I planned to bike the C & O Towpath long before I broke my ankle, and thanks to concentrated Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation, I’m back in the saddle, peddling along. Today is Day Two on the trail, and even far from home, I have a tale about Living in Place.
This morning, Tim and I set out from Hancock, Maryland, toward Fort Frederick, about ten miles downstream. Most of the old Chesapeake & Ohio Canal is
now dry and grown over, and the path where mules used to tow barges has become a fantastic bike path through dense forest that provides welcome shade. I hardly notice the blistering heat until I stop to inspect one of the 74 locks the barges passed through as they hauled coal from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, DC.
In addition to the locks, the canal required six dams on the Potomac, eleven stone arched aqueducts that carried the entire
canal over streams, as well as countless culverts, spillways and waste weirs to manage the water level in the canal. Additionally, the lock keepers lived in cottages next to the locks, and some of the ruins of these are still visible; a few have been restored.
One of the things I love about visiting a place is learning its history, and the C&O tells the history of that brief moment in the nineteenth century when canals fostered American expansion. Canals were quickly eclipsed by the railroads, which, in turn, were largely replaced by interstate highways. At one moment today, we biked on the Western Maryland Rail Trail, built on an old railroad bed between the C&O Canal and Interstate 70. Three types of transportation running parallel to each other; four, if you count the bike path, and five, if you include the Potomac River, whose valley made all the others possible.
The canal is now a National Historic Park, maintained in part by volunteers. One such volunteer was moving freshly cut brush off the trail as we approached. Tim quickly dismounted to lend a hand; there are few things he enjoys more than hauling brush. In the course of helping out, we exchanged first names and learned about Norm’s volunteer work on the trail. Inevitably, he asked us where we were from.
“Vermont,” I said.
“Where about?” he asked.
“Southern Vermont, near Brattleboro,” I answered.
“Where near Brattleboro?” he asked with an intensity that meant only one thing.
“Who do you know?” I asked. “Vermont’s a small state; we probably know them.”
“Do you know Townshend?” he asked.
“Tim works there,” I said. “At Grace Cottage.”
“So does my son!”
David is a colleague of Tim’s, someone we’ve known since Tim was on the committee that interviewed and hired him.
We talked and laughed for a while longer. Before we parted, I emailed a photo of Tim and Norman to David. “Look who we met on the trail.”
We left smiling.
In truth, this is not as rare as it seems. We often meet people who know people we know – not because we’re so gregarious, but because there are so few of us Living in Place in our corner of Vermont.
Deborah Lee Luskin blogs at Living In Place every Wednesday. To subscribe, enter your email address in box at right and hit subscribe. You will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription – and you can always opt out.