Agkistrodon Contortrix Mokasen

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!

This is what I had spotted.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(The picture above has been cropped.  I did not dare get too close to the snake!)

Soon after all this activity, and perhaps because of it, the snake turned around retreated back to where it had come from.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince 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.Identification of snake(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.

 

Mornings in the Park

Went for a bike ride last Wednesday.  Here are a couple of pictures.

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Morning sun cuts through the leaves and the lingering mist

 

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At Widewater

The water levels in the river are quite high, but well below flooding levels. This is near mile 8 of the towpath.

 

Managed to get from Pennyfield Lock to Bethesda on the towpath and the Capital Crescent Trail.  It was a more laid-back ride this time, but for some reason more tiring.

Of Photographs and Stories

I felt that I had to bike today because I had not gotten out for my regular exercise in over a week.  The temperatures had been in the “dangerous” range, and it was dropping to more comfortable levels today.  I left home very early, and was surprised by the large number of cars in the parking lot at Pennyfield Lock at that time on a weekday.  The sun was still rising as I set out.  I saw a large number of bicyclists at the lock house for Pennyfield Lock as I approached the towpath.  It was obvious that they had spent the night there as a part of the Canal Quarters program.  I then turned on to the towpath headed for Washington, DC.

The level of water in the river is low right now.  It has not rained for a few days.  Work at different sections of the canal where there were detours – the waste weirs near Great Falls, and mileposts 7 and 9, are being rebuilt – was already underway for the day.  I even had to navigate my way around a truck bringing in material to a construction site.  I can see that the work at the different sites is coming along.  I believe there is a long term plan to re-water the entire stretch of canal starting at Violette’s lock.  The current work could be a part of that long term effort.  Wonder if I will survive long enough to see the end result!

Pretty soon after I got on the trail I realized that I had not taken my camera.  I had been thinking primarily about the exercise aspect of the ride and had forgotten.  But it did not bother me.  However, a few miles into the ride, my thoughts drifted towards the thinking process behind taking pictures.  (It was that kind of a morning!) To me, it is not necessarily just about taking a picture that looks good, but it is more about capturing a story.  Sometimes, a single picture can tell a story.  But, these days, I also like to add pictures to a story that is being told with words to give it more character.  This is something that did not do in the past.  In spite of the fact that I did not have my camera with me, I did get to a point during this ride when I felt the need to stop and take a picture with my smartphone to somehow capture how it felt at that time during the ride.  That would be the story.  The first time I had this feeling I did not stop because I was focused on the exercise aspect of the ride.  But a few hundred feet later, I came to another point where I could not resist the temptation to take a picture.  Here it is.IMG_20180907_083242125When I reached Fletcher’s Cove, I got on to the Capital Crescent Trail headed in the direction of Washington, DC.  The ride on this trail is smoother than on the towpath since it is paved. As I approached DC, I began to feel a rhythm of the wheel that was unusual.   There was a bouncy feeling, and very little noise associated with it.  When I got to the end of the ride at the far end of the Georgetown Waterfront, I decided to check out the tire and realized that there was a bump in one small section. Oh, oh!  It looked like the tire was about to blow out, and I was about 20 miles from home.  I had been barreling down the towpath over pieces of gravel on my way out  (remember, this particular ride was about the exercise, and not necessarily sightseeing – each ride has a different feel to it!).  I had to either find a local bike shop to replace the tire, or bike more carefully on my way back.  I decided to risk it and bike back, but only after releasing some air from the tire to reduce the pressure.  I did manage to make it back to Pennyfield lock in good shape and in good time.

I found a few pawpaw fruit on the ground during this ride.  Perhaps it is time to return to the section of the trail that had an abundance of these fruits last year.

The rhythm of life goes on.

The Words

The  year was 2014. I was on the towpath and approaching Fletcher’s Cove from the north.  I must have been on foot since I started biking once again only in 2016.  It must have been early morning since that is the time that I usually run.  Just south of Chain Bridge one comes upon Mile Marker 4 on the towpath, and shortly after that, a concrete spillway for the canal that allows overflow water to get to the river.  Then, further south, before Fletcher’s Cove itself, a truss bridge (that earlier used to carry the B&O Georgetown branch railroad line) carries the Capital Crescent trail (CCT) over the canal and the towpath.  On the side of the bridge for the CCT, just beside the trail, I saw the some graffiti with the following words:

“In the space between right and wrong is where I will find you.”

A very recent search reveals that the poet Rumi might have said something that seems somewhat similar, but not the same:

Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there.

But, at that time, back in 2014, the original words I had read stayed with me.  I was trying to understand what it meant even as I ran.  Did it mean that nobody is perfect?  I am still not sure what exactly the words were meant to convey, but I would like to think of this message as a comment on the human condition.  I still think about it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The Rhythm of the Wheels

“The beat goes on, the beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain”
Sonny and Cher

Strictly speaking there is no rhythm generated by the turning of a wheel – by something that is circular that simply goes round and round.  But a rhythm can indeed be established by some process related to the turning of the wheel.  Thus it is with riding a bicycle, where the wheels contribute to rhythms that are established in other ways – whether it is from the sounds of some intermittent but regular contact between the wheel and something on the bike itself,  or because of something getting stuck in the treads of wheel itself making contact with the ground; or whether the rhythm is in the movement of the legs, the movement that causes the wheels to rotate.  Some of these rhythms can become addictive, like a drug, and the feeling that takes over can overcome all other feelings, especially when you are in the groove.  The rhythm overcomes any feeling of tiredness that may exist, and can indeed make what you are doing at that moment feel somewhat effortless.  Perhaps biking is addictive, and what one is experiencing is a high – when one feels the rhythm of the wheels.

