Saturday, September 27, 2014

C&O Canal Bike Ride - Paw Paw to Little Orleans

This weekend I went for an excellent bike ride on the C&O Canal tow path from Paw Paw down to Little Orleans and back.  The weather was excellent - mid 60s and sunny.  Most of the path was under the shade of trees.  It was just under a 2 hour drive from Ashburn out to Paw Paw, WV.  We stopped there at the Liberty Gas station just before the bridge over the Potomac River to use the facilities and get a few bottles of water.  Then we headed across the bridge to park at the camping area parking lot just south of the Paw Paw Tunnel.

The Paw Paw Tunnel was simply amazing.  Digging this tunnel saved them from having to follow 5 miles of winding turns on the Potomac River.  The tunnel was finished in 1850, and I am in awe of the guys who dug this 3,100 foot tunnel with the technology they had back then.  They hand-laid brick through the entire tunnel.  The canal through the tunnel is still full of water, and there is a narrow walkway on the side where the donkeys used to walk, pulling the barges alongside them. 

The trail is a little bumpy and had puddles in spots.  Plus it was absolutely pitch black in the middle of the tunnel and the headlight on my bike didn't reach very far in front of us, so we walked our bikes through the tunnel.

There are disks like this that mark every 100 feet along the inside of the tunnel.  This was the last marker at the north end of the tunnel marking 3,116.67 feet.

After coming out of the tunnel, the canal and tow path go down a gully with pretty steep walls on either side and down a rapid series of 3 locks to get down to the level of the river again.  Most of the path along the river was a very gradual slope and not at all difficult to ride in the "uphill" direction.  The only time on this ride I felt was a little strenuous was when we had to ride back up this gully along the rapid series of locks leading to the tunnel.

The path out here was a little bumpier than the previous sections I've ridden closer to DC, and there were much fewer people along the trail, too.  Oh, and there was ZERO cell phone coverage for our entire ride.  Yes, yes, that can be a good thing, but if you want to be able to give your family an update where you are or what time you'll be home, don't plan on using your cell phone to do it.  Better bring a courier pigeon or light a fire to send a smoke signal.

The scenery along this portion of the C&O Canal tow path was similar to the other sections I've ridden.  We saw deer, turtles, toads, ducks, geese, butterflies, along with the remnants of the canal locks.  Out here there are only the stone foundations of the lock houses unlike closer in where you can see the lock houses between Point of Rocks and DC.

We stopped in Little Orleans, MD for lunch.  There is one place in town - Bill's Place.  It's a restaurant, wait... no... it's THE restaurant, the General Store, the city hall, the mayor's office, the post office, the chamber of commerce, the arcade, and the only place of just about any type of business for miles around.  It was originally built alongside the C&O Canal in the 1800's and had a crane for loading and unloading materials from the barges on the canal.  I love finding local, unique, hole-in-the-wall type places like this to eat and experience the local flavors and atmosphere.  I asked the guy behind the counter what on the menu was a local favorite.  He laughed and said, "EVERYTHING on the menu is a local favorite on account of this being the ONLY place in town or for MILES around!"  We enjoyed our lunch there and then headed back up the trail to Paw Paw.

All in all, we rode about 31 miles with only about 150 feet of elevation gain.  It took us 2 hour 30 minutes to ride from Paw Paw down to Little Orleans.  Riding back from lunch only took us 2 hours 18 minutes.  I suspect the reason it was quicker coming back was because we spent more time stopping to look at the tunnel and the locks and scenery. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Paddle Log #37: Cow Island and Ragged Island

This is the first summer I've been able to use the Paddle Maps that were published by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust (LRCT).  They made this nice booklet of waterproof maps with instructions how to find and where to paddle to five different LRCT properties around Lake Winnipesaukee.

I headed over to Harilla's Landing on the east side of Long Island.  I put-in there, paddled over to the gap between Little Bear Island and Cow Island, paddled around Cow Island and Ragged Island, and back to Harilla's Landing again.

