Very sweet! I am going to have to find this book in the library.
It happened last week as I was biking back from Bethesda on the Capital Crescent Trail. I had just crossed the trestle bridge over the C&O canal as I descended towards the level of the towpath.
I passed something colorful on the trail. It was long and had some patterns on it. I was pretty sure it was a snake. I got off the bike and pulled out my camera, making sure I had the zoom lens on it. I confirmed that it was indeed a snake, and it was one that I was seeing for the first time. That was exciting! The snake was a few feet long, and somewhat “fat” in the middle. It had colorful patterns across its back. It looked like it had started crossing the trail, but now it lay still as I got closer, clicking away on the camera. There was nobody else around as I took my pictures. The reptile did not move.
I managed to get all the pictures I wanted. As I was getting ready to leave, a bicyclist approached, charging down the path towards the location of the snake. I called out that there was a snake in front of him. He ignored me completely. He barely acknowledged me the second time I called out – as he sped past, not even bothering to look at what I was pointing to. He was focused on a rider who was biking in the opposite direction since my bike was partially blocking the trail further downhill. He did not really care about the snake. I think he avoided it just because he was trying to avoid me. The biker going the other way also went by without spotting the snake. Something that had grabbed my interest was of no significance to them. We were traveling along the trail with completely different mindsets!
Soon after all this activity, and perhaps because of it, the snake turned around retreated back to where it had come from.Since this was a snake I was unfamiliar with, I was eager to upload the pictures to my computer when I got home to take a look at them on a bigger screen. Some research followed on the Internet. It was leading me to a conclusion (somewhat exciting to me!) that I had seen a somewhat unique reptile. But I needed confirmation for my finding. That confirmation came in the form of an e-mail a few days later, including the following information.(The links in the image above are this and this.)
I had indeed had a close encounter with a Northern Copperhead snake, one of only two venomous snakes present in Maryland. (The other one is called a Timber Rattlesnake.)
As with a lot of people, for some reason or another, I do have an inbuilt fear of snakes. I would like to believe that over the years this fear has become somewhat more rational. The fear still does exist, but my reaction is not of instant panic. I try to keep a healthy distance from a snake. In this case, my caution was justified!
In any case, after events like the one above, one becomes more alert in the woods than usual. It does not help when there are signs that say that venomous snakes have been seen recently, which was the case when we hiked Sugarloaf Mountain last weekend. We did not see any snakes during that hike.
I found this framed picture one day beside the trail. How I happened to come upon the picture that was somewhat hidden in the bushes beside the trail while I was riding a bicycle I do not remember anymore. In spite of the fact that I tend to ride long distances without stopping, I was drawn to this precise spot for some reason or the other. What are the chances?
How the picture got there, I do not know. It did appear to have been positioned carefully, not simply thrown into the bushes. Could it have been placed there in memory of somebody who had just died, somebody who had liked to spend time on the trail? Was this a picture taken in the person’s younger days, or was this the way he looked before he died? Was the person even dead? Was he a kind man? Was this person originally from India? What were the circumstances that brought him here? Where did he call home?
I will probably never learn the story behind this picture I found beside the trail.
Ultimately, everybody has their own story to tell, good and bad, happy and sad. I am sure each story is worth the knowing, whether it is positive or negative. This is perhaps one of the characteristics of being human, the ability to have, to remember, and to tell, a life story. And we also have an capability to try to learn from each other’s stories – if we choose to do so.
Whenever people meet for the first time, whether it is in social or purely transactional circumstances, it is always an intersection of all of the life experiences of the individuals involved at a single point in time and, in many cases, space. Does an opportunity await to learn something, or do we simply make assumptions and judgements about all it is that brings the other person to this same time and space as you? In some situations we may have no choice but to make assumptions and be judgemental, but could we also end up being wrong if we did so? Do we have the confidence to be more open and vulnerable in order to learn the real reality?
I have been seeing black rat snakes more regularly on the C&O canal towpath ever since I started bicycling there – which is only more recently. I think I see more snakes when biking just because I cover a lot more distance on the trail than when on foot. The black rat snake is actually a very common denizen of the woods in these parts. They are easily recognizable from the color and the white patch underneath. They can grow quite long. They are supposed to be quite harmless but I have not tried to find out if this is true! They get their name because they eat rats and other small creatures.
I had seen only one black rat snake on the trail this year until yesterday, which is somewhat unusual for a biking season. But that changed yesterday. There was something about the morning that seemed to bring them out into the open in larger numbers.
