Thin Ice

ice on the canal

Skaters leave their trails on the frozen canal.

Living in the city often scares me.  So much awaits just outside my front door, or outside of my two front doors.  Since we live in an apartment, we have our front door and the building’s front door, an extra step that still confounds the dog.  She prefers to bark directly at the front yard through the window.  Lately though, even she wants to stay inside on her window-seat above the heater.  On Thursday, snow covered the sidewalks during my morning walk to work.  By Friday, the south-facing pavement had dried, but by afternoon, the snow fell once again forming  a muffled winter wonderland during rush hours.  At least the wintery precipitation justified the excruciatingly cold temperatures.

The temperature dropped low enough, long enough to freeze the canal solid in spots.  We first noticed the icy surface from the Chain Bridge on Saturday, where at mid-day, several brave hockey players swirled between the banks.  The lowered water level means that any fall would be minimal, but I still consider it daring to venture out on the canal in the extreme cold.

On Sunday as the ice subsided, we carefully hugged the path during our run.  Our footsteps stamped the remnants off snow further into the dirt.  Our dog added her paw prints as well, because even if she hates the cold, she loves the snow.  She eagerly bounds through the flakes and picks the drifts over dry ground, until she lands in the cold puddle underneath. I bet the brave hockey players on the canal feel the same.


Hiking in the Heat

We ventured back to our favorite hike this weekend – the Billy Goat Trail.  The now familiar terrain makes for a challenging morning run, with some rock scaling, and we did our best to beat the 11 a.m. heat advisory, but only barely.  We started on the trail at 8:30, completed the C and B loops and connected to the Great Falls trails via the canal path.  This provided a mix of semi-level gravel surfaces, with the narrow branch-filled hilly trails that are a little more challenging.  In the end, we hiked over seven miles, draining two Camelbak water bags in the process (between the three of us, because we pack water for the dog as well.)  In addition, we have a towel, extra water bottles, and a change of clothes in the car so we can cool of as quickly as possible.  For the dog, this meant take a long drink, then collapsing in the shady back seat of the car.



Trail Blazes

Raspberries from the trail

The first signs of summer have cropped up along our favorite part of the Canal Path.  During our run this past week, we spotted 32 geese of all ages and sizes, a single young deer grazing in the nearby wooded area, and more raspberries than we could count.  Though hardly noticeably during our running pace, their ripe red color screamed out when we stopped to walk.   We probably looked crazy when we stepped off the pebbly path to get a closer look.  Most of our fellow runners, walkers, and bikers, crept or sped by seemingly unaware of these bight blazes.  Though I don’t recommended eating them straight from the trail, I did carry a few home to thoroughly clean before tasting.  Though smaller than store-bought berries, they are just as flavorful as those found at the nearby farmer’s market, and they had even fewer miles to travel – a total of 2.5 in fact.  Though with the berry picking sidetrack, this “run” took us over an hour.

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.

D.C. in bloom (and in green)

cherry blossoms

A visit to the cherry blossoms in D.C.

For this weekend’s adventure, we plotted a running route that would take us through the famous cherry blossoms of D.C. and result in a half-marathon, 13.1 mile distance.  This would be my longest run to date and my first time visiting the tidal basin in bloom.  We started at 9 a.m. and kept a good pace through Rock Creek Park, until traffic – vehicular and pedestrian – picked up.  We also saw plenty of bicyclists and the occasionally rollerblader, both of which seem to be a smart way to see the sights.  Even though it’s early in the season, the trees were already in bloom, providing a gorgeous, lace-like cover to parts of the path.  Our run slowed to a walk and eventually to a halt to take photos.  We stayed along the river, where I was surprised to see a father and son fishing over the railing, and even more surprised when one of them actually pulled something in.  Otherwise, we only shared this part of the peninsula with geese and ducks and a fair amount of debris that had been washed ashore.

