Thin Ice

ice on the canal

Skaters leave their trails on the frozen canal.

Living in the city often scares me.  So much awaits just outside my front door, or outside of my two front doors.  Since we live in an apartment, we have our front door and the building’s front door, an extra step that still confounds the dog.  She prefers to bark directly at the front yard through the window.  Lately though, even she wants to stay inside on her window-seat above the heater.  On Thursday, snow covered the sidewalks during my morning walk to work.  By Friday, the south-facing pavement had dried, but by afternoon, the snow fell once again forming  a muffled winter wonderland during rush hours.  At least the wintery precipitation justified the excruciatingly cold temperatures.

The temperature dropped low enough, long enough to freeze the canal solid in spots.  We first noticed the icy surface from the Chain Bridge on Saturday, where at mid-day, several brave hockey players swirled between the banks.  The lowered water level means that any fall would be minimal, but I still consider it daring to venture out on the canal in the extreme cold.

On Sunday as the ice subsided, we carefully hugged the path during our run.  Our footsteps stamped the remnants off snow further into the dirt.  Our dog added her paw prints as well, because even if she hates the cold, she loves the snow.  She eagerly bounds through the flakes and picks the drifts over dry ground, until she lands in the cold puddle underneath. I bet the brave hockey players on the canal feel the same.


Back to School Season

Taking a Canoe on the Potomac River

We braved the tax-free weekend in Virginia at Tyson’s corner.  I wanted to go back-to-school shopping in any form. My husband needed to return a leather messenger back that had a broken clasp and take his computer in for repairs as well.  The bag broke from normal wear-and-tear, and LLBean agreed to exchange it through their lifetime guarantee.   That exchange gave us plenty of time to browse their new bags and backpacks, all displayed at the main entrance, with a giant model of their signature back.  I used one of this backpacks all through high school, and they are still some of my favorite bags, but I was more inspired by the outdoor gear, so as soon as we returned home, we ran down to Fletcher’s Cove on the canal to rent a canoe for the evening.  We paddled into the shade and filled our hour rental with a route to the Chain Bridge.

Signs at Pimmit Run

We returned to our canal running route this morning, turning into Virginia once again – this time across the Chain Bridge.  Our explorations stopped short on the Pimmit Run that hugs the river bank.  When we stopped to admire the swirly pools of water and allow the dog to take a break from scaling the rocks, one of our cell phones decided to dive in.  That makes two electronics exposed to water this weekend. The phone still works.  The computer mentioned earlier now features a water-logged screen as a result of a run-in with a cup of ice water.  Maybe we should have just stayed in this weekend or gone to the movies instead.  Brave remains on our short list of movies to watch, but we weren’t adventurous enough to go to a showing in a mall packed with back-t0-school shoppers.


Hiking in the Heat

We ventured back to our favorite hike this weekend – the Billy Goat Trail.  The now familiar terrain makes for a challenging morning run, with some rock scaling, and we did our best to beat the 11 a.m. heat advisory, but only barely.  We started on the trail at 8:30, completed the C and B loops and connected to the Great Falls trails via the canal path.  This provided a mix of semi-level gravel surfaces, with the narrow branch-filled hilly trails that are a little more challenging.  In the end, we hiked over seven miles, draining two Camelbak water bags in the process (between the three of us, because we pack water for the dog as well.)  In addition, we have a towel, extra water bottles, and a change of clothes in the car so we can cool of as quickly as possible.  For the dog, this meant take a long drink, then collapsing in the shady back seat of the car.



Trail Blazes

Raspberries from the trail

The first signs of summer have cropped up along our favorite part of the Canal Path.  During our run this past week, we spotted 32 geese of all ages and sizes, a single young deer grazing in the nearby wooded area, and more raspberries than we could count.  Though hardly noticeably during our running pace, their ripe red color screamed out when we stopped to walk.   We probably looked crazy when we stepped off the pebbly path to get a closer look.  Most of our fellow runners, walkers, and bikers, crept or sped by seemingly unaware of these bight blazes.  Though I don’t recommended eating them straight from the trail, I did carry a few home to thoroughly clean before tasting.  Though smaller than store-bought berries, they are just as flavorful as those found at the nearby farmer’s market, and they had even fewer miles to travel – a total of 2.5 in fact.  Though with the berry picking sidetrack, this “run” took us over an hour.

The Billy Goat Trail and Other Creatures

A clear sign that we found the Billy Goat Trail

My husband accused me of scrambling over rocks like a girl today.  He speaks the truth – I’m much less agile than my fellow hikers, who use their long legs or four-wheel-drive to quickly climb to the peak of the rock outcroppings that we encountered on the B and C portions of the Billy Goat Trail.  We sought out this trail in April, but ended up on less scraggly trail farther north in Great Falls.  Today, we parked at Carderock and started from the southern point of the trails.  The parking lot still had plenty of spaces, but the trails revealed a fair share of families, rock climbers, kayakers, and other dogs leashed to the owners.  Our hound enjoyed this trail thoroughly, bounding through mud puddles and over large rocks, but it’s important to note that dogs are not allowed in the A section of the trail, due to the rocks.  Fortunately, we have been building up to them.

Climbing ropes on the Billy Goat Trail

The rocks in this section of the trail provide ample surface for rock climbers, who tie their ropes to trees at the peak and rappel down to the wider path below. In addition to outdoor enthusiasts, the trails host other wildlife including plenty of toads and frogs enjoying the muddy terrain.  The recent storms were evident in the river as well, which swallowed trees down the bank from the trail and in some spots lapped at the dirt a few feet from our path.  Fortunately, we waited an extra day after the recent storms to let the water subside, resulting in a great river view from the Billy Goat Trail.

On the Trail of a Billy Goat

We soaked up what now feels like the last day of Spring by spending Saturday hiking the trails around the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.  Our intent was to find the Billy Goat Trail, a 4.7 mile craggy path that parallels the C & O Canal.  Dogs aren’t allowed on the northern-most section A, for good reason.  Apparently the path has some sizable rocks, hence the name, and hikers need to scramble over this part.  Part B and C are less strenuous, so I read.  We drove a little too far, missing the starting point for B, and landing squarely at the end of MacArthur Blvd at Lock 20 of the canal.

From here, we ran a portion of the canal path, a familiar turf that I’ve written about before, but through new scenery that included an overlook of the falls.  Unfortunately, the path is currently under construction, so after running into the fence about a mile and a half out, we turned back, clocked in the 5k and took the detour into the trails.  These are dog friendly areas, but leashes are required and recommended.  Within 15 minutes we saw enough wildlife for the dog to chase after in her dreams, including a medium-sized black snake and plenty of water fowl.  We walked almost back to the Anglers Inn, where we should have started on the Billy Goat Trail.  Instead we turned onto the Valley Trail, which led to the Gold Mine Loop.  This route took us up to a spectacular overlook, where we could see not only the path we had run earlier, but the falls.   Fortunately, the path back to the parking lot was all downhill.

The park service offers a map of the area, so you can plan your hike, but the interconnected trails are explorer friendly if you don’t want to plan ahead.  We made the trek in under two and a half hours but packed plenty of water for ourselves and the dog. Otherwise, she wanted to taste every creek that we crossed.