The Flooding at the Monocacy Aqueduct

These pictures were taken during one of our Sunday walks towards the end of May.  The aqueduct carries the C&O canal across the Monocacy river.

This kind of flooding happens every once in a while, and most often during the spring season when we get a lot of rain.  The accumulation of the debris is somewhat unusual.  The last time it happened they had to bring in heavy equipment to remove the tree branches that were caught on the structure of the aqueduct and putting pressure on it.

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Upstream side of the aqueduct
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Downstream of the aqueduct
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Debris stuck at the aqueduct, including significant amounts of trash
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The extent of the flooding

The following picture was taken during the same walk at a different location on the trail.  This is upstream on the Potomac river.

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Noland Ferry

The 2016 KVIITM75 Bike ride – Day 6, The Final Push

We made it!  I had to take some time away from the blog for the celebrations, to take care of my friends, and to also try to catch up on my sleep, but I am back to report that  WE MADE IT!

The last day of the ride was from Shepherdstown, WV, to Whites Ferry on the towpath in Maryland.  This was deliberately scheduled to be short ride, and we did in fact finally arrive at our rendezvous point with the support vehicle a little early.  It was a relaxed ride.

We left our hotel at at around 9:00 am.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were back on the trail in short order and proceeded without delay towards Harpers Ferry.  By this time we had established good riding patterns on the trail that all of us were comfortable with, a process that seemed to happen somewhat organically. No words needed to be spoken.  There was no competition to be up in front (or for that matter behind), and it did not matter who your riding companion was.  Conversations could involve all four people, three, two, or even one if you were happier riding in silence at that point, comfortably lost in your thoughts.

We stopped at the remains of Dam 3 just before we reached Harpers Ferry and hopped over exposed rocks in the river bed to chill out in the midst of the flowing water.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe parked our bikes on the towpath across the river from Harpers Ferry and crossed the bridge into town.  A significant amount of time had been allocated to this destination because there was a lot to see.

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We went up to Jefferson Rock on the hill behind the church. The second picture below shows the Potomac flowing south beyond the point where it meets  up with the Shenandoah river.

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We went back into town to get something for lunch.  The second picture shows the railroad bridges across the Potomac between West Virginia and Maryland. Most of the rail traffic is freight, but there is also a train station in town used by commuter trains and the Amtrak Capital Limited running between Chicago and Washington, DC.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a lunch that resulted in more calories being consumed than had been expended thus far on the trail, we proceeded back to the towpath and resumed the ride.  In spite of some lethargy because of the lunch,  we were able to resume a good pace once we got back into the rhythm.  It seemed that by this time we had become comfortable with the riding experience.  There were less “butt breaks”.

Our next stop was the Catoctin Aqueduct.  This aqueduct actually collapsed completely in the 1970s (because of the design of the center arch) and was reconstructed in 2011.

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We took a short break at Point of Rocks.  We were making good time toward the final destination while riding at an easy pace.

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The next somewhat big stop was the Monocacy Aqueduct, the longest aqueduct on the C&O Canal.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile taking the previous picture we heard some loud conversation taking place on the aqueduct.  We looked up to see that some urgent matter being taken care of over the phone!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then it was time to leave for our final destination.  As the entered the last couple of miles of the ride the energy level actually shot up and there was some sprinting going on.  And then we were done!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had to hang out at Whites Ferry for a little while because of a foul-up with the support van.  We watched the ferry in action, and then spent the time chilling out.  Ice cream was consumed in celebration.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe finally got home about an hour later than expected.  It was time to unwind.  Later in the evening we received some unexpected awards. (Thank you, Mrs. R!)

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was back to more conversation and singing Hindi songs before we finally went to bed, later in the evening than we ever did during the ride itself!

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This was an awesome experience.  I am still getting my head around the fact that we got on bikes in Pittsburgh, PA, and finally got off the bikes in the Washington, DC, area, about 300 miles later, after six days of biking, after experiencing America in a way that one would never have been able to if we had, as is customary, gotten in a car and driven the same distance (perhaps in three or four short hours).  There is so much of this land to see and experience outside of the hustle and bustle of the mainstream.  Its beauty, its history, its small towns with their changing ways of life and the struggles for survival, its peoples, all of these are worth knowing and understanding better.  Moreover, it is a lot of fun! As my friend Shankar would say, this is something everybody should try to do at least once in their lifetime!

 

The Magic of All Creatures Great and Small

(With apologies to James Herriot..)

