Whites Ferry 101

I have a few rides that I seem to do every year. One of them is the Whites Ferry Loop. Starting from my home in Mount Vernon Virginia about 6 miles south of Alexandria Virginia, I ride about 10 miles to the start of the Washington and Old Dominion Trail in Shirlington. Next I take the W&OD to Leesburg Virginia, about 35 miles to the west northwest. In Leesburg, north for five miles until I reach the Potomac River at Whites Ferry. Across the river on the ferry, bang a right and I’m cruising back to DC on the unpaved C&O Canal towpath all the way to Georgetown. I ride the last 16 miles home along the river.

Todays jaunt began with a hearty, completely inappropriate gut bomb of a breakfast. Grape Nuts with banana and strawberries and milk. And a chocolate chip scone. I waddled out to the bike and headed out. There was not much to report. It was in the 80s with partly cloudy skies. The trail was crowded but I managed to make decent progress. Somewhere west of Vienna, I was passed by Flogini, almost certainly another one of her dopplegangers. It’s impossible to know unless I turn around and give chase so I pedaled on.

In Herndon about 30 miles into the ride two women triathletes passed me on their super fast bikes. I caught up to them at a street crossing. They moved to the center island of the street. The one on the left couldn’t get free of her clipless pedal and went down sideways. I thought of my friend Dave S. who did the same thing in DC and broke his leg. Woman on the left seemed fine and I made a remark “That’s why I don’t use them.”

Off I rode on the trail I had ridden scores of times before. I didn’t stop. I banged a right in Leesburg and played with cars for a few miles. The turn onto Whites Ferry Road was a bit of a relief. Two lanes. Trees and manicured lawns and farms and blues skies and puffy white clouds. It’s a shame the road only lasts a mile or two.

The ferry, called the Jubal Early after the Civil War general, is a kind of goofy operation. It only goes a couple hundred yards, but it’s worth the $2 fare.

In the rather pathetic general store, I bought a large bottle of water and an Eskimo Pie. I am a bike nutrition god.

Onto the towpath I rode. No pavement and rainy days means mud. With each passing mile the mud got worse. I figured out that the best tactic was to ride straight through puddles. The bottoms of the puddles had a stone surface. No sliding but there was a mess building up on my bike.

The last 25 miles were smoother sailing, but bumpier. My triceps were really starting to feel sore. On the plus side, the canal is beautiful.

I was waved to a stop by three women who wanted directions to a field of sunflowers. I hadn’t seen any but we got to talking and they had no idea what the C&O National Park was. I explained how there was a plan to use it as a highway until Justice William O. Douglas to a bunch of reporters on a hike. Their stories led to public support for a national park.

Lesson finished, I cruised on down to Great Falls where I stopped for water.

Into the crowds I rolled. Among the people I likely passed was Kelly, my co-worker who sits right outside my office. Never saw her. My fusiform gyrus made a crackling sound.

A mile later I was riding past my favorite section of the canal called Widewater. Here, the canal widens and looks like a pond. Deep blue. Often, but not today, with waterfowl in abundance. What was in abundance was people. All ages. Some kids on wobbly bikes. Hikers. Groups of bros. Families. An emergency cart.

Once past the crowds, I fell in behind the cart at a dreary 8 miles per hour. It pulled off at the far end of Widewater where a dozen first responders were standing on the edge of the path. It looked like a drill of some sort.

Just 12 miles to Georgetown I passed the Carderock area where I go for my New Years Day hike. Just before riding under the beltway, I saw Lawyer Mike, a Friday Coffee Clubber, pedaling toward me with a purpose. Of course, it could have been yet another misfire of my fusiform gyrus.

The bumps were really getting to me. Luckily, the paved Capital Crescent Trail came to my rescue. When I cut over to the CCT, my speed picked up by at least 3 miles per hour.

The remaining ride home involved no dopplegangers or co-workers. I had neglected to drink enough water or eat appropriate food and I started riding on fumes through Old Town Alexandria.

Thankfully the wind stepped up big time and blew me along. I arrived home with a dirty bike and a sore body.

But 101 miles on the odometer. I’ll take it.

I made a Flickr album with some pix over here.

Post script: It was indeed Lawyer Mike so I am not completely losing it.

 

 

 

Great Falls > New Tires

The plan was to put two new tires on The Mule. Then I walked outside. It was MUGGY. Then I looked at the old tires on The Mule. They looked acceptable. Sort of.

Then I jumped on my neglected Cross Check and headed to Great Falls Park in Maryland.

The first 13 miles was essentially my commute route, the Mount Vernon Trail and the 14th Street Bridge, to DC. Ohio Drive and some sidewalks masquerading as bike trails took me to K Street in Georgetown. I survived the half mile traffic gauntlet and made it to the Capital Crescent Trail.

I was making pretty decent time. This is attributable to three factors: a light tailwind, fresh legs, and, well, I’m a badass.

I switched over to the C&O Canal towpath at mile 18. The Cross Check loves the towpath. After a couple of miles, I had some solitude and it was bliss. Sweaty bliss but bliss nonetheless.

