Busy Week on the Trails

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Tiny toad next to a blue blaze.

Shenandoah National Park, Antietam National Battlefield and C&O Canal National Historic Park, Maryland, July 20, 23 and 26, 2019 —  The week started with the Hoodlums trail crew work trip Saturday in stifling heat and humidity.

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We cleared the leaner with a 24 inch pruning saw.  The chainsaw vapor locked.

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 Monday the heat broke and I dashed up to the park to weed the AT section I maintain.

The warning sign is about a rabid ground hog that has been spotted in the area.  Of course I immediately imagined that our local bear would find and eat the dead ground hog, then we’d have a rabid bear on our hands … Nooooooo!  With that I put my imagination back in its box and got to work.

Tuesday featured a Maryland AT Management Committee meeting where the various organization involved with the AT in Maryland convene to sort out issues and coordinate activities.

Traffic is always horrific coming out of Washington so I usually leave early and meet the ridgerunner for dinner.  Then we attend the meeting.

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Dunkard Church taken from near this vista.  It is one of the iconic photos from the battle.

I had 90 minutes before the time I arranged to meet Mary, so I dropped in on Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, MD.  Link to Antietam Battlefield website

When I was a student at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, we spent some time studying this battle to learn what we could from the decisions its various leaders made on that bloodiest day in American military history.

“23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of savage combat on September 17, 1862. The Battle of Antietam ended the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia’s first invasion into the North and led Abraham Lincoln to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation,” according to the website.

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After falling into disrepair, the church was rebuilt for the civil war centennial.

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Inside of the church as it is today.

The Dunkard faith tradition is alive today.  Link to the Dunkard Brethern website.

Now for the highlight of the week.  It’s time for another Gang of Four (again minus one) hike.  Alexis was booked as an analyst on NPR’s 1-A Friday domestic news round up.

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Three sunny faces at 8 o’clock.

We were back at the C&O Canal’s great falls.  There are many trails in the park, but the Billy Goat trails are the best.  Last time we hiked Billy Goat B because A was flood damaged.  Yesterday A was open and we were ready.  Link to our last visit.

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Billy Goat A is similar to B.  It’s located on the Potomac floodplain and features rocks and sand.

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The C&O offers excellent aquatic habitat.

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Butterflies were abundant.  This is Viceroy, not a Monarch.

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Rock monkeys atop the featured rock scramble.

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Selfie!

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For the record.

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Balance beam yoga.

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Readers may recall last year.  Area rainfall for the year was nearly double normal.  The river roared through Great Falls as if wasn’t even there.

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What a difference a year with normal rainfall makes!

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With that, we called it a day and repaired to a local watering hole for an al fresco lunch.  We had to sit outside.  I forgot to bring a dry shirt.  Stay tuned for our August adventure.

Sisu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Hike

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C&O Canal National Historic Park, July 7 – 10, 2019 — My Hoodlums trail crew colleague Cindy invited me to join her Allegheny Passage hike after her first partner was felled by a hip injury. We agreed to rendezvous at Paw Paw, WV – around mile 158 where the 3,118 ft. Paw Paw tunnel begins.  From there we’d trek to mile zero in Georgetown, D.C.  Link to Allegheny Passage Trail info.

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When Cindy asked me to join her for the last 160 miles, I thought, How hard could this be?  The tow path is flat! Just plant one foot in front of another for 10 days.  It would be a snap with campsites every 3 to 10 miles apart, each sporting a Porta Potty, a potable water pump and a picnic table. Pure luxury!

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Best of all, like the Laurel Highlands Trail, every mile is marked!  Measuring progress by the mile is reassuring.  The distance simply melts away.  Easy peasy, right?  Stay tuned.

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The tow path can be a bit muddy in places, but overwhelmingly consists of hard packed gravel.  Emphasis on the word hard.  It was like walking on unforgiving concrete.

The guide book is written for bikers, not hikers.  Hiker guide books have maps of trail towns showing where and the distances to needed business.  Whereas a mile is a lot for a hiker to walk to a grocery store, it’s nothing for someone on a bicycle.  The only clues we had were town name and yes or no for restaurants, grocery and the like.

