Monday, November 14, 2016

Day 0: Capitol Fourth

July 4: I had been looking for a trail to hike in July. I had plans for August and September already, but I was itching to do a relatively short hike to fill in July for a couple of weeks and mentally turned over ideas a couple of months early. I needed something that would take about two weeks, and could be reasonably hiked in July. And something I hadn't done before. I'm not big on repeating trails!

The lobby of the Holocaust Museum
And finally, I had the thought to hike the C&O Canal or known by its formal name the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. I'd first heard about the trail in 2003 during my Appalachian Trail thru-hike which happens to overlap this trail for a couple of miles near Harpers Ferry, WV. Even in 2003, during my AT thru-hike, I remember thinking, "Wow! I could just turn off the AT here and in three or four days, be exploring the jungles of Washington, DC!"

I didn't, though. Katahdin was my goal then, not Washington. I did later make a trip or two to Washington to explore the sights, but never really considered going back to the C&O Canal to walk its length again. Until now.... In July, the temperatures would probably be unpleasantly warm. This was the same time of year I'd gone through Harpers Ferry on my thru-hikes. It's hot! But still... it's doable... No snow or ice to worry about. At least trees would provide plenty of shade. And there would be plenty of water along the route--the entire trail follows the length of the Potomac River.

I still didn't have a specific start date in mind. The actual start date didn't really matter--anywhere from the last week of June to the first half of July would have been fine. Whenever I got my ducks in a row and was ready to go! The main thing I needed to do was to sew a new backpack. I wanted something larger than the one I used on the AT last year. Not so much for this trip, but for future hikes I had in mind that would require a larger backpack.

A date solidified by mid-June when I got into a conversation with Blueberry on Facebook and happened to mention that I decided to hike the C&O Canal from Washington, DC, to Cumberland, MD. You might remember Blueberry from my Appalachian Trail adventures last year: He's quite the character!

He asked if I was going to see the Independence Day fireworks in Washington--a thought that had never even crossed my mind, but now that he mentioned it, that sounded like an awesome idea! I've heard that they're some of the best in the country, which seems reasonable for being the nation's capital. What better place to celebrate the country's birthday than in the capital? (Okay, maybe Philadelphia, but the capital is a good place too!)

So bam! I now had a start date. July 4th. Washington to Cumberland! I'd probably finish in mid-July. I also suggested that Blueberry could hike the trail with me if he had the time or inclination. He had the inclination, but time was short. Although maybe he'd join me for the first few days of the trail.

With my deadline, I quickly started work on my new pack. At a glance, it looked identical to the pack I used last year, except this one had two differences: It was considerably larger. It had close to double the volume of last year's model, and I decided to create unpadded straps for it. Padding, I decided, didn't actually help very much on straps. The width of the straps was more important than padding for comfort. I wanted to spread out the load on my shoulders as much as possible. You can put 50 pounds of feathers on your back or 50 pounds of rocks on your back, but either way, it'll still feel like 50 pounds.
What the heck is Blueberry doing to FDR?!!!!

So I created two packs. The first was a day pack--I needed a new one anyhow--but it allowed me to test the unpadded strap system as a "proof of concept." I loaded up the new day pack with heavy books and filled it to the brim, and walked around for miles wearing it to see how it would feel on my shoulders. At the end of the day, my shoulders were sore from carrying all that heavy weight, but no more sore than it would have been had I walked around with padded straps. The new strap system passed my tests. As an added bonus, unpadded straps were a lot faster and easier to make than padded ones. It would take me an entire day of sewing to create padded straps. I could knock out the unpadded ones in less than a half hour.

With that test out of the way, I quickly put together my new backpack and prepped for my trip to the nation's capital.

Amanda and I flew in late on July 3rd and checked into a nearby hotel.

The morning of the fourth was dreary and overcast and rain was expected on and off throughout the day. It wasn't an auspicious start to the day!

We took the metro into DC, and the first place Amanda and I headed to was the Holocaust Museum. I'd never been there before and the last time we were in town, they had given out all of the day's tickets already. We wanted to get there early enough in time to get tickets. We picked up three of them--Blueberry was also on the metro coming in from a different direction and we'd be meeting him there.

The Holocaust Museum is a sad place to visit as you might imagine, and we found it all the more sad because a lot of the prejudices and intolerance that led to the Holocaust are still things that plague society today. When Jews tried to escape Nazi Germany, the rest of the world--including the United States--often refused to accept the new refugees, who later were sent to concentration camps. Given the refugee crises in Europe today and many of their citizens (the United States as well) wanting to turn their backs on refugees--again--it's hard not to compare this horrible time in history to the world today. The religious intolerance and xenophobia that fueled the Holocaust is still alive and well today, both domestic and abroad.

Blueberry and Amanda get in a breadline at the FDR Memorial.
Hey, is that Blueberry checking out Amanda's butt?! Eyes up! Eyes up!

After that sobering visit, we asked Blueberry if there was anything he really wanted to see while he was there