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.

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.