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Accordingly I packed 10 days worth of food.  My pack weighed 30 lbs. full up including four lbs. of water in the bladder.  That’s a lot for summer when I usually schlep something closer to 20 lbs.

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The C&O is full of history which has been curated by the National Park Service.  We need a funder for a similar initiative on the AT.

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National Parks are a good cause, but it may surprise most citizens to learn how much the parks depend on volunteers and donations.  Without volunteers and philanthropy our national parks could not continue as we know them.  I wore the glove on my left hand to cushion the surgical scars from my hand surgery five weeks ago.

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Lock keeper’s house.  The canal closed in 1924 and it is surprising how much of its infrastructure survives.

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There’s an old mule barn in the distance.  Boat owners usually kept two mules hauling and two resting on the boat while boarding others along the way.  The sign says they would often get their animals back skinnier than when they left them because unscrupulous livery stable owners would feed short rations.

Most locks are preserved for appreciation.  A few are overgrown and barely visible.

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“Please stay off the ruins,” the sign says.  Of course there was a well-worn pathway to the ruins.

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Active train tracks.  When George Washington proposed building the canal, he could not have anticipated the invention of the railroad which paralleled the canal route even before the canal was finished.  Thereafter, canal boats shipped mostly coal rather than the full range of commerce originally anticipated.  Sadly, the C&O was obsolete before it was done.

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Some of the old infrastructure is still working.  The power plant still generates power.

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We saw a couple of friendly black snakes, a few deer, squirrels, turtles and water fowl, but not much else.

Enough of the park.  Here’s the people story.

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After a hot day, the first night we set up at a decent campground.  Later a couple on bicycles joined us.  Cindy is a hammock hanger.  In the absence of trees Cindy pitched it as a bivy.

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With T-storms in the overnight forecast, sweat soaked clothes hang in your tent which has places to attach lines for that purpose.  The rain and thunder drummed all night long.

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Yup.  It rained.  Everything inside was dry.

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Reveille.

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Midway through day one, we discovered abandoned bacon and dog food at a campsite.  We thought it interesting that the dog food attracted butterflies, but that the bacon was undisturbed.  In fact, we saw lots of raccoon tracks in the tow path mud.  However, in spite of being in bear country, we saw no bear sign whatsoever.  It appeared the camper couldn’t start the fire.

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In spite of the absence of bear sign, we hung our food anyway.

After a respite from the rain allowed us to pack up in the morning, the skies then opened in offering of a day-long baptism of our march.  Note the clothes line behind the picnic table where we hung our stuff out to dry including the plastic ground cloth from Cindy’s bivy.

When I pulled off my sopping socks, my feet were wrinkled and white.  They’d been aching a bit during the day, but I attributed that to the hard-surface walking.  Upon inspection I had developed blisters on the soles of both feet.

This is a first.  I haven’t had a blister in 30 years!  Blisters on the soles of your feet are no joke.  By morning my feet were dry and the pain was tolerable, so I changed into dry socks and thought I was good to go.

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Trash on this trail proved to be a feature rather than a bug.  Bikers are pigs.  The park supplies plastic trash bags at each campsite with instructions to pack it out.  Of course Leave No Trace educational signage was nowhere to be found.  Information on Leave No Trace outdoor ethics at this link.

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At noon on day three we stopped for lunch and to change my socks.  The heat and humidity induced profuse sweating.  To my surprise, my feet we again white and wrinkled with a cottage cheese appearance.  The blisters were worse.  I was in trouble.

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Finding abandoned cheap tents isn’t surprising to experienced hikers.  My bet is that someone either got soaked in the previous rain or did not want to carry a wet tent.

As the day progressed, the walking grew more painful.  I felt like a bird with a broken wing.  Fortunately vitamin I (Ibuprofen) took the edge off.

That night we camped at Fort Frederick State Park, the site of a 1756 stone fort from the French and Indian War.  Link to Fort Frederick State Park

We discussed my ability to continue.  The next day we’d be passing through the town of Williamsport where we planned to grab lunch in what turned out to be a stereotypical dive bar that served a delicious burger.  That’s where I’d need to decide.