I rode past Widewater, a section of the canal just downriver from Great Falls. There were about 8 women sitting on stand up paddle boards in the canal. They were finishing, I am not making this up, a yoga class. Floating yoga? Really?

I stopped to check out the rapids at Great Falls. It rained heavily yesterday and the rapids were muddy and raging. If you’ve never been to DC, make sure you put Great Falls on your to do list. (I prefer the Maryland side because it has the towpath, a trail out through the rapids, and several really good hiking trails.)

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After watching the water show, I headed out of the park on the access road. It’s a long up hill that leads to what is normally a fun, curving downhill. Unfortunately, the road surface is choppy and, even on the Cross Check, not a road I want to ride over 30 miles per hour on.

I survived the descent.

The ride back was a familiar one along MacArthur Boulevard to Resevoir Road, back to the canal. From there I retraced my ride out with the exception of using a new bike path through the park on the Georgetown waterfront. The path is nice enough, but on an oppressively hot day the pedestrians and tourists on bikes were annoying. They’d just stop and chat in the middle of the path.

I had the following conversation a half dozen times:

“PASSING!”

“Oh. Sorry.”

I have the patience of a Swede.

The ride home was uneventful. There were no Lance Mamilots to irritate me. Despite encountering plenty of families with little ones riding tentatively on the trail, I remained civil.

How unlike me.

When I arrived home, my odometer read

60

So I went inside and had this:

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Nice Day for a Spring Ride

I waited for the temperature to rise. I didn’t want to ruin a good spring ride by freezing my toes off. At 11:00 I leaped into action. Sort of. I kept misplacing things. After 45 frustrating minutes I head out on the Cross Check for a bagel. In Bethesda. Over 25 miles from home.

The Cross Check still doesn’t feel right but rather than mess with the set up I decided to ride it a ways. After six miles I stopped and slid the saddle back. I was feeling cramped and too upright. Afterwards I felt more comfortable. I breezed through Old Town with its abundance of well dressed church goers. (My church has two wheels, by god.)

North of Old Town the Mount Vernon Trail started getting crowded. The crowds didn’t bother me but the impatient riders passing with bike oncoming did. Some of these were Lance Mamilstrongs. Others were new to riding on busy, narrow trails. Thankfully, I managed not to get hit. I crossed over to DC and rode Ohio Drive and its pathetically designed side paths up to Rock Creek Park. The side path in Rock Creek Park improves somewhat. After a couple of miles of mediocre, it becomes downright horrible. Tree roots, 90 degree turns, pinch points, blind, low descents under overpasses. People with dogs obstructing the entire path as they admired each others pooches. Must not kill.

 

I finally made it to Beach Drive which is closed to cars. It was apparently open to every grade school kid in a 100 miles radius today. They were swarming like gnats. It took a while to get clear of them. Once I did, I found myself cruising up the  gradual incline at 14 1/2 miles per hour. I wasn’t straining at all. The Cross Check was just getting it done.

I took the Georgetown Branch Trail to the Rock Creek Trestle. I love hanging out in the treetops over Rock Creek. A woman was sitting in the bumpout on the opposite side of the trail. She was speaking on her phone in a Spanish accent. Next to her was a copy of Nick Hornby’s latest book. I love Nick Hornby. I passed up the opportunity to strike up a conversation with her because my tummy was having a conversation with my head. FEED ME!

I backtracked on the GBT to Bethesda Row where I bought a drink and a bage19217984431_878c8b2188_m.jpgl. I sat and ate and watched the people stroll by. This street is really good for people watching. And dog watching too. A golden retriever with waves of flowing red hair was laid out on the sidewalk next to my bench. What a beautiful creature. (Full disclosure: I grew up with a golden retriever. They are the best dogs. Dumb as dirt but they will let you use them as a pillow when you watch TV. And they will defend you to the death.) I want to be a golden retriever in my next life.

After my snack, I headed over to Bradley Boulevard. I rode through Bethesda amid azaleas and dogwoods in bloom. The temperature was perfect for riding. The traffic was light. Yay spring!

Bradley to Kentsdale to Newbridge to Democracy to Falls. I was cruising among the megamansions of Potomac. I hear they have real housewives here.

A left  onto Falls took me through Potomac Village and all the way to Great Falls Park. Cars were parked illegally everywhere. I took a right to ride down to the C&O Canal on the access road. After a fun half mile glide, I came upon a half mile line of cars waiting to get parking in the parking lot.  I rode past the cars and made it to the admissions booth. I was waved in. It was National Parks Day. Admission was free. “Free” sounds like a good idea. Sometimes it’s not. I rode very slowly through the throngs for at least 15 minutes. It was like riding on the sidewalk in Manhattan. Nothing ruins nature quite like tens of thousands of well meaning people.

After the falls the crowds thinned a bit and I could get up to about 10 miles per hour. Carefully, I avoided spooking the strollers near Widewater, easily one of the best parts of the entire 185 mile long park.

I finally cleared the swarm and brought my bike up to a 13.6 mile per hour cruising speed. Why 13.6? I don’t know. I just locked into that speed.

I am happy to report that the Cross Check loves the towpath. I can see many gravel rides in the future. (North Central Rail Trail? Anybody? Bueller?)

