3am I arrive in Washington, DC having barely slept a wink.
The bus waiting area on one of the upper floors of Union Station has what appears to be a mix of homeless mixed with stranded travelers. Downstairs to the main floor I’m surprised by how many people there are this late. Or is it early?
I grab a trolley map to refresh my memory of how to get across the city to the southern terminus of the C&O Canal Trail somewhere near the Watergate Complex.
Massachusetts Ave to the Washington Convention Center. K St. NW all the way to the Potomac River.
Outside of Union Station, homeless people sleep in every available space around the Liberty Bell. I find an empty spot to wait for sunrise but a homeless guy pacing is ranting untillegible words. Something angry. Something he keeps repeating.
I decide to wait at least another hour inside. When I do come back out again he is still pacing, still ranting.
I work my way through the city, long before sunrise. Construction closes sidewalks and I end up cutting through Chinatown before I get to Thompson’s Boat Rental.
Hoardes of young muscular people are out for an early morning row. I figure I’ll sit off to the side at Tidewater Lock, mile marker zero, but there is already a homeless guy sleeping there.
Is that what I’m going to look like when I’m hiking?
I give it another hour, sitting there on the bank of the Potomac River watching skiffs(?) go out, planes taking off from nearby Dulles(?) and waiting for the sun to come up.
The homeless guy still hasn’t moved.
So, as quietly as I can I go down to mile marker zero and try to snap some pictures without including him in the shot.
Back around to Thompson’s to fill my water bottle, down the road to the canal walkway, past the Georgetown Visitor Center which has a closed indefinitely sign hanging in the window. And I cannot beleive how many people are out at 7am to run or ride bikes.
After about 5 miles the crowd thins and by 6 miles it feels like you are the only one out there with the exception of the traffic noise coming from somewhere on your right and the regular flow of jet planes overhead flying as if they were following the Potomac.
By Lock 8, the river center, my shirt and shorts are soaked in sweat. The hike isn’t strenuous, but the heat combined with the humidity make for a very damp hike. I strip off my shirt and hang it in the sun. Not something I would normally do because I am self concious of my farmers tan and extra pounds from working in a restaurant for far too long. And sure enough, as soon as I do, a parade of people start appearing from nowhere.
Lunch is Gatorade made from the tap water hose @ Thompson’s Boat Rental and a single multi grain bar. I’m just not hungry. Maybe it’s the heat.
Then I realize that I’m halfway through my planned miles for the day and it’s only 10am. I should slow down I tell myself. But the truth is that I haven’t been putting in much effort, hoping to ease back into putting on a pack and hiking double digit miles every day.
Actually I was so tired from the lack of sleep the last few nights I had to step onto the middle of the trail instead of taking up room on the right. I kept nodding off as I was walking and didn’t want to take a dive into the canal with my pack strapped to me.
Glasses break. Phones dead.
Great Falls Tavern, not the tavern I expected. Food was still available, but a little overpriced so I didn’t spend anything.
Turns out my camera is almost dead too. What the hell is going on?
Then I realize that I don’t have to be anywhere. I don’t have plans or anyone expecting me back. At first, it’s nice. Then it starts to dawn on me that I also don’t belong anywhere.
At Swain’s Lock I decide to call it a day despite it being early.
Then as it gets later I realize that I should have hiked more in the morning and late afternoon and relaxed during the heat of the day. I should have stayed at the Tavern and charged my phone and camera.
Long before sunset I’m mad at myself for not putting in more miles.
Guy in his tent watching movies on his tablet all night. A couple of other people but no one talks to each other. Jets overhead, the sound of herons across the lake.