Africa.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the edge of Dam 5 on the Potomac river.

P7151265.jpgThe following pictures are interpretations of the theme that may be considered a stretch, but I am presenting them anyway.  In the following picture you see the clean edges of the Washington Monument and the tents on the DC mall on a July 4th evening.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis next picture, taken at San Franciscio airport, shows an aircraft about to take off on what seems to be an edge between the water and the sky.  The picture is, of course, an illusion because of the angle at which it was taken.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe last picture is of a cliff at the Butt of Lewis on the northern tip of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland.  At this point one is facing the expanse of the northern Atlantic Ocean. This is the edge of land and sea.

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The 2016 KVIITM75 Bike ride – Day 6, The Final Push

We made it!  I had to take some time away from the blog for the celebrations, to take care of my friends, and to also try to catch up on my sleep, but I am back to report that  WE MADE IT!

The last day of the ride was from Shepherdstown, WV, to Whites Ferry on the towpath in Maryland.  This was deliberately scheduled to be short ride, and we did in fact finally arrive at our rendezvous point with the support vehicle a little early.  It was a relaxed ride.

We left our hotel at at around 9:00 am.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were back on the trail in short order and proceeded without delay towards Harpers Ferry.  By this time we had established good riding patterns on the trail that all of us were comfortable with, a process that seemed to happen somewhat organically. No words needed to be spoken.  There was no competition to be up in front (or for that matter behind), and it did not matter who your riding companion was.  Conversations could involve all four people, three, two, or even one if you were happier riding in silence at that point, comfortably lost in your thoughts.

We stopped at the remains of Dam 3 just before we reached Harpers Ferry and hopped over exposed rocks in the river bed to chill out in the midst of the flowing water.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe parked our bikes on the towpath across the river from Harpers Ferry and crossed the bridge into town.  A significant amount of time had been allocated to this destination because there was a lot to see.

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We went up to Jefferson Rock on the hill behind the church. The second picture below shows the Potomac flowing south beyond the point where it meets  up with the Shenandoah river.

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We went back into town to get something for lunch.  The second picture shows the railroad bridges across the Potomac between West Virginia and Maryland. Most of the rail traffic is freight, but there is also a train station in town used by commuter trains and the Amtrak Capital Limited running between Chicago and Washington, DC.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a lunch that resulted in more calories being consumed than had been expended thus far on the trail, we proceeded back to the towpath and resumed the ride.  In spite of some lethargy because of the lunch,  we were able to resume a good pace once we got back into the rhythm.  It seemed that by this time we had become comfortable with the riding experience.  There were less “butt breaks”.

Our next stop was the Catoctin Aqueduct.  This aqueduct actually collapsed completely in the 1970s (because of the design of the center arch) and was reconstructed in 2011.

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We took a short break at Point of Rocks.  We were making good time toward the final destination while riding at an easy pace.

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The next somewhat big stop was the Monocacy Aqueduct, the longest aqueduct on the C&O Canal.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile taking the previous picture we heard some loud conversation taking place on the aqueduct.  We looked up to see that some urgent matter being taken care of over the phone!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then it was time to leave for our final destination.  As the entered the last couple of miles of the ride the energy level actually shot up and there was some sprinting going on.  And then we were done!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had to hang out at Whites Ferry for a little while because of a foul-up with the support van.  We watched the ferry in action, and then spent the time chilling out.  Ice cream was consumed in celebration.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe finally got home about an hour later than expected.  It was time to unwind.  Later in the evening we received some unexpected awards. (Thank you, Mrs. R!)

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was back to more conversation and singing Hindi songs before we finally went to bed, later in the evening than we ever did during the ride itself!

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This was an awesome experience.  I am still getting my head around the fact that we got on bikes in Pittsburgh, PA, and finally got off the bikes in the Washington, DC, area, about 300 miles later, after six days of biking, after experiencing America in a way that one would never have been able to if we had, as is customary, gotten in a car and driven the same distance (perhaps in three or four short hours).  There is so much of this land to see and experience outside of the hustle and bustle of the mainstream.  Its beauty, its history, its small towns with their changing ways of life and the struggles for survival, its peoples, all of these are worth knowing and understanding better.  Moreover, it is a lot of fun! As my friend Shankar would say, this is something everybody should try to do at least once in their lifetime!

 

The 2016 KVIITM75 Bike Ride – Day 5

At the end of our fifth day of riding there is a sense of being tired, but also the sense that something unique and remarkable in our experiences is coming to an end.  I am looking forward to getting home, but at the same time I could do this forever!

