Billy Goating at Winter’s End

The low 40F Degree temperatures and the cooling breeze and clouds did not exactly call to my bikey brain today. Off I drove (yes, I have a car) to the gym to push and pull on the machines. The machines won.

Then it was off to Great Falls National Park in Maryland. I pulled into the Carderock area that is located about 2 miles outside the Beltway. The access road passes beneath the C&O Canal and towpath. After parking and getting myself all arranged with layers and hat and Buff and backpack full of water bottles, I set off the Billy Goat C trail, clockwise toward the river. I was walking upriver and the breeze was in my face. It took about a half mile to warm up. My legs had bounce in them and I was cruising along, resisting the urge to break into a trot. Slow. Down.

There were no leaves on the trees, so the place looked rather stark. I had good views of the river and they didn’t disappoint. After about a mile, the path looped back to the towpath. I headed further upriver on the towpath.

The canal in some sections has water. I noticed some tall reeds near my side of the waterway. Inside the grass was a great blue heron shopping for lunch. A few hundred yards later I could hear the quacking of a duck. The duck was with about sever others, paddling about near the far side of the canal. I saw something move in the tall grass on the canal’s far bank. It was a fox, stalking the ducks. No worries. They kept themselves out of paw’s reach.

The sky was full of bird’s chirping. A massive flock of birds filled the trees beyond the canal. Suddenly, they became quiet and flew of in a cloud of winged mayhem. Seconds later they landed in some trees no more than a hundred yards from where they started. The racket began anew. Birdbrains.

I kept walking past the sign for the Billy Goat B trail. I was taking the canal to the western entrance so I could loop back along the river. Like the C trail and the towpath, the B trail was practically deserted. I was also fortunate that it was dry. The towpath, which is flat and has poor drainage, had some muddy sections.

Back along the river, wind at my back, I cruised along. My legs were still fresh but my decrepit lower back was not on board for the fun. Fortunately, I came upon some big rocks on the river’s edge. I sat down and pulled out a water bottle. The water was rushing over some rocks about 50 yards into the river. Once my breath calmed, I listened.

Is there anything more relaxing than the sound of rushing water?

I listened.

The cool breeze tried to distract me. It failed.

I listened.

After perhaps 15 minutes, I decided to get up before I fell asleep. If it had been 10 degrees warmer, I’d be curled up in a ball snoring.

It took a few minutes to get myself back into an ambulatory mood. Rock scrambles, none too difficult for an old dude with balance issues, persuaded me to get with the program.

I made it across a small stream. Most people would dance across on the rocks but my body seems to prefer stumbling.

Soon I was turning back to the towpath up two quick rises. With the wind at my back, I hiked the towpath beyond where I had parked my car to pick up the C trail. The trail took me back to the river and eventually, to the car.

My legs felt fine. My lower back was bitching up a storm. I didn’t care. My head felt great.

So my first hike, a six-miler, of the new year was over. A productive use to a cold and gray afternoon.

Let’s Just Dupe 2015

I had such a good year last year that I decided to do exactly the same hikes and bike rides every day this year. (I’ll wing it on the 29th.)

Okay, I’m just funnin’ you.

But today I did do the exact same hike as last January 1. It’s a coincidence. Really. I had a few hours to get some outdoor time and I didn’t feel like riding a bike for the fifth or sixth day in a row.  So I drove to Great Falls Park in Maryland and hiked the Billy Goat B and C trails. This hike is pretty flat, has a few easy rock scrambles, and is six-ish miles in length.

There wasn’t any wildlife in view, unless you count kids and dogs. There were some four and five year olds out there with their parents. A few were whining. Mostly they were just scrambling all over the place. Cute.

I did my best to hike fast. The trail was dry in most places. So I got to trucking. Temps were in the high 40s and low 50s, very comfortable.

The one interesting feature of the hike was the height and flow of the Potomac River. It has rained quiet a lot here recently and the river was moving fast. It was fun to watch. The lack of leaves and the gray sky made for a rather dull landscape though.

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Falling in would be a bad idea. Other than a quirky looking tree, there wasn’t much to note visually.

