Spring Is In The Air

it was good to get back to normal Spring weather during the walk last Sunday after the frigid temperatures and snow of the previous weekend. Indeed, the day of our first joint walk along the canal this year was also the day of the Spring Equinox. There were signs of the changes that were to come.

Spring Beauty flowers were in the process of opening up in some spaces.

This is the first Virginia Bluebell that I have noticed this year.

This part of the towpath, between Sycamore Landing and Edwards Ferry, draws me in during the Winter and early Spring. The woods and trees have a certain character that comes out especially with the early morning sun behind our backs.

Our retreat into the woods last weekend was marred by an unfortunate discovery that we made as we were walking along the shore of the river near Edwards Ferry. A group of individuals had trashed the space after an evening of partying around a fire next to a river.They did not bother to pick up their garbage. How irresponsible and out-of-touch does one have to be to not care about the damage you are doing? Why would you deliberately attempt to destroy the nature that you have just immersed yourself in and enjoyed? How self-centered do you have to be to only think about yourself and not the people who are coming after you?

By sheer coincidence, we did see some members of a volunteer cleanup crew who were going through the area looking for trash. We did alert them to the location of the garbage. We tried to do our little part in helping, by collecting a few of the empty cans that had been strewn all over the area into one location.

It looks like it is the time for the peak blooms for the Cherry Blossoms in the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC. The two cherry blossom trees in our yard are still changing.

People Get Ready

It snowed on Saturday, March 12th, 2022. It is rare that we have snow storms this late in the season, but it does happen once in a while.

It was cold enough that day the snow stuck to the ground. Prudence led me to set out on a simple walk along the canal the next day, on Sunday, rather than a real hike that would involve the conquest of mountain peaks (hahaha!). I am glad that I did this.

I did not realize how much I missed this place – the towpath. I walked from Rileys Lock to Pennyfield Lock and back. The temperature was about 20°F when I started. Fortunately, there was no wind. There was not a cloud in the blue sky. And the blue waters of Potomac matched the sky in its brilliance.

What I had really missed while I had been away from this trail for quite a while were the little birds that you always find hanging around. They create their own unique sense of atmosphere. Their background noise accompanies you in your time of solitude. Perhaps it helps soothe the soul. It is not as if these birds are even all spectacular looking to the eye. The simple sparrow is my companion on the trail. There they are, all of these different kinds of birds, just going about their business of living, hopping from one branch to another, singing, hanging around on the trail, hanging out with the squirrels, swimming in the water…. There is pleasure to be found in just observing ordinary life on the trail!

And then there was the fox that was running away from the trail in the snow near Pennyfield Lock when I first saw it. It stopped to look at me – to make sure I was not going to pose a danger to it. One look at my camera as it came up to my face and it bounded away even though I was too far away from it to do any kind of damage.

I had concluded in the past that pictures taken of snow are usually not very effective. It can be difficult to capture the proper spirit of winter when you are just seeing white everywhere in the picture. But, it has also been a long time since I visited the canal after a snowfall. The novelty of the experience must be acknowledged. I got a few pictures that I liked that morning.

The bridge over Seneca Creek at Riley’s Lock has been reopened. There is a brand new metal span over the water. I was able to cross over to the northern side of the trail and explore the area near the pond and the Seneca Quarry and Mill.

The cold did not really bother me, but I did notice when I returned to the car after the walk that the skin on different parts of my face had turned red from the exposure. It had warmed up to about 30°F by then.

One of the songs that went through my head during the walk was this one.

Eva Cassidy was a great singer who died young and never achieved the recognition that she deserved. An earlier version of this song sung by Curtis Mayfield was another classic.

Show Me The Way

The mid-nineties! We were in the process of building a revolutionary product. It was a Set-Top Box (STB) that would be capable of processing multiple input signals – two differently formatted digital TV signals broadcast via satellites; digital TV signals from local broadcasters at a time when the standards for such broadcasts (called ATSC) were being created, and as these broadcasts were going on to the air for the first time; and also traditional analog TV signals (called NTSC) from the local broadcasters. Yes, the product had to be able to tune to and process any one of the four different kinds of input signals based on what channel was being tuned to. The components of the hardware that was going to be used were brand new, and some of these components were still in the process of being developed. There were many unknowns, including a full understanding of how a system would operate with all of the components integrated on to a single platform. We also had to come up with a concept for a single integrated Program Guide for display to the customer that would encompass data from all the different kinds of inputs. And all the differently formatted video inputs from all the different input signals that we had to process had to be converted into every one of all the different output formats that the customers could possibly be using in their homes to view the content on their television set. It was a novel and complex exercise in overall system design for the times, and I had overall responsibility.

An army of workers went into action. There was a laboratory where we tested the system as it came together, feeding input signals for testing into our hardware, and outputting audio/video signals to the display devices of that time. These were the days before flat screen TVs. I still remember the original Sony 16:9 aspect ratio CRT Trinitron HDTVs that we used for testing. They were really heavy and bulky. I have a feeling I tore something and perhaps even got a hernia (which must have healed itself over time) lifting one of these behemoths on to the top shelf of a table in the lab.

Anyway, these were the days during which HDTV transmissions were still a novelty. DIRECTV’s HDTV broadcast included audio/video content that they were using primarily for testing purposes and for keeping the channel going continuously. And included in these test signals was the video of a live performance by Peter Frampton of a song I was familiar with. My memory is fading but I do believe it was the following video. (If you are a aging rocker like me, you know that you have to crank up the volume for this!)

This video became a part of the background soundtrack of my work life in those days. I think I might have even watched the video at home when I brought a STB home for testing. The family will surely remember if I did!

We did put a product out into the market at the end of the project. The product was far from perfect, including a critical aspect having to do with the heat being generated by the hardware components. In spite of its faults, the product did serve its purpose during the lifetime of its existence.

Sometimes I have to get into a particular state of mind to properly remember the pioneering aspects of some of the work that I was involved in in the industry in those days. It was thrilling, physically and mentally stressful, and exhausting! Of course, all of this technology is now a part of the mainstream and, dare I say, easier to deal with. Hardware and software for many of the functions that we implemented early on in bits and pieces are more integrated, and I suspect that people do not even have to understand the basics of how these packages work. And other things have changed. Operations of products and devices have been better rationalized and simplified, and also standardized, through many years of experience.

And there have been many more other changes in the industry, including perhaps as an ultimate step, the emergence of audio/video streaming via the Internet as a generic approach for mainstream content distribution. DIRECTV itself is now an endeavor that is in a state of decline.

I have to say that in my life I have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to learn many new things, and to also participate in building a few new things.

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!

How Infinite Series Reveal the Unity of Mathematics:Quanta Magazine

Sometimes the insight that one can get from mathematics can feel like magic. If you allow yourself to follow the logic, you can find constructs in different areas of mathematics that seem to be unrelated to each other that somehow fit with each other in a logical and intellectual way that feels as real as any physical experience – like something you can touch and feel. Perhaps one can find a way to really begin to appreciate how the truths of math and science are foundational to our lives these days. Sadly, there are easier paths to other kinds of “beliefs”, paths that seem to require less effort to follow, which in the end can turn out to be very destructive to our collective existence.

At the least, check out the two puzzles in the Quanta article that I am providing a link for here. Follow your intuition!


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.