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…

A Moment of Determination

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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI 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. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Multiple great blue herons and a kingfisher (can you see it?) at Mather Gorge
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A fourth great blue heron joins the group at Mather Gorge

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.

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A black crowned night heron watches me from the other side of the canal

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.

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The tiger swallowtail butterfly on the trail
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Watching me from beside the trail.  They stayed still long enough for me to get the picture and then dove into the water when I started pedaling again

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.

2/17/2008 – Cherries in the Snow: The Legend of Mary Pinchot Meyer

I was reminded of this old email that I had sent to family and friends because of some recent news that I blogged about.  I will explain at the end.
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Ok, I am being overly dramatic! It is not a legend. It is merely a curious story. The particular name in the title has the remote possibility of attracting the attention of suspicious people who like to keep track of activities on the Internet – even though the story is quite old at this point. Anyway, back to the story.

If you were running along the C&O canal near Washington, DC, (just north of mile 1 on the towpath), you might come across a small white cross leaning against a tree trunk beside the trail. On the cross is a card. The card indicates that this is a memorial to Mary Pinchot Meyer.IMG_4171IMG_4172IMG_4173The cross appeared on the trail some time last year and is at the location where she was killed while walking along the towpath in 1964. She was 43 years old when she died, and the cross appeared on the towpath 43 years after her death. Nobody has yet admitted to putting the cross there. Who was Mary Pinchot Meyer? She was John F. Kennedy’s mistress at the time of his death. If you look it up the Internet, you will find a few conspiracy theories surrounding her death. She apparently used to keep a diary that included an account of her affair with JFK. Various people were interested in this diary after her death and went looking for it. Her ex-husband, Cord Meyer, was a higher-up in the CIA and was involved in the search for the murderer. The person who was brought to trial for killing her was acquitted. Just another story on the towpath…

By the way, if you are interested in a really good (but completely humorless) movie about the kind of people who came together to form the CIA during that time, I would recommend The Good Shepherd directed by Robert De Niro.

I finally worked up the courage to do the Potomac tour on foot in the area of Washington DC this morning. Basically I ran on both sides of the river at Washington, DC. Working my way south on the towpath from Fletcher’s Cove,

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Early morning on the Canal near Georgetown

I crossed over into Rosslyn on the Virginia side of the river at the Key Bridge (named after Francis Scott Key),

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Early morning view from the Key Bridge
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A view of Roosevelt Island from the Key Bridge
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Crossing the George Washington Memorial Parkway to the Mt. Vernon Trail in Virginia

and then followed the Mount Vernon trail south, past Roosevelt Island and the various bridges that span the Potomac.IMG_4182IMG_4189IMG_4190I followed the trail as it paralleled the George Washington Parkway all the way to Gravelly Point Park at the end of the longest runway for Washington National Airport.  I spent some time at Gravelly taking pictures and watching the planes landing and taking off.IMG_4195On the way back, I crossed over the river at the 14th Street Bridge into Washington DC.IMG_4210IMG_4212I got off the bridge close to the Jefferson Memorial, and then worked my way back up north along the river, past the Lincoln Memorial, the Kennedy Center and the Watergate buildings, to the beginning of the towpath. I then followed the canal back to Fletcher’s Cove.IMG_4222Next time I come to this area I will try to explore the trails on Roosevelt Island, and also try to find the trail along the edge of the river north of Key bridge on the Virginia side.
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Today’s Postscript: Coming back to Mary Pinchot Meyer, mentioned in the first section of the above email, the cops tried to pin her murder on a black person, Ray Crump, who happened to be in the general area.  Dovey Johnson Roundtree, the subject of my previous blog, was the one who was able to get Ray Crump acquitted of the crime.  It was quite an achievement for a black woman lawyer in those days!

Since I wrote the original email, I have been to this area, and traveled this path, several times on a bicycle.  I have taken the 18 mile long Mt. Vernon trail all the way to Mt. Vernon.  I have however not been to Roosevelt island yet!  I have also walked the trail on the Virginia side of the Potomac up to the Chain bridge under very trying conditions.  That was the subject of another email blast, an email that I might rediscover some other day.

By the way, I have not seen a memorial to Mary Pinchot Meyer in subsequent years at that location, but this could possibly be because I have not been on that section of the towpath at the right time of the year.

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.