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They were rebuilding flood-damaged part of the canal in Williamsport forcing a detour through the town.  We had stopped at the campsite closest to town where I inspected my feet.  The left was tolerable.  The right was a clear no go.  If the skin sloughed off, I’d be unable to walk and might require an embarrassing rescue.

As it happens there’s a C&O Canal visitor center in Williamsport.  That’s were I slipped my pack off my shoulder for the final time with only 60 miles on my odometer.  I limped inside and called for the hour-long ride home.  I must have looked pathetic.  The people at the center tried to cheer up a disappointed visitor who had failed his partner.

Cindy’s trail name is Song because she sings at any prompt.  She’s a walking parody of a Hollywood musical.  At one point, after reminding me that a mutual friend noted that her hiking partners tend to have bad luck, she launched into Queen’s 1980 hit, “Another one bites the dust.”  Well, as it turned out, that another one was me.

The good news, I’m meeting Cindy and our mutual friend, and her new partner, Janice in Harpers Ferry Saturday morning for breakfast.  It’s the least I can do.

Sisu

 

C&O Canal Walkabout

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C&O Canal National Historic Park, Maryland, November 16, 2018 — Sometimes these days it’s hard to find peace and quiet, free from Washington’s noise. That was our quest when we planned a Friday morning hike in this particular park.  Good choice.  We were rewarded with fabulous weather, nature’s serenity and the warmth of good friendship.

Unfortunately high water closed the trail we’d planned to hike.

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The water level in July.  Note the rocks above the sign.

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The water level has risen because the Potomac River watershed precipitation levels are far above normal.

The part of the C&O Canal park located in urban Washington has three hiking trails.  The Billy Goat A trail was flooded and closed for safety reasons.  Link to blog about Billy Goat A  The adjacent Billy Goat B has been closed for maintenance and redesign for awhile, and only the more distant Billy Goat C was open.

Rather than drive to Billy Goat C, we decided to wander the canal towpath out and back for a few miles.  That proved to be serendipitous.

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Earlier in the week, the weather report predicted snow.  With steely resolve we vowed to persevere regardless.  Knowing how inaccurate longer term weather reports are, we rightly kept our fingers crossed.

Over time the report shifted to rain, then finally to a reasonably warm 30 to 40-something morning dusted with sparkling sunbeams and kissed by a light breeze. It was perfect for dancing down the pathway.

In all it was a day any little kid would love.  Besides, who are we at heart but big little kids who are allowed adult beverages.

Along the way, we told stories, laughed, snapped a ton of photos, and complained about politically induced headaches.

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In total, we discovered three blue herons patiently earning their living trolling the abundant canal waters.  This is one.

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Another heron working the far bank.  These birds are quite large, about three times the body size of the mallard ducks which also were in the area.

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A busy flock of mallards.  We saw dozens of these paddlers throughout the day.

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The crunching gravel sounds like music.

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In places the canal is wide and deep blue.  In others it’s shallow, snagged with tangled trees, dabbed with floating green algae.

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The designer of Central Park in NYC and Piedmont Park in Atlanta has a monument.

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Who are we?  Friends who worked at the White House more than 20 years ago.

After our hike, we adjourned to a nice Tex-Mex place where, over a tasty lunch and margaritas,  the conviviality continued.  We’d earned it.

The next sunny day adventure:  Annapolis Rock.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sisu

 

 

 

Billy Goat Trail

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C&O Canal National Park, Maryland.  July 12, 2018 — When my friend Mary was volunteering as my swamper while I chainsawed blowdowns Monday, she mentioned a hike she and friends were planning for today just 20 minutes from my house.  Did I want to come?  Did I?  Don’t count me late for dinner!!!

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We met at the Great Falls Tavern visitor center for a scramble along the craggy Billy Goat Trail.

Billy Goat Sign

Photo by Mary Thurman

There are three Billy Goat Trails – A, B and C.  We hiked A.

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These routes lie in the higher part of the Potomac flood plain where they have been scoured from the bedrock by eons of roaring water.

 

The views and falls are spectacular.

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People were out taking advantage of the low humidity including the climbers on the far bank and a kayaker in the river.

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Kemosahbe.  Many buffalo pass this way.