I was keeping a steady pace on my bike, slogging out the last few miles of the ride in the shade of a canopy of tall trees, when I happened on a section of the trail with blackbirds.  A song about blackbirds came to my lips immediately, a song not exactly appropriate for the time of day that I was riding,  but it did not matter (except that Sir Paul would probably have disapproved of my enthusiastic efforts).  As I rode into the section blackbirds rose from the trail, and around it, and started flying ahead of me. And the further I rode, the more blackbirds rose from the shrubbery and trees.  Soon the section of the trail in front of me was full of blackbirds all flying away from me over the tree-covered trail.  I felt like I was keeping pace with them.  The volume of my singing increased while the quality decreased and the birds kept rising into the air in front of me.  This probably lasted a few seconds but it felt like a long time to me.  It was like magic!

But there was more magic that I experienced earlier on during the ride.  Summer is the season for dragonflies and butterflies.  The butterflies were everywhere, while the dragonflies seemed to be concentrated in certain areas.  I had to stop by the canal at the Dickerson Conservation Park to take pictures of the plentiful dragonflies and the few butterflies around.  Here is a sample.

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The magic actually happened at the Monocacy Aqueduct as I was pushing my bike on the walkway across the river.  I had nearly crossed the aqueduct when the butterfly landed on the seat of the bike.  It was quite comfortable in spite of the movement of the bike.

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The butterfly then decided to land on the fingers of my right hand and stay there.  I was unable to take a picture since that is the hand I hold the camera in for taking the pictures.  At some point I parked the bike.  I persuaded the butterfly to move to my left hand and tried to take a picture with that hand extended out, but I could not focus because of the nature of the lens on the camera.  So I placed the butterfly on the metal handlebar basket, pulled a different lens out of the camera bag that was in the handlebar basket (without scaring the butterfly away), swapped lenses on the camera (placing the lenses on the ground in the process) while the butterfly continued to sit on the handlebar, convinced the butterfly to come back to my left hand from the handlebar, and finally got the pictures below.  The butterfly did not even try to fly away during the whole process.  It was magic!

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But these were not the only creatures I encountered during the ride.  Here are a few of the pictures I took.

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Yes, that is a bald eagle in one of the pictures, but the picture did not come out well because of the lighting.  I encountered plenty of life on and around the trail during that ride!

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all
Anglican Hymn

Weekly Photo Challenge: Look Up!

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.
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One can also look forwards and upwards into the distance on a trail to capture a perspective like this.
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Sometimes you do not have to look up that far to ahead of you to observe something notable above you and around you.
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If I had not looked up I would have missed the northern flicker in the following picture,
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAor the red-headed woodpecker in this one.
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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,
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAor you might see a sight like this Norfolk Southern locomotive crossing the Potomac on a trestle bridge looking distinctive in the early morning light.
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If you do not look up you could miss the great blue heron that flies high over the Monocacy Aqueduct,
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Don’t forget to look up!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Curve

Curves are so ubiquitous in our experiences that I tried to spend some time isolating some particular aspect of the theme try to focus on before responding.  Curves are present in all kinds of human constructs. They are an essential part of the engineering design, and  often they are there just for aesthetic purposes.  Chances are that you look around in a room and you will find something with curves.  I have plenty of such pictures.

But I had to think a little more to come up with curves that exist in a natural context.  Here are a few examples that I thought of.

The surface of the earth is curved but it is very difficult to observe curvature unless you are flying very high or you are observing big objects very far away beyond the horizon over a “flat” surface like a body of water.  I have pictures where I think I can see curvature from an aircraft but I am not sure if it is real or due to camera distortion. Anyway, here are a couple of shots and you can decide for yourself if you see any curvature, and if so, what the real cause might be.
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You see natural curves in the desert when the wind tends to shape the hills of sand.   (While curves are visible at the macro level, the surface is indeed not smooth at the micro level, where they may be better characterized as fractals.)  The following picture is from White Sands National Monument.
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(This particular submission to the challenge has a similar theme and is quite awesome!)

A third perspective that I considered was the shape of clouds.  When you have phenomenon like tornadoes, cyclones, hurricanes or typhoons, you have a circular motion of the clouds because of the winds that is very distinct and visible.  Sometimes you might even see such curvature at the macro level in a benign environment, as I did below.
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Here are two cases of curves in the context of animals.
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(As an aside, the eastern hognose snake shown above can play dead in its attempts to escape a predator.)

I could not resist a couple of pictures in which curves created by human beings seemed to blend well with the natural surroundings.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
IMG_2382The second of these pictures is of the Monocacy Aqueduct on the C&O Canal towpath.

Finally here is a curve created by humans that is a national landmark here in the United States, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
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The Call of the Cardinal (1/15/2006)

No, I am not talking about a religious leader – I am talking about the bird!