Georgetown canal

The Canal in Georgetown

Our return route took us by several of the monuments, which continuously draw a crowd, making it somewhat difficult to navigate the baby strollers at a descent pace.  The number of runners also increased, possibly because of the nice weather, though I had expected to see fewer runners since most competed in the Rock and Roll half-marathon.  By the afternoon, no doubt, they were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.  For our Saturday, we enjoyed the natural green that can be found in D.C. We ended in Georgetown via the canal path, which offered a view at the backside of a quaint part of the city.  Here, the pavement turns to cobbled bricks and stones, the path narrows, and eventually the running surface returns to dirt. Though I noticed that several of the weekend athletes avoided the ground altogether, preferring instead to take to the water, on a cherry blossom boat ride, a paddle boat or canoe, or one of the many rowing teams that broke through morning fog and continued to row well into the afternoon.

Time for Trails

The Washington Post ran a story this weekend from a couple who decided to bike the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.  It’s the D.C. end that interests me, and it’s one of our favorite places for long weekend runs, even on the shortest day of the year.  With additional afternoon sunlight and spring arriving a little more each day, it’s the perfect time to explore the running routes in D.C.

In the fall, the tow path and canal are almost empty.

Starting at Georgetown, the dirt tow path runs parallel to the paved Capital Crescent Trail.  On weekdays, the CCT bicycle traffic picks up with commuters, so it can be difficult to run with the dog.  The first time we ventured out on this trail, I even questioned whether or not dogs were allowed.  They are, as long as they are kept on a short leash.  On the weekends, you’ll see plenty of them trotting along the more natural tow path, leashed to walkers, runners, and the occasional bicyclist. This path also attracts fishermen and families who congregate along the banks when the canal is full.

The route we choose depends on the surface and scenery that we want.  The tow path, for all its small stones and pebbles, offers a relatively level surface and hugs the Potomac River into Maryland.  From the Key Bridge, it flows west past a rental boat house to reveal a kayak course that has been the subject of a CBS Sunday Morning segment.  After the dam, the views expand, so it’s worth parking at one of the many locks along the route and starting your journey from there.

The Capital Crescent Trail has a steep incline to begin, crossing over the canal and arching further inland through Maryland.  Though on the reverse route to Georgetown, the running is mostly downhill.  Plenty of side paths lead into the suburbs of Maryland and a McDonold’s emerges approximately four miles in, as a scented, primary-colored reminder of civilization that could almost be forgotten.  The trail skirts the outside of the city, as quick get away from hustle and bustle that more characteristic define the district. Perhaps that’s why Nancy Szokan found it so meditative during her biking trip.

Sole Searching

Thankfully, we live in a part of the city that tolerates bare feet.  My husband tested this tolerance at least twice in the past week: first by locking himself out of the apartment without shoes and second by running in his Vibram Five Fingers shoes. In the first case, he walked three miles to and from my office, completely barefoot, with blisters as a result.  In the second instance, he swears by the experience of running barefoot, claiming that it alleviates his knee pain and makes him faster.  I almost believe him, particularly after he shed three minutes off of his 5k time, so this weekend I decided to test the trend myself.

In shopping for new shoes, I tried on several minimalist styles, including the Five Fingers, which take more than five minutes to get on the first time and feel oddly constraining and freeing at the same time.  Uncomfortable standing still, they provide more freedom when running, but I couldn’t commit to purchasing a pair, even after an REI employee made an excellent pitch based on his on running.  The only downside, according to him, was that you have to watch your step.  When running with a dog, he admitted, this can be tricky. So I took one step back to the Merrell cross-training shoes that also feature a Vibram sole.  Though closed toed, they provide a similar minimalist feel without the awkwardness of a glove.  They will be great for walking to work, taking the dog outside, and even hiking around the city.

Oddly enough, Vibram also soles booties for dogs, so I guess Georgia will be the next one in the family to experience the minimalist style.  But she’s already used to walking the streets barefoot, so we are sure to have more runs and adventures in the weekends to come. Though Labor Day might be the unofficial end to the summer, being barefoot makes the season seem a little longer.