Sweating The Computer Stuff

I have not been in the state of mind to write a blog for a little while now. You can blame technology for this. I finally got a new computer. I ended up spending a lot of time getting the new machine up and running. I found myself in a frame of mind not conducive to writing anything.

My old laptop computer has had a few issues with it for a long time, but I tried to manage without a replacement for as long as I could. One of the buttons on the touchpad has been sticky for a while, which sometimes led to unexpected responses when it was pressed. The plastic casing of the computer had cracked and separated an even longer while back – at the location on the side where the power cord got plugged in, to the extent that the connector for the power cord inside the computer was not firmly connected to anything within the computer itself. When the lid of the computer was lifted to the certain level, the broken plastic on the bottom of the computer would separate, and the connector would become free to move. The only way to ensure that the connector was stable was to push the top and the bottom elements of the casing together and to try to keep them together using some force. The engineer in me had to try to come up with a solution to the problem. Super-strong adhesives would not work since the force pulling the broken pieces apart was too much. I was using a sticky tape instead as a temporary solution, and had been trying to limit the actions of opening and closing of the lid of the computer. That careful approach had its limits, and mitigated the issue for only so long. It was time for a new computer!

I got a new laptop computer with much more memory than I had before, with the hope that it would make it easier for me to support multitasking, and also speed up running of my photo editing app, a piece of software that is a complete memory hog. I also upgraded to a Solid State Drive (SSD) instead of the traditional Hard Disk Drive (HDD) in order to eliminate a moving part in the computer.

Laptop technology has advanced significantly since my last upgrade about 6 to 7 years ago. The newer units are far more compact (smaller in overall size for the same screen size), significantly thinner, and much lighter. This is in spite of the fact that the new machines are much more capable than the older ones. The core chipset technology has advanced significantly.

The effort involved in bringing up the new machine to a configuration of familiarity to me, so that I could do all the stuff that I used to do on the old machine, was what disrupted my past week completely. This process should not have taken a lot of time. But one of the key apps on the old machine that I use for image processing would not install on the new one. I spent a few days trying to get past this issue, even spending a significant amount of time with representatives of the company that made the app – on the phone and on my computer – trying to figure out what was going on. I even gave the company reps temporary access to my computer for hours on end. (I was very nervous for the duration of the remote sessions when they were running.) In the end, they were unsuccessful in figuring out what was going on. And, in the end, they also dropped the ball on solving the problem. They had promised a call back from their experts within 24 hours. A few days have passed since then…. But, fortunately, I had also been trying to troubleshoot the problem on my own, and finally found out the source of the issues I was having. It was due to the existence of a use case that they were not likely to see too often – one that they were not familiar with. But shame of them for not following up! If they had stayed on the case, the information that I have found could have been helpful to them in the future. Too bad that they gave up!

Changing gear……
Changing topics…..

We went out to pick fruits at a farm last weekend. It was my first such experience. It was a fun couple of hours. The fruits available on this farm for picking at this time of year were nectarines, peaches, and blackberries. It turned out to be a very pleasant day to be outside. It was good exercise to walk across the fields to the locations of the best pickings. I was quite surprised by how engaging the process of trying to find good fruit to pick actually turned out to be. One becomes adept at making out the level of ripeness of the hanging fruit. And, of course, you are sampling some of the fruit you have just picked as you go along. There we a lot of families out there having fun. In the end we ended up picking more fruit than we really needed.

The farm had other activities to keep the families engaged, including places to pet the animals, and a flower garden where people could cut flowers for themselves.

It was a good day!

We were also able to go to the canal for our Sunday walk last weekend. It was good to be out again after a short break. We went to a familiar section of the trail – between Sycamore Landing and Rileys Lock. The parking lot was unusually full because of the people who had come to see the garden of sunflowers next to the lot.There are very few flowers along the trail itself at this point in the season in this section of the towpath. There were the dying Wild Sweet William that I had seen in full bloom while biking a couple of weeks back. The underbrush is also very thick at this time, with the various tall grasses and shrubs pushing up against you from the sides in the sections of the trail that have not been cleared out yet. It is green everywhere.I did see some leftover Bee Balm, Coneflower and Touch-Me-Nots. There seemed to be fewer than usual birds around. We noticed the occasional cardinal. The woodpeckers were scarce.

There was the one Zebra Swallowtail that we saw feeding. It did not seem to notice us.

Fortunately, there were very few gnats, probably because it was a unusually cool and cloudy morning.

It is possible that the reader will get the impression that the experience of the towpath must have been diminished because of what I have written above. Banish the thought! That certainly was not the case. There is nothing like being out in the quiet of the woods to rebuild one’s spirits – in order to carry you through the rest of the week. Thus it was last weekend!

Riding For The First Time This Year

I rode my bicycle last week – for the first time this year. It has been a late start. I was going to start writing about the reason why this has happened, but then realized that I had a late start, for almost the same reasons, last year also. So my mindset in this regard, and the preparation for this first ride, mirror what happened last year. I wrote about it in the first section of this blog.

