I've been spending a lot of time on exercycles this winter, either at the local health club or in the exercise rooms at hotels. It seems like there ought to be some more useful output of those things than just my sweat and warming up the room - both of which cause energy use for someone to clean up the sweat and for some AC unit to cool the room. If those machines were connected to the power grid, I could probably cut my electric bills a bit or at least be able to claim some kind of green credits somewhere. After all, if I'm going to spend 45 minutes pedaling and end up exactly where I started I'd like to be able to pretend I'm sweating locally to do something or other globally.
On an exercycle I can read magazines or watch TV to fight boredom, but new technology is starting to address that. My local health club has put in 3 Expresso exercycles that have computer generated screens and varied resistance that goes with the different courses on the screen. They also give you a power output reading, along with the usual heart rate reading. It is very cool to see watts against heart rate and against my feeling of wimpiness - watts don't lie. Minute for minute, pedaling in circles on the Expresso bike is usually much more strenuous than on the older stationary bikes. Plus the Expresso web site lets you see your last 10 workouts (if you log in to the machine), though they do try to charge you $10/month to see all your workouts and be able to ride on some courses that that are limited to paying members.
The Expresso web site shows average speed, heartrate and power output but not any detailed minute by minute information. Just for grins I wore my Garmin Forerunner Dick Tracy wristwatch/GPS/heart rate monitor thingie - the heart rate plot to the left is a 29 minute hilly ride where I averaged about 185 watts. One annoying Garmin feature is everything they do is proprietary, so the Garmin heart strap isn't readable by any of the exercycles so it didn't read out on the exercycle screen as I was pedaling. But anyway, looks like it took me about 7 minutes to get my heartrate over 120 I stayed in that zone the rest of the ride. Definitely better exercise than one of the standard exercycles but still well below the heart rates I hit in spinning classes.
Let's see: 185 watts times 1/2 hour = .092 kilowatt-hours. At my BGE rate of about 16 cents per kWh, I could have reduced my electric bill by about 1.4 cents. If I did that 5 times a week, that would be almost $3.50 per year, would pay for about 3 days of health club membership - or maybe feed Sally Struthers for an entire month?
Continuing on our quest to only do one car hikes, Carl and I revisited a favorite: a loop that starts at Harper's Ferry National Park in West Virginia. We started at the parking lot at the entrance off of Rt 340 and dutifully paid the $6 self service parking fee. The forecast was for a severe wind warning, with gusts of up to 79 mph trumpeted. But we are men, real men - neither wind, nor rain nor looming locusts would deter us, unless Starbucks was closed.
This hike starts out on the Appalachian trail, heading south out of Harper's Ferry on the Appalachian trail, which first crosses the Shenandoah River on the Rt. 340 bridge and then climbs directly up Loudon Heights. We were sheltered on the climb but once we crested the ridge the red flag wind conditions kicked in for a bit:
That's me, doing the penguin dance and proving that it did turn out to be a windy day!
There is then a very pleasant section along the Loudon Heights ridge with periodic viewpoints of the Potomac River and Harper's Ferry below. This is followed by a steep set of switchbacks to get back down to river level, with barbed wire encrusted signs encouraging you to stay on the switchbacks. I have no idea what the barbed wire is for - maybe bears have been eating the signs? If you hike this area frequently, you know the real reason to stay on the trail is to avoid the rampant poison ivy.
The most annoying part of this hike has been that once you reach river level you have a 1 mile walk on the shoulder of 340 but there is now a blue-blazed trail that cuts that in half by taking a scrubby detour through the wooded section next to the grubby parking lot where the kettle korn vendors hang out in warmer days. From there it is an easier hike over yet another Rt. 340 bridge over to the Sandy Hook side and then a scramble downhill to the C&O Canal. The winds really began to howl at this point, as they seemed to funnel down the river valley and really get ferocious. A freight train came through just before we reached the railroad bridge for yet another bridge walk. A quick stroll through Harper's Ferry and we were back at my truck.
