Every day, two or three times a day, I get a text message from the county informing me that it is still cold. Hypothermia alert. Today, school was canceled due to a half-inch of snow on the ground, plus impending chill and wind. Suburban Marylanders are not known for their cold-hardiness, alas. I went back to Greenbelt Park. This time I didn't even expect to see anyone else there. I was right.
The Azalea Trail is a short loop connecting three different picnic sites, all of which were today windswept and lonely. The snow lined everything and made my footsteps nearly silent. No other human tracks, only animal. There was a dog without a master-- fox? coyote?-- rabbits, birds. I saw none of them, except a few juncos and crows. It was cold but not intolerable. The most significant sound was of trees creaking and sobbing in the wind.
As usual, alone in the woods, I am a little scared-- maybe wary is a better word-- but once again I was able to find that place of being at peace with isolation. Even if I were to encounter danger, could there be a better time to go?-- almost charging through the snowy woods mouthing "I love this I love this I love this?"
People, Columbia Heights is so cool. I had no idea. They're so political down there, almost like Takoma Park where I live, except maybe a little less peace-signs-and-rainbows, a little more Workers-Unite! Every street lamp is plastered with posters, the bars have signs in the windows for Democratic politicians, the businesses seem to represent every ethnicity under the sun, it feels safe, but not rich.
Except for the new stuff they're building-- that looks rich. How long will Columbia Heights stay cool in the way that it is cool right now? Maybe just a couple of years before it is totally overcome by gentrification. Hopefully I am wrong about this.
So, my Metro station has been closed for maintenance for nearly two weeks, and to get to Columbia Heights I had to take a bus shuttle to Fort Totten, then grab a train for the rest of the way. It went quite smoothly (and on the way back as well); I was surprised. Good on Metro.
When I arrived at the Columbia Heights station, I was hungry and had to pee, so I stopped for a "Little" fries at the Five Guys. A "Little" fries involves a very small cup full of fries, which is placed inside a paper bag, and then approximately 4-5 additional cups worth of fries are tossed on top. I am not sure of the logic behind this. I could not eat all of the fries in one sitting, but tucked half of them away in a greasy paper bag in my purse. Here is a view from the window of the Five Guys:
As soon as I started really walking, I realized I'd been to this exact spot before. There was a ring of benches around a fountain (though, at this time of year, there was a Christmas tree at that spot); I'd waited there last spring to meet a group of strangers from Sanctuary DMV. We were there for an "accompaniment"-- a young, undocumented man had skipped work the day before in order to take part in a pro-immigrants-rights protest, and wanted a couple of witnesses when he returned to his job, to reduce the chances that he would be fired. As it happened, an excessive 20 or 30 people gamely showed up, his boss was completely supportive of his choice to make a political statement anyway, and the young man was embarrassed to have made such a big deal about nothing. We didn't mind.
Columbia Heights is full of the kind of row houses I think are so pretty.
There were swanky new coffee bars across from rinky-dink Salvoradan coffee-and-bakery places. How long will this delicate balance exist, co-exist?
A couple of the political posters:
I did walk down one street whose houses looked extremely wealthy. These people had already decorated extensively (yet most tastefully of course) for Christmas.
Meanwhile, old things were still being torn down to make room for new things. I don't know why I find it so beautiful when a single wall is still standing during a demolition, with sky showing through the windows.
I walked about half the trail, down to 14th and Florida, and then scooted over a couple of blocks to the U St. station and home.
19 degrees, in the District, is what passes for Arctic chill. Women shuffle by in their fake fur-lined hoods, looking wounded. A spirit of camaraderie prevails, though, a sense of shared adversity: people give a few bucks to the homeless guy to get coffee and warm up, exhort one another to put on some gloves, wish strangers "Happy New Year!" We smile a bit more under our tightly wrapped mufflers.
This was the context of my second trip to the Columbia Heights Heritage Trail. Pretty quickly I ran into a guy who was waiting outside a neighborhood soup kitchen. Apparently it did not open till noon, but he and his suitcase had arrived at 10 am. He still had another hour to wait when I walked by. Cold enough walking; much too cold to stand still. We chatted and I gave him some money so he could wait inside a business instead of out. In this weather, a miscalculation of timing could turn into a real disaster. I was seriously considering stopping someplace for a cup of tea myself.
In the end, I didn't; the walk wasn't very long, and with my face turned into the sun, the cold was bearable. I was back in the land of aggressive cultural fusion: Korean tacos, kung fu and capoeira, monuments to African-American literati.
This latter part of the trail took me by Meridian Hill Park, an attractive walled green space which, due to the cold and an overdeveloped tendency to follow paths exactly, I did not enter. After reading about it afterwards, I regret the oversight. I did see this imposing statue (from behind), which is apparently of Dante for some reason.
At the opposite corner of the park, I ended up back on 16th St., on Embassy Row, in a spot I suddenly recognized from the Adams Morgan Trail. I stopped to take another picture of the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, to illustrate this returning full-circle, but at that moment my camera battery went dead. Curious.