I was on autopilot all the way back to Georgetown. I switched over the paved Capital Crescent Trail at Fletchers Boat House. It has way too many tree roots until you get to the last mile which has been recently paved. Zoom.

K Street under the Whitehurst Freeway was a parking lot. I think we need to just ban cars in certain places on Sundays. They are just too big and clumsy. We could pile them up and burn them. We could invite all kinds of latter day hippies, techies, and spiritual whack jobs. Maybe we could do this in the desert. Rosslyn on a Sunday would work. We could call it “Burning Car”.  Maybe we could get the drum circle from Meridian Hill Park to come and not keep a beat.

The ride home retraced my northbound journey. The trails were not as busy as before. Behind the power plant near Old Town, the MVT goes through some blind curves. As I approached I rode my brakes. Sure enough a rider came around the curve on my side of the path. I avoided a head on collision for sure. The rider seemed shocked that passing two pedestrians on a blind curve might not work out so well. I do hope she doesn’t drive a school bus for a living.

I rolled south on Union Street in Old Town. A police cruiser pulled out in front of me. I followed it to the intersection with Gibbon Street. This is where Alexandria police ticket cyclists for rolling through the stop sign. So I watched as patrol car 1414 rolled through the very same stop sign. It was the third such incident this week. The League of American Cyclists will soon designate Alexandria as a Bicycle Hypocritical City at the Silver level.

I rolled home with my lungs burning. The pollen and towpath dust had caught up to me and my asthma was really giving me a hard time.  I  made it home in a bit of discomfort with 69 miles on the odometer. This was easily my longest ride of the year.  But for the asthma attack I could have kept going. Let’s see if I wake up with any back issues tomorrow morning.

 

 

My Top Ten of 2015

The year began with a paper lantern rising in the post-midnight sky over Old Town Alexandria. I hoped it was a sign of good things to come. Here in no particular order are the highlights of what followed:

Around the World in 19 Days: When your kids move to the other side of the world, you have a perfectly good excuse to go visit them. We flew via LAX to Sydney to meet up with our daughter who was studying abroad at Macquarie University. We explored Sydney, Uluru, and Melbourne in Australia and Rotorua in New Zealand. Then we flew to Thailand where our son now lives, teaching English at a school in Phuket. We flew back via Abu Dhabi and JFK, completing our trip around the world. Speaking of travel….

Six Days without a Plan: I did my first bike tour in ten years, riding 370 miles from Pittsburgh to home, nearly entirely off road in six days. Kevin and Ryan made for good company. The Meth Man not so much. Earl and Anne, two friends from my years in Boston,  met up with us for Mothers Day brunch. And we saw the Pirates execute a triple play at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Speaking of baseball….

Where’s My Ring?: I pretty much went all in as a Washington Nationals fan this year. I attended 8 or 9 games (one was a rainout) and watched dozens more on the tube. In the process I discovered the wonderful bike valet service at the ballpark, bottles of ice water (mostly ice) sold outside the stadium, and SeatGeek, a web service for cheap seats. Sadly, the Nats completely fell apart in August and September ending with the sad display of a bad apple reliever choking the eventual league Most Valuable Player. Speaking of things surly…

Getting Surly: My bikes were getting old. And so was I. So I decided to buy a new one, just for riding events and such. I bought a Surly Cross Check on the enthusiastic recommendation of a half dozen friends who own one or wish they did. I’m still working on giving it a name. My fleet of now four bikes carried me over 7,000 miles this year. Speaking of mileage….

Turning the Odometer: I hit 60 in August. My brain still can’t believe it but my body does. Denial only gets you so far in life. I celebrated by hiking Old Rag. My advice is to do this hike long before your 60th birthday. Mrs RC made me with a quilt  from my old running t-shirts. This totally surprised me with it even though she made the thing right in front of me. Still, turning 60 was inescapably depressing.  Speaking of depressing…

Goodbye Blue Mondays: I started the year dealing with rather severe depression, not the “I’m sad” kind but the clinical kind. It’s a drag just thinking about it. I forced myself to socialize (see below), ate vitamin D supplements (I had a severe deficiency), and began daily meditation at the repeated suggestion of a friend. You could say that when it was over I had become comfortably numb. Speaking of numbness…

My Right Foot: I also started the year with a mysteriously numb right foot. I saw a neurologist who was incredibly enthusiastic, competent, and beautiful about my case. She sent me to a physical therapist who gave me a set of exercises including bird dogs, side planks, and nerve flossing that I still do every other day. On a whim, I went for a Thai massage. It didn’t do a thing for my foot but it was just about the most relaxing 90 minutes I can recall. “Use your third eye, John.”  I also went to an acupuncturist who didn’t do a thing for my foot either. He did fix a pain in my upper arm and recommended some orthotics for my shoes. Speaking of shoes….

