Quietude

Here is a picture taken during our walk last weekend. We walked from Dickerson towards Monocacy Aqueduct that day.

This section of the trail is near the power plant at Dickerson, just before you get to Spinks Lock. It was early enough in the morning that the rising sun still lay hidden behind cliffs next to the canal.

Early mornings on the C&O Canal towpath are the best for a number of reasons.

Feeling The Heat

We went out for our second joint bike ride of the season the day before yesterday. Since we knew ahead of time that it was going to be a scorcher of a day, with temperatures in the 90s (°F), we left early to try to beat the heat, but we were not very successful in achieving that goal.

I managed to get a new bike rack for the Prius in the meantime. This one fit over the bump in the rear end of the car. The bike rack itself looked less sturdy than the one we have for the Honda, but the reviews that I had read makes me want to give it a try. This being the first time the rack was being used, we were very deliberate and careful about how we mounted the bikes, checking every strap along the way, and placing duct tape over areas of the bike that might rub against the carrier itself. This bike rack unfortunately does not have an additional strap that goes around the multiple bikes in order to attach them to the main section of the frame. The bikes just hang on the carrier rods that they are attached to.

We were more careful than usual during the drive to the canal. We did not go far, and I kept looking back at the bikes as we drove. It all went well.

We rode upstream from Violettes Lockand ended up near Whites Ferry before turning back.

It was cool under the trees, especially earlier in the morning,but you could feel the heat on your shoulders the moment we were exposed to the direct sunlight. One felt the most exposed when crossing the open stretch of trail under the crackling and buzzing high voltage power lines that cross the river.

We took a few breaks during the ride. Going forward, we will need to also carry more water with us. It is easy to get dehydrated.

Considering the conditions, I was surprised to see people on the river later in the morning, completely exposed to the sun. I hope that there was liberal use of sunscreen.

I did hear and see a bald eagle flying over the trees in the area near Rileys Lock, but it was difficult to stop in time to follow the flight of bird, to see where it was going. We did see a few Indigo Buntings. These bright blue birds would land on the trail in front of us, but we would be going too fast to stop in time to take a picture. I had to settle for pictures of an egret and a great blue heron. I even managed to chase the egret away! There were also plenty of dragonflies beside the trail, but I did not stop for pictures.

We also found a lot of fluffy white seed pods all over the place in certain sections of the trail and on the canal itself.I do not know what tree or plant these come from.

This is also the time for the mock strawberry fruit.

We spent a good part of the rest of the day recovering from the efforts of the morning. It does not seem to matter that all of my past biking efforts took place in the heat of summer. It still takes a good deal of effort to get used to the conditions once again.

It has cooled down in the days since the ride, but I am sure that this is only a temporary reprieve.

Hope For A New Routine

We made two trips to the towpath this week. First, there was our usual Sunday morning walk – this time from Point of Rocks to Catoctin Aqueduct and beyond. And then, with new bike in hand, and the old one back in the hands of its original owner, we went out together for a bike ride on Wednesday. We rode upstream from Sycamore Landing to Whites Ferry and beyond. I am hoping that joint bike rides along the towpath will also become a regular habit going forward.

But the idea of joint bike rides has also opened up another issue to consider, one of transportation of bikes on the back of the car to whichever place we happen to be going. Carrying two bikes is more problematic than carrying one. Fortunately, we did manage to carry the bikes on the older Honda using the original trunk mounted bike rack that we have had for many years. We were successful in spite of a broken rubber strap on the carrier. Since that strap was meant for the bike that would have to be placed in the inner position, closer to the car, it turned out to not be a critical issue. The bike in the outer position was secured and we made sure that the one in the inner location did not move. Nevertheless, I was extra cautious about the bikes on the back of the car while driving. I had visions of bikes flying off the back just because I had forgotten to consider some aspect of the process of tying them down.

We still have to figure out how to carry the two bikes on the Prius. The shape of the rear end of the car makes it impossible to use a regular trunk bike carrier.

We started the walk last Sunday very early in the morning since we had a later engagement. Water levels were back to normal at Point of Rocks. The brown color of the water from the sediment being carried during the flooding event had vanished. You could see the clumps of mud that the overflowing river had left behind around the boat ramp. The mud made things slippery.

It is always nice to see the bridge across the river at Point of Rocks in the morning light.

