I saw all of the three different kinds of herons that reside on the C&O canal during my bike ride on Friday. This may have been the first time this has happened during the many years I have frequented the towpath.
My training for the bike ride taking place in July is still lacking, but I have gotten at least a few long rides under my belt by now. The problem is with the distractions that seem to come up with maddening regularity, distractions which prevent me from getting an early enough start in the morning on the towpath. Once delayed, it is easy to find excuses for not going out later in the morning.
But if I manage to get out on time, I am easily drawn to the wonder and the simplicity of the experience. The mind relaxes and wanders, and the worries tend to drift away – at least for the short while.
I am going to try to get out tomorrow morning. The weekend has been a lazy one!
Exploring the towpath beside the C&O canal does have its seasonal challenges. Most of it is directly due to the nature of the changing weather. And then there are the things that can catch a first time visitor by surprise.
This is the time of year for the young Canada geese that were born in the Spring to starting exploring the space around them. They go about this activity under the watchful eye of the parent geese. This happens to be a dangerous time for both the family of geese and for passersby on the trail.
I really do not have a good strategy for dealing with a protective parent goose that stands its ground on the trail, blocking your way, staring at you, while its little ones wander around. You hope that the parent will gather the little ones and move off to one side as you approach. The adult goose will most likely stand its ground instead. Very frequently, the goose will hiss at you out of its open beak and take a step towards you. You have to be patient and pass by carefully.
But when you are on a bicycle and moving at the decent speed, things can happen much too quickly.
I encountered families of geese several times during my first bike ride of the season. The first time it happened, the parent goose refused to move as I biked by. The encounter seemed to take place too quickly for it to react. The second time, I started creating a racket as I approached the adult goose. I was hoping that it would move away because of the noise before I got to it. But, once again, the goose stayed put while its little ones wandered around.
My third encounter with a family of Canada geese that day was the most dramatic. I did not see any young geese around, but I knew what was in store when I saw the adult standing in the middle of the trail. As I kept biking in its direction. the goose actually leapt into the air and took flight towards my face, catching me completely by surprise. There was not much of a distance between us, and I did not have much time to respond. Fortunately, a collision was avoided. It happened so quickly that I was not sure what actually happened to prevent the collision. The goose went sailing past the right side of my face. I did not lose my balance on the bicycle. I kept going. I Immediately encountered two goslings that suddenly jumped out of the bushes in front of me and crossed from one side of the trail to the other. I am not sure what instinct caused them to do this. Then, one of them suddenly turned and returned to the place it had come from, crossing once again in front of me. Luckily, nobody got hit. I think the parent goose that had flown past me landed in the water. I did slow down, but I did not stop to check out what was happening behind me.
The encounter shook me up a little bit, but I did recover my wits quickly.
I have encountered aggressive geese on the trail many times in years past, but never experienced anything like this. I am not sure what strategy to take the next time I have such an encounter.
I felt that I had to bike today because I had not gotten out for my regular exercise in over a week. The temperatures had been in the “dangerous” range, and it was dropping to more comfortable levels today. I left home very early, and was surprised by the large number of cars in the parking lot at Pennyfield Lock at that time on a weekday. The sun was still rising as I set out. I saw a large number of bicyclists at the lock house for Pennyfield Lock as I approached the towpath. It was obvious that they had spent the night there as a part of the Canal Quarters program. I then turned on to the towpath headed for Washington, DC.
The level of water in the river is low right now. It has not rained for a few days. Work at different sections of the canal where there were detours – the waste weirs near Great Falls, and mileposts 7 and 9, are being rebuilt – was already underway for the day. I even had to navigate my way around a truck bringing in material to a construction site. I can see that the work at the different sites is coming along. I believe there is a long term plan to re-water the entire stretch of canal starting at Violette’s lock. The current work could be a part of that long term effort. Wonder if I will survive long enough to see the end result!
