This picture was taken during our walk last Sunday. It shows that you can get all kinds of shades and textures of the color green. The beginning of the walk was not very promising because the water in the canal at Dickerson, the place where we had parked, stank a lot, probably due the green growth in it. Also, the stink in a couple of other locations due to dead animals did not help. But once we got going, it was all OK. Here is a picture of the ferry at Whites Ferry, the place where we turned to return to Dickerson.We got in a little more than 8 miles, and collected a few pawpaws along the way. The search for pawpaws was actually a little disappointing. We don’t know whether it is because it is early in the season, or whether there are going to be less of the fruits this year for some other unknown reason. In any case, the interest in consuming the fruit also seems to have decreased.
I felt that I had to bike today because I had not gotten out for my regular exercise in over a week. The temperatures had been in the “dangerous” range, and it was dropping to more comfortable levels today. I left home very early, and was surprised by the large number of cars in the parking lot at Pennyfield Lock at that time on a weekday. The sun was still rising as I set out. I saw a large number of bicyclists at the lock house for Pennyfield Lock as I approached the towpath. It was obvious that they had spent the night there as a part of the Canal Quarters program. I then turned on to the towpath headed for Washington, DC.
The level of water in the river is low right now. It has not rained for a few days. Work at different sections of the canal where there were detours – the waste weirs near Great Falls, and mileposts 7 and 9, are being rebuilt – was already underway for the day. I even had to navigate my way around a truck bringing in material to a construction site. I can see that the work at the different sites is coming along. I believe there is a long term plan to re-water the entire stretch of canal starting at Violette’s lock. The current work could be a part of that long term effort. Wonder if I will survive long enough to see the end result!
Pretty soon after I got on the trail I realized that I had not taken my camera. I had been thinking primarily about the exercise aspect of the ride and had forgotten. But it did not bother me. However, a few miles into the ride, my thoughts drifted towards the thinking process behind taking pictures. (It was that kind of a morning!) To me, it is not necessarily just about taking a picture that looks good, but it is more about capturing a story. Sometimes, a single picture can tell a story. But, these days, I also like to add pictures to a story that is being told with words to give it more character. This is something that did not do in the past. In spite of the fact that I did not have my camera with me, I did get to a point during this ride when I felt the need to stop and take a picture with my smartphone to somehow capture how it felt at that time during the ride. That would be the story. The first time I had this feeling I did not stop because I was focused on the exercise aspect of the ride. But a few hundred feet later, I came to another point where I could not resist the temptation to take a picture. Here it is.When I reached Fletcher’s Cove, I got on to the Capital Crescent Trail headed in the direction of Washington, DC. The ride on this trail is smoother than on the towpath since it is paved. As I approached DC, I began to feel a rhythm of the wheel that was unusual. There was a bouncy feeling, and very little noise associated with it. When I got to the end of the ride at the far end of the Georgetown Waterfront, I decided to check out the tire and realized that there was a bump in one small section. Oh, oh! It looked like the tire was about to blow out, and I was about 20 miles from home. I had been barreling down the towpath over pieces of gravel on my way out (remember, this particular ride was about the exercise, and not necessarily sightseeing – each ride has a different feel to it!). I had to either find a local bike shop to replace the tire, or bike more carefully on my way back. I decided to risk it and bike back, but only after releasing some air from the tire to reduce the pressure. I did manage to make it back to Pennyfield lock in good shape and in good time.
I found a few pawpaw fruit on the ground during this ride. Perhaps it is time to return to the section of the trail that had an abundance of these fruits last year.
The rhythm of life goes on.
The year was 2014. I was on the towpath and approaching Fletcher’s Cove from the north. I must have been on foot since I started biking once again only in 2016. It must have been early morning since that is the time that I usually run. Just south of Chain Bridge one comes upon Mile Marker 4 on the towpath, and shortly after that, a concrete spillway for the canal that allows overflow water to get to the river. Then, further south, before Fletcher’s Cove itself, a truss bridge (that earlier used to carry the B&O Georgetown branch railroad line) carries the Capital Crescent trail (CCT) over the canal and the towpath. On the side of the bridge for the CCT, just beside the trail, I saw the some graffiti with the following words:
“In the space between right and wrong is where I will find you.”
A very recent search reveals that the poet Rumi might have said something that seems somewhat similar, but not the same:
“Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there.”
But, at that time, back in 2014, the original words I had read stayed with me. I was trying to understand what it meant even as I ran. Did it mean that nobody is perfect? I am still not sure what exactly the words were meant to convey, but I would like to think of this message as a comment on the human condition. I still think about it.
We were walking on the towpath when we saw this one peering at us through the bushes next to the trail. They have no fear of humans in this part of the world. I do not know if this was a male or female.