By this time I was glad I knew the way back to the Columbia Heights station, and glad to get in from the cold. I am learning my way around.
I've given up on Rock Creek Park for now-- too much construction, too much isolation, too much uncertainty. Instead I drove to Greenbelt Park on a frosty, sunny Saturday morning, thinking it was a nice day for a walk and hordes of people would probably be out with their dogs.
Nope. There were several cars in the parking lot for the Dogwood Trail, but I saw not one human soul in the woods. Only these deer souls.
These guys (well, gals) were there to silently greet me almost immediately. We were all pretty unfazed about it.
It was a pretty day, with the light snow outlining everything that would otherwise have been just different shades of brown. I thought it was so nice that I left my scarf and gloves in the car, so that I wouldn't be too hot. That was silly. I was cold. Also, I was just wearing sneakers with thin little purple footie socks. Apparently I have forgotten how to go outside in the winter.
Here's the truly dumbass thing: I got lost. In Greenbelt Park. In my defense, I encountered two different signs like this:
So I recommend NOT leaving your trail map in your purse in the car, even if you think you don't need it: not only are there signs like this, but there are places where extra stray trails veer off in some other direction, without obvious signage. And, while there are dutiful markers every 0.2 miles, I suspect they are not placed correctly, as I covered the last 0.6 miles with amazing speed.
No matter, I figured it out, and there are at least tree blazes here and there. It's not a long or intimidating trail by any means, only confusing.
And just when you think you're in the middle of nowhere, completely alone, you round a bend and see this view:
Towards the end of the trail, there are a series of little (snow-covered today) boardwalks traversing damp bits. I am partial to boardwalks.
On an extremely gray afternoon in October, I decided to begin the Boulder Bridge Hike (3.5 miles, pink blazes), which begins in the same way as the Rapids Bridge Hike (see Moseys through Rock Creek Park: Vol. 1). I thought I'd walk down the hill from the horse barn, along the by-now-familiar creek, across Rapids Bridge, cross Beach Dr. and walk a little further... then turn and retrace my steps to the car, all while meeting the usual occasional dog walkers and joggers. I felt I was getting over my nervousness at walking in Rock Creek Park alone.
This is not what happened.
What happened is that I was (almost) utterly alone. The horse barn seemed deserted, no students nor horses either. Instead there were about a million birds and squirrels gathering delights from the paddock. That was nice. There were some wildflowers too. I took some pictures and headed onto the forest path.
People I ran into on the trails today: 0.
However, only a couple of minutes in, there was a guy off to the left in the woods, a little ways away. We gazed at each other like two startled deer, made eye contact. He was moving, utterly silently, like the kid at the beginning of The Trumpet of the Swan, not a stick cracking or leaf rustling. Not away from me nor towards, but on an angle that would put him some yards behind me on the trail, silently, silently. This was unsettling. There was nowhere to go but onwards or backwards, and backwards seemed both more humiliating and more dangerous. So I went onwards, looking back over my shoulder every few seconds, to see if he was following, was still on his odd cross-country trajectory, or had in fact joined the trail and was traveling away in the opposite direction. I couldn't tell. I didn't see him. It was ten minutes or so before the trail I was on joined with Beach Drive for a moment, and I could feel safe. What to do? I couldn't go back the way I'd come. Bail on the walk and go around to my car by the highway? I wasn't even sure there was a sidewalk. Do the whole 3.5-mile circle? Maybe take a shortcut down Beach Drive and then rejoin the trail at a later point, after Rapids Bridge, just do the new stuff? I decided to do that. But the relevant section of Beach Drive was closed to all traffic, auto and pedestrian. Stymied. Never mind, I guessed I'd continue on the trail by the river, man-in-the-woods or no man-in-the-woods. If he'd gone cross-country, he could easily intercept me... but why would he?
It occurred to me at that point that, if I got murdered in Rock Creek Park, it would be one less thing to worry about. A lot less things, actually. I'd never have to do anything for the PTA ever again, or mediate complicated family problems, or clean my closet, or advocate for responsible climate policy. This made me laugh and, strangely, relax a bit. If I get murdered in Rock Creek Park, oh well, it'll be a hell of a lot easier.
I got to Rapids Bridge, still seeing no one, and the other end of the bridge was blocked off. No crossing Beach Drive. Beach Drive entirely closed in every way.
Can't go back, might as well go on. I continued on the same side of the river, noting the silver water, the eddies, but mostly alert to who might be standing on the ridge above me. Nobody. Eventually, up the hill onto the ridge itself, where I noticed I felt instantly safer. What a primitive, unconscious effect that I'd never noticed before. This must be for the same reasons many ancient peoples built their paths on cliffsides: harder to attack. Still no one around at all.
The trail now intersected and crossed Glover Road, turning back towards the horse paddocks. I debated. Stay on the trail and do the whole thing? Or just walk back on Glover Road, and come back and walk the last bit later on? I decided I had earned Glover Road. After a couple of minutes, though, it dawned on me that the isolation wasn't any less. No cars. No pedestrians. Just squirrels. Where was everyone? This is a major city. Finally one young dude zipped in on a bicycle, paused (like last time) to ask me for directions to someplace I was unfamiliar with. I was terse, I had no idea, moved on. As I got close to my destination, orange barriers made it clear why this road was also so deserted: closed to traffic.
