The Hazel Mountain and River Area Exploration

In many ways, the hike that we did last Saturday was a different experience from the ones we had done the previous two weekends. For one thing, there would only be two of us hiking this time. Christina had committed to a volleyball session that morning.

We had started this series of hikes with the mindset of tackling the more interesting, challenging, and spectacular, hikes available in the Shenandoah National Park. The question was if we would be able to find a hike for this weekend that could live up to expectations that were set based on our experiences the previous two weekends. We ended up on a hike that was a little different, and perhaps more conventional.

Jesse went to work trying to put together a loop trail in the Hazel Mountain and River area that would be interesting and challenging. We ended up traversing the loop that you see in the trail map that I am providing through this link, except that we started the hike on the road at the bottom of the mountain (on the right side of the map) instead of on the Skyline Drive (on the left side of the map). We would not be hiking the section of the Hazel River Trail shown in the map from the Skyline Drive to the loop itself. Instead, we would be following the Hazel River Trail beyond the loop at the bottom of the mountain for a very short distance to its termination point at Route 600. We would be tackling the loop in a anticlockwise direction (“counterclockwise” for most Americans! ), similar to what is shown in the map. Our total hike would be shorter than the total hike tracked at the website reached from the link.

Route 600 turned out to be a small country road. It was small enough that it was covered by gravel instead of asphalt. Driving on the road was a bit challenging. In a certain area we even drove on a steep slope that was covered with an additional layer of somewhat large sized chunks of loose crushed stone, spread there to provide better traction. It was rough on the suspension and the bottom of the car. It was notable that this was a populated area. There were a few homes behind the trees and along the side of the road. There even seemed to be local mail delivery. We could see mailboxes extending from the the sides of the road towards the roadway on supports in an attempt to reduce the risk of the mail van running off the road during delivery.

We arrived at the parking area on Route 600 to find that there was no parking lot there. One would have to park beside the road. This appeared to be a trailhead that was not used that much. There was only one vehicle parked there when we arrived.The Hazel river flowed just beside the road.We followed the road and river to a point where we had to turn left onto a private road to get on to the trail.This section of the road is considered a part of the Hazel River Trail on the map. There was a house on a hill, surrounded by woods, at the end of this road. We left the road and continued on a real trail after entering the park itself.We were already beginning to gain some altitude at this point but the slope was quite gentle.

It was a really nice day, and the temperatures were higher than during the hikes of the previous two weeks. It was not too long before layers of outerwear began to be shed. We did encounter a few people in half-sleeved T-shirts and shorts during the day.

There were a number of stream crossings in this section as the trail crisscrossed the river several times. Some crossings were more challenging than others.

At one particular spot, my water bottle came loose from the backpack, fell into the water, and began to flow downstream. Jesse managed to see where it had gotten caught in an eddy, and he managed to make his way downstream through the brush to save the water bottle as it exited the eddy.

This might also have been the same crossing where we did not cross at the marked crossing itself because of my lack of confidence. We walked upstream along the side of the river looking for a better spot. While crossing, I was reaching for rocks close to the level of the water itself at one point to make sure I did not fall in.

We arrived at a point where we left the Hazel River Trail and got onto the White Rocks Trail. This trail departed from the side of the river and took us onto a ridge that ran beside the river. It was a steep and challenging climb to get up to the ridge. During the initial section of this climb we took a direct route up a steep incline at a location where we could have taken a longer but more easily doable route. That was an intense climb, and the leaves on the trail did not make it any easier.We did get to a section of the trail that was not as steep, where we were able to catch our breath, but soon after that we were headed once again further up the side of the mountain on another steep trail to the top of the ridge. This climb kicked our butt!

Once on top of the ridge, we could get some open views on both sides of the ridge, including the hills surrounding us on both sides. This was one of the views towards the west.We could see Hazel Mountain close by, and in the distance we could even make out sections of the Skyline drive. (There is a lookout point for Hazel Mountain on the Skyline Drive.)

The hiking here was very different from what we had experienced in previous weeks. It was more of a conventional walk through the woods.There were a series of crests and drops all along the way on the ridge. The trail was designed to take us straight up and down the hilltops rather than skirt them. We were getting a great workout!

In a short while we reached the turnoff for the short trail to Hazel Waterfall.

Although it was short in distance, the trail to the waterfall proved to be challenging in scope. For the most part it consisted of a series of stone steps that went more or less directly down the side of the ridge to the level of the Hazel River.

The waterfall itself was not that impressive after all that we had experienced in the previous weeks.We had our lunch at this point.

