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!

 

Laziness or Perseverance, what will it be?

It is very easy for me to fall prey to laziness.  I need to train for my bike ride but I had been finding excuses to put my rides off earlier this week, as I had often done in the past.

The latest excuse that threatened to do the most damage to my training regimen was rain.  While I have not been caught outside on my bike in a heavy thunderstorm thus far, we have experienced a few spectacular episodes in the evenings recently because of the extremely warm and muggy weather.  (One such storm even sent water into the kitchen and I had to get some emergency work done fixing and cleaning the gutters.)  Anyway, I had decided to finally bike on Thursday after the usual excuses earlier on in the week, when heavy thunderstorms struck on Wednesday evening.  This was about to be my excuse to skip training on Thursday also.  There was going to be mud on the trails, and even though I had tackled mud before, I was not in a mood for this kind of an experience.

When asked about why I could not find a location where I could ride on a surface without mud, I responded that I would have to drive a long way off to get to said location.  But the thought stuck. Instead of dropping the whole idea of riding, I motivated myself to wake up early and drive an hour to the start of the WMRT near Hancock.  The WMRT, which runs roughly parallel to the towpath, is covered with asphalt and runs about 22 miles to Pearre in Maryland, with Hancock roughly at the mid-point.  So off I went!

Not only was the ride on the WMRT clean, but the surface was so smooth that I was zipping along very fast and making good time.  Also, all of the reluctance that I had felt earlier on to training that day went out the door the moment I started riding!

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The Licking Creek Aqueduct on the C&O Canal from the WMRT

I reached Pearre, the other end pf the WMRT, in record time! There was the temptation at that point to turn back and return to where I had started, since my only option to extend the ride was to get on the towpath which would have been impacted by the rain.  But what little I had seen of the towpath from the vantage point of the WMRT on which I was riding was a dry trail. So I decided to continue further on the towpath.

The trail in that section was in a terrible condition!  I found myself negotiating puddles of mud constantly.  The trail for the most past consisted to two tracks with thick grass growing in-between. I tried to avoid the mud by switching tracks to avoid puddles if they were only on one side, or rode between the tracks over the grass where the puddles covered both tracks.  All of this tended to slow me down considerably, especially the attempts to ride on the grass.  But I was in no hurry.  After about 9 or 10 miles of the trail, after crossing the old and unused Western Maryland Railroad bridge over the Potomac, I stopped to eat something and start the return trip.

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Abandoned Western Maryland Railroad Bridge
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The Potomac

I stopped occasionally to take more pictures on the way back.

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The lush green trail
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View from Lock 58
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Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct
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Where Fifteen Mile Creek meets the Potomac

My original thought was to get back to the WMRT at Pearre when returning so that I could avoid the challenges of the towpath.  But as I kept riding my outlook began to change.  I got more comfortable with the thought of riding through puddles. I should let this riding experience be more in line with the more challenging aspects of what I might experience during the long Pittsburgh to Gaithersburg ride, I thought.  At Pearre, I stopped to take the picture below, and  then continued on the towpath, with the thought that I would switch back to the WMRT a little later at Hancock.

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Lockhouse at Pearre for Lock 56

It was a good decision.  The puddles became less of an issue since trail was drier than I had expected. But, in addition to the bumpy surface, I had to deal with limbs from the trees that seemed to have fallen all over the trail.  I had to stop a couple of times to remove branches that got caught in the frame of bike.  Fortunately, there was no damage to the wheels.  But I was also making good time, and there were also more interesting things to see from the towpath.

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Remains of Round Top Cement Company

I switched back from the towpath to the WMRT at Hancock  and took a short break, but then also changed my mind after the break about the trail I wanted to continue back on.  I decided that I should really put myself to the test with the riding conditions, and got back to the towpath for the rest of the ride!   The good thing was that this section of the trail had a surface of freshly compressed crushed stone.  It was pretty comfortable, and the surface was dry.  I made it back in good shape, but because of my adventures earlier that day,  contrary to my original goal of having a clean ride, there was mud all over me and the bike at the end of the ride.

I wonder how much of rain and mud we will experience during the Pittsburgh ride.  Since I have not had to ride in the rain so far I do not know how that is going to feel,  but I am ready to take on muddy trails after the rains any time.  And I am glad I got over my laziness on Thursday!

