Walk, Bike, and Run

I felt good this morning. I was able to go for a run after a somewhat long break. The last couple of days have been a little cooler than usual, and the temperature was in the 60s when I started out. I thought that I would feel a little sluggish because of the break. That happened to not be the case. I got my mojo going pretty quickly, probably because of the cool temperatures. The running came easy. I was was able to maintain a decent pace throughout the run, and I actually felt wonderfully refreshed the rest of the morning.

We walked from Weverton to Harpers Ferry last Sunday. We were walking a section of this trail for the first time this year. Because of the location closer to Harper Ferry, there was more activity on the trail than one wishes and hopes for. But it was OK. We still had our extended periods of quiet. Here are some pictures from the walk.

The railroad line runs beside the canal all the way to Harpers Ferry.

This is the Route 340 bridge across the Potomac.

The river is very rough downstream of Harpers Ferry. The water is also very low in summer.

Harpers Ferry is across the river in West Virginia at the meeting point of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The railroad line crosses over the river on the bridges to the right of the picture.

The newer flowers that we saw for the year during this walk include White Campion,

Buttonbush,

Queen Anne Lace (here in its early stage),

flowers that I was unsuccessful in identifying last year too,

Crown Vetch (distinguished from Red Clover because of the nature of the leaves),

Hedge Bindweed,

Wild Sweet William,

Rose of Sharon,

and Asiatic Dayflower.

My bike ride last Wednesday started once again at Pennyfield lock, but this time I headed towards Washington, DC. I rode up to Chain Bridge. It was a typical hot and humid Washington, DC, summer day. I covered more distance this time than I did during my first ride of the year last week. I put in a little more effort than during that first ride – keeping up a decent speed on the trail. There were quite a few people on the trail in spite of the heat. Thankfully, interactions with folks I encountered were generally pleasant, including a conversation with a couple who were in the early stages of an ambitious ride of over 60 miles! I hope they made it.

Here are a couple of pictures from my ride. The first one was taken at Widewater.

You can make out the typical haze of a Washington, DC, summer day in the second picture.

Riding For The First Time This Year

I rode my bicycle last week – for the first time this year. It has been a late start. I was going to start writing about the reason why this has happened, but then realized that I had a late start, for almost the same reasons, last year also. So my mindset in this regard, and the preparation for this first ride, mirror what happened last year. I wrote about it in the first section of this blog.

Truth of the matter is that I had gotten my bike cleaned up for a ride a couple of weeks earlier, but had never gotten around to actually taking the bike to the trail. This year, I am finding that the heat outside is discouraging me more than I expected from my efforts to exercise. I have become better at making excuses. Years are catching up.

There were three distinct stages to the ride last week.

The first stage was getting used to the feeling of being in the saddle once again after a very long time. When I am on a bike, the distances and the scenery pass by more quickly and smoothly than I am used to when on foot. I cannot pay as much attention as I usually do to things beside the trail. Nevertheless, it was difficult to miss the large number of birds at the pond at Riley’s lock. I had to stop to take pictures. There were an unusual number of egrets at this location.

There were also a few Great Blue Herons to be seen all along the trail. We have not seen them for quite a while, and their sight, for some reason, brings a feeling of comfort.

The second part of the ride was when I was transported into a world of happy fantasy, where my mind wandered away into some other space. The act of biking itself became completely instinctive. I even recited a nursery rhyme loudly when I went past a section with a lot of blackbirds. My song for the morning included the words – “I want to fly like an eagle, let my spirit carry me“! And then, there I was, chasing the butterfly, and the bird, and the rabbit, as they showed me the way ahead, each for a short distance – as they fluttered all over the place in the air in front of the moving bike, or skipped along in the grass beside the trail, or hopped for a while on the trail, all while staying in front of me. This was my Alice in Wonderland moment, and there were no magic mushrooms involved.

The last stage of the ride was the slog. This happened primarily because I am not fully in shape. (Thankfully, I had decided to do a shorter ride than I normally would have pushed myself to do.) If I had been in shape, I would have been in the zone by this point. This stage of the ride is usually notable because one can end up speeding without even realizing what is going on. But I had to slow down. I was feeling the effort. There were also a few distractions along the way, including having to deal with the hordes of people who had descended on the trail by this time.

I hope I can keep myself motivated to do more rides this year. The bicycle rack remains mounted on the car.