This is the entrance to the first of two tunnels for the railroad just north of Point of Rocks.The tunnels are a result of the lack of space for both the canal and the railroad tracks beside the river at the time when both of these entities came into existence. The C&O canal and the B&O railroad companies were in competition with each other in those days and this was a compromise that was forced on them by the authorities. At the end of the day, over the long run, there was really no competition since the railroad provided a much more cost effective solution to moving goods and people around in these parts.

It was rather chilly when we started our bike ride on Wednesday. (A few days earlier, we were using the air conditioner in the house. The weather pattern has been crazy recently!) We rode our bikes for a few hours and did warm up during that time. It has been a few years we have last went out on a bike ride together. Some things needed to be relearned. There were adjustments to be made. One had to become familiar with the bike once again. In the end, everything went well. There was the expected soreness that a first timer can expect to experience after the first ride.It was sad to see the Jubal A. Early “beached” like a dying whale during our rest stop at Whites Ferry.The ferry service has been closed since December 2020 because the operator lost their landing rights on the Virginia side of the river. There is a conflict between the owners of the land in Virginia and the owners of the ferry. Ownership of the ferry has changed more recently, but the new owner has also not been able to find a solution. The issues involved are proving to be intractable and difficult to resolve. The local governments are also eager to help resolve the issue because the ferry was still being used as a commuting resource by people living in the area working on the other side of the river. This ferry service had been operational since 1786, and it is (was?) the only remaining ferry service across the Potomac river. I hope they can reopen.

On a different note, the flooding that happened a few weeks ago has caused severe damage to the trail upstream of Whites Ferry.I remember there having been issues like this during past flooding events. The newly refurbished and reinforced trail seems to have been no match for the force of the water flowing from the canal bed across the trail. I feel that some other approach needs to be taken to mitigate the problem.

The white Rosa Multiflora flowers seem to be dominating the canal scene in these parts these days. The flowers of Spring are slowly fading away.

Riding My New Bicycle For the First Time

This is the first new bicycle that I have bought for myself. (I did actually buy a used bike once before – as an unemployed graduate student – for almost zero cost! Maybe that is a story for another day…) The bike I have been riding for the last few years belongs to Teresa. It is a woman’s hybrid bike that has served its purpose, but it is somewhat small for my size, and it was not really built for the heavy-duty usage that I was putting it through. I had somehow managed with her bike, not feeling a necessity to spend money on this background pastime of mine that could be considered non-essential. I kept postponing a final decision about a new bike. But the kids finally put me to shame with a present that they had bought me last year. It was a camera bag that was supposed to attach to my new bike! Where was the bike?!

I did some research before going out to the stores. I test rode a couple of bikes. I did have a couple of bikes in mind when I finally went out shopping, but I ended up buying a completely different bike from those on my list! My final choice was between a somewhat staid REI Co-op CTY 2.1, and the Trek Dual Sport 2 that looked more sporty. Both bikes had similar features. The Trek bike might even have been a little ahead in feature comparison, but I finally got the bike from REI because of the benefits of membership in REI.

I rode the new bike on the towpath for the first time last Thursday. The first challenge was fitting it on to the bike rack on the back of the car. It turns out that the bike barely fits into its position on the carrier. I am going to have to make further adjustments.

It was actually not the best day for a ride, but the bike had been sitting at home for a while, and I was itching to try it out. It was cloudy and chilly, and I could feel the cold of the gentle breeze on the skin as I rode. Fortunately, I was somewhat prepared for the weather – with a long sleeved bike shirt and a sleeveless vest (apparently also called a golf vest – who knew!) on top of it. It took a while for the numbness to go away from my fingers.

Since this was also my first bike ride of the season, I also found it to be somewhat of a relearning experience. I do need to get the muscles that are used in this exercise routine back in shape. And it was also the other simple and basic things that I had to think about while riding. I had to remind myself of the danger of drifting across the trail if I turned my head to look back while riding. I had to get comfortable once again with the experience of passing other people who were on foot or on bikes on the trail. You cannot always predict how somebody else will respond to your presence.

The bluebells have almost all disappeared from the trail, but most of the flowers that I regularly observe in Spring have made their appearances. Getting on the trail, it was this field of buttercups near Pennyfield Lock that first caught my attention.