Truth of the matter is that I had gotten my bike cleaned up for a ride a couple of weeks earlier, but had never gotten around to actually taking the bike to the trail. This year, I am finding that the heat outside is discouraging me more than I expected from my efforts to exercise. I have become better at making excuses. Years are catching up.

There were three distinct stages to the ride last week.

The first stage was getting used to the feeling of being in the saddle once again after a very long time. When I am on a bike, the distances and the scenery pass by more quickly and smoothly than I am used to when on foot. I cannot pay as much attention as I usually do to things beside the trail. Nevertheless, it was difficult to miss the large number of birds at the pond at Riley’s lock. I had to stop to take pictures. There were an unusual number of egrets at this location.

There were also a few Great Blue Herons to be seen all along the trail. We have not seen them for quite a while, and their sight, for some reason, brings a feeling of comfort.

The second part of the ride was when I was transported into a world of happy fantasy, where my mind wandered away into some other space. The act of biking itself became completely instinctive. I even recited a nursery rhyme loudly when I went past a section with a lot of blackbirds. My song for the morning included the words – “I want to fly like an eagle, let my spirit carry me“! And then, there I was, chasing the butterfly, and the bird, and the rabbit, as they showed me the way ahead, each for a short distance – as they fluttered all over the place in the air in front of the moving bike, or skipped along in the grass beside the trail, or hopped for a while on the trail, all while staying in front of me. This was my Alice in Wonderland moment, and there were no magic mushrooms involved.

The last stage of the ride was the slog. This happened primarily because I am not fully in shape. (Thankfully, I had decided to do a shorter ride than I normally would have pushed myself to do.) If I had been in shape, I would have been in the zone by this point. This stage of the ride is usually notable because one can end up speeding without even realizing what is going on. But I had to slow down. I was feeling the effort. There were also a few distractions along the way, including having to deal with the hordes of people who had descended on the trail by this time.

I hope I can keep myself motivated to do more rides this year. The bicycle rack remains mounted on the car.

Textures On The Ice

We had not been able to go out for our weekend walk for three weeks in a row because of the weather and did not feel too good about it. We were determined to try to get out this last weekend in spite of the cold, and in spite of the fact that we had had sleet as precipitation just a few short days earlier.

The temperature was about 18°F when we awoke on Sunday. We decided that we would start our walk a little later in the morning than usual. Thankfully, all the roads on the way to the park had been cleared completely of snow and ice. But the parking lot at Riley’s Lock was a bit of a mess. We managed to find a section of the lot away from the lock house where there was a reduced amount of ice on the ground. The cars in the picture below are parked on ice. To the right side of this picture you can see the temporary bridge over Seneca Creek at the location of the Seneca Aqueduct. The aqueduct itself was badly damaged by major flooding in 1971. (I might have already mentioned in some earlier blog that this is the only aqueduct on the canal where there was a lock located on top of the aqueduct.)

The temperature was still below freezing when we started the walk. But, it was also a bright, sunny, morning. There was no breeze to be felt. Although it took a while for us to warm up, we felt no discomfort after that. Extra layers of covering were shed. We found ourselves in the walking zone once again. We covered our usual distance during the walk in spite of our initial concerns about the conditions. It had reached temperatures just above freezing by the time we finished our walk.

The trail was mostly covered by a sheet of ice,although there were a couple of short sections where the ice had melted to the water-soaked surface because of the sunshine.There were signs that many people had visited this section of this trail before us. The footprints in the snow and ice (in other sections of the trail) provided traction for us later arrivals. If you look carefully, you can see the faint markings of the Yaktrax that Teresa was wearing to provide traction while walking on the ice.

The sky was completely clear that morning. There was not a cloud to be seen.

The water in the canal had frozen,but the river was flowing freely.We even saw people in kayaks at one point during the walk.

The particular circumstances of the day allowed me to take a series of pictures under conditions that were unique and transitory. I just happened to be there at the right moment in time. The conditions were just right – the temperature, the state of the ice on the trail, the light that was falling on the trail, and finally, the simple things in nature that had fallen at the particular spots on the trail at that time without having been stepped on by either a human being or animal before we got there. Here are some of these pictures.

It was a unique opportunity that, thankfully, I did not miss!

The Old Stones

The thermometer in the car indicated that it was 37° F outside. We had just arrived at the park,at Rileys Lock, and were stepping out of the car for our first Sunday walk along the towpath after returning from Massachusetts. This was the first time we were going to be experiencing these kinds of temperatures along the canal this season. Although we are likely to face colder mornings going forward, I was expecting that this one was going to be a particular mental challenge for me.

This was also the first outing after the return from Massachusetts a week ago. It was an attempt to try to return to some kind of an exercise routine once again after another long break.

I was bundled up more cautiously that usual – with several layers of clothing, two layers of gloves, and extra warm pair of thick fleece socks (donated by Philip). The cold hit me initially when we stepped out of the car, but I got past the “shock” of it very quickly. It did not feel too bad since there was little wind. The only extremity that took extra time to warm up was one of my fingers. Raynaud syndrome made its presence felt selectively!The morning sun was struggling to escape from behind the early morning clouds during the initial part of the walk, creating scenes like this.

