C&O: Carderock to Georgetown

On August 31, 2017 · 2 Comments

I ride my bike most weekends and I like to switch-up the route whenever possible. Sometimes I complete a circuit. Other times I’ll go for an out-and-back. When I do that I enjoy playing a little game I call "how far can I get in an hour." We’re blessed with an abundance of well-maintained, scenic trails and I can make it a pretty far. One route takes me from my home in Arlington across the Potomac River into Washington, DC, and then straight up the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal trail. Usually I don’t cover as much ground on this trail because the crushed gravel surface slows me down. Also I have to take my hybrid instead of my road bike for better traction. I still enjoy the challenge though.

For months, I’ve been telling myself I should slow down and enjoy some of the scenic and historic sites along the C&O. On Sunday I finally decided to do that, although the notion didn’t come to mind until I almost finished the hour. So I did a fast hour out, with a much slower return, stopping frequently for photos. I became the stereotypical tourist in my own backyard.

Someday I will ride all 185 miles of the C&O Canal trail from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, DC. I’ve done stretches of it including the DC-area portion dozens of times. Until that day comes, however, I can now say I’ve recorded a small part of it. This accounting shouldn’t be confused with a trail guide though. A really good one already exists. Instead, I present a few things that I liked as I completed my return. Readers can click the arrows on the side of each photo to see additional images in the series.

Carderock; Mile 11.8


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

Why did I stop and turn around at Mile 11.8? Because I looked at my watch and I’d finished the hour. I’m very precise like that. I needed to head back home. Actually I made it about halfway between Carderock and Great Falls (map) if I want to get technical about it. Whatever. The Carderock Recreation Area featured all sorts of outdoor activities, not just biking. Lots of people hiked its well-known Billy Goat Trail on the rough stony banks of the Potomac River. Others climbed its cliffs, some of the most easily accessible rock walls in the DC area.


Original Mile Marker; Mile 9.0


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

The geo-geek in me loved the marker at Mile 9.0, an historical artifact dating back to the operational days of the canal. Construction began in 1828 and builders didn’t finish it until 1850, although some sections started serving commercial traffic before that. However, railroads competed with the canal even before workers finished digging it. Floods devastated it several times too. The whole enterprise finally ended, abandoned, after the Flood of 1924.

That mile marker (map) stood sentinel all that time, passed by innumerable mule boats filled with cargo, and then into the present era. It read "9 miles to W.C." Presumably that referenced Washington City and not the nearest toilet facility. It took a boat pulled by a mule about a week to cover the entire length of the canal so this marker meant two or three more hours to go.


Sycamore Island; Mile 6.5


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

Sycamore Island always intrigued me as I passed it on earlier rides. A private club owned the island, as it had since 1885, and tightly controlled access to it. Members took their own hand-pulled ferry across the narrow channel from the C&O trail towpath to the island. They rang a little bell when they wanted to cross and the permanent caretaker headed to the boat to pull it across. Only the caretaker lived on the island full-time.

The club didn’t offer a lot of amenities by design. Members could take canoes out on the water, enjoy the island’s natural setting, fish, swim, chat with other members, read books, or simply relax. It offered a little oasis of solitude in an otherwise complicated world. Lots of people seemed to want that opportunity, too. Applications were accepted only "between January 1 and March 31st on even-numbered calendar years." Even after that, by all accounts, it could take years for a prospective member to finally get to the top of the waiting list.


Lockhouse 6; Mile 5.4


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

Locks required manual labor to open and close. However, miles of the canal crossed wilderness and few people lived nearby. Lock tenders couldn’t commute to their jobs from nearby towns. The canal company had to build homes for their employees on site. Many of these original lock houses survived and a few can be rented for overnight accommodations. The C&O Canal Trust restored Lockhouse 6, 10, 22, 25, 28 and 49 for that purpose, with each reflecting a different historical period. Lockhouse 6 (map), pictured above, represented the 1950’s when people finally started to think about preserving the canal. Lockhouse 6 was one of the few for rent with electricity, running water and heat.


River View; Mile 4.5


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

I’d seen a little stub trail leading from the towpath somewhere around Mile 4.5 on several occasions. Kayakers seemed to portage to it from a nearby parking lot so I knew it lead to the river. I had a little time on my return trip so I followed the stub to its conclusion (map). It led to what looked like a parking area (clearly visible on satellite), which seemed odd because I couldn’t imagine a car ever driving down the towpath to get to the stub. Maybe it provided a way for emergency vehicles to access the river or something. People sometimes did get into trouble on this turbulent stretch of water. I don’t know. The terminus also included a viewing platform with some great scenery just upriver from Chain Bridge. Barely within the borders of the District of Columbia, it felt a world away from the rest of the city.


