Trainspotting at Point of Rocks, Maryland (12/12/2004)

I noted last week that I had written an email a long time ago about an encounter with a bird at the Point of Rocks parking lot many years ago. I proceeded to search for the email in my records, discovered it, and posted a blog – only to realize that I had already posted the same email in my blogs in 2015. I did a quick take-down of the duplicate blog! Some might have already noticed a blog that disappeared after having been announced. I messed up!

But, during that search for the forgotten email, I also discovered another email that covered my first ever visit to Point of Rocks. I thought it worthwhile to post this email. My perspectives of distances and the nature of the challenges along the canal and trail have changed with time.
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It was still somewhat dark outside when I left home shortly after 7am in the morning. I have a long way to drive today. I am extending my coverage of the C&O canal by going all the way up to Point of Rocks at Mile 48.2 on the canal. I am leaving the safe confines of Montgomery County and driving up into Frederick County, all the way to the end of Route 28. I am truly venturing into the boondocks and lands unknown. I drive past the fat happy cows (are they Holsteins?) and the horses poking their heads through the picket fences. I drive past the house surrounded by bird feeders at the corner of routes 28 and 85. That is some sight – seemingly broken bird-feeders all over the property! The house looks old and dilapidated.

It is cloudy as I drive. The weather looks gloomy, and not very inviting for a run along the canal. As I approach Point of Rocks after the long drive, I even begin to lose the radio channel that I am listening too. The program today is about civil rights goings-on in the United States in the 50s and 60s. They are playing songs about the company bosses and their union busting activities. The company owners actually resorted to murder in many cases. We are all so greedy in this United States of America. We do not want to pay for the true value of things. Do we really care for the working man? The talk turns to Israel and Palestine, and the recent report of the sufferings of the Palestinians as they try to move around. They are treated as less than human beings at the checkpoints. Even people who are sick, and women who are about to give birth and need to get to a hospital, are not allowed through. People are assaulted. These circumstances cause people to lose their humanity. The DJ came up with a great saying from Martin Luther King about the worst thing that can happen to people – that they become so apathetic and do not do anything to help others. This is what I found when I did a search on quotes by MLK – “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. Anyway…

Point of Rocks is a railroad junction on the old B&O railroad on the way from Washington DC to Pittsburgh and points north. The railroad crosses the Potomac at Harpers Ferry around mile 60 (all distances from now on are distances on the C&O canal!). There is also a railroad line here that branches off from the main line to Frederick City and Baltimore. I drive into “Smalltown USA”, with its old small houses, some of them abandoned and falling apart. Looks like things have not changed there for while. Point of Rocks has a small, very nicely maintained, commuter train station with lot of parking. Most of the railroad traffic here is probably freight trains, but there are also the commuter trains that stop here. I have to drive across the railroad tracks close to the train station, and over a wooden bridge crossing the canal itself, to get to the parking spaces for the towpath. The parking lot is right under the bridge that takes highway 15 over the Potomac river into Virginia. I hesitate to park here because the parking lot is close to the river level and seems to slope towards the swiftly flowing river. The lot is also quite empty. I do not want to come back and find the car in the middle of the river! I drive back to a spot further up the road where I had seen a couple of vehicles parked on the side of the road and pull up next to them hoping for the best. Things worked out OK except for the fact that I had trouble pulling the car out when I tried to leave – the wheels kept spinning in the mud. Next time I will be more careful. The hood of my car is now covered with brown spots of mud.

The run itself was uneventful. I had to wear my track suit because it was quite chilly. Because the trees were bare, I could see the wide river on the one side and the railroad tracks parallel to the canal on the other side. The tracks paralleled the canal until mile 45, but I did not see any trains. (There is an interesting story about the battle between the B&O Railroad and the C&O canal for the rights to the property next to the river in some places, especially where the cliffs came right up to the river near Point of Rocks.) The trail was quite muddy due to the rain the day before, and in spots I had no choice but to charge through the mud. I could not help noticing that the area was so flat that it was actually hard to find a private place to pee if one needed to. At this point in this tale, I will digress into a lesson on peeing in the woods on a cold winter day. (Those sensitive souls who are offended by this kind of stuff can skip the next paragraph.)