Ramping Up My Hiking:  After each of my hikes last year, my back and knees were killing me.  The second I put the orthotics in my shoes, my back felt better. I did ten hikes this year, most of them in Shenandoah National Park and a little further north on the Appalachian Trail. All but one were solo hikes. The exception came when Ultrarunnergirl kicked my ass all the way to the top of SNP and back. My knees and back hardly protested. Speaking of protests…

What’s a Park It?:  Bike riders in DC had been getting hit by cars turning illegally through the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. I attended a protest that was designed to bring awareness to the fact that new barriers called Park Its had not been installed on two blocks of the avenue. The protest was successful (the Park Its were installed a few months later) and was a great opportunity to get together with friends old and new. Speaking of new friends…

Do I Even Have a Fusiform Gyrus?: Three months after apparently meeting me at a December 2014 holiday party, a woman walked up at a post-ride reception and said “Hi John.” I had no idea who she was. She later said I needed to have my fusiform gyrus checked out. So began my improbable friendship with Katie Lee. A few days later we spent four hours in a booth in a downtown tavern. Two peas in a pod, pod people you might say, engaged in an incredibly intense conversation. I felt as if I had caught lightning in a bottle of Shiner Bock. On my way home for the first time in months the fog of my depression had lifted. Like a paper lantern. I know a sign when I see one. Thanks for showing me the score, KL. 

Encore, you say?….

Sitting in the Lap of the North Wind: A year or so ago, Mrs RC bought me a CD of celtic sounding music by a Quebec folk group called Le Vent du Nord. As luck would have it, they played very small venues near DC twice this year. We were in the second row for both performances, practically in the lap of the foot drumming, song singing, fiddle player. Even though I studied French in high school and college I can’t really follow their lyrics but I have no trouble enjoying their hurdy gurdy fueled music. Tres bon.

 

Two Hikes near Harper’s Ferry

A friend of mine used to hold health retreats near Harper’s Ferry. If the weather was good, she’d take her guests for a hike. I honestly don’t know where she took them but when I started hiking I search for hikes near Harper’s Ferry. There are two hikes that are very popular. They each include an overlook with spectacular views of the Harper’s Ferry area.

I began at the Harper’s Ferry train station. My year pass for all national parks allowed me to avoid the $10 parking fee. Thanks again, Ultrarunnergirl.

Off I hoofed across the railroad bridge from Harper’s Ferry to the C&O Canal towpath, all the while looking at Maryland Heights across the way. I am going up there?  I headed northwest along the path for a half mile, crossed the empty canal, and a two-lane road and the climbing began on the Maryland Heights hike.

Up, up, up. This trail is relentlessly up. And steep in some sections. I was breathing pretty heavily until my lungs caught up with my legs. I took a side path to what I thought was the overlook but it was just an old battery. The Heights were strategically important in the Civil War. There are batteries and a fort along the trail.

Up some more. The trail began to narrow and become rockier. I hate rocks in a trail but that’s what most of the trails in this area are like.

#hike #Marylandheights #harpersferry overlook

I crested the hill and now found myself winding back down to the overlook. More rocks. The leaves on the ground made footing slippery. Soon I was at the overlook. Well worth the effort, especially on this beautiful fall day. A young couple was canoodling so I decided to take a couple of pictures and head back up to the main trail. On the way up I must have passed 20 people coming down. So much for canoodling in peace.

Back on the main trail I took a right to climb to a ridge line. It was really steep and rocky but I just kept at it. Soon I arrived at an old stone fort. I would have hate to have had to build this thing. There’s no structure to the fort, just stone walls.

During my hike I twice was passed by a group of ultramarathon runners. Essentially these people are speed hikers. How they managed to move so fast without turning an ankle is beyond me. They were apparently doing and out and back run because I saw them again about 30 minutes later.

I headed back down on a mercifully smoother trail paralleling the ridge. Judging from the number of people coming up, this must be one of the most popular trails in the area. I was grateful to have arrived before the crowds.

Back on the towpath I headed south east for about 3 miles. The views of the river were magnificent and the sound of the water rushing over the rocks was incredibly calming.

I was now on the Weverton Cliff hike. This also the Appalachian Trail. I ate my apple and watched a parade of 20 fully loaded hikers coming my way as I walked to the steep trail to the cliff. This sucker is tough going. I would not want to do it with a full backpack. The backpackers that I saw were pretty scruffy but they moved with deliberate speed. Not fast, exactly, but they were relentless and focused.

Across the railroad tracks, up a side trail, under a highway, up some more trail, across a street and the real fun began.

Up into a seemingly endless series of switchbacks. The bigger trees had all dropped their leaves but the undergrowth was bright yellow and orange in the slanting fall sunlight. It’s good to have pretty when you are suffering.

On the Maryland Heights descent I fell when the leaves gave way under my feet. I just landed on my butt and slid. As I climbed up to the cliff and woman did the same thing right in front of me. She just laughed it off.

Switchback after switchback then finally a sign pointing the AT to the north and the overlook to the south.

I had to hike down a few extremely hundred yards to the overlook but the view was really excellent. The sun had come out and I basked in its warmth for a few minutes as I watched the sunlight glittering over the Potomac River.

View from #wevertoncliffs #hike #harpersferry

I dreaded the hike down but found it to be surprisingly easy. I passed a woman who looked to be well into her seventies. I sure hope I am that fit when I am her age.

I made it back to the towpath in good shape and headed for Harper’s Ferry. At this point I was wishing I had brought more than one apple. I was hoping I wasn’t going to hit the wall. I started following a guy with a backpack on. He didn’t seem to be putting any effort into his stride but I still could not keep up with him.