Baking on the W&OD

The dogs days of summer have hit the Washington, DC, area.   The combination of the temperature and humidity makes the heat feel quite intense when you are in the open areas.  I have still been riding my bike regularly.  I start earlier in the day if I can, and ride through the hottest parts of the day.  It is usually not too bad under the trees, although I have gotten the strangest pattern of tans on different parts of my body because of my exposure (enough said!).

But the ride last Friday was particularly brutal.  I had decided to go further out on the W&OD trail in Virginia.  The ride started off easily enough with my crossing the Potomac on the Key bridge into Rosslyn in Arlington early enough in the morning.  I stopped on the bridge to watch the planes on their way into National Airport.

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I rode the short distance on the Mt. Vernon trail along the river towards National Airport, passing the Arlington Memorial Bridge along the way.

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I stopped at Gravelly Point to take some pictures of aircraft coming in for landing at the airport.

After I passed National airport, I had to turn off on to the Four Mile Run trail and ride a few miles to the start of the W&OD.  Things became more difficult once I got on the W&OD.  There was minimal tree cover over the trail and the sun was beating directly down from on high. The asphalt that formed the surface of the trail was also increasing the intensity of the heat.  As I rode out of Arlington, and past Falls Church, Dunn Loring, Vienna, Reston, and finally into Herndon, tackling the numerous ups and downs of the trail, and with the rhythm of the ride being constantly interrupted at the many busy road crossings, my energy levels dropped.  Two bottles of water (one with and the other without dissolved electrolytes) were being consumed quickly.  I managed to find a section of the trail with a little bit of shade just outside of Herndon, had my lunch to try to build up my energy level once again, and started on my way back home.

It was now getting to noon-time and the heat was really slowing me down.  The number of other people I was seeing on the trail was dropping.  Have you heard the song about mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun?    Since I am not an Englishman, I must be a creature of the other sort!

I determined that I could not do the ride all the way to the turnoff for the Custis Trail in one stretch without a break as I had originally planned.  Back at Vienna I plonked my tired self on a bench outside the old station building where there was a little bit of shade and tried to recover.  I was fortunate to also find a water fountain to replenish my drinking supply.

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I got back on the bike and did make it to my next stop, which was the start of the Custis Trail, without incident.  I parked myself under the shade of the trees in the park and re-energized myself with a fruit and more water.  All of my appetite had vanished at that point because of the heat.  I was gulping down the water.   The mixture with the electrolytes was gone, but I was able to refill the water bottles.

The ride from that point onward was easier because of the shade of the trees that covered the trail.  Once I got back on the towpath I stopped at Fletchers Cove to get a bottle of Gatorade, something that was not a part of my original plan.  That bottle did not last too long either.  I made it back successfully, and the recovery process that evening was actually very good, although I decided that I was going the spend the next day, which was also going to be super hot, indoors!   I am hoping for better conditions during our ride from Pittsburgh.

The Magic of All Creatures Great and Small

(With apologies to James Herriot..)

I was keeping a steady pace on my bike, slogging out the last few miles of the ride in the shade of a canopy of tall trees, when I happened on a section of the trail with blackbirds.  A song about blackbirds came to my lips immediately, a song not exactly appropriate for the time of day that I was riding,  but it did not matter (except that Sir Paul would probably have disapproved of my enthusiastic efforts).  As I rode into the section blackbirds rose from the trail, and around it, and started flying ahead of me. And the further I rode, the more blackbirds rose from the shrubbery and trees.  Soon the section of the trail in front of me was full of blackbirds all flying away from me over the tree-covered trail.  I felt like I was keeping pace with them.  The volume of my singing increased while the quality decreased and the birds kept rising into the air in front of me.  This probably lasted a few seconds but it felt like a long time to me.  It was like magic!

But there was more magic that I experienced earlier on during the ride.  Summer is the season for dragonflies and butterflies.  The butterflies were everywhere, while the dragonflies seemed to be concentrated in certain areas.  I had to stop by the canal at the Dickerson Conservation Park to take pictures of the plentiful dragonflies and the few butterflies around.  Here is a sample.