A gray day, silent, lonely, but if I wanted to be alone with my thoughts, I was in the wrong place. My thoughts were focused almost entirely on monitoring my surroundings.
Forewarned this time about potential road closures, I checked Rock Creek Park's website to see whether I might be able to finish the last bit of the Boulder Bridge hike. Beach Drive is still closed, but it didn't say anything about Glover Road, so I went, on a bright, gusty November day. I walked down the road a little ways from the horse paddocks and promptly saw this:
The signage was confusing: "Danger, danger, keep out! And also, bike and pedestrian detour this way." I decided to err on the side of safety. Turned around and just made a small circle by road. And that was it.
The light was beautiful today.
It has been approximately 11 months since my last DC Heritage Trail walk. I see you, date on that last post. 11/4/2016. Those were happier, more oblivious times.
Being out of practice, I forgot my camera. Never mind. I'll return to this trail next time and take a few photos. For now, some impressions and the joy of seeing one's own city with fresh eyes.
I walked from my home to the bus stop on the corner of 4th and Butternut, where someone had hospitably set out a couple of cheap chairs. Another man came and waited in one of them, so I sat down too and we chatted about the weather until his bus arrived. When mine came a few minutes later, it was cool, shiny new inside, and 100% empty. Quite different from the bus route I used to take regularly to work a few years ago. The driver was nice. The other riders, once some joined me, were also nice. Thanks, DC bus system. A lighted board alerted me when it was time to pull the bell for 14th and Jefferson.
My main impressions of the Brightwood neighborhood were of its quietness. There were few cars on the streets; few pedestrians, either, but those that there were appeared relaxed and friendly. The houses seemed down-to-earth: some of them were large, but they were decidedly un-trendy, and neither particularly wealthy nor badly run-down in appearance. Steady-Freddy, clipped lawns, a little piece of small-town America at the edge of this usually busy city. It was not, in any sense of the word, bustling.
I read a few of the historical signs, which mainly referenced racial segregation and integration over time: a pretty little school built for African-American children when few such schools existed (now the Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School). A neighborhood built for working-class whites, most of whom white-fled when black homeowners began to join them in the 1950s. A building constructed as a synagogue which has now been a Baptist church under the same leadership for 40 years.
A good solid neighborhood.
Returning on foot on a chilly day in November, I walked the rest of the Brightwood Trail, mostly down Georgia Avenue. (Brightwood, I have neglected to mention, is near my own neighborhood; it took only half an hour to get there, and on the trail I passed by my very own Safeway that I frequent regularly.) What surprised me: a tiny Civil War cemetery, just along Georgia Avenue and maintained as a memorial. To the Union troops, which is the right kind of Civil War memorial. It was an inviting small cemetery, once a peach orchard, with colorful fall trees and modest stones. To my surprise-- I am far from a battle history buff-- I went inside.
Back on Georgia Avenue, I passed one of my favorite Art Deco buildings, the Silver Spring Shopping Center (built 1938), which has carefully maintained its style while housing an assortment of small businesses.
And then, here I was again at Fort Stevens. How truly odd to find these remnants of battle in the midst of a diverse urban neighborhood where construction and decay are coexisting side-by-side, not far from the crumbling laundromat and the new, shiny Walmart. While near Fort Stevens, I read the story of Betty Thomas, whose land was seized by Union troops to construct the fort.
Was this supposed to be an inspiring or heartwarming story? In sum: a prosperous black woman has her property appropriated and destroyed by the U.S. government. As she mourns, lo, the Angel Lincoln appears to her and assures her that her virtuous sacrifice will be rewarded. Fast forward to the future... nothing happens. "Aunt Betty" (and is this really respectful? depends) got very little for her trouble.
Isn't that always the way.
I will leave you with a photo of what has been my favorite unfortunately-named local business for years:
Note to readers: this post was begun in July 2016. That is how long it takes me to get anything done these days.
I'm working on a new project, which is walking around by myself in unfamiliar places without being scared. This is not to say that I am a horrible scaredy-cat-- I walk around by myself all the time. However, all of those readers who are not men probably know how, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously, we non-men select our walking-around locations with some caution. Our own residential neighborhood, or one that looks kind of like it someplace else? Fine. Our local parks and neighborhood trails-- generally okay, as long as we haven't been given specific reason for alarm there-- but the danger antennae are still kinda up, ready for anything. City neighborhood that is different from ours? Discomfort grows a little. Out in the woods somewhere new, alone? Pack me a pocketknife.
Maybe it's just me.
