Witness To A Molting

We had just stopped at the Turtle Run campsite near Whites Ferry towards the end of our bike ride in order to take a break. I happened to stop next to a tree. She had stopped further along on the trail. She turned towards me and had a reaction that I know well from past outings. I looked back to see a Black Rat snake shedding its skin while descending down the trunk of the tree next to me. I moved my bike a little bit out of the way and grabbed the camera from the backpack. This was the sight!

The snake knew what it had to do after leaving its old layer of skin behind. It slid down to the bottom of the tree, and then moved purposefully through the grass towards the edge of the trail.After making sure that its path was clear, its crossed the trail in its brand new skin!

The Swallow And Its Little Ones

We had gone to the Seven Oaks Lavender Farm in Virginia for the morning. The idea was to spend some relaxation time in an outdoor environment, and to also incidentally experience something that could be possibly unique and different. It turned out to be a very nice morning in the countryside. It was early for some of the lavender flowers, but we got to pick some of the earlier flowering English Lavender. There were also other plants and flowers in the field.

In keeping with the spirit of the morning, we bought some lemonade and lavender cup cakes and wandered over to the the rocking chairs on the porch at Grandma’s house on the farm – to relax and enjoy the scene in front of us.

We found this nest on the porch.Turns out that there were some young babies in the nest. The parent birds flew in and out of the nest feeding the nestlings. The birds did seem to be somewhat distracted by our presence, but they did continue their process while we sat there.

I think these were barn swallows.

The Bunny Tale

We had just stopped at Edwards Ferry during our bike ride to take a break and use the portapotty. I spotted this little one next to the trail.I slowly walked towards the rabbit, fully expecting it to bound away into the grass. Quite unexpectedly, it just sat there – very still.I got right up to it. Eventually getting tired of my meddling presence, it decided to move away to a different location. But it did not leave the trail. It actually moved in the direction of our bicycles. It paused on the trail while I approached. I got almost right in its face.It was then that it finally decided that it had had enough of my botheration. It departed into the grass.

I also had a couple of turtle encounters on the trail during the ride. But these animals would not have been able to get away from me even if they wanted to. They just sat there on the trail watching me inquiringly.

And then there were the Indigo Buntings. There were so many of them! Some day I will be in a position to even get some more pictures of of these birds. Some day I might even run them over on my bike inadvertently. They are not good at getting out of the way.

At one point, I even had a deer keep running ahead of me on the trail for a while, while I kept catching up to it slowly but surely on my bicycle. We were moving quite fast. I had not realized until then that it was possible to keep up with the speed of a deer.

One day I will also be hit by either a squirrel or a chipmunk darting across the trail. It seems inevitable!

And one has to always watch out for those snakes!

Quietude

Here is a picture taken during our walk last weekend. We walked from Dickerson towards Monocacy Aqueduct that day.

This section of the trail is near the power plant at Dickerson, just before you get to Spinks Lock. It was early enough in the morning that the rising sun still lay hidden behind cliffs next to the canal.

Early mornings on the C&O Canal towpath are the best for a number of reasons.

Feeling The Heat

We went out for our second joint bike ride of the season the day before yesterday. Since we knew ahead of time that it was going to be a scorcher of a day, with temperatures in the 90s (°F), we left early to try to beat the heat, but we were not very successful in achieving that goal.

I managed to get a new bike rack for the Prius in the meantime. This one fit over the bump in the rear end of the car. The bike rack itself looked less sturdy than the one we have for the Honda, but the reviews that I had read makes me want to give it a try. This being the first time the rack was being used, we were very deliberate and careful about how we mounted the bikes, checking every strap along the way, and placing duct tape over areas of the bike that might rub against the carrier itself. This bike rack unfortunately does not have an additional strap that goes around the multiple bikes in order to attach them to the main section of the frame. The bikes just hang on the carrier rods that they are attached to.

We were more careful than usual during the drive to the canal. We did not go far, and I kept looking back at the bikes as we drove. It all went well.

We rode upstream from Violettes Lockand ended up near Whites Ferry before turning back.

It was cool under the trees, especially earlier in the morning,but you could feel the heat on your shoulders the moment we were exposed to the direct sunlight. One felt the most exposed when crossing the open stretch of trail under the crackling and buzzing high voltage power lines that cross the river.

We took a few breaks during the ride. Going forward, we will need to also carry more water with us. It is easy to get dehydrated.

Considering the conditions, I was surprised to see people on the river later in the morning, completely exposed to the sun. I hope that there was liberal use of sunscreen.

