Williamsport, MD, On Father’s Day

The first time I came to Williamsport was in 2006. It was a time when I was extending my travels along the canal further and further away from home. The last time I visited was during the bike ride in 2016, on the penultimate day of the ride. We stopped here for lunch. And then there was the visit last Sunday, on Father’s Day.

I woke up that morning thinking to myself that I wanted to explore some new place along the canal that day. With an early start, we could be back home at a reasonable time. The initial response was one of concern – this was going to be a busy day already because of phone calls that were going to take place on account of it being Fathers Day. We went anyway – to Williamsport, MD. We left home very early, and we were on the trail by 8:15am.

As you can see in the photograph that I took during the visit in 2006 (in this link), the aqueduct at Williamsport was in a state of disrepair at one point. One of the walls that used to line the waterway used by the canal boats was missing. That particular wall had been made of wood, and it had collapsed in 1920 as a boat was passing over the aqueduct. The boat fell into the creek. They managed to separate the mules pulling the boat from the boat itself in time to save them.

The reconstruction of the aqueduct was completed in 2019, and we saw the results for the first time on Sunday. This is how it looks from the parking lot that we used.undefined
The canal used to be watered all the way up to the aqueduct, but not over it. There was an earthen wall across the canal bed just before the aqueduct that held back the water from the aqueduct itself. The canal is now watered over the aqueduct also, to a point beyond it. They now have boats for tourists that can take you on the canal over the aqueduct (although it looked like they had not yet brought the boats out this year). It used to be that you could cross over from the parking lot to the towpath just next to the aqueduct. That has changed. The National Park Service has now fixed the railroad lift bridge that exists close by to provide access instead. The bridge can now move up and down. It has been lifted and set to the upper position (semi-permanently, it seems). You can cross the canal using this bridge, while the boats for tourists can go under it.undefined(The bridge used to be stuck in its lower position in the past as you can see in this picture.)

The watered section of the canal is lined with wild flowers this time of year, including chicory,undefined
thistle,
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and moth mullein.undefined
There are also plenty of small birds flying around in this section. To the right of this section of the towpath is the power plant at Williamsport. I did not take a picture this time, but here is a picture from the past.

Within a short distance, we passed Lock 44 with its lock house.undefined
undefinedI remember being able to go into this lock house when I made a visit a long time ago.

You enter the woods soon after passing the lock.undefined
The watered section of the canal also ends where the woods begin, near the gate seen in the picture above. The next landmark on the trail is the bridge for the highway Interstate 81 over the Potomac river. There is construction work underway on the highway as they increase the number of lanes on the bridge. The towpath is protected by a cover during this time.undefined
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Further along the trail, you pass a railroad bridge over the river that is still being used for freight traffic,undefinedand soon after that you see the remains of another bridge that used to exist in the past. Today, all you see of the second bridge are the remains of the piers running from one side of the Potomac river to the other.

This part of the trail has a different feel from the sections that we usually go to. The woods feel deeper. It could be so because the area is lightly populated compared to the places closer to Washington, DC. The trail is also very wide, and in good shape.undefined
Having started early, we also encountered very few people on the trail initially. But there were many more people on the trail when we were returning – including the bikers.undefined
On our way back, we crossed over the Conococheague Creek Aqueduct and continued our walk for a short distance to the other side of the creek. We proceeded to mile 100 of the towpath.undefined

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The entire trial is 184.5 miles in length.

We walked a little further on the towpath, and then started to make our way back to the parking lot.

The picture below was taken from the aqueduct on our way back.undefinedYou can see where the Conococheague creek and the Potomac river meet, and, if you expand the picture, you can see the difference in the color of the water of the river and the creek. The river was very muddy because of recent rains. The bridge in the picture carries US Route 11 across the Potomac river between Maryland and West Virginia.

This is a picture of Cushwa Basin at Williamsport taken from the trail. The parking lot that provided the closest access to the trail used to be on the left side of the picture. The closest access today is now from the parking lot on the right side of this picture. That parking area is new. The buildings in the picture are a part of the C&O Canal National Park. The building on the right is a museum. It was not open when we visited. The National Park Service is building a new park headquarters in Williamsport at this time. undefined
This is a picture of the Cushwa Basin during the days when it was operational. The basin had place for boats to load and unload without impeding canal traffic. It also allowed boats to turn around.

After returning to the car, we drove over to the parking lot that was closer to the aqueduct itself so that I could examine it more closely. It has an interesting look to it.undefinedThe newly reconstructed side of the aqueduct is actually made of concrete, and it is painted on its inner side to look like wood.