Georgetown; Mile 1.0


C&O Canal: Georgetown to Carderock

I rather enjoyed the final slow meander towards home. Soon, way too soon, I arrived at Georgetown where I had to leave the C&O a mile before it ended (map). There I had to cross Key Bridge once again and head back into Arlington.

Cavalier

On August 27, 2017 · 0 Comments

This article came courtesy of the infamous Unknown Random Reader who landed on the pages of Twelve Mile Circle from an interesting place. This time the town carried the name of Cavalier. I’ll get to that later. I wanted to start with a little context about why that resonated with me. Hearing the word Cavalier automatically grabbed my attention because I’m an alumnus of the University of Virginia. The university’s sports teams are called the Cavaliers (map). Simple enough.

Sports


UVA cav man
UVA cav man. Photo by Karen Blaha on Flickr (cc)

I liked the old UVa mascot, an actual human on a horse, that unfortunately doesn’t appear very often anymore. A fabric and foam monstrosity replaced it a number of years ago for most purposes. Oddly, I’d never delved into the adoption of this particular nickname though. I knew that the name had been applied to Royalists supporting Charles I during the English Civil War. One definition also equated to an indifferent or dismissive behavior, as in someone with a cavalier attitude. From an etymological standpoint it derived from Late Latin for horseman, Italian for mounted soldier and French for knight before its application to the Royalists in the English language.

Anyway, the association with UVa, as I learned, began in 1923. A student wrote a tune he called "The Cavalier Song." It won a contest sponsored by the school newspaper and the name stuck. Interestingly, in 1970 the Cleveland Cavaliers professional basketball team also got its name when someone won a contest.

What did any of this have to do with a geo-oddity? Absolutely nothing. Sometimes I get stuck on a tangent.


Cavalier Fortifications


Valletta: St John's Cavalier
Valletta: St John's Cavalier. Photo by James Stringer on Flickr (cc)

The same etymology led to the naming of a specific type of fortification. More accurately, a cavalier served as a fortification within a fortification. Generally, the cavalier rose higher than the rest of the fort. That allowed people in the cavalier to fire over the outer wall. Soldiers on the outer wall could also shoot so the layering increased overall firepower. On the other hand, a tower raised above the rest of the fort made a really nice target too. It seemed like a somewhat mixed effectiveness.

Noteworthy examples existed on the island of Malta, with the identical Saint John’s and Saint James Cavaliers. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a humanitarian religious order formed of laymen of the Roman Catholic Church constructed them. These arose in the wake of a failed Ottoman invasion known as the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. Currently SMOM uses Saint John’s cavalier as an embassy (map).


Cavalier County, North Dakota


20080801-US-NDK_DaveLisaWedding-073
Welcome to Langdon. Photo by Andrew Ross on Flickr (cc)

Now, finally, I got around to geography. I didn’t find a lot of Cavalier places although the biggest two both fell within North Dakota. There I discovered Cavalier County with its seat of local government in the town of Langdon (map). It split from neighboring Pembina County in 1873. The name came neither from a Royalist connection nor a fortification. Cavalier honored an early pioneer, Charles Cavileer. The party responsible, lost somewhere to history, misspelled his name. Then I looked up Charles Cavileer in the 1880 United States census. At the time he lived in the town of Pembina in Pembina County, Dakota Territory with his wife Isabella and several of his late-teen and adult children. He began his life in Ohio, with his father from Maryland and his mother from Pennsylvania. He served as the local postmaster.


Cavalier, North Dakota


Cavalier, North Dakota
Cavalier, North Dakota. Photo by Andrew Filer on Flickr (cc)

The unknown visitor, however, came from the town of Cavalier (map). The town wasn’t in Cavalier County, it was in Pembina. It also honored Charles Cavileer though. I found a couple of interesting places there.

First, the town hosted the Cavalier Air Force Station. Airmen assigned there, with the 10th Space Warning Squadron, watched over "the world’s most capable phased-array radar system." They kept their eyes open for incoming missiles and they tracked earth-orbiting objects. It didn’t look like a huge military presence although it provided vital early warning to the nation.

Second, Icelandic State Park fell within its borders. I mentioned Icelandic Diaspora in a 12MC article several years ago. I enjoyed the chance to become reacquainted with this little sliver of Iceland on the prairie.

Totally Eclipsed

On August 23, 2017 · 8 Comments

Can anyone stand one more eclipse story? I promise this one will be a little different than most. I drove a thousand miles for a 4-day weekend and, well… Mother Nature had different plans.

