Hiking from the Hips in Great Falls Park

The prospect of going for a bike ride the day after my back went into spasm didn’t seem very inviting. Lying around and feeling sorry for myself wasn’t doing my back or my head a whole lot of good so I decided to drive up to Great Falls Park in Maryland for an easy hike. I’d also get to test out my new hiking shoes on some uneven terrain.

It was in the 40s when I arrived at the park. This passes for a cold day here in the DC area so there were plenty of empty spaces in the dirt lot. I headed out on the Berma Road Trail and, after turning onto the Valley Trail, walked into solitude. The winds were calm so all I could hear was the sound of my shoes swishing through the fallen leaves. It’s a sound that rivals rushing water for soothing the soul.

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I quickly discovered that following  a trail after the leaves have fallen can be tricky. Everything pretty much looks the same. Every so often I stopped and did a scan for a blaze just to make sure I was on the trail. At one of these stops a white tailed buck ran across the trail. He seemed to be following a trail of his own but there were no markings.

Soon I came upon the Gold Mine loop which I had hiked previously. It’s a pretty enough circuit. I would use it to make my way to the Great Falls Tavern at the C&O canal. Along the way, I took a wrong turn and ended up at the park access road. The trail that I took was crisscrossed with large fallen trees so it my little diversion had an adventurous aspect to it. I walked back to the loop trail and notice that the trees all about me looked like spires without their leafy coats.

I took a spur trail from the loop down to the tavern. Then after a quarter mile walk through the concrete I made my way onto the Ford Mine Trail. It turns out that gold was discovered in this general area over 100 years ago. So prospectors invaded the area in search of riches. There are few traces of their activity today save for the names of the trails.

The Ford Mine trail is an out and back oval. I chose to hike it counterclockwise. This meant that I would be taking on the hilly half of the loop first. Following this trail was difficult. It has many twists and turns, often to get across small brooks. I went off trail several times. In the process I figured out some more clues to where the trail might be.  One clue is to look for man made improvements such as cutaway sections of fallen trees. Another clue is to think in terms of switchbacks which cause the trail to twist and turn on hillsides.

Even with a gimpy back, I was hiking much faster than I ever have before. My new hiking shoes are closer to running shoes than proper hiking boots and the soles are grippy so there was no slipping and sliding as I had been doing in my old boots. I took hills with a speed skater gait swaying my arms from side to side. This somehow seemed to engage my cycling legs and get me up the hills with much less effort.

The Ford trail turned around after about a mile. The return trip along the side of the canal was much flatter and faster. Back at the Tavern I decided to hike the towpath for a bit to hear the rushing water in the river. The river did not disappoint, but the towpath was populated with loud kids so I decided to cross the canal and take the flat Berma Road Trail back to the car. This trail gives a birds eye view of the Widewater section of the canal. For my money this is the prettiest section of the entire 180+ mile canal.

The entire hike took about three hours. I think I walked around seven miles in all. I felt great the entire time. During the hike my left hip ached occasionally, probably the consequence of a bulging disk in my back. Other than that I had no trouble whatsoever during the hike. My body seems to be adapting to hiking. In fact, for most of the hike it felt like it did back in my running days. I used to say that I was in shape when I “ran from the hips.” It’s hard to describe but there is a point where your legs no longer seem to be making an effort; they seem to be swinging like pendulums from the hips. There were several points in the hike, particularly at the end, when I felt like just running for a bit. I think I owe my comfort during the hike to the new shoes that seem to be exactly what the hiking doctor ordered.

I took a bunch of pictures and put them on my Flickr page here.

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