It Was A Foggy Morning In October

He he he… Perhaps some may mistake the title as a setup for a ghoulish October treat. What strange tale awaits?! Alas, it is only me, your boring neighborhood yakker, with more tales for the bored of mind.

This blog is about yet another bike ride. I thought my biking days for the year had come to an end. But Mother Nature has a mind of her own. She can be idiosyncratic. Thursday turned out to be a warm day, starting at about 60° in the morning. It was an unexpected opportunity for me to go looking for the colors once again, this time on a bike!

But the morning also turned out to be extremely foggy, as you see from my pictures. The fog presented a different kind of opportunity for picture taking, but perhaps not the best for showcasing colors. Nevertheless, it was a somewhat unique combination of conditions that ended up making this one of my slowest solo rides in a very long time. I kept stopping to take pictures! Without further ado, let me show some of them to you.

This is what it looked like as I approached Pennyfield Lock.

This is how it looked as I started the ride.

Here are some pictures taken as I headed south, in the direction of Washington, DC. I left the camera hanging around my neck and was stopping every few minutes to take the pictures. Any runner worth her (or his) salt would have easily covered ground faster than I was doing at this point.








This is where I turned back – Mile 9 on the towpath, the point at which Lock 11 of the canal is located.

These are some of the pictures taken on the way back. The fog was beginning to lift, but it was still cloudy.









The sun finally made its appearance towards the end of the ride shortly after noon. I could glimpse the sunlight as I got close to Pennyfield Lock, at the end of the tunnel of trees that I was riding through.

I enjoyed the ride, but, as you can see, I achieved a mixed level of success in my attempt to find the colors of autumn. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the ride and whatever nature had to offer to me. It was certainly an experience that was unique to this season of Fall.

My Continuing Search for Autumn Colors

The weather turned wet on Sunday after an extended period of sunshine, a period of time that had left me wondering whether the solar panel system on our roof would end up generating a record amount of energy for the month. I now do not think this will happen. There is a concept called the law of averages that will probably even things out over the the month. (Note that the law of averages more of a common sense statement rather than a mathematical statement of probability. But that is a discussion of another day!)

Anyway, it was a sunny morning last Thursday when I did a bike ride, heading towards Washington, DC. The experience of this bike ride left me with the feeling that I could be reaching the tail-end of the riding season – or that my strategy of starting a bike ride early in the morning – in order to ensure that I was back home at a reasonable time – was not going to work for the rest of the year. It was much too cold! It was cold enough that I went off-trail to visit the fully-equipped restroom at Great Falls after about eight miles of riding – to turn on the dryer in the facility in order to warm my hands and get sensation back to my fingers. It being early in the morning, I was riding in the shadows of the woods, and I could not even depend on the touch of the sun to warm me up.

I was still feeling the cold when I got to the end point of the ride, a spot beside the trail between the mile 7 and 8 markers of the towpath, just beyond the footbridge across the canal.In order to keep myself warm (while I refreshed myself with a Clif bar and some water), I parked the bike next to a bench that happened to be in the sun.

It had warmed up nicely by the time I started making my way back to Rileys Lock, to the extent that I encountered many more riders headed the other way during this stretch of pedaling.

As you can see from the pictures above, and also from the pictures below that I took at the start of the ride at Rileys Lock, the leaves on the trees were still generally green that day,but there were also signs that they had begun to drop!

I did not feel too tired at the end of this ride. I am sure the outside temperature had something to do with it.

We went for a walk on the towpath last Sunday starting at Pennyfield Lock and heading north towards Rileys Lock. Because of the threat of rain later in the day hanging over us, we decided to get a very early start. We did not even have breakfast before heading out!

You observe more things around you when walking than when biking. There were the early signs of the coming change to the foliage, and there was at least one point at which we also got a glimpse of how extraordinary the Autumn view can become as the season progresses towards its peak.

In any case, a walk along the canal is beautiful and therapeutic in so many different ways.

Unfortunately, we were also reminded of how busy, and sometimes unpleasant, this section of the trail can get during the weekends, with hordes of inexperienced bikers and walkers taking over the towpath. We had to be on our toes and aware of traffic in both directions while walking. We encountered large groups of people who were unfamiliar with the protocols and courtesies of the trail, people who created a danger to themselves and others. What to do? I made the mistake of trying to let people know in one instance even though I am not good in situations like this.