I am 44 years old. I would like to be brave the way I was when I was 8 or 9, and went wandering the woods alone on many occasions, before (apparently) my mother noticed and decided to belatedly deliver the stranger-danger lecture. After that I was not brave. I still went up the hill to pick blueberries, but more often than not would spook and come flying back home at a run, blueberries bouncing out of my bowl as I went. I still went to the old disused cemetery covered with a carpet of flowering thyme-- not accessible by car-- to write poems in my journal, but after that one time a guy dressed in camo materialized silently behind me, I didn't go as often, and didn't sit in abstraction anymore, but looked nervously over my shoulder.
I would like to declare myself tired of this. Don't I-- don't we all-- have a right to be in the world, here and there, where we please, without fearing violence? ...A loaded question on July 15, 2016, when yesterday a truck loaded with weaponry plowed into a mass of French people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, and killed them, men, women and babies. When the U.S. has finally become aware of how many young black men are shot by cops, and others, for no good reason. When cops in turn were mowed down in Dallas while policing a peaceful protest. When a homophobic young man with a history of aggression and abuse recently decided to massacre about 50 young clubgoers, mostly Latinx, at a gay club in Orlando.
Violence is everywhere. All of the people I have mentioned were killed in public spaces, where they would have had no special reason to feel afraid. No place is safe, per se. The last time I ran from a man, I was just trying to go to a morning dental appointment in a familiar, normally well-populated neighborhood; a snowstorm the night before had kept most people off the streets (damn my northern hardiness), and the area proved unexpectedly isolated that day.
Ergo: if no place is safe, isn't that a good reason to treat every place as safe? As a podcast I was listening to with my kid said, ultimately everything is fatal. Before something, someday fatally gets me (and it will), I would like to do some stuff. Hence my new project. My mother won't like it, I think.
I started with Adams Morgan (an unknown that turned out fairly un-risky, unless you count heatstroke); the next week, I practiced a little desensitization therapy in Rock Creek Park. (Yes, I know, that's where Chandra Levy was killed, and I think of it every damn time. Apparently, I should also be concerned about owl attacks.) As far as actual trail-following goes, my Rock Creek Park expedition did not go well. My aim was to walk on part of the Rapids Bridge Trail, which makes a loop from the Horse Center. However, I could not find the trailhead to save my life, even after asking a passing horseback riding teacher. When I reviewed my materials later, I realized I'd made a mistake in trying to work from the map, when in fact there were excellent written instructions, underneath the map, which would have helped me a great deal if I had read them.
What actually happened is that I followed some random trail(s) for a little while. It was another extremely hot and humid day, and I was glad that this time I'd remembered to bring a hat. I don't know where I was going, but the blazes weren't orange. I did, however, find some rock cairns placed by hikers, and I added my stone, symbolic of the beginning of a project, if not just now the beginning of a real hike:
Two weeks later, having read the directions this time, I went back again to find the Rapids Bridge Trail. This time I had no trouble. The trailhead was right behind the horse paddock. The other horse paddock. My plan, in the spirit of baby steps, was to walk about a half a mile down the trail to Ross Drive and Rock Creek, then turn around and come back. I'd forgotten my camera-- a mistake I haven't made in a while. The weather was very humid, but not too hot yet, at 9:30 am.
The trail was wide, and dotted with mouldering piles of horse dung; the woods open, without much underbrush, and carpeted with brown leaves. I only saw two other people the whole way; a young bearded guy, walking a beagle, and a tall, thin, fit man running very, very fast. The young bearded guy said "good morning" in a wholly non-threatening fashion. The very fast runner did not appear to notice me.
If I'd had my camera, images I might have shown you would include: young girls having their riding lessons near the trailhead; crinkly white fungi on fallen trees; the unremarkable sun-lit brown of the path through the open woods; a broken old bench by a rocky creek. I only saw the most ordinary of animals: squirrels, a chipmunk, robins, cardinals. I liked the chipmunk, though.
And how did I feel, out "in the woods" by myself? A little wary; less aware of the modest beauty of my surroundings than I might have been; but basically okay. It was slightly odd to be there alone, but not scary. And afterwards, I also felt-- not really victorious, or anything else dramatic-- but just okay. It was okay.
A bunch of time passed before I got out to Rock Creek Park again. The weather was no longer hot, and the many, many squirrels appeared to be busy with the acorns I could hear falling from the trees. The day was overcast, sweater-temperature.
I parked near the police station on Ross Drive, ready to walk a bit more of the Rapids Bridge Trail. Within about 90 seconds of leaving my car, I'd met three different men: one who was sitting quietly in the car next to mine, who nodded when I emerged, a millenial-bro type on a bicycle who wanted directions to an obscure picnic spot, and a strapping young runner on the trail. Of the three, I only felt uncomfortable about the cyclist, who'd initiated an interaction and then prolonged it more than seemed absolutely necessary. Despite this, I still felt he was simply lost, perhaps supposed to meet someone at Picnic Area 24. There was also an aging jogger that I met out in the middle of the woods, and one woman!-- the woman, however, had a large dog with her. I would feel better if I saw more women out alone, dogless.
