On the Trail of a Billy Goat

We soaked up what now feels like the last day of Spring by spending Saturday hiking the trails around the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.  Our intent was to find the Billy Goat Trail, a 4.7 mile craggy path that parallels the C & O Canal.  Dogs aren’t allowed on the northern-most section A, for good reason.  Apparently the path has some sizable rocks, hence the name, and hikers need to scramble over this part.  Part B and C are less strenuous, so I read.  We drove a little too far, missing the starting point for B, and landing squarely at the end of MacArthur Blvd at Lock 20 of the canal.

From here, we ran a portion of the canal path, a familiar turf that I’ve written about before, but through new scenery that included an overlook of the falls.  Unfortunately, the path is currently under construction, so after running into the fence about a mile and a half out, we turned back, clocked in the 5k and took the detour into the trails.  These are dog friendly areas, but leashes are required and recommended.  Within 15 minutes we saw enough wildlife for the dog to chase after in her dreams, including a medium-sized black snake and plenty of water fowl.  We walked almost back to the Anglers Inn, where we should have started on the Billy Goat Trail.  Instead we turned onto the Valley Trail, which led to the Gold Mine Loop.  This route took us up to a spectacular overlook, where we could see not only the path we had run earlier, but the falls.   Fortunately, the path back to the parking lot was all downhill.

The park service offers a map of the area, so you can plan your hike, but the interconnected trails are explorer friendly if you don’t want to plan ahead.  We made the trek in under two and a half hours but packed plenty of water for ourselves and the dog. Otherwise, she wanted to taste every creek that we crossed.

One Year

I’ve considered writing one of those time-defined memoirs that tell about a year in the life of someone. Two of my favorites include The Happiness Project, where Gretchen Rubin explores different facets of happiness for 12 months, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, where she lives seasonally with her family, explain when, where, and how things grow, and more importantly offering recipes for ways to eat them. My cooking skills extend to grill cheese sandwiches and spaghetti, and while I admire the pursuit of happiness, the thought of discussing and dissecting it for a year depresses me a little bit.  With cooking and philosophy checked off the list, I’m left with other lifestyle topics, which all seem to come down living with or without something.  So now that we’ve spent almost a year in the city and since I just turned another year older last week, here’s out list of things we have given up or gained – consciously or unconsciously – during our first year living in D.C.

  • Cable TV.  Thanks to Hulu and Netflix, we don’t miss our cable TV often.  We can still watch all of the shows we like, on our own schedule.  Though I still succumb to marathons of multiple episodes, I can skip those that I’ve seen too many times or those that I never want to see again.  I’m no longer the victim of weekend SVU marathons on USA.  Instead, I’m thinking about training for a half-marathon and spending more evenings running after work instead of running home to catch a particular TV show.
  • A second bedroom.  As a result, we have almost no overnight visits from relatives.  One brave soul stayed over once, for several nights, but having just graduated from college a few years ago and having survived life in a fraternity, he was comfortable sleeping on the floor.  We provided the air mattress, and the dog that quickly claimed it as her own.
  • A car.  We still have one car, but it stays parked on a side street most of the week.  I walk to work, which is one of the easiest commutes possible, and with the warm winter, I rarely needed to take the bus.  Fortunately, public transportation is a great option as well.  Plus, we could take a bike through Capital Bikeshare or rent a truck through ZipCar or get a little smartcar through the newest service Car2Go.  You can find whatever
  • About 500 sq. ft. of space the the stuff that filled it.  We used to keep every box in our attic.  Empty boxes that our toast or coffee maker or hammock stand came in.  The thought was that when we moved we could put everything back in the box.  That worked to a degree, but for four years the boxes collected dust.   We also culled down our clothing and books, putting those college textbooks into storage until we have more room for them.  Eventually, I realize I’m not going to look at them again, but I’m not that stage.
  • Outdoor space.  That hammock box mentioned earlier came in handy when we put the hammock and stand into storage.  Not only does our apartment have less space, but it does not have a deck where we can put our giant six bench picnic table or hammock.  I miss these things, and our grill.  The only good thing about a shared yard is that our dog makes friends and we have access to more herbs that we would have planted on our own.  We don’t have the room for a full garden, so we supplement these herbs with fresh vegetables from the nearby farmers market.  No weeding or yard maintenance required.
  • High electric bills.  One added benefit of fitting into less space is that it take less energy to heat and cool that space.  Central air conditioning would be nice, but a window unit works well enough.
  • Eating out at Wendy’s and/or Chick-fil-A once a week. These were easy to get to where we lived before.  They practically resided across the street from one another, so depending on the direction you were traveling, you would swing into one of the fast food establishments for an easy and expected meal.  They both sponsored 5k races where they gave away coupons that prompted us to patron their places even more.  And if we weren’t in the mood for a chicken sandwich or a frosty, McDonald’s was right next door.   Now our strip of restaurants in the city includes two sushi restaurants, a Lebanese cafe, two pizzerias, a Belgian brunch spot, and of course a Starbucks.

Given this last category and prior habit, it comes as no surprise that I picked the burger place for my birthday dinner last week.  We ventured to the The Shake Shack in Dupont Circle.  Though portions are small for the price, and the fries are nondescript,  but the burger was fresh and topped with a tasty sauce, and the shake was as delicious as expected.  In fact, the service and atmosphere is reminiscent of those burger joints that can still be found on corners in small towns, the kinds of places where the line goes out the door no matter the size of the population.

The Finish Line

Last weekend, we ran the Monument 10K in Richmond.  I didn’t mention it here before, partly because I didn’t want to jinx our run and partly because announcing it would have made the training more serious.  Though training in winter is never that much fun, we had a pretty warm season, and aside from an allergy attack the week before, we were able to keep to our schedule and run good times for our respective waves.

We considered running a local race in D.C., such as the Cherry Blossom 5k held the same weekend, but the Richmond race served as a homecoming of sorts. We have family and friends in the area who could cheer us on, which is important when you are one in 40,000 runners, and the course isn’t as daunting as navigating the streets of D.C. In the Monument 10k, you run out and back on a single-wide street that is divided by a large grassy media.  On any given day, Monument Avenue would be one of the most picturesque streets in the city, but on the 10k Saturday it comes alive with bands at every cut-through and residents cheering on from their balconies and front porches.

Even the drizzle didn’t dampen the spirits of the runners, who came in colorfully-clad waves throughout the morning.  From where I stood, the wave start worked out perfectly.  I had enough space to navigate, but I was still surrounded by other runners who kept me motivated and on pace.  For 6.2 miles, the only thing in front of me were other runners, who from a distance appeared to be bobbing like they were floating out to see.

Now the challenge is to find our next race to run.