Riding Into Autumn

I went for a bike ride last Thursday. I rode from Edwards Ferryto Point Of Rocks,and back, a distance of 35 miles. I had started out intending to bike about 30 miles, but the possibility of reaching a concrete destination rather than some arbitrary mile marker on the trail drove me on a little further than I had originally intended.

It was a late decision for me to actually do the ride. I also had to push myself a little bit to overcome the laziness I felt that morning. I have not done that many rides this year anyway, and it would have been easy to call it quits for the year. It was also going to be somewhat cold that morning (about 45° F at the time we woke up) – another reason to not push myself. Besides, my exercise route is, in general, completely destroyed by all of the disruptions taking place – and by my lack of discipline and, once again, laziness. But I willed myself to do what was necessary to get to the trail. I had to put the bike rack back on the car. I had previously taken it off, not anticipating further rides this year.

I felt the cold as soon as I got out of the car and prepared to ride at Edwards Ferry. I had to put on another layer of clothing, on top of my regular half-sleeved jersey, to protect my hands fully. Riding into a cold breeze (caused by my forward motion) was a little uncomfortable, but I got used to it. As I rode, the thought came to me that this could be the last ride of the year. I felt that I should do the ride as if this was going to be my last bike ride – because who knows what awaits me at the end of this riding season. Anything can happen. Maybe it is a good general philosophy – and I have heard it elsewhere – live every day as if it were your last.

I enjoyed the ride to the fullest extent, the impact of the ride on my bottom being cushioned that day by the generous usage of Chamios Butt’r for the first time in many years. (You see, I had thought that regular biking had made my nether region impervious to the effects of chafing from the constant rubbing motion, but had found out during my previous ride, a shorter one than the one I was undertaking that day, that this was not necessarily the case. Previous years of toughness of the skin did not mean a thing!) The cool weather also actually helped make the riding easier.

I did get used to the cool temperatures, and it also warmed up a little bit during the ride – to conditions that would actually be considered ideal for the activity. I did also encounter many other bike riders on the trail.

I am now hopeful that this will not be the last ride!

Pictures of Widewater

This week marked the first time in a long while that I achieved a particular trifecta of outdoor activities. I walked, ran, and biked for exercise on three separate days of the same week. All of this activity happened earlier in the week. I started out with a run last Sunday around our neighborhood. We hiked along the C&O Canal in the area of Widewater and Great Falls the next day. Then it was time for a break because of volunteer activity (which often involves significant physical exertion). Did a neighborhood walk on Wednesday morning, and then a bike ride on Thursday. But then all of this effort towards building up the exercise routine petered out – rather abruptly – and came to an end! An evening of socialization with friends (socially distanced, of course!), followed up by the impact of the remnants of Hurricane Laura passing through our neighborhood today, finally killed all of the momentum that had been building up. Rain showers are expected, on and off, the rest of this morning.

Here are some pictures of the Widewater area from the hike, and from the bike ride. The canal opens up into a nice open space in this section. (This link provides more information about how this area came to be.)

Until next time….

When The Old Becomes New Once Again

Some folks know that I have biked literally a few thousand miles in the last few years. While I have done it as a pastime, the primary driver, the primary motivator if you will, has been the occurrence of certain events, certain planned bike rides with my friends, that I needed to train for. Or it has been a case of where I needed to prove something to myself – like the ability to get back on the bike after a major fall during one of the aforementioned rides. Lacking any such motivating forces this year, it has taken me a long time to get back on my bicycle this year. But it did happen finally in spite of all the regular excuses. And I am hoping that this is not the last time I ride a bike this year.

The process of getting back on the bicycle for the first time each year poses its own challenges. Things that you take for granted as a part of a regular schedule can become challenges once again. Where did I leave my bicycling gear last year? Do I have enough shorts, tops, or even gloves, stored away? Where did I put these things? What happened to my favorite gloves? What are the things that I want to carry during a ride, and how will I carry them – a bottle of water, a Clif bar, my keys, my smart phone, etc.. Do I really need my wallet during the ride? Do I carry stuff in the pockets on the back of my shirt, or in the pockets of my shorts, or in the pockets of my camera bag, during the ride? Will I remember to close the zippers for the pockets of my shorts so that stuff does not fall out at some random place while I am riding?  None of this is a habit any more.

What is the state of the bike after all this time? The tires are flat after many months of sitting in the garage. Will they hold the air in once I pump them up? Where did I leave the bicycle pump? Should I not oil the bicycle chain?  I need to find the instructions for doing that.