A note about parking:  If you try to go to Harilla's on a weekend during the summer, there will be MANY cars parked along both sides of the roadway leading to Harilla's.  I think it's mostly people who have put their boats in at Harilla's to drive over to Little Bear or Cow Island.  There are a bunch of Cow Island mailboxes along the road there.  So you may have to drop your boat off and drive a quarter to a half mile up Long Island Road to find a place to park and walk back down to your kayak.  I went on a weekday, so there were only about a dozen cars or so.

Time stamp leaving Harilla's Landing

It was overcast and lightly raining off and on, so I put my Kokotat kayaking jacket and pants to use.  They're just a shell to keep water off.  Temps were in the mid 70s, so I didn't need anything else for warmth.  Water temp was 73F, which sounds warm but felt a little chilly.

I took this picture on the northeast side of Cow Island after paddling through the gap between Little Bear and Cow Islands.  Off in the distance, those hills are all in the Castle in the Clouds property, which is also managed by LRCT.  The left-most peak which is just slightly to the left of my bow is Mount Roberts that my eldest son and I climbed on Monday.  Someday I'm going to climb all of the peaks in the Castle in the Clouds area.  I'll try to knock out one or two per summer.

Around each of the islands, there are several small inlets like this where the water is still and decorated with lilies and other flowers, and the air seems alive with dragonflies and birds chirping in the trees.

I continue to be amazed at the divine perfection and symmetry in these white lily flowers.

I love the way this family decorated their boat dock to make the end pilings look like the lake buoys.  Our family loves to take our boat over to a certain cove on the north western side of Cow Island, anchor out, have picnics, and go swimming.  This was the first time I've seen the eastern side of Cow Island, and I was surprised how many more houses there are on that side.  I would have thought people would want to build their houses on the west side in order to have shade from the bright morning sun and in order to be able to enjoy the spectacular sunsets over Lake Winnipesaukee.  I'm curious why there are so many more houses on the east side of Cow Island.

As I rounded the southern end of Cow Island, the broad area of Lake Winnipesaukee opened before me and I had this wonderful view of Rattlesnake Island (on the left) and the Belknap peaks (on the right).

I wrote a previous post about visiting Ragged Island with my boys.  There's an excellent multi-stage geocache on that island - one of my favorites, actually.  I didn't actually get out on Ragged Island this time around, but for those of you who are considering a trip to Ragged Island using the LRCT paddle map, I hope this post provides you some idea what to expect on the water.  You can click on the link to the previous post to see what it's like actually walking around Ragged Island.

The LRCT Paddle Map was very useful to me.  Yes, they are waterproof.  Yes, I put mine in a waterproof map case anyway to try and protect it from getting torn or wrinkled or otherwise damaged.  I found it pretty useful to have on the deck in front of me as I paddled around Cow Island to figure out which were inlets and which passages actually went through between the islands.

Paddle Log #36 trip stats:  7.6 miles, 2 hours 44 minutes, 2.8 mph average speed

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Paddle Log #36: Squam Lake NH with LRCT

Now that we're back from our summer vacation in New Hampshire, I feel safe posting about our activities without broadcasting that our home was vacant.  We had a glorious two weeks up in NH.

The first opportunity we had to get out on the water was for the Lakes Region Conservation Trust's (LRCT) guided paddling excursion on Squam Lake.  I was glad the timing worked out for us to go on this one again.  We went on their first guided paddle on Squam Lake back in 2010 (see Paddle Log #20).

This time only my elder son opted to go with me.  It was pretty darn cold when we left the house.  The car temperature indicated 50F.  Brrr!  By the time we got in the water it had warmed up to about 60F, and it steadily warmed up to the low 70s while we were out on the water.

There were dozens of lily pads and beautiful white lily flowers along the way. 

We spotted a couple of water moccasins sunning themselves on the rocks on our way out, and we spotted a few loons along the way, too.

