Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Back in the saddle

I was feeling the itch to stretch my legs on the bike and get out in the wonderfully mild weather we've been blessed with in the last week. I made plans with Mir to meet up with her at Great Falls Park and do a little hiking on the Billy Goat trail. I've never hiked it before, but I've heard good things about it. Mir was going to drive there (she had to work that afternoon) and I was going to bike there via the C&O canal towpath.

I woke up Sunday morning feeling a little bleary, but excited. I packed my backpack with water, snacks & a sandwich for later, plus some appropriate footwear for hiking since my Keen commuter sandals probably wouldn't work very well. I grabbed some breakfast from Harris Teeter's hot bar (surprisingly not too bad) and headed out.

I took my usual route of the Rock Creek Park trail to the Georgetown waterfront to the the Capital Crescent Trail. I rode by the end of a road race on the Parkway-the cone truck was slowly picking up orange cones behind one, lonely, last runner. Is there such a thing as a lanterne rouge for runners?

When I got to the CCT, I realized there was another race going on-either a half or full marathon. Luckily, it was near the end of it so the trail wasn't too crowded. In fact, I didn't have a single issue. It was a rather pleasant ride. There were race volunteers at every lock cheering on the runners and giving them water/Gatorade. I pretended they were cheering for me.

I decided to take my time getting to the Great Falls Tavern visitors center, where I was meeting Mir. It was nice not to feel rushed or pressured to get a certain number of miles in by x amount of time. It was just me & the bike & the outside. The weather was perfect-sunny & not too hot or humid. 

Fletcher's Cove. They rent all kinds of fun things including cruiser bikes.

Kermit the Hulk. He has a rear rack now, but I've been having problems finding panniers/bags that fit it. That's a subject for another post though.

 I passed Lockhouse 6 and reminded myself to make a reservation to stat there again soon. It will be almost exactly one year that we first stayed there (September 19th 2011 according to my Parks Passport). When I passed Lockhouse 10, I remembered that we'll be staying there Halloween weekend next month (spooky!).

Lockhouse 6. Love the porch & rocking chairs. It's been almost exactly a year since we stayed there for the first time.
The runners began to thin out at this point and it was pretty much just me & the canal for the rest of the trip. I was riding Kermit, and he was riding smoothly along the towpath.

I could tell when I got close to the Great Falls visitor's center, because the towpath suddenly became crowded with families. I hopped off my bike and walked it to the center (formerly a tavern) and found a few bike racks scattered around the grounds. I locked Kermit and was just in time to see the canal boat coming into the lock. You can take a canal boat ride from Great Falls Tavern. Normally the boat is towed by mules, but apparently the water level is too low to use the lock, so instead the mules got a break while a human pulled the boat a short distance up & down, and the boat was physically turned around by hand. Not exactly the same experience ;-)

Great Falls Tavern visitor's center/museum

Canal boat being towed by a guy.

Coming into the lock. It's a tight squeeze.

The mules were on break today.

I met up with Mir and we walked to the Billy Goat Trail A entrance. The trail is divided into 3 section, A, B & C. A is the most difficult with plenty of scrambling over large boulders (probably why it's named the Billy Goat trail-you need to pretend to be one). It was the closest trail to Great Falls (and had the best views). B & C are closer to Old Angler's Inn.

We hiked for about 30 minutes or so, before Mir had to turn around and head back-she had to work that afternoon. Still, the 30 minutes we did was a lot of fun & afforded plenty of views of the Potomac.

If you look carefully, you can see climbers on the opposite cliff.

We made plans to come back again and hike the entire trail next time.

After Mir left, I decided to hang around and check out the Tavern. I was able to get my Parks Passport stamped (they sell them there if you'd like to pick one up) and checked out the gift section. It took quite a lot of self-restraint not to buy almost everything. They have a decent selection of books, maps, toys & games. There are also some displays about the Tavern's history and a silent film produced by Thomas Edison in 1917 about life along the canal. Pretty neat. There was even a duo of bluegrass musicians outside playing the fiddle & banjo. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon.


View from the overlook.

Unfortunately, the day turned darker when I saw a fire & rescue vehicle pull up with lights flashing, and U.S Park Police's helicopter began circling low overhead. That's never a good sign. I thought maybe a hiker or biker was injured or a boat had capsized, but it wasn't until later that I learned that a swimmer had drowned just north of where I was. Apparently he had gone out into the Potomac (illegally) and became trapped under a rock. There were plenty of witnesses, but they couldn't do anything for him except watch him drown. That area is littered with signs warning people not to wade/swim in that section of the Potomac. The current is very strong and there are so many hidden rocks. It was a sad reminder that those warning signs aren't just there to protect the park, but also to protect us.

Figuring it was time to head home (sunset is getting earlier and earlier, boo.), I headed back the way I came. The towpath was pretty empty at this time & the ride back was pleasant, but uneventful.

This was just the ride I needed to start feeling good about being in the saddle again.


  1. Good to hear that you're riding again. Kermit looks cool. Did you see any news about opening the detour on the C&O between MP12 and MP14?

  2. Nope, no news. The signs still say Fall of 2012 for completion, but it didn't really look any closer to completion on Sunday than it did when I rode by there during the summer :-/

  3. I enjoyed reading your post. I had a barbecue out at Carderock on Wednesday and road out along the Canal, This is a beautiful time of year to be out on bike.
    -Mike Essig