A very nice 7 mile loop, Googleatronic map below and some more trip details here where average winds of 21 mph were reported.
I moved to the Washington DC area in 1978 and started working downtown in 1980 - the same year that the "Awakening" sculpture was installed on Hains Point. For over 25 years I've cycled and kayaked and walked past that impressive piece, but now it is gone - moved to its new home at the new National Harbor development. My company is having a conference there in June, so I guess I will say hello then and maybe bring it a housewarming present. At its age it might welcome being admired at a distance by conference-goers, vs. being climbed all over by kids and touched by tourists, but I kind of doubt it.
A video of it being dug up and loaded for transport is here.
The air temperature was predicted to top out at about 42 degrees in the Washington DC area, and the water temperature in the Potomac was about 38 degrees - perfect weather for kayaking. The alternative was doing some Harry Homeowner chores and those could obviously wait. It seemed to make much more sense to put my investment in kayaking gear to use, rather than actually accomplish anything useful. Also, as you can see, I cut such a dashing figure in my sorta dry suit that I do look for excuses to wear it now and then.
There hadn't been any CPA rumblings of group trips and this was a last minute decision, so I headed alone down to Columbia Island Marina where I had paddled with Cyndi, Dave and Marshall back in January. I told my wife where I'd be and when I should be off the water, donned my thermal underwear and UnderArmour top, and commenced to throw drysuit, gloves, boots, hat, change of clothes, pump, paddle float, PFD, spray skirt, kitchen sink, paddle, GPS, water, sextant, spare gloves, camera, 8 x 10 color glossies with pictures and arrows on the back and all kinds of other stuff into the truck and headed on my way. Then I turned around and went home and actually put the kayak on the truck, too.
I was unloading the boat when just by chance it turned out that Cyndi, Dave and Todd pulled in to go paddling. They invited me to join them, so we had a varied array of boats and gear: Cyndi in her dayglo Nemo, Dave with his greenland paddle, Todd with his Inuit (or Cyrillic) inscribed kayak and me with my caution yella Capella. As we were heading out of the marina over the Potomac, we ran across the Washington Canoe folks preparing to move their docks back up to their boathouse on the Potomac in Georgetown - a sure sign the river will shortly ice up completely.
We decided to head downstream, go around Hains Point and up the Washington Channel. There was very little activity on the river, just a lone rower over by National Airport, but there were scads of people out at Hains Point. There had been an article in the Washington Post about the moving of the Awakening statue to the new National Harbor development but it is still there - turns out they will move it during the coming week. We saw a bald eagle high in a tree on the Fort McNair side and lots of gulls were working the tourists on Hains Point and at the Maine Avenue seafood places for handouts.
We paddled up to the end of the channel where steel gates keep you out of the tidal basin, and where a bunch of night herons were hanging out in a tree. We paddled back along the Ft. Mcnair side on the way back, trying to pick out yachts for Todd to buy as a kayaking mother ship once he retires. I was amazed to see video cameras on street lamp poles every 100 feet or so along the Ft. McNair seawall, doing a fine job of keeping those amphibious terrorists from attacking the Women's Titanic Memorial. Three military helicopters buzzed a few feet over us, with one pilot waving at us and another tilting sideways as he flew over us - that was pretty cool, but the bald eagle just snorted in disgust and turned his head away from their antics.
We ran into one other kayaker as we arrived back at the marina but it was a quiet, spectacular day on the Potomac. About 9 miles total, Googleized map below, some other maps and views here.
Think about February and all kinds of interesting things come to mind: Groundhog Day. Valentines Day. President's Day. John's Birthday. Charles Dickens Day. Kayaking Day typically isn't one of them, not even as global warming tries to make February the new June in the Mid-Atlantic. However, Marshall Woodruff organizes four or five paddles each year around Eastern Neck Island near Rock Hall on Maryland's Eastern Shore and he doesn't let vagaries like rain. sleet, snow, wind, frigid water, or upside down spray skirts deter him from his appointed trips 'round the Island. So, Saturday February 2nd was designated EN-1-08 in Marshall-ese.