Pretty soon after I got on the trail I realized that I had not taken my camera. I had been thinking primarily about the exercise aspect of the ride and had forgotten. But it did not bother me. However, a few miles into the ride, my thoughts drifted towards the thinking process behind taking pictures. (It was that kind of a morning!) To me, it is not necessarily just about taking a picture that looks good, but it is more about capturing a story. Sometimes, a single picture can tell a story. But, these days, I also like to add pictures to a story that is being told with words to give it more character. This is something that did not do in the past. In spite of the fact that I did not have my camera with me, I did get to a point during this ride when I felt the need to stop and take a picture with my smartphone to somehow capture how it felt at that time during the ride. That would be the story. The first time I had this feeling I did not stop because I was focused on the exercise aspect of the ride. But a few hundred feet later, I came to another point where I could not resist the temptation to take a picture. Here it is.When I reached Fletcher’s Cove, I got on to the Capital Crescent Trail headed in the direction of Washington, DC. The ride on this trail is smoother than on the towpath since it is paved. As I approached DC, I began to feel a rhythm of the wheel that was unusual. There was a bouncy feeling, and very little noise associated with it. When I got to the end of the ride at the far end of the Georgetown Waterfront, I decided to check out the tire and realized that there was a bump in one small section. Oh, oh! It looked like the tire was about to blow out, and I was about 20 miles from home. I had been barreling down the towpath over pieces of gravel on my way out (remember, this particular ride was about the exercise, and not necessarily sightseeing – each ride has a different feel to it!). I had to either find a local bike shop to replace the tire, or bike more carefully on my way back. I decided to risk it and bike back, but only after releasing some air from the tire to reduce the pressure. I did manage to make it back to Pennyfield lock in good shape and in good time.
I found a few pawpaw fruit on the ground during this ride. Perhaps it is time to return to the section of the trail that had an abundance of these fruits last year.
“The beat goes on, the beat goes on Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain”
Sonny and Cher
Strictly speaking there is no rhythm generated by the turning of a wheel – by something that is circular that simply goes round and round. But a rhythm can indeed be established by some process related to the turning of the wheel. Thus it is with riding a bicycle, where the wheels contribute to rhythms that are established in other ways – whether it is from the sounds of some intermittent but regular contact between the wheel and something on the bike itself, or because of something getting stuck in the treads of wheel itself making contact with the ground; or whether the rhythm is in the movement of the legs, the movement that causes the wheels to rotate. Some of these rhythms can become addictive, like a drug, and the feeling that takes over can overcome all other feelings, especially when you are in the groove. The rhythm overcomes any feeling of tiredness that may exist, and can indeed make what you are doing at that moment feel somewhat effortless. Perhaps biking is addictive, and what one is experiencing is a high – when one feels the rhythm of the wheels.
You might be able to sense from what I wrote that I am back to a regular biking routine. Consider that I had only started biking once again recently just to get some practice for the long rides that I have done with friends the last couple of years. Now that I have started biking again, I have the urge to go on and on. Yes, the feeling of a need to bike may also be a sign of an oncoming addiction.
Last week I decided to try out something a little more challenging. I rode the towpath from Great Falls to Fletchers cove,
and took on the slope of the Capital Crescent Trail from Fletchers Cove to Bethesda from then onwards. The ride on the CCT was a breeze! I feel like I have not lost the strength and ability to tackle the slopes. My only adventures that day were on the towpath. The first time was when I was forced off the path into some shrubbery that proved to be quite irritating to the skin (wonder if it was poison ivy). This was because of the approach of a group of heavy-duty work vehicles on the narrow path. They were probably trying to get to a place to do some repair work on the trail. Thankfully the itching feeling did not last. (Perhaps I was experiencing the effect of the rhythm!) I encountered the same convoy on the trail at an unexpected location on the way back. It looked to me like a skid-steer loader had gotten partially off the trail and was being pulled back on to it by a heavy-duty excavator. I had to carry my bike off the trail and through the trees to a spot well below the towpath that was closer to the river, and then take an unmarked detour in order to get by!The next time I biked that week, I stuck to the towpath and went all the way up to Whites Ferry from Pennyfield Lock. The ride was uneventful, except for the fact that I got so irritated by the state of the trail in one section (something that I have complained about in the past) that I even wrote a letter of complaint to the National Park Service. The letter has probably been ignored, but at least I was able to get it off my chest.
Teresa came biking with me last Monday. She was doing this for the first time in years. She did feel the aftereffects!
The last bike ride to report on was from Whites Ferry heading north. I was hoping to get to Brunswick, but I had forgotten about the washout of the trail just south of the town. This happened because of all the rain we have been getting recently. This one is going to take a while to fix.Meanwhile I intend to continue to ride. It may be an addiction!
A couple of months ago I wrote about a trip to Ohiopyle in Pennsylvania. During that visit, we happened to go to the Ohiopyle State Park Visitor Center. It was nice to see the display in there honoring the work done by Linda McKenna Boxx.
Linda served as board president and volunteer executive director of the Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA) that over the years brought together different trail groups to create the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). My friends and I rode the GAP on our bicycles in 2016 from Pittsburgh to the Washington, DC, area.
