Riding the Mount Vernon Trail

I have been doing some pretty long bike rides (at least in my opinion!) recently in preparation of the six day Pittsburgh to DC area ride with my high-school classmates that is happening at the end of August.  I can pretty much do the maximum one-day distance that we will have to cover during that ride, but doing this kind of a ride consistently for a few days is going to be my challenge.  After riding a few times I have found that it is possible to get into a rhythm with riding, and that my somewhat weaker left knee is getting stronger and more used to the effort.  I am getting less concerned about getting cramps in the leg muscles.  I am also learning how to tackle slopes, most of which we will encounter during the section of the ride from Pittsburgh into Cumberland, the halfway point.

I have been riding primarily on the C&O Canal towpath with one diversion a few weeks ago on to The Capital Crescent Trail towards Bethesda.  A couple of weeks ago I ventured across the Potomac River on the Key Bridge into Virginia and biked on the Mt. Vernon Trail towards National Airport.  I rode to the other side of the airport and during the return stopped at Gravelly Point to take pictures of the planes landing at the airport.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That little venture into Virginia tempted me to attempt to cover the entire distance of the Mt. Vernon Trail all the way from Arlington to Mt. Vernon, a distance of 18 miles.  I planned the ride so that I would start off somewhere along the C&O canal, and transfer over to the Virginia side and ride to the end of the trail, finally returning to where I had started so that I could do my required quota for the ride.  I started off at Anglers Inn.

Approaching DC, I saw this.  I had to stop and take a picture of the black rat snake crossing the trail.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It had been a while since I had seen one these snakes.  As I approached the snake with my camera, it appeared to pause on its journey across the trail to look at me (just my imagination, I guess 🙂 ).  It eventually made its way into the bushes on the other side of the trail.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I crossed over the river on the Key Bridge at Georgetown on a very pleasant morning.  The commuter traffic was headed inbound into DC while I was headed out of town.  I descended to the Mt Vernon trail near Roosevelt Island and started to ride. Things  were going smoothly.  The wind seemed to be blowing against me, but the riding was easy.  The trail ran along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and after riding under a few of the bridges crossing the Potomac into DC, I soon passed National Airport.  I was now entering new territory.

Th parkland that I had been riding through after I passed the airport soon ended at the outskirts of the town of Alexandria.  I found my way through the city streets to Union Street.  I rode through the touristy downtown area with its shops and restaurants.  There was a bike lane on the road and the riding was comfortable.   Just before the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, the trail detoured away from the road and ran under the bridge.  When I came up on the other side, I found myself at the section of George Washington Parkway on the other side of Alexandria.  I found the biking trail once again running by the roadway.

The trail ran though parks, crossed swamps over boardwalks,  , meandered through wooded areas with streams, bridges, and ups and downs, and even diverted through affluent suburban neighborhoods where a trail could not be laid.  The Potomac flowed beside the trail, sometimes close by, and sometimes in the distance.  I finally made it to Mt. Vernon and mile zero of the trail in time to park myself on a park bench and have my lunch.  The last half mile of the ride was a particular challenge up a hill.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The ride back seemed to be easier on the legs, probably because of the direction of the wind, but it was also getting warmer and I was beginning to drink more of the water I was carrying.  Instead on focusing on completing the ride as efficiently as possible, I took more time stopping and taking pictures along the way.  Here are some samples.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was still feeling strong as I crossed back into Maryland.  I was able to ride up from the pathway next to Roosevelt Island on to the bridge over the George Washington Parkway and then on to the Key Bridge.  I felt good because I had to get off the bike the previous time I had to cover this section.

Back on the Maryland side I crossed the bridge over the canal and started my return back to Anglers Inn.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I stopped at Fletcher’s Cove along the way to replenish the water bottles.  It was getting quite humid and I was drinking more water than I had expected.  (I even demolished the bottle of water that I had left in the car after I got back!) The rest of the ride was uneventful.