I did hear and see a bald eagle flying over the trees in the area near Rileys Lock, but it was difficult to stop in time to follow the flight of bird, to see where it was going. We did see a few Indigo Buntings. These bright blue birds would land on the trail in front of us, but we would be going too fast to stop in time to take a picture. I had to settle for pictures of an egret and a great blue heron. I even managed to chase the egret away! There were also plenty of dragonflies beside the trail, but I did not stop for pictures.

We also found a lot of fluffy white seed pods all over the place in certain sections of the trail and on the canal itself.I do not know what tree or plant these come from.

This is also the time for the mock strawberry fruit.

We spent a good part of the rest of the day recovering from the efforts of the morning. It does not seem to matter that all of my past biking efforts took place in the heat of summer. It still takes a good deal of effort to get used to the conditions once again.

It has cooled down in the days since the ride, but I am sure that this is only a temporary reprieve.

Hope For A New Routine

We made two trips to the towpath this week. First, there was our usual Sunday morning walk – this time from Point of Rocks to Catoctin Aqueduct and beyond. And then, with new bike in hand, and the old one back in the hands of its original owner, we went out together for a bike ride on Wednesday. We rode upstream from Sycamore Landing to Whites Ferry and beyond. I am hoping that joint bike rides along the towpath will also become a regular habit going forward.

But the idea of joint bike rides has also opened up another issue to consider, one of transportation of bikes on the back of the car to whichever place we happen to be going. Carrying two bikes is more problematic than carrying one. Fortunately, we did manage to carry the bikes on the older Honda using the original trunk mounted bike rack that we have had for many years. We were successful in spite of a broken rubber strap on the carrier. Since that strap was meant for the bike that would have to be placed in the inner position, closer to the car, it turned out to not be a critical issue. The bike in the outer position was secured and we made sure that the one in the inner location did not move. Nevertheless, I was extra cautious about the bikes on the back of the car while driving. I had visions of bikes flying off the back just because I had forgotten to consider some aspect of the process of tying them down.

We still have to figure out how to carry the two bikes on the Prius. The shape of the rear end of the car makes it impossible to use a regular trunk bike carrier.

We started the walk last Sunday very early in the morning since we had a later engagement. Water levels were back to normal at Point of Rocks. The brown color of the water from the sediment being carried during the flooding event had vanished. You could see the clumps of mud that the overflowing river had left behind around the boat ramp. The mud made things slippery.

It is always nice to see the bridge across the river at Point of Rocks in the morning light.

This is the entrance to the first of two tunnels for the railroad just north of Point of Rocks.The tunnels are a result of the lack of space for both the canal and the railroad tracks beside the river at the time when both of these entities came into existence. The C&O canal and the B&O railroad companies were in competition with each other in those days and this was a compromise that was forced on them by the authorities. At the end of the day, over the long run, there was really no competition since the railroad provided a much more cost effective solution to moving goods and people around in these parts.

It was rather chilly when we started our bike ride on Wednesday. (A few days earlier, we were using the air conditioner in the house. The weather pattern has been crazy recently!) We rode our bikes for a few hours and did warm up during that time. It has been a few years we have last went out on a bike ride together. Some things needed to be relearned. There were adjustments to be made. One had to become familiar with the bike once again. In the end, everything went well. There was the expected soreness that a first timer can expect to experience after the first ride.It was sad to see the Jubal A. Early “beached” like a dying whale during our rest stop at Whites Ferry.The ferry service has been closed since December 2020 because the operator lost their landing rights on the Virginia side of the river. There is a conflict between the owners of the land in Virginia and the owners of the ferry. Ownership of the ferry has changed more recently, but the new owner has also not been able to find a solution. The issues involved are proving to be intractable and difficult to resolve. The local governments are also eager to help resolve the issue because the ferry was still being used as a commuting resource by people living in the area working on the other side of the river. This ferry service had been operational since 1786, and it is (was?) the only remaining ferry service across the Potomac river. I hope they can reopen.

On a different note, the flooding that happened a few weeks ago has caused severe damage to the trail upstream of Whites Ferry.I remember there having been issues like this during past flooding events. The newly refurbished and reinforced trail seems to have been no match for the force of the water flowing from the canal bed across the trail. I feel that some other approach needs to be taken to mitigate the problem.

The white Rosa Multiflora flowers seem to be dominating the canal scene in these parts these days. The flowers of Spring are slowly fading away.