So I looked at the sunlit yellow leaves, watched a bunch of vultures soaring next to the rock face of Maryland Heights and enjoyed the final two miles as much as my tired body would allow.

If I were to come back to Harper’s Ferry I think I’d park at the base of Weverton Cliff, hike up to the overlook turnoff and take the AT north. Despite all the rocks, it was a pretty damned nice hike. Maryland Heights was just as hard but the crowds would put me off a return.

My Flickr page has all the pix I took.

No Wrong Plan: Day 5 – North Mountain to Brunswick on the C&O Canal Towpath

Loudest train whistle ever.

In the middle of the night. It is cold.

Get back to sleep.

Loudest goose ever. It is still cold.

Part of our morning ritual is to put chamois cream on our butts to prevent saddle sores, chafing, and other problems down yonder. As it turns out, chamois cream takes on the temperature of the air around it.

Whoopeee!! That stuff wakes your ass (and the rest of you) right up. There is shrinkage too.

Each hiker biker site on the canal has a portapotty (also known as a green room) and a manual pump for water. The portapotties on the western part of the trail were spotless. Truly remarkable for those of us who have seen the disgusting mess at Gravelley Point on the Mount Vernon Trail.

I filled up my water bottle from the pump. The water was a bit brown but tasted fine. My first bottle came with a flavor enhancer. A spider. Ick. Kevin found one in his helmet just before he strapped it on his head this morning.

We hauled our bikes up the incline back to the trail. This was a bit of a work out but after four days of riding we were strong as oxen. We smelled like oxen too.IMG_0602

We were pedalling along without a care when Kevin called a time out. He had to stop to make a small repair: his rear rack was coming loose. It took a while and a clever tool called a Fix It Stick that Ryan had, but we finally got it squared away.

Off the trail and up the hill we rode to the coolest eatery in the Cushwa Basin, the Desert Rose Cafe. It was ten o’clock. The owners offered to cook us either breakfast or lunch. Ryan chose lunch. Kevin and I went for breakfast. I recharged my devices as we ate. (Kevin and Ryan brought battery packs which made the whole device situation a lot easier to manage.)

The Desert Rose has a funky vibe to it. It’s motto is “Serving karma by the cup.” The staff are the nicest people on the planet. Before we left Rose Harris, the co-owner, asked if we wanted to get a sandwich and chips for the trail. Great idea. I opened the menu and saw that half of the items on the lunch menu were vegetarian and several of them were vegan. There was even red beans and rice. Lordy, what happened to ‘Merica?

I ordered a veggie and cheese (needed the DSCN3928_1058protein) sammich to go. And we went.

We pedalled along for a few hours. We stopped occassionally. Ryan and Kevin seemed to be much better at hydrating than me. Maybe I just have a king sized bladder.

At one point Kevin noted that you could blindfold him and place him on the canal and he’d have no idea where he was along the route. So much is just double track through woods and flowers. Not that I am complaining. It’s just a little odd.

We stopped to eat our sammiches. Not only did Rose put a pickle spear in each of our bags, she wrote a little note of encouragement on each napkin. So thoughtful.

We pulled into Brunswick and went into town for dinner. We found a restaurant with outside seating. The tables were empty but for the owner and his wife having a smoke. Ugh. We were too hungry to explore other options. And as we soon noticed, Kevin had a flat tire. We ate a truly unispired meal, fixed the flat and headed to our campsite across the railroad tracks.

The campsite was a pay site.The charge was $5 for which we received a spot to pitch our tents (Kevin’s hammock had to sag to the ground unfiortunately), free electricity for our devices and showers. A bargain at twice the price. The only downside was the fact that Brunswick is a rail yard town. There was much whistling, rumbling, and clanging going on all day and night. Oddly the noise didn’t bother me much. I slept well after a 58 mile day.

Pix of the excursion are over on my Flickr page.

No Wrong Plan: Day 3 – Meyersdale to Pigmans Ferry on the GAP Trail and the C&O Canal Towpath

No trains. No birds. Just bleary eyes. We woke up and ate breakfast in Yoders. The kitchen had been fully stocked while we went out for dinner and ice cream last night. We ate our full and headed outside dreading another encounter with the Meth Man.

The first order of business today, as it was yesterday, was chain maintenance. The limestone grit covers bicycle drivetrains. If it gets wet it can solidify and freeze up gears, cause chains to skip (mine already skipped a couple of times on the way here) and derail, and incapacitate brakes. A few minutes each morning kept our machines in working order.

We climbed back up to the GAP trail. It was a three step operation. First, we rode uphill to a flat cross street. I slowed to take a picture of a beautiful victorian house that had both a tower and a wrap around porch. (I am a tower person; Mrs. Rootchopper is a wrap around porcher.)

Kevin and Ryan rode ahead and turned uphill. The hill is interrupted by train tracks then continues steeper still to the trail. As I approached the tracks I head a horn. The gate wasn’t down so I proceeded across. I looked left and spotted an Amtrak train coming round the bend. The gate came down behind me.

Pedal. Pedal.

The train gave me a little adrenaline boost which helped me get up the last bit of hill.

