The Heron Who Was Not Afraid

It has been an absolute blast riding this week because of the weather.   I have gotten on the trail early enough in the morning with the temperatures still in the low 60s.  Some people may feel too cold under these conditions, but this kind of weather is ideal for me.  I rode down to the city twice, and from there on to the Mt. Vernon trail and the Arlington Loop on the different days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt feels like the effort level that I am putting into riding, especially when I am on a level surface, has gone down.  I can feel very relaxed even when moving along quite briskly.  The wheels keep turning easily, and I do not feel like I am pushing it to keep up the pace.  The weather might have something to do with it.  Hope it stays this way for the long ride.

As I was approaching Great Falls yesterday, I saw a great blue heron on the trail beside the canal.  I expected it to fly away as I got closer, but it did not.  I stopped my bike  (front brake squealing!), pulled out my camera, and walked on the trail beside it taking pictures without a zoom lens.  It did not flinch.  This has not happened before. If the herons are this close, they usually fly away.  I finally returned to my bike with the bird still hanging around.  I wonder if the birds are getting too friendly for their own good.
P8241729.jpgI also ran across a big group of kids on the trail who made my morning!  They were blocking the trail when I first saw them in the distance.  But I was observed while still in the distance, and they all moved in a systematic way to a side and then turned to face the side of the trail I was riding.  It was as if they were waiting for the show, similar to a march-past.  And so a show was what I put on! I rode past them trying to show good form, crouched over the handlebars a little bit, and feet pumping systematically, and moving efficiently.  As I rode by, keeping a good pace and thanking them for clearing the trail, they cheered me on enthusiastically.  I heard at least a couple of “woohoos!” I am hoping that at least one of the kids was motivated enough by the encounter to consider asking their parents for a bike so that they could ride the trail.  Any chance of this happening?

Here are some pictures taken from the rides.

This is a view of the trail in a section of Widewater that kept getting washed away until they built this structure.  I do remember traversing this section before this construction.  You essentially had to navigate a pile of rocks.  People on bicycles would ride the Berma Trail which ran along the other side of Widewater in order to get past this section.
P8241731.jpgHere is a picture of a sweet chestnut fruit taken in a a park on the Mt. Vernon Trail.  It took me a while to identify this fruit.  I actually thought that chestnuts did not grow in the country any more because of the blight that wiped them out in the early 1900s.  So this was a surprise.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a view of activity on the Potomac seen from the Key Bridge as I was returning from Virginia.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is Lock 6 in the middle of the day when I stopped to eat a sandwich during one of the rides.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a bridge across the canal near mile 12.  It feels great to ride in the shade of the trees on a sunny day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd today I came across this shy fellow on the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am now done with my practice rides.  The bike I have been using will get its final wash for a while.  I have put many miles on it and it has served me well.  Now on to Pittsburgh!


Laziness or Perseverance, what will it be?

It is very easy for me to fall prey to laziness.  I need to train for my bike ride but I had been finding excuses to put my rides off earlier this week, as I had often done in the past.

The latest excuse that threatened to do the most damage to my training regimen was rain.  While I have not been caught outside on my bike in a heavy thunderstorm thus far, we have experienced a few spectacular episodes in the evenings recently because of the extremely warm and muggy weather.  (One such storm even sent water into the kitchen and I had to get some emergency work done fixing and cleaning the gutters.)  Anyway, I had decided to finally bike on Thursday after the usual excuses earlier on in the week, when heavy thunderstorms struck on Wednesday evening.  This was about to be my excuse to skip training on Thursday also.  There was going to be mud on the trails, and even though I had tackled mud before, I was not in a mood for this kind of an experience.

When asked about why I could not find a location where I could ride on a surface without mud, I responded that I would have to drive a long way off to get to said location.  But the thought stuck. Instead of dropping the whole idea of riding, I motivated myself to wake up early and drive an hour to the start of the WMRT near Hancock.  The WMRT, which runs roughly parallel to the towpath, is covered with asphalt and runs about 22 miles to Pearre in Maryland, with Hancock roughly at the mid-point.  So off I went!