Caught my Attention

Was it…

The spring flowers that lined the trail with different colors in different in sections,
Or the light tinge of green beginning to appear among the branches of the trees;

The big fat bird that I sighted in the distance,
That kept running away from me along the trail as I slowly caught up with it,
That eventually managed to lift its huge and somewhat ungainly body off the ground
and disappear into the woods around a corner;

The small turtle crossing the trail oblivious to the dangers posed by folks like me;

The big turtles perched on the logs in the waters of the canal warming themselves,
Or swimming in the clear waters with their backs sticking out above water level;

The incredibly bright red cardinals zipping across the trail in front of me;

The extremely loud pecking of the woodpecker ringing through the woods;

The fox crossing the trail and the canal as I approached;

The barred owl that rose from a tree just beside the trail as I went by,
Flying off to settle on a tree further away from the trail to stare at me;

The vultures that reluctantly rose from the trail as I approached,
Only to land on the trees above the trail to watch me go by;

The appearance of the two dogs that seemed to have no master,
One approaching me with an awkward and sideways gait,
Seemingly looking at me warily out of the corner of one eye,
And the other running away to the berm side of the canal to stare at me from the distance?

But the overall result was a great time riding my bike even though I did not stop to smell the roses, and even as I covered 20 miles in each direction along the towpath in  preparation for the ride from Pittsburgh to the DC area happening later in the year.

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Season

Unless I focus on the above topic from the perspective of the seasons in one’s life, I could end up going back to a familiar place and repeating myself in response to the weekly challenge since I have addressed the subject of the seasons in other photo challenges. (You can check our my submissions the past under the topics of Change, and also Happy Place.)

But I have no interest today in really saying anything about myself. Instead I will simply focus on this season of Winter up here in the northeast United States, and our experience of it during a walk we took last weekend on the C&O Canal towpath beside the Potomac.  We drove up to a section near Hagerstown, MD.

We ended up on a section of the trail in the area of Dam 4.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The swiftly flowing river appears to be clear of ice in these parts.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There is a still a layer of snow and ice on the trail.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I suspect that some of the snow on the ground is from the blizzard a few weeks back.  The consistency of the white stuff has turned somewhat hard. There are larger ice crystals on the ground that catch the sunlight, and  we found that the surface was mostly capable of supporting our weight without giving in.  The traffic on the trail has been light before our arrival, and the snow has not compressed to ice (which would have made it a more slippery and dangerous path to traverse).  That having been said, it is still more difficult to walk on the snow than on the dirt.

The surface of the trail is not characterless.  There are the fallen branches that pop out of the ice.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The dried leaves that have fallen on the ice can stand out.  I thought some of these even looked pretty.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The leaves can even start a melting process since they seem to absorb the heat of the sun faster than the ice around them.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The bladdernut pod has even created a cavity in the surface of the ice.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And there is plenty of other life around.

The snow flies (are they also called stone flies?) are everywhere over the ice.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are plenty of bird sounds to be heard all around, from the cry of soaring hawks, to the loud “wuk, wuk” call of the pileated woodpecker.  There are many small birds in the bushes all around the trail.  These are difficult to spot unless one is looking carefully, but this little thrush was very cooperative.  It sat around while I took my time to change lenses to take its picture.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Winter in our parts can certainly be more challenging than our other seasons, but there is still much to celebrate and enjoy if only you set you mind to it.

It is somewhat interesting to see the varied responses to this challenge.  Some of you in lower hemisphere are in the midst of summer (and a hot one in some places), while others in the northern hemisphere seem to be experiencing weather indicating that spring is on its way.  We are still in the throes of the winter season in our part of the world!

Unexpected Pleasures (Sept 10th, 2014)

One of the conversations I had with a high-school classmate during a reunion trip to New Mexico was regarding how much more accessible the outdoors have become here in the US since the days of our your youth when we came over from India.  It seems like there are many more parks and many more marked trails everywhere, created by all kinds of government and private entities, exposing us to more of the wonders of nature in the country.  It is a great thing!

