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?
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.
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.
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 light was beautiful today.