Baby Steps Along the Towpath


May 24, 2014, Washington, DC: The art of slow travel has some history along the C&O Canal towpath. Back in the day, boats transported goods between east and west along the canal that parallels the Potomac River before railways offered a faster alternative and helped make canal transport obsolete. A journey on the 184-mile canal once took five to seven days, a pace at which the tiniest details of this landscape might have become quite familiar to those at work along the route.

The towpath is still an ideal venue for taking small and steady steps, for memorizing the details of the landscape, and for putting in hours of practice in hopes of incremental progress. On a beautiful Sunday a few weeks ago, my father and I took baby steps ourselves along the towpath, him with ailing knees and me just a few days away from the birth of baby girl. Slowly and cautiously, we bounced from lock to lock in the early morning, marveling at the historic lockhouses that are holdovers from the days of slow canal transport. The locks now mark access points between the road and the towpath for excursions like our own, and serve as mile markers for the athletes who exercise along the trail.

From our vantage points along the towpath that Sunday, my father and I documented those athletes hard at work on water and on land. From a narrow trail that juts off the towpath at lock 6, we watched world-class kayakers perfect their technique. From the Chain Bridge above the trail and at various points along the way, we caught glimpses of the runners who had set out to complete the Potomac River Run half marathon.

My amazing sister was among them. On that beautiful Sunday morning, my sister was one of many athletes putting one foot in front of the other, proving that all those baby steps add up.


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