C & O Canal Towpath, Part I

This morning Karen and I walked the first seven miles of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath, beginning in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington D.C. and ending at Lock 7, adjacent to the Clara Barton Pkwy. As might be expected, we had plenty of company on our way—mostly joggers and bicyclists. We expect to lose much of this company as we continue on the path, putting more distance between us and Georgetown.

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Our path began next to the Capital Crescent Trail, which connects Georgetown to Silver Spring, Maryland. Running side-by-side, then, is the C & O Canal, its towpath, the C. C. Trail, and the Potomac River. After a couple of miles, the C. C. Trail verged off northeast and we lost sight of it. At the same time, we found ourselves closer to the Potomac River, separated from it only by some trees and brush.

The canal looked clear and relatively clean until we got to Lock 5, an inlet lock, behind which the canal was perfectly still and full of algae. It was at about this point that we came upon a snake stretched across our path. I stopped suddenly to prevent myself from stepping on it, and it quickly doubled back and disappeared under the brush.

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Karen and I were both surprised how easy it was for us to walk the seven miles to Lock 7 and how quickly we traversed the distance. We have become used to hiking trails, full of rocks and roots, measured in inclines and declines. Walking on the broad, smooth, and essentially flat towpath, we covered the distance in considerably less time and with not half the exertion. In the future, as we return to this path, we’ll have to challenge ourselves a bit more.

Lockhouse 6

Lock House 6


Backpacking and camping on the A.T.

This week we took the leap from regular day packers to backpacking and camping along the Appalachian Trail. We came well prepared, having read all kinds of books on the what to bring, tips for packing, etc. Still, I was full of anxiety before the trip. What if I couldn’t handle it?

Karen on the A.T.

Karen on the A.T.

Our plan was to do a simple two-day hike along the A.T., from Greenbrier State Park in Maryland to Gathland State Park. (Basically this is sections four and five in Maryland.) As we hit the trail I had a hard time concentrating on the scenery. Was my backpack on right? Would I be able to make it? Was I carrying too much? Too little? Thankfully, after about a mile, I settled into my regular hiking mode and enjoyed the trail. I was quite proud of myself as we by-passed a few teenage boys. (Ha! An old lady can out-do the kids!) Later, I learned that the boys were part of a camp group and were just a little out of shape. Still, a small victory over youth!

Tod near DahlgrenWe stopped at the Washington Monument, the original monument to honor George. We continued on, past Dahlgren Chapel and across Route 40, until we got to Dahlgren Campsite.

The campsite is beautiful by A.T. standards. It has level campsites for tents and a bathroom with showers. We quickly settled in by setting up our tent and making cups of coffee. I had a great time reading from an old trailside reader while relaxing at camp.

Before long, an older man with a white beard and a big pack came lumbering into camp. His trail name, we learned, was “Poppy.” Poppy is a thru hiker, meaning that he began in Georgia and intends to go all the way to Maine. Wow! We learned so much from our camp companion. We gained tips about foot care, what to pack, how much to pack, places to pick up supplies, and much more. It was so much fun to hear about his adventures and to hear stories about others on the trail.

Tod and Poppy

Tod and Poppy

After a delicious dinner of instant meat lasagna, Claire, who is a trail ambassador and also stayed at camp, showed us how to boost our food up the bear pole for the night. We hit the sack early. I guess we were tired!

The next day, after breakfast, we said goodbye to Poppy and took off for another day of hiking. The trail was so serene at 8 am. The sun peaked through the trees and the glow of the early morning light was really beautiful. At first things were pretty easy. I even stopped by a big set of blackberry bushes and found a ripe one! From there, though, we had to go up a very steep, 800 foot elevation, in about 1 1/2 miles. Making things tough was the condition of the trail. Poppy had warned us that it was very rocky and he was right. It was crazy! I was a little

Rocks, rocks, rocks!

Rocks, rocks, rocks!

disappointed that there wasn’t a scenic overlook at the top if the mountain but we did find an overlook on the other side a little ways downhill. ¬†We took a break to eat a power bar and the view was perfect. A little bird sang merrily on the top of a nearby tree and I can see why. She had the best view in all of Maryland.

The trip down hill was rocky but very do-able. We enjoyed the rest of our hike and it wasn’t long before we came to Gathland State Park, where we had left our car. The park has a Civil War correspondents memorial and other markers to describe the area’s significance during the war.

Overall, the trip boosted my confidence. I really can backpack!

Here we are, at the end of our hike!

Here we are, at the end of our hike!

In Cedarville Forest

Yesterday, while encamped at Cedarville State Forest, Karen and I hiked the seven-mile Holly (Orange) Trail. Picking up the path twenty yards behind our camping site, we followed it clockwise through the forest. Predominant among the trees were holly, oak, and pine. In places the ground was covered with a plush carpet of fern.

Cedarville ForestKaren_HollyTrail

A mile or two into our walk we stopped where the creek bed formed a pond and listened, in medias res, to an opera of frogs—although, at first, neither of us were certain of the identity of the mellifluous performers.


The trail is rightly designated by the park service as “easy.” Not to say that it makes seven miles feel like three, but the trail is relatively smooth and gentle on one’s feet. Moreover, there is little altitude change, just a little rolling over the terrain. And one could only try to get lost; what with the wooden directional posts, the quarter-mile spaced iron posts, the colored pieces of cloth affixed to tree branches, and the swatches on tree trunks, one hardly needs a map. Even so, I like to have one with me. There is something comforting about seeing on paper where one is. Why, I’m not sure. I think it makes it easier to trust that the trail goes where one supposes it goes. (Have you ever thought of how much faith is required to go out, into the woods, following a trail that someone else made?)

Holly Trail

Our hike was, for the most part, solitary, quiet, even serene. A few bicyclists crossed our path, a couple of frogs, and several small groups of senior citizens. One elderly gentleman, before inquiring whether he was near to the terminus, suggested that we were walking in the “wrong” direction before instantly correcting himself: the “opposite” direction. Opposite to him? Obviously, but there still seemed something objectively descriptive in his “opposite.” It set me wondering what a wrong direction would be. One contrary to one’s purposes, no doubt, or against one’s best interest. In any case, I’ll be sure to let you know if ever I should hike in the wrong direction. That could be useful information indeed!