Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Day 4: Walking Through History

July 8: It never did rain during the night, but as I was tucked until my tarp sleeping away, I was woken by a couple of bikers who started setting up camp at my campsite! I was off to the side where there was a good place to set up my tarp and I don't think they saw me in the darkness, but I told them that the site was already occupied and they moved on to another site. I didn't really mind them joining my site, but they might have preferred that I not be in the site they wanted to use! And only 2 of the 5 sites had been occupied--they certainly could have one of their own.

By 5:00 in the morning, it wasn't scorching hot, but it was probably a comfortable 70 degrees or so. It didn't bode well for later in the afternoon when temperatures were expected to hit 94 degrees with high humidity. Why the heck did I choose to do this trail in the middle of the summer?

So I got as early of a start as I could hitting the trail near sunrise. The group of kids were already up and moving around when I left, but the bikers didn't come out of their tents. I had a hunch that they'd be sleeping in late given how late in the night they had arrived.

A couple of women on bikes heading in the opposite direction stopped to ask me about my stroller and chatted for several minutes. "That's brilliant!" one of them exclaimed. "But there's not really a baby in the pack, is there?"

I joked that I left a hole in the top so it could breath, so not to worry. =) They suggested that I should pimp out the stroller with bigger wheels. That's an option?! I had no idea! I'm not an expert on strollers. I knew I could buy a stroller with bigger wheels, but I didn't know I could upgrade them after the fact. But I wasn't sure where that would be possible on the trail either. Not to mention that it might be more than I wanted to pay. This stroller was disposable in my book. I was willing to spend $10 to acquire it, but I certainly didn't want to invest much more than that in it.

Another bicyclist I met had started his ride in Pittsburgh five days earlier. Just five days ago! I was expecting to take another couple of weeks to walk the same distance. But then, I was pushing a stroller. This guy wasn't. *nodding*

Throughout the day, though, the palms of my hands continued to grow increasingly sore from pushing the stroller. I'd try pushing the stroller with my knuckles for a bit, or pushing it using the bottom of my palms near the wrists which weren't so sore. They were awkward, though, and I kept shifting my hand position every few minutes never finding a comfortable place for them. When others on the trail asked how the stroller was working out, I told them that the palms of my hands were really sore, but it was kind of awkward to admit that. When you tell someone that the palms of your hands are sore, they tend to get the wrong idea....

This trail is so easy, even a slug can do it! =)
I soon passed the first hiker/biker campsite of the trail, which included a pump for getting water. I started making a habit of taking off my shirt and soaking it in water every change I got to stay cool. It dried quickly, but for that first half hour after soaking the shirt, it felt absolutely wonderful.

A few hours after I started, I passed the 22 mile marker. Which isn't particularly significant except that the C&O Canal is no longer maintained for functional beyond that point. The steady, reliable canal of water on my right was no longer there, and instead it was usually covered with thick trees that provided shade. With trees on both sides of the trail of the towpath, I spent a lot more time in the shade and less in the sun. Yeah! =)

Most of the day was sunny and clear, but ugly clouds started rolling in by about 2:00. It was hot and humid, but at least the clouds cooled things down. A little bit. I heard thunder in the distance and pushed onward.

An hour later, I had reached White's Ferry--the last of the many ferry crossings that used to carry goods and people across the Potomac. The building next to it had food and cold drinks, which I had every intention of indulging in and been looking forward to for the whole day. Cold drinks... Yes! The building had several lines painted along its heights marking the high-water mark of several floods, including the flood of 1972 which reached the third floor of this three-story building. Wow, that's a lot of water! I couldn't even imagine the Potomac reaching such heights!

All day long, I'd been following my progress in my history guide, learning about the canal and multiple Civil War encounters that took place along it. The canal had been damaged and drained multiple times by Confederate soldiers, and the bulk of Lee's army crossed the Potomac at White Ford about two miles away in his first invasion of the north that culminated in the Battle of Antietam--a battlefield just a few miles away from the C&O Canal. A nearby plaque added that "The invaders passed the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal via road culverts and bridges erected by their engineers. Walls of the canal were breached to disrupt commerce and the enemy's supply lines, but efforts to destroy the Monocracy Aqueduct were unsuccessful."

Overlooking the Potomac River
Just a couple of miles downstream was the Balls Bluff battlefield with Harrison Island visible in the distance. It was one of the earliest battles of the Civil War and relatively small by comparison to the battles that followed, but it was a vicious battle. Of the Union army, over 50% of the nearly 1,700 soldiers fighting became causalities.

I looked over the Potomac, imagining the invading army crossing the river and cannons firing their terrible payloads just a couple of miles away. Americans fighting Americans to the death. Although hot and humid, it seemed at odds with the quiet and peaceful setting I saw today. There's a lot of history on and near this trail.