Is my bicycle helmet alright? Is it where I think I left it last year? Should I have gotten a new helmet? (I already know the answer to that last question, but I am not good at planning ahead.)

How do I get the bike to the trail? I used to throw it into the back of the Prius in the past (as talked about in a paragraph here), but we have now switched the use of the family cars. Is the old bike rack still functional? What adjustments need to be made to attach it to the back of the Honda Civic? Have I attached the rack securely?  Have I attached the bike to the rack securely? As I drive to the trail head, my eyes are shifting to the rear-view mirror more often than usual, to make sure the bike has not disappeared from view somewhere along the way. How the heck did I have the nerve to drive long distances on the highways with a bike tied to the back of the car when I was young? Was I young and stupid? (Don’t answer that last question!)

And then one arrives at the trail head. You take the bike off the rack and check that everything is in order. There are days in the past when I have ridden off without my helmet or gloves. That did not happen on Thursday at Pennyfield Lock.

And then you are biking. It all feels quite effortless. The bike feels too small. But that is the same way I feel every year when I start biking for the first time. But then you get used to it very quickly. It is all coming back. You ease into the routine. There is no reason to hurry. You can see how the muscles feel after many months of disuse. I have no worries. I have done this so many times that it is all going to come back – the rhythm, the zen of the bicycle trail.

And then I am off, and it is hard to stop. If I do, I will lose the magical feeling. I do not even stop for the flowers by the trail. The air is cool, you encounter the occasional human being. At this point, there are some people who are zipping past me with a sense of purpose. There are others making their way at a more leisurely pace. I know that I will eventually join the first group. That is how my mind works.

After a while, you begin to feel the effort of the biking in the muscles. It is time to slow down, perhaps stop for a drink of water, and/or a pee.

The trail transforms itself in different sections – mud and potholes in the first part (smooth), the roughness and unevenness of the differently sized pebbles on the trail in the second part (bumpy), and, finally, the new crushed gravel for the last section of the ride (cushioned) all the way up to Whites Ferry.  The sounds of the wheels change as the surfaces change.  The rhythm becomes new once again – and then you get used to the new rhythm.

I stopped for the turtle I found on the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It had obviously emerged from the waters of the canal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI did not slow down for the green heron that was flying by me, but the still great blue heron caught my attention.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI stopped and walked back to where it was standing on a branch over the canal. So engrossed was it in looking for fish in the water that it did not move an inch during the whole time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was relaxation time at Whites Ferry before I started biking back to Pennyfield Lock.

The statue of a confederate soldier that used to stand on this pedestal (on private land) at Whites Ferry has been torn down by vandals.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe statue formerly used to stand at the Montgomery County government offices in Rockville. It was donated to the owners of the ferry a few years ago after the political environment in the county shifted. The owners of the ferry did not know what they were getting themselves into. They now want to have nothing to do with the controversy regarding confederate monuments. The even renamed their ferry boat almost immediately.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt used to be called the General Jubal A. EarlyJubal Early was a Confederate General during the civil war.

It was nice to see that the operations at Whites Ferry seemed to be in decent shape despite all of our recent troubles.   The local store at the ferry site looked like it was getting decent foot traffic from the summer visitors who are flocking to the outdoors more than usual during this time of COVID-19. I was completely in the zone by the time I started riding back.  As I expected, I was picking up the pace as I rode.  It seems to be a natural tendency on my part. It was a different state of mind from when I started the ride.  This time, I took a break for a snack and water at Sycamore Landing. I also stopped to take a picture of the flowers I had ignored on the way out. I initially thought these flowers were Dames Rocket, but they have the wrong number of petals. I think these are Wild Sweet William, a kind of phlox.

There was the frog that hopped on to the trail in front of me as I was biking, and then, as I slowed down hoping that it would stop so that I could take its picture, decided that it was going to take a circular route back to the side of the trail that it had come from.  It all happened in an instant.

There were the opportunities for further examination when the butterflies flew past me, and I considered whether to stop and turn my head to see if they had landed somewhere.  The only time I really stopped, the butterfly kept going in the opposite direction that I was biking in, following another bike rider who was headed that way.  It seemed to be able to keep pace with the rider easily.  One other time, the image of a black butterfly with red stripes on both wings imprinted itself in my brain the moment it flew past me, and then the moment was gone.  Someone could tell me that I only imagined that moment, and I would not have anything concrete to offer to counter that assertion.

