Saturday, June 25, 2011

Thirty miles. Love my bike.

I took the bike out today.

I drove to Brunswick, MD with it, parked at the train station, and headed off down the C&O Canal, getting on at milepost 55. My goal is to top the last ride's 24 miles, and this time I'm shooting for thirty.

Almost immediately I was required to act to save a turtle.

The first mile of the towpath is actually a dirt road that goes to a sewage plant and a campground. Past the campground, it becomes trail again. As I pedaled down the road, I saw a little car ahead of my stop and a teen girl in the front seat jumped out and grabbed what turned out to be a huge painted turtle with a shell about a foot in diameter. She jumped back in the car with it as I rode up and I heard her exclaim "MY turtle!" In the car were four other teens who looked like typical teens for that part of Maryland--the kind that make you think that there's a pot farm or meth lab somewhere nearby.

"You need to put the turtle back," I said as I stopped next to the car. She ignored me but the driver turned to look at me so I repeated it. "Put the turtle back." He kept looking at me, so I said it a third time, this time doing my best to sound like Obi Wan Kenobi telling stormtroopers that they didn't need to see his identification. That seemed to work. He turned to the girl and said "We need to put the turtle back." Now they all looked at me. "You can't take wildlife off of the federal land," I said. This seemed to work as another boy got out of the back seat, took the turtle from her, and set it back down in the brush next to the road. "They make lousy pets anyway," I said as he got back in the car. They drove off--slowly--no doubt contemplating coming back for it after I rode away. Once they were out of sight around the bend, I picked up the turtle and took it through the thick brush down the steep, thorn-covered hill, and set it down in the muck next to the water in the bottom of the canal a short distance away, placing it under some brush so it'd be hard to see. Based on it's size, that old turtle had a lot of years on it and here this girl, who quite likely still lived with her parents, was going to snatch it up out of it's world and try to keep it in a box or aquarium somewhere as a novelty. I'm betting that the turtle would have died before she figured out what to feed it or how to keep it. It was only after I rode on that I realized that I'd forgotten to take a picture of the turtle. Doh!

But there are lots of other turtles. Practically every log sticking out of the water has one or two on it. Like these guys.
Here's Lock 28. It's dry now, but you can see all of the stonework that was cut and laid by hand. The whole 184-mile canal was dug and built by hand, using contract workers, indentured servants from Europe, and rented slaves. They died by the hundreds from disease while building it.
So what do you do when your canal comes to a river that you want it to cross, all while maintaining your level course and keeping your canal a closed system? You build an aqueduct and take the whole canal over a bridge, mules, boats and all. This is the Monocacy Aqueduct that takes the canal over the Monocacy River.The Park Service is rebuilding this aqueduct now and you can see the dry bed where the water use to run and hopefully will run again someday.

Here's the span from the east end. Sorry about the group of Frednecks in the picture (Rednecks from Frederick, MD). I tried to wait them out but they showed no sign of leaving any time soon.
And here's Lock 27, about half a mile past the Aqueduct, with a view that shows the lock keeper's house. The lock keeper had to be available to operate the lock any time of the day or night so the canal company gave him and his family a house, a small garden plot, and a minimal salary. Usually his family supplemented their income by selling vegetables from the garden to the canal boat crews or trading them for coal.
This is what I saw when I got to Lock 27. Water! There's water in the canal again!Now this is what the canal used to look like, only without the trees between the towpath and the canal--they would have interfered with the mules trying to pull the canal boats. And off to my right, the Potomac River flows about 25 feet away.

Milepost 40. I'm 15 miles away from my vehicle now. This is the planned turn-around point.I really do want to ride on. These last few miles in particular have been beautiful and it looks like more of the same ahead. But I keep hearing the voice of one of my early role-models reminding me that "a man's got to know his limitations", coupled with the knowledge that it's a long ride back and I have things to do. So with one more wistful look down the canal, I turn my back on the potential sights and adventures that lie that way and head back. But I SO wish that I were still going this way.
And here's the view heading back up the canal. So peaceful. I half expect to see a canal boat coming down.
These guys think that the canal is just ducky.

When you ride quietly and pay attention on remote parts of the towpath, you'll see that you're seldom alone.

Finally I arrived back at my vehicle, not quite four hours after heading out. (I stopped on the way to check on the turtle I saved. It seems to have moved on...hopefully not to some teen girl's bedroom.)
It was a great ride, and I topped it off with an excellent Burrito from my new favorite Brunswick eatery, El Sloppy Taco. I'm fairly tired but very little can ruin this day now.



  1. With you the force was.

    Kudos on your application of moral suasion, especially with teenagers.

    Each time I see those canal photos, I'm amazed at how narrow the barges must have been. I'm curious as to the carrying capacity of the vessels. One of the websites says that there were over 500 boats operating at the canal's peak - do any originals still exist in the museums?

  2. @ The Donald: The Park Service has a few that they still give short rides on, compete with mules to pull them. One is in Washington, DC's Georgetown, another is at Great Falls (I think it's on the Virginia side but don't recall for sure) and the third is being put in now at Williamsport, MD.

  3. Good day, and good pics... sometimes it's just getting out and 'communing' with nature that lowers the blood pressure and eases the strains of everyday life!

  4. Yay for turtle rescue!

  5. Nice excursion ML. You're steady kicking ass on mileage. Can a Century be in your future?