You might be able to sense from what I wrote that I am back to a regular biking routine.  Consider that I had only started biking once again recently just to get some practice for the long rides that I have done with friends the last couple of years.  Now that I have started biking again, I have the urge to go on and on.  Yes, the feeling of a need to bike may also be a sign of an oncoming addiction.

Last week I decided to try out something a little more challenging.  I rode the towpath from Great Falls to Fletchers cove,

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Picnic tables at Marsden Tract

and took on the slope of the Capital Crescent Trail from Fletchers Cove to Bethesda from then onwards.  The ride on the CCT was a breeze!   I feel like I have not lost the strength and ability to tackle the slopes.  My only adventures that day were on the towpath. The first time was when I was forced off the path into some shrubbery that proved to be quite irritating to the skin (wonder if it was poison ivy). This was because of the approach of a group of heavy-duty work vehicles on the narrow path.  They were probably trying to get to a place to do some repair work on the trail.  Thankfully the itching feeling did not last.  (Perhaps I was experiencing the effect of the rhythm!)  I encountered the same convoy on the trail at an unexpected location on the way back.  It looked to me like a skid-steer loader had gotten partially off the trail and was being pulled back on to it by a heavy-duty excavator. I had to carry my bike off the trail and through the trees to a spot  well below the towpath that was closer to the river, and then take an unmarked detour in order to get by!IMG_20180815_113624614The next time I biked that week, I stuck to the towpath and went all the way up to Whites Ferry from Pennyfield Lock.  The ride was uneventful, except for the fact that I got so irritated by the state of the trail in one section (something that I have complained about in the past) that I even wrote a letter of complaint to the National Park Service.  The letter has probably been ignored, but at least I was able to get it off my chest.

Teresa came biking with me last Monday.  She was doing this for the first time in years. She did feel the aftereffects!

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At the half-way point in the ride with Teresa

The last bike ride to report on was from Whites Ferry heading north.  I was hoping to get to Brunswick, but I had forgotten about the washout of the trail just south of the town.  This happened because of all the rain we have been getting recently.  This one is going to take a while to fix.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMeanwhile I intend to continue to ride.  It may be an addiction!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The beat goes on…

On Your Left

This phrase is a call used as a common courtesy on the trails in these parts, usually uttered when a bicyclist is coming up on either a walker or another cyclist from behind.  It serves as a warning to the slower person about your approach, and also a request for the person to move towards the right side of the trail if he or she is blocking the trail.  You hear the phrase  quite frequently on crowded trails, and the responses to this call can vary quite a bit. Sometimes folks do not hear you unless you yell because they have their  earphones on and are listening to something or the other on their mobile devices. Sometimes folks do something unexpected like moving into your path.  But the call works often enough that its usage is a common practice.  I do not know what the etiquette of overtaking on a trail is in other places.  Perhaps in the UK, they say “On your right!”

It happened when I was barrelling downhill on the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT), heading from Bethesda to Fletcher’s Cove on the C&O Canal.  Traffic on the trail was unusually light that morning.  It was a cool morning, actually unusually cool for this time of year, and I was wearing extra gear to keep out the chill.  I felt an occasional drop of water from the overcast skies.  The forecasters had predicted that it would all clear up, but perhaps even this slight threat of inclement weather had been sufficient to deter other bikers from the trail.  (Or maybe it was because people have left town on vacations because of the start of summer.)

My goal for the ride was to tackle two trails that had slopes that were challenging.  I needed the training to be better prepared for the Rockies.   The Capital Crescent Trail and the Custis trail, both trails that I had found difficult in the past in this context, were within reachable distance of each other.

As I was speeding down the nearly empty CCT, I spied this kid in front of me who was walking down the middle of the trail in the same direction that I was riding.  I tried to warn him “On your left!”, but I got no response.  He had his earphones on!  I had to slow down.  I kept repeating myself with increasing urgency as I got closer to him and continued to slow down.  He heard me at the last minute and jumped to the side.  He turned to me with a sheepish grin on his face.  “Sorry, my bad.”  But I was not upset at all. In fact, I had to smile in spite of the fact that he had slowed me down significantly.  It was partly due to the look on his face, and the spirit in which he apologized.  There was no sign of annoyance in his demeanor at being startled, and he also openly accepted his responsibility.  Also, I was not really in a hurry (in spite of my speed), and I was happily distracted by the thought of a kid taking a walk on the trail in the middle of the morning, enjoying the outdoors.  Hopefully he had not bunked school, but in any case, he seemed to be involved a healthy outdoor diversion that was better than idling in front of an electronic display of some sort at home.  I was not upset.IMG_20170607_102733902_HDRLater on during the ride, while on a section of the W&OD trail in Virginia, I sighted a mother (I think!) and her little girl on the trail in front of me.  The two of them moved to the side of the trail when the mother noticed my approach.  The mother sat herself next to the kid, pointed my way, and the two of them waited for me to come by.  As I got closer she waved to me, and the kid gave me a big smile that would have melted any reasonable person’s heart.  I waved back with a smile on my face.  I got a big lift that lasted for a significant portion of the rest of the ride.IMG_20170607_115652484It is sometimes the small things that you remember from these type of outings, and I hope many such opportunities for smaller memories continue to present themselves during the next few weeks of training.IMG_20170602_092609202I managed to tackle the hills on both the Capital Crescent and Custis trails without having to get off the bike and push it uphill.  I am also learning how to better relax while doing rides like this that require some endurance.  I took breaks from riding whenever I felt like it without feeling a need to push myself and keep going.  I eased up on imaginary challenges that I tend to set for myself while riding.  In spite of this outlook, I did manage to keep a good pace.  In the end I covered about 46 miles, and I was in the groove towards the end, hitting four and a half minute miles on the rough trail.  Perhaps I am in decent shape for the final ride already.