There are some important things to remember about peeing in the wild. The first requirement is that of finding a spot where you will not be observed and you are not exposed. In these parts of the trail, it might just be a matter of looking left and right, since there are not too many people around. Find a protected spot where you do not expose too many bodily parts. This is most important for women, because on a cold day such as today, your butt can freeze. (You do remember that I had a potential story about “Turning the other cheek” last spring, don’t you?). The next few points are for the males. It is important to make sure you know which way the wind is blowing. You do not want to be dancing around trying to avoid the fountain. Third point – make sure your can feel your fingers. If not, you do not necessarily know which way you are pointed. Lastly, make sure that you really are done before you begin reinsertion. On a cold day, far away from home, you do not want any disasters of the wet kind. OK! Lesson is over. Back to our story…

I made my way past two camping grounds, Calico Rocks, and Indian Wells, as I followed the towpath south to the Monocacy River at mile 42.2. It was quite chilly and windy as I rested on the aqueduct. All of a sudden, I could also hear the sounds of the open, unimpeded by noise generated by the constant movement of my feet on the trail. There was this bird that was crying out from the trees in some kind of a pattern. Since I am clueless about bird-sounds, I imagined some mighty bird like an eagle or a hawk calling out. I could hear the rumble of traffic carried long distances because of the absence of foliage on the trees – you really cannot get completely away from civilization. There was somebody at the boat jetty banging on some metal part, disturbing the quiet. Off in the distance, the towers of the PEPCO power plant stood out over the waters.

I made my way back to Point of Rocks without incident. It suddenly felt colder and windier as I started my way back. I had to wear my gloves. Encountered only three or four people on the trail. Went past the overturned port-a-john on the trail at Noland Ferry. (Trust me, you really do not want to know any more about that!) Made it back to the car in good spirits. As I was sitting in the car relaxing with my donut and a cup of coffee, I heard the sound of a train headed into Point of Rocks. It was a train consisting for Amtrak Superliners pulled by an GE AMD-103. Soon after, I heard, and spied, a freight train rolling in. I quickly grabbed my camera, and rushed out of the car (leaving the radio on and the key in the ignition). I sprinted across the bridge over the canal with new-found energy in time to sight the train approaching from my left. The engineer blew the horn loudly, partly because the road crossed the tracks at this point, and probably partly because he sighted this madman rushing towards the tracks! Do not fear! I stopped well short of the tracks, to take my picture and to feel the thunder of the freight train drawn by the three powerful locomotives rolling by. Awesome!

As I was leaving Point of Rocks, I stopped by the train station to take a picture and was pleasantly surprised to see another freight train go by headed in the direction of Frederick and Baltimore. Point of Rocks is really a good place for trainspotting.

Got home by about noon. I have to cook the chicken for the next week. Teresa has a meeting with her small-faith group. I have to go for my music practice today evening.

Life goes on. Catch you later.
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I had an analog camera is those days. Here are scans of a few of the pictures I took that day. The water level in the Potomac, under the Route 15 bridge, looks somewhat high in the picture below.This is a picture of one of my old cars, the Ford Contour, parked in the old parking area that used to exist under the bridge in those days.You can see the tail-end of a freight train passing Point of Rocks station on its way towards Baltimore in the picture below.Just another note that the little house at the corner of Routes 15 and 85 where the bird houses were being sold is long gone. The space has been taken over by the forces of nature!

I used to eat donuts for breakfast regularly when going for my Sunday runs. That has stopped – for reasons that do not need to be expounded upon.

The PEPCO power plant mentioned above is now owned by a company called NRG Energy.

More Flowers Of The Season

We saw more flowers of Spring during our outing on the canal last Sunday. Here are the new ones that caught my eye.

