I was going through some old pictures of my travels on the C&O Canal and found this sequence from 2013.Some of you have probably already figured out the reason for this delightful display of artistry. Yes, it was wintertime when these pictures were taken, and the heron was moving around on a thin sheet of ice.
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.
Sometimes you need to twist your head if you want to give yourself a good scratch. Here is an egret at Black Hill Park in Montgomery County in Maryland.This great blue heron is standing on ice while giving itself a scratch. It must feel good!The twist in this egret’s neck seems a little unusual to me from this angle. It may have to do with the position of the wings.
Here is a bird among the twisted branches of one or more trees in winter.The twisted branches of the trees can sure look like a mess from a distance in the woods in the early morning light. The sun has not quite hit the level of the trail in the following picture.The turn in the trail appears at a distance in the following picture.
We were able to go for walks on the C&O canal towpath on both Saturday and Sunday last weekend. Winter has its own charm when you are in the woods. The cold is also not a bother unless it is windy. Your body warms up as you exercise.
The woods seem more open in winter because of the bare trees. You can see things that are not usually visible in summer, including the river beyond the tree trunks, and the birds hidden in the branches of the trees. The browns and greys of the trees in winter form their own unique patterns along the trail as it disappears into the distance.
We were able to sight this wren hidden away in the branches singing its morning song.
The bikers brightened up the trail.The great blue heron watched the proceedings from its perch high over the towpath.The Park Service police kept an eye on things.The robin watched me as I tried to focus the camera on it through the tangled branches.We left the marked trail and explored the woods by the river, ending up with this view of a culvert under the C&O canal and the towpath trail. This is where the Muddy Branch flows past the canal as it makes its way to the Potomac.A walk in the woods rejuvenates the spirits!
Gracefulness is in the eye of the beholder. It is a rather loose term that describes a feeling that is evoked, and people might have different opinions in this regard. From a visual perspective, I feel that gracefulness is usually associated with beauty that looks natural and blends with the surroundings. It could evoke a sense of effortless strength, a lightness of being, and perhaps even quiet dignity.We find gracefulness in both the still form or in movement. The nature of the motion looks graceful to me in the following picture. An object that is not necessarily graceful in its stillness can become graceful when it begins to move. While experiencing grace in movement requires you to actually see the movement, it is possible to imagine the gracefulness of the motion from the nature of a still picture. A think a pelican gliding over the water looks graceful.This somewhat awkward looking great blue heron looks graceful to me when it begins to fly. The motion of its wings is (relatively) slow and smooth, and the bird seems to be taking flight effortlessly. But sometimes, the still image can trick you. I think the baby in the picture below, although cute, is not very graceful in its movement in real life.I have observed that still objects can look graceful from a certain visual perspective and perhaps not so much so from other points-of-view. The nature of the picture and the circumstances of the picture can enhance the feeling of gracefulness. There was a lot of construction going on around the Gateway Arch in St. Louis when we visited. Even though the arch looks stunning regardless of the surroundings,it gracefulness was truly revealed to me only from this particular point-of-view. (Like I said, gracefulness is in the eye of the beholder!)Bridges can look graceful, especially those of the suspension type. To me both the Sydney harbor bridge (which is actually a through arch bridge) and Sydney Opera House look graceful in this picture against the skyline at this time of the evening. There is something in the outlines of these structures that makes them seem even more graceful before the evening lights are turned on.Seeing more details of the structures can have a different impact on you. I think the bridge still looks graceful from this perspective.Not sure if this is still true of the opera house in this picture taken from the bridge.
I am sure there are different opinions and thoughts on this topic. There is no way to be really objective about it.
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.
It 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.
I 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.
Here 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.This is a view of activity on the Potomac seen from the Key Bridge as I was returning from Virginia.This is Lock 6 in the middle of the day when I stopped to eat a sandwich during one of the rides.This is a bridge across the canal near mile 12. It feels great to ride in the shade of the trees on a sunny day.And today I came across this shy fellow on the trail.I 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!
Having been in the habit of spending a lot of time outdoors in the woods on my feet during the last few years, it is instinctive for me to look up to enjoy my surroundings.
Taken to an extreme one can look directly up a tree. A clear blue sky, either through the leafless branches of a tree in winter, or through the greenery of the leaves of the many trees in summer is memorable.
One can also look forwards and upwards into the distance on a trail to capture a perspective like this.
Sometimes you do not have to look up that far to ahead of you to observe something notable above you and around you.
Sometimes you look up to the sight of something simple like these birds on a wire, seemingly in some form of communication with each other,
or you might see a sight like this Norfolk Southern locomotive crossing the Potomac on a trestle bridge looking distinctive in the early morning light.
If you do not look up you could miss the great blue heron that flies high over the Monocacy Aqueduct,
or the small and colorful aircraft that lights up the cloudless sky over the river.
Don’t forget to look up!