There is something about pedaling through the woods that I find relaxing; although it is great exercise as well. You get the connection with nature that comes from hiking, but one can cover far more territory. I like the challenge of controlling my path and speed, and the feeling of momentum from the spinning wheels.
However, I also like the freedom to stop and savor the view from time to time. On this particular trip, I made a stop to more closely examine a nice waterfall coming down the hillside. I was being careful to watch for poison ivy and snakes as I angled for a better view. As I carefully stepped back down the hill to the bike path, this time I noticed a hidden snake. Fortunately, it was only a garter snake, but it “put a little spring in my step” and I wondered if I had somehow missed this snake on my way up the hill.
I also like to stop on the bridges and gaze at the water below. Often I see bluegill, whose bodies are pumpkin seed shaped with a tell-tale dark spot on the gill flap. Sometimes I see longer bodied fish, usually bass or carp. Although I didn’t see any turtles this time, sometimes you can also see them swimming or sunning themselves.
On this day, I also rode by some baby Canada Geese along the trail, whose parents closely watched and hissed at me to protect their offspring. Later, the noise of my bike spooked a great blue heron, which stretched his long wings and gracefully flew further downriver.
A spring day like this was provided some great views of wildflowers along the path. I’m not as good as my mom at identifying wildflowers, but I saw trillium, wild geraniums, and wild irises.
While most of this trail is isolated woodlands, if you look close there are some remnants of previous activities in the area. In particular, there is an impressive long row of brick coke ovens—now nearly overgrown and easily overlooked—that provides testament to man’s previous activities in these woods. During the coal industry’s heyday in this area, did the men who worked here imagine these coke ovens would someday be nearly indistinguishable from the forest?
Perhaps the biggest examples of human influence are the three massive locks that span the river, allowing boats to maintain a navigable depth all the way to Fairmont. The first one you pass is the Morgantown Locks and Dam, just south of the downtown area. Because this lock is so easily viewed from Don Knotts Boulevard, it is generally kept clean. However, the Hildebrand Locks and the Opekiska Locks further upstream tend to have lots of flotsam littering the top of the locks. From the downstream side, the water shooting over and out from the locks looks good, but the floating junk on the upstream side is depressing.
It reminds me of the iconic anti-littering TV spot from the ‘70s with the Indian who cries a tear because of our pollution. The trash at the river locks was the only sad part during an otherwise uplifting day amidst nature’s beauty on the bike trail.