On we rode on a slightly damp trail. The trail was wet like a baseball infield, just damp enough to keep the dust down without making it muddy.

We continued the climb through the woods, trestle after trestle over gurgling streams. The water ran more slowly up here, I suppose indicating that we were nearing the top. To our left a freight train rumbled past. It was pulling only new black tanker cars, probably oil from fracking operations.

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Soon we came upon a series of photo ops. First, the Eastern Continental Divide which is marked by a small tunnel. Our climbing was over! Yess!  A map inside the tunnel showed us what we had accomplished and what was in store. A 70–ish mile gradual climb of 1,400 feet would give way to a 1,600 foot downhill run over the next 20 miles.  We took pictures celebrating our achievement and headed downhill to our next landmark, the Big Savage Tunnel. It’s long. It’s lit. It’s a hoot (and much easier than climbing the mountain on the roads). On the eastern side of the tunnel the terrain changes abruptly. The tunnel of green gives way to majestic vistas of rolling mountains with farms as far as the eye can see. We stopped and  gaped at the view. Wow!

Back on the bikes we soon reached another landmark: the Mason Dixon Line. This marks the border of Pennsylvania and Maryland. South of here slavery was once legal.

Onward we rode, now spinning freely at 18 miles per hour. If this were a paved trail, we’d have easily topped 20. Our next landmark was the Borden Tunnel. This one is shorter but rideable behind Kevin’s generator light and with Ryan’s headlamp. (My camp headlamp was useless.)

Soon we arrived at Frostburg where Ryan said the “F” word: he had a flat rear tire. Good timing. We needed a break. We decided to use a $1 bill to boot his tire (covering the hole the puncture made) even though he was carrying two new tires.

After the repair, we rode onward, downward, curving with the trail as it ran back and forth across the tracks of the excursion railroad that runs between Frostburg and Cumberland. We continued to pass westbound bike tourists, all were smiling despite the effort of their climb.

We entered a very dark tunnel, shared by the rail line. This was a bit disorienting for me and my crappy camp light. I focussed on the reflective material on Kevin’s back and concentrated on staying upright.

After a stop to admire a barn and the countryside it was located in, we came to the Bone Cave. This cave was filled with bones of ancient critters. Kevin found it fascinating.

Onward we decended through Woodcock Hollow. A ridgeline loomed to the east. Covered in green with some rocky parts for visual variety. Woodcock Hollow gives way to The Narrows where US 40, a river, a train line, our trail, and our train line all squeeze through a gap in the mountains. In a few minutes the trail became paved as it wound its way into Cumberland. We had biked the GAP!

The canal boats on the C&O were towed by mules. We stopped so that I could pose The Mule with a statue of a mule and its driver.

Next up was lunch at a cafe in the touristy part of Cumberland. The sammiches were good and the beer was cold. We had ridden 150 miles in 2 1/2 days. Once fed and watered we were ready for more.

The C&O Canal towpath has a very different character than the GAP trail. Like the GAP, it is mostly unpaved but it is much bumpier with many more tree roots and rocks. This means that riding requires much more focus on the trail and less on the scenery. As it turns out this is just fine because the scenery is constant for long stretches. The canal, usually on the left. is either filled with clear water, a stagnant swamp, a bog, or a wooded sunken tract. To the right more often than not is the Potomac River. Woods and mountains encroach on the canal, towpath, and river in various configurations. Wildflowers, purple and white, line the towpath for miles and miles. This different sort of trail results in a different meditative quality to the ride. Where the GAP lets your mind wander and lets you feast your senses on your surroundings, the C&O rewards your wandering brain with a jolt of a rock or tree root.

Focus. Pedal. Breathe.

We stopped to admire a canal lock and lockkeepers house. A solo hiker bound for DC chatted with us. He was stocky but had calves of steel. We hadn’t seen the Meth Man all day so he became the Anti-Meth Man. A solo rider heading west warned us that there was no food to be had for many miles ahead. I was happy that I kept and apple and a banana from Yoders.

At after a few more miles we spotted Pigmans Ferry campsite near a farmers field with no animals in sight. We pulled off and set up camp. A short day of only 48 miles. Ryan cooked up some mac and cheese with Velveeta. I thought it was disgusting, but it was fun to watch his cooking process. I decide to eat my remaining food rather than take the chance that a critter would find it while I slept.  Anti-Meth Man showed up and made his dinner, Thai food in a pouch. He had is act together for sure. Westbound cycle tourists, a family of three, set up camp at a distance.

The campsites on the canal have water pumps. The National Park Service treats the water with iodine. The water here had a brown tint to it. It didn’t taste all that bad, but I was reluctant to gum up my water bottles with the taste. It was useful for bathing and getting all that GAP grit off our bodies.

At sunset I looked westward across the farmer’s field. A distinct yellow haze hung in the air. Ryan had been sneezing all day. I had itchy, watery eyes (despite having taken an antihistamine). Each day I was awakening with eye boogers from all the pollen. Ick. As annoying as this was, I’ll take pollen over cold rain any day of the week.

