Capitol Drift: The National Arboretum

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The columns rise out of the hill, and if you didn’t know better, you might think they were the ruins of an ancient civilization. But this is DC, and there’s nothing old about a city established by an Act of Congress in 1790.

So what is this place and why are these columns here?

The place is the National Arboretum located in Northeast DC. And the 22 Corinthian columns standing in the field? They were once tasked with the important job of supporting the U.S. Capitol.

That’s right; these columns used to be part of the Capitol Building.

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One Day, 50K

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“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 KarnazesUltramarathon 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.

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Recap: Rock Creek Park – Southern Trails

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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.

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Rock Creek Park: Valley and Western Ridge Trails

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The District is a surprising mix of scenic and city.

When I decided to leave Massachusetts, it wasn’t with the thought that DC was going to become my forever home. I just knew I was tired of being cold all the time and I desperately missed the sun. I really thought, especially in those first few weeks holed up in my studio apartment, that DC would be a year or two stop on my way to eventually settling in a more southern state.

I hated DC in my first few months here. I was hyper-paranoid after hearing way too many horror stories dating back to DC’s reign as the nation’s murder capital. I was frustrated with the poorly-lit, unreliable metro system. I didn’t have any friends. Everyone was dressed way too formally. I was unhappy being back in school. My list of negatives went on and on forever.

IMG_20160121_233346And then…something changed. I started meeting people, establishing friendships that are so important to me now that I can’t believe I didn’t know any of these people six years ago. I discovered a city that loves local news so much that Channel 4 has 12 hours of it a day (yay!). I learned about the neighborhoods and their character. I uncovered an endless number of delicious restaurants to try out and obsess over foodie style. And best of all, I found nature.

I knew DC had a park system before I moved here. Of course, there’s the National Mall, but I’d also heard about Rock Creek Park. Unfortunately, I knew about it for all the wrong reasons. Before I saw it for the first time, I imagined it was like Central Park or the Boston Common – a giant green space laid out in the middle of the city. I had it all wrong. Rock Creek is located below the city, around the city, through the city. If you know what to look for, there are entry points to the park all over the northwest quadrant of DC.

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Hains Point

DCIM100GOPROG1541211.Five days trapped inside due to Snowzilla. Two snow days off work. One day of jury duty. All of this strange, indoor, boring time left me claustrophobic and tense. So when Tippa messaged me on Wednesday to ask, “When are we hiking again?” My response was, “Now.”

Of course, “now” wasn’t actually possible. It was still the middle of the week, and we had a few more work days standing between us and Saturday. For me, that also meant being a responsible citizen and heading to the DC Courthouse for jury duty. Thankfully, I thought ahead and brought 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Washington, DC (this is an affiliate link, learn more) with me to stave off the boredom and find inspiration for our next trip.

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Devil’s Millhopper

Scary SinkholeSometimes, I wonder what the first settlers of what’s now Gainesville, Florida, thought when they stumbled across Devil’s Millhopper. I imagine they were strolling through the woods, minding their own business when suddenly – bam! The nice, flat land gave way to this gaping maw in the ground stretching 500 feet across and 120 feet deep. It must have been startling. One minute there was serene woods and the next a giant hole leading into the netherworld.

The setting for Devil’s Millhopper is beautiful and lush. There are ferns, pine trees, needle palms, and oaks. There’s the constant sound of birds chirping and the echo of water flowing from the rim to the bottom of the sink. And in the midst of all this peaceful beauty, there’s this feeling that you’ve stepped into something otherworldly.

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San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park

San Felasco 9Over the decade plus that I’ve lived outside of Florida, I’ve learned that most people associate my home state with sunshine and beaches, Disney and golf. Few and far between are people who know anything about the northernmost parts of the state and even fewer who have visited the city I call home.

When I think of Florida, I think of Gainesville. I think of Florida football, the 34th street wall, the Hippodrome, the spring arts festival, Paige Beck, Publix, the music scene, and nature.

So much nature.

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