Global Warming and The Coming Ice Age duked it out the week before but the day of the paddle the score was GW 1, TCIA 0: forecast was for a high of 52, winds 10-15 kts out of the west, dropping to 5kts out of the south by the end of the day. Water temperatures were a tad chilly - 38 degrees! When I left my house the air temperature was 30 degrees and their was a skim of ice in spots and a slight overcast - I wasn't so sure about the 52 degree part anymore. In the interest of reducing our carbon footprint and fighting GW, I picked up Annette at the Baltimore Annapolis Rail Trail parking lot at Rt 2/450 and Rt. 50. We made the obligatory female passenger restroom stop at the nearby WaWa, where I picked up one of my favorite WaWa pretzels in a bag to augment the trail mix and grapes I'd brought for lunch. Marshall had orignally talked about launching from the put in behind Holly's Restaurant on Kent Island. That would have saved about 50 miles of driving but requires about a 2 mile open crossing to Eastern Neck. Given the water temperature, Marshall made safe decision and kept the start at Bogle's Wharf on the Island, so we just waved at Holly's as we drove by.
Annette doesn't have her own kayak yet and was borrowing Marshall's fold-up/pop-up kayak that Marshall was carrying for her, so we chatted about kayaks and racing and the state of the world as we drove the remaining 60 miles to Eastern Neck. As we crossed over the Bay Bridge, it looked like perfect conditions for paddling - just a slight chop on the Bay, skies clearing, great visibility. Marshall had originally talked about starting from the launch area behind
We reached Bogle's Wharf at about 0900 and everyone began the laborious process of putting on underlayers, dry suits, gloves, hats/hoods/skullies, etc. and waddling over to the kayaks. We headed out at about 10 am but Marshall had some sprayskirt problems and had to go back and switch to an old skirt that appeared to have been gnawed on by muskrats or otters - or maybe Punxatawney Phil. There was a bit of a breeze and some chop as we started south down the Chester River. There were a total of 10 paddlers - Team Yellow Kayak duked it out with Team Blue as the most popular, with Red slightly behind.
As we paddled the kayakers spread out and periodically we would stop and regroup and through out the day this lead to an odd trend of many periods of everyone sitting around in their kayaks with their paddles out of the water looking at each other. I enjoy both leisurely paddling and high speed paddling but I do prefer paddling over floating. But we always started moving forward again, and at about the 5 mile mark we stopped for lunch on a beach behind some rip-rap. Behind the beach was a pond where a few hundred geese had hunkered down and they took off with much flapping and honking as we landed. They left behind a few eagles and a few swans that we ogled as we ate lunch and chatted away. The overcast was starting to burn off and it was turning into a beautiful day on the water.
I was wearing some lightweight thermal pants and a Under Armor compression top under my drysuit, along with a fleece skullcap. That all felt about right but my hands were feeling the effect of the 38 degree water. I had started out wearing my SealSkinz gloves, which were watertight enough but not warm enough. I was also carrying some Warmers gloves - those over the SealSkinz turned out to do the trick, once I figured out not to cinch down the wrist strap on the Warmers and actually let some blood flow to my hands. The Sealskinz had been fine on the 40+ degree water on the Potomac but I should get some heavier duty gloves in the future.
The wind died down while we were on the beach and when we made the turn around the island to be on the open Bay, the water got calmer and calmer - the opposite of what usually happens. From there we paddled pretty steadily until we went under the bridge, where we had another spell of floating until the group will drove the paddles to start moving again. We got back to the launch point and about 2:15pm and began the laborious process of taking off underlayers, dry suits, gloves, hats/hoods/skullies, etc. It reminds me of watching your kids come back in from playing out in the snow...