So, it was a busy morning over near Ross Drive at Rock Creek Park. And I walked along Rock Creek, discovering that it did not get that name for nothing: the stream is full of quite stunning boulders, forming picturesque pools and eddies. I remembered my camera and took lots of redundant photos, many of which failed to capture the loveliness of the creek. I was not out there for long-- about 25 minutes-- and did not get very far, due to stopping so often for photography, but just that short time out in the cool woods with the squirrels and the woodpeckers and the river gave me a little burst of well-being. I need to do this more often.
A chilly, cloudy, gray and perfect fall day in late October. Because I had not made it as far along the trail as Rapids Bridge on my last venture, I parked in the same place as before and walked the same path, only farther. The woods were filled with woodland critters: small woodpeckers and nuthatches knocked against the many fallen logs, while chipmunks and squirrels did their own food-gathering. There were so many woodpeckers. I have never seen so many woodpeckers in my life. They were good at evading photography, however. There were few humans, but the animals were a bustle of activity. As can be seen from the photos, the leaves are beginning to turn and brown now, some starting to drop off: a more saturated autumn palette.
For quite a while I saw no people at all, but finally a middle-aged woman with a dog-- a smallish one-- met me walking. She continued to high-step her feet in the air as her dog stopped for a while to sniff a tree, which I could only assume meant she was wearing a fitness band and counting her steps. The dog did not look fierce, so I almost counted her as a-woman-alone. There was, a bit later, a young, very tall, spandex-wearing man running very fast; he literally did not even glance at me or acknowledge me, even though we were meeting on a woodland trail. There was one older man walking a dog-- rather grim-looking, so this was the moment where I stuck my hands in my pockets. That's where I keep my pocketknife. A few moments later, a young woman running: no dog! She had a nervous expression and would not have acknowledged me either, had I not made a point of it. But she wins for being the only other dogless woman out there so far on my four visits.
I made it as far as Rapids Bridge and took in the views from the center of the creek. All boulders and small eddies, yellowing leaves, and silver sky.
It is May now. I have been distracted, an understatement. It took me more than 6 months to finish walking the Rapids Bridge Trail (length: approximately 2 miles), longer than it takes some people to hike the Appalachian. But, one Saturday in May, accompanied this time by my husband, I decided it was time to go outside.
Due to road closures, I could not park where I wanted to, so we ended up in the same spot as usual (by the old broken-down bench), walked along the river again, looked for a moment or two at the view off Rapids Bridge, and then made the turn uphill to continue towards the horse barns. This was the part of the trail that was new to me. Because I was with my husband, I did not notice all the individual people we met in the way that I do when alone, but it was a lovely spring weekend afternoon, and there were a lot of them, including large groups surprisingly carrying backpacks and maps. The uphill slope was fairly steep, and the forest again open, with a red-brown carpet of needles. Errant dogs ran about sniffing and pouncing in ecstasy, and most of the wild things hid quietly from them and all of the people. My husband, a smoker, got winded going up the ridge. Because, once we got to the horse barn, the shortest route back was forward, we ended up walking the entire Rapids Bridge loop together. The way felt shorter with another person, but I noticed less and worried more: about my husband maybe feeling tired or out-of-breath or annoyed, about getting home in time to go to work at the restaurant, which I'd agreed to do at the last minute.
An anti-climax, complicated by all the complications that populate 2017; but I will go to Rock Creek Park again.
Time for what we now consider our yearly backpacking trip. Kid and I-- and my husband, driving a separate car-- set off for northwestern Maryland to drop off our car at the endpoint of the three-day hike, the McMahon's Mill access near Hagerstown. As we approached down the narrow lane to the gravel parking lot and turned off the radio, we could suddenly hear that my car was making a new, deep, terrifying noise-- a sort of mechanical whalesong-- every time I braked. For an assortment of other reasons, it was already quite late in the morning, and also Sunday: no time to go looking for a mechanic. We left the car in the lot. It remained in the back of my mind for the next 50 hours.
We piled our packs into my husband's even older car and drove to the start point, a place where the Appalachian Trail intersects the C&O just south of Harper's Ferry. It was a nice day for a walk: 70s, dry, not too sunny. There were seemingly hundreds of people on bicycles.
This was, I learned, because we were so near Harper's Ferry, and Harper's Ferry was crawling with tourists. We heard many languages as we crossed the picturesque railroad bridge into West Virginia to visit briefly and use the restroom-- so many languages that it reminded me of being a tourist in Italy just a couple of weeks before. I hadn't realized Harper's Ferry would be such a major attraction.
Did my kid want an ice cream in Harper's Ferry? No, they did not. They just wanted to get the hell out of there.
It took very little walking north along the trail past Harper's Ferry to leave all the people and bicycles behind. Suddenly we were mostly alone.
We saw a lot of small critters and some larger animals: a really impressive profusion of caterpillars and millipedes, plenty of deer including fawns, at least two bald eagles, green and blue herons, the usual turtles, frogs and toads. No owls this year. Maybe that's a June thing. None of the deer wanted to have their pictures taken.
This section of the trail was also chock-full of neat caves carved into the hillside on our right. We were too scared to hang out in any of them.