We wanted to find out what lay upstream, beyond that waterfall. We climbed over the rock beside the falls (that you can see to the right of the picture above) to get a better view, hoping to see a series of waterfalls.Once above the waterfall, we were not impressed enough to try to clamber further upstream over the rocks beside the river.I should also mention that there is the cave next to the waterfall that is also sometimes talked about in the description of the area. It is considered an additional attraction to the place.

We climbed back up to the ridge to continue on the White Rocks Trail after our explorations.

The White Rocks Trail ended at an intersection with the Hazel Mountain Trail. We turned left, crossed over the Hazel River, and continued on the Hazel Mountain Trail for a short distance. We then got on to the Sam’s Ridge Trail for the rest of the walk back to the Hazel River Trail, at an intersection close that trail’s trailhead. This whole part of the hike was through the woods. The notable aspect of this part of the walk was the sharp drop in elevation towards the end of the trail. (You can see it in the elevation profile on the map you can reach from the link I provided at the beginning of this blog.) Leaves covered the trail in many places, creating a bit of a challenge in some of the steeper sections.On the positive side, the surface of the trail was, in general, better than that of the trails that ran next to the rivers and streams. For the most part, one did not need to step over uneven rocks, or risk tripping over them.

The hike ended with a short walk back on the Hazel River Trail and then on the road on which we had parked the car. More people had arrived while we had been hiking.

The drive back home was notable for the fact that we nearly got rear-ended by the same driver at two different intersections on the same road. The guy was coming at high speed, and did not notice until the last minute that vehicles had slowed down on the road in front of him to allow for one of them to turn onto a side road. And he did the same thing twice! Talk about not learning a lesson! We were happy to see the vehicle go off in a different direction when we turned off one of the roads we were being followed on.

The hankering for a burger for dinner had begun during the hike. A plan was set in motion to satisfy this craving once we got home. We probably enjoyed the food more than we normally would have because of our hunger. We had expended a lot of energy that day! The movie that we watched that night turned out to be a total disaster, but I had had enough beer that I dozed off through certain parts and did not complain to the extent one normally would have. I was quite happy when the movie finally ended and I could crash out on the bed in exhaustion. We had done about 9 miles of hiking and over 2300 feet of ascents and descents that day.

PS. As should be obvious, some of the pictures in this blog were taken by Jesse. He used his iPhone.

Chasing More Waterfalls

The target for last Saturday’s hike was a loop including both the White Oak Canyon Trail and the Ceder Run Trail. The trail was said to be difficult, but very beautiful because of its numerous waterfalls. We would be climbing from the base of the mountain ridge all the way up to the Skyline Drive – the road which runs along the ridge of the Appalachian mountains in the Shenandoah National Park.

I would be the first to admit that I was a little nervous at first about this hike. This was the first time in a long while that I was tackling a challenge like this. But I also had reason to feel some level of confidence. I believe I have successfully built up the relevant muscles, and my stamina, with my exercise routines and other activity over the years. This mountain was not about to stop me!

It was a long drive to get to the trail head. At some point during the drive we had to leave the bigger roads and drive on smaller country roads. We passed through farm lands and small villages. We even passed through the village of Syria close to trail head. The trail head was on private property just outside of the park boundary. The parking area was bigger than the one for the trail head we had visited the previous week. And they also had porta-potties in the parking area this time. I had to visit one immediately on arrival. The coffee that I had along with my breakfast during the drive had done its deed!

There were already many cars in the parking lot by the time we arrived. There was a somewhat large group of people who were getting prepared to hike. The backs of a few of the vehicles in the parking lot were open and people were putting on their hiking gear. This was serious stuff! It looked like people knew what they were doing. And so did the two youngsters with me.

We brought out an additional pair of hiking poles from the car to carry with us this time. I had also sprayed Scotchgard to my hiking boots prior to the trip to prevent them from getting wet if they should go into the water. It actually worked! We also carried a pair of flip-flops just in case one had to walk in the water itself. We ended up not having to use them.

It was 34°F when we departed the car. We were appropriately dressed, perhaps better prepared than the previous week. Soon after we entered the park,we came to a point in the trail where we had to decide whether we would tackle the loop that we were hiking in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. We followed the direction shown on the map that we were using and headed in an anticlockwise direction. We would be going up Whiteoak Canyon Trail first.

