Thursday, March 30, 2017

Biking from Hancock

On Saturday I had two options, to go on a tour of a waste treatment plant or make another attempt at a bike ride. Of course the ride won. My third attempt, this was a success, the previous two attempts were thwarted by rain and freezing temperatures. I packed my mountain bike into the back of Stanley, (a novelty that hasn't come close to wearing off yet), and a couple of minutes later I headed off to Hancock, MD.
I was cycling west on the Western Maryland Rail Trail and then at the end would drop down on to the C and O Canal Trail for the return journey. But I had a few things against me. I left my jacket in the car, regretting this intensely after a mile, but thankfully my pace and the weather raised my temperature so I was then glad not to have it. As long as I kept moving. Then my water bottle rack broke as I shoved in my new stainless steel, 'sooper dooper at keeping water chilled' bottle. Luckily it held up for the trip with careful treatment and will be replaced before the next ride on this bike. Then at the end of the WMRT, when I got off my bike to rest for a minute or two while photographing the lock house, I realized that once again I had no memory card in my camera, so none of my photos so far had been saved.
But back to the beginning. As I set off, I immediately liked this trail. There were few cycling extremists here, very little lycra and even fewer cycling helmets. The traffic on the trail was almost non-existent compared to the suburb's WandOD Trail, and those I saw today were folks in capris, jeans, with baseball hats or no head gear at all. A few like me, were carrying backpacks. I felt very comfortable in my t-shirt and leggings, hair pinned up with a clip and sunglasses. Everyone I passed smiled or yelped a 'Morning!' and I was content to be pedaling with such nice folks in the crisp clean air. I picked up a good pace and kept it, smiling at the few abandoned houses I passed, but not stopping, and noticing the many signs warning, 'Regulated Shooting Only' or 'No Hunting or Trespassing'. We were definitely in a rural area. I could see the canal down to my left but to my right were woodlands, fields and The Poly Ponds, small natural ponds that were once used as storage for the canal boats. The trail was a steady very gradual incline so I had to pedal continuously but I was soon warm and quite surprised at how quickly I got to the end of the trail. This was marked by a yellow gate and an unsightly stand of battered caravans on my right. I quickly passed those and dropped down on to the canal path to rest by the house at Lock 56, where I realized my memory card was missing. Since the few photos I'd taken had been while I was in motion I wasn't too upset, and I would discover that there was much more to be seen from the lower C and O Trail anyway.
Spring was very evidently pushing its way into the world here. All along the trail were tiny clumps of green shoots, small flowers and green algae forming on the still canal water. Peepers were bellowing from their hidden stages and annoyingly, mosquitoes were rampant also.
I stopped at Locks 54 and 55, enjoying the solitude, there was nobody else sharing the trail path, which was hard to believe on such a beautiful day. I found a list of all the locks here,and discovered that the canal had finished here until 1850 when the final stretch to Georgetown was completed. Coal was transported on boats down from Cumberland until the railroad was built but was really obsolete on its completion due to rail costs being cheaper and faster. It was still used for bulk commodities but finally closed after being irreparable damage from the 1924 storm.
The ride back along this trail was much prettier and with a lot more greenery than the brown starkness of the paved trail above me. I had to chuckle at the speed limit here, 15mph for us cyclists, hardly achievable with the rough terrain! So I poodled along at a sedate pace looking out for new plants peeping out from the soft wet earth and was amazed to see many clumps of bluebells and a few wood anemones. The trail will be beautiful in a couple of weeks time, like the image on the C and O website. The turtles were enjoying the warm sun, dozens of them with their shiny shells all clean from hibernation were already lined up on fallen tree trunks floating in the still canal water.
Lock 53. There's some excellent photos and information on the locks and their folk here.
This was heartwarming to come across. There are a few picnic areas along the trail with BBQs for anyone to use. Someone had gone a step further, chopping and stacking firewood for the lucky picnickers.
The ruins of the Round Top Cement Mill, which was built in the 1830s and was Hancock's largest employer during the Civil War. Up to 1882, The eight kilns could produce 48 tons of burnt lime daily for making cement, that was used in the Washington DC Monument and the US Capitol building. A fire in 1903 forced production to stop.
This limestone feature next to the cement works is called The Devil's Eyebrow. Made up of sandstone, siltstone shale and limestone layers, it was once covered by a shallow sea. Climate change and tectonic plate movement then caused the rock to buckle and be exposed.
As I rode back into Hancock I thought I'd ridden 20 miles but according to Day 2 on this link, the route had actually been 25 miles, so I was pleased with my first ride of the year. And I was starving. I'd spotted a 'beef pit' on the way into town so made straight for that fine establishment as soon as I'd got the bike in the car. Which took about 2 minutes. Really loving having a hatchback vehicle. No more bungee cords and bike racks for me.
Tony's Butcher Block was packed when I arrived after 2pm. As well as a variety of sandwiches they sell fresh meat and seafood, the oysters seemed popular, and homemade salads and relishes in jars. I opted for the beef sandwich with BBQ horseradish and was very impressed. Everything about it was superb, from the bread to the exceedingly tender beef and the perfectly balanced flavors of BBQ and horseradish. I will definitely return for another.

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