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Riding the Towpath: A Natural vs. Man-Made Continuum


A note about COVID-19 and visiting parks: Help stop the spread of COVID-19 and follow all current directives from your governor and local health officials about wearing face masks and physical distancing.

I embarked on my first towpath ride on Saturday, July 29, planning to ride from Georgetown to Cumberland over a week’s time. This was not my first time going long-distance on the towpath, as I participated in the Sierra Club’s 50 mile walk from Washington, D.C. to Harpers Ferry, WV when I was a decade younger. But this was my first time traversing the miles by bike.

I was looking forward to this adventure as a time to reflect and commune with nature. Wanting to have a framework in which to couch my observations as I rode, I decided to observe the forms of ‘natural’ and ‘man-made’ within the Park. Using this simple, theoretical structure, I tried to describe my impressions of situations and scenes that I encountered and placed them on the continuum as either being more ‘natural’ or ‘man-made’ from my perspective.

Day 1, Sunday, August 29th:
Right outside of Georgetown, I pass a stoic, grey heron balanced seemingly on one leg, like a flamingo, atop a red, rusty muffler pipe protruding at an odd angle out of the murky soup. I was even more impressed when a passing cyclist told me he has repeatedly seen that bird in that exact same spot over the past few weeks. Is this a taxidermist’s trick meant to inspire the illusion of the natural world holding steadfastly on in the midst of negative changes to its environment? Did I see his solitary knee wobble?

During a detour on the Capital Crescent Trail, there were flowering vines hanging from the aqueduct above, arranged like flag bunting welcoming me into the natural world. I couldn’t imagine a better way to arrange those vines in my mind other than what had presumably occurred naturally.

There was a skilled kayaker at Little Falls Dam, cutting his way through the rapids with finesse and grace.

A kind and knowledgeable bike patroller, Tom, helped me remove and patch my rear bicycle tire and get me to a safe place for pick-up by my wife.

My lovely wife transported me to a nearby bicycle shop for a new inner tube and then returned me to the trail after sharing a delectable apple danish with me. It turns out that some bicycle inner tubes are not meant to handle weights in excess of 250 pounds. J. Miguel at the bicycle shop assured me these new inner tubes would serve my purpose. At this point I felt a little like the friend who accompanied Bill Bryson on the Appalachian Trail in A Walk in the Woods.

Settling in at Lockhouse 22 around mile marker 19.6 brought me peace and relaxation. It’s amazing how building a fire and eating something substantial can bolster morale, especially in the context of such a rustically beautiful and historic backdrop.

Continue reading this article, originally published by the C&O Canal Trust

Joe Schlag

Joe Schlag is a Speech Language Pathologist with Frederick County Public Schools where he works with PreK-8th grade students. In his spare time, he enjoys ice hockey, picking the mandolin, hiking with his dogs, and reading. In his younger days, he hiked 50 miles of the C&O Canal; next year, he hopes to tackle all 184.5 miles by bike.

November 19, 2018

Main image: Cycling the C&O Canal
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