I suspect that the wooden supports on the outer side of the wall are just for show.undefined
Here is a clearer view of the inner section of the aqueduct.undefined
This was the last picture for the day!

Since we had started the walk early, we also finished it quite early in the morning. We still had a long drive to get back home. But we still got back well before noon.

The day turned out to be tiring – as predicted! We actually spent three hours talking to the kids! This was followed by another session talking to some of our friends. For some reason, I had a craving for food from Checkers that evening. (Yeah, my cravings do not necessarily lean towards fine dining!) We drove over to the local franchise after the last chat session and picked up some sandwiches to bring home. They had a sale – two sandwiches for four dollars! It was the cheapest father’s day treat. We watched some TV and went to bed early, quite exhausted. Enjoyed the day!

If You Drive Slow, You Can Get There Faster (4/29/2013)

And the three men I admire most:,
The father, son, and the holy ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died


(In case you are curious, the song from which these lines are taken is not about religion.  It is about three well regarded musicians who lost their lives in a plane accident in the 60s – Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and JP Richardson.)

I had just stopped under a tree after I got on the trail at Williamsport on the C&O Canal this morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was out and a bird was singing away to glory, hidden in one of the branches.  As I was looking up, searching for it, a older lady, all wrapped up in warm clothes, came walking by and wished me good morning.  I gave up on the bird and started walking along with her.  She seemed to be grateful for the company.  She said that she usually walked a couple of miles, and she thanked me for walking with her.  She said that she was over 80 years old, and at that age, two miles was a good distance.  She looked fit and she was very chatty.  She had come across the river from West Virginia.  Apparently, her husband has big strides, and the two of them do not walk well together. So he goes in one direction while she goes in the other.  She informed me about the “happenings” along that section of the canal and about the work going on at the lock.  She only walked a short distance with me to the place where the woods began, and then turned back.  Sweet person!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI saw a homeless person on the trail today.  It is the first time in many years that this has happened.  The lady I had walked with had told me about him, and so I was not completely surprised.  Apparently he is from the town of Williamsport.  He was sitting on a branch beside the trail eating what looked like a donut.   He appeared to have all his belongings on a trailer that was attached to his bicycle.  He seemed to be OK.  I was wondering if he was perhaps happier in his own way than some of us who have more material belongings.

I listened to an interview on the radio this morning as I was heading to the canal.  The person being interviewed was a poet, and she happened to mention the line in the subject line of this posting during that interview.  It was apparently uttered by her young daughter while on a drive, when their car was overtaken by another.   It was a moment of Zen…  Eventually, they overtook the other car when they were both stuck at a toll-booth.  But it did get me thinking, not specifically about driving slow, but about driving in the wrong direction, or driving towards an destination that does not make too much sense in the big picture, or even getting distracted and focusing on the wrong destination.  All of these get you to your destination later than you intended.

There was another interesting point made during the radio conversation, where the poet talked about asking some kids a simple question – can you talk about something in particular that you observed this morning?  Apparently, this question stumps the kids, and it can take some time to engage them properly in conversation on this topic.   This is because their senses are not totally engaged in what they are doing.  They are not paying attention. Perhaps it is true for adults also….

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
….

The 2016 KVIITM75 Bike Ride – Day 5

At the end of our fifth day of riding there is a sense of being tired, but also the sense that something unique and remarkable in our experiences is coming to an end.  I am looking forward to getting home, but at the same time I could do this forever!

Our ride from Hancock, MD, to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, was somewhat more mellow than the previous two days’ rides. It might have been due to the fact that we covered a shorter distance, and it was over flatter territory.  The experience on the towpath is very different from that on the more challenging and exciting Great Allegheny Passage.  We started the ride on a cloudy morning after a nice breakfast at the Riverrun Bed and Breakfast place that we had stayed at overnight.  Yes, there was stretching taking place before riding, and icing of sore muscles at the end of the day.

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It had rained during the night, but it was not expected to rain while we were riding. The first part of the ride was on the smoother Western Maryland Rail Trail that parallels the towpath.

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We stopped at McCoys Ferry for a break.P9012346.jpgThen it was downhill at Four Locks.

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We rode by a slackwater area where the canal disappears for a short while. The boats used to be pulled along the river in this section.

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Dam 5, one of the dams used to route water from the river to the canal.P9012364.jpgThen it was back on the towpath.

P9012374.jpgLunchtime was in Williamsport, MD.  We crossed over the Conococheague Aqueduct to take the road into town.