Not only was the ride on the WMRT clean, but the surface was so smooth that I was zipping along very fast and making good time.  Also, all of the reluctance that I had felt earlier on to training that day went out the door the moment I started riding!


The Licking Creek Aqueduct on the C&O Canal from the WMRT

I reached Pearre, the other end pf the WMRT, in record time! There was the temptation at that point to turn back and return to where I had started, since my only option to extend the ride was to get on the towpath which would have been impacted by the rain.  But what little I had seen of the towpath from the vantage point of the WMRT on which I was riding was a dry trail. So I decided to continue further on the towpath.

The trail in that section was in a terrible condition!  I found myself negotiating puddles of mud constantly.  The trail for the most past consisted to two tracks with thick grass growing in-between. I tried to avoid the mud by switching tracks to avoid puddles if they were only on one side, or rode between the tracks over the grass where the puddles covered both tracks.  All of this tended to slow me down considerably, especially the attempts to ride on the grass.  But I was in no hurry.  After about 9 or 10 miles of the trail, after crossing the old and unused Western Maryland Railroad bridge over the Potomac, I stopped to eat something and start the return trip.

Abandoned Western Maryland Railroad Bridge
The Potomac

I stopped occasionally to take more pictures on the way back.

The lush green trail
View from Lock 58
Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct
Where Fifteen Mile Creek meets the Potomac

My original thought was to get back to the WMRT at Pearre when returning so that I could avoid the challenges of the towpath.  But as I kept riding my outlook began to change.  I got more comfortable with the thought of riding through puddles. I should let this riding experience be more in line with the more challenging aspects of what I might experience during the long Pittsburgh to Gaithersburg ride, I thought.  At Pearre, I stopped to take the picture below, and  then continued on the towpath, with the thought that I would switch back to the WMRT a little later at Hancock.

Lockhouse at Pearre for Lock 56

It was a good decision.  The puddles became less of an issue since trail was drier than I had expected. But, in addition to the bumpy surface, I had to deal with limbs from the trees that seemed to have fallen all over the trail.  I had to stop a couple of times to remove branches that got caught in the frame of bike.  Fortunately, there was no damage to the wheels.  But I was also making good time, and there were also more interesting things to see from the towpath.

Remains of Round Top Cement Company

I switched back from the towpath to the WMRT at Hancock  and took a short break, but then also changed my mind after the break about the trail I wanted to continue back on.  I decided that I should really put myself to the test with the riding conditions, and got back to the towpath for the rest of the ride!   The good thing was that this section of the trail had a surface of freshly compressed crushed stone.  It was pretty comfortable, and the surface was dry.  I made it back in good shape, but because of my adventures earlier that day,  contrary to my original goal of having a clean ride, there was mud all over me and the bike at the end of the ride.

I wonder how much of rain and mud we will experience during the Pittsburgh ride.  Since I have not had to ride in the rain so far I do not know how that is going to feel,  but I am ready to take on muddy trails after the rains any time.  And I am glad I got over my laziness on Thursday!

Come On, Get Up…

We have to finish this race!

I think many of you will recognize these words spoken by Abbey D’Agostino of the United States when she stopped to help another runner, Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand, who had also fallen during the 5000 meters heats at the Olympics.  They were strangers to each other.  And then Nikki returned the favor by helping Abbey towards the finish line when she was struggling at the end.  Very dramatic and touching!

But how many of us will get beyond the visuals of the drama that was being played out on a television screen and consider how these circumstances relevant in our own lives.

