Going Around In Circles

An alternative title for the blog could have been “Teaching an old dog new tricks!”

We went down to Prince William County in Virginia for the July 4th weekend. The young ones wanted to spend some time kayaking on the Occoquan river while we were there. The older ones agreed. I had to confront some trauma left behind from an incident in the mid-eighties (at the end of my graduate school days) in doing so. The boat that I had been on in a lake in Upstate New York had overturned thanks to some youthful hijinks. My glasses had fallen off, and I lost them in the muddy and, fortunately, shallow water I ended up standing in. I had to manage without any glasses for the rest of the stay, and also had to figure a way to get back home without them, having to travel from Utica to the New York City area without them! I cannot remember today if I had to drive.

It was a more mature group in the kayaks this time. I ended up in a supporting role in the whole process. I proceeded to inflict my damage regardless of my status and duties on the captain and rower-in-chief of our double kayak, not managing to maintain a good rhythm in the whole process of rowing, stopping my rowing far too frequently to take pictures,and, stranger still, causing the boat to turn to the right constantly and consistently in spite of my lame efforts to correct this tendency. I tried to blame what was happening on the twisted oar that I was using. But I also have a history of not being able to move in a straight line! There was an incident that happened when I was younger that comes to mind. I had been swimming near a beach on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. I had been swimming parallel to the shore, and ended up swimming straight towards the gulf itself because I could not see where I was going and ended up turning in that general direction in the water. There was no good excuse for that incident other than a complete loss of directional sense in the water. (I prefer to swim in swimming pools where the lanes are clearly marked.) I could blame my behavior this time on my separated shoulder.ūüėõ

In any case, we had a good time on the water. We rented the kayaks at the quaint little town of Occoquan.

We rowed a few miles out on the Occoquan river that day. In one direction, we rowed out to a point upstream where we could proceed no further due to the presence of rocks and what looked like some rapids further upstream.In the other direction, we rowed towards the meeting point of the Occoquan and Potomac rivers. In the end, we still had a way to go before reaching the Occoquan Bay, where the Occoquan river terminates at the Potomac, but we did reach the highways and the railroad bridge over the river not too far from the entrance to Belmont Bay.On the way to the Potomac river, we drifted past marshlands and the verdant greenery of the river bank. We saw Pond Lilies and Pickerelweed.

We explored a creek that we discovered just after we rowed past the Interstate-95 bridge over the river.

We did get too close on one occasion to a nesting Osprey in the middle of the river.

Kayaking is something that I can see myself doing once again in the future – provided that the water we are on is calm, and also not flowing too swiftly. I think you can teach an old dog new tricks! But no whitewater kayaking for this dude.

Hope folks had a relaxing 4th of July weekend.

Mad Thoughts on July 4th

I had decided to take the week off from training since it was so close to the start of the longer bike ride that is starting on Sunday.  I did not want to overdo it.  But restlessness took over early in the week.  A couple of days of staying at home when I could have been outside biking in nice weather was more than I could handle mentally.  Although it is easy to become lazy, I also had a sense that there had been opportunities that had been missed.  I finally broke down and went for a long bike ride on Thursday, July 4th РIndependence day.

I left early in the morning having decided that I wanted to be back home at a reasonable time after the ride.  The streets were quiet on account the holiday.  It was somewhat jarring on this particular day to come across a pan-handler at a road intersection holding a sign that indicated that he was a veteran.  My first thought that it was quite ironic that my first experience on Independence day was something that made a mockery of the sentiment of independence.  The veterans were the guys who were willing to face danger in the preservation of independence, but we were failing them and not taking care of them.  Yet, we were having a celebration.

Our eyes locked for just an instant.  The moment did not last long. I was just driving past.  I suppose I could have pulled over somewhere to engage with the person.  That may have been the right thing to do, but it seems that the easiest thing to do is to try to put encounters with the less fortunate out of our minds.

There were many cars already parked in the lot at Great Falls by the time I arrived.  That was not normally the case on a regular weekday.  I found a spot for my car further away from where I was used to parking, got my equipment out, and started to ride towards the trail.  I could see that a yoga class was underway next to the river.P7040078.jpgPeople were also already on the trail, many walking towards Olmsted Island to see the actual waterfalls.  I headed south on the towpath towards Washington, DC, on my bicycle.

My goal was to get to Fletcher’s Cove, and then take the Capital Crescent trail to Bethesda.¬† I estimated that this would give me a moderate distance of about 30 miles for the ride.

As I got closer to Fletcher’s Cove, the urge hit me to head right into Washington, DC, to investigate what was going on with regards to the July 4th celebration there.¬† The primary concern with following up on this urge was the fear of possible crowds of people on foot on the path on which I was trying to ride my bike.¬† My strategy was going to be to immediately turn back and retrace my path the moment I hit trouble.