Dam 4 and Mather Gorge After The Rain

It rained steadily through the later half of last week. Although the rain was not heavy enough to cause flash flooding in the neighborhood, it rained long enough to cause a record or two to be broken in terms of the volume of rainfall we received.

There had been warnings in the weather reports about possible flooding on the river over the weekend because of the rain. It was an unintended invitation for me to check out the conditions at Dam 4 on the Potomac on Sunday. Although the rain had stopped by that time, its impact on the flow of water on the river was still in its early stages.

The water was nearly up to the level of the road as we approached the parking area for Dam 4. The entire trail was under water downstream of Dam 4. In the picture below, you can see the trail vanish into the water as it descends from the level of the dam.

Instead of gently flowing down the side of the dam as it usually does, the water was pouring out with full force well beyond wall of the dam – into a chaotic churning foam of brown whitewater.

All kinds of flotsam and jetsam, including massive tree trunks, were being carried over the top of the dam, only to be caught in a debris field at the bottom of the dam.At one point I even noticed a huge tree truck caught in a upright configuration above the swirling waters. It held that position for an moment or two, somehow magically kept balanced vertically by the chaotic forces of the swirling waters at its base, before finally disappearing into the downstream flow. There was the steady roar of the angry waters of the river in the background.

The road upstream of the dam, in the direction of the parking lot at Big Slackwater, was closed because of the conditions, but the trail was still open. So we took the opportunity to walk towards Big Slackwater to see what the conditions were like there. On one side of the dry trail was the swiftly flowing river, now just a couple of feet below the level of the trail because of its flooded state,and on the other side, well below us, was the canal – usually dry but now full of water because of the rainfall.

The difference in heights of the river and the canal in this section is because they are fully separated. If not, there would have been water close to where we were walking on both sides of the trail, in which case the trail would probably have been closed. As things stood, I still had a nagging concern about the the river possibly cresting above the trail while we were on it.The trail itself looked like it had been recently repaved.

We found parts of the Big Slackwater parking lot partially under water. The boat dock was floating well above its normal level.

The picnic area beyond the parking lot was fully under water.

The trail was marked as being closed beyond this point, but we walked a couple of hundred feet more along the pathway to the inlet lock from the river. No water enters from the river at this point because the lock is now cemented shut.

Just beyond the inlet lock we could see the trail disappearing into the water as it descended to the level of the river.It was clear that we would not be able to continue our travels further upstream. The trail at Big Slackwater was clearly not passable. We had to return to Dam 4.

The parking lot at Dam 4 had been empty when we first arrived, but there were many more vehicles there by this time. Some people were fishing at the stop lock and others were watching the water flowing over the dam.

Since we were still interested in seeing the impact of the high water on the river, and since we had not walked much at the point, we decided to drive to Great Falls, closer to home, to take another look at the river.

We encountered the usual weekend park traffic when we arrived later in the morning at Great Falls. The parking lot was about half-full. The walkway to Olmsted Island, from which vantage point you can see the actual Great Falls, was closed because of the level of the water. So was the Billy Goat Trail over Mather Gorge.

But one did not have to leave the towpath itself to see the impact of the flooding. Water was pouring over Dam 2 just upstream of The Tavern at Great Falls,and all of the rocks that one would normally see in the path of the river next to the towpath in the area just downstream of the tavern were completely under water.

The were cascades in places that were normally above water.

The section of Mather Gorge next to the towpath was full. This is how the area looked under normal conditions a few months ago.

We did continue our walk along the towpath towards the far end of Widewater, to the place where the Billy Goat Trail ends. Being separated from the river, the water in this section of the canal was at its normal level. Everything was calm.You would have had no suspicion that the river was in its full fury just close by – just a few hundred yards away on the other side of the trail.

We encountered many people on the trail, both on foot and on bikes, during this part of the morning walk. Many people live in this area of Montgomery County. It must have felt good for them to be able to get outside after having been cooped up indoors because of the rain.

I will end with a final note that the river does usually return to its normal levels very soon after an episode like this.

Riding My New Bicycle For the First Time

This is the first new bicycle that I have bought for myself. (I did actually buy a used bike once before – as an unemployed graduate student – for almost zero cost! Maybe that is a story for another day…) The bike I have been riding for the last few years belongs to Teresa. It is a woman’s hybrid bike that has served its purpose, but it is somewhat small for my size, and it was not really built for the heavy-duty usage that I was putting it through. I had somehow managed with her bike, not feeling a necessity to spend money on this background pastime of mine that could be considered non-essential. I kept postponing a final decision about a new bike. But the kids finally put me to shame with a present that they had bought me last year. It was a camera bag that was supposed to attach to my new bike! Where was the bike?!