Last year when I did this hike, my head was as bleak as the landscape. I am grateful that this year my mind is in a much better state.

Winter returns to DC this week with temperatures below freezing for most of the week. January is a good time to recharge your batteries. I have a stack of books on my nightstand. As matter of fact, when I put Dead Calm down, the U-20 submarine had just launched a torpedo at the Lusitania. I wonder what happens next….

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.

2014 in Pictures

This was a truly eventful year. I don’t normally talk much about my family here but today I will make a few exceptions.

Icy Sunrise over Dyke Marsh - 1/9/2014

January: I have been a year-round bike commuter for several years now. Ice and snow are usually deal killers for me. This day in January was an exception. The frozen Potomac River at Dyke Marsh was beautiful. Even in the dead of winter, my bike commute is the best part of my work day.

Woveling

February: For most of the winter and spring, I was dealing with severe back pain. The weather gods did not cooperate by hitting DC with several snow storms. I decided to fight back; I bought a Wovel. Damned if it doesn’t make snow shoveling enjoyable. And it didn’t bother my back one bit.

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March: I finally decided to take care of recurring, painful cyst on my middle finger. It made for fun pictures.

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April: In 2006 I met Charmaine on the 50-States Ride in Anacostia. We’ve done dozens of rides since. She got the idea to go to coastal North Carolina for a three-day bike riding event. We pitched tents on the banks of the Neuse River. Sunrise was something special.

Eamonn BS

May: My son graduated from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.  After a summer job, he took off on the Great American Road Trip, which included a three-day hike to the base of the Grand Canyon. I am one proud and jealous papa.

SharrowsDC: The Ogremeister

June: I was getting ready to start the 2010 50-States Ride  when Mary came up and took my picture with Little Nellie. Sometime later, she, her husband Ed, Brian, and Lane launched Friday Coffee Club at M.E. Swings coffee house in DC. It has become a thing and has many imitators. I have been going nearly every week and have met so many great people. Here’s Brian, pre-coffee. You can tell by the fog.

She's Like a Rainbow

July: I really got into following the Washington Nationals. I love how the long season traces a story arc, something I first came to appreciate in 1975 when I was living in Boston. (Go Sawx!) I took my son and daughter to a Nats game and it rained like crazy for hours. The game was called but we got to see this amazing rainbow.

Thankfully, the Valley Trail hung a right just at the end of this bridge
Thankfully, the Valley Trail hung a right just at the end of this bridge

August: I started doing day hikes this year. I was a little too ambitious at first nearly killing myself by hiking the Billy Goat A Trail in Great Falls Park on a sweltering day. I’m still getting used to the slower vibe. There’s so much to see, like this bizzarre series of tree roots from an 11-mile hike in Rock Creek Park.

Emilia Shows Off Her Trophy
Emilia Shows Off Her Trophy

September: Early in the year, my friend Florencia returned from over a year and a half abroad. We made plans to do the 50-States Ride in September. She had to cancel but not before sending Emilia my way. Emilia blew me away with her enthusiasm. 65 hilly and rainy miles later she proudly held up her prize.

Flor Tending to Sundance

October: Florencia and I spent many great days together this year, making up for the time she was away. In October, we took a golden retriever named Sundance to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland for a nearly four-hour hike among the changing leaves. Sundance had us worried as he wouldn’t drink any water all day. Here, back at the car, Flor watches with relief as Sundance finally drinks some water. Thanks for coming, Sundance. Thanks for coming back, Florencia.

Hawk on a Wire 2

November: We always seem to have some interesting wildlife near our home. In the spring we watched kit foxes play in our back yard. At the end of November this hawk stood guard over our neighbor’s house.

Accupuncture leg

December: Sometime in late November my right foot started to go numb. I suppose this is what I get for years of beating the bejesus out of my feet. I went to a neurologist who creeped me out something fierce. Then on the advice of Kirstin, with whom I cycled beaucoup miles this year, I went to see a sports acupuncturist. As of this writing I don’t know if the treatment worked but it was certainly an interesting experience.

