Monday, October 20, 2008

Training - Great Dismal Swamp Canal Ride

See that big ol' patch of green in Chesapeake, straddlin' the Nawth Carolina line, with the great big lake in the middle. That thar is the Great Dismal Swamp, one of the East Coast's natural treasures.

Here is some more information about the Swamp, and yet more, and some interesting history with the George Washington connection. Now look at the black line running along the east border of the Swamp...

That is the Great Dismal Swamp Canal, the oldest manmade canal in the United States that is still in use. It is part of the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway, which extends from Norfolk, VA to Key West, FL. A better history of the canal is here, including its rich history during the Civil war as a supply route and part of the Underground Railroad. The Atlantic Intercostal Waterway Ass'n has this information on their website: According to the Chesapeake Conventions & Tourism bureau, Edgar Allen Poe reportedly wrote parts of his famous poem "The Raven" while traveling the canal and overnighting on its banks. Novelists Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow also are said to have based some of their literary characters on slaves they witnessed participating in the canal's construction.

Now that lake in the middle, Lake Drummond , is another interesting part of the Swamp. It is Virginia's largest natural lake, although you must be thinking, "What? Natural lake? Surely you jest. It is too round, too perfect to be a natural lake." Au contraire, mes amis, it is indeed a natural lake, and a blackwater lake at that.

Although the claim to fame of being Virginia's largest natural lake is something of a "so what?", seeing as how there are only 2 natural lakes in the state. Mind you, we have lots of very fine lakes, suitable for boating, fishing, and all other manner of fun pursuits, but they are all manmade, created by damming up the rivers, like this one (Smith Mountain Lake).

But I digress.

Paralleling the canal is Highway 17 from Virginia into North Carolina. The 2-lane road was quickly becoming inadequate for the amount of traffic it was carrying, so, as is the way of city planners everywhere, they built - a bypass. However, unlike the way of city planners everywhere, they decided to do something nice with the old road. It is now a bike path/trail extending 8.2 miles along the canal, and on Monday morning, it became the next step of my training. Best. ride. ever!! It is the original 2-lane road, well maintained, shaded, quiet, pastoral, bucolic, and full of critters. I was looking over toward the water when one of these decided to run in front of my bike to get to the canal. I never knew woodchucks & groundhogs were the same beast. Almost plowed over the buggar, which would then have made me fall and go boom and get big boo-boos.

photo from the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game

My dad met me there for some bike coaching. Although Pop originally told me it was 7 miles long. Huh, liar. While we were riding, he was beside me hollering training instructions at me. Do I remember all of them? Naw. After 10 minutes or so, it all started sounding like the teacher in Charlie Brown. "Wah wah wah wah wah." I'll have to get him to e-mail me the handbook.

End result - I rode 16.4 miles and felt pretty damn good at the end. Whoo-hoo!! Going again next Monday, and BS is coming along as well.

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