Our first day of hiking involved a fairly steady push, as we didn't get started until about noon, and had 11.5 miles to go before camping. At least we had a campsite reserved at the Antietam battlefield campground, which is not technically part of the C&O Canal trail but is right alongside it. There are 20 campsites lined up all in a row along the riverbank: only two were occupied, plus the campground manager's RV turned out to be right across the road from the site I'd reserved. All night long a bright, extremely safe streetlight shone directly onto our tent. I felt quite secure but it was difficult to sleep. Also, we got cold.
The next morning, the mist rose from the river and everywhere else.
Eventually it cleared up and became a beautiful, perfect day.
Our second day of hiking was really laid-back. We only had 9.5 miles to go and reached our planned camping spot around 3:30.
We'd been hoping, sometime during that second day, to stop in a town-- or in a hiker/biker store that I'd read about-- and buy some cups of non-instant coffee or snacks. However, the towns were a good mile off the trail-- not worth the extra travel on such a short hike, though I'm sure they would seem like a treat on a longer one-- and the hiker/biker store turned out to be only open on weekends. Alas.
After we pitched our tent at the Horseshoe Bend hiker/biker campsite (mile 79.2), literally only 3 other people passed by for the entire remainder of the day. We were completely alone. Kid was tired and went inside the tent for most of the afternoon, leaving me to read at the picnic table. When it was dark that night, it was really, really dark. This time, we knew it would get cold, so we battened down our tent cover right away, and went to sleep wearing fleeces, jackets, and socks. Much better.
The next morning (the last morning), I had (thankfully) just enough time to boil water for coffee before it started to drizzle. Kid and I retreated to the tent, drinking coffee, eating a cold breakfast instead of the oatmeal I'd planned, and reading books. It was nice. We waited for the rain to stop, but it didn't; instead it got steadier. Around 9:30 we gave up and went out in the rain to break camp.
Wearing windbreakers, with our rain covers over our packs, we hiked away into the rain.
We learned something about rain: it makes you hike much faster. Because there is no appeal to stopping: sit on a wet rock? Get chilled instead of keeping warm by moving? We hiked the whole 9 miles out to my car by 1:30, stopping just once to use the bathroom, snacking a little out of our pockets. It was not bad as long as you kept moving. And, by this third day, we were developing a rhythm. We could probably have hiked twice as far by nightfall; but we didn't need to.
The final mile was beautiful, but did not lend itself to photography. The usual trail-between-trees emerged out onto the cliffside by the river, where a concrete path had been constructed. Wildflowers ranged down the bank towards the water, and I saw a hummingbird coming from that direction. An eagle was soaring back and forth over the great curve in the river. All too soon we reached McMahon's Mill:
...at which point we climbed into the dry haven of the car, pushed back the seats, and ate lunch. There were a bunch of people meeting in the parking lot in the rain, pointing at things up the hillside. Eventually they all drove away in their separate official vehicles. It seemed to be a consultation about the environmental impact of some proposed construction.
When we had recovered sufficiently, kid researched the best auto repair shop in Hagerstown and we took our Subaru over to Dave's Corner, where Dave's delightful son Devin fixed my brakes within an hour and a half while we drank coffee and ate cheese puffs and donut holes from the Sheetz across the street. For some reason, although we were chilly, we continued to sit outside while our car was repaired. (It had stopped raining.) Some kind of switch had flipped. We no longer wanted to be indoors.
Two weeks later, I've been indoors all day.
Today is my kid's 16th birthday. We did not go hiking today; that was weeks ago-- I think two-- when, during a particularly temperate spell of weather, kid said "Do you want to go hiking sometime soon?" We went the next day. I feel so lucky to have a kid who still wants to hang out sometimes, who still gets excited about bugs, but now also enjoys a really good cup of coffee and knows what's going on with Trump-Russia. This is the ideal companion.
It's a pretty long drive by now to the start-point of our hikes. We started this time in the town of Brunswick, MD, sleepy but picturesque, and boasting this colorful church-turned-coffee-shop full of stained-glass.
We both bought coffees, and kid got a sandwich, because they didn't have a soggy leftover Mediterranean Veggie sandwich from Panera in their backpack the way I did. We liked this place so much that we seriously discussed taking a weekend vacation to Brunswick sometime, just so we could hang out there.
Upon departing our vehicle, kid decided that they would eat their delicious sandwich immediately, so we sat on a rock just outside the car while kid devoured lunch. (I saved my soggy sandwich for later, though it turned out not to improve with age.) It was a perfect day, sunny and with temperatures in the high 70s-- beautifully cool for Maryland in the summer. I was happy just to sit and soak up my vitamin D.
After a bit, we got on the trail. It looked much as it usually does:
Super-green. There were some nice details:
Animals we saw besides this toad: 3 beautiful fawns, a green heron, a family of ducks, lots of turtles, colorful goldfinches and cardinals, and a multitude of shimmering dragonflies and shiny green beetles. I don't know where the fawns' mothers were.
Kid was also delighted with what seemed to us like a truffula tree, but appears to have many names, including Persian silk tree or mimosa. It had pretty pink tufts that smelled amazing. All my life I'd been searching for trees such as these.