Celandine:

Fleabanes:

Phlox:

Miami Mist:

The real Virginia Waterleaf! (I believe I falsely identified the following as possibly Virginia Waterleaf a few weeks back. The real Virginia Waterleaf grows closer to the ground than the plant we had seen earlier!):

Mayapple:

Star of Bethlehem (different from the Nodding Star of Bethlehem!):

Possibly Sweet Cicily:

and Dames Rocket:

We could see the distinctive Rosa Multiflora plants in some sections of the trail. These will be blooming soon, and, along with the honeysuckle, taking over the sides of the trail before too long!

The manner in which I have approached the presentation of the flowers observed along the canal this year has made me better appreciate, perhaps for the first time, the wide variety of the flora that we have been coming across over the years in our own backyard. This is amazing!

Our exploration last weekend started from Point of Rocks. It has been a while since we came here. There has been enough new development around the area of the towpath that I initially even missed the entrance to the park. I would consider Point of Rocks to be at a somewhat intermediate distance from home, creating the situation where one is not really sure whether to consider it close enough to home when planning Sunday walks when there are time constraints, or far enough from home when we wish to spend more time exploring less-visited and newer spaces. This indeterminate state of affairs is probably one of the reasons that has led to the less frequent visits to this place.

Also to be considered in the context of making excuses for not visiting Point of Rocks is the fact that there are a lot more people visiting this place these days than in the past. The place is actually crowded! I still remember the days when there was almost nothing here. I would see very few people in the parking lot or on the trail. At that time, I had discovered the area from some newly found source of information about the C&O Canal, and I was still in the process of exploring these new spaces for the first time. The parking lot at Point of Rocks used to be a small area of cleared gravel/dirt beside an undeveloped road – on the other side of a narrow wooden bridge over the dry canal bed. (I once wrote about a bird that landed on my car while I was in this parking area. I need to rediscover that e-mail!) In those days, the dirt road actually extended on to the then unmaintained towpath, and ran all the way to the bottom of the Route 15 bridge over the Potomac river. There used to be another undeveloped dirt parking lot under the bridge at that time. All of this has changed. The trail has been resurfaced since then and is no longer accessible to visitor vehicles, and the previous parking area under the bridge is now overgrown with vegetation. The NPS parking lot at Point of Rocks these days is huge. The lot has a paved surface, and there is also a nice boat ramp to the river at one end of it.

A noteworthy element of the experience of coming to Point of Rocks is the sight of the Route 15 bridge across the Potomac in the early morning light. It is always striking. I never fail to take pictures. Here is another example.

We walked all the way to the Catoctin Creek Aqueduct and back.(Can you imagine that this was how the place looked in 2006, many years before they began reconstruction of the aqueduct?!)

There were a lot of gnats in the air at the aqueduct. It is a reminder that summer temperatures are slowly but surely making their way to our neighborhood, although, right now, we do have some days that are still cold enough to require a light jacket or a windbreaker.

Last weekend was the first time we went out to a restaurant after a gap of well over a year. We were expecting to see a light crowd. It was a shock to see the large numbers of people gathered in the shopping area. They were out enjoying the great Spring weather that we were experiencing that day. The restaurants in the neighborhood were all also quite busy. If people had not been wearing their masks, and if the spacing between the occupied tables at the restaurants had not been increased for safety, one would have assumed that this was a normal day in the county without anything amiss. But there is indeed a pandemic still going on! It was a little difficult sometimes to maintain spacing with other people while on the walkways, but, thankfully, most people wore masks. We also sat outdoors at the restaurant. All of this was a little risky, I suppose, but new Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for people who have been vaccinated suggests that the risk levels are low in these situations. This is not an exact science. We are still learning. One still has to be very careful, especially with mutations of the virus, like the particularly virulent version that seems to be prevalent in India, that are spreading around the world.

We did enjoy our dinner, although there were elements of the experience that felt a little new and unfamiliar to me once again. The interactions with the waiter felt somewhat unnatural. Truth be told, we have gotten so used to ordering food to eat at home, and enjoying the food in the relaxed and quiet atmosphere at home, that the home dining experience feels more natural and easy. One would go to restaurants primarily to enjoy the company of friends. That was what we did on Saturday.

