An evening in Shepherdstown

This picture would have turned out better if (a) I had taken it with something other than my phone, and (b) if I would take time away from my busy nap schedule to learn my way around the REAL camera I begged my wife to buy a few years ago and is now gathering dust somewhere in a corner of our house.

Still, I think it’s worth posting here. It’s a picture of the Register Building in Shepherdstown, WV. Despite its deficiencies, it seems to capture the warmth of the ground floor on an unusually mild late winter evening in March.

The Register Building used to be in the family. My great-grandfather, Harry Lambright Snyder, ran the old Shepherdstown Register newspaper out of it.

The paper stopped publishing in the 1950s. But even after all these years, this old building still displays the Register’s masthead on top.

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Ghosts of Shepherdstown

I guess it’s fitting that the moment I sat down to write this, thunder boomed and lightening lit the sky.

The storm made our usually happy home feel as though it belonged in the establishing shot of an old horror movie. All that was missing was ominous organ music.

A more cautious man might have taken the storm as a sign to GO NO FURTHER because something REALLY SCARY was REALLY ANGRY.

But I’m not much of a believer in things that go BOO in the night. I generally don’t lose much sleep over the supernatural.

Lately, however, I’ve been drawn to the TV show “Ghosts of Shepherdstown.” You could even say it’s been keeping me from my busy nap schedule.

I have more than a passing interest.

For one thing, I consider Shepherdstown, West Virginia to be the seat of all Snyder power in the world.

I may not have grown up there (I was raised in Charleston, the state capital), but my Snyder forbears settled in Shepherdstown decades before the Civil War. Some family members still live there.

To steal a line from “Game of Thrones,” you could say there is always a Snyder in Shepherdstown, just as there must always be a Stark in Winterfell. Otherwise, who knows what might happen?

In this case, the dead didn’t exactly rise, but an old family ghost story DID get dramatized in a TV show.

You can thank – at least in part – my late Uncle Jack for the show’s claim that Shepherdstown is the most haunted town in America. Decades ago, he coaxed the old family ghost stories from his Aunts, the three daughters of his grandfather, Harry Lambright Snyder, the editor of the defunct “Shepherdstown Register” newspaper.

“Ghosts of Shepherdstown” is on the Destination America channel, but I initially found the show online after my wife brought it to my attention. A friend told her about an episode based on an old Snyder story Jack preserved about my great-grandmother haunting the old family home.

The first time I saw it, I half expected to see bats take flight and Scooby-Doo and the gang roll into town in the Mystery Machine. Scooby and Shaggy bumbling their way through Shepherdstown to 1970s bubblegum pop songs would have been a pleasure to see.

Instead, I felt like the story of my great-grandmother’s untimely death in a horse-and-buggy accident was ginned up to benefit someone else.

It’s been a few weeks since I first watched “Ghosts of Shepherdstown,” enough time for me to now see the humor. I can also take some pleasure that my Uncle Jack’s work to preserve family lore bore some fruit

Yet I also can’t help but think we’d all be better off if only those meddling kids had turned up to unmask the villain.

Don’t Forget the Butt Butter

The view of the C&O Canal Towpath from the seat of my bike.

Live and learn.

After cycling all day on the C&O Canal Towpath last week, it turns out that the last thing I needed to worry about was my fitness level.

Rather, I should have paid more attention to the weather.

It rained.

It rained all day.

It began coming down from the moment we left our starting point, the building where I work in downtown Washington, D.C.

It rained as we cycled through Georgetown, where we got a little lost trying to pick-up the towpath and I almost got mowed down by a big delivery truck.

And, it rained long past the time we shivered ourselves to sleep at the lockhouse we rented some 50 butt-busting miles later.

Several canal lockhouses are available for overnight stays. Click the pic for more information.

Sometimes it came down as a bearable drizzle. At other times, it splashed down on our heads in big pregnant drops.

It rained despite assurances from one of my cronies when we were in the planning stages that the day we settled on is always “a beautiful day.”

Except, apparently, when you go on a cycling trip.

It was not only wet but all that rain made it seem that much colder.  So cold, that when we stopped from time to time, my teeth started to chatter.  One fellow who briefly rode along with us suggested he just might spend the night in one of the Jiffy Johns that are stationed every so often along the towpath.

A C&O Jiffy John in better weather.

“It’s the warmest place, right now,” he joked as he emerged from one after changing into a dry shirt. From then on, every time we passed a Jiffy John, I seriously considered curling up in it. I never did, but only because I couldn’t get past the heat source.

Despite feeling like we should have worn parkas and rowed a boat up the towpath instead of pedaling bicycles, we never really lost our good humor.  Not even when a 20-something kid out for a jog on the towpath stormed passed us as we neared our accommodations for the night.

He was running so fast he was kicking up mud in his wake, making me feel like the 97-pound weakling in the back of old comic books. He’s the one who gets sand kicked in his face.

The old Charles Atlas comic book ad.

“That’s … not … good,” one of my cronies deadpanned as we slogged along on our bicycles.  It was even more embarrassing when you consider the kid caught up with us after having greeted us 20 minutes or so before going in the opposite direction.

The constant rain should have made my first overnight cycling trip miserable.  But, in fact, the adversity made it memorable.

I would only change one thing.

Butt butter.

It’s an ointment cyclists use to help make a long day of straddling a slim bicycle saddle more bearable.  If I had to do our ride again, I would remember to bring some along.

Ask my towpath cronies.  I lamented our lack of butt butter for most of the 50 miles we rode on the first day.  It was even more urgent when we got up the next morning.  My butt really had been rode hard and put up wet and I still had some 25 miles more to ride to reach my goal at Shepherdstown.

Needless to say, those were some ginger miles.  My backside was so tender, I pedaled standing up a lot.  At least our second day on the towpath brought out some sunshine.

More serious cyclists may scoff, but all told, I rode some 77 miles, the longest distance this out-of-shape, middle-aged dad has ever ridden on a bike.

However, we left more than one-hundred miles undone. I’m hoping to tackle the Shepherdstown to Cumberland stretch later this summer.

Once plans come together, I’ll be keeping an eye on the weather.  While a little rain won’t scare me, you can bet I won’t forget the butt butter, again.

My cronies and me after wringing ourselves out and getting some sleep at the lockhouse near Point of Rocks, MD. We were looking forward to sunshine on the second day of our towpath trip.