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March 27, 2008

Home Away From Home

Before today’s post, a couple of updates are warranted …

First, I need to ask for a continuance on the comic strip article I offered in response to this survey from a few weeks ago. I thought for sure that I could have it done by the end of the month, but a couple other topics muscled their way into my plans, and all of a sudden I’m looking at the final days of March. I will get to it soon, I promise … but maybe I’d better not give myself another deadline to potentially break.

Second, I mentioned that I’ve been shopping for a new camera, and last week I finally bought one. Just in time, too – because the freebie camera made by a toy company that I described in this post suddenly stopped working after the third or fourth time I used it. At least I got one post out of it – so I guess I got a little more than what I paid for.

Anyway, I got a Nikon Coolpix L11 – a solid 6 megapixel camera with all your basic features, that is compact enough to fit into the side pocket of my camel pack. It was released just a year ago, and it’s already two generations removed from the current 8MP model – which means that bargain shoppers like me can find one for under 100 bucks.

And with that, we’ll start the post …

**

When my new camera arrived, I thought it would be cool to bring it to Toro Park and take some photos to compare to the ones I took with the cheapie camera last month.

There was only one problem: Toro Park was 3,000 miles away. Instead, I took the camera here:


Rock Creek Park, District of Columbia. I spent most of the week here on business, and logged a lot of mileage in my off hours – so many, in fact, that I’ll probably make two posts out of the trip.

For today, I’ll give you a photo tour of Rock Creek Park, which I’ve come to think of as my home away from home over the past few years. So let me show you around …


I approach the park by running north on Rock Creek Parkway, a thin greenbelt that parallels the roadway all the way up from Pennsylvania Avenue. You don’t see as many cherry blossoms as you do around the mall, but the few that dot the creek banks really stand out.

Speaking of remarkable trees, take a look at this …


On windy days, there are quite a few of these trash trees lining the creek in various places. You know, everybody talks about the D.C. cherry blossoms, but these trash trees are just as distinctive. Yet for some reason, you never see them on postcards, or mentioned in tourist brochures. This city hosts a Cherry Blossom 10-Miler every year; I see no reason why it can’t have a Trash Tree 10K.


Also, on a similar note …


This is why you won’t be seeing a Rock Creek Triathlon anytime soon. Or - if you see one - this is why you shouldn’t enter it.



About 4 miles into the run, I reach Pierce Mill. Apparently it’s kind of historic. More importantly to me are two other details: 1) I know my way back to the hotel from here, and 2) it’s a landmark that most locals know about. This way, if I come across somebody when I’m lost in the forest, I can ask him to point me in the direction of Pierce Mill, and get oriented in the right direction. Yes, it’s happened a few times.


A small waterfall at the base of the mill. The fence in the background is Beach Street, which is the last patch of pavement to cross before entering the main portion of the park.


After crossing the street, it’s like entering a completely different world, where the sights and sounds of the city vanish into the trees. Once you’ve run a few minutes into the woods, it feels just like any other wilderness area. In fact …

Every now and then, you’ll encounter a few of these guys. These east coast deer always look odd to me with their long, fluffy white tails – by comparison, their California cousins have very short brown tails. Of course, when I tried to get a picture of this doe’s tail, she was more intent on smiling for the camera. I hate it when wildlife doesn’t cooperate.

Next it was my turn to smile for the camera. You’d laugh if I told you how proud of myself I was for figuring out how to use the self-timer on my new Nikon. I also surprised myself in capturing a picture where I didn't cut off my head or look like a complete goofball in fewer than 10 attempts. Not many fewer, but trust me – it’s an accomplishment.

For the most part, the trails run parallel to Rock Creek, which meanders to and from the road as you make your way on the east side of the park towards Maryland. There are several rustic bridge crossings in places where the water intersects with the roadway, with the trails ducking underneath the arches.

This doesn’t really make sense to me: there’s no apparent reason for this boardwalk to be situated in the middle of a flat, clear, dry area of the forest. I always wonder if a local Boy Scout troop built this as a project to earn a merit badge or something. At least they got the boards flat, so I guess that’s a good thing.

Further north, another wildlife encounter awaits:


The sign says it’s an amphibian breeding area - but don’t let those Beltway semantics fool you. This is nothing more than a frog brothel. It’s where the high-income New York frogs secretly come when they want a wild weekend away from the missus frog.

