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 an 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.

 

A Mysterious Picture Beside The Trail

I found this framed picture one day beside the trail.  How I happened to come upon the picture that was somewhat hidden in the bushes beside the trail while I was riding a bicycle I do not remember anymore.  In spite of the fact that I tend to ride long distances without stopping, I was drawn to this precise spot for some reason or the other.  What are the chances?

How the picture got there, I do not know.  It did appear to have been positioned carefully, not simply thrown into the bushes. Could it have been placed there in memory of somebody who had just died, somebody who had liked to spend time on the trail?  Was this a picture taken in the person’s younger days, or was this the way he looked before he died?  Was the person even dead?  Was he a kind man? Was this person originally from India? What were the circumstances that brought him here?  Where did he call home?

I will probably never learn the story behind this picture I found beside the trail.P7310070.jpg

Ultimately, everybody has their own story to tell, good and bad, happy and sad. I am sure each story is worth the knowing,  whether it is positive or negative.  This is perhaps one of the characteristics of being human, the ability to have, to remember, and to tell, a life story.  And we also have an capability to try to learn from each other’s stories – if we choose to do so.

Whenever people meet for the first time, whether it is in social or purely transactional circumstances, it is always an intersection of all of the life experiences of the individuals involved at a single point in time and, in many cases, space. Does an opportunity await to learn something, or do we simply make assumptions and judgements about all it is that brings the other person to this same time and space as you?  In some situations we may have no choice but to make assumptions and be judgemental, but could we also end up being wrong if we did so?  Do we have the confidence to be more open and vulnerable in order to learn the real reality?

The Morning of the Black Rat Snakes

I have been seeing black rat snakes more regularly on the C&O canal towpath ever since I started bicycling there – which is only more recently.  I think I see more snakes when biking just because I cover a lot more distance on the trail than when on foot.  The black rat snake is actually a very common denizen of the woods in these parts.  They are easily recognizable from the color and the white patch underneath.  They can grow quite long.  They are supposed to be quite harmless but I have not tried to find out if this is true!  They get their name because they eat rats and other small creatures.

I had seen only one black rat snake on the trail this year until yesterday, which is somewhat unusual for a biking season.  But that changed yesterday.  There was something about the morning that seemed to bring them out into the open in larger numbers.

I am usually on the lookout for anything black that lies across the trail when I ride.  Many are the times that I have been fooled into thinking that a fallen branch from a tree lying across the trail looked like a snake!  And when you are on a bicycle, the distance between you and the “snake” tends to vanish very quickly. You do not want to ride over the snake.

But I did see a real snake a few miles into the ride yesterday.  At first I could not make out which direction is was headed in.  A closer look revealed that it was beginning to cross the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I think I disturbed it enough that it might have changed its mind about crossing the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI did not have time to take a picture the second time I ran across a snake.  There were two old ladies approaching from the other direction on their bikes, and the black snake was in the middle of the trail.  I stopped and noted that there was a snake in front of them.  They had not noticed it, and they did not understand me the first time I pointed out the snake.  Luckily, they grasped what I was saying in time to avoid riding over the reptile.  I think it was sufficiently disturbed by the traffic all around it.   “You scared the darned thing”, I said to the women as they rode off behind me.  Not very polite…  (In any case, I crossed paths with the women once again on my way back and we exchanged pleasantries.  No issues…)

As if these encounters were not enough, I saw yet another black rat snake by the side of the trail further along in the ride!  This time I stopped for pictures.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn all cases yesterday, the snakes actually stayed quite still while I approached them on the bike, and while I was scrambling around with my camera.  This was in contrast with what happened the one time I saw one of these snakes earlier this year, when it was making haste across the trail to slither away into the grass.

I did not not see any more snakes on the way back from Whites Ferry, which was my destination for the morning.

This is also the week that I am trying to jump start my running routine once again in order to get my regular exercise.  This is the first time after the Pittsburgh to Cumberland bike ride.  The once-a-week bike rides that I have been up to recently have not been doing too much for me.  I either need to bike more or add something different into the mix.

I am learning a few more things about the body in the quest to adapt my exercise routines.  The last time I shifted from biking to running (after my bike ride in 2016), I felt so much discomfort that I thought I was having an episode similar to the ones I had had in 2008 that led to the discovery of CAD.  This year, for the first time, I had a wristwatch that kept a track of the heartbeat while running.  It turned out that my heartbeat went up quite significantly the moment I started jogging, and it went up to a rate much higher than what it is when I am biking.  Pushing the muscles in any part of the body, even the heart, out of its usual comfort zone for the first time in a while is bound to create a reaction of some kind.  Best not to overdo it.  I expect that this discomfort will go away if I stick to the running routine.  In fact, I did not feel it once I had warmed up.  I also found myself quite rusty with regards to the running routine itself, tripping over the roots of trees that lie across the trail in the woods much more frequently than I am used to doing.  It is easy to lose touch with things.