I haven’t been around much lately. No, I haven’t been on some epic vacation in an exotic location. My journey was a little more off the beaten path. I spent the last few months taking a very intensive course in tour guiding, and I am now a licensed DC Tour Guide.
Random? You bet.
There are a lot of things that led me to tour guiding, and one of them was this blog. For the past year, I’ve been sharing my adventures and insights with all of you. Most of the time, my story is also the story of DC and of discovering the trails and hidden spaces that exist in this city. And since, deep down, I’m still the same person who spent four years pursuing degrees in American History and American Studies, I’ve found myself retelling DC’s story on the pages of this blog.
The more I’ve researched DC to write these pieces, the more I’ve looked for other ways to share the District’s fascinating history. Becoming a part-time tour guide was the logical culmination of my search.
Just like riding a bike. Once you know how to do something, you’ll know how to do it forever. Easy peasy.
But you know what’s not “just like riding a bike”? Riding a bike.
When I was a kid, I was nearly inseparable from my bike. From the time I figured out how to get the wheels over the bump between our driveway and the street without falling, my bike and I were unstoppable.
I would ride down the four roads in my neighborhood, pushing myself to top speed as I circled the cul-de-sacs. Those were the best days. I would entertain myself by singing random songs as I pedaled (clearly, I was a bit of an odd kid), often meeting up with my neighborhood friends, Alex, Kelsey, Carrie, and Tensi, as I patrolled my neighborhood territory.
Then, I got older.
Mt. Everest. Courtesy of Wikipedia user Rdevany.
I have recurring nightmares about Mount Everest.
There’s nothing in my life that’s given me a frame of reference for what it would be like summit a mountain taller than the ones we have on the East Coast. I can’t even imagine being surrounded by the kind of snow and ice you’d have to climb to make it to the top of the world’s highest peak. Still, I go through periods where my dreams are gripped by falls into crevasses; fingers blackened by frostbite; and the long, cold sleep that leaves climbers trapped on the mountain for eternity.
This is the ugly truth: I’m terrified of Everest.
Of course, this is illogical. Unless something changes in my life, I have zero risk of suffering an Everest-related catastrophe. The distance from Washington, DC to Nepal is 7,626 miles. Assuming I somehow got a direct flight, it would take me 16 hours to get to Kathmandu. That wouldn’t even be the end of the journey; I would still need to fly to Lukla and go on a multi-day trek to base camp. And really, no one is ever going to force me to pay thousands of dollars to summit a mountain I don’t want to climb (this year, climbers shelled out anywhere from $30,000 to $85,000).
Given the logistics, there’s no way that I’m in any imminent danger from Mount Everest.
But my fear persists.
It would be enough if I were just quietly afraid, but my reaction to Everest is similar to the way rubberneckers treat traffic accidents. I want nothing to do with the mountain, but I can’t stop myself from reading everything I can about it.
“Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not demanding more from yourself – expanding and learning as you go – you’re choosing a numb existence. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.”
― Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner
As I get older the desire to push and push and push myself until I reach my physical limits is growing stronger. I don’t know where this need is coming from, but reading Karnazes’ words makes me wonder — is this an attempt to expand my parameters? To push away from a numb existence by taking myself to the brink?
Let’s back up a bit.
Several months ago, Sireen accidentally discovered the One Day Hike while shopping at REI. In a conversation with one of the associates, she learned about this 100K challenge hike that happened every year on the C&O Canal. It sounded interesting to her, and she told me about it while we were on one of our hikes. I was also intrigued, and as soon as I had access to the internet, I got my Google on to learn more.
I’d been seriously thinking about taking on a challenge. Four years ago, I completed the two-day, 39.3 mile Avon Walk. I loved the experience, but I struggled to reach the $1,800 fundraising minimum. I missed having a big goal to work up to, but I didn’t know if I could handle taking on a major fundraiser on top of training and my other responsibilities. With 100K and 50K options and no fundraising requirement, it looked like the One Day Hike could be my new outlet. Excited, we both signed up when registration opened in January and started training to tackle 31.1 miles in a single day.
The first mile is always the hardest.
It doesn’t matter that I walk everywhere – to the grocery store, to the metro, to restaurants – it’s always hard for me to get started. I tend to be stiff in the beginning. I feel it in my stance. I do this weird thing where I start tensing up my right foot, flexing it too much until I start getting that uncomfortable pre-Charlie horse feeling.
And then, after the first mile, I start to relax. My foot chills out, and I settle into a rhythm. I start to exist just from the waist down. Everything that I am is focused on my hips, my thighs, my knees, my calves, and my feet. It becomes harder to slow myself to a stop than it is to keep going and going and going forever.
Last year, I missed the cherry blossoms. I didn’t think it would matter to me. The cherry blossoms are an awesome phenomenon that I’d seen four years in a row – missing one year was just a part of life.
But I did care.
There was just something so sad about not taking part in DC’s official “hello” to spring. Looking at pictures while I was visiting my family in Florida didn’t do the experience justice. For about two weeks, the District transforms into this mystical place that exists under a cloud of white blossoms. Petals float gently through the air every time the wind blows. It feels magical — there’s nothing else like it.
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The weekend of February 20, I didn’t have much time for an outing, so I did a small section of a loop outlined in the book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Washington, DC. That small taste wasn’t enough. The tiny bit of the route that I saw was so enticing, I spent the next week thinking about it. What did the rest look like? Where did it lead? Would the finish match the awesome beginning?
I only had to wait seven days to find out. The weekend called for warmer temperatures and clear skies, making it perfect for a Saturday trek. Sireen drove out to DC bright and early to join me for the loop, and after a brief warm up on the side of the road, we headed to the Zoo.