Once on the trail, I stopped every once in a while to take pictures of the Wild Phlox, Fleabane, Chickweed, Ragwort, Spiderwort, Honeysuckle, Dames Rocket, Yellow Iris, Violets, etc.. The Rosa Multiflora will be flowering soon.

The squirrels and the birds were quite active. The presence of a relatively fast moving bicycle on the trail seemed to confuse some of these creatures. One of the squirrels almost ran into the spokes of the bicycle. Birds would occasionally fly across the front of the moving cycle, and sometimes they would fly ahead of the bicycle and try to land on the trail, seemingly misjudging the speed of my approach towards them. I deliberately made an effort to keep a somewhat slower pace and not speed up. I needed to get more comfortable with the gearing on the new bike first and find out what worked the best for me.

There were plenty of turtles that were out and about.I did notice that the herons were missing in action. (It fact, they have been generally missing in action during our last few outings!) I finally got a sight of one of them in the distance towards the end of the ride at the pond near Rileys Lock.

Even though I was prepared for it, I was surprised to have encounters with snakes this early in the riding season. (I can sense a shudder going through some of the readers!🙂) Both of the snakes I saw were small in size.
I cannot make up my mind about the kind of snake the second one was. It seemed to have the pattern of a Northern Copperhead on its body, but it was darker than the Northern Copperheads I have seen during previous outings. I also do not think the eyes were the right shape. This one had round eyes. Anyway, I kept a safe distance away from it.

And then there was the experience that I mentioned in my previous blog!

All in all, it was a good first ride on the bike!

Driving From Behind

I was on the towpath, crossing the new bridge across Seneca Creek, when I saw this sight on the Potomac river yesterday. The parent duck (from its haircut I think it is a female Common Merganser), which had been leading its little ones towards the middle section of the river, changed direction and headed back towards a section of the Maryland shore that was hidden from my sight. I suspect that the duck had just noticed me on the bridge, sensed danger, and was looking for protection for its brood.

I can understand that the parent duck likes to keep all its ducklings in its sight in front of it when they are headed out somewhere as a group, but I do not understand how it manages to direct the direction of their swimming from behind, and keep them in a straight line when doing this. What kind of natural intelligence is in play at this point? Notice that this is happening in spite of the distance between the parent and the little ones in this case. There could be some audio communications going on, I suppose.

The thought also occurs to me that this is a very dangerous situation for the brood to find itself in. There is no way to escape other than by diving underwater if there were an attack by a predator bird. There must have been a good reason why the parent duck had set out on this hazardous journey across the river.

There are always a lot of interesting things going on in nature.

Getting Up Close In Spring

We started our walk last weekend from the parking lot at Riley’s Lock. Instead of walking beside the river and canal on the towpath, we decided to head out on the Seneca Creek Greenway trail this time. This trail parallels Seneca Creek, and ends at the towpath next to the Potomac river – beside the pond just beyond the aqueduct (just north of Rileys Lock).

It felt nice to be in a somewhat different space from the wide and well paved towpath that we usually walk on. The trail was narrow, wending its way through the woods, now green with the coming of Spring.The sunshine felt good on the shoulders. There were also very few people on the trail.

There was the occasional creek to be crossed,and a few rolling hillsides of Montgomery County to be traversed. This particular hill provided us with a good view of Seneca Creek flowing below us.

The flowers of Spring, some that I have yet to identify, were in abundance around us. The white flowers on the dogwood trees were notable. Butterflies were also beginning to make their appearance.

Our progress on the trail was finally halted in the neighborhood of Berryville Road by the presence of a stream that needed to be crossed. We could not figure out how to get across without getting our feet wet.I had, unwisely it turned out, decided that we did not need trekking poles for this walk. (I was so unprepared that I was actually also wearing my trail running shoes instead of hiking boots for this walk.)

I had the opportunity to take a couple of closeup pictures during the tail end of our walk. The first time was on Tschiffely Road, the section of the Greenway trail that runs between the Potomac river and River Road. This turtle was sitting in the middle of the gravel road.Fortunately for the turtle, there is usually no traffic on this particular road. It terminates at a dead end close to the ruins of an old mill next to the pond I mentioned earlier in this blog.

I was able to bring my camera quite close to the turtle in order to take its picture. It did not flinch. It did not blink, neither did it withdraw into its shell.

The other close encounter we had was with a frog (I think it is a frog and not a toad!) that had parked itself in the middle of the trail on a stretch of the towpath just north of Rileys Lock.Once again, the frog did not seem to mind the camera being this close to it!