It was bitterly cold this morning, in the low 20s (Fahrenheit, that is), and the wind was howling. I somehow managed to drive to the Monocacy Aqueduct.  The local road was covered with broken tree limbs, and I had to navigate around the bigger ones, listening to the thumping of the broken branches against the bottom of the car.  There was nobody around.  The wind hit me the moment I got out the car bringing tears to my eyes. Having navigated cold mornings in the past, I was determined to go on.  But this was different.  About a half mile down the trail, I began to lose sensation in my toes and fingers completely.  What little feeling of pleasure I had about getting back on the trail after more than a month of absence vanished.   I may push things to the limit, but I am not foolish.  I returned to the car and quickly turned on the heat.  My fingers hurt.

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I could have turned and returned home after this experience, but I still felt the urge to do something.  So I headed north.  I discovered the road to the parking lot at Nolands Ferry.  The road was in as bad a shape as that to the Monocacy Aqueduct.  The wind had done a number on the trees the previous night.  The cold front had come roaring through on Saturday, and in our part of the world this is usually accompanied by the icy Canadian winds from the north.  I stepped out of the car to think about running once again, but changed my mind quickly.  I then drove further north to Point of Rocks.

I had just parked the car beside the trail when the Cardinal landed on the side-view mirror on the passenger side and looked at me.  “What are you doing in there?” it seemed to be asking in a curious sort of manner. “Why don’t you join me out here?”  I was furiously trying to extract my camera from its cover while the bird was sitting there pecking at the mirror.  This one was sneaky.  The moment I got the camera in my hands, it flew away to a branch on a tree and I had to be content taking a picture from a distance.

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Anyway, this was my encouragement.  I stepped out onto the trail once again.  This time I made it a few 100 feet north before I was hit by a gust of icy wind that almost stopped me in my tracks.  The impact of the wind being channeled over the trail by the cliffs next to the river was tremendous.  I turned around and headed back on the trail, this time towards Nolands Ferry.  This I could do!  The space was more open and the wind did not seem to affect me too much, although I could still hear it howling through the branches up above me.  Gradually, I got back into my pace, remembering the way things were before I went on vacation.  It felt nice.

It was when I turned to head back towards Point of Rocks that I felt the effect of the wind once again. It was blowing into my face, but it was not as bad as before.  The sun had come up by now and its warming effect helped things.  In any case, I had no choice but to make it back to the car.  There had been a few other people in the park at Point of Rocks, but there was nobody to be seen on the trail at that point.  I think the wind had something to do with this.

So I completed the run, covering my normal distances, and got back into the comfort of the car.  I was disturbed by a banging on the back window as soon as I sat down in the driver’s seat.  It was the cardinal once again, furiously pecking at something on the back of the car!  Once again I tried to get my camera ready for a picture but the bird flew away.  As I settled into the seat to eat a donut, the creature performed its act once more, this time banging against the side window, looking at me all the time, and then flying away when I got my camera up.  I then decided to get out the car and back into the cold, and tried to follow the bird to get a close-up picture of it.  I managed to take a picture better than the one I had gotten during my previous visit to the trail, but it was certainly not as good as one I could have gotten if the bird were against the car itself.

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The bird would keep reappearing the moment I laid my camera down, and then it would fly away.  It was playing games!  So I decided to sit for a while with camera in hand, just waiting.  The bird came back, but this time it settled on the side-view mirror of another vehicle across the road.  It then started pecking at the mirror of that car.  I think what was happening was that it was seeing its reflection in the mirror and pecking at it.  (Does anybody have an explanation for this kind of a behavior?)  The bird never came back on to my car again. I had waited for about 10 minutes.  I then drove home.

I could have given up at the Monocacy Aqueduct and gone home when I first got started, but I am glad I persisted.  It felt good to do this once again, and I can thank my friend the cardinal for motivating me to get out there and brave the cold and the wind.  By the way, both the side-view mirrors on the car have scratch marks on them that do not look like they will come off. The cardinal must have a very sharp beak.

The country celebrates Martin Luther King Day tomorrow.  Lona Alias was playing excerpts from the “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech that Dr. King gave in Memphis on the radio.  This was the speech given just before he was murdered. He had a premonition about what was going to happen to him. What a great speaker!  His words moved people during his time, and they continue to be a source of inspiration.  Dr. King was not a perfect person, but he managed to influence the life of many people in a positive way.  We have to admit that we are also imperfect people ourselves.  If we find a way to leave a positive and lasting impact on people in spite of our weaknesses, then I think we have done well.

Enough preaching for today.