The trail took us straight up the canyon. The Robinson River was our companion for this section of the hike. This experience of walking uphill beside water that was flowing downhill was very different from the experience of the previous week. The water flow was more significant, and so were the waterfalls. The trail was also tougher. There were switchbacks, some of which were clustered together in short lengths to allow us to gain height within short distances. We found ourselves climbing from the bottom to the top of big waterfalls all along the way. The trail was wet in parts because of recent rains, and we could also see some water flowing from rocks beside the trail in some sections. Perhaps the pictures below can help tell a story, starting at the bottom of the trail and ending just where we left the river side.

We came to a point in the trail where we had to cross the river over a bridge.We left the Whiteoak Canyon Trail just beyond the bridge and got onto the Whiteoak Canyon Fire Road, the first step in connecting to the Ceder Run Trail in order to complete the loop. It was quite a steep uphill climb on this road,but we were able to pick up speed because of the nature of the surface we were walking on.

At a certain point, we got off the road and onto the Skyland Big Meadows Horse Trail. At this point we were walking parallel to the Skyline Drive which we could see just above us.This trail took us to the start of the Ceder Run Trail. We stopped at the intersection of the trails for lunch.It was a very short walk from there up to the parking lot on the Skyline Drive that was nearby.I wanted to check out the wayside display there.This parking lot also provided access to one of the trails to the Hawksbill Mountain viewing point, a place we had hiked to during our visit to the park last year. Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in the park.

Lunch did not take long, but we cooled down significantly during that short period of time. My fingers started to freeze, and I was not able to get over the numbness until a few miles further into the walk. I was also consuming more food during this walk when compared to our previous outing. We had expended more effort with the climb during this first half of the hike compared to last week. The elevation profile shown on the map page of the website linked to at the beginning of this blog tells it all.

It was going to be all downhill from this point onward. I started using the hiking poles. I had used them the previous week to cross a stream after my first experience of getting my shoes wet, but this was the first time in my life I was using them for regular walking (if you can call it that!). What a difference in experience! It almost felt like I was cheating. The poles provided so much additional stability. I could confidently step down over the uneven rocks on the trail without fear of losing my balance. I am now a convert, and I now understand why all the experienced hikers use the poles.

Ceder Run Trail was a very different experience for me from Whiteoak Canyon trail. The trail was generally steeper and rougher, and I had to exercise extreme caution. Going downhill is generally more challenging for me. It took me almost an hour to cover a mile of distance in one of the particularly challenging sections of the trail. The wetness of the trail, the fallen leaves, and the irregularity of the rocks on the trail in certain sections did not help, especially when all of these conditions were encountered all together, at the same time. There were also a couple of crossings of Ceder Run where the stream was flowing swiftly, and where the route across the water over the rocks that we could see appeared to be dicey. The hiking poles made the crossings easy to tackle. And, as a backup, I had the Scotchgard on my shoes! Go Scotchgard!

I must have missed many of the waterfalls on the trail because I had my head down – focusing on the hiking, making sure I would not lose my footing. I had only one stumble! A future hike that will tackle the trails in a clockwise loop is under consideration. But I did not miss all the views. I was being reminded every once in a while to turn back to enjoy what there was to see. Here are the pictures from the hike down Cedar Run Trail.

The water slide on this trail should be very obvious in one of the pictures above. I would be quite scared to do something like this! Apparently this place is a popular spot in summer.

We covered about 9 miles during this hike. It look us slightly less than 6 hours to complete the entire walk. We arrived back at the parking lot at roughly the same time as the group of hikers that we had seen getting ready for their hike in the lot in the morning. They had tackled the trail is the opposite direction as us.

And then it was time to drive back home. We picked up dinner on our way. Once home we settled down to some beer, dinner, and a movie. And then we crashed out. We were quite tired!

Chasing Waterfalls

The phrase “Don’t go chasing waterfalls” kept running through my head throughout this hike – even though the song itself has nothing to do with the activity that we were indulging in.

A temporary change in circumstances – being by myself for a few weeks – brought me to Virginia on a Friday evening for an adventure that was to begin the next morning. I had been successfully roped into a hike that I would not have attempted under normal circumstances. The Little Devils Stairs and Piney Branch Loop Trail, advertised as being 7.5 miles long and somewhat difficult, was the target for the next day’s activities.

We left home early, but it took us a while to get to the trail head. The drive was long. We had also stopped along the way to pick up breakfast. I indulged myself with a breakfast that was substantial and different from my usual pickings. After all, I needed the calories for the activities that were to take place that day.

The skies were clear when we arrived at the parking lot for the Little Devils Stairs Trail. The parking lot was quite full by the time we got there. We managed to find some space to park beside the road just outside the lot.