We had found the frog enjoying the sunshine at a location that was particularly dangerous for it. The trail was quite busy on a Sunday morning, and there was no shortage of bikers who were speeding along, many of them lost in their own mental space. They could easily run over the frog without even realizing it. I tried to encourage the frog to the side of the trail but it refused to move. It merely raised itself on its haunches as if it were deciding whether it really should jump forward, but it never followed through. We continued our walk thinking that there was a chance we could find the frog completely squashed on the trail during our return. We were happy to see it alive and well, sitting at the edge of the trail. We pointed out the frog to a little child passing by with his parents. He was sitting in a stroller. The child promptly fell out of his stroller when leaning over to look at the frog, then started crying, and eventually lost interest completely. At least we tried….

A Bounty of Bluebells

We usually go to the area just upstream of Noland Ferry to experience the blooming of the Virginia Bluebells during springtime. We will not have to make that trip this year. We got our fill of bluebells last weekend. We were pleasantly surprised find out how widespread these plants also were in the area near Whites Ferry. The flowers were all in full bloom. It was a sea of blue in certain sections of the trail. It was a feast for the eyes.

And, as expected, we also came across many more spring flowers that we were seeing for the first time this year. (These are the ones we saw last weekend!) I have identified all of the flowers in the pictures below in blogs from the past!

The weather was much more pleasant last Saturday when compared to how it had been the previous weekend. We also encountered many more walkers and bikers on the trail.

As you can see from the picture below, the leaves are returning to the trees in this part of the towpath. Spring is here!

The Escape For The Day

We have made only a few Sunday morning trips to the canal so far this year. I am strongly motivated to get back to the routine of our more regular outings of the past. Last weekend, I also felt strongly motivated to go back to some place along the canal further away from home. I felt like escaping my familiar surroundings and absconding to some quiet and peaceful place far away from the hustle and bustle of humanity – at least for a short while.

We ended up at Dam 5, between Williamsport and Hancock. Although we had been to Dam 5 in the past, this was the first time we were going to park our car there. My plan was to walk upstream from this point towards the Four Locks area.The bridge below is across the stop lock next to the dam that used to carry the boats between the river upstream of the dam and the C&O canal downstream of it. There was no canal in the area immediately above the dam.

We found the weather somewhat more challenging than we had expected at the beginning of the walk. It was particularly windy in the section where the canal boats used to pulled along the side of the river itself – beside cliffs that prevented the construction of a canal bed beside the river. We had to double up on our protection against the cold.The sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds. I had opportunities to take pictures with some unique lighting conditions during the walk. The Sycamore trees caught my attention.

There was also a little town on the West Virginia side of in the river that was occasionally nicely lit up.

As we continued our way upstream, the canal emerged once again from the river at Lock 45 just beyond the cliffs hugging the river.When traveling upstream in this section of the canal, the mules pulling the boats used to travel along what usually was the berm side of the canal. They moved back to the side of the canal that they normally occupied, on the side of the river itself, at Lock 46. The picture below shows the remains of the bridge at Lock 46 that was used to move the mules from one side to the other.The picture below shows where the trail crosses the old canal bed today.This is a picture of the lock area including the lock house.

The river wanders away from the canal in the area of Four Locks, where the canal takes a shortcut to avoid a significant loop in the meandering path of the river. The towpath changes elevation significantly in a short distance in this section. The picture below manages to capture three of these four locks. The canal makes a turn in this section that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to capture all four locks in a single picture. You can barely make out three of them in this picture.You can see the lock house for the four locks in the above picture in the distance.

There was an attempt, ultimately unsuccessful, to try to get a view of all four locks from below the lowest lock in the sequence of locks.

We walked beyond the Four Locks area to the area of McCoy’s Ferry before turning back. There is a big drive-in campsite at McCoy’s Ferry that is accessed by a road that runs under the canal. This picture shows the camping area beyond the end of the road that runs through the area. There were people camping out for the weekend even in the cold conditions.

There were more Spring flowers to be seen than during our previous walk along the canal two weeks ago. If felt a little strange to see this increased growth because of the cold weather we were experiencing. But Spring is inevitable! Most of the flowers were in the area closer to Dam 5. I had a hard time remembering the names of some of the flowers that we came across. It is time once again to put that part of my brain back to work. Perhaps a reader with a better memory than mine still remembers the names of these plants from my blogs of past years.

