Add my determination to finish the C&O Canal towpath this year. And a strong desire to play rather than do anything that might resemble chores or responsible activities and off I go to the towpath again, this time picking up at the west end of the Western MD Rail Trail at Sidling Hill, which is where I left off the last trip. Gotta say, this is the nicest section of the towpath that I've ridden. Much smoother than the sections around Harper's Ferry. My bike is a hybrid, which means that although it's got kevlar protected tires and trail bike style handlebars, the tires are high-pressure and the frame more ridged than a mountain bike, so I feel those roots and rocks. Sometimes makes my eyes jiggle until I think they are going to fall out...
Beautiful, very beautiful, from the starting point at mp 136.5 on.
Some of the sections of canal are wide and have varying levels of water in them, reminding me of swamps in the deep south - I kept expecting to see an alligator basking.
Because of the water, there's a lot of wildlife to be seen, some of it a bit of a surprise, like this mute swan. They are not indigenous to the U.S., having been brought from Europe as ornaments for lakes and ponds, and they've become a nuisance ins some areas, but they are still pretty to see.
It was hanging out with a lot of small wild ducks that I've tentatively identified as blue-winged teals. The more common mallards are so noisy and loud - I love the peeping of the smaller wild ducks.
Of course, there were the ubiquitous turtles sunning everywhere:
Some of the locals wouldn't hold still long enough for me to photograph, so I stole their pictures off the web to share. Zebra swallowtail butterflies and indigo buntings were abundant in places.
This section of the towpath pulls away from the river in quite a few places so that you have fields on one side and canal on the other. At one point I noticed that the locks were getting close together, which told me that I was probably on a slight up-grade and nearing the day's destination, Paw Paw Tunnel.
The 3100 foot long tunnel was finished in 1850 and allowed the canal to bypass about 7 miles of tightly twisting river. A flashlight is recommended - the towpath surface can be uneven and occasionally you splash into a pot hole full of cold water.
It's a bit disorienting as to distance, but eventually the light at the end of the tunnel starts getting closer.
And then you are out and a jog a little further takes you to the Paw Paw campground at mp 156. Lunch and a little rest, and it's time to start back.
The cool water outside the tunnel is full of minnows and frogs, and dragonflies are abundant, so these northern water snakes probably live very well there as long as people leave them alone.
So now to pedal back. That whole slight uphill coming makes for a long stretch of "Wheeeee!!!" heading back.
And there's still a lot to stop and enjoy.
There's only 30 more miles to the end for me. Next time I plan to stow an inner tube, towel, and change of clothes in the SUV for after-ride fun. These folks were making me jealous. It was HOT!
I had a little bit of time still, so I stopped at another old fossil picking site. This one was a bit disappointing. It's a couple of abandoned quarries side by side, one for limestone and one for glass sand. The trees have grown up so much and the cliff face eroded so badly that a quick look didn't show much. And I wasn't going to do any serious climbing or picking around in the brush without having boots and jeans on.
So home again, satisfied with doing nearly 40 miles. About half way home my butt stopped feeling like it was on fire. And since it's summer the application of deck and beer constitutes emergency first aid after a busy day.