Williamsport and Pearre, MD, On The Same Morning

It was our first weekend walk along the C&O Canal after my return from India. After our earlier somewhat less successful experiences in the Shenandoah National Park with the viewing of Fall colors, we were going to give it a shot once again. But, based on experiences of past years, I was also not expecting much success in this regard. Except for in a few short sections of the canal closer to the city, the leaves on the trees along the towpath tend to fade to shades of yellow, with perhaps an occasional tinge of orange if you are lucky, or turn directly to brown. You do not see much of the reds.

In any case, we decided to give it a try, and headed to a place that was much more north and west of where we lived, where, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Fall was well underway. We went to Williamsport.

Unfortunately, we arrived in Williamsport to find that most of the vegetation was still green.We walked south on the trail up to a section just beyond the re-watered part of the canal. At that point we determined that the colors were not going to improve. We aborted the walk, returned to the car, and decided to drive further west to see if we could have better luck in our endeavors. This part of the Sunday morning activities was totally unplanned.

In any case, before leaving Williamsport, I managed to get a picture of the restored Conococheague aqueduct from the level of the creek, something I was unable to do during our previous visit.

We drove west past Hancock. Soon after, just before the Sideling Hill cut on highway I-68, we turned south onto Woodmont Road, one of the occasional narrow local roads that run through this extremely rural section of Maryland.

(As an aside, Sideling Hill is actually a somewhat long (but not very tall) mountain ridge of the Appalachians that runs all the way north into Pennsylvania and south, parallel to the border of Maryland and West Virginia, to West Virginia. The Potomac river forms the border of Maryland and West Virginia here. At some point the river turns and cuts through the ridge. The border of the states continues to follow the river.)

This space was a part of Maryland that I used to come to by myself, to run and explore, every once in a while in the past, but not recently. This section of the Maryland is lightly populated and heavily wooded. The drive south on Woodmont Road was quite nice, and we could see some color on the trees along the way.

We ended up at the parking lot for the Western Maryland Railroad Trail (WMRT) in Pearre, MD. This parking lot used to be the western terminus for the WMRT. We discovered that morning that the trail has been further extended a few miles west.

We were able to get on to the C&O canal towpath from the WMRT using a connector between the two trails. Alas, the vegetation here was also mostly green. We took the trail headed in a westerly direction. It was less than a mile before we crossed the Sideling creek and Aqueduct.The railings on the WMRT (behind the aqueduct in the picture above) looked new from the level of the aqueduct. This was our first hint that that trail might have been extended beyond Pearre. It was perhaps more than a mile after that before we came to a place where we saw the following structure.We realized that this was the place where the extension of the WMRT on the railroad right-of-way ended. This was where the WMRT connected back to the towpath.

We decided to tranfer to the WMRT for our return to Pearre. There was a little more color to be experienced from this perspective, but not much.The trail was very nicely paved and in much better shape than the towpath in these parts.

It turned into a long morning because of our having gone to two different places, and because of the extended distance away from home that we had traveled. I was tired, and it put me in a bad place later in the day for the first music practice after my return from India.

We have not had much success so far this year in our quirky annual endeavor of trying to find places to experience the colors of Fall. It may not be too surprising to some that I have been observing the fuller phenomenon of Fall, with more of its brilliant colors, more vividly closer to home – on the local roads – in recent days. I do not know yet if I will end up taking pictures.

Laziness or Perseverance, what will it be?

It is very easy for me to fall prey to laziness.  I need to train for my bike ride but I had been finding excuses to put my rides off earlier this week, as I had often done in the past.

The latest excuse that threatened to do the most damage to my training regimen was rain.  While I have not been caught outside on my bike in a heavy thunderstorm thus far, we have experienced a few spectacular episodes in the evenings recently because of the extremely warm and muggy weather.  (One such storm even sent water into the kitchen and I had to get some emergency work done fixing and cleaning the gutters.)  Anyway, I had decided to finally bike on Thursday after the usual excuses earlier on in the week, when heavy thunderstorms struck on Wednesday evening.  This was about to be my excuse to skip training on Thursday also.  There was going to be mud on the trails, and even though I had tackled mud before, I was not in a mood for this kind of an experience.

When asked about why I could not find a location where I could ride on a surface without mud, I responded that I would have to drive a long way off to get to said location.  But the thought stuck. Instead of dropping the whole idea of riding, I motivated myself to wake up early and drive an hour to the start of the WMRT near Hancock.  The WMRT, which runs roughly parallel to the towpath, is covered with asphalt and runs about 22 miles to Pearre in Maryland, with Hancock roughly at the mid-point.  So off I went!

Not only was the ride on the WMRT clean, but the surface was so smooth that I was zipping along very fast and making good time.  Also, all of the reluctance that I had felt earlier on to training that day went out the door the moment I started riding!

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The Licking Creek Aqueduct on the C&O Canal from the WMRT

I reached Pearre, the other end pf the WMRT, in record time! There was the temptation at that point to turn back and return to where I had started, since my only option to extend the ride was to get on the towpath which would have been impacted by the rain.  But what little I had seen of the towpath from the vantage point of the WMRT on which I was riding was a dry trail. So I decided to continue further on the towpath.

The trail in that section was in a terrible condition!  I found myself negotiating puddles of mud constantly.  The trail for the most past consisted to two tracks with thick grass growing in-between. I tried to avoid the mud by switching tracks to avoid puddles if they were only on one side, or rode between the tracks over the grass where the puddles covered both tracks.  All of this tended to slow me down considerably, especially the attempts to ride on the grass.  But I was in no hurry.  After about 9 or 10 miles of the trail, after crossing the old and unused Western Maryland Railroad bridge over the Potomac, I stopped to eat something and start the return trip.

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Abandoned Western Maryland Railroad Bridge

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The Potomac

I stopped occasionally to take more pictures on the way back.

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The lush green trail

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View from Lock 58

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Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct

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Where Fifteen Mile Creek meets the Potomac

My original thought was to get back to the WMRT at Pearre when returning so that I could avoid the challenges of the towpath.  But as I kept riding my outlook began to change.  I got more comfortable with the thought of riding through puddles. I should let this riding experience be more in line with the more challenging aspects of what I might experience during the long Pittsburgh to Gaithersburg ride, I thought.  At Pearre, I stopped to take the picture below, and  then continued on the towpath, with the thought that I would switch back to the WMRT a little later at Hancock.

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Lockhouse at Pearre for Lock 56

It was a good decision.  The puddles became less of an issue since trail was drier than I had expected. But, in addition to the bumpy surface, I had to deal with limbs from the trees that seemed to have fallen all over the trail.  I had to stop a couple of times to remove branches that got caught in the frame of bike.  Fortunately, there was no damage to the wheels.  But I was also making good time, and there were also more interesting things to see from the towpath.

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Remains of Round Top Cement Company

I switched back from the towpath to the WMRT at Hancock  and took a short break, but then also changed my mind after the break about the trail I wanted to continue back on.  I decided that I should really put myself to the test with the riding conditions, and got back to the towpath for the rest of the ride!   The good thing was that this section of the trail had a surface of freshly compressed crushed stone.  It was pretty comfortable, and the surface was dry.  I made it back in good shape, but because of my adventures earlier that day,  contrary to my original goal of having a clean ride, there was mud all over me and the bike at the end of the ride.

I wonder how much of rain and mud we will experience during the Pittsburgh ride.  Since I have not had to ride in the rain so far I do not know how that is going to feel,  but I am ready to take on muddy trails after the rains any time.  And I am glad I got over my laziness on Thursday!