Crossing Little Catoctin Creek

Our trip to the C&O Canal last weekend took us further north than usual.  I was trying to find some newer places to visit.  I was also hoping to avoid crowds.  There are more people on the towpath these days.  This could be for a number of reasons. Perhaps folks are tired of being forced to stay indoors (on account of COVID-19) and need an outlet.  Also, the parking lots along the canal that are closer to Washington, DC, have been closed because they are getting crowded. The crowds there are not practicing proper physical distancing.  Perhaps people have been forced further north as a result.  I also believe that the park has, in general, been getting more popular in recent years.

We had to drive north on Interstate-270, through Frederick, to get to the starting point for our walk, which was the parking lot at Lander Lock.  I had been making that drive on I-270 quite frequently during the weekends in the years gone by, but less so in recent times.   Family outings create their own time constraints, and this parking area was a little further away than usual.  There were more cars than I expected when we arrived there.  There were also more people on the trail than we expected, including a lot of bicyclists.  It was not exactly what we had hoped for.

This is the lock house for Lander Lock. Lander Lock is lock 29 on the canal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first major water crossing of the walk was at the aqueduct across Catoctin Creek.  You can see the Potomac river in the distance in the picture below (taken from the aqueduct itself).  I did not take pictures of the aqueduct itself this time because  I have taken so many of them in the past (including this one).  In fact, I have traveled along this section of the trail in the times even before the reconstruction of the aqueduct.  Perhaps you can also make out the kayak on the shore of the creek, closer to the river, in the picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis section of the trail runs next to the railroad tracks.  The next parking area up north is at Brunswick, which is a big switching yard for CSX freight trains.  This morning was relatively quiet as far as railroad traffic was concerned.  We saw just one freight train go by.  There was more activity at the switching yard itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFurther north, we had to go down to the level of the Little Catoctin Creek to proceed further along the trail.  The old bridge that previously carried the trail over the creek had been at the level of the trail itself. It was completely destroyed in a flooding episode in May 2018.   (The original culvert for the creek, letting it flow under the canal itself, had been destroyed even earlier on and replaced by the bridge.  The old bridge had been meant as a temporary solution, but had lasted many years.)  The park service has now built a new bridge at the creek level that serves as a temporary crossing of the creek.  This bridge can only be used when the water level is low.  I do not know the schedule for a more permanent solution.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see the remains of one of the walls of the original culvert in the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere seemed to be many people in the campground next to the trail at Brunswick.  This must have been on account of it being the Memorial Day weekend.  The lock down situation because of the coronavirus has been eased in most parts of Maryland.  We, unfortunately, live in a county where the cases of COVID-19 have not come down significantly, and we have to follow stricter rules closer to home.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFurther north, the trail runs beside the freight yard.  This canal section, between the trail and the freight yard, happens to have water in it.  We saw this parent duck swimming away from us with its ducklings when it heard us coming, trying to take the little ones away from us to safety.  I suspect that the parent is a breeding female long-tailed duck, but I cannot be sure.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail was getting even more crowded by the time we started making our way back.  There were families heading out to picnic.  This particular family had picked a spot beside the Catoctin creek.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe crowd on the trail made it a less pleasant experience than usual.  The notion of getting away from the crowd by driving away from the city did not seem to work.  We also ran across more people, mainly bikers, who did not seem to understand common courtesy on the trail. Perhaps an earlier start in the day is called for from now on.

In other news, the platform that I use to write these blogs on is changing its editing tools.  The newer tools have a greater level of sophistication, but there is a learning curve involved, and it is also not clear yet how much of the look of the blog I will be forced to change over time.  This is an unexpected challenge, and a distraction that I wish I did not need to navigate past at this point.  In fact, I am having challenges even editing this blog.  I think the tools themselves are still being debugged. We’ll see how it goes over the long run.

Favorite Place

The subject of this week’s challenge  is an easy one for me to tackle, and obvious to folks who know me.  You will find me any free weekend exploring some section of the 184.5 mile long C&O Canal towpath.  Last weekend took us to a section near Point of Rocks for our Sunday walk.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe branches of the sycamore tree stand out in winter.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are the locks and lockhouses,

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Lockhouse for Landers Lock

the aqueducts,

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Catoctin Aqueduct

and the Potomac river (which looked especially blue that morning).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe mergansers come around only in winter.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bridge at Point of Rocks looked stunning in the morning lightOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and this almost looks like a piece of art when the endorphins are flowing on a lovely morning like the one we we had!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The 2016 KVIITM75 Bike ride – Day 6, The Final Push

We made it!  I had to take some time away from the blog for the celebrations, to take care of my friends, and to also try to catch up on my sleep, but I am back to report that  WE MADE IT!

The last day of the ride was from Shepherdstown, WV, to Whites Ferry on the towpath in Maryland.  This was deliberately scheduled to be short ride, and we did in fact finally arrive at our rendezvous point with the support vehicle a little early.  It was a relaxed ride.

We left our hotel at at around 9:00 am.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were back on the trail in short order and proceeded without delay towards Harpers Ferry.  By this time we had established good riding patterns on the trail that all of us were comfortable with, a process that seemed to happen somewhat organically. No words needed to be spoken.  There was no competition to be up in front (or for that matter behind), and it did not matter who your riding companion was.  Conversations could involve all four people, three, two, or even one if you were happier riding in silence at that point, comfortably lost in your thoughts.

We stopped at the remains of Dam 3 just before we reached Harpers Ferry and hopped over exposed rocks in the river bed to chill out in the midst of the flowing water.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe parked our bikes on the towpath across the river from Harpers Ferry and crossed the bridge into town.  A significant amount of time had been allocated to this destination because there was a lot to see.

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We went up to Jefferson Rock on the hill behind the church. The second picture below shows the Potomac flowing south beyond the point where it meets  up with the Shenandoah river.

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We went back into town to get something for lunch.  The second picture shows the railroad bridges across the Potomac between West Virginia and Maryland. Most of the rail traffic is freight, but there is also a train station in town used by commuter trains and the Amtrak Capital Limited running between Chicago and Washington, DC.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a lunch that resulted in more calories being consumed than had been expended thus far on the trail, we proceeded back to the towpath and resumed the ride.  In spite of some lethargy because of the lunch,  we were able to resume a good pace once we got back into the rhythm.  It seemed that by this time we had become comfortable with the riding experience.  There were less “butt breaks”.

Our next stop was the Catoctin Aqueduct.  This aqueduct actually collapsed completely in the 1970s (because of the design of the center arch) and was reconstructed in 2011.

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We took a short break at Point of Rocks.  We were making good time toward the final destination while riding at an easy pace.

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The next somewhat big stop was the Monocacy Aqueduct, the longest aqueduct on the C&O Canal.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile taking the previous picture we heard some loud conversation taking place on the aqueduct.  We looked up to see that some urgent matter being taken care of over the phone!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then it was time to leave for our final destination.  As the entered the last couple of miles of the ride the energy level actually shot up and there was some sprinting going on.  And then we were done!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had to hang out at Whites Ferry for a little while because of a foul-up with the support van.  We watched the ferry in action, and then spent the time chilling out.  Ice cream was consumed in celebration.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe finally got home about an hour later than expected.  It was time to unwind.  Later in the evening we received some unexpected awards. (Thank you, Mrs. R!)

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was back to more conversation and singing Hindi songs before we finally went to bed, later in the evening than we ever did during the ride itself!

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This was an awesome experience.  I am still getting my head around the fact that we got on bikes in Pittsburgh, PA, and finally got off the bikes in the Washington, DC, area, about 300 miles later, after six days of biking, after experiencing America in a way that one would never have been able to if we had, as is customary, gotten in a car and driven the same distance (perhaps in three or four short hours).  There is so much of this land to see and experience outside of the hustle and bustle of the mainstream.  Its beauty, its history, its small towns with their changing ways of life and the struggles for survival, its peoples, all of these are worth knowing and understanding better.  Moreover, it is a lot of fun! As my friend Shankar would say, this is something everybody should try to do at least once in their lifetime!