I had to get back by 5pm so I didn't join everyone for coffee in Rock Hall and Annette carpooled back with Todd. On the way back, the bank thermometer in Rock Hall said 48 degrees, so it never quite broke the 50 dgree mark. As usual with Marshall's trips, a good time was had by all and I really appreciate the opportunity to be out on the water with a fun group in February.
It is interesting how $3/gallon gas makes you think. Back in the 70s, when the Arab oil embargo gave us the first taste of $1/gallon gas (the equivalent of $3 today), the US lowered the highway speed limit, passed strong fuel economy standards and started building loads of bicycle paths to promote alternatives to driving. This time as the price of gas has doubled the US government seems to pretty much be just fiddling, so we have to take things into our own hands. Since hiking the Appalachian Trail usually involves close to 200 miles of roundtrip driving (with two cars if we want to avoid out and back hikes), Carl and I have been focusing on longer loop hikes in the Patapsco River watershed that cut down on the driving and that carbon footprint.
The first area we tried was starting from the town of Oella, between the Avalon and Hollofield areas of Patapsco State Park. Oella is a cool old mill town that has all you really need in life: a non-Starbucks coffee shop, the Trolley Line paved rail trail (only two miles long), lots of old stone houses, views of the Patapsco River, and a lot of paths through the woods and along the river. Plus it is a short walk to historic (tm) Ellicott City with all kinds of other stuff to do and see.
We parked on the western side of the river and hiked along the river heading upstream for short bit until the terrain forced us up to the railroad tracks. In about 2.5 miles you reach the trails coming down from the Hollofield area and you reach Union Dam and the tunnel that goes through the ridge that Rt. 40 goes over. The Union Dam was built to supply water to the mills at Oella, and we would take advantage of this on the way back. I've walked through the tunnel years ago, but it is actually an active rail line and being older and more responsible we hiked around the tunnel along the river. There was still lots of snow on the ground and a good deal of ice in the shade.
At about the 4 mile mark, after having to get off the tracks to let a freight train go by, we reached Daniels and the old metal bridge that took us over the river and onto a path that headed back downstream now on the opposite side of the river. This path is not maintained but is fairly easy to follow - there were a lot of blowdowns and thistles to navigate through or around. As we hiked on that side of the river, two more looong freight trains went by on the tracks - a busy day for the old main line. This section is not tremendously scenic, but once we got back to Rt. 40 and the Union Dam it began to get interesting. Back in the day, the dam diverted water down a 2 mile long race (essentially a canal) to power the mills at Oella. To make this work they had to build a berm or wall to hold the water and the top of that berm is still mostly intact and is used as a hiking and mountain biking path. To your right is the river, to you left are the wooded hills - really scenic.
As you near Oella, you pass a number of footbridges that connect to trails that lead uphill. The Millrace trail ends in the yard of a beautiful house and you take a foot bridge to a short path around the house. Another quarter of a mile and you reach the old mill, which is now slowly being turned into condominiums. From there it is about a 1/2 mile walk on the road back to Old Frederick Road and that coffee shop/bakery. Many old stone houses, intermingled with newer architectural styles - an interesting area to walk through even if you never get on the trail. You can actually put together a four mile road loop by going up the Trolley Line rail trail and then circling back on the roads through Oella.
Ended up as about a 9 mile round trip, Googleatized map below:
This past week we tried to put together some loop trails downstream from Oella at Ilchester. First we tried starting at a unmaintained trail that ends at River Road. It basically follows the clearing made for a fiber optic line, but it runs smack into private property at a cattle farm. Without trespassing through the cow pies there was no way to get from there into the Patapsco park trail system. So, we circled back and went downstream a bit to Ilchester, where is now a footbridge that crosses the Patapsco, enabling a loop hike from Ilchester over the footbridge, up the paved trail to the swinging bridge, then back on the southern side of the river where River Road was wiped out by Hurricane Agnes back in 1972. About a 2.5 mile loop, not tremendously exciting but a nice tour de bridges. The ruins of the old St. Mary's school used to be at the top of the hill where you come out, but it is gone now. Some photos: