Thursday, May 4, 2017

Biking from Big Pool

Saturday was threatening rain but I decided to go on a bike ride anyway and headed for Big Pool, MD. Heavy dark clouds pressed down above me as I drove but I was determined to test ride the bike I'd bought from Jason, eager to find out if it would be an easier ride on rough trails than the heavy silver Pacifica I've been riding. The air was thick with humidity, the first experience of it this year, and definitely not welcome.
 I stopped briefly at C and O markers on the roadside along the way, just to be nosy and see what gems were at the end of each divertion. The warm weather had drawn out canal volunteers who were busy planting and tidying up the flower beds around a lockhouse, with others inside sweeping away the cobwebs. I just had to drive under this tunnel because the road was so close to the water, but then backed out again quite quickly once I discovered it led to private residences. I bet they hate curious people like me!
At the trail head, the weather decided to test my resolve, dropping huge rain drops on my head and shoulders as I unloaded the bike. if I had been riding the Bianchi, then I would have loaded the bike straight back into the vehicle again, but because this new bike is for rougher conditions, I decided to continue with my ride, hoping the showers would abate. It was hot and steamy as I started pedaling and I was glad I'd smothered myself in bug deterrent.
 The paved trail was the Western Maryland Railroad trail heading west to Hancock. I was finishing the trail that I'd ridden a couple of weeks earlier, that time heading west from Hancock. This side of the town was less interesting and although it was beautiful to see the new lush vegetation sprouting up from the ground and from branches above, it was very much the same all the way along. After a couple of miles, the trail followed I-70 very closely and from that point the ride was hell. All the way to Hancock, the sound of heavy traffic was deafening, stripping away any enjoyment from the bike ride. I was conscious of every pedal push, just wishing the miles away as I rode. The only place where my attention was distracted from the din was Park Head Cemetery, where I dismounted to have a look. Later research showed that there was once a settlement here called Millstone, which was a stage coach stop, and apparently one night it failed to stop, ending up in the canal.
I was very pleased to reach Hancock and without a break I dropped down to begin riding back on the canal path, but was dismayed to find that the sound of traffic would still accompany me.
 Just out of town are the remains of the Tonoloway Creek Aqueduct, built between 1835 and 1839. This is a beautiful piece of artwork, with curved wrought iron railings still intact, although many of them have been destroyed by debris from flood waters. But it is still easy to picture how it must have looked 100 years ago, a stunning piece af architecture that carried boats over the creek.
The path was pretty to ride along but that horrendous traffic noise was ever present, making it impossible to regard this as a tranquil place of beauty. Which was a shame because the path, with the canal on one side and the river on the other, bright green vegetation and spring flowers popping up everywhere, was a joy to behold. I tried very hard to ignore the engine noises, stopping occasionally to enjoy the wonder of Spring erupting all around me, the cool canal water with turtles, big and small, plopping off their logs as I came past, the ferns finishing their unfurling and proudly spreading their fronds. A picnic area had a water pump, treated with iodine, and a dish for dogs below it, firewood stacked by the tables, covered with plastic sheets against the spring showers. Butterflies flitted alongside me and sycamore seeds spun past like mini helicopters
Ahead of me I spotted a frantic flutter of butterflies on the trail, their attention gripped by something I couldn't see. They were Eastern Tiger Swallowtails with one Spicebush Swallowtail with them. Because they eat nectar I could only assume it was a fallen flower from the previous night's rain. I walked my bike around them, keeping as far away from them as possible so I didn't disturb them. I had to take my photos from a distance too, not wanting to interrupt their obvious rapt attention to whatever it was they were crowding around.
Jack in the Pulpits were growing rampantly under trees and I even spotted some paw paw flowers, nearly missing their dark blooms. I was succeeding in engrossing myself in nature but then realized my bike was harder to pedal and there were some odd noises coming from the back end. I looked down and saw a flat tire. And I had another 6 miles to cover before I got to the car. Determined not to get dejected, I wiped myself with a fresh bug spray wipe and started walking, pushing the bike along beside me. I did ride it some of the way but for the most part I marched. I eventually got back onto the paved Railroad Trail and then received a lot of offers of help, to patch my inner tube or even replace it. Since by then I only had less then 2 miles at this point I declined with many thanks, not wanting to spoil their ride when I only had a short distance to cover. I got back to the car, where 2 guys who had offered me help earlier smiled and waved, shouting, "You still look good!", cheering me up immensely as I felt very hot and bothered. But I'd made it in 70 minutes so was very pleased. The bike, despite the flat, had passed with flying colors. And even with the stress of the return journey I realized that throughout my ride I hadn't once suffered from aching shoulders, which had been a regular occurrence on the old bike.
Once the car was loaded up, I decided to explore a little of the canal. I drove down a road with a sign saying McCoy's Ferry. There's a campsite at the end of the road and a ramp where the ferry likely operated from but I was more in awe of the tunnel and the trestle bridge.
 There was once fierce competition between the railroad and the canal for business and this huge bridge is a monument to the railroad's might. It was impressive looking across at it from higher up and even more so standing beneath it and marveling at its structure, as sturdy and strong now as it was back in its heyday. The tunnel was equally thrilling, especially since I was driving through with a much taller vehicle now. It was dark and drippy inside and a tight fit, width as well as height, but I still had a couple of drive throughs, glad that there was no one to witness my childishness.
The roads I was driving along were the back roads, steering clear of any highways, and the journey was a little like riding a rollercoaster. Even keeping within the speed limit of 35mph, the hillocks, humpback bridges and corners were real tummy jugglers, I almost left my seat at times while hanging tight onto the steering wheel and sporting a manic grin. I passed some interesting sights, an amazing gateway that appeared to have once belonged to a rather stately home, which wasn't standing today, the mailbox of a religious zealot. It said, 'REBEL NOT AGAINST THE LORD', on the other side.
The last photos I stopped for before the drive home was the site of a demolished leather factory, which I wished I'd discovered before it was razed to the ground, and driving through Martinsburg I spotted a store sign that made me chuckle. The word, 'boutique', and an image of an elderly spinster just didn't seem to gel, but I sure hoped her business was sprightly!

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