Riding Into Autumn

I went for a bike ride last Thursday. I rode from Edwards Ferryto Point Of Rocks,and back, a distance of 35 miles. I had started out intending to bike about 30 miles, but the possibility of reaching a concrete destination rather than some arbitrary mile marker on the trail drove me on a little further than I had originally intended.

It was a late decision for me to actually do the ride. I also had to push myself a little bit to overcome the laziness I felt that morning. I have not done that many rides this year anyway, and it would have been easy to call it quits for the year. It was also going to be somewhat cold that morning (about 45° F at the time we woke up) – another reason to not push myself. Besides, my exercise route is, in general, completely destroyed by all of the disruptions taking place – and by my lack of discipline and, once again, laziness. But I willed myself to do what was necessary to get to the trail. I had to put the bike rack back on the car. I had previously taken it off, not anticipating further rides this year.

I felt the cold as soon as I got out of the car and prepared to ride at Edwards Ferry. I had to put on another layer of clothing, on top of my regular half-sleeved jersey, to protect my hands fully. Riding into a cold breeze (caused by my forward motion) was a little uncomfortable, but I got used to it. As I rode, the thought came to me that this could be the last ride of the year. I felt that I should do the ride as if this was going to be my last bike ride – because who knows what awaits me at the end of this riding season. Anything can happen. Maybe it is a good general philosophy – and I have heard it elsewhere – live every day as if it were your last.

I enjoyed the ride to the fullest extent, the impact of the ride on my bottom being cushioned that day by the generous usage of Chamios Butt’r for the first time in many years. (You see, I had thought that regular biking had made my nether region impervious to the effects of chafing from the constant rubbing motion, but had found out during my previous ride, a shorter one than the one I was undertaking that day, that this was not necessarily the case. Previous years of toughness of the skin did not mean a thing!) The cool weather also actually helped make the riding easier.

I did get used to the cool temperatures, and it also warmed up a little bit during the ride – to conditions that would actually be considered ideal for the activity. I did also encounter many other bike riders on the trail.

I am now hopeful that this will not be the last ride!

Fields of Gold (9/11/2005)

I wrote this email in 2005. I had just started visiting the C&O canal towpath the previous year,  and was still in the process of regularizing my weekend exercise routine beside the Potomac river.  Some of the places that I visited along the canal were not as familiar to me then as they are now.

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I was up early this morning and headed for Point of Rocks for my morning run. These morning runs have become less frequent with the efforts to get the rest of the family involved in the C&O canal activities. Last weekend Teresa and I biked 16 miles on the trail. (That is certainly an great achievement for a first-timer!) I have biked with Angela on other occasions, and, a couple of times, also run on the trail while the others have biked along. However, as I realized this morning, while getting the family involved is a good thing, you still need your own time to rejuvenate and recuperate. There is nothing like the silence of the woods in the cool of the early morning to sooth your soul and bring your internal temperature back to normal. Come what may, I need to find a way to continue my travels and meditations.

As I was driving towards Point of Rocks this morning, I was struck by the sight of the fields of gold. Yes, the leaves in some of the fields are beginning to turn golden yellow. These fields alternated with the neighboring cornfields where the stocks of corn stood tall, some of them turning brown due to the coming of Fall. It was a sight to see, and I stopped by the roadside to take pictures. It immediately brightened my mood. Lona Alias, my favorite Sunday morning DJ on the radio, provided some reminders of events in the real world, including the anniversary of 9/11, and happenings down in New Orleans. She played some nice songs. If you have not done so already, you should find a way to listen to the song “Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman. Although it is going to take up some space, I am going to include the words for the entire song here. Hope you don’t mind.

“What has happened down here is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangelne

Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tyrin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away

President Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand
The President say, “Little fat man isn’t it a shame what the river has done
To this poor crackers land.”

Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away”

Apparently, the 1927 flooding of Louisiana resulted in widespread death and destruction, and very poor response from the authorities. History is repeating itself. Enough said.

I ran from Point of Rocks to the Monocacy Aqueduct and back today. The morning was cool, portending the coming of Fall. All the people I encountered on the trail were cheery and greeted me with smiles. The kids were packing materials from the campsites that they were vacating after overnight stays, and carrying the stuff to their cars. Other kids rode their bikes in disorderly columns, with adults trying to provide supervision and prevent them from running people over. As I jogged by, one gentleman even wished me well on my efforts to complete the 12 miles. I did not even feel too tired after the run and my muscles did not give out on me during the run. I still feel great!

One incident to note. After I finished the run, I walked up to the railroad tracks to take some pictures. I walked along the tracks with my camera, trying to find spots with some interesting shots. When I returned, I observed a vehicle belonging to the Park Police in the parking lot facing my car. I walked by the officer trying to act nonchalant, wondering if I was in some kind of trouble, especially since I had been trespassing on the railroad tracks a couple of minutes back. (Think Al Qaeda!) “Good morning” I said to the policemen. “How is it going?” he responded cheerily. As I opened the driver’s door and got into the car, he got out of his vehicle and started walking towards me, at least that was what I thought. As he got closer, he angled away towards the car besides mine. It was an old beaten-up wreck, parked further away into the woods. He inspected the car carefully and started talking into his radio. He then turned and walked back to his vehicle, taking a glance a me as I sat in the front seat of my car eating a donut as he went by. He then drove away. I wonder if he also checked out my license number in my absence, and if I am now on some kind of a watch list. Of course I am paranoid! Anyway, that was my adventure for day.

Enough for now.
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The above letter was written shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.   This hurricane devastated the city.  It never fully recovered to its old self.

You can listen to the song I talk about here.

Here are some pictures taken that day.100_0936100_0937100_0947100_0950100_0956The parking area at Point of Rocks has changed significantly since 2005, the time I first started visiting.  It used to be real rough.  There were just a few spots off a dirt road, and you parked in whatever random space you found.  You could also drive beyond the lot to a space under the bridge carrying US Highway 15 across the Potomac. You could find dicier parking (if the water in the river was not too high) there.  All of this has now been replaced by a real parking lot, and a very big one at that! Also, you can no longer drive beyond this lot to the space under the bridge.  The space on the other side of the canal, between the railroad tracks and the main road (MD Route 28),  has also now been converted into a well-maintained park.  And a lot more people visit these days.

Favorite Place

The subject of this week’s challenge  is an easy one for me to tackle, and obvious to folks who know me.  You will find me any free weekend exploring some section of the 184.5 mile long C&O Canal towpath.  Last weekend took us to a section near Point of Rocks for our Sunday walk.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe branches of the sycamore tree stand out in winter.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are the locks and lockhouses,

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Lockhouse for Landers Lock

the aqueducts,

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Catoctin Aqueduct

and the Potomac river (which looked especially blue that morning).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe mergansers come around only in winter.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bridge at Point of Rocks looked stunning in the morning lightOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and this almost looks like a piece of art when the endorphins are flowing on a lovely morning like the one we we had!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Railfanning

This word describes the actions of railfans, the people who are interested in trains and follow them as a hobby.

I was on my way back home from the park on the C&O Canal at Point of Rocks when I decided to take a diversion through the parking lot of the Point of Rocks railroad station just for the heck of it. The interesting thing about this commuter station is that a railroad line from the east, from Baltimore (ex-B&O Old Main Line from Baltimore, one of the oldest lines in the country), meets up with another line from the southeast, from Washington, DC (ex-B&O Metropolitan Branch from Washington DC), just beyond the platform for the station.  After the lines converge, a single line (double-tracked) continues onward to the west towards and beyond Burnswick, MD.  There is plenty of freight traffic to be seen at the station.  Trains going in opposite directions sometimes have to wait before entering the station because of tracks crossing each other.