“The beat goes on, the beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain”
Sonny and Cher
Strictly speaking there is no rhythm generated by the turning of a wheel – by something that is circular that simply goes round and round. But a rhythm can indeed be established by some process related to the turning of the wheel. Thus it is with riding a bicycle, where the wheels contribute to rhythms that are established in other ways – whether it is from the sounds of some intermittent but regular contact between the wheel and something on the bike itself, or because of something getting stuck in the treads of wheel itself making contact with the ground; or whether the rhythm is in the movement of the legs, the movement that causes the wheels to rotate. Some of these rhythms can become addictive, like a drug, and the feeling that takes over can overcome all other feelings, especially when you are in the groove. The rhythm overcomes any feeling of tiredness that may exist, and can indeed make what you are doing at that moment feel somewhat effortless. Perhaps biking is addictive, and what one is experiencing is a high – when one feels the rhythm of the wheels.
You might be able to sense from what I wrote that I am back to a regular biking routine. Consider that I had only started biking once again recently just to get some practice for the long rides that I have done with friends the last couple of years. Now that I have started biking again, I have the urge to go on and on. Yes, the feeling of a need to bike may also be a sign of an oncoming addiction.
Last week I decided to try out something a little more challenging. I rode the towpath from Great Falls to Fletchers cove,
and took on the slope of the Capital Crescent Trail from Fletchers Cove to Bethesda from then onwards. The ride on the CCT was a breeze! I feel like I have not lost the strength and ability to tackle the slopes. My only adventures that day were on the towpath. The first time was when I was forced off the path into some shrubbery that proved to be quite irritating to the skin (wonder if it was poison ivy). This was because of the approach of a group of heavy-duty work vehicles on the narrow path. They were probably trying to get to a place to do some repair work on the trail. Thankfully the itching feeling did not last. (Perhaps I was experiencing the effect of the rhythm!) I encountered the same convoy on the trail at an unexpected location on the way back. It looked to me like a skid-steer loader had gotten partially off the trail and was being pulled back on to it by a heavy-duty excavator. I had to carry my bike off the trail and through the trees to a spot well below the towpath that was closer to the river, and then take an unmarked detour in order to get by!The next time I biked that week, I stuck to the towpath and went all the way up to Whites Ferry from Pennyfield Lock. The ride was uneventful, except for the fact that I got so irritated by the state of the trail in one section (something that I have complained about in the past) that I even wrote a letter of complaint to the National Park Service. The letter has probably been ignored, but at least I was able to get it off my chest.
Teresa came biking with me last Monday. She was doing this for the first time in years. She did feel the aftereffects!
The last bike ride to report on was from Whites Ferry heading north. I was hoping to get to Brunswick, but I had forgotten about the washout of the trail just south of the town. This happened because of all the rain we have been getting recently. This one is going to take a while to fix.Meanwhile I intend to continue to ride. It may be an addiction!
The beat goes on…
My regular exposure to Harpers Ferry over the years has primarily been because of my weekend runs along the C&O Canal towpath. It has been mainly about the connection between the town, the Potomac river, and the railroad line that crosses the river and passes through the town. I run past the town on the other side of the river, under the railroad tracks that cross over the Potomac into Harpers Ferry in West Virginia after emerging from the Harpers Ferry tunnel on the Maryland side of the river. Often I even experience the rush of the trains while running in this area – trains that are crossing the river with their horns blaring, or those on the tracks on my side of the river south of Harpers Ferry, and those on the tracks on the far shore of the Potomac north of Harpers Ferry.
There are the pictures taken from the tip of Harpers Ferry where the Potomac and the Shenandoah meet.
Then there are the pictures taken from across the Potomac river, from Maryland Heights.
When we have guests visiting, a view of the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac is a must.Here is picture of the river flowing in the direction of Washington, DC, taken from high up on a hill in the Harpers Ferry cemetery .This picture was taken in 2005.
It has been a while since I ran on the C&O canal across from Harpers Ferry, and this is primarily because the weekend exercise routine has changed in recent times. But I do miss the experience, and the connection still remains. I still hold a hope that I will be able to return to the activities of my past years.
This note was written in 2005. As you can see, I considered what I had accomplished that day very significant at that time, when it fact it could be considered just another minor milestone in the story of my life. But perhaps it did also affect my psyche in a way that led me to the place I am today. Who is to say!
As a point of reference in time, I got my first digital camera only a month after this outing on the C&O canal towpath.
I reached my Destination today, February 13, 2005. Alleluia and Glory be!!!