At the 58-mile mark, the C&O Canal Towpath intersects with the Appalachian Trail. This was the point where I sat down on another rock to eat my own sandwich, pulling off large sections of soggy bread and wilted lettuce. There was far too much feta cheese. I regretted everything.
It was a shortish walk, without drama, but happy. Kid and I are planning another 3-day blitz in August.
It has been over 9 months since my teenager and I have been on the C&O Canal trail. Last summer, we completed a 30+-mile multi-day backpacking trip. Ever since, we (and by "we," I mostly mean my teenager) have been too busy to fit in even a day hike. Also, a lot has happened in the past nine months.
This spring day was no exception. It was Good Friday-- the day, as it happened, between NBC News' report that the U.S. was threatening a preemptive strike on North Korea, and the Day of the Sun, the Saturday when North Korea was expected to display the kind of provocation that could lead to that preemptive strike. So I was walking with that "this could be our last hike before World War III starts" feeling.
It was a beautiful day. It was sunny, the temperature in the 60s (the teenager took off their sweater and hat just after the above photo was taken), and spring wildflowers were everywhere. The trees were leafing out and still that intense yellow-green. Animals were sort of scarce, with the exception of birds and bugs-- no turtles this time-- but the flowers made up for it. We talked a lot, about big stuff, but only a little bit about the potential end of the world.
This stretch of the trail first crossed the restored Catoctin Aqueduct, then took us down 2-3 miles of pleasant, unassuming, flowery woodland path, before arriving unceremoniously at a 200-unit RV-friendly campground. This campground, where we ate our lunch because we were hungry, also seemed to be undergoing serious construction, with ongoing loud machinery noises, trucks lumbering back and forth, and even a giant crane taking down tree limbs. There were also Bobcats scooting ponderously about. It was not even remotely peaceful, and I felt sorry for the people who were staying there anyway.
After lunch, we walked one more mile down a wide gravel road to reach the town of Brunswick. This was not the nicest part of the walk. There were cars. Brunswick looked as though it might be worth exploring, but we did not explore it. We just turned around and went back down the gravel road.
I would be remiss at this point if I did not include this photo which my child insisted I take. This architectural detail is part of a water treatment plant along the road just shy of Brunswick. My child was greatly amused by the "doors-to-nowhere" effect. Water treatment plant workers: be careful! There were also some random wooden barn-door things (not shown) stuck on the sides of the building, again apparently just because they looked rustic, not for any actual purpose.
So, anyway, back to the pleasant flowery path. It looked like this and was, in the quiet parts, entirely lovely.
We saw a pair of wood ducks, which hid
behind a tree after they noticed us noticing them. As always on the canal towpath, we heard a ton of woodpeckers but could not see them. And we got some photos of this egret:
There was also this, sticking out of a crevice in a tree, so high up neither of us could have reached it. A very tall man might have been able to (and indeed must have?). It was a very long, thin jawbone of something, with teeth, along with some other assorted sticks and stuff. Very Blair Witch Project.
We weren't scared, though.
Extra credit participation: what kind of animal is this??
Breaking my usual habit of setting out for walks mid-morning, I first had an 11:30 hair appointment, during which I had my hair cut and colored for the first time! Very exciting. So I struck forth from my neighborhood at 2 pm, already hungry for lunch. On the way to the Metro station, I stopped at our new Starbucks (subject of much local controversy) for coffee and a lunch special (sandwich, chips, banana and water bottle for $8.95). I didn't really want the banana and water bottle, but the staff strongly encouraged me. Why do businesses offer you lower prices to get more stuff than you need? Why did I comply?
The Starbucks, far from seeming corporate and sterile, was like everyplace else in my neighborhood: chaotic. The employees were having far too much fun together. Nobody seemed to know how to work the register. Customers were treated as potential friends. This is the egalitarian, crazy, joyful, infuriating vibe of Takoma Park.
After lunch, I took the red and orange line trains to the Eastern Market station, near Capitol Hill. There was a pleasant grassy plaza where I emerged from underground. Directly across D St., there was another Starbucks, and I stopped there as well, for a cup of green tea and the chance to write some notes for an article. Once again, I realized, I had forgotten my camera.
Afterwards, I walked down 8th St.-- with a brief detour over to 9th-- towards the Washington Navy Yard. 8th St. seemed to be a diverse, active business district, but the residential areas barely off this thoroughfare were sleepy, quiet, with an occasional dad-and-stroller or neighbors chatting on the stoop. The townhouses here were smaller than in Adams-Morgan, and the gardens less manicured, but the buildings were painted in bright, cheery colors and might have been described as "cute." I bet these streets are still expensive. What really set this neighborhood apart from other places in DC, though, was the presence of random military personnel everywhere. Outside the Marine Barracks, there was a uniformed guy standing as if on guard, but not really on guard, just for show, like the ones at Buckingham Palace. In fact, standing on the corner with his hips thrust forward, he looked more like a stripper wearing a military uniform than an actual member of our armed forces. Other similar guys were on other corners, standing around formally. Meanwhile pairs of uniformed men strolled about chatting, and a neighborhood beer garden was full of naval officers (I think) wearing service khakis. I felt as though I'd been transported momentarily back to 1942.