It was also cold. The temperature was hovering around freezing when we started up the mountain. Fortunately, there was no wind at that time. The rising sun on our backs, and the effort that we were making climbing up the hillside, warmed us up quickly and nicely. In fact, layers of clothing were shed as we climbed in spite of the temperature. The process started early in the hike,and we reached even further levels of upper body disrobing further up the trail.

What a climb this turned out to be! This was how it was nearer to the start,but pretty soon we were ascending quite steeply up the hill following the path of a stream called Keyser Run. The trail weaved its way up the sides of Keyser Run, crossing the stream itself on several occasions. We basically ended up on a trail climbing next to a string of waterfalls, walking on both sides of the stream and its waterfalls.

The slope of the trail increased as we reached further up.This turned into more of a rock-climbing exercise as we got higher and higher. There were even stairs created with rocks in some places to help. We could see other climbers making their way up – way above us – giving us a clearer indication of how steep the climb was, and of how much more we still had to climb. I did not hesitate to use my hands when needed to clamber up the rocks, making sure that the camera hanging around my neck would not slam onto the rocks, or even putting it back into my backpack in some extreme conditions.

We lost track of the trail at least once. Okay, I was responsible! I tried to lead us up a dangerous leaf-covered slope that turned out to be the wrong path. But it was not completely my fault. A tree had apparently fallen right over the intended path obliterating it from my sight. We had to detour on the rocks directly beside the flowing water to get past this section.

This awesome climb came to an end after about two miles, at a turn in the trail where it diverged from the path of the stream. This waterfall was the last we saw of Keyser Run.Soon after, we reached the Keyser Run Fire Road at a location called Fourway. The road would have provided the shorter route back to our trailhead, but we set out towards the Piney Branch Trail on the Pole Bridge Link Trail connector instead.

It should be noted that, in spite of all the climbing, we were still well below the Skyline Drive (the main road in the park) at this point. There were optional trails that could have taken us to the top of the ridge. We did not get onto any of them since such a detour would have added too much mileage to the overall hike.

After a relatively unexciting stroll on the Pole Bridge Link Trail, we turned left at an intersection to find ourselves descending down a hillside with a stream flowing below us. That turned out to be the Piney River. The river was going to be our companion for a while. We were now on the Piney Branch Trail.

At this point we started encountering heavy gusts of wind, and the sun was also beginning to play hide-and-seek with clouds that had appeared out of nowhere, presumably from the west. The heavy clothing that had been shed for the climb up Keyser Run went back on.

This part of the hike turned out to be a different kind of experience from that of Little Devils Stairs Trail. The slope of the trail was more gradual, and we also had the presence of a relatively placid Piney River flowing down the hill nearby. Depending on where we were, the trail either overlooked the river from a great height,
or ran closer to it.
I have to admit that this looked like more of a stream than a river at this point in its flow.

There were a couple of stream crossings.

It was during the first of these crossings that disaster struck. I got one of my shoes wet. I lost traction on the sloped surface of a rock when attempting to get across. This turned into my first experience on the use of poles to provide balance while crossing a stream. Once I crossed the stream, I had to squeeze the water out of my socks before continuing. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to adjust to the situation of walking in a wet shoe.

Lunch went down nicely as we relaxed beside the flowing waters.

Soon after, we reached a point where we had to take a turn to leave Piney Branch trail to get on to the Hull School Trail. This was a straight climb up a hill. The wind was howling in the dales below us, and also gusting around us, as we climbed. We put our heads down and focused on the climbing. It was an intense 500 foot climbing effort coming towards the tail end of what had already been a long walk. We were in good enough shape to make it without pausing for rest.

We met up with the Keyser Run Fire Road once again at the top of the hill. There was an interesting cemetery at this location. It used to belong to the Bolen family who used to inhabit the area. (Perhaps it still does!)They were forced to abandon their homes when this area was converted in a National Park in the 1920s. It is a sad story, captured in a poem on one of the tombstones. Unfortunately, I goofed when taking a picture of the tombstone. So I will have to say penance by typing out all the words of the poem:

Why The Mountains Are Blue, by Wayne Baldwin
Enter these here Blue Mountains,
And enjoy Sky-Line’s views,
Sample the streams and fountains,
But don’t forget the sacrifice that was made for you.

That you can come and experience this National Park today,
Many lives were affected in many different ways.
While you relax and take in all this natural beauty,
I’d be remiss if I failed in my duty…

To tell of a people who once resided on this land,
Who toiled, labored, loved, laughed and cried,
Having their lives altered by a “plan”,
And whose stories, many untold, shall never die.