My first interaction with Linda happened in 2009 when she reached out to me for permission to use one of my pictures in the Trail book that was being prepared for that year. She wanted to use a picture of Riley’s Lock that I had taken. I said yes, and the only thing I requested was that they send me a copy of the trail book when it eventually came out. There was no other form of payment involved.
She reached out to me once again in 2016, before my bike ride on the GAP. This time they ended up using two of my pictures. After seeing the book, I decided that I wanted a few more copies of the book to share with my fellow riders before the ride because there was a lot of useful information in it. I was going to pay for these copies, but Linda would not accept any payment. She also shipped the books to me for no cost. You are now one of us, she said. And she wished me a good ride, and requested that I take lots of pictures.
That was the last time I interacted with her. It appears that she has now stepped down from her positions in the ATA.
I have started supporting the GAP with regular donations.
I had not been on a bicycle since the accident that happened almost a year ago. The doctor had given me the “all clear” to go back to my regular activities a while back, but I had not done it even though I had decided a long time ago that there was no way other than to get back on the bicycle. The truth was that I was also missing all the training rides that I had being doing in the years past – on various sections of the C&O Canal towpath, on the Capital Crescent Trail into Bethesda and Silver Spring; on the Custis, the W&OD, the Mt. Vernon and the Four Mile Run trails in Virginia; and even the ride up Sugarloaf Mountain. I knew these trails somewhat well by now, and I could even picture some of the specific experiences and challenges that one came across along the way, whether it was the stop at Fletchers Cove to use the facilities and get a drink of water, crossing the Potomac on the Key bridge, or riding along the river on the Mt. Vernon trail past Gravelly Point and National Airport, or the challenge of one of the slopes on the Custis trail or Sugarloaf mountain. I needed to do it.
But time passed and it did not happen until now. You could say that there was a bit of apprehension on my part, not because of the fear of riding a bike per se, but because of a fear of falling off the bike. It was specifically about the possibility of falling on my separated shoulder once again. I had a mental picture of how severe the damage could be to a clavicle that was already floating around. I did actually look for specific protection that could be worn it this regard, but the only solution out there would have made me look and feel like a gladiator with plastic armor-plating on a bicycle. I could not picture that! But there were other real excuses. We were busy with a wedding and with guests who were visiting until now. Before I knew it, we were half way through the year.
I finally made the move Wednesday morning. I checked out my biking gear the first time in many months – the shorts, the tops and the gloves. Things were where I expected them to be. I checked out the bike, still covered with dirt from last year, reinflated the tires, grabbed my helmet, and after a test ride around the cul dec sac, loaded it into the back of the car.
Finally at Pennyfield Lock.I decided to ride a distance of about 16+ miles (one way) to Fletchers Cove this day. I had forgotten how cool it could be under the trees even on a July morning in the middle of summer as you rode against the wind. I had forgotten the rhythmic sound of the crunching of the tires against the gravel of the trail as one rode on the dirt. I had forgotten the easy and peaceful nature of an early morning ride. There was a feeling of serenity, and the mind could wander once again.
I took it easy. This is the way I usually start a ride, especially after a break from when I have been challenging myself. But then the Adrenalin kicks in and, before you know it, your legs are moving to a steady beat and the pace is increasing to another level. And it is all so effortless at this point. You are enjoying the ride.
I can still sense some fear in me, a fear of falling off the bike if I got too close to the edge of the trail, but it is no more about the shoulder. I know I am over it, and it has happened quickly. The other general fear of wandering across the trail and falling off into the woods or the water will disappear with time, just like it used to in the past. It is a defense mechanism of the brain that I appreciate.
Life along the canal has not changed. I have to stop for pictures along the way.
There are people around on this cool summer morning, especially later in the morning. I re-familiarize myself with the practice of passing people who are on foot on the trail. There are many such people. Recent rains also seem to have done severe damage to the trail. I take a couple of detours off the trail along the way.
The ride back to Pennyfield Lock is when the muscles in my thighs begin to feel it. It is a familiar feeling, but it is not a feeling that you tend to remember the details of once the ride is complete and those sore muscles have recovered. I ride steadily, without a sense of rush, but by now I am also in the groove once again, and I have to make the conscious effort to slow down, and perhaps even stop once in a while to take a picture or two. This is all familiar territory for me.
The ride ended successfully. I am going to try my best to make sure this was not just a one-time effort, a flash in the pan if you will. I need to do more rides for my sense of balance and sanity. Perhaps longer group rides are in the cards once again starting next year.