One loon dove under the water on our left, and we watched him swim through the crystal clear water under all of our kayaks and pop up over on our right side.  (The picture above is him popping up on our right.)

This was our guide, Dave, telling us about one of the LRCT projects going on at Squam Lake. Yes, he's facing backwards and has a wake coming off his bow moving forward.  He's that good.  :-)

We took a similar route to our 2010 trip and enjoyed the view of East Rattlesnake and the five-fingers peninsula (above).

Trip stats at the end and my son's victory "I-made-it" pose.  4.26 miles, 2 hours 31 minutes elapsed.  Like last time, we stopped for an excellent lunch at Walter's Basin in Holderness, NH on our way back.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

DC Car Free Day!

Hey folks, if you are in the DC area, Car Free Day is Monday, 22 September.  If you go to the website and pledge not to use your car that day, you could win a Kindle Fire or other prizes.  Even if you don't normally use your car to commute to work, you can still pledge to go car free that day.

Also, I know it's been a while since I posted about this before.  I've met a few people recently who were new to the DC area and were not aware of the Guaranteed Ride Home program.

In order to encourage people to use public transit in the DC area, you can register for the Guaranteed Ride Home.  If you have some sort of a family emergency an you need to go home during the middle of the day, they will pay your cab fare to go home up to 4 times per year.

I used it.  It works.  One day, one of my kids was sick at school and needed to be picked up and my wife was out of the area.  I called the Guaranteed Ride Home program and there was a taxi at my doorstep within 10 minutes.  It drove me from Crystal City all the way home to Ashburn and I signed a slip for the $70 cab fare and didn't pay a dime.

It's FREE!  If you live in the DC area and use public transit to get to work, SIGN UP!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Paddle Log #32 and 35 - Keep Loudoun Beautiful Potomac River Cleanup

It occurs to me that I never posted about last year's Keep Loudoun Beautiful cleanup event on the Potomac River, and here it is time for me to write about this year's cleanup.  So this post is a dual paddle log entry for both excursions.

Last year (2013) all geared-up and ready to go

Each summer, Keep Loudoun Beautiful hosts a couple of cleanup events on the local waterways.  The great guys at River and Trail Outfitters provide the canoes, paddles, and PFDs, and KLB provides trash bags, recycle bags, and long-arm grabbing tools.

2014 Washington Post photo by Lisa Bolton

They always have more people interested than they have boats, so you have to sign up in advance.  They won't even tell you where they're going to get in the water or get out of the water until you are a registered participant.  They don't want a lot of extra people showing up to participate and not have boats for them to use.

Safety brief before boarding the bus.

Our guide telling us some history of the river and reminding 
us of some safety rules before heading out. (2013)

Although KLB provided pizza at the take-out both years now, it's important to bring some snacks (or lunch) along.  Both times, we've met up at the take-out location at 8:30 a.m., turned in our liability waiver forms, had a safety brief from the River and Trail Outfitter guides, and boarded River and Trail Outfitter buses that take us up stream to the put-in location.  By the time we get up there and get in the water, it's about 10:30 a.m., and both times it has taken about 4 hours to get down to the take-out.  After arriving about 2:30 p.m., there's another 30 minutes or so of work unloading the trash from the canoes into the dumpsters, so it's 3 p.m. by the time you're getting in the car to go home. 

It's a beautiful stretch of the Potomac River here in Loudoun County.  Both times, we had beautiful days on the water and saw bald eagles, great blue herons, fish, and dragonflies.

My youngest son passing a can back for the recycle bag.

Last year, we were picking up every piece of trash we found as soon as we got on the water.  An hour later, we were only 1 mile into our 7 mile journey, and I said, "Alright boys, we're done picking up trash for today.  If we keep this pace, we won't make it home for dinner."  We just paddled onward to the takeout point.

This year, the guide said in previous years they get a lot of the trash at the upper stretch of the river, then everyone gets tired and just starts paddling for home.  So this year, he asked us not to pick up trash in the first mile so that we could focus some of our attention on the later miles of the trip.  We did.  It worked out well, but again, there came a point where we said "enough" because our canoes were pretty full and because we needed to paddle onward to the take-out point.

