That’s our average velocity over the last 3 weeks. Just about 4.1 feet per second. I like that number. It’s small, understandable, and respectable. It’s also memorable, in the literal sense; I won’t have trouble remembering that number. Not much happens at 4.1 fps, but then, when something does happen you tend to notice it. The red-tailed hawk who soars above you, then glides effortlessly over the ridge. The great blue heron, whose profile my then 8 year-old son once described as looking like a goose flying backwards, launches from the pond and moves to safety on the far shore. A stray cat, looking all the world like someone’s pet, stares with eyelids half-shut, from across the canal, but refuses to share its secret about where home might be. The flock of turkeys explodes from the river shore and roosts in the pines far from us. The gnarled tree trunk where beavers have worked for weeks. All of this is captured at 4.1 fps. You won’t see most of this at 88 fps (that is, 60 mph). And you certainly won’t hear it. You won’t hear the peepers in the pond, or the squirrels in the brush, or the pleasing “plunk” as a turtle slips off a log. You won’t catch the heckling cry of a woodpecker, or the sad cooing of a mourning dove. At highway speeds you won’t smell the energizing aroma of a small patch of mint along the trail, nor the wet, earthy scent of a beaver pond after a rain.
Having driven across the United States 14 times, I knew each time that I wasn’t getting the full story. I was too busy, and driven by schedules and deadlines to let my senses fill with the smells, sounds and sights of the world I was traversing. This is what I love about this walk. It’s not just the unique memories of people and places, but it’s the steady delivery of news provided by nature itself. Is it wrong to be out of touch with the goings on of society, but absorbed in your natural ambit? I think not…
We’re now almost finished with the C&O Canal towpath. Under any other circumstances, this, alone, would make me feel like I’ve accomplished a great deal. But these 185 miles are just Leg 4, with 47 more Legs to go. The walk along the canal has been terrific. In addition to the remarkable scenery, we were able to meet up with several old friends and colleagues. We got to see Jen and Ray, our old neighbors, who’d driven up from Richmond. In fact Alanna and Jen spent so much time in Berkeley Springs (“taking the waters” at the mineral spa), that I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d each gotten keys to the city. Ray and Jen also treated us all (Alanna, me, David and Peg) to breakfast at the iconic Potomac Grill in Hancock. The best part of that experience came when I asked the waitress (straight out of central casting in Hollywood) for the bill. She told me that Ray had picked it up already, and as Alanna and I were thanking Jen and Ray for their generosity, the waitress chimed in, “Ah, it really wasn’t that much.”
I also enjoyed a delightful dinner with my former colleagues, Lindsey and Marian (as well as Marian’s husband, Dave, and son, Jack) in Berkeley Springs. And as we said goodbye, I realized this was probably the last of the visits with friends, family, and colleagues for a long, long time. We really were about to enter the wilderness! Stay tuned.