I think it is difficult to get beyond the constraints of ones own selfishness and think truly in terms of the human family.  Even if we are simply not thinking about our own well-being and protection, and perhaps even glory, we are most likely thinking about others only the context of their relationship to us as family or friend (or enemy), or maybe even in the context of community and country.    We care more about the well-being of those we know and those we can identify with rather than that of the stranger, right?  There are times that I have wondered why we pray only for the soldiers in our own armed forces at church?  Do we think of the soldiers on the other side as being less human, of not having the same problems that ours have, of not going through the same thoughts and struggles that ours do?  I am sometimes haunted by the number of times I have walked away from something bad that was happening to a stranger without offering a hand in help.  It was none of my business, and I could always find a way to try to push the guilt into the recesses of the mind, and to memory cells that would hopefully not be reawakened.

We can tell ourselves that it is a natural state of mind for humans to care more about the people you know and love and can identify with.  But this is also a selfishness in some form.  Unless we can find a way to truly expand our love and care to the family of all humanity we will continue to be mired in the destructive ways of the world.   I know that this is fantasy that is not going to happen, and that I am being naive in even bringing up this topic, but the incident at the Olympics reminded me that there is a spark that in present in some people, even if the number of such people is a minuscule minority on this planet earth.  Surely such people have the instinct and ability to do what is right in other circumstances also, not just in the glare of an extravagant sporting event.

Are we able and willing to help the strangers among us?

Baking on the W&OD

The dogs days of summer have hit the Washington, DC, area.   The combination of the temperature and humidity makes the heat feel quite intense when you are in the open areas.  I have still been riding my bike regularly.  I start earlier in the day if I can, and ride through the hottest parts of the day.  It is usually not too bad under the trees, although I have gotten the strangest pattern of tans on different parts of my body because of my exposure (enough said!).

But the ride last Friday was particularly brutal.  I had decided to go further out on the W&OD trail in Virginia.  The ride started off easily enough with my crossing the Potomac on the Key bridge into Rosslyn in Arlington early enough in the morning.  I stopped on the bridge to watch the planes on their way into National Airport.


I rode the short distance on the Mt. Vernon trail along the river towards National Airport, passing the Arlington Memorial Bridge along the way.


I stopped at Gravelly Point to take some pictures of aircraft coming in for landing at the airport.

After I passed National airport, I had to turn off on to the Four Mile Run trail and ride a few miles to the start of the W&OD.  Things became more difficult once I got on the W&OD.  There was minimal tree cover over the trail and the sun was beating directly down from on high. The asphalt that formed the surface of the trail was also increasing the intensity of the heat.  As I rode out of Arlington, and past Falls Church, Dunn Loring, Vienna, Reston, and finally into Herndon, tackling the numerous ups and downs of the trail, and with the rhythm of the ride being constantly interrupted at the many busy road crossings, my energy levels dropped.  Two bottles of water (one with and the other without dissolved electrolytes) were being consumed quickly.  I managed to find a section of the trail with a little bit of shade just outside of Herndon, had my lunch to try to build up my energy level once again, and started on my way back home.

It was now getting to noon-time and the heat was really slowing me down.  The number of other people I was seeing on the trail was dropping.  Have you heard the song about mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun?    Since I am not an Englishman, I must be a creature of the other sort!

I determined that I could not do the ride all the way to the turnoff for the Custis Trail in one stretch without a break as I had originally planned.  Back at Vienna I plonked my tired self on a bench outside the old station building where there was a little bit of shade and tried to recover.  I was fortunate to also find a water fountain to replenish my drinking supply.


I got back on the bike and did make it to my next stop, which was the start of the Custis Trail, without incident.  I parked myself under the shade of the trees in the park and re-energized myself with a fruit and more water.  All of my appetite had vanished at that point because of the heat.  I was gulping down the water.   The mixture with the electrolytes was gone, but I was able to refill the water bottles.

The ride from that point onward was easier because of the shade of the trees that covered the trail.  Once I got back on the towpath I stopped at Fletchers Cove to get a bottle of Gatorade, something that was not a part of my original plan.  That bottle did not last too long either.  I made it back successfully, and the recovery process that evening was actually very good, although I decided that I was going the spend the next day, which was also going to be super hot, indoors!   I am hoping for better conditions during our ride from Pittsburgh.