2014 Washington Post photo by Lisa Bolton

It amazes me how many tires we find in the river.  This year, we set a new KLB record for the number of tires pulled out of the river on a cleanup event - 90 tires!  The bin in the picture above was empty when we started.

We pulled 45 bags of recyclable material out of the river this year, plus filled up a 8 cubic yard dumpster with trash.

My silly boys describing this foreign concept 
of "land" after being on the water for so long.

Overall, the KLB cleanup events are a great way to get out on the water for the day, experience the beauty of the Potomac River, and provide a service to our community cleaning up the trash and preserving the beauty of the river.  Both years now, I have enjoyed the day with my boys on the river, and I hope we'll be able to do it again next summer, too.

If you're interested, please visit the Keep Loudoun Beautiful website.  Of note, they recently lost their funding from Loudoun County due to budget-crunch and belt-tightening, so they're relying on donations to keep them in operation.

GPS Stats:
Paddle Log #32:  7.1 miles, 3 hours 59 min, average speed 1.8 mph
Paddle Log #35:  6.9 miles, 3 hours 48 min, average speed 1.8 mph

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Shenandoah Nat'l Park Hike - Hawksbill Peak

I'm slowly working my way through the hikes in this book, Best Easy Day Hikes Shenandoah National Park, 4th (Best Easy Day Hikes Series).

Hawksbill Peak is the highest point in Shenandoah National Park at 4,049 feet, and it's been on my to-do list for a few years now.  It's a fairly short loop hike (a little over 3 miles), totally doable for kids, and has spectacular views at the top.  I organized this as a group event for my church and it turned out really well.

Lesson learned the hard way:  There are TWO trail heads from the parking area.  

This was supposed to be a counter-clockwise loop that would go up slowly over about two miles, then come down a shorter, steeper route to the parking lot. 

Well, I got us on the wrong trail head and ended up going UP the short, steep route to the top, but then we had a nice leisurely hike back to the parking lot following the path clockwise instead.  As a result, here's what our altitude profile looked like:

One of my sons went charging up the hill and wasn't phased at all by the steepness.  The other moaned and groaned and I wasn't sure I was going to get him to the top without dragging him, but after a lot of cajoling him and distracting him with conversation we made it to the top.  When we got to the top and he looked out at the view of the Shenandoah Valley, he said, "THAT was worth it!"

My boys on top of Hawksbill Peak

Blunoz & Sons on top of Hawksbill

It was a gorgeous day!  Mid 70s and a light breeze was blowing.  We packed our lunches to bring with us, so we sat and enjoyed lunch there at the top with the splendor of the Shenandoah Valley before us.

Most of the trail is under the shade of trees.  (Picture by Jason R.)

The trails are well-marked with blazes on the trees.

Of course, I had to stop and admire the flowers along the way.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Paddle Log #34 - Potomac River from Point of Rocks to Monocacy

After waiting so long to get out on the water for the first time this season, I managed to get out on the water TWO weekends in a row!  Cha-ching!  Cha-ching!

Saturday morning, my friend Bill called up and asked what I was doing that day and if I wanted to go kayaking.  Heck ya!  We got a bit of a late start since we didn't leave until after lunch, but it was really nice out.

Point of Rocks boat ramp with the bridge in the background

We dropped our boats off at Point of Rocks (on the Maryland side of the Potomac River where Route 15 crosses the river), went and dropped one car off at Monocacy, and went back to get in the water.  It was a spectacular, gorgeous, sunny but not too hot day outside.  The boat ramp at Point of Rocks was fairly busy and the parking lot pretty full, but there were some open spots. 

Let the watergun battles begin!

Bill and his two kids and me and my boys brought our water guns along this time.  Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my waterproof camera, so there aren't many action shots to share.  I just have the pictures I took when I felt brave enough to take my cell phone out of its waterproof case.