Whose way of life and culture was exaggerated by many an unjust fact,
Whose property was condemned by a legislative act,
Who moved willingly or by force,
Changing forever their life’s course.

Out from the protection of the hollows and vales,
Out into resettlements onto properties their pittance procured at sales,
Looking over their shoulders with tears in their eyes,
Pitifully departing their old homes among the skies.

Leaving familiar sights, their homes, their burial plots,
Most left begrudgingly for some low country spots…
The blue of the mountains is not due to the atmosphere,
Its because there is a sadness that lingers here.

I have not been able to find out anything about the author of this poem so far.

This poem informs me of the fact that very often “progress” comes at a cost – with sad stories of the real human beings who are left behind. This is true even today. From the context of being a hiker on this every enjoyable trail, I ought to be saying a prayer of thanks. As a note, a similar kind of displacement of people, most likely on a larger scale, also took place during the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Incidentally, you will be hard-pressed to find any mainstream reference to Bolen Cemetery today. You are more likely to find blogs on the subject from other hikers like me!

The rest of this hike was all downhill from then onward, and I do not mean this in a negative sense. We walked down the hill on the Keyser Run Fire Road all the way back to the parking lot where we had started the climb up Little Devils Stairs Trail.

A short distance down the fire road, the presence of what looked like a power line running up the hill served as a reminder that we were heading further back towards civilization. There was even a clearing cut through the woods for this overhead line.We were feeling it in our muscles at the end of the walk. I am not sure if we could have tackled anything that looked like another uphill climb in good form at this point. It was good to shed off all the stuff we were carrying and for me to get out of my wet socks.

I was in a pleasantly languorous and detached state of mind as I sat in the back seat of the car while being chauffeured back home, listening to the still animated musings and conversations from the front seats. I was so happy and thankful that the young ones had included this older geezer in their activities of the day.

As a postscript, I realized after this hike that I am not in as bad a shape as I feared I would be. I am up for further adventures of this kind!

Getting My Kicks

One of the ways I get my kicks these days is by indulging in our regular Sunday morning walks. This has not happened recently due to various factors, the most recent of which was a trip to Texas for a wedding. You might think that we would at least be able to escape the cold weather by heading south to Houston, but that was not the case. It was below freezing the morning of the outdoor wedding.

Thankfully, it warmed up nicely as the sun rose into the cloudless sky.

Talking about getting one’s kicks, there is no doubt that social media provides a place for some people to get their kicks from. The number of “hits”, or the number of “likes”, or comments, in response to even some trivial contribution or the other that you make in the online world makes you feel that people are hearing you. Boosting of the ego, sometimes fragile, is part of the whole experience. Even if one professes to believe that they can somehow remove themselves from the grasp of this uniquely human feeling that you can get a kick out of, that goal cannot be achieved in its fullness unless you are in some state of nirvana and completely separated from your worldly self. Thus it is that I look forward to getting my kicks from hits on pbase or kjmusings even though I am completely aware of the fact that all of that means nothing. And if I do not have things that I consider interesting to write or post pictures about, there goes a source of one of the kicks that one gets in life.

I have had more success during the last few weeks getting back on to a different routine that has its own way of providing its own kicks – that of exercising regularly. I am surprised at the effort and discipline it takes these days to make my way to treadmill in the basement even after all these years of having indulged myself in that activity. I also find that I have not yet been able to reach the levels of endurance that I had from my earlier years on the treadmill, when I was perhaps running scared. And age is also perhaps catching up.

Maybe one day I will be able to also get my kicks on Route 66….

Water Main Break and Repair

It was a very cold morning when the water started seeping out from under the roadway. They started the repair work by punching holes into the asphalt to allow water to escape from the location where they were expecting to have to do the repair work. The water supply to the street was then completely turned off before further work could proceed.

This notice of further work went up a few days later.

Day 1 of pavement replacement. A base layer of asphalt was laid for half of the repair area after first stripping off the existing layers.

Day 2 of pavement replacement. The existing layer of asphalt for the rest of the repair area was removed, a new base layer was laid there, and the entire area was topped off with the final layer of asphalt.

The work of resurfacing was completed in two days. Vehicles were allowed on the new surface immediately after the work was complete. Impressive!

Running On Ice – The Towpath In Winter (02/07/2005)

This write up is from my early days on the towpath. The pictures shown were taken with an analog camera, and I just scanned them into the original text for the purpose of this blog.