Our ride from Hancock, MD, to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, was somewhat more mellow than the previous two days’ rides. It might have been due to the fact that we covered a shorter distance, and it was over flatter territory.  The experience on the towpath is very different from that on the more challenging and exciting Great Allegheny Passage.  We started the ride on a cloudy morning after a nice breakfast at the Riverrun Bed and Breakfast place that we had stayed at overnight.  Yes, there was stretching taking place before riding, and icing of sore muscles at the end of the day.

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It had rained during the night, but it was not expected to rain while we were riding. The first part of the ride was on the smoother Western Maryland Rail Trail that parallels the towpath.

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We stopped at McCoys Ferry for a break.P9012346.jpgThen it was downhill at Four Locks.

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We rode by a slackwater area where the canal disappears for a short while. The boats used to be pulled along the river in this section.

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Dam 5, one of the dams used to route water from the river to the canal.P9012364.jpgThen it was back on the towpath.

P9012374.jpgLunchtime was in Williamsport, MD.  We crossed over the Conococheague Aqueduct to take the road into town.

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We took a short break at Fallingwater.

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We had to take shelter during a short rainstorm.

P9012386.jpgThere was another short stop at McMahon’s mill.

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We encountered this turtle who must have been surprised by all the attention.

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A stop at Dam 4 on the river.

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We had to climb from the towpath to the Rumsey bridge to get over to Shepherdstown where we had dinner and then proceeded to our hotel for the night.

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Tomorrow is our final day of riding.

The 2016 KVIITM75 Bike Ride – Day 4

We are now in Hancock, MD, after about 60 miles of riding along the C&O Canal on its towpath. I think my fellow riders would agree that this was the toughest day of riding thus far due to the combination of the rough surface of the trail, and the fact that this was the second day of riding such a long distance.  But we made it!

We left Cumberland after taking in the sights at the start of the C&O Canal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe started seeing the locks and lock houses for the first time once we started riding.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We stopped for a snack in Oldtown, MD.  This was the only restaurant.  It was actually located in the schoolhouse.  We went in in spite of, or perhaps because of, the sign.  The folks were very sweet.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was time for a stop and dip at the Town Creek Aqueduct.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe arrived at the 3118 foot Paw Paw tunnel.  It was an engineering marvel at the time it was completed in 1850.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe saw this amusing numbering for the locks.  They apparently miscounted when they started numbering from each direction.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was time for a dip in the river and lunch.  Nobody loves the water as much as Koushik.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made another stop at Fifteen Mile Creek.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were exhausted by the time we got into Hancock.  We were ready to crash out after dinner at Buddy Lou’s Eats, Drinks, and Antiques. We returned to our room for icing of sore muscles, liquid refreshments and entertainment.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then it was time to fall into a deep slumber.

The 2016 KVIITM75 Bike Ride – Day 3

This was a day of amazing experiences, riding about 60 miles from Confluence in Pennsylvania to Cumberland in Maryland.

It was still misty and cloudy outside when we started our ride from Parker House after breakfast at Sisters’ Cafe in what remains of downtown Confluence.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The mist cleared and we were soon riding under clear skies.  This is a view of the Casselman river from one of the bridges we crossed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This is the Pinkerton tunnel, opened only last year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stopped in Rockwood, PA for ice cream.  The surroundings are beginning to change. We had been riding in the woods beside rivers.  From now on it was farm land.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a random shot of a touch me not flower.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We met some interesting people. Jim, in his 60s, was into extreme outdoor exercise.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is what you do to take care of the pain in the butt.  We took a few “butt breaks”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have left the woods and are the riding past farms and fields at this point.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Crossing the Salisbury viaduct with the Casselman river below us.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALunch place in Meyersdale, PA.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese two gentlemen are friends from back in the Vietnam war days in the army.  They have amazing stories.  They do a lot of riding all over the world.  Really remarkable ordinary folks!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACrossing another interesting viaduct.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACalf with an interesting face.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMore rest stops (butt breaks) before continuing the ride.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Eastern Continental Divide!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are about to enter the 3300 foot long Savage Tunnel that opened in 2004.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAView on the other side of the tunnel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then we were crossing the Mason Dixon line into Maryland.  It was all downhill (in a good way!) from then on.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went through a few tunnels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter Frostburg, MD, we continued careening down the hill beside railroad tracks. There is usually a tourist train that runs between Cumberland and Frostburg during the summer, but the line looked like it was in a state of disuse.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then we were in Cumberland at the start (end?) of the Great Allegheny Passage!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe following picture was contributed by Ramgopal from his camera since I was not carrying mine.  We ended to evening with dinner at the Baltimore Street Grill.  It was Koushik’s birthday present to Shankar.

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And now it is onward to the C&O canal towpath!