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.

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!

When The Old Becomes New Once Again

Some folks know that I have biked literally a few thousand miles in the last few years. While I have done it as a pastime, the primary driver, the primary motivator if you will, has been the occurrence of certain events, certain planned bike rides with my friends, that I needed to train for. Or it has been a case of where I needed to prove something to myself – like the ability to get back on the bike after a major fall during one of the aforementioned rides. Lacking any such motivating forces this year, it has taken me a long time to get back on my bicycle this year. But it did happen finally in spite of all the regular excuses. And I am hoping that this is not the last time I ride a bike this year.

The process of getting back on the bicycle for the first time each year poses its own challenges. Things that you take for granted as a part of a regular schedule can become challenges once again. Where did I leave my bicycling gear last year? Do I have enough shorts, tops, or even gloves, stored away? Where did I put these things? What happened to my favorite gloves? What are the things that I want to carry during a ride, and how will I carry them – a bottle of water, a Clif bar, my keys, my smart phone, etc.. Do I really need my wallet during the ride? Do I carry stuff in the pockets on the back of my shirt, or in the pockets of my shorts, or in the pockets of my camera bag, during the ride? Will I remember to close the zippers for the pockets of my shorts so that stuff does not fall out at some random place while I am riding?  None of this is a habit any more.

What is the state of the bike after all this time? The tires are flat after many months of sitting in the garage. Will they hold the air in once I pump them up? Where did I leave the bicycle pump? Should I not oil the bicycle chain?  I need to find the instructions for doing that.

Is my bicycle helmet alright? Is it where I think I left it last year? Should I have gotten a new helmet? (I already know the answer to that last question, but I am not good at planning ahead.)

How do I get the bike to the trail? I used to throw it into the back of the Prius in the past (as talked about in a paragraph here), but we have now switched the use of the family cars. Is the old bike rack still functional? What adjustments need to be made to attach it to the back of the Honda Civic? Have I attached the rack securely?  Have I attached the bike to the rack securely? As I drive to the trail head, my eyes are shifting to the rear-view mirror more often than usual, to make sure the bike has not disappeared from view somewhere along the way. How the heck did I have the nerve to drive long distances on the highways with a bike tied to the back of the car when I was young? Was I young and stupid? (Don’t answer that last question!)

And then one arrives at the trail head. You take the bike off the rack and check that everything is in order. There are days in the past when I have ridden off without my helmet or gloves. That did not happen on Thursday at Pennyfield Lock.

And then you are biking. It all feels quite effortless. The bike feels too small. But that is the same way I feel every year when I start biking for the first time. But then you get used to it very quickly. It is all coming back. You ease into the routine. There is no reason to hurry. You can see how the muscles feel after many months of disuse. I have no worries. I have done this so many times that it is all going to come back – the rhythm, the zen of the bicycle trail.

And then I am off, and it is hard to stop. If I do, I will lose the magical feeling. I do not even stop for the flowers by the trail. The air is cool, you encounter the occasional human being. At this point, there are some people who are zipping past me with a sense of purpose. There are others making their way at a more leisurely pace. I know that I will eventually join the first group. That is how my mind works.

After a while, you begin to feel the effort of the biking in the muscles. It is time to slow down, perhaps stop for a drink of water, and/or a pee.

The trail transforms itself in different sections – mud and potholes in the first part (smooth), the roughness and unevenness of the differently sized pebbles on the trail in the second part (bumpy), and, finally, the new crushed gravel for the last section of the ride (cushioned) all the way up to Whites Ferry.  The sounds of the wheels change as the surfaces change.  The rhythm becomes new once again – and then you get used to the new rhythm.

I stopped for the turtle I found on the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It had obviously emerged from the waters of the canal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI did not slow down for the green heron that was flying by me, but the still great blue heron caught my attention.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI stopped and walked back to where it was standing on a branch over the canal. So engrossed was it in looking for fish in the water that it did not move an inch during the whole time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was relaxation time at Whites Ferry before I started biking back to Pennyfield Lock.

The statue of a confederate soldier that used to stand on this pedestal (on private land) at Whites Ferry has been torn down by vandals.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe statue formerly used to stand at the Montgomery County government offices in Rockville. It was donated to the owners of the ferry a few years ago after the political environment in the county shifted. The owners of the ferry did not know what they were getting themselves into. They now want to have nothing to do with the controversy regarding confederate monuments. The even renamed their ferry boat almost immediately.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt used to be called the General Jubal A. EarlyJubal Early was a Confederate General during the civil war.

It was nice to see that the operations at Whites Ferry seemed to be in decent shape despite all of our recent troubles.   The local store at the ferry site looked like it was getting decent foot traffic from the summer visitors who are flocking to the outdoors more than usual during this time of COVID-19. I was completely in the zone by the time I started riding back.  As I expected, I was picking up the pace as I rode.  It seems to be a natural tendency on my part. It was a different state of mind from when I started the ride.  This time, I took a break for a snack and water at Sycamore Landing. I also stopped to take a picture of the flowers I had ignored on the way out. I initially thought these flowers were Dames Rocket, but they have the wrong number of petals. I think these are Wild Sweet William, a kind of phlox.

There was the frog that hopped on to the trail in front of me as I was biking, and then, as I slowed down hoping that it would stop so that I could take its picture, decided that it was going to take a circular route back to the side of the trail that it had come from.  It all happened in an instant.

There were the opportunities for further examination when the butterflies flew past me, and I considered whether to stop and turn my head to see if they had landed somewhere.  The only time I really stopped, the butterfly kept going in the opposite direction that I was biking in, following another bike rider who was headed that way.  It seemed to be able to keep pace with the rider easily.  One other time, the image of a black butterfly with red stripes on both wings imprinted itself in my brain the moment it flew past me, and then the moment was gone.  Someone could tell me that I only imagined that moment, and I would not have anything concrete to offer to counter that assertion.

I got a surprise as I got closer to the end of the ride. I found this snake across the trail.  Although it was much smaller than the version of the snake I had found the previous year on the Capital Crescent Trail, it was not very difficult to recognize the Northern Copperhead, one of only two venomous snakes in Maryland.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe eyes on this snake give me the creeps even now, many days later.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time I was done with the ride, I was back in the swing of things.  My overall confidence level was back to normal.  I stopped the GPS device when I got to the car.  I had done over 32 miles in over three hours.  I loaded my bike on the bike rack once again, and drove home the recuperate and recover.

I hope this is not the last ride this year.