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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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
….

Our Local Sunday Walk

I thought that a few pictures from our usual morning walk on Sunday would be appropriate for this week’s photo theme.  We walk along the trails in our local parks, more often than not landing up on the C&O Canal towpath by the Potomac River.

We started this weekend’s walk at White’s Ferry.  The mist was still rising from the river when we got there even though it was somewhat late in the morning.  The ferry was operating with a light load.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe saw some giant puffball mushrooms during our walk.  I do not recall having seen these before.  They are apparently edible if consumed before the spores have begun to form.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked up to Lock 26 on the towpath to see the historic silver maple tree near the Dickerson Conservation Center.  It is huge! This tree is on the current list of Montgomery County Champion trees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere are a couple of shots of the woods and the trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got back to Whites Ferry in time to get some sandwiches for lunch at the store by the ferry.  These kinds of places are far away from regular commercial locations and depend on a different kind of clientele to stay in business. They are usually operated by some locals just trying to get a little bit of money.  (I still remember the Schoolhouse Kitchen in Oldtown, MD, operated out of a closed school building, that we ended up at during the KVIITM75 bike ride.)  You can see the bare-bones nature of the operation and  get a sense that they are just getting by.  We sat at a picnic bench and watched the Jubal A. Early in operation.  The sky had cleared up during our walk.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur Sunday walks are something that I look forward to.

The Mules of Great Falls

I have been wandering along the C&O canal for many years and this is the first time I have seen the mules in action.  We came upon the boat ride being offered by the National Park Service on the canal at Great Falls by chance.

The Charles F. Mercer, the boat used for the tour, is a replica of the original canal boats.  It replaced the previous canal boat replica, The Canal Clipper III, which had fallen into a state of disrepair, in 2006. There is some nice information about the boat here.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Incidentally, it looks like excursion boats have been operating on the C&O Canal for a very long time.  There is a document about excursion boats on the C&O canal that has been posted online at this locationThis is the current version of the document.  There are fascinating pictures in the document.  The “Reminiscences about Mules” in Appendix B is very interesting.

The Heron Who Was Not Afraid

It has been an absolute blast riding this week because of the weather.   I have gotten on the trail early enough in the morning with the temperatures still in the low 60s.  Some people may feel too cold under these conditions, but this kind of weather is ideal for me.  I rode down to the city twice, and from there on to the Mt. Vernon trail and the Arlington Loop on the different days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt feels like the effort level that I am putting into riding, especially when I am on a level surface, has gone down.  I can feel very relaxed even when moving along quite briskly.  The wheels keep turning easily, and I do not feel like I am pushing it to keep up the pace.  The weather might have something to do with it.  Hope it stays this way for the long ride.

As I was approaching Great Falls yesterday, I saw a great blue heron on the trail beside the canal.  I expected it to fly away as I got closer, but it did not.  I stopped my bike  (front brake squealing!), pulled out my camera, and walked on the trail beside it taking pictures without a zoom lens.  It did not flinch.  This has not happened before. If the herons are this close, they usually fly away.  I finally returned to my bike with the bird still hanging around.  I wonder if the birds are getting too friendly for their own good.
P8241729.jpgI also ran across a big group of kids on the trail who made my morning!  They were blocking the trail when I first saw them in the distance.  But I was observed while still in the distance, and they all moved in a systematic way to a side and then turned to face the side of the trail I was riding.  It was as if they were waiting for the show, similar to a march-past.  And so a show was what I put on! I rode past them trying to show good form, crouched over the handlebars a little bit, and feet pumping systematically, and moving efficiently.  As I rode by, keeping a good pace and thanking them for clearing the trail, they cheered me on enthusiastically.  I heard at least a couple of “woohoos!” I am hoping that at least one of the kids was motivated enough by the encounter to consider asking their parents for a bike so that they could ride the trail.  Any chance of this happening?

Here are some pictures taken from the rides.

This is a view of the trail in a section of Widewater that kept getting washed away until they built this structure.  I do remember traversing this section before this construction.  You essentially had to navigate a pile of rocks.  People on bicycles would ride the Berma Trail which ran along the other side of Widewater in order to get past this section.
P8241731.jpgHere is a picture of a sweet chestnut fruit taken in a a park on the Mt. Vernon Trail.  It took me a while to identify this fruit.  I actually thought that chestnuts did not grow in the country any more because of the blight that wiped them out in the early 1900s.  So this was a surprise.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a view of activity on the Potomac seen from the Key Bridge as I was returning from Virginia.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is Lock 6 in the middle of the day when I stopped to eat a sandwich during one of the rides.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a bridge across the canal near mile 12.  It feels great to ride in the shade of the trees on a sunny day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd today I came across this shy fellow on the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am now done with my practice rides.  The bike I have been using will get its final wash for a while.  I have put many miles on it and it has served me well.  Now on to Pittsburgh!