Lots of loyal Twelve Mile Circle readers asked me if I planned to see the August 21, 2017, total eclipse of the sun. I started getting emails from curious readers several months ago. Actually, I began planning for the event even before anyone asked. My brother lives in a suburb of Charleston, South Carolina. Exactly one year in advance, to the day, I sent him a message requesting a place to stay. Of course he hadn’t heard anything about the eclipse at that point. Almost nobody had. Nonetheless, I wanted to stake out my prime viewing spot before anyone else could claim it. The year passed a lot quicker than I expected and soon we found ourselves heading down to Charleston.

The Drive Down



I way overthought the logistics as I always do, and as my nature often compels me. How would we survive Interstate 95, one of the most traffic-clogged roads on a good day, when hundreds of thousands of people had the same thought? I guessed maybe fewer drivers would begin their journey early Saturday morning, two days before the eclipse. We left the Washington, DC area at 5:30 am, hoping that my prediction might hold true. However, traffic coming out of DC seemed heavier than usual. It continued to build as we passed Fredericksburg and pushed forward towards Richmond. I definitely feared the worst. If traffic looked this bad even before sunrise, what would it look like when everyone woke up and started heading towards the eclipse’s path of totality?

Unexpectedly, conditions improved after we left Richmond. In retrospect, I figured they must have been heading to the beaches of Virginia and North Carolina. This wasn’t eclipse traffic, this was normal beach traffic, of people with Saturday-to-Saturday cottage rentals. We experienced nothing but smooth sailing for the rest of the drive. Honestly the easiest driving happened in South Carolina. The route seemed downright relaxing compared to the initial leg. We arrived at our destination in 7.5 hours, with an average speed (including stops) of about 65 miles per hour (105 kilometres per hour). No delays. None.

I guessed correctly. Others, however, did not. My wife’s friend left from New Jersey later in the day. She made it only as far as Fayetteville, North Carolina until being forced by fatigue to stop overnight. It took her 15 hours.


Hanging Out


Rusty Bull Brewing Co.

We also got plenty of time to hang out with family, another benefit of arriving two days early. This trip would be a little different. We would avoid the usual tourist sites of Charleston. I didn’t want to be anywhere near the crowds. Our older son enjoyed spending time in a quiet corner of his temporary bedroom playing interactive Internet games with his friends back home in Virginia. Our younger son got some quality time with his cousin, including a trip to the local trampoline park. My sister-in-law definitely took one for the team as she shepherded them during that adventure.

The rest of us visited as many local breweries as we could. Over the course of two days we hit six: Frothy Beard Brewing; Holy City Brewing; Oak Road Brewery; Rusty Bull Brewing; Twisted Cypress Brewing and Westbrook Brewing. I’d never been to a brewery in South Carolina before, so now the only states missing from my brewery adventure map were Arkansas, Kansas, Montana and Oklahoma.


Eclipse Day



The morning of the eclipse

Then came the big day. I started with a six-mile run at dawn. I thought Virginia summers were brutal although they paled in comparison to South Carolina. At least mornings in Virginia offered a bit of respite from the worst extremes of the day. However, in South Carolina, I walked through the front door and hit a solid wall of heat and humidity. This seemed troublesome because all that water vapor had to go somewhere, and sure enough clouds began to build as the morning progressed. Clouds, obviously, would obscure the eclipse. Still, I tried to remain optimistic.

Fortunately we didn’t need to travel anywhere. My brother’s house sat northwest of Charleston, even further into the area of totality than the city itself. The period of darkness there differed from the theoretical maximum by only 12 seconds. We didn’t see any need to fight our way through the traffic. We already sat at an awesome geographic viewpoint.

The city itself largely shut-down for the event. Many businesses closed for the days as did the schools. Still, lots of bars and restaurants remained open with all sorts of eclipse celebrations and specials. It became something of an undeclared holiday. Even so, we decided to remain in the back yard with lawn chairs and our eclipse glasses ready.


The Eclipse


Eclipse?

Where we stood, the eclipse lasted from 1:16 pm to 4:09 pm, with totality starting at 2:46 pm and lasting for more than two minutes. Right around 12:30 pm, a thunderstorm rolled into the area and heavy clouds did not depart for the rest of the day. We never saw the sun during the entire period of the eclipse. Thunder and rainfall drowned out every other sound. Only complete darkness offered the telltale sign that something else was happening. This unfortunate turn of events offered a humble lesson in making the best of a bad situation. We did enjoy the moments leading up to totality. The world darkened visibly, especially during the final moments, arriving faster than any sunset. It looked like someone turned a dimmer switch on the entire planet, then repeated the process in reverse. We never got to use our eclipse glasses though.

When’s the next one? April 8, 2024? I have a cousin who lives in Austin, Texas. Maybe I can make reservations early.

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12 Mile Circle:
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