Thanks be to Gravity (9/14/2008)

This is a highly edited version of something I wrote many years ago.  These days, I am also more comfortable with adding pictures and links directly to the narrative.  Ain’t technology da bomb!

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If you take the exit to Keep Tryst Road from US Route 340, (it comes up close to Harpers Ferry, just before you cross the bridge over the Potomac from Maryland into Virginia), and then follow the road all the way to the the bottom of a hill, it ends up next to tracks for the CSX railroad.  At this point the road makes a U-turn and heads back up the hill to rejoin Route 340.  This place next to the railroad tracks is where people park their cars to head out on hikes.  The place is called Weverton.  From this location you can follow the Appalachian trail (or the AT as it is fondly known) up to Weverton Cliffs, or you can cross the tracks and head down to the towpath towards either Brunswick or Harpers Ferry.

Weverton used to be real town many years ago.  Very few people live in the area today. Back then an intrepid developer decided that he could harness the power of the waters of the Potomac for energy in order to develop commerce in this area.  The concept did not work and one of the reasons for failure was the regular flooding of the river.  I have read that you can see the remains of the old town of Weverton if you leave the towpath and head towards the river.  I have not been successful in finding these ruins so far.  Weverton is also a switching yard for the railroad, and the location from which a spur line used to branch off towards Hagerstown.  You can still see the remains of the railroad bridge for this spur line under the bridge for Route 340.

I arrived at Weverton early in the morning before the fog had lifted to do a hike to towards Harpers Ferry and Maryland Heights. My timing for the start of the hike was perfect.  As I walked towards the railroad tracks to cross over to the towpath, I sighted the headlights of the freight train through the fog.  It was heading in my direction. IMG_6132At the point where the path crosses the railroad the tracks curve away from you and as  a result you get a head-on view of the approaching train.  I got a lot of pictures of the train in the fog as it switched tracks and approached rapidly. IMG_6134And before I knew it the engineer was blowing the horn to make sure that I did not step on to the tracks,IMG_6136and the train was rushing by shaking the ground under me.IMG_6137It was moving quite fast and even picking up speed as the freight cars thundered by, with the hundreds of metal wheels screeching like a thousand banshees as the rail cars pushed against the rails and struggled to stay on the tracks as they rounded the curve and accelerated at the same time.IMG_6138I stood by just next to the carriages, which seemed to be much bigger and higher than what I imagined them to be when I had seen them from a distance, and felt a rush.  I was screaming but nobody could hear me.

The objective for this trip was to climb Maryland Heights on the Maryland side of the Potomac river next to Harpers Ferry.  From the lookout point on Maryland Heights one gets a nice view of the town of Harpers Ferry.  This hike turned out  to be an unexpected mental challenge for me.  I began to feel tired even as I started up the steep slope from beside the main road.  Perhaps I was really not in good shape.  The early part of the climb was quite strenuous and the last time I had done this was when family had visited from India, when we had walked halfway up the hill.  I walked up slowly, stopping frequently, and stopping by the meadows along the way to enjoy the sight of the many white butterflies fluttering around.IMG_6174It was a humid morning and pretty soon I was sweating quite profusely.  I did not really feel any pain but I was feeling nervous because this was the first time in a while I had pushed myself in this manner since the big event.  I almost turned back at one point.

But in the end I persevered.  I was going to reach my destination one way or the other, whichever destination it happened to be – the Pearly Gates (being the eternal optimist that I am) or the Scenic Overlook over the river!  I made it to the latter destination feeling a sense of achievement.  I spent some time taking pictures of the river and the valley below.IMG_6175IMG_6176IMG_6192 There was a butterfly sitting in the sun on a rock that did not move even as I approached and took close-up pictures of its eyes!  (There are some wonderful experiences waiting out there for you if you are willing to relax and  pay attention to what is going on around you.)IMG_6199IMG_6206I ran all the way down the hill on my way back to the towpath.  I wanted to sing a song – He’ll be running down the mountain when he comes!  It was a nice outing and I got some pictures of some flowers and creatures that I had not seen before. IMG_6155IMG_6157A woodpecker also obliged me by landing on a tree trunk next to the trail and staying put while I took its picture.IMG_6214I also got some nice pictures of the fog.IMG_6145IMG_6162IMG_6163IMG_6165IMG_6169IMG_6171All in all, another excellent outing to the river!

Back In The Saddle

The weather has warmed up enough for me to start training for my July bike ride from Jasper to Banff in the Canadian Rockies.  I am back in the saddle after a break of many months from biking activities, indeed a break from the time of my last long ride! Considering the tremendous amount training that I did for the Pittsburgh to the DC area ride last year, I was wondering how the body would react during my first ride this year.

I started off early in the morning with the intention of not going too far.  It was still quite chilly when got to the trail, and I had to bundle myself to defend against the cool early morning breeze.  It took me a little longer than usual to get prepped for the ride and for me to try to get back into the routine that I was so used to following last year.  I remembered that I needed to gather an adequate supply of food and water before I left home to keep me fueled through the ride.  I needed to fit the basket on to the bike to carry the supplies.  I needed to make sure that the bike was OK after a long period of disuse.

The ride went off OK.  The miles passed by quickly as the bike (and especially the basket on the handlebar) rattled along on the uneven surface of the towpath.  It was quite the different experience from running!  It felt easy at first.  But it did not take too much time to be reminded of the level of effort on the muscles to keep pedaling for a long time.   The muscles in the thighs were out of shape.  I was also beginning to feel it in the butt.  I have a way to go before I will be ready, but the good thing is that there is enough time to get the body back into shape.  We will be riding on a paved surface this time, and the distances we will be riding will for the most part be shorter than what we were covering last year.  So perhaps it will not be as tough.

