Little Pool

We had visited Big Pool on the C&O Canal earlier this year. We decided to go to Little Pool, its little sister, on Sunday. Little Pool is located just a few miles west of Big Pool. To start a walk at Little Pool, one must get to a parking lot for the canal that is difficult to access, one which does not get much use. The information about the approach to the lot requires a little bit of research. It is possible that not many people know about its existence.

This parking lot, just outside of Hancock, is located off an on-ramp to Interstate 70 going east. The only access to the road leading to this ramp from the highway is from an exit on I-70 heading west. The exit is located in the middle of the countryside. You could miss it easily – in the blink of an eye – if you were were not aware of it, or if you were distracted. There is no exit from I-70 to this parking lot if you are headed east on the highway, and there is no way to get onto I-70 West from the parking lot.

I had found this parking lot many years ago when I was discovering these sections of the C&O canal for the first time. I had only been there once – in 2007. In fact, I had written about this place at that time in an email to friends and family! That outing on the C&O canal was the first time I had made it to the town of Hancock, the furthest west I had been at that point. I had started a run at Little Pool on that day.

Nothing had changed regarding the nature of the parking lot since 2007.We were the only ones there – both when we arrived and when we departed the place after the walk! This parking lot serves both the WMRT and the C&O Canal. (We had been to the WMRT at Pearre, MD, just a few weeks earlier when searching (unsuccessfully!) for the colors of Fall.) You walk down to the WMRT from the parking lot.

You then cross the WMRT to walk down to Little Pool.The pool was bathed in a lovely early morning light. We walked east, towards Big Pool, on the towpath from that point. I had wanted to walk all the way to the aqueduct at Licking Creek, but had misjudged the distance. We turned back before we got there. Here are some pictures from this part of the walk.

We were walking in the direction of the rising sun at this point. It warmed us up nicely in spite of the low early morning temperatures. The last picture in the above sequence shows a trailer park on the West Virginia side of the river, and a freight train crossing a bridge over a minor tributary of the Potomac called Sleepy Creek.

We walked past a couple of locations along the canal where the waste weir for that section of the canal was built on the berm side of the canal, away from the river. The water from the waste weir fed into a culvert under the canal that led to the river. The usual practice, which seems to make more sense, was to build waste weirs on the side of the canal facing the river.

We walked back to Little Pool, and then continued the walk along Little Pool towards Hancock.

We saw a few birds that morning. I even caught sight of an bald eagle in the distance. It was too far away to get a good picture. We saw woodpeckers, bluebirds, cardinals, nuthatches, and even a family of what I suspect were ring-necked ducks on the water.The bluebirds were too small and restless to keep a track of long enough to take a picture of. There was another bird that we could not recognize that kept flying ahead of us over the trail. It would take off as we approached, and then land once again further along on the trail. It then started doing this activity over the canal bed – flying ahead of us as we approached and then landing next to the trail – again and again. I tried to have my camera ready for a photo-opp but was unsuccessful. I finally gave up tracking the bird.

The views of the trail ahead of us got my attention in the morning light.We did not quite reach Hancock before we turned back. We had walked over 8 miles that morning.

This was a morning for strange sightings. We saw what looked like a weasel in the water at Little Pool. But everything I have read so far suggests that weasels are not present in these parts. We also saw what looked like a pig in the median of the highway as we were driving home. That was quite strange. We were left wondering how it got there, and from where!

One more thing that was unusual about this outing was that we did not encounter a single person on the trail that morning. This might have primarily been due to the fact that the WMRT runs parallel to the towpath in this section. Its pavement provides a much smoother surface for bikers who are passing through to ride on than the towpath.

Training in the Summer Heat

The practice rides for the Pittsburgh to DC biking event continue.  Since it could be quite hot at the time of the ride at the end of August, I thought it appropriate to not try to go out of my way to avoid the heat while training.  We were notified of a heat advisory by the National Weather Service last Thursday, with predicted heat index values between 100 and 105 degrees.   Since there was work being done in the house in the morning I could only get on the trail around 11:00AM.   This was perfect for training! This being the first time I was subjecting myself to such conditions, I decided to be more cautious than usual, carrying extra water, and splitting the ride into two parts, with the ability to shorten the ride easily if I wanted to.

It was not too bad riding under the trees, but the heat did take its toll on me over the long run, and I was struggling towards the end.  Even though I was hydrated and had eaten enough, I was tired and dragging.  I was glad that I had decided to shorten the ride.  The ride did have its interesting moments. I encountered some suicidal Canada geese parked right across the trail who refused to get out the way of the speeding bike.  They just stood and stared. I am actually scared of these birds when they are with their young ones, as was the case here. They hiss and chase after you. Fortunately, no goosicide ensued. Then there was the squirrel that decided to take off across the trail as the bike was approaching, misjudged the speed of the vehicle, and unexpectedly made contact with the bike. It was fortunate  for all involved that it did not get caught in the spokes. The crazy animal continued its mad dash across the trail. I did not stop to see if it was hurt.  I saw an unexpectedly large number of great blue heron in the sections of the canal that were watered.  I suspect that they were fishing.  I could actually see reasonably sized fish swimming in the waters when I stopped to have a snack.

Friday promised to be less humid and I set out very early in the morning to do a complete ride starting at Williamsport, MD, biking past Hancock, MD.  I was going out of my way to ride a new section of the trail.  I had covered these sections of the trail on foot previously, but that was a very long time ago.

I had been hesitating to start rides far away from home for a while because I do not have a good bike rack for transporting the bike on the back of the car.  The bike rack I am using is very old, designed well before the Prius with its broad spoiler came into existence.  (Even today the options for getting a newer and more suitable bike rack that is capable of transporting the woman’s bike (that is another story) on the Prius are limited.)  I finally ended up using the simplest solution, something that I should have thought of in the first place, which was to fold the back seats of the car and push the bike all the way into it from the back.  This is possible because the Prius is a hatchback with a wide rear opening.  The new strategy allowed me to drive further out from home, and on the highway, without having to worry about something untoward happening with the bike and/or the car during transportation.  I will have to deal with the dust from the trail that collects in the vehicle later.

It felt especially thrilling to set out out this part of the trail on a still cool morning, remembering how it used to feel in times past, but this time making much better speed and covering more distance than I used to in the past.
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In no time I had reached Dam 5 on the Potomac river.  This is the point at which the canal ended for a short distance before starting up once again further northwest.  Canal boats used to be pulled along the side of the river in this section.
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Beyond that I passed McCoy’s Ferry and then Big Pool.  Soon after I got to the spot where I could have taken an alternate route using the smoother WMRT that parallels the C&O canal for the next twenty miles or so.  Instead, I stayed on the towpath thinking that the ride had not been too bad until that point.  But it was about to get worse! A few miles out  I came to Little Pool and a section of the towpath where they had just laid a thick layer of crushed stone on the trail.  Unfortunately, the stone was new and had not been compressed enough to set into place. Previous riders had not yet created a track clear of loose stones.  The ride became much rougher and uncomfortable.

As the trail passed the town of Hancock, I transferred to the WMRT for the rest of the ride. I rode the smooth asphalt into a mountainous section of the trail, passing though the Roundtop State Park. Looking down the hill through the vegetation, I could sometimes see the the towpath running beside the Potomac well below me.  The trail itself ran through some very beautiful surroundings.  It all felt awesome, but I was missing some of the sights on the towpath like the Round Top Cement mill because the WMRT ran above the ruins.
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I turned back after riding for a little while longer, and after having lunch. This time I stayed on the WMRT till its very beginning before shifting back to the towpath.  Got back to the start of the ride in good shape.