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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Be Prepared

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Thirty-six hours after this was taken, I was in urgent care getting diagnosed with a staph infection.

A few months ago, I had an unfortunate and unforeseen accident while hiking. To make matters worse, I also broke one of the cardinal rules of being an outdoors lady: I went on a hike unprepared.

When you choose to hike you also choose to take on the responsibility of being prepared for anything that might happen while you’re out on the trail. Sure, some circumstances might be beyond your control, but there are steps that you can take to mitigate those risks. And I didn’t take any of them.

No one in my group had a first aid kit.

None of us were ready for a worst case scenario.

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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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