I saw two people on the platform.  One of them had a camera in hand and the other had a backpack and a radio unit that would squawk every once in a while.  I suspected that they were railfans waiting for trains to come by.  After sitting for a while in the car in a parking spot waiting for a train or two to come by, I worked up the courage to go down to the platform with my camera and try to pick up a conversation with them.

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The two guys did not know each other but had already struck up a friendly conversation.  The one with the radio was monitoring the railroad communications to find out when a train would come by.  He seemed to understand the language of the railroad radio, including the identification of trains, recognition of locomotive sets used with the trains, and the language of track usage.

The guy with the radio told me that they were single tracking between Brunswick and Point of Rocks at that point.  This meant that trains going in opposite directions would have to share the single track between Point of Rocks and Brunswick.  Basically a train had to clear the entire stretch before another could be sent in the other direction. He told me that there were two CSX trains that were waiting to come out of Brunswick, one heading towards DC, and other towards Baltimore.

The first train we saw was one on the DC line, headed west, waiting outside the station for its signal to change.  The lights indicated that that it was waiting for a train coming in its direction from Point of Rocks.

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The first train that came by the station at about 11:30 am was an auto-train headed to DC.

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About fifteen minutes later this was followed by a coal train headed towards Baltimore.

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At this point the guy with the radio informed me that they had now also opened up the second track towards Brunswick.  Trains would now be able to go in both directions at the same time in the stretch between Point of Rocks and Brunswick.  Our westbound train from the Washington DC line began moving and approaching the station about 10 minutes later.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe train was moving at a good clip by the time the last freight car passed by.

By this time I felt that I needed to get going and back on my way home. I decided to head back to my car while the other guys continued to wait for the trains.  All of a sudden I heard one of them say something about the Capitol Limited and I rushed back to the platform to see the Amtrak train approaching.

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By this time, there was a westbound freight train from Baltimore approaching, waiting just outside of the station, before the intersection with Route 28, for the track to clear, and there was another westbound train heading towards Point of Rocks from the DC side.  At this point I left the station.

I saw the train from Baltimore at the railroad intersection as I was headed home on Route 28.  I parked the car and waited for a while for the train to get its signal to proceed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI could hear the train from the DC line going past the Point of Rocks station behind me as I was waiting.  I waited for a little  while longer for the Baltimore train to move but nothing seemed to be happening.  I finally gave up and headed home.   I guess I am not a real railfan!

 

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!

 

Splattered Mud

The training for the bike ride in August continues.  This time I decided that I would do a focused ride where the objective would be to complete the distance I had set out to cover as efficiently and quickly as possible.  I traveled light. I did not take a camera.  Instead of sandwiches, I just took some breakfast bars and a couple of apples for sustenance in a backpack, along with a few bottles of water.  The day was promising to be hot and humid.  So I got an early start heading north from Pennyfield Lock.

The section between Riley’s Lock and White’s Ferry is considered by some to be the worst section of the C&O Canal to ride through after it has rained.  The problem lies in the numerous puddles that form on the trail. These are so frequent that you have to be continuously on your toes navigating from one to the other.  The puddles are formed and remain long after the rain has passed because the water does not dissipate through the clayey soil, and because there are depressions in the trail caused by its layout and by park vehicles that sometimes drive over it.

When you encounter an obstacle like this, you have to decide how best to try to tackle it.  Each puddle is unique.  If there is water all across the trail, you might just have to ride through it.  Sometimes you see bicycle tracks on the sides of the trail that are above the water because that section is a little elevated, and you head for them.  But you do need to be careful because there could be drop-offs on the side, and you are also leaning on your bike to make turns while doing this maneuver.  You have to recognize and respect that laws of physics.

If you see a path in the middle of the trail between the puddles where the water has either been absorbed into the soil or has evaporated to some extent, you head for it.  The problem you might encounter is that the soil is quite sticky and grabs at your wheels slowing you down significantly.

In any case, regardless of what strategy you employ, you end up with splattered mud all over the bike and on your legs, shoes, socks, and pants.