I ran from Pennyfield Lock (mile 19.6) to Great Falls (Mile 14) on Saturday. I left home at around 7:15 am, as the sun was rising between the suburban homes that line the roads of Montgomery County, as it began to flood the intersection of Darnestown Road and Quince Orchard Road with a brilliant yellow. The sky was clear except for the jet trail of an airliner – a tiny dot in the sky, carrying human beings on their morning ride to a far off place. Imagine all the souls in that one tiny speck…

I arrived at Pennyfield Lock as the sun was beginning to hit the canal through the trees. It was below freezing as I backed-up the car into an ice-covered spot in the lot. It had snowed on Wednesday, and as I walked on to the trail I noticed that it was still covered with snow. I was uncertain about how far I would be able to go under the conditions. I could see that others had traversed this area after the storm – shoe prints, paw prints and tracks from bicycle tires were clearly visible. I started walking and realized that the soles of my shoes were offering a pretty good grip on the ice and snow. All I had to do was avoid the slippery parts, either where the sun had started to melt the snow, or where the trampling of feet had melted the ice, only to have it refreeze once again in the night. I found out that I could run!

The river was quiet early in the morning and covered with a layer of mist. There was no sign of ice on the water. The canal itself was frozen in parts. The water was pouring out over the gates of the lock and through its cracks, but further away from the lock the canal was a sheet of ice. There were footprints in places, perhaps from when it had been colder, and the ice thicker. There was even a snowman. It did not look too safe to be on the ice today. I could see cracks in places.

Great Falls is an area where the Potomac River drops by about 60 feet through ferocious rapids. The power of the water is awesome. As you approach the falls you can hear the roar of the water. As you cross the bridges that take you to Olmsted Island in the middle of the river, you experience the river at close quarters – the violent rush of water, and the white boiling foam as it blasts through the channels and crashes against the rocks.It was fantastic to be out on the Lookout at the tip of the island in the cold of the morning.I was the only person there, looking down at the roaring rapids and the rocks partially covered with snow below me. The birds that I had seen in summer at the bottom of these cliffs were gone, probably headed south. There were geese flying up in the sky in pairs, honking noisily, and probably also headed south. I started singing loudly to myself – I will survive, as long as I know how to love, I know I will stay alive, I’ve got all my life to live……

I started getting cramps in the calf muscles as I started my way back to Pennyfield Lock. It took me completely by surprise since I had covered greater distances in the past without problems. Perhaps it was the cold and the extra effort being made to ensure that one did not land on one’s butt! The rest of the trip was covered more carefully. As the sun had come up and was in the process of melting the snow and ice, it had also become more slippery on the trail. I negotiated the trail bareheaded and in my T-shirt as I removed my ski cap, track-suit top and gloves to enjoy the feel of the cold against the sweat on the skin. On the way back, I saw something sticking out the ice in the canal. A more careful investigation revealed the head of a deer with the neck all chewed up, probably by birds pecking at it. I then noticed that the rest of the body of the deer was below the melting ice of the canal. I think this was a case of an animal trying to cross the canal and falling through the thin ice. This is nature in action, and should also serve as a warning to us “civilized” folks to be careful out there. I also noticed that the river was not as quiet as it appeared to be at first glance. There were various birds on the rocks. I saw a group of more than 100 ducks and ducklings in the middle of the river, fighting the current. What a sight!

This trip to the outdoors made my weekend (and probably the rest of this week).

I cannot imagine tackling the cold these days in the way I did in 2005 as far as the clothing is concerned! I would certainly try to run on the snow/ice under similar conditions if I were on my own.

The Doldrums of January

A winter storm came through on Sunday. I was determined to get back to the towpath before the storm hit. Too many weekends had passed without my having had the experience. I would go in spite of the very cold morning that was predicted. And I was prepared to go by myself if that was the only way to make it happen.

It was about 15°F (-9.44°C) when I arrived at Rileys Lock very early in the morning.

Because of the cold, I took the concept of layering of clothes to an extreme for this outing. Four layers of clothing protected the chest and the family jewels. Two layers of socks and gloves, and a skullcap and a hoodie protected the extremities.

The first thing I noticed was the new bridge over Seneca Creek at Rileys Lock. A closer look revealed that the bridge was still under construction and was closed off.

I had no option but to head south towards Pennyfield Lock.

It was a dull and grey morning. The sun struggled from behind a thick layer of clouds that portended the coming of the storm later in the day.The water in the canal was freezing in sections because of the cold.The river still flowed freely on the other side of the trail.