I am usually on the lookout for anything black that lies across the trail when I ride. Many are the times that I have been fooled into thinking that a fallen branch from a tree lying across the trail looked like a snake! And when you are on a bicycle, the distance between you and the “snake” tends to vanish very quickly. You do not want to ride over the snake.
But I did see a real snake a few miles into the ride yesterday. At first I could not make out which direction is was headed in. A closer look revealed that it was beginning to cross the trail. I think I disturbed it enough that it might have changed its mind about crossing the trail.I did not have time to take a picture the second time I ran across a snake. There were two old ladies approaching from the other direction on their bikes, and the black snake was in the middle of the trail. I stopped and noted that there was a snake in front of them. They had not noticed it, and they did not understand me the first time I pointed out the snake. Luckily, they grasped what I was saying in time to avoid riding over the reptile. I think it was sufficiently disturbed by the traffic all around it. “You scared the darned thing”, I said to the women as they rode off behind me. Not very polite… (In any case, I crossed paths with the women once again on my way back and we exchanged pleasantries. No issues…)
As if these encounters were not enough, I saw yet another black rat snake by the side of the trail further along in the ride! This time I stopped for pictures.In all cases yesterday, the snakes actually stayed quite still while I approached them on the bike, and while I was scrambling around with my camera. This was in contrast with what happened the one time I saw one of these snakes earlier this year, when it was making haste across the trail to slither away into the grass.
I did not not see any more snakes on the way back from Whites Ferry, which was my destination for the morning.
This is also the week that I am trying to jump start my running routine once again in order to get my regular exercise. This is the first time after the Pittsburgh to Cumberland bike ride. The once-a-week bike rides that I have been up to recently have not been doing too much for me. I either need to bike more or add something different into the mix.
I am learning a few more things about the body in the quest to adapt my exercise routines. The last time I shifted from biking to running (after my bike ride in 2016), I felt so much discomfort that I thought I was having an episode similar to the ones I had had in 2008 that led to the discovery of CAD. This year, for the first time, I had a wristwatch that kept a track of the heartbeat while running. It turned out that my heartbeat went up quite significantly the moment I started jogging, and it went up to a rate much higher than what it is when I am biking. Pushing the muscles in any part of the body, even the heart, out of its usual comfort zone for the first time in a while is bound to create a reaction of some kind. Best not to overdo it. I expect that this discomfort will go away if I stick to the running routine. In fact, I did not feel it once I had warmed up. I also found myself quite rusty with regards to the running routine itself, tripping over the roots of trees that lie across the trail in the woods much more frequently than I am used to doing. It is easy to lose touch with things.
I had just started making my way back after riding into Washington DC from Pennyfield Lock. I was stopped in my tracks by this wreath of beautiful roses next to the Potomac river in the Georgetown Waterfront Park. The first line on the white ribbon that lay diagonally across the wreath read “Remember, Heal and Reconcile”. The second line read “400th Year Commemoration 2019”. I could not figure out what it was all about until today. And I spent a lot of time this morning trying to get a better grip on this story and really get into it. You can read an article about it here. I found this audio clip related to this story also interesting.
Just to give you a high level background, 20 or so slaves arrived from Africa for the first time on an English ship at Jamestown in August 1619. This notable event was a part of the beginnings of a complete moral disaster that has its impacts even today. Unfortunately, there are people who still wish to rewrite this piece of history even today.
I also saw this.In light of the shenanigans going on in government today, and especially at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it was somewhat ironic to see this on the plaque below the sculpture.And this was posted in the same neighborhood next to the river.Yuk!
Lest somebody thinks that I am a grouch, I really did enjoy the morning and did have a good ride. Here are some other pictures from the park.
And here is a picture of Swains Lock taken in the early morn.Life goes on!
It is the darnedest thing! I have had this particular blog in the back of my mind for quite a few days. I keep thinking about it every day, but I cannot get myself into the proper state of mind to write it. There are so many distractions. I am just going to have to force myself to eject the words out of the brain in free form when I have a little bit of free time, and then read it all back later to see if it makes sense.
It had to do with my bike ride last Wednesday. It was another one of those rides that required some extra motivation on my part to get it going. I am finding it hard to maintain a regular schedule. I am too good at finding excuses. It had rained the previous day. The trail was going to be messy. Perhaps I should stay home. That was my excuse this time.