I am not a good tent sleeper. I think I need a thicker sleeping pad. I closed my eyes and listened as frogs peeped in the woods. Birds tweeted. A train whistled in the distance. ZZZZZ.

Check out my pix on Flickr.

All Is Quiet (nearly) on New Years Day

New Years Eve was a mellow affair. My wife, daughter and I went out to dinner then our daughter went to a party and we went to see Unbroken. As my wife put it, “It’s a mediocre movie about a great story.” I agree. The book was intense.

Nothing says ringing out the old year like watching a man dessicate in a life raft on the pen sea for weeks followed by getting beaten to a pulp over and over again by a sadist in a prison camp.

We walked out of the theater at 11:58 and drove home as fireworks filled the midnight sky over Old Town Alexandria.

The New Year dawned with me sleeping in (sort of, 7:15 is as good as it gets these days). I did about 45 minutes of yoga. Okay, probably closer to 35 because I just don’t have the patience for doing it properly.

After breakfast and some chores I took off for Great Falls Park in Maryland. I had hiked the Billy Goat B and C trails last summer in my old hiking boots. I ached afterwards. I was really looking forward to how my back and legs held up with my new hiking shoes and orthotics. It was clear right away that this was going to be a much better experience. 20150101_121529

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I started on the C trail in a counterclockwise direction. This took me to the C&O Canal towpath. I could not believe how much faster I was walking than last summer. A great blue heron stalked something in the water. Some kids played along the edge of the canal. The sun beamed down on me and the canal glistened with just the thinnest layer of ice possible. I kept hearing an exotic birds sound, almost like the sounds of a ray gun in a science fiction movie. Where was it coming from? I couldn’t figure it out for the life of me.

I walked about three miles on the canal and picked up the B trail. It was a bit muddy. I slipped and thought that my back would seize up. But it didn’t. It felt incredibly, wonderfully normal.

The trail had plenty of people on it. We wished each other a happy new year as we passed. I was lost in thought for most of the hike. Turning over events of the past year. Trying to figure out the unfathonable. The B trail took me back to the towpath. I figured out what that exotic sound was. People were skipping stones on the ice and it was vibrating in an eerie pitch. I tossed a couple of stones. Tweek. Tweek. Bizarre.

Back on the C trail, I encountered more people. Some were obnoxiously loud. Once I got past them, I went into a meditative trance. It was so relaxing. Just the sound of the river and my breathing. It’s a wonder I found the path back to the parking lot.

So the year begins. Not a bad start.

Billy Goating (Again)

A couple of weeks ago I went on a short hike in Great Falls Park near the C&O Canal. It nearly killed me. So, of course, I decided to give hiking another go.

The near fatal hike was on the Billy Goat A Trail. The A trail is an continuous nasty rock scramble interrupted by a couple of minutes of walking in the woods. It was not one of my better outings in nature. 

When I was a kid, I used to hang out in the woods near my house all summer. When I wasn’t in the woods I was usually at home painting myself with calamine lotion. So Help Me Hanna! Putting calamine lotion on a poison ivy rash is like treating the leather on my saddle: it gives you something to do when you are bored but it doesn’t actually accomplish anything.

Today’s hike was along the B and C Billy Goat Trails.  These trails and the walk along the C&O Canal towpath that connects them are much more my style. There was beaucoup walking on dirt trails and some fun rock scrambles here and there. I only had to slide down one on my butt. My only complaint about these trails is that there are lots of tree roots and jagged little rocks to negotiate. This meant that I spent a whole bunch of time looking at the ground and not enjoying the scenery. And there’s plenty of scenery,  bubbling water, turtles, huge jagged rock faces, rock climbers, and vultures. (At one point I inadvertantly startled a vulture in a tree along the river bank. After seeing him launch, I am glad he eats carrion and not hikers.)

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To do both trails in one go, you have to walk over two miles on the C&O Canal towpath. This is a very pretty walk, completely flat. I am so used to riding it that my subconscious wanted me to run. Running would have ruined the laid back vibe, not to mention my aging knees. The repetitiveness of the unvarying flat surface was much harder on my legs than the rock scrambles and tree roots along the trails.

All in all, the hike was a success. I hoofed it about 6 1/2 miles in 2:30. In my running days I could have easily done the whole thing in under an hour. Those days and the cartilage in my knees are long gone.  

Here’s hoping that I didn’t brush up against any poison ivy. Some more pix are on my Flickr page.

Little Nellie, Big Ride

Bike Friday’s have little wheels and little wheels give a rough ride. That’s okay for commuting since work is 15 miles from home, but for longer rides it becomes a problem, especially with my problematic back. Whenever I ride long distances I take one of my other bikes which have a cushier ride.

Lately though Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist, and my back have been getting along splendidly. I decided to take a day off work and go for a long ride. Since it was Friday, I headed into town for Friday Coffee Club. The ride in was uneventful if a bit slow. I had put 180+ miles on my legs in the previous five days.

I had a bowl of Cherrios and a banana for breakfast but decided to have a scone with my coffee at Swings in DC, because I am weak willed. After about and hour of gabbing, I hopped on Little Nellie and headed westward. I worked my way over to the new M Street Cycletrack. It’s pretty nice and extends one-way all the way to Georgetown. I like how there is a parking lane that separates the cycletrack from the rest of the roadway. I don’t like how several people treated it as an extension of the sidewalk or as a loading zone. And then there were two wrong-way cyclists. What is it about people in this city that they can’t clue in to the obvious.