The Great Falls and the Billy Goat trails lie in the heart of the Washington, D.C. metro area. Its population of 6.1-million spits out an endless supply of park-loving visitors.

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Sadly we’re loving this park to death along with many others.  Think about it.  Many people.  Small Space.  Overcrowding.  Environmental damage.  Lots of rules.

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Trash is no stranger.  Too many of the day hikers are bugs, not features.  Their ignorance and lack of concern beget litter.  Why anyone would bag their dog’s poo and then leave it is confounding, but found it here and see it everywhere on hiking trails.  In total we policed up more than a gallon (by volume) of trash during our hike.

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Fortunately, the trail tread is water-worn bedrock.  For water, it’s always the long game.  She’s patiently gonna wear you down until you shine like a cheap suit.  She’s going to be here long after we’re extinct.

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Humans aren’t the only environmental impact.  This ambitious beaver bit off more than he could chew.

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Enough of the bugs.  Now for the features.  On Billy Goat A, the price of admission buys a quality climb up a sharp knife edge.

Billy Goat Knifedge

Photo by Mary Thurman

As we soared upward, I was suffering flashbacks of the Appalachian Trail in “Rocksylvania.”  My shouts of “You got nothing on Pennsylvania!” bounced off the bedrock with absolutely zero effect.

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Near the top.

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Summit view.

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Well-earned salt stains thanks to the low humidity.  Consensus:  We’d do it again in a heart beat.

Sisu

Hiking Maryland Heights with Old Friends

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Friends from my days in the White House/National Security Council Press Office.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  July 7, 2018 — The auspicious press room at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is just off the West Wing, constructed over what was once the inauspicious presidential swimming pool.

As life would have it, my favorite journalists swam in the deep end of that former pool, now known as the press room basement.

You could say this invisible nether region was reserved for the less pyrotechnic news broadcasters such as Bloomberg, the Voice of America, NPR and the like.

I wish I’d taken photos of these down-under denizens who were literally schmooshed into their phone booth-size working spaces.

Believe me, ya hadda be there to appreciate it, especially the irresistible treats they’d bring from home each day.  I was soon food-conditioned and grazed almost daily.  It was an irresistible trap of sorts.  In return for treats, I’d respond to questions.  Hope my answers were as good as the brownies.

After my time at the Executive Mansion expired, keeping in touch was precarious.  This was the mid-1990s when the Yahoo search engine was revolutionary and long before social media.

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Two decades passed.  Then our friend Tina thought we should meet-up at a baseball game on July 4.  Catching up, we realized some of us had in common a previously unknown love of nature.

Impulsively I offered to organize a hike and BOOM, there we were, three days later, munching (this time my homemade blueberry muffins) in a Harpers Ferry parking lot preparing to assault the Maryland Heights overlook.  Maryland Heights Trail

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The iconic view from Maryland Heights is spectacular.  The Shenandoah River is top left.  The Potomac River is bottom center.

The weather was unheard of for July in the mid-Atlantic region.  Our 7 a.m. departure featured low humidity, a light breeze and a sweat-free temp of 60 F.  Up we chugged, skidding to a stop at the featured overlook in well under an hour.  We toured the 1862 civil war fortifications on the mountain top before finishing the 10 km loop before lunch time.

 

 

Along the way we took selfies like giddy teenagers.

Me with thru hike pix

Showing off my thru hike photo from 2014.

With time to spare, we toured the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Visitor Center, then we stopped for burgers and beers in town before moseying down to John Brown’s fort.

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Railroad tunnel and bridges over the C&O Canal and the Potomac river.

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Ruins of a lock keeper’s house on the C&O Canal.

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Jefferson’s Rock.  The props were added in the mid-1800s to preserve the balanced rock formation.

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The view from Jefferson’s Rock.

After exploring the lower town and crossing the river over to the C&O Canal, we marched up to Jefferson’s Rock, then through the ancient cemetery and back to our initial rendezvous point where we hugged all around and agreed to hike again soon.

Upon reflection, I’m thinking food history might be repeating itself.  I’ll keep baking blueberry muffins and other treats, as long as they keep coming.

To those from that era who weren’t there: We’ve got plenty of roster slots, lots of fresh hikes, and all the freshly baked muffins you can eat.

Sisu