The conditions were such that even the little birds flying around the trail did little to raise my level of enthusiasm. Only the colorful cardinals, now clearly visible against the brown of the deleaved plants and trees, managed to draw my attention for an extended period of time. I was not motivated to take pictures, let alone take off my thick outer later of gloves to fiddle with the camera to try to optimize any picture being taken.

Regardless of all my caution, my fingers and toes began to freeze up.

I kept walking along trying to quieten my mind. I only saw one person on the trail during the early part of the walk. His jacket was a shade of blue that caught your attention from far away, especially in the dull brown background. He turned around as I was approaching him and went back the way he had come. I was very surprised to encounter a bicyclist. He came up from behind very quietly when I thought was the only one on the trail. I might have been singing before he warned me of his presence and passed me by.

I was able to eventually internalize and mentally adapt to the cold. I reached Pennyfield Lock and kept walking past the landmark. The place could have served as a milestone to use to turn back to return to my car. My thought when I had left home that morning was that I would see how it felt walking in the cold, and turn back the moment I felt that I was on a fool’s errand and was putting myself in some danger. At that point many of my fingers were still partially numb. Some had reached an intermediate state of pain which I think had to do with the pressure on the blood vessels as they attempted to open up in my fingers. It was actually usually a good sign. I could manage, even if my extremities were not in a completely good state. I had experience with the situation and knew how bad it would get. It also helped that there was no breeze at that point. I still could feel my nose.

It was a little bit after I passed Pennyfield lock that I decided that I would try to cover about 8 miles. It felt doable. I was comfortable.

I turned back at the point where the trail ran next to the cliffs before Swains Lock. I began to encounter more people on the way back to Rileys Lock. As I was not getting good opportunities for taking pictures, the camera went back into the backpack. I decided to start jogging. It was simply something that I felt like doing at that moment. There was no planning involved.

It was a different experience once I started jogging. First of all, the movement and the rhythm of the breathing came easy even though I had not run on the trail for probably a few years. I could keep going, and the going was easy. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I had done some jogging on the treadmill earlier in the week.

And then something magical began to happen. The blood began to flow through to my extremities more freely. I could feel it. The frozen feeling began to vanish slowly, although painfully. Before long, my fingers and toes were feeling fine and I had found a rhythm on the trail. It was a rhythm that I thought I could manage forever. The miles were passing by effortlessly.

It was about 19°F by the time I got back to the car. I was not feeling the cold in the least bit!

It started snowing in the afternoon.

Once You Get Started (11/22/2014)

An oldie….

The time was the early 1970s. We had already moved to the last house that we were to occupy during our stay on the beautiful IIT Madras campus.  My cousin had also moved in with us, into our home at B-8 Delhi Avenue, near the Shopping Center and the Staff Club.

It was a beautiful place.  There was greenery all around us. There were trees all around our home.  There were the woods in front of the house.  We had a beautiful garden.  Although I did not appreciate it at that innocent age, it was an idyllic set of conditions on campus.  Life was good.  We grew up in a happy set of circumstances. We made friendships that have lasted a lifetime.

But those days must have also been a major displacement for my cousin, with his parents and brother having moved to the United States, and with his having to move in with us on the IIT campus.  Thank goodness that he also had lots of friends from the neighborhood and from school.  He managed without complaining in spite of having to share a room with me, a most immature person with his own teenage issues.  (Although I am no longer a teenager, I wonder how much of that immaturity still follows me.)

One of the things I remember from those young days was the fact that my cousin used to get “things” from his parents in the US.  Since I was into music, I appreciated sharing the little Mitsubishi combination Cassette player/shortwave radio that his dad had sent him.  (I remember tinkering with the device and even connecting it to the amplifier that I had made at home.)  I remember that my uncle also brought some music for me to listen to, including cassettes of the latest music from Neil Diamond and Led Zeppelin.  But the one thing that subconsciously impacted me the most was probably the cassette tape he brought back with a recording of music from radio stations in the US.  The tape was most likely put together by my cousin’s brother.  I listened to this music over and over again and it got ingrained in my brain.  Later on in life I heard some of this music with a warm sense of familiarity.  It took me back to a happy place.