One moment it would look like this,and the next moment our surroundings would be lit up brightly.

The brand new surface of the trail was a welcome change from the potholed, and often muddy, dirt track that used to cover this section of the towpath for all of the years that I have been visiting. (I had even complained directly to the NPS a few years ago and received no response!) The towpath is being upgraded in sections. We reached a point during our walk where the new trail came to an end. We saw some work vehicles beside the trail, and saw signs that the trail work was continuing further north in the direction of Edwards Ferry. The trail north of Edwards Ferry has already been repaved.

By the time we finished our walk it was only 39° F, but we felt warm and very, very, comfortable. There were others out in the park who did not seem to have any issue with the cold weather.

I might have even attempted to run in this kind of weather in the kind of attire the person in the picture below was wearing when I was younger!

The title of the blog refers to the stones in the picture below.For some reason, they caught my attention as we were walking by. These stones are part of the canal wall that used to exist just beyond the pond near Seneca Creek. There was more water in this section of the canal than usual that day, probably due to recent rains.

My thoughts drifted towards what these stones represented – the work of human beings from more than a century and a half before. The rocks probably came from the nearby quarry, and were most likely cut at the nearby Seneca Stone Mill. Rocks from this quarry were used in many places, including for locks and lock houses along the canal, and in the construction of buildings in Washington, DC, including the Smithsonian Castle.

The human beings who lived in these parts, the ones who dug up the stones and shaped them, and who built all of these things, including the canal wall we were looking at, had their own lives and stories even if they might not have been famous and well-known. They were probably categorized as “simple” people. They probably had their own daily routines, their struggles, their successes, their good and bad times, and their happy and sad days. They lived and died quietly, and they were hopefully content with their life experiences. They were probably remembered only by their immediate families, and even that, for perhaps only a generation or two. They were people like us.

My Continuing Search for Autumn Colors

The weather turned wet on Sunday after an extended period of sunshine, a period of time that had left me wondering whether the solar panel system on our roof would end up generating a record amount of energy for the month. I now do not think this will happen. There is a concept called the law of averages that will probably even things out over the the month. (Note that the law of averages more of a common sense statement rather than a mathematical statement of probability. But that is a discussion of another day!)

Anyway, it was a sunny morning last Thursday when I did a bike ride, heading towards Washington, DC. The experience of this bike ride left me with the feeling that I could be reaching the tail-end of the riding season – or that my strategy of starting a bike ride early in the morning – in order to ensure that I was back home at a reasonable time – was not going to work for the rest of the year. It was much too cold! It was cold enough that I went off-trail to visit the fully-equipped restroom at Great Falls after about eight miles of riding – to turn on the dryer in the facility in order to warm my hands and get sensation back to my fingers. It being early in the morning, I was riding in the shadows of the woods, and I could not even depend on the touch of the sun to warm me up.

I was still feeling the cold when I got to the end point of the ride, a spot beside the trail between the mile 7 and 8 markers of the towpath, just beyond the footbridge across the canal.In order to keep myself warm (while I refreshed myself with a Clif bar and some water), I parked the bike next to a bench that happened to be in the sun.

It had warmed up nicely by the time I started making my way back to Rileys Lock, to the extent that I encountered many more riders headed the other way during this stretch of pedaling.

As you can see from the pictures above, and also from the pictures below that I took at the start of the ride at Rileys Lock, the leaves on the trees were still generally green that day,but there were also signs that they had begun to drop!

I did not feel too tired at the end of this ride. I am sure the outside temperature had something to do with it.

We went for a walk on the towpath last Sunday starting at Pennyfield Lock and heading north towards Rileys Lock. Because of the threat of rain later in the day hanging over us, we decided to get a very early start. We did not even have breakfast before heading out!

You observe more things around you when walking than when biking. There were the early signs of the coming change to the foliage, and there was at least one point at which we also got a glimpse of how extraordinary the Autumn view can become as the season progresses towards its peak.

In any case, a walk along the canal is beautiful and therapeutic in so many different ways.

Unfortunately, we were also reminded of how busy, and sometimes unpleasant, this section of the trail can get during the weekends, with hordes of inexperienced bikers and walkers taking over the towpath. We had to be on our toes and aware of traffic in both directions while walking. We encountered large groups of people who were unfamiliar with the protocols and courtesies of the trail, people who created a danger to themselves and others. What to do? I made the mistake of trying to let people know in one instance even though I am not good in situations like this.

Returning Home at Journey’s End

Heading back after a morning out on the river.

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A man and his dog

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The couple and their dog

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The paddleboarder

These pictures were taken at the location where Seneca Creek meets the Potomac river in Montgomery County in Maryland.  Many people start their travels on the river from the creek.  This is also the location of Riley’s Lock on the C&O Canal.

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.
IMG_20160805_085541978
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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