Sunday, July 16, 2006

Ambitious Spiders on the C and O Canal

As an amendment to my second installment of “Baltimore Adventure” I want to give a little flora and fauna report. This weekend I am at my dad’s place in Cumberland, Maryland. Cumberland is the terminus of the C and O Canal Tow Path (C and O for Chesapeake and Ohio). This canal has not been in use for some many decades, and for a long time the tow path still existed but was in a state of disrepair. But in recent years the C and O Canal Tow Path was made a National Historic Park, and the trails and historic sites along the way have been restored and maintained for hikers, bicyclers and horse riders. The tow path is 184.5 miles long, starting in Harper’s Ferry (near Washington D.C.) and ending in Cumberland. One could hike or ride the entire distance of it, and a boy scout troop from Cumberland did just that this last week. Jonathan and I have set a goal to walk/bike the entire length of it in sections (this section one weekend, that section another weekend, and so on); but we would also like to take a week or so and do the entire length at one time at some point. A small tourist industry has built up around the restoration of the tow path, and there are accommodations along the full length of the path at reasonable intervals, so we wouldn’t even have to camp out if we didn’t want to; although there are great camping areas all along the way.

Yesterday I started at Canal Place in Cumberland (a restored train station, where you can take a ride on an old steam locomotive to Frostburg and back) and walked along the tow path for about a mile and then turned around (it was about noon, it was hot, the humidity was about 70%, and there was no shade along this stretch). This morning I started at the North Branch junction and walked about two miles to a steam pump ruin (about two miles) and then turned around and walked back. That part of the tow path is shady the entire way, and it was wonderful! (I didn’t take any pictures because I didn’t want to carry anything with me.) There was a hiker/biker camping area near the North Branch junction, and there were a couple of bikers camping there (sleeping) when I walked out. On my way back they were up having their breakfast. It was very enticing—I am really looking forward to being able to do that! It’s not Montana, but it’s green and it is beautiful and peaceful.

One thing that is really odd about the green places / trails I’ve found out here is that there are hardly any people on them. Unlike Bozeman, where any trail you choose nowadays (whether in town or in the mountains) is practically a backcountry freeway of human foot traffic, I very rarely pass people on these trails. On the busiest trail day so far I passed about 5 people total during a one hour walk. I’ve been out at all times of day (morning, evening, midday) and this doesn’t seem to change. So, while the east coast is just brimming with people in general, getting off the beaten path to these little green spaces is a true respite, because hardly anyone takes advantage of them. That’s unfortunate, really, because people are not availing themselves of these wonderful outdoor resources; but it means more open space and quiet for me, so I’m not complaining.

So…’re probably wondering what “ambitious spiders” (from the subject line, above) have to do with anything. This morning my feet hit the tow path at 7:05, and I was the first person out on that stretch of the trail. The trail itself is about 8 feet wide (wide enough for a wagon, though in the days when the tow path was used wagons did not pull the canal boats—one mule led by a man pulled them). Then there are about two to three feet of grass or brush to each side of the path and then lots of trees. In two separate places within the two mile stretch of trail that I was walking, I walked right through a spider web that had been constructed right in the middle of the path, at just about face level (I’m about 5’7” tall, so that would be MY face level). After I did that twice I actually started looking for the things. On the way back I saw several more and managed to avoid them. These spider webs were only about a foot in diameter and the spiders that were hanging out in them were pretty small (between a half inch and an inch in diameter, including legs). The strands that were holding that one foot medallion of spider web in the middle of the trail were easily ten feet long, strung from each of what would be four corners of the web, if a web had corners. These little spiders must build and rebuild their webs a dozen or more times a day as they are torn down by hikers and bikers walking/riding through them. My active imagination could envision these ambitious little spiders seeing hikers and bikers going by and thinking what a big meal they would have if they could trap one of those!

If you want to know more about the C and O Canal Tow Path, go to You’ll find a map at this link: (be aware that the map is arranged for convenient viewing, which means the Mason Dixon Line is to your right—if you were looking at a North-oriented map the Mason Dixon line would be at the top of the page). Enjoy.

No comments: