This picture was taken during our walk last Sunday. It shows that you can get all kinds of shades and textures of the color green. The beginning of the walk was not very promising because the water in the canal at Dickerson, the place where we had parked, stank a lot, probably due the green growth in it. Also, the stink in a couple of other locations due to dead animals did not help. But once we got going, it was all OK. Here is a picture of the ferry at Whites Ferry, the place where we turned to return to Dickerson.We got in a little more than 8 miles, and collected a few pawpaws along the way. The search for pawpaws was actually a little disappointing. We don’t know whether it is because it is early in the season, or whether there are going to be less of the fruits this year for some other unknown reason. In any case, the interest in consuming the fruit also seems to have decreased.
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.When 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 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.
“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,
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!The 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!
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.Meanwhile I intend to continue to ride. It may be an addiction!
The beat goes on…
We sighted this bird last weekend in the area of Swains Lock. It was the first time I am seeing it on the C&O canal.Some research suggests that this could be a juvenile White Ibis, one of my remaining reasons for doubt being the color of the tarsi on the bird. If I am correct however, the Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America suggests that this a somewhat rare appearance in these parts. I wonder if juvenile birds of this kind can get lost.
I would appreciate it if there are any birders out there who can confirm or correct my attempt to identify the bird. From what I read, the ibis belongs to the same family of birds as the stork, and I have seen pictures of storks with similar beaks.
I had not been on a bicycle since the accident that happened almost a year ago. The doctor had given me the “all clear” to go back to my regular activities a while back, but I had not done it even though I had decided a long time ago that there was no way other than to get back on the bicycle. The truth was that I was also missing all the training rides that I had being doing in the years past – on various sections of the C&O Canal towpath, on the Capital Crescent Trail into Bethesda and Silver Spring; on the Custis, the W&OD, the Mt. Vernon and the Four Mile Run trails in Virginia; and even the ride up Sugarloaf Mountain. I knew these trails somewhat well by now, and I could even picture some of the specific experiences and challenges that one came across along the way, whether it was the stop at Fletchers Cove to use the facilities and get a drink of water, crossing the Potomac on the Key bridge, or riding along the river on the Mt. Vernon trail past Gravelly Point and National Airport, or the challenge of one of the slopes on the Custis trail or Sugarloaf mountain. I needed to do it.
But time passed and it did not happen until now. You could say that there was a bit of apprehension on my part, not because of the fear of riding a bike per se, but because of a fear of falling off the bike. It was specifically about the possibility of falling on my separated shoulder once again. I had a mental picture of how severe the damage could be to a clavicle that was already floating around. I did actually look for specific protection that could be worn it this regard, but the only solution out there would have made me look and feel like a gladiator with plastic armor-plating on a bicycle. I could not picture that! But there were other real excuses. We were busy with a wedding and with guests who were visiting until now. Before I knew it, we were half way through the year.
I finally made the move Wednesday morning. I checked out my biking gear the first time in many months – the shorts, the tops and the gloves. Things were where I expected them to be. I checked out the bike, still covered with dirt from last year, reinflated the tires, grabbed my helmet, and after a test ride around the cul dec sac, loaded it into the back of the car.
Finally at Pennyfield Lock.I decided to ride a distance of about 16+ miles (one way) to Fletchers Cove this day. I had forgotten how cool it could be under the trees even on a July morning in the middle of summer as you rode against the wind. I had forgotten the rhythmic sound of the crunching of the tires against the gravel of the trail as one rode on the dirt. I had forgotten the easy and peaceful nature of an early morning ride. There was a feeling of serenity, and the mind could wander once again.
I took it easy. This is the way I usually start a ride, especially after a break from when I have been challenging myself. But then the Adrenalin kicks in and, before you know it, your legs are moving to a steady beat and the pace is increasing to another level. And it is all so effortless at this point. You are enjoying the ride.
I can still sense some fear in me, a fear of falling off the bike if I got too close to the edge of the trail, but it is no more about the shoulder. I know I am over it, and it has happened quickly. The other general fear of wandering across the trail and falling off into the woods or the water will disappear with time, just like it used to in the past. It is a defense mechanism of the brain that I appreciate.
Life along the canal has not changed. I have to stop for pictures along the way.
There are people around on this cool summer morning, especially later in the morning. I re-familiarize myself with the practice of passing people who are on foot on the trail. There are many such people. Recent rains also seem to have done severe damage to the trail. I take a couple of detours off the trail along the way.