Anyway, I made it past the puddles up to Whites Ferry without any significant issues and slowdowns using a bunch of different strategies.

My incident happened closer to Point of Rocks, where I unexpectedly encountered a significant puddle of water across the trail.  I had some good momentum going riding towards this obstacle, and was quickly trying to evaluate the situation and figure out what strategy to apply to get across it.  I saw what looked like a track towards the right of the trail that was above water and headed in that direction.  I did not make it!

Next to the mud track I was headed for was a puddle of water.  I did not realize how deep it was (probably caused by the tires of vehicles digging into the trail).  My tires lost traction coming across the section on the edge of the mud track that was above water and slid into the puddle.  I lost control and the bike slid sideways out from under me before I could get my feet back on the trail and regain my balance.  I was going too fast. I decided to go with momentum of the fall rather than attempting to resist it.  I landed on my left thigh with the bike still under me.  My water bottles went flying.  There was mud all over my backpack and even on my helmet.

The bicycle was on its side but nothing seemed to have happened to it other than its gaining another layer of mud.  Even the handlebars remained aligned.  The muscles in my left thigh hurt where it had been in contact with the key chain and smart phone which were in my pocket.  I had landed on it.  I got to my feet and checked myself out.  I realized that everything was still intact and that I had come out of my first fall on the trail unscathed.  I could continue my ride, and I did just that.  I got back on the bike and kept riding to the point on the trail where I had intended to turn back, and then headed back for home.

The ride back was uneventful, but my strategy for dealing with the puddles had also changed because of my experience.  I was going to make it very simple when I got to these puddles and simply ride right through them, even if it meant that I would have to slow down significantly to limit the splattered mud.  Momentum and mud be damned!

My lower extremities, and even other parts of my body and clothing were caked in mud when I got back.   The bicycle got a thorough washing using the hose in the backyard.  My thigh is still a little sore, but it is not something that will stop me from riding!

Considering the amount of riding that I have been doing recently, it is inevitable that the probabilities are going to catch up with me, and that there will be some mishap or the other at some time.  I have had my first fall from a bike on the trail.  I would be surprised if it is my last. But I cannot afford to be a scaredy-cat. All I can do is hope that the experience will help reduce the chances of having similar incidents going forward.

Into The Morning

It was still dark when I left home at about 6:30am on Sunday morning to head out for the C&O Canal towpath trail at Brunswick, MD.  The morning star and the crescent moon were still visible above the darkened homes, while a faint glow was beginning to show up in the sky just above the  horizon.

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I was about to get back to doing something that I had not been able to do for over a year.   I was heading out to a distant location on the towpath all by myself for a very early morning run.  And I had not been to Brunswick specifically for a much longer time.  And at this point I was actually missing the experience.  The change from my older weekend routine was made so that others could come out with me for walks in the parks on Sunday mornings. It was all for a good cause and a greater good, and something that I was (and still am) happy to be able to do.

It was 29° Fahrenheit when, following my old habits, I drove out to the nearby Starbucks for a breakfast sandwich and coffee.  Surprisingly, they still served the spinach and egg white sandwich that had been my staple in the past.  I picked up my food and drink and headed back to the car.  It was a familiar routine.

In the distance, from the parking lot, one could see the faint outlines of the sunrise.  The colors were beginning to change on the horizon.  I got into my car and on the road to the highway as the diffused light from the sun began the process of gradually replacing the darkness with light.

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The sun was rising behind me as I headed north and west on Interstate 270 towards Frederick.  I had this strange feeling of familiarity, of going back to to an old place in my mind, and it felt good.   I first stopped at the scenic overlook outside of Frederick to observe the colorful sky over the still shaded valley as the sun attempted to climb above the hills behind me.