It is not that one is not already in decent physical shape, but the difference in the kind of effort that is required for running and for biking feels quite significant.  I was reminded of this when I made my first run last year after an extended break when I was only riding the bike, an experience that caused me to take extra precautions in my preparations this year.  But all is good.  It is time to get back in the saddle once again.  Lets ride!

The Three Amigos

As seen during our walk on the C&O canal towpath this morning.  They were paying particular attention to me, the photographer.  They sometimes plunge into the canal when they see me pull out my camera, but they did cooperate this time!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were plenty of turtles in the waters of the canal today.  The water level was also quite high, probably because of the recent rains.

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Good Match

The outdoors and us!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made it to Sugarloaf Mountain once again this weekend and did roughly the same distance on the trails as last weekend.  It was quite cold this time, and quite a change after the balmy weather that we experienced during the previous hike.  Winter has returned!

See other interpretations of the theme here.

A Trip to Sugarloaf Mountain

We are in the middle of winter.  It is the time of year when it is usually quite cold in this part of the world.  But it has been unusually warm during the last few days, with the temperature threatening to reach the upper 70s (Fahrenheit, that is) later on this week.  We hiked up Sugarloaf Mountain, just across the border of Montgomery county in the neighboring Frederick county, last weekend.  It has been a long time since we visited Sugarloaf even though it is quite close to home.  We have been dissuaded by the crowds that are attracted to the location because of its proximity to the high population area of Washington DC and its suburbs.  The crowds are especially overwhelming during the other seasons when families come in large numbers to picnic on the mountainside.  The place is littered with cars, adults, children, and dogs when this happens.  It is not the kind of place one would go to if you were hoping for a little bit of quiet and solitude.  We saw more people than we expected last weekend because of the nice weather,  but we had fortunately gotten to the park early enough to avoid the biggest crowds.

It was a beautiful day for a hike and we ended up walking over 8 miles.  We got to some areas of the park that are less accessible and therefore quieter. Here are some pictures from the hike.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Morning Sights on the Trail

We were able to go for walks on the C&O canal towpath on both Saturday and Sunday last weekend.  Winter has its own charm when you are in the woods.  The cold is also not a bother unless it is windy. Your body warms up as you exercise.

The woods seem more open in winter because of the bare trees.  You can see things that are not usually visible in summer, including the river beyond the tree trunks, and the birds hidden in the branches of the trees.  The browns and greys of the trees in winter form their own unique patterns along the trail as it disappears into the distance.

We were able to sight this wren hidden away in the branches singing its morning song.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bikers brightened up the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe great blue heron watched the proceedings from its perch high over the towpath.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Park Service police kept an eye on things.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe robin watched me as I tried to focus the camera on it through the tangled branches.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe left the marked trail and explored the woods by the river, ending up with this view of a culvert under the C&O canal and the towpath trail. This is where the Muddy Branch flows past the canal as it makes its way to the Potomac.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA walk in the woods rejuvenates the spirits!

If You Drive Slow, You Can Get There Faster (4/29/2013)

And the three men I admire most:,
The father, son, and the holy ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died


(In case you are curious, the song from which these lines are taken is not about religion.  It is about three well regarded musicians who lost their lives in a plane accident in the 60s – Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and JP Richardson.)

I had just stopped under a tree after I got on the trail at Williamsport on the C&O Canal this morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was out and a bird was singing away to glory, hidden in one of the branches.  As I was looking up, searching for it, a older lady, all wrapped up in warm clothes, came walking by and wished me good morning.  I gave up on the bird and started walking along with her.  She seemed to be grateful for the company.  She said that she usually walked a couple of miles, and she thanked me for walking with her.  She said that she was over 80 years old, and at that age, two miles was a good distance.  She looked fit and she was very chatty.  She had come across the river from West Virginia.  Apparently, her husband has big strides, and the two of them do not walk well together. So he goes in one direction while she goes in the other.  She informed me about the “happenings” along that section of the canal and about the work going on at the lock.  She only walked a short distance with me to the place where the woods began, and then turned back.  Sweet person!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI saw a homeless person on the trail today.  It is the first time in many years that this has happened.  The lady I had walked with had told me about him, and so I was not completely surprised.  Apparently he is from the town of Williamsport.  He was sitting on a branch beside the trail eating what looked like a donut.   He appeared to have all his belongings on a trailer that was attached to his bicycle.  He seemed to be OK.  I was wondering if he was perhaps happier in his own way than some of us who have more material belongings.

I listened to an interview on the radio this morning as I was heading to the canal.  The person being interviewed was a poet, and she happened to mention the line in the subject line of this posting during that interview.  It was apparently uttered by her young daughter while on a drive, when their car was overtaken by another.   It was a moment of Zen…  Eventually, they overtook the other car when they were both stuck at a toll-booth.  But it did get me thinking, not specifically about driving slow, but about driving in the wrong direction, or driving towards an destination that does not make too much sense in the big picture, or even getting distracted and focusing on the wrong destination.  All of these get you to your destination later than you intended.

There was another interesting point made during the radio conversation, where the poet talked about asking some kids a simple question – can you talk about something in particular that you observed this morning?  Apparently, this question stumps the kids, and it can take some time to engage them properly in conversation on this topic.   This is because their senses are not totally engaged in what they are doing.  They are not paying attention. Perhaps it is true for adults also….

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
….