There were also a lot of little birds in the area closer to Dam 5, but they were not very cooperative when it came to having their pictures taken. But some of the birds did make up for this behavior by providing some unique sounds to listen to, and some background music.

It looked like a lot of trees had been chopped down in this area just recently. It was sad to see, but I am assuming that this was done to prevent overgrowth and in order to keep the woods healthy. The stumps of the trees that had been chopped did for the most part look like they had belonged to trees that had been healthy.

Looking through my old blogs, I was surprised to discover that the last time we came to this area was in October 2020. For some reason I had been thinking that we had made a more recent visit ot this place. In any case, it was good to be back!

Spring Is In The Air

it was good to get back to normal Spring weather during the walk last Sunday after the frigid temperatures and snow of the previous weekend. Indeed, the day of our first joint walk along the canal this year was also the day of the Spring Equinox. There were signs of the changes that were to come.

Spring Beauty flowers were in the process of opening up in some spaces.

This is the first Virginia Bluebell that I have noticed this year.

This part of the towpath, between Sycamore Landing and Edwards Ferry, draws me in during the Winter and early Spring. The woods and trees have a certain character that comes out especially with the early morning sun behind our backs.

Our retreat into the woods last weekend was marred by an unfortunate discovery that we made as we were walking along the shore of the river near Edwards Ferry. A group of individuals had trashed the space after an evening of partying around a fire next to a river.They did not bother to pick up their garbage. How irresponsible and out-of-touch does one have to be to not care about the damage you are doing? Why would you deliberately attempt to destroy the nature that you have just immersed yourself in and enjoyed? How self-centered do you have to be to only think about yourself and not the people who are coming after you?

By sheer coincidence, we did see some members of a volunteer cleanup crew who were going through the area looking for trash. We did alert them to the location of the garbage. We tried to do our little part in helping, by collecting a few of the empty cans that had been strewn all over the area into one location.

It looks like it is the time for the peak blooms for the Cherry Blossoms in the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC. The two cherry blossom trees in our yard are still changing.

People Get Ready

It snowed on Saturday, March 12th, 2022. It is rare that we have snow storms this late in the season, but it does happen once in a while.

It was cold enough that day the snow stuck to the ground. Prudence led me to set out on a simple walk along the canal the next day, on Sunday, rather than a real hike that would involve the conquest of mountain peaks (hahaha!). I am glad that I did this.

I did not realize how much I missed this place – the towpath. I walked from Rileys Lock to Pennyfield Lock and back. The temperature was about 20°F when I started. Fortunately, there was no wind. There was not a cloud in the blue sky. And the blue waters of Potomac matched the sky in its brilliance.

What I had really missed while I had been away from this trail for quite a while were the little birds that you always find hanging around. They create their own unique sense of atmosphere. Their background noise accompanies you in your time of solitude. Perhaps it helps soothe the soul. It is not as if these birds are even all spectacular looking to the eye. The simple sparrow is my companion on the trail. There they are, all of these different kinds of birds, just going about their business of living, hopping from one branch to another, singing, hanging around on the trail, hanging out with the squirrels, swimming in the water…. There is pleasure to be found in just observing ordinary life on the trail!

And then there was the fox that was running away from the trail in the snow near Pennyfield Lock when I first saw it. It stopped to look at me – to make sure I was not going to pose a danger to it. One look at my camera as it came up to my face and it bounded away even though I was too far away from it to do any kind of damage.

I had concluded in the past that pictures taken of snow are usually not very effective. It can be difficult to capture the proper spirit of winter when you are just seeing white everywhere in the picture. But, it has also been a long time since I visited the canal after a snowfall. The novelty of the experience must be acknowledged. I got a few pictures that I liked that morning.

The bridge over Seneca Creek at Riley’s Lock has been reopened. There is a brand new metal span over the water. I was able to cross over to the northern side of the trail and explore the area near the pond and the Seneca Quarry and Mill.

The cold did not really bother me, but I did notice when I returned to the car after the walk that the skin on different parts of my face had turned red from the exposure. It had warmed up to about 30°F by then.

One of the songs that went through my head during the walk was this one.

Eva Cassidy was a great singer who died young and never achieved the recognition that she deserved. An earlier version of this song sung by Curtis Mayfield was another classic.