His first time paddling solo!  I love how this picture turned out.

This was my 10-year old son's first time out solo in a kayak instead of riding tandem with me, and he did a great job.  Most of the day, he was way out in front of us and I was having to paddle pretty hard to keep up with him. 

Family Selfie

My 13-year old son has outgrown his Perception Acadia Scout, which is a kayak designed for small children, so his younger brother used the Scout while he tried a loaner Old Town Loon to see how he liked it.  He seemed to handle it pretty well, although he's not sure he likes how open the cockpit was.

Air temp was low 80s and water temp was a glorious 79.9F.  Without paddling, the water moved us downstream at about 2 mph (for reference, this was a a gage height of 2.0 feet and a flow rate of 4,600 cfs at the Point of Rocks USGS station).  It's about 6 miles from Point of Rocks to Monocacy, so it would take about 3 hours if you just drifted and didn't do any paddling.

The water was never much deeper than about 5 feet using my paddle as a probe.  At one spot, we stopped to stretch our legs and play in the water a little bit where the water was about 2 feet deep and clear enough we could see the bottom.

As usual on the Potomac, we saw bald eagles, great blue herons, butterflies, dragonflies, and fish, but without my waterproof camera, there's no way I'd be quick enough to pull my cell phone camera out to take a picture of any of them.

For the last couple of miles, the boys were tired, so I hooked up a double-tow line and I did all the paddling pulling the two of them behind me.  I gave them each a waterproof pad of paper and a pen.  In the past, they've used them for drawing pictures, but this time they each wrote a story.  My older son's story was a very long epic about his younger brother that made his brother mad.  My younger son's story was along the lines of, "Fred the fish was a a fish who hated kittens.  One day he woke up and discovered he was a kitten, so he killed himself.  The End."  Isn't that sweet?  :-$  Where does he get this stuff???


It's hard to see where the Monocacy River joins the Potomac River from upstream.  In the picture above, the Monocacy River entrance is right smack in the middle of the picture.  As you approach it, the tall stacks of the power plant downstream on the Maryland side of the Potomac become visible.  If you see those smoke stacks, you need to be working your way over toward river left to get out.

We made it!

As you can see above, you won't be able to miss the Monocacy Aqueduct.  It's very easy to see and identify from the Potomac.

There's a parking lot with a nice boat ramp and a port-a-potty just upstream from the aqueduct on the right side.  Oh, and then there's the Rocky Point Creamery for some ice cream on your way driving back toward Point of Rocks!  :-9

Trip stats from the GPS

Stats for the paddle log:
  • Date: Saturday, 5 July 2014
  • Time In: 3:07 p.m.Got a late start, didn't head up there until after lunch
  • Time Out: 6:23 p.m.
  • Elapsed:  3 hrs 16 min (based on GPS)
  • Moving Time (GPS): 2 hours 20 min
  • Stopped Time (GPS):  56 min
  • Mileage (GPS): 6.65 miles
  • Sea State: 0
  • Winds: 0 kts
  • Air Temp:  81F
  • Water Temp: 79.9F
  • Current:  2 mph
  • Tides: N/A
  • Avg Moving Speed (GPS):  2.8 mph
  • Max Speed by (GPS):  5.9 mph
  • Rapids?  None. 
  • Hazards?  Not much.
  • Kit: My youngest son on his first solo time in his brother's Perception Acadia Scout.  My oldest son trying out a friend's Old Town Loon.  I was in our Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL.  Flop hat, NRS paddling gloves, short sleeve shirt, swim trunks, scuba booties (for the rubber sole and to keep sand / rocks out).
  • Configuration:
  • Route:  Put-in at the Point of Rocks boat ramp and paddled 6.5 miles downstream to Monocacy River.  Took a left and paddled briefly upstream on the Monocacy River underneath the Monocacy Aqueduct to the boat ramp take-out.  
  • Other comments (such as wildlife spotted): Bald eagles, Great Blue Herons, butterflies, dragonflies, fish.