Some of you may know about the historical town of Harpers Ferry, located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers in West Virginia, at the meeting point of the three states of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. It is a beautiful town located on a hill. It saw a lot of action during the civil war. It was the site of an armory in those days, and John Brown also staged his unsuccessful insurrection there to try to free the slaves. Lewis and Clark went through Harpers Ferry on their way west, picking up weapons and other supplies. They even had a boat made out of iron in Harpers Ferry for their trip. That particular project was not successful…
The B&O railroad crosses the Potomac at Harpers Ferry. The railroad lines emerge from a tunnel on the Maryland side and split in two directions, over two bridges, as they cross the river, with the bridges passing on opposite sides of the town of Harpers Ferry. These bridges over the waters are an impressive sight. There are also remains of older bridges across the rivers to be seen around the town. The rivers are wide and the waters very rough. This is white water territory! Over the centuries, the waters have cut a notch through the mountains, and there are cliffs and hills all around. It is both pretty and powerful at the same time.
We have visited Harpers Ferry a few times in the past. I have noticed the C&O canal towpath during those trips and made note of the fact that the trail runs all the way up from Washington, DC. I remember thinking to myself at that time that it would be extremely cool to come up the towpath from Montgomery County by bike. Well, I have done it, not by bike, but on foot, and not all in one day, but over a period of months. It is my destination!
When we were growing up in Madras, there were a couple of books that I loved to thumb through. Both were travel books and had lots of pictures in them. One of the books was of travels in the USA and the other was of travels in other parts of the world. There is a picture from one of the books that has been stuck in my head – it shows a train crossing a bridge over a river and the railroad track splitting off in two directions on the opposite side of the river. In my imagination, this is the town of Harpers Ferry. I remember that when we first visited this town, this was the image that came to mind. The thought, most likely a figment of my imagination, was that this was something that I had seen in books as a child, but now was fortunate enough to experience first-hand. Yes, this is my destination!
Harpers Ferry is at mile 61 on the towpath, and quite far away from home. This is probably the limit of where I can get to comfortably without stretching myself too much. In fact, I had to get on the highway at 6:40 am to make sure that I got there at a reasonable time to start the run. This is yet another reason for me to consider this as a destination. I will pause at Harpers Ferry for a while, take a measure of what I have done on the towpath thus far, and consider setting other goals for the future. Meanwhile, there are miles to be covered over and over again, and trips that will surely give me new experiences with the River.
The run between Brunswick (mile 55) and Harpers Ferry took me from a familiar set of surroundings into new and different territory. So far the canal has mainly run through heavily wooded areas, and the river has tended to be a quiet beast for the most part, showing itself occasionally through the branches of the trees. As one gets closer to Harpers Ferry, the towpath is right up against the river. The area is completely open and there are very few trees around. You are running on an embankment completely exposed, about 20 to 30 feet above the river on one side, with the dry canal bed just a few feet below you on the other side. You realize the magic of the system of locks, that allows them to maintain the waters of the river and the canal at different levels. (This area has quite a few locks because of the significant drop in the level of the river.) As an added bonus, you have the B&O railroad on the other side of the canal, and I saw quite a few freight trains rumbling by. This place tends to be noisy – there is also road traffic from route 340. You also pass by the little town of Sandy Beach which is essentially a row of houses parallel to the canal, railroad tracks, and road, with its back up against a hillside.
On the way back from Harpers Ferry, as I pulled out of the parking spot under the shadows of the cliffs of Maryland Heights, I decided to take the road less traveled. I turned off the highway onto a local road, led by a sign that simply said “Brunswick” and “Route 478” on it. I did not have a map in the car, and did not have a clue about route 478, but I decided to be adventurous anyway. I ended up on a fairly empty road running past the railroad tracks. I went though the little town of Knoxville, with its traditional main street and its multicolored row-houses, and eventually ended up in Brunswick, MD, at its sprawling railroad yard. I drove over the tracks and into the parking lot for the towpath by the river. Although I had run past it in the past, this was the first time I had actually driven to the lot. It looked safe. Next time I will know where to park in Brunswick.
So, faithful readers who have stuck with me through my travels and through this long essay, this is the end of a stage in my travels. Who knows where the next voyage (if there is one) is going to take me. I have seen many faces of the River, and hopefully the next time you visit us, I can take to the spot on the river or canal that best fits what you wish to experience – whether it is quiet and solitude, whether it is unimaginable beauty, whether it is awesome power and fury, or whether it is just a simple picture of the timeless flows of a wild and untamed river that has always been, and will continue to be.
Until whenever – Adios Amigos!
As you can see from the pictures I took with my analog 35mm camera during my run, I did not actually enter the town of Harpers Ferry that day. I only saw it across the river as I ran on the trail.
Regular readers of my blog will also know that I have traveled further along the towpath in the years that have passed since that day, including a trip that covered the entire distance from Pittsburgh to the Washington, DC, area – the Great Allegheny Passage from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, and the C&O canal towpath from Cumberland to DC. I do not consider Harpers Ferry that far away from home these days. Times and perspectives have changed.