I was able to ride along the C&O canal all the way through Georgetown without interference. I then got on the trail that went past Rock Creek, to get to mile 0 of the towpath.  The city was still very quiet at that time of the morning.  There were fewer people about than I had expected.  So far so good!  I decided to keep on biking further along the river, in the direction of Lincoln Memorial, and to cross over to Virginia on one of the bridges across the Potomac at some point.  I would then head back north through Virginia, and finally cross over back to the other side of the river at the Key bridge.

I did not have to bike far before I encountered a roadblock. It was just before the Kennedy Center.  Both the trail and the road beside it were closed, and a police car and a dump truck were blocking the way.   I could either go back the way I had come, or try to find another way around the blockage.  Remembering that this blockage was in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial, and that a big event was being planned at that location in the evening, I saw no point in continuing.  There was no way the authorities were going to let people, even an innocent bicyclist, get closer.

Seeing a sign for Interstate 66 and Virginia at this point, I decided to take the bridge over the Potomac to Virginia instead.  I biked up to the front of Kennedy CenterP7040084.jpgand looked around. There were no people around. The few scattered guards around the building appeared to be in a very relaxed frame of mind.  There was no concern about my standing there all by myself taking pictures.

I found the bicycle trail leading to the bridge.

The bike lane on the Interstate 66 bridge across the Potomac was clearly not part of the original design of the bridge.  It was narrow enough to be dangerous.  I saw a person coming towards me lose his balance while trying to pass some people, and hit the railing on the river side of the bridge in the process.  The railing was not very high Рonce again not designed with bicyclists in mind.  Luckily, the person did not fall off the bridge.  I proceeded with additional caution.

There were cars at the parking lot for Roosevelt Island on the Virginia side of the bridge. By this time people were beginning to come out to the park in significant numbers.

I made my way over the Key Bridge back into DC,¬† and then biked back to Fletcher’s Cove on the towpath.

The ride on the Capital Crescent trail was my last opportunity for some uphill biking as part of my training.  It felt good.  I felt strong.  Things seem to be in good shape for the ride.  There were plenty of people on the trail by the time I got there.  The laid-back spirit of the July 4th holiday was in the air.

The towpath was completely crowded with holiday-goers by the time I got back to Great Falls at the end of the ride.  I had to slow down to a crawl and call out to people on the trail regularly to warn them about my approach.  Folks were in good spirits.

I got in about 40 miles of riding.  It was more that I had wanted to do in the beginning. I was a bit tired.

It was a news article that I saw online that I wanted to talk a little more about in this blog. The article indicated that Mad Magazine was soon going to cease publication. Coincidentally, I had been thinking about Mad Magazine during the last few days.¬† I had been an avid follower of the magazine in the 70s. One of the regular features that I used to enjoy was a comic series (I have not been able to find the author’s name) that attempted to showcase regular Americans going about their everyday lives.¬† It was a caricature, and it pointed out the ridiculous nature of some of the habits of the regular folks, and the mindless and asinine things people do as a matter of habit without even thinking about it.¬†¬† Although I did not know it at that time, the drawings were quite accurate and cutting in their depictions.¬† I found this out only later when I came to the US myself.¬† The drawn pictures of the people were themselves quite priceless, and also ridiculously accurate in their representation. You could see what a typical American looked like in his or her living environment, and it was sometimes quite ridiculous.

My thoughts then wandered towards how America has changed since the seventies.  Specifically, I was thinking about people like me, Indians who have settled down in the US, people who have grown in our numbers. I was thinking about how we now represent a significant chunk of the local population that is easily recognizable.  We have our own recognizable  place in the American experience in the cities and in suburbia. (This is perhaps less true in the rural areas.)  We have our own quirks.  The interesting thing is how Indians have adopted to the existing American way of life, and also how Indians have impacted the social experience and the culture in places where they exist in large numbers.  We can be as American as they come, but in our own way.

It was in this context that I was thinking about my American experience, and consequently about Mad Magazine.¬† I was thinking about the opportunity to make fun of people like me, the Indian American, and my manners and looks. I am sure we have our own foibles that would be worthy of laughing about if we became more self-aware.¬† It could perhaps take an “outsider” to point these out to us.¬† Yes, we could perhaps be downright ridiculous in our ways if we really thought about it.¬† And this would also be a unique part of the American experience.¬† And it would be great to capture this in comic form, just the way Mad Magazine could.¬† Indeed, they might have done so already without my knowing it.¬† How would Mad Magazine try to caricature a person like me?¬† That would be interesting to know.¬† Would they consider people like me to be full of crap?

I will end with a thought about the July 4th celebration. It is about the fact that for the first time in many years they had a show of military power at the celebrations in Washington, DC.  The show included Air Force One flying overhead as the president spoke.  It is easy to forget that all of this material stuff is temporary.  The picture below symbolic of what eventually happens to all of this over time.   The aircraft below once used to carry the President of the United States.  It has now become a museum piece, somewhat sad looking in its current location and appearance.P6170040.jpg(This picture was taken from the Mt. Vernon trail, from under the Wilson Bridge.)

It is the spirit that really matters in the end.

PS.  If you do not know anything about Mad Magazine, and are interested in getting a better context, you should watch the video in the link that I provided in this blog.