Fast forward to the year 2014…  As a middle-aged parent of two wonderful girls who have tackled the teenage years of their own lives with aplomb, as a person dealing with the issues that are typical of middle-age, I still find myself listening to the music of the 70s.    An extended exercise regime that I have taken up (to address at least one of my middle-age issues) has brought me to the treadmill in the basement of our home on a regular basis.  While on the treadmill, I end up listening to 1970s music playing on one of those music channels I get via my TV service provider.  The 70s channel playlist includes all kinds of songs that take me back.  Then there was this moment a few days ago when I heard this song that I had not heard for very a long time.  The memory cells were awakened in some long-forgotten corner of my brain.  It was a song from the cassette tape that my uncle had given us a long time ago!  I was back in an old forgotten place.  I made sure I remembered the name of the song as it flashed on the TV screen while I was running.

Later on, in front of the computer monitor, I listened to the song once again. (Youtube is a wonderful thing!)   I realized that the song that I was listening to was not in a style of music that I spend too much time with, but I also realized that I was listening to something that was unique and notable.  I was listening to 70s funk music in its purest and most raw form.  And the nature of this song was something unique, something that had caused little details to get stuck in the back of my head even though I had paid little attention to any of it.   The video also reminded me about how times change, and how music changes with the times, about how styles change with the times, to the extent that we might even forget some of the unique stuff that we grew up with.   I have a feeling that most of the folks that I am sending this e-mail to have no exposure at all to the kind of music I am talking about in this particular instance, but I am going to share the music anyway, in the hopes that at least one person will appreciate it.  I am sending this e-mail to people in different age groups, and I am curious as to the age group of the people/person who is most likely to react to this.  Or perhaps I am in a place of my own and nobody else cares.  It does not matter. The song is “Once you get started” by Rufus and Chaka Khan.

Dig that funky music!  Dig that far-out keyboard riff!  Dig that awesome bass guitar line!  Dig those bell-bottoms!

Here is a picture I took during a walk that weekend in 2014! It was a time during which a bunch of friends used to join us for these walks. Alas, that does not happen any more.

Drat, Double Drat, and Triple Drat!

I was hoping to get back to our regular Sunday morning walk routine today. We had already gone two weekends without this outing, and I felt the need to get back to the outdoors. Winter was calling me. The snowfalls during the last week would have made for an amazing and very different exploration of the woods and its denizens. The trails would hopefully be lightly tread this soon after the storms so that one would be crunching ones way over untouched snow on the virgin trail. These dreams were quickly shattered. A quick look at the weather forecast when we woke up revealed predictions of icy precipitation for the next few hours. We changed our plans. Drat that!

I did discover that this state of affairs created a great opportunity for me to take pictures of a brilliant sunrise from our bedroom window. I would not have noticed the developing situation if I had been otherwise occupied.I have been taking pictures of the sunrise from our bedroom window more often this winter, after the replacement of the blinds on our bedroom window this summer by curtains which are easier to move out of the way.

And then, when I went to a window at back of the house, this is what I saw.It was a perfect rainbow. And the rainbow stayed up for a long time.

The colors of the rainbow were very distinct. I was however unsuccessful in taking a good picture of the separated colors because of my inability to focus on the colors when I zoomed in.There has been an added element of uncertainty, and perhaps a little bit of chaos, in events of the last week. I have not been able to see an Endodontist yet because of a positive COVID test result in the family, one that also resulted in the cancellation of an international trip that was supposed to take place last week. Plans are being adjusted on the fly. Triple Drat!

A Painful Passage Of Time

The toothache was first felt during the night of 29th December. I was experiencing short and very intense periods of pain between extended periods of normalcy. Although I could make it through the periods of pain, I felt that the situation merited my seeing the dentist ASAP. Who knows what was going on in my mouth! I tried to set up an appointment but could not get through to anybody at the dentist’s office. Turned out it was closed until January 2nd.

I decided that I did not want to declare a full emergency and that I would bear the pain until January 2nd. Methods for handling the pain were researched and suggested – and tried. There was only temporary relief.

The weekend passed. January 2nd arrived. It was snowing when we woke up – our first snow storm of the season. Snow was accumulating on the ground. There was the chance that the doctor would not open his office under these conditions. And how would I even get to the office if it was still snowing and the road conditions were bad. There was the possibility of my not being able to see the dentist.

Fortunately, the office was open in spite of the weather. I decided that there were some limits to how much pain I would bear. I drove to the office even though the conditions were not ideal. The local road had not been plowed, and the main roads were still slushy. (I had even considered walking to the office if the driving conditions were too bad.)

The dentist was unable to isolate the source of the pain I am feeling. He has recommended that I see an Endodontist. He prescribed some medicine to try to make the pain more tolerable in the meantime.

Meanwhile, the endodontist’s office is not picking up the phone and has not responded to my email…

The story continues. Life goes on. I suspect that there is a Root Canal procedure in my future.