(By the way, will there be a statute of limitations on Eliot Spitzer jokes? I can see myself going to that well quite a few times in the future. It’s almost too easy.)

You may notice that I’m running out of daylight in these photos – and I didn’t plan ahead enough to bring any lights with me. So …


Once the trail gets too dark, the technical sections like this become pretty dangerous. Luckily, I’ve run through here enough times to know where many of the exit trails are, so I’ll cling to the dirt as long as possible until the lights go out, then make my way out to the road to finish the run.

On this night, I had a 5-hour run on the schedule, and I was able to enjoy about 3 and a half of them on the trails. The last 90 minutes were spent winding my way back towards Georgetown through the northeast part of the District. I was pretty exhausted, and everything was dark, so I didn’t pause to snap many pictures along the way. But here’s one place I was glad to see:

The lobby of the hotel that I had to walk through in my sweaty clothes and muddy shoes, more than 5 hours after I started the run. I hope I didn’t freak out the piano player too much on my way to the elevator.

With that, I was glad to call it a night. I did a couple more evening runs in D.C. that I’ll talk about next time – but since the Rock Creek route holds a singular place in my heart, it seemed only fitting to give it a singular post.

17 comments:

Paul 3/27/08, 10:42 PM  

Good job on getting out there for 5 hours!! Holy crap. that's strong.

RunBubbaRun 3/28/08, 3:44 AM  

Nice job running out there, especially having enough energy to do it during a business trip..

The trails, the sights and sounds, gotta luv it..

Backofpack 3/28/08, 5:27 AM  

I'm impressed you got five hours in while on a business trip! And that you found trails. Way to go! Your training is coming along nicely.

Anne 3/28/08, 5:54 AM  

I've got one of the 8MP Coolpix, and I swear your shots look better than mine. Very impressive that you got that much running time in on a business trip.

Bullet 3/28/08, 6:25 AM  

Nice, I'm headed to DC later this year for work. I may have to check it out. Great run.

stronger 3/28/08, 7:42 AM  

Looks so peaceful. Great picture- but you cut off your feet.

momo 3/28/08, 9:33 AM  

donald, that is awesome. i love trails! i was telling stronger that i wanted to try a longer distance race this year and if it could be on trails, i'd be such a happy camper. there's one in mississippi (www.ms50.com) maybe i'll try it... :-)

on a side note, pierce mill looks a lot like our inn in bonaparte, iowa. about three years ago, our family bought an old pants factory and turned it into a mill. the architecture is so similar. see for yourself... www.thebonaparteinn.com.

oh, and 5 hours? wow.

Thomas 3/28/08, 1:05 PM  

Just about everyone else would use a business trip as an excuse not to run for 5 hours; I have to admit I'm impressed.

Zach 3/28/08, 4:13 PM  

Looks like a great place to log some miles.

Rainmaker 3/28/08, 9:35 PM  

If you'd like, I can assist you with growing one of those trash-trees. Given I'm now in your home state, I can make a few of those trash trees 'bloom' if you'd really like. Just let me know.

And 5 hours - that's just crazy hardcore. Especially in rock creek.

Addy 3/29/08, 6:08 PM  

amazing! Thanks for taking us on such a picturesque tour with your new toy :) Looks like you got a good one!

Great job on the long run!

robtherunner 3/30/08, 3:17 PM  

Looks like a nice trail. You seem to have an idea of what business trips should be.

Annette 3/30/08, 5:21 PM  

Glad you're enjoying your new camera. I need to get a small one like that so that I can carry it with me on runs, etc. Looks like a pleasant run (not to mention, quite long!) :)

jeff 3/31/08, 8:05 AM  

yay for the new camera! thanks for taking us along for the trip.

i think you're wrong on the frog brothel thing. the sign says, "sensitive amphibians". that's where the emo newts grow up.

Lesser is More 3/31/08, 9:58 AM  

You might also want to try running in Great Falls, either on the MD or VA side. The Billy Goat Trail on the MD side would give you another good trail run, if you are looking for something other than Rock Creek Park and trash trees. Its also along the canal which goes for miles, so if you wanted some flatter, non road running, its another option close to Georgetown. On the VA side of Great Falls, they held the North Face Challenge 50 mile race last year, so I know there is a ton of good trail running opportunities out there too, but you'd have to drive to get there.

jen 3/31/08, 3:00 PM  

Very cool. Great pics!

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