The ride back to Pennyfield Lock is when the muscles in my thighs begin to feel it. It is a familiar feeling, but it is not a feeling that you tend to remember the details of once the ride is complete and those sore muscles have recovered. I ride steadily, without a sense of rush, but by now I am also in the groove once again, and I have to make the conscious effort to slow down, and perhaps even stop once in a while to take a picture or two. This is all familiar territory for me.
The ride ended successfully. I am going to try my best to make sure this was not just a one-time effort, a flash in the pan if you will. I need to do more rides for my sense of balance and sanity. Perhaps longer group rides are in the cards once again starting next year.
Some of you who may have read my previous blogs could be wondering about the motivation behind this trilogy of blogs on Harpers Ferry. My first inclination had been to write only this particular blog that I am about to pen, and this was based on a trip that we had made to the town very recently. But then I realized that I have been experiencing Harpers Ferry and writing about it for some time. Some history in this regard was needed before proceeding. The earlier blogs on the topic of Harpers Ferry, and the background material needed for them, flowed quite naturally from this realization.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know by now that Harpers Ferry has been a part of my weekend runs for several years on the C&O Canal, although more frequently in the past than in current times. But one does also occasionally wander into the town itself from across the river, either when one decides to cross over the river to the tip of Harpers Ferry, to the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah, or when one goes into town for tourism purposes when we have visitors from other parts of the world.
Thus is was that we found ourselves recently visiting the place twice this year, in quick succession, accompanying visitors. You would think that such visits into town would tend to become monotonous, but the amazing thing is that I am finding new things about this place called Harpers Ferry. I am actually beginning to get a better sense for what life must have been for people living here in times past, starting from when Robert Harper moved to the area in the 1760s. I am now also more fascinated by the history of the town in the simplest sense of the word, i.e., in terms of how people lived there rather than in the sense of its place in history, about how the town grew and even prospered before the inevitable impact of the passage of time, and even about simple things like how the layout of the town changed over the years (there were actually even a few canals that flowed through town at one time or the other). Perhaps a day can come when I can even get a sense for how people generally felt about their lives in Harpers Ferry.
So what is it that has roused my enthusiasm about the place you ask! As background for getting a better insight into my frame of mind and my thinking about this subject, I will note that one of the first things worth knowing about current Harpers Ferry is that the National Park Service (NPS) has done a bang-up job bringing the town back to life, both physically and virtually, after its having been destroyed over and over again by floods, something that almost led to abandonment. Today, people only live in the upper parts of town above the flood lines. The lower part of the town is dedicated to the tourists. Besides the mom-and-pop shops and restaurants, there are still many previously abandoned buildings of the old town that remain in this lower part of town. In spite of having been to Harpers Ferry many times, this was the first time I discovered that many of these abandoned buildings have been converted to museums. Each building addresses a different aspect of the town’s history and background. This is a work in progress, but the NPS have already done an excellent job. There is an attempt to cover all aspects of life in a little town over the entire period of its existence in a systematic way. Of course, significant turning points in history, like John Brown’s insurrection, and the important battle that took place in and around the town during the civil war, are prominent subjects for presentation, but one also learns about the life of ordinary people, including the experience of blacks at that time in history, or the commercial story of the town (as noted, it was once a prosperous town), the functioning of the armory that the town came to be identified with, and the impact of the railroad and the floods on the town over the years. You can feel like you are living the experience.
With more and more trips to the town, I might actually begin to remember what I see and read in the museums and be able to relive those times in my mind rather than just remember the experience of being in the town! This year was the first time we walked through the ruins of Virginius, a little island on the west side of town that at one time was Harpers Ferry’s center of commerce. They made good use of the power of the waters of the Shenandoah to fuel the commerce and help the place flourish, by diverting some of the water into tunnels under town in order to use its power. But ultimately the river was not controllable!
For the first time, we found the original site of John Brown’s fort, originally a guard and fire house. The site is on top of an embankment that once used to carry a railroad line into town. (The remains of the railroad track can still be seen under the sand in places.) The embankment runs parallel to Potomac street.
John Brown’s fort has itself been moved around quite a bit over time, even to places outside of Harpers Ferry. It has come to rest in its current location near the confluence of the rivers most recently.
And then we discovered the site of the original buildings of The Armory behind the embankment I mentioned earlier. None of the armory buildings still remain, having been razed to the ground to support a railroad yard more recently in time. But you can walk in the area and get a sense for the place. There are markers that tell you a little more about the place itself.
It turns out that after all these years I am still learning new things about Harpers Ferry. I even have a better appreciation for how the place must have looked in different times. I will be back, and hopefully I will continue to have my curiosity piqued, and I will actually remember some of things I read, and I will also continue to learn. Maybe Harpers Ferry will remain with me forever!