But sometimes it is the unexpected that thrills the senses.  I was on my way to Cloudcroft, out of Alamagordo, driving up into the mountains on Route 82 from the high plains, when I came to a lookout point just before a tunnel.  This was a few miles away from Cloudcroft.  I could see White Sands behind me.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The parking lot was empty except for this older couple who had come to the location on a motorbike.  The couple looked like a rough sort, and my first thought was caution.  (I was guilty of stereotyping!) But the woman was friendly.  She wished me hello and asked me if I had been on the trail.  I said I was not aware of the existence of a trail at this spot.  The gentleman then came up and told me about a trail that led from the lookout point down into the gorge between the hills where there was a stream flowing.  He said there were waterfalls.  He said that most people did not know about the trail, which was the best thing about this spot, and that he brought his grandchildren to the stream regularly.  Since I was being flexible in my schedule I decided that I would try the trail.  The gentleman told me that it started just beyond the lookout point, nearer to the tunnel, at a place where a black water pipe ran beside the road.  He then offered to walk up with me to show me the exact spot.  I grabbed my camera bag and followed.  When we arrived at the location of the pipe all I could see was a steep slope going down from the location of the pipe. I told myself that I was not going to give that slope a try today.  The gentleman laughed, saying that he would not attempt something like that at his age himself,  and then showed me a somewhat hidden trail leading off to the right, beside the road, on the other side of the guide rail.  He pointed to a cliff in the distance that the trail would pass and told me that there was a cave-like structure over there.  The cliff looked steep.  I was not convinced that would be passable but I was going to give it a shot.  I climbed over the guide rail and followed the unmarked trail.  Pretty soon I arrived at the cliff.  Indeed there was passable trail.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pretty soon I had descended the cliff and this is what I could see behind me.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The parking lot seemed quite far away at the top of the cliffs, but in fact it had not taken me too long to get to this point.  Immediately in front of me was an opening into a shady wooded area.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And there was indeed a stream flowing in the wooded area between the hills.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I followed the stream to a series of very small waterfalls at the end of the trail.  I thought it was quite pretty.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the way back I took this picture.   It looked quite peaceful.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

During the walk back I also took my time to look at the flowers along the trail. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This was just the beginning of a wonderful (though tiring) day.

And here is another picture of White Sands, a place I was was going to visit later that day.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here is another blog I wrote during the trip to New Mexico.

Into The Morning

It was still dark when I left home at about 6:30am on Sunday morning to head out for the C&O Canal towpath trail at Brunswick, MD.  The morning star and the crescent moon were still visible above the darkened homes, while a faint glow was beginning to show up in the sky just above the  horizon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was about to get back to doing something that I had not been able to do for over a year.   I was heading out to a distant location on the towpath all by myself for a very early morning run.  And I had not been to Brunswick specifically for a much longer time.  And at this point I was actually missing the experience.  The change from my older weekend routine was made so that others could come out with me for walks in the parks on Sunday mornings. It was all for a good cause and a greater good, and something that I was (and still am) happy to be able to do.

It was 29° Fahrenheit when, following my old habits, I drove out to the nearby Starbucks for a breakfast sandwich and coffee.  Surprisingly, they still served the spinach and egg white sandwich that had been my staple in the past.  I picked up my food and drink and headed back to the car.  It was a familiar routine.

In the distance, from the parking lot, one could see the faint outlines of the sunrise.  The colors were beginning to change on the horizon.  I got into my car and on the road to the highway as the diffused light from the sun began the process of gradually replacing the darkness with light.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The sun was rising behind me as I headed north and west on Interstate 270 towards Frederick.  I had this strange feeling of familiarity, of going back to to an old place in my mind, and it felt good.   I first stopped at the scenic overlook outside of Frederick to observe the colorful sky over the still shaded valley as the sun attempted to climb above the hills behind me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Heading west out of Frederick, I continued to enjoy the experience of the sun rising into the heavens – as it lit up the sides of the houses with a golden light, a light that invited people to wake up and pay homage to a new day. I was lost in a pleasantly blissful state of mind when I made a mistake and took a wrong exit from the highway, and got on the road towards Point of Rocks, another location on the towpath.  Feeling quite unperturbed by this unexpected turn of events, I exited this new road at a random intersection with country road whose name I did not even attempt to read, and then proceeded west along this local byway.  After all, how lost could one get with the Potomac river to one side of me and the original highway that I had been traveling on to the other side.  The winding road took me up a hill from which I got an unexpectedly grand view of a broad valley below me partially lit up the sun.  This was the valley through which the Potomac flowed.  I could see a distant water tower, perhaps at Brunswick, my destination by car; and also a hint of my ultimate destination on the trail,  Harpers Ferry, the place where the Shenandoah river joins the Potomac to become a single flow, cutting though and creating a gap in the ridges of the Appalachian mountain range.  It was an unexpected treat, but I could not stop to take pictures on the narrow road.  Before I knew it the road descended the hill and I had found my way back to the road to Brunswick.