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Heading west out of Frederick, I continued to enjoy the experience of the sun rising into the heavens – as it lit up the sides of the houses with a golden light, a light that invited people to wake up and pay homage to a new day. I was lost in a pleasantly blissful state of mind when I made a mistake and took a wrong exit from the highway, and got on the road towards Point of Rocks, another location on the towpath.  Feeling quite unperturbed by this unexpected turn of events, I exited this new road at a random intersection with country road whose name I did not even attempt to read, and then proceeded west along this local byway.  After all, how lost could one get with the Potomac river to one side of me and the original highway that I had been traveling on to the other side.  The winding road took me up a hill from which I got an unexpectedly grand view of a broad valley below me partially lit up the sun.  This was the valley through which the Potomac flowed.  I could see a distant water tower, perhaps at Brunswick, my destination by car; and also a hint of my ultimate destination on the trail,  Harpers Ferry, the place where the Shenandoah river joins the Potomac to become a single flow, cutting though and creating a gap in the ridges of the Appalachian mountain range.  It was an unexpected treat, but I could not stop to take pictures on the narrow road.  Before I knew it the road descended the hill and I had found my way back to the road to Brunswick.

Crossing the railroad tracks at the train station at Brunswick the sun appeared to be struggling to rise above the treeline, but the railroad station was lit up in a weird shade of red.

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A coal train stood in the shadows, waiting for clearance to head onward towards Point of Rocks and perhaps the power generating plant at Dickerson.

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The view of the Potomac from the parking lot at the boat ramp below the bridge across the river was gorgeous.

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I made my way from the parking lot on to the towpath and headed west towards Harper’s Ferry.  The cold and brisk air, and the tall misshapen trunks of the leafless trees reaching for the skies all around me, triggered something in the brain.  I was once again in my happy place.

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Before long I heard the lonesome whistle of a freight train from further out west, probably miles away in the area of Harpers Ferry.  I was quite sure it was headed my way.  Within a few minutes the twin engines of the freight train appeared through the trees on my right as the sun lit up the trees beyond the railroad track.

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The sun began to light up the trail as it rose, while my body began to react to the exercise by building up a sweat in spite of the cold.  The numb feeling in the extremities began to vanish.

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After about 3 miles, the lock house at Weverton appeared to my right, still partially in the shadows.

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As I ran through this section of the trail, I peered through the trees on my left, the side of the trail where the river flowed, searching for the remains of the old town of Weverton  that had been washed away by floods in times past.  I did not see anything remarkable. I then passed through a section of the trail that was still completely shaded by the tall hills that rose across the river in Virginia.  The birds were still waiting for the sunrise.  I eventually broke out into an section of the trail lit up by bright sunshine.  The bridge for the highway across the Potomac appeared in front of me in the distance through the trees.

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Approaching Harper’s Ferry, I noticed that the steeple of St. Peters Catholic church was still in the shadows while other parts of the town were beginning to experience the direct rays of the sun.  The Shenandoah river still lay in the shadows of the hills on one side of the town, while the Potomac flowed on its other side in bright sunlight, reflecting the clear blue of the cloudless sky above it.

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As I turned to head back towards Brunswick, the sun had ascended high enough into the sky to be able to light up the entire area, including the trail.  While it was still cold, and I was occasionally passing people who were all bundled up for protection, I was not feeling any of it.  It was time now for me to focus on the “running” aspect of this outing. I needed to try to put my camera away into the backpack and set a more regular pace for the the trip back.

Having not run this kind of distance in quite a while, I was also beginning to feel the effects of the effort on the system.  My heart indicated that it was still fine with the pace I was setting (which for some reason was becoming faster and faster according to my GPS device), but the muscles in my legs were beginning to complain.  “Dude, we need some more oxygen, and why the heck did you leave the water behind in the car?!”  My tracksuit was soaked in sweat. But I was also getting into a rhythm as my feet beat a tattoo on the towpath. I picked up steam heading east.  I was in the zone!

I huffed and puffed my way back into Brunswick where the coal trail was still waiting to depart.

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The tiredness did not matter at this point as the mind was in a very different place from the sore muscles.  I got into my car and was soon heading back home after my Sunday morning visit to the Church of the C&O Canal.  Alleluia anybody?!

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.