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Near the end of the cycletrack I was joined by Jacques, Hugo’s dad. He was on his way from Swings to his home in Georgetown. As luck would have it, his house was on my way so we had a good talk for a mile or so. Once Jacques peeled off, I was back on solo mode. I followed Reservior Avenue to MacArthur Boulevard. The cars were going a litttle faster than I am used to so I used the cycletrack along the wide of the road. It’s a bit precarious because turning cars don’t expect to see cyclists when they are turning across the cycletrack.

I survived and made my way to the long hill after the Old Anglers Inn. It’s one of those giant’s staircase hills: riser, tread, riser, tread, riser tread and so on. After dancing with the luxury cars on Falls Road, I turned onto RIver Road heading west. River Road has a series of long downhills followed by long uphills. It can wear your ass out. I just plugged along. I made it through two lane closures with the help of flagmen that gave me defference to the cars.

After a long downhill to Seneca Creek, I momentarilly considered stopping for food and drink at Poole’s General Store. I’ll get some at White’s Ferry, I thought, not wanting to give up the momentum I was building on the downhill.

It was getting hotter but I felt fine. RIver Road becomes a shaded country lane after a while and I was in a world of my own. Then I turned up Mt. Nebo Road and the work began anew. This is another giant’s staircase but much more difficult than the one near Old Anglers.

I was relieved to make it to the top without dying. A short while later I came to a T intersection. I stopped and checked my cellphone for routing options. I decided to ride down to the C&O canal towpath and take that the last five miles to Whites Ferry. I was glad that the towpath was dry but not so fond of the occasional tree route that caught me off guard. I passed several touring cyclsts as I rode. None of them had front panniers just huge piles of stuff on back racks.

I popped out at Whites Ferry where I was to learn that the story and diner were closed. Uh oh. I had to wait for the ferry so I reached into my handlebar bag to check my phone for messages. No phone. Damn!

I looked and looked and couldn’t find it anywhere. I thought about it for a while and decided to head nack to the T-intersection some seven or eight miles back and look for it. I was down to my last half bottle of water and was starting to worry about running out. I passed a campsite along the canal. It had a water pump that was working so I, after testing the water for taste, filled all three bottles to the top. (The water in the well is treated with iodine so no worries about getting sick.)

At the T intersection there was no cellphone. I turned around and headed back to the ferry slowing for every object on the ground that might possibly be a cellphone. I found all kinds of rocks and poo, but no phone. I was pretty diligent when I came to a bump like the speed bump near Edwards Ferry. In several spots tree routes traverse the towpath. I hit a few of these pretty hard so everytime I came to one I slowed and looked hard. Rock. Poo pile. CELL PHONE!!!!

I had blown two hours and 15 miles looking for my phone so I needed to get rolling. The ferry only had three cars and me on it so the load/unload time was brief. The ride up to US 15 was peaceful. The five minute wait for the traffic light was annoying. I rode into Leesburg thankful that the big trucks didn’t roll over me.

There are plenty of places in Leesburg to eat. I couldn’t decide where to stop and I wasn’t all that hungry so I rode on. I banged a left onto the W&OD and headed east. Into a headwind. I am such a sucker for a tailwind that I didn’t notice its gentle assist on the way west. There was nothing to be done but grind it out with one eye on the clouds building to the south.

I as actually hoping for rain at this point. It would have felt great. Lightning not so much. I saw a trailside sign for a beer place but the clouds won. In Sterling I couldn’t resist the big BBQ sign at Carolina Brothers. I really don’t much like barbeque but my belly was all sconed out.

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Snarf.

Back on the trail I kept at it. I stopped again in Vienna for an Arnold Palmer and a Snickers bar. My legs were starting to feel it.

Pedal, pedal.

Since when is Vienna on a hill. Oh, Alps. Must be why they named it Vienna.

Pedal, pedal.

I saw a shirtless Mr. Universe walking along the rode. Dude was ripped. I offered to have his child.

Pedal, pedal.

(Just kidding about that.)

Into Arlington. I saw @Shawnofthedread ridng home from work. Do you know how hard it is to say hi when your mouth is full of Snickers.I wanted to tell him that I had just hit the 100-mile mark but all I could say was “Nom nom.”A little later on Fast Friendly Guy came by. Hi. (Snickers was gone.)

At the end of the W&OD I pressed the button to cross the street to get to the Anderson Trail. A sign above the button said this:

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I needed that laugh. Thank you, signage people.

Rather than mess around with the detour near Route 1, I doublebacked and headed up Commonwealth Avenue through Alexandria. It was a nice flat roll through the city. I caught only one light the whole way and picked up the Mount Vernon Trail south of town.

The storm clouds had broken up. The temperature had dropped into the seventies. The last miles were on autopilot.

117 1/2 miles. I was a bit beat up. My left hand was a little numb. My knees and back were a tad sore.

Pretty darned good way to spend a day off, if you ask me

Pix from the ride are on my Flickr page.