My weather forecast didn't show rain for the afternoon, but a light sprinkle soon started. Argh! I hadn't really packed my pack with the expectation of rain. Generally speaking, the stuff that couldn't get wet--electronics, paper books and such were near the top of my pack, so I pulled out a trash bag and just put it over the top of my pack in the stroller. It didn't quite fit completely over the backpack, but the stuff at the bottom of the pack could get wet without any problems. I decided to skip the hot food and cold drinks, wanting to get into camp before the worst of the rains started.

I arrived at the campsite at around 4:00--and it was sunny and clear again. It never really did rain--just a very brief, very light sprinkle that I didn't even need an umbrella for. The trash bag over my pack wasn't necessary either, but I couldn't have known that at the time. My biggest regret was skipping the hot food and cold drinks back at Whites Ferry in my rush to get to camp before the rain.

When I arrived at the Marble Quarry campsite (named for a marble quarry that used to be located nearby), a dayhiker was out shooting a BB gun. I was pretty sure those weren't officially allowed out here and I found it kind of annoying listening him taking shots, but I wasn't really inclined to pick a fight with him either. He did have a gun, after all, even if it was only a BB gun. He offered to let me shoot it around a bit, but I declined. I just wanted to set up camp. I'd covered 21.6 miles on this very hot day and I was done!

I set up my tarp. Despite the skies clearing up, the weather forecast did call for rain during the night.

The campsite was lovely. Each of the hiker/biker sites are situated well away from trailheads so car campers are never around. It's specifically for people who hike or bike the trail (although I suppose someone paddling the Potomac could use some of them as well). Each of the campsites included a grill, firepit, a water pump, a porta-potty and a picnic table. And much to my surprise, the campsite was covered in nice, lush grass. I had expected on a busy trail like this, the campsites would be worn down to dirt but they looked absolutely pristine! The area by the firepit and picnic table was worn down to dirt, but the rest of the campsite was full of lush, green grass. The campsite I was at the night before was a bit more worn around the edges, but it wasn't a hiker/biker site and car campers could use them.

As dusk approached, the fireflies came out again, so I enjoyed just watching them flit around. Being from the west coast, fireflies are still somewhat of an exotic experience for me. I don't get to enjoy them very often!

I kept expecting more people to show up--the trail had been plenty busy with bicyclists who were traveling long distance along the trail, but as it turned out, I was the only person to sleep here tonight. I had the campsite entirely to myself!


The lower 22 miles of the canal are working and maintained, so this lock (lock 24, a.k.a. Riley's Lock) was the first one that I could actually go into the canal and take a photo from inside the lock. All of the other locks until now had been filled with water! Historical fact: In 1863, General J.E.B. Stuart seized the C&O Canal between Locks 23 and 24, hoping to disrupt commerce and an important Federal supply line. Cavalrymen turned a barge lengthwise for an impromptu bridge. Capturing at least a dozen boats with Union soldiers and grain, they burned nine, damaged the wooden gates at Lock 23 and Guard Lock 2 and drained that section of the canal by breaching the towpath embankment.

This is the first of 11 aqueducts that were built to carry the canal over large streams flowing into the Potomac River. The Seneca Creek Aqueduct, or Aqueduct Number 1, enters directly into Lock 24--the only one on the canal to do so.

My stroller sometimes had a little trouble getting through bits of mud like the patch here. Here, the stroller stopped suddenly in the mud and my pack fell out. I moved it out of the mud before taking this photo, though! I should have strapped it in! At least I now know better if I ever have to push a stroller with a baby in it! =)



Water pump at one of the hiker/biker campsites.

My shoe's view of the trail!

An old guard lock that links the Potomac River with the C&O Canal so boats could switch between the two.
General Joseph Hooker's 75,000 man Army of the Potomac crossed the Potomac River here at Edwards Ferry between June 25-27, 1863, on the way to Gettysburg. The army crossed on two 1,400-foot-long pontoon bridges. It was also used by Confederates multiple times during the war for several (minor) surprise attacks.


Most of the trail was in pretty good condition, but there were these occasional small patches of mud. This was one of the larger patches, but even it wasn't a big deal to get through.
When it started to sprinkle, I put this trash bag over my pack to keep the contents dry!

White's Ford, near here, was were 35,000 Confederate troops crossed the Potomac on the Antietam Campaign of 1862. Just downstream is Harrison Island (see it?), adjacent to the Balls Bluff battlefield.

My guidebook said the store at White Ferry had hot food and cold drinks! But I'd skip it in an attempt to beat the rain to camp....

Holy crap.... those flood lines are awfully high on that building! The whole second floor of the building was underwater!


The Marble Quarry hiker/biker campsite.

View of the Potomac from the back of the campsite.

2 comments:

Sharon Madson said...

Happy Thanksgiving! I look forward to virtually walking this on Walking4fun.

Karolina Śmiech said...

I wish I could see the firefly show, too... Maybe one day?