But I found a way. I decided that I would ride on the paved trails in Virginia so that I could avoid the mud and potholes of the C&O canal. In order to do this, I would park the car on Canal Road at the Chain bridge, on the outskirts of Washington, DC, and then head south on my bike on the towpath into Georgetown. I would then cross the Potomac river into Virginia on the Key Bridge. I was then going to ride south on the Mt. Vernon Trail. I did not know how far I would ride on this trail, but I knew that if I rode to the end, it would end up being a somewhat tougher ride than usual.
Things went according to plan as I rode into Virginia somewhat early in the morning. As I crossed the Key Bridge, I could see and feel the rush hour traffic headed into Washington, DC. This was was the scene on the Roslyn side of the bridge.I got on to the Mt. Vernon trail at this point and started pedaling away beside the river, passing Roosevelt Island early in this section. There was a very short stop for pictures at Gravelly Point Park. There was already a steady stream of planes headed into National Airport.The airport was busy. Both runways were in use.
The Mt. Vernon trail passes under the Woodrow Wilson bridge just beyond the town of Alexandria. This bridge carries Interstate 495, the Capital Beltway, over the Potomac river. The approach ramps of the bridge pass over Jones Point Park. The Mt. Vernon trail snakes its way between the massive piers of the bridge at this point. There is a lot of open space under the bridge and people of all ages hang out there – fishing by the river, playing basketball, biking around, etc… It seems to be a meeting place for groups of mothers with babies.
Most often I bike right through Jones Point Park without stopping. But this time, an unexpected thought crossed my mind just as I was headed out of the park. At that point of the ride I was thinking to myself that I really did not care about the distance I covered that day. So why not take some time to get off the trail and explore some of the smaller, less well-defined, paths that I had seen in the past while riding through the park. It was a sudden decision. It also turned out to be a great decision!
Riding along a smaller trail, I ended up at a spot where I began to see boundary markers beside the trail, with signs on these markers for the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. These markers were lined up in straight lines, with the black line on their tops indicating the actual boundary line between two jurisdictions.There was also a lighthouse beside the river, and a few wayside exhibits around it.
It turned out that I was at the tip of the area of land that originally defined the southern limit of Washington, DC! These newer boundary markers were meant to mark the historical boundaries of the District of Columbia. The history is very interesting, and you can read more about it here. Essentially, the District of Columbia was originally conceived of as a diamond shaped area of land with sides of 10 miles each, with a total area of 100 square miles. The land for DC was going to be obtained from both Virginia and Maryland. In the end, the land that Virginia was going to give up in this regard was taken back. (This covered about 31 square miles.) This was called a “retrocession”.
Another interesting fact is that when the original area for DC was being mapped out, boundary markers were set into the ground at one mile intervals along the sides. Most of these boundary markers still exist, including the one at the southern tip, the place I was at!
Unfortunately, I did not think about the significance and existence of the original boundary markers while I was in the park. It was only later that I read that the original southern boundary marker for Washington, DC, was actually embedded in the seawall in front of the lighthouse. It is something that I will stop to investigate further the next time I am in the area. It is located on the right side of this picture of the lighthouse, under a cover of plastic. It is next to the wayside exhibit and in front of the steps, below the level of the ground.I took pictures of a couple of the wayside exhibits that provided some historical information. (You can click on the pictures to open them up in bigger size.)I continued my bike ride past Jones Point Park. At this point, I was within reachable distance of Mt. Vernon and the end of the Mt. Vernon Trail. The temptation of complete the trail was too much to overcome. So, I biked to the end. It was not the optimal decision.
The ride began to take its toll on the way back. Basically, I was retracing my path. The ride was beginning to feel somewhat more mechanical at this point as I endeavored to keep a steady pace. It became more about the challenge of the ride. I was even beginning to pick up speed as a matter of course. My mindset for the ride had shifted. This is typically what happens to me when I bike long distances. It is more relaxed in the beginning, and then, bit by bit, it becomes more intense.
I began to tire without even being too aware of it. I was also running out of water. I stopped at Fletchers Cove, about a mile short of Chain Bridge, the place where I had parked the car. My thigh muscles cramped up immediately when I got off the bike. I had pushed myself too hard.
I was able to buy a bottle of Gatorade at the concession stand at Fletchers Cove. More than half the bottle went down the throat immediately. After a few minutes, I was able to get back on the bike and continue riding to the car. I had no further issues. Because of the long stop at Fletchers Cove, I had also managed to alter my mindset, and I was able to ride at a more relaxed pace.
In the end, I had ridden over 44 miles. I have ridden longer distances than this in the past, but under different circumstances. I was probably also in better shape when I did longer distances!
That is my story for the day, and I am sticking to it!