Take it Easy

Take It easy, take it easy
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels
drive you crazy….………………………..The Eagles

The constant jangling of the metal handlebar basket as I bounce along on my bike on the towpath is something that I have gotten used to. The sound is fading into the background as if I were wearing some noise cancelling headphones, but it is only what is left of my middle-aged rattled brain doing its thing!  With regular six to seven hours of steady biking all by myself day after day, starting in the relative cool of the early mornings, and continuing through the middle of these hot and humid summer days; with the legs beating a regular rhythm on the pedals without end; with the steady concentration of the ride and your thoughts only broken up the occasional scenic stops, the snack breaks, and the infrequent interaction with folks you come across on the trail;  it is all something that is becoming second-nature to me.

It has gotten to the point where I can recover from my long rides and do the same thing the next day without feeling the ill-effects of the previous days’ efforts.  It does not matter if I had been riding on a flat surface on the towpath or if I have overcome some challenging slopes on the Virginia side of the river or on the Capital Crescent Trail the previous day.  So I think I am about as ready as I can be for the long ride at the end of August.

I have biked all the way to Reston, VA, near Dulles airport, on the W&OD trail.  This picture was taken at the place where I stopped for lunch and turned back to return home.
IMG_20160729_115353475I would eventually like to bike to the end of the W&OD trail.  It is 45 miles long.

The picture below shows the scene at Lock 7 in the morning during a different ride.  It is still cool in the morning at this point and I am riding towards DC. I eventually crossed the Potomac on the Key Bridge and took the Arlington loop.
IMG_20160804_093216941This is Swain’s Lock later the same day as I was returning to Riley’s Lock.   The heat had built up by this time.
IMG_20160804_134013227The picture below was taken at the end of the same ride. The kids are on Seneca Creek near Riley’s lock.  As I mentioned in another blog, there are kids everywhere!
IMG_20160804_143022126This picture was taken early in the morning the next day at the start of another ride.  The location is north of Taylor’s Landing near Sharpsburg, MD.
IMG_20160805_084512557As I was getting my bike out of the car, a few vans full of kids and equipment drove into the parking area.  When I inquired if I could help by moving my car out of the way, one of the adults told me not to bother.  They were simply dropping the kids and their bikes off so that they could ride the trail, and the vehicles were going to pick them up at the other end of the ride.  I like kids, but I did make sure to  start my ride going in the opposite direction of where they were headed.

I passed the Dam 4 cave, and then Dam 4 itself, a couple of miles north of Taylors Landing.
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IMG_20160805_090541930During this ride I biked all the way to Williamsport, MD, before turning back.   There is a lot of work going on in the park in Williamsport and I had to navigate my way past a dump truck that was blocking the trail.  The National Park Service is trying to get the canal in that section set up so that they can give rides to visitors in replica canal boats.  On my way back, at Taylor’s Landing, I did come across a group of four older women who were riding from Cumberland to Washington, DC, over five days.  They had actually roughed it out the previous night by staying in one of the lock houses.  It was unusual to see such a group on the trail.

Here is a recording to the song mentioned in this blog.

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.

The Young Lady from San Francisco

The sun was out for a change and it was the perfect weather for a walk after a week of constant downpours.  The river and the creek were running high. The puddles along the trail did little to dampen the spirit, perhaps they added a positive element to the experience in spite of our complaints.

We met her on the trail while walking north of Riley’s Lock on the C&O canal towpath.  She overtook us on her bicycle shortly into our walk.  The panniers on the bike were loaded with stuff, and I remember thinking to myself that she must be riding a long way.  She seemed to be riding at a very relaxed pace.

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We found her again when we reached the Horsepen Branch Hiker/Biker campsite where she had stopped for a break.

It was just coincidence that we had decided to leave the trail to try to find a way down to the river side from this campsite. As we were walking by I asked her where she was going.  She informed us that she was headed for Pittsburgh.  We got to talking.

She was from San Francisco and she was doing this ride on her own.  She thought she might complete the ride in 8 days, but she really was not stuck on a schedule.  She was camping out at the Hiker/Biker sites along the towpath during the nights.  She was not clear yet on where she was going to stay along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP).   Her bike could be folded and she figured that she could pack it up and take a bus if anything went wrong anywhere along the way.  When I spoke about the possible challenge crossing the mountains after Cumberland, she informed us that she covered those kinds of elevations when biking to work in the mornings.  This ride should not be a problem!

We heard that she had just biked from Washington DC to Richmond and Williamsburg in Virginia.  She was really enjoying the experience of riding the trail after having been on the roads during that ride.

We thought she was pretty gutsy to do this kind of a ride on her own, and her mindset in tackling something like this was quite refreshing.  She did not appear to be naive about the kind of risks involved in this kind of an endeavor, but I could not be sure.  In the end we wished her good luck and parted ways.

This encounter was a bonus to the wonderful walk that we had.

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In Winter’s Icy Grip

We have seen temperatures in our neighborhood recently that have not been experienced in recent years. With temperatures in the vicinity of zero degrees Fahrenheit, and wind chill factors making it feel even colder, it is almost as if we were living somewhere in Canada. Thankfully we have been spared the storms that have hit the New England area. The winter has disrupted our weekly routine of going out into the woods every weekend.

It is beautiful outside the house. Looking out from the kitchen window one sees the swarms of small birds that are flying around undeterred by the cold. There are blue jays aplenty alighting on the crepe myrtle behind the house and then there was this one looking back at me from its seat on the fence behind the house.

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Beautiful patterns of crystals form on the cold windows.
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The stormy winter nights lead to sights like this outside our front door.
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Sunsets do not look too bad either.
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The deer are getting desperate with the cold and the snow on the ground and they are eating the stuff that they normally would not touch. I need to keep them away from the plants.

Seneca Creek at Riley’s Lock is frozen over.
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The Potomac River is also frozen over at Seneca Creek. One can cross over to Virginia if one wanted.
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Huge chunks of smashed up ice line the side of the river.
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And then there is this view at Violette’s lock.
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You cannot blame me for thinking that winter can be enjoyable in its own way.

We have snow falling outside right now, and it is expected to eventually change to ice and rain. The temperatures are eventually expected to rise to around freezing. It is going to be a different experience. Wonder if I will get a chance to go outside tomorrow!