On our hike today the weather was clear and cool and the foliage was turning colors. But the big celebration was for our newest official
K9Trailblazers hike leaders: Diva, our mascot Corgi, whose cheerful presence is welcome on any hike; and Alice, one of our most enthusiastic
and frequent participants. Alice successfully completed PATC Hike Leadership Training, and today co-led her third K9TB hike! In
recognition of her accomplishments, and with gratitude for her assistance, Pat crowned Alice with an official K9Trailblazers "leader's
cap" at the trailhead. Then Alice and Diva led us at a very respectable pace up, over, around and through the remaining obstructions
on the trails and back along the C&O towpath to the parking area, where Jeff presented homemade cupcakes frosted in chocolate and sprinkled with
colorful little doggie bones. Cindy, who couldn't make the hike, drove all the way from Baltimore to congratulate Alice, who was completely
surprised and a delight to watch as she began to comprehend just how much we all appreciate her!
Our hike began, as always, with food (Blue Dog Biscuits and Alice's Milky Way bars today) and introductions. Jeff, and Pat with Mickey joined Alice as co-leaders. It was good to have Jeanne with Tanka back on the trails with us. And we welcomed regulars Sarah and Eric with Toby and Poppy (and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups to share); Karen with Loki; Joe with Hunter; and newcomer Virginia, who came dogless and not only performed "Honorary Auntie" duties with zest, she served as club naturalist as well! We distributed maps and discussed the many difficulties expected on the trails (courtesy of Hurricane Isabel), which turned out to be mercifully fewer and less daunting than those encountered during the preview a week ago. Then everyone took center stage to introduce themselves and their dogs before we set off in the mud which actually made sucking sounds as we waded through it before reaching higher ground.
Our hike traversed the few miles of the C&O between Pennyfield and Violet's locks, two of the 74 locks on the nearly 185 mile-long canal used to ferry goods and people on barges between Georgetown and Cumberland, MD.. Even at it's start, the canal was in a race with the B&O railroad to open an efficient commerce route to the Ohio Valley. It subsequently lost that race and was bought up by it's iron horse rival after a flood in 1889 forced canal traffic to an 18th month halt. This hike made a nice compliment to our June hike in Patapsco Valley State Park, which ran along part of the original alignment for the the B&O railroad.
But on such a beautiful fall day our thoughts were less on
historical treasures, and more focused on the natural ones. As we hiked, Virginia found us some Paw Paw trees in season. The fruit
has a tough skin filled with a smooth custard pulp reminiscent of mango. Very tasty! We saw lines of geese overhead and some chipmunks and
squirrels on the ground. We had a good look at a couple of deer. And a Great Blue Heron was fishing in the canal. We first saw him standing
motionless and later skimming along just above the water. On one stretch of the towpath there were turtles on many logs, nearly invisible
until we got close and then suddenly they were everywhere as they dove into the canal. We also found a couple of abandoned vehicles from the
early- to mid-20th Century, and along the canal we looked for stone markers, and found one we had missed last year. We also found the rusty
sign directing people to contact Mr. Bond to get the key to a very rusty gate across an old road leading to water
treatment plant substations.
When we arrived at Violet's Lock we found portable toilets and a number of dogs and horses. We also encountered an increasing number of cyclists on the towpath as the day wore on. It also warmed up as the day wore on, so we wore less as we plodded on and on and on. There was a small moment of big excitement when we were all able to agree that THOSE rocks are the ones on which we sat at Blockhouse Point. Last year we were confused, but this year different folks noted differing natural landmarks from the top and when we put them together at the bottom we agreed we had indeed located the point. It felt good!
Our return took us past the remains of the Pennyfield House which was a favorite fishing retreat for President Grover Cleveland. Although we didn't do any fishing on the hike, we all certainly shared the former president's sentiments. This section of the C&O canal is a favorite hike of ours for escaping the distractions of every day life into a unique world where natural beauty and American history both come alive.
(click on images for larger pictures)