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The magic actually happened at the Monocacy Aqueduct as I was pushing my bike on the walkway across the river.  I had nearly crossed the aqueduct when the butterfly landed on the seat of the bike.  It was quite comfortable in spite of the movement of the bike.

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The butterfly then decided to land on the fingers of my right hand and stay there.  I was unable to take a picture since that is the hand I hold the camera in for taking the pictures.  At some point I parked the bike.  I persuaded the butterfly to move to my left hand and tried to take a picture with that hand extended out, but I could not focus because of the nature of the lens on the camera.  So I placed the butterfly on the metal handlebar basket, pulled a different lens out of the camera bag that was in the handlebar basket (without scaring the butterfly away), swapped lenses on the camera (placing the lenses on the ground in the process) while the butterfly continued to sit on the handlebar, convinced the butterfly to come back to my left hand from the handlebar, and finally got the pictures below.  The butterfly did not even try to fly away during the whole process.  It was magic!

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But these were not the only creatures I encountered during the ride.  Here are a few of the pictures I took.

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Yes, that is a bald eagle in one of the pictures, but the picture did not come out well because of the lighting.  I encountered plenty of life on and around the trail during that ride!

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all
Anglican Hymn

Take it Easy

Take It easy, take it easy
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels
drive you crazy….………………………..The Eagles

The constant jangling of the metal handlebar basket as I bounce along on my bike on the towpath is something that I have gotten used to. The sound is fading into the background as if I were wearing some noise cancelling headphones, but it is only what is left of my middle-aged rattled brain doing its thing!  With regular six to seven hours of steady biking all by myself day after day, starting in the relative cool of the early mornings, and continuing through the middle of these hot and humid summer days; with the legs beating a regular rhythm on the pedals without end; with the steady concentration of the ride and your thoughts only broken up the occasional scenic stops, the snack breaks, and the infrequent interaction with folks you come across on the trail;  it is all something that is becoming second-nature to me.

It has gotten to the point where I can recover from my long rides and do the same thing the next day without feeling the ill-effects of the previous days’ efforts.  It does not matter if I had been riding on a flat surface on the towpath or if I have overcome some challenging slopes on the Virginia side of the river or on the Capital Crescent Trail the previous day.  So I think I am about as ready as I can be for the long ride at the end of August.

I have biked all the way to Reston, VA, near Dulles airport, on the W&OD trail.  This picture was taken at the place where I stopped for lunch and turned back to return home.
IMG_20160729_115353475I would eventually like to bike to the end of the W&OD trail.  It is 45 miles long.

The picture below shows the scene at Lock 7 in the morning during a different ride.  It is still cool in the morning at this point and I am riding towards DC. I eventually crossed the Potomac on the Key Bridge and took the Arlington loop.
IMG_20160804_093216941This is Swain’s Lock later the same day as I was returning to Riley’s Lock.   The heat had built up by this time.
IMG_20160804_134013227The picture below was taken at the end of the same ride. The kids are on Seneca Creek near Riley’s lock.  As I mentioned in another blog, there are kids everywhere!
IMG_20160804_143022126This picture was taken early in the morning the next day at the start of another ride.  The location is north of Taylor’s Landing near Sharpsburg, MD.
IMG_20160805_084512557As I was getting my bike out of the car, a few vans full of kids and equipment drove into the parking area.  When I inquired if I could help by moving my car out of the way, one of the adults told me not to bother.  They were simply dropping the kids and their bikes off so that they could ride the trail, and the vehicles were going to pick them up at the other end of the ride.  I like kids, but I did make sure to  start my ride going in the opposite direction of where they were headed.

I passed the Dam 4 cave, and then Dam 4 itself, a couple of miles north of Taylors Landing.
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IMG_20160805_090541930During this ride I biked all the way to Williamsport, MD, before turning back.   There is a lot of work going on in the park in Williamsport and I had to navigate my way past a dump truck that was blocking the trail.  The National Park Service is trying to get the canal in that section set up so that they can give rides to visitors in replica canal boats.  On my way back, at Taylor’s Landing, I did come across a group of four older women who were riding from Cumberland to Washington, DC, over five days.  They had actually roughed it out the previous night by staying in one of the lock houses.  It was unusual to see such a group on the trail.