I got a surprise as I got closer to the end of the ride. I found this snake across the trail.  Although it was much smaller than the version of the snake I had found the previous year on the Capital Crescent Trail, it was not very difficult to recognize the Northern Copperhead, one of only two venomous snakes in Maryland.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe eyes on this snake give me the creeps even now, many days later.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time I was done with the ride, I was back in the swing of things.  My overall confidence level was back to normal.  I stopped the GPS device when I got to the car.  I had done over 32 miles in over three hours.  I loaded my bike on the bike rack once again, and drove home the recuperate and recover.

I hope this is not the last ride this year.

The Wind and the River

The section of the Mount Vernon Trail between Gravelly Point Park and Roosevelt Island runs in-between the Potomac river and the George Washington Parkway, and provides open and changing views of Washington, DC, on the other side of the river. There are many weeping willow trees to be seen in the meadows beside the trail in this section. Even though they look very nice and distinctive, I have not stopped recently to take pictures of these trees. This is probably because I am usually focused on the final destination by the time I get to the section, which may also be because I tend to take long breaks at Gravelly Point park to watch the aircraft taking off and landing at National Airport just before getting to this section.

But this ride was a little different since I was consciously making an effort to take it easy. The wind was also blowing stiffly from across the river and slowing down my progress.

And then I had this photo opportunity at the bridge where the George Washington Parkway and the Mount Vernon trail cross the Boundary Channel. I was compelled to get off the bike to get a picture of the weeping willows as they faced off against the fierce wind coming off the Potomac river.

P9130005.jpg

Some day, I will be in an even more relaxed mood as I ride by this section of the trail, and I will ride down to the bench seen in the picture. I will sit at the bench for a while, have a refreshment or two, and soak in the view of the Potomac river and Washington, DC. And it will be a good day for the soul.

PS. You can see the top of the Navy – Merchant Marine Memorial off to the left of this picture. This memorial is a part of the Lady Bird Johnson Park.

Agkistrodon Contortrix Mokasen

It happened last week as I was biking back from Bethesda on the Capital Crescent Trail.  I had just crossed the trestle bridge over the C&O canal as I descended towards the level of the towpath.

I passed something colorful on the trail.  It was long and had some patterns on it.  I was pretty sure it was a snake.  I got off the bike and pulled out my camera, making sure I had the zoom lens on it.  I confirmed that it was indeed a snake, and it was one that I was seeing for the first time.  That was exciting! The snake was a few feet long, and somewhat “fat” in the middle. It had colorful patterns across its back.  It looked like it had started crossing the trail, but now it lay still as I got closer, clicking away on the camera.  There was nobody else around as I took my pictures.  The reptile did not move.

I managed to get all the pictures I wanted. As I was getting ready to leave, a bicyclist approached, charging down the path towards the location of the snake.  I called out that there was a snake in front of him.  He ignored me completely.  He barely acknowledged me the second time I called out – as he sped past, not even bothering to look at what I was pointing to.  He was focused on a rider who was biking in the opposite direction since my bike was partially blocking the trail further downhill.  He did not really care about the snake.  I think he avoided it just because he was trying to avoid me. The biker going the other way also went by without spotting the snake.  Something that had grabbed my interest was of no significance to them.  We were traveling along the trail with completely different mindsets!

This is what I had spotted.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(The picture above has been cropped.  I did not dare get too close to the snake!)

Soon after all this activity, and perhaps because of it, the snake turned around retreated back to where it had come from.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince this was a snake I was unfamiliar with,  I was eager to upload the pictures to my computer when I got home to take a look at them on a bigger screen.  Some research followed on the Internet. It was leading me to a conclusion (somewhat exciting to me!) that I had seen a somewhat unique reptile.  But I needed confirmation for my finding.  That confirmation came in the form of an e-mail a few days later, including the following information.Identification of snake(The links in the image above are this and this.)

I had indeed had a close encounter with a Northern Copperhead snake, one of only two venomous snakes present in Maryland. (The other one is called a Timber Rattlesnake.)

As with a lot of people, for some reason or another, I do have an inbuilt fear of snakes.  I would like to believe that over the years this fear has become somewhat more rational.  The fear still does exist, but my reaction is not of instant panic.  I try to keep a healthy distance from a snake.  In this case, my caution was justified!

In any case, after events like the one above, one becomes more alert in the woods than usual.  It does not help when there are signs that say that venomous snakes have been seen recently, which was the case when we hiked Sugarloaf Mountain last weekend.  We did not see any snakes during that hike.