In Memoriam

Brother Mike and Me

My younger brother Mike passed away in October. His death was not unexpected. I defy you to find a cuter baby or toddler, than he. When picture books gave way to word books, it was clear that Mike was dyslexic. Before the alcohol did its insidious work, Mike was a talented special ed teacher in upstate New York, turning his struggle with learning into a a gift for his kids.

Lore and Flor

I learned of the tragic death of Lorena Gimenez, one of Flor’s dearest friends, in September. I had seen her just a few weeks before at Flor’s birthday picnic in Meridian Hill Park where this picture was taken.  They were celebrating 15 years of friendship. Flor, as one of four “soul sisters”,  gave a brief eulogy at Lore’s memorial service. It made me laugh and moved me to tears. About a month later, we learned that American University will award Lorena a Bachelor’s degree in International Development next May. Well done, AU. Congratulations, Lorena.

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Speaker after speaker at the memorial told of how Lorena comforted them in times of crisis and gave them some simple advice. Her advice invariably  boiled down to three sentences that I subsequently put on my white board at work. She died on the eve of her 42nd birthday. She was wise beyond her years.

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.

I’m No Billy Goat

It’s Monday. I could have ruined the week by going to work. Instead I decided to go for a hike in oppressive heat and humidity. I might want to reconsider my use of annual leave. I had a backpack with two water bottles. My shoes were some shiny faux hiking boots with a slick tread. Two mistakes. I should have brought four bottles and boot with some grip. The first few hundred yards were on the C&O towpath at widewater. It is one of the most scenic parts of the C&O Canal park. I turned left at the sign that warned hikers of the difficulty of the trail. Pshaw. (MORON!)

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Into the woods went I. After 100 yards I gingerly made my way down a rocky hill. Then the trail alternated between a wooden path and rock scrambles. These scrambles weren’t particularly long but there was nowhere to put your feet. Sometimes I hopped down when the drop to the next flat part was only a couple of feet. Sharp edged rocks alternated with smooth rock faces. I slowed to a literal crawl.   Some of the scrambles were impossible to hike down, especially in my slippery boots. So I sat down and slid. I don’t have a whole lot of padding on my posterior (a genetic trait from my father). In fact, I once went rock sliding on the Ausable River and severely bruised my tailbone. Some of the scrambles involved pulling and pushing with my arms. The rocks were exposed to the sun and they were hot. I once ordered steak on a hot stone in Sintra, Portugal. I felt like that piece of meat. About a third of the way through the hike, my shirt and shorts were soaking wet with sweat. My legs were wobbly and my heart was racing. I sat down in the shade and drank a half of a bottle of water. Five minutes later I was back at it. More rock scrambles. Each one harder than the last. IMG_0133A pretty girl in a lacey blouse and shorts came by. “It’s a better hike in the spring when the cool wind is blowing.” Good to know. Got any beer? Up. Down. At one point my left foot got stuck in a seam in the rocks. Oh great. I sat down on the hot rock and nudged and twisted my foot. After a minute it popped free. Good, cuz I didn’t bring a saw to cut it off. I arrived at the half way point where a bail out trail takes you back to the canal. I sat down and drank some more water. Tempting. Onward. Effing rocks. Up. Down. Sideways. Drink more water. Careful. Don’t turn and ankle or you are screwed. There was an occasional view of the river but the water level was low. The rush of water through the Mather Gorge is spactacular. Today it was serene. When I wasn’t avoiding the perils of the rocks, I had to deal with tree roots that arched across the trail. This isn’t a trail, it’s an obstacle course. At last the trail turned away from the river and toward the canal. I had at least a mile of towpath to get back to the car. The heat was pretty intense but I kept my mind occupied with watching wildllife: snapping turtles, box turtles, geese, cormorants, and hawks. I girl rode by on a bike. I resisted the urge to give her a hip check and steal her bike. Back at the car, I looked like I had been in the canal not alongside it. With the hike done, I have a renewed appreciation for offroad distance runners like Ultrarunnergirl. I also have a hankering for more. Old Rag, anyone? Pix and a short video on my Flickr page.