C&O Canal


The C&O Canal runs along the Potomac River and extends from Washington DC to western Maryland.  The house I grew up in was three miles from the nearest inlet and my father took advantage of that proximity. There weren't many days in my life that I can remember when he wasn't out running on that towpath. Each morning, he dutifully got up and did his run. The image of my dad heading out for his run is still so vivid; dressed in a muddy old pair of shoes, a singlet, split shorts, and a bandanna rolled around his forehead. Upon his return we'd get the full report on what "critters" he saw: two turtles, a family of geese, and one crane. Or, in the summer, we'd get his take on the heat index. He loved to measure the humidity by how many time he could ring the sweat out of his soaked headband. A 5 to 8 "ringer" was average, but if he got in the double digits and you can bet the local news was calling it a Code Red day, advising people to stay indoors and out of the heat. Naturally, this grossed me out, but I'm pretty sure my dad viewed it as an indicator of just how hard core he was and had no shame in his sweat reports.

My dad became a fixture on those sections of the canal on account of his consistency. He had his contingent of "regulars" that knew him by name; they shared those quiet mornings in solidarity. They usually encountered each other on the path so there wasn't much conversation exchanged among them besides a quick wave or a breathless "g'morning!" Even those individuals who weren't out on the path with such regularity, I'm sure, would see him and think, "That guy is ALWAYS out here whenever I come!" When he got sick and his absence became apparent I'm sure they all figured out something serious had occurred. By now they surely know he is gone and never to return, but I like to think that every now and again they are reminded of him; the man in the bandanna headband and split running shorts. 
Today was the first time, since before my son was born that I got out for a run on the C&O. That's a big deal to me because, at this time last year, I was training for a marathon and logging loads of miles on the towpath. I got those training runs done in the early morning, squeezing them in before work. And since life is so sweetly curious and full of surprises, it wasn't long before I was one the "regulars", with my own group of people to greet with a nod I became the girl who was always out here. After months away I found myself in that familiar place today. Although it was just a light run all these thoughts came back to me during the short jaunt. It'll be some time until I get back into a regular routine like I had then but I smile at the thought that at least for that while, I had continued on in my father's absence - I had carried on after him, running in his footsteps, so to speak. Ah, the circle of life.


Anonymous said...

It's thoughts like yours that make life's sad moments not so bad... The memories and the experiences they inspire in our own journey are what make Living Life so wonderful. xoxo

Mike Nardolilli said...

Thank you for sharing your personal story about the C&O Canal. We at the C&O Canal Trust --- the official nonprofit partner of the C&O Canal National Historical Park --- are working to raise funds in order to preserve the integrity of the towpath and to improve the visitor experience at the Park. We often receive gifts in memory of people who were very connected with the C&O Canal. To learn how you can help care for this national treasure, please visit www.canaltrust.org


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