Here is a recording to the song mentioned in this blog.

The Kids are Alright – maybe..

Anybody remember this song?

I have put in quite a few miles on my bike on the trail this week.  It occurred to me that, remarkably, I was not feeling bored in spite of the repetitive nature of the rides.  I remembered a blog I had read from a webpage tracking a couple’s hike on the Pacific Crescent Trail.   This particular posting was a guest blog by somebody who was traveling with them for a short stretch. He talks about what the experience of hiking means for him.  I could empathize with some of what he was saying –  about the silence and the thinking that goes on.  You  can cover a lot of ground, both physically and mentally, without even being aware of it.

A couple of days back I was cruising in the cool of the early morning, lost in my own thoughts, on a section of the trail near Carderock.  Between the mind games and the focus on the act of riding (something that has become more automatic these days) I was having a ball.  I was brought back to reality by the sight, out of the corner of my eye, of two older gentlemen who were walking in the other direction.  When you are riding a bike at a decent pace people pass by quickly, but I did notice that one of the guys was smiling  broadly, looking at me, and giving me a thumbs-up sign with both his hands.  He was encouraging me on.  I had to smile back.  Or maybe I was smiling already, and this was his response.  Did I look like I was on a mission and needed encouragement?  Or was he simply happy to wish somebody on the trail.  It does not matter.  He had reached me somehow and raised my spirits even further.   Everything was good!

With the distances I am covering, and with the coming of summer, I am seeing kids everywhere on the trail. There are summer camps and outings, with bike rides, horse rides, boating (tubing/canoeing), fishing, swimming, and other kinds of activities to keep the young ones occupied.  It is great that the natural resources of the area are being taken advantage of so that kids learn about the great outdoors all around rather than getting stuck indoors staring at the screen of some electronic device the whole day.

But with kids on the trail there is an additional element of caution that is required, especially if one is cruising on a cycle.  Sometimes they seem to be completely oblivious to what is going on around them.  Last week I was passing a group of kids and everybody moved out of my way except for one lad who basically got on his bike a started riding straight towards me on the wrong side of the trail.  I had to yell and brake hard.  He finally moved away at the last minute.  Who knows where he mind was at.

Then there was this group of kids on bikes who rode off the trail at Whites Ferry while I was trying to get on to it.  They did not know enough to even get out of my way.  I had to stop and let most of them get through first. Their adult leader apologized once he got them going properly.

A couple of days ago I rode up behind a group of adults and kids on horses.  While most of the horses were well behaved and were keeping to one side of the trail, a couple of them were not cooperating at the back of the line.  They were wandering all over the trail, standing across it to look at me (maybe they were curious) while their riders were trying to talk them into getting back into line.  At one point one of the riders thought that the horses wanted to get in line on the other side of the trail (the wrong side), but that was obviously not their intention. The horses finally cooperated and I was able to pass on the left.  On my way back on the trail, as I approached the same group and started passing them from the front, the little kids on the horses started shouting to me. They told me that the last two horses in line were in training and that I should be careful.  The kids seemed quite concerned about my safety and they were so sweet about it.  I yelled my thanks without slowing down too much.  The kids are alright!

During the last couple of days I have run into more issues with people, both adults and kids, on the trail who do not seem to know what to do when a biker comes by.  Sometimes people are not keeping to their side of the trail and they get very confused when a biker comes up behind them.  I announce myself loudly so that people can move aside, and if at least one person in the group hears me I am usually in good shape.  But sometimes somebody darts across the trail into my way at the last minute and I have to brake hard and yell.  Just yesterday,  a kid almost ran me off the cliff near Anglers Inn.  He apologized while I tried to recover my composure.

But I want to come back to the thought I started this blog with, which is that it does not matter how many times you go over the same territory when hiking or biking.  The experience simply does not get old.   Just yesterday I was riding past a section of the trail that always catches my attention in the early morning light.  As I have done several times in  the past, I stopped once again to take a picture.  Perhaps you have seen this picture before.
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Then there are these other experiences from the ride.
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And, yes, it is hot as heck outside right now.  The folks in the picture below have more determination than I do!
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We will  see what the next week of riding brings.