I did some research before going out to the stores. I test rode a couple of bikes. I did have a couple of bikes in mind when I finally went out shopping, but I ended up buying a completely different bike from those on my list! My final choice was between a somewhat staid REI Co-op CTY 2.1, and the Trek Dual Sport 2 that looked more sporty. Both bikes had similar features. The Trek bike might even have been a little ahead in feature comparison, but I finally got the bike from REI because of the benefits of membership in REI.

I rode the new bike on the towpath for the first time last Thursday. The first challenge was fitting it on to the bike rack on the back of the car. It turns out that the bike barely fits into its position on the carrier. I am going to have to make further adjustments.

It was actually not the best day for a ride, but the bike had been sitting at home for a while, and I was itching to try it out. It was cloudy and chilly, and I could feel the cold of the gentle breeze on the skin as I rode. Fortunately, I was somewhat prepared for the weather – with a long sleeved bike shirt and a sleeveless vest (apparently also called a golf vest – who knew!) on top of it. It took a while for the numbness to go away from my fingers.

Since this was also my first bike ride of the season, I also found it to be somewhat of a relearning experience. I do need to get the muscles that are used in this exercise routine back in shape. And it was also the other simple and basic things that I had to think about while riding. I had to remind myself of the danger of drifting across the trail if I turned my head to look back while riding. I had to get comfortable once again with the experience of passing other people who were on foot or on bikes on the trail. You cannot always predict how somebody else will respond to your presence.

The bluebells have almost all disappeared from the trail, but most of the flowers that I regularly observe in Spring have made their appearances. Getting on the trail, it was this field of buttercups near Pennyfield Lock that first caught my attention.

Once on the trail, I stopped every once in a while to take pictures of the Wild Phlox, Fleabane, Chickweed, Ragwort, Spiderwort, Honeysuckle, Dames Rocket, Yellow Iris, Violets, etc.. The Rosa Multiflora will be flowering soon.

The squirrels and the birds were quite active. The presence of a relatively fast moving bicycle on the trail seemed to confuse some of these creatures. One of the squirrels almost ran into the spokes of the bicycle. Birds would occasionally fly across the front of the moving cycle, and sometimes they would fly ahead of the bicycle and try to land on the trail, seemingly misjudging the speed of my approach towards them. I deliberately made an effort to keep a somewhat slower pace and not speed up. I needed to get more comfortable with the gearing on the new bike first and find out what worked the best for me.

There were plenty of turtles that were out and about.I did notice that the herons were missing in action. (It fact, they have been generally missing in action during our last few outings!) I finally got a sight of one of them in the distance towards the end of the ride at the pond near Rileys Lock.

Even though I was prepared for it, I was surprised to have encounters with snakes this early in the riding season. (I can sense a shudder going through some of the readers!🙂) Both of the snakes I saw were small in size.
I cannot make up my mind about the kind of snake the second one was. It seemed to have the pattern of a Northern Copperhead on its body, but it was darker than the Northern Copperheads I have seen during previous outings. I also do not think the eyes were the right shape. This one had round eyes. Anyway, I kept a safe distance away from it.

And then there was the experience that I mentioned in my previous blog!

All in all, it was a good first ride on the bike!

Driving From Behind

I was on the towpath, crossing the new bridge across Seneca Creek, when I saw this sight on the Potomac river yesterday. The parent duck (from its haircut I think it is a female Common Merganser), which had been leading its little ones towards the middle section of the river, changed direction and headed back towards a section of the Maryland shore that was hidden from my sight. I suspect that the duck had just noticed me on the bridge, sensed danger, and was looking for protection for its brood.

I can understand that the parent duck likes to keep all its ducklings in its sight in front of it when they are headed out somewhere as a group, but I do not understand how it manages to direct the direction of their swimming from behind, and keep them in a straight line when doing this. What kind of natural intelligence is in play at this point? Notice that this is happening in spite of the distance between the parent and the little ones in this case. There could be some audio communications going on, I suppose.

The thought also occurs to me that this is a very dangerous situation for the brood to find itself in. There is no way to escape other than by diving underwater if there were an attack by a predator bird. There must have been a good reason why the parent duck had set out on this hazardous journey across the river.

There are always a lot of interesting things going on in nature.