So I walked all the way down to the Naval Yard (beautiful buildings here), then reversed course and returned to I St., at which point I zig-zagged northwest through another residential neighborhood, ending up at attractive Marion Park and then heading back east towards the Eastern Market Metro station. Interestingly, this residential area west of 8th was markedly different than the one on the east side, though they were only blocks apart. The townhouses were not as brightly colored here-- the buildings favored a kind of 1970s bland taupe, the gardens featured minimalist evergreen shrubberies, and the people on the street appeared somewhat less prosperous. I'm no real estate expert, but I'm thinking those blocks are more affordable.
The trail took me through an alley (F St. Terrace) which is apparently one of the few DC alleys which still has a significant number of unique residences facing onto it. The sign there explained that such alley residences used to be much more numerous in the city. Apart from perhaps safety and lighting concerns, it seemed like an ideal place to live: quiet and private, plenty of vegetation, and facing the grounds of a pretty church.
Today's short walk actually took me through most of the Barracks Row trail, but I will return and visit Eastern Market, at trail's end, another day.
Two weeks later, my hair was already noticeably longer; my Metro line was under repair and it took me three trains this time to arrive at the Eastern Market station. I was determined. Fueled by an early hour of reading in the cafe down the street, drinking an almond milk cappuccino, I felt enough at peace to calmly navigate the system.
Once out of the station, this time turning north up 7th Street, I admired the fall foliage that combined with colorful buildings for a festive, though decidedly upscale, effect in the bright sunshine. Somehow I managed to be surprised, yet again, by how quickly the character of a DC neighborhood changes from block to block. Nobody could have questioned for a moment that the neighborhood I was walking through was very wealthy, even though the architecture was not so imposing as in Adams Morgan. Lovely cafes and bookshops. Subtle, trendy colors. Double-wide strollers and people seemingly at leisure. Even though we're quite near the heart of DC here, it wasn't the fast-paced, suits-and-high-heels world of my husband's office-- all neutrals, wide busy sidewalks and cell phones-- but the world of soft-focus Instagram photos, moms with placid babies and perfect sneakers, autumn picturesque and foodie heaven. Which brings me to Eastern Market, not the Metro stop, but the actual market.
I had imagined Eastern Market for years, had heard it was legendary for its seafood and-- I thought-- its international offerings, but had never been there. Without any real evidence to back up my vision, I had imagined it as a busy, chaotic, smelly, cheap, enormous marketplace with many vendors, selling fish of all kinds, questionable meats, produce, street foods of all ethnicities: basically, unthinkingly, supposing it to have been transplanted from some noisier, more vibrant nation and plunked down in the middle of Capitol Hill. How likely was that? Entirely inaccurate, as it turns out. Perhaps it was once that way. But now, at any rate, the long brick building houses a small array of butchers, fishmongers, produce-sellers, and bakers whose wares are arranged so neatly and photogenically that they might as well be part of a magazine feature. Beautiful, appealing, but-- at least at 11:00 on a Thursday-- not very crowded, and certainly neither smelly nor cheap. I headed first for a restroom, and in a sort of nearby conference hall encountered the largest convention of fancy strollers I have ever seen in my life. They had toddlers associated with them, and women who appeared to be mostly nannies, but it was the strollers that dominated the room, with people merely filling in the narrow gaps between them. It was some kind of morning early-childhood enrichment activity, that was plain, but I would have fled from the room in claustrophobic terror, had I been one of those women.
After the restroom, I browsed Eastern Market's wares. Certainly the meat selection was excellent, and ranged from pig's ears and feet to the finest steaks. Even the pig's feet were arranged with a view to attractiveness, though. I bought two large slices of country ham (the super-salty southern kind, which my husband loves and which is not available everywhere); then, at an artisan pasta counter, I bought some fresh pumpkin fettuccine and a container of mushroom marinara sauce, because my kid was planning to make pasta for dinner. Finally, from the tempting bakery at the far southern end, I purchased two turnovers for my husband who'd been specifically craving turnovers, a slice of poundcake, and a pineapple-peach muffin. This poundcake, incidentally, was the best poundcake I have ever tasted. It was like the frozen Sara Lee poundcakes I loved so much in my youth (which may not sound like a compliment, but it is), except homemade and so, so much better. And I do not even want to know how much butter there was in it, because it was dense beyond belief. I think I am now beginning to confound my walking vs. eating posts. None of my purchases were inexpensive-- although I probably paid less than I might have for products of the same high quality in a different setting.
So, this was the end of the Barracks Row trail: a trip to a very nice supermarket. And then back to the series of trains, and home through the unseasonable muggy heat to enjoy my baked goods. If my portrait of this neighborhood remains indistinct, that is because my impressions were indistinct. What do the Marines in uniform have to do with the nannies and gourmet foods, or the drab apartment buildings with the picturesque alleyways? I don't know either.