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We took a short break at Fallingwater.

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We had to take shelter during a short rainstorm.

P9012386.jpgThere was another short stop at McMahon’s mill.

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We encountered this turtle who must have been surprised by all the attention.

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A stop at Dam 4 on the river.

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We had to climb from the towpath to the Rumsey bridge to get over to Shepherdstown where we had dinner and then proceeded to our hotel for the night.

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Tomorrow is our final day of riding.

Training in the Summer Heat

The practice rides for the Pittsburgh to DC biking event continue.  Since it could be quite hot at the time of the ride at the end of August, I thought it appropriate to not try to go out of my way to avoid the heat while training.  We were notified of a heat advisory by the National Weather Service last Thursday, with predicted heat index values between 100 and 105 degrees.   Since there was work being done in the house in the morning I could only get on the trail around 11:00AM.   This was perfect for training! This being the first time I was subjecting myself to such conditions, I decided to be more cautious than usual, carrying extra water, and splitting the ride into two parts, with the ability to shorten the ride easily if I wanted to.

It was not too bad riding under the trees, but the heat did take its toll on me over the long run, and I was struggling towards the end.  Even though I was hydrated and had eaten enough, I was tired and dragging.  I was glad that I had decided to shorten the ride.  The ride did have its interesting moments. I encountered some suicidal Canada geese parked right across the trail who refused to get out the way of the speeding bike.  They just stood and stared. I am actually scared of these birds when they are with their young ones, as was the case here. They hiss and chase after you. Fortunately, no goosicide ensued. Then there was the squirrel that decided to take off across the trail as the bike was approaching, misjudged the speed of the vehicle, and unexpectedly made contact with the bike. It was fortunate  for all involved that it did not get caught in the spokes. The crazy animal continued its mad dash across the trail. I did not stop to see if it was hurt.  I saw an unexpectedly large number of great blue heron in the sections of the canal that were watered.  I suspect that they were fishing.  I could actually see reasonably sized fish swimming in the waters when I stopped to have a snack.

Friday promised to be less humid and I set out very early in the morning to do a complete ride starting at Williamsport, MD, biking past Hancock, MD.  I was going out of my way to ride a new section of the trail.  I had covered these sections of the trail on foot previously, but that was a very long time ago.

I had been hesitating to start rides far away from home for a while because I do not have a good bike rack for transporting the bike on the back of the car.  The bike rack I am using is very old, designed well before the Prius with its broad spoiler came into existence.  (Even today the options for getting a newer and more suitable bike rack that is capable of transporting the woman’s bike (that is another story) on the Prius are limited.)  I finally ended up using the simplest solution, something that I should have thought of in the first place, which was to fold the back seats of the car and push the bike all the way into it from the back.  This is possible because the Prius is a hatchback with a wide rear opening.  The new strategy allowed me to drive further out from home, and on the highway, without having to worry about something untoward happening with the bike and/or the car during transportation.  I will have to deal with the dust from the trail that collects in the vehicle later.

It felt especially thrilling to set out out this part of the trail on a still cool morning, remembering how it used to feel in times past, but this time making much better speed and covering more distance than I used to in the past.
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In no time I had reached Dam 5 on the Potomac river.  This is the point at which the canal ended for a short distance before starting up once again further northwest.  Canal boats used to be pulled along the side of the river in this section.
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Beyond that I passed McCoy’s Ferry and then Big Pool.  Soon after I got to the spot where I could have taken an alternate route using the smoother WMRT that parallels the C&O canal for the next twenty miles or so.  Instead, I stayed on the towpath thinking that the ride had not been too bad until that point.  But it was about to get worse! A few miles out  I came to Little Pool and a section of the towpath where they had just laid a thick layer of crushed stone on the trail.  Unfortunately, the stone was new and had not been compressed enough to set into place. Previous riders had not yet created a track clear of loose stones.  The ride became much rougher and uncomfortable.

As the trail passed the town of Hancock, I transferred to the WMRT for the rest of the ride. I rode the smooth asphalt into a mountainous section of the trail, passing though the Roundtop State Park. Looking down the hill through the vegetation, I could sometimes see the the towpath running beside the Potomac well below me.  The trail itself ran through some very beautiful surroundings.  It all felt awesome, but I was missing some of the sights on the towpath like the Round Top Cement mill because the WMRT ran above the ruins.
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I turned back after riding for a little while longer, and after having lunch. This time I stayed on the WMRT till its very beginning before shifting back to the towpath.  Got back to the start of the ride in good shape.