Crossing the railroad tracks at the train station at Brunswick the sun appeared to be struggling to rise above the treeline, but the railroad station was lit up in a weird shade of red.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A coal train stood in the shadows, waiting for clearance to head onward towards Point of Rocks and perhaps the power generating plant at Dickerson.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The view of the Potomac from the parking lot at the boat ramp below the bridge across the river was gorgeous.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I made my way from the parking lot on to the towpath and headed west towards Harper’s Ferry.  The cold and brisk air, and the tall misshapen trunks of the leafless trees reaching for the skies all around me, triggered something in the brain.  I was once again in my happy place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Before long I heard the lonesome whistle of a freight train from further out west, probably miles away in the area of Harpers Ferry.  I was quite sure it was headed my way.  Within a few minutes the twin engines of the freight train appeared through the trees on my right as the sun lit up the trees beyond the railroad track.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The sun began to light up the trail as it rose, while my body began to react to the exercise by building up a sweat in spite of the cold.  The numb feeling in the extremities began to vanish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After about 3 miles, the lock house at Weverton appeared to my right, still partially in the shadows.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I ran through this section of the trail, I peered through the trees on my left, the side of the trail where the river flowed, searching for the remains of the old town of Weverton  that had been washed away by floods in times past.  I did not see anything remarkable. I then passed through a section of the trail that was still completely shaded by the tall hills that rose across the river in Virginia.  The birds were still waiting for the sunrise.  I eventually broke out into an section of the trail lit up by bright sunshine.  The bridge for the highway across the Potomac appeared in front of me in the distance through the trees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Approaching Harper’s Ferry, I noticed that the steeple of St. Peters Catholic church was still in the shadows while other parts of the town were beginning to experience the direct rays of the sun.  The Shenandoah river still lay in the shadows of the hills on one side of the town, while the Potomac flowed on its other side in bright sunlight, reflecting the clear blue of the cloudless sky above it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I turned to head back towards Brunswick, the sun had ascended high enough into the sky to be able to light up the entire area, including the trail.  While it was still cold, and I was occasionally passing people who were all bundled up for protection, I was not feeling any of it.  It was time now for me to focus on the “running” aspect of this outing. I needed to try to put my camera away into the backpack and set a more regular pace for the the trip back.

Having not run this kind of distance in quite a while, I was also beginning to feel the effects of the effort on the system.  My heart indicated that it was still fine with the pace I was setting (which for some reason was becoming faster and faster according to my GPS device), but the muscles in my legs were beginning to complain.  “Dude, we need some more oxygen, and why the heck did you leave the water behind in the car?!”  My tracksuit was soaked in sweat. But I was also getting into a rhythm as my feet beat a tattoo on the towpath. I picked up steam heading east.  I was in the zone!

I huffed and puffed my way back into Brunswick where the coal trail was still waiting to depart.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The tiredness did not matter at this point as the mind was in a very different place from the sore muscles.  I got into my car and was soon heading back home after my Sunday morning visit to the Church of the C&O Canal.  Alleluia anybody?!

A Walk on a Foggy Morning

The fog began to increase in intensity as we approached the parking lot at Carderock next to the Potomac river and the C&O canal.  The temperature was below freezing as we bundled up and stepped out of the car and on to the trail.  The sun began to rise into the sky through the  trees behind us as we started our walk at a brisk pace, trying to get rid of the cold in our extremities.  The fog began to lift slowly, creating a unique and somewhat surreal lighting over the still waters and in-between the trees.  There was some kind of magic happening!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The sky had completely cleared up by the time we finished our walk and returned to the parking lot a couple of hours later.

High on the Trail

Scientists used to believe that a runner’s high was due to the release of endorphins into the system, but it was never proved conclusively.  It appears that while there is an uptick of endorphins in the blood after exercise, there is a barrier to these endorphins being absorbed into the brain.  It might turn out that this state of mind is actually caused by the release of chemicals similar to those released into the body when smoking marijuana!  Nothing has been proved conclusively yet, but if humans were more like mice….

http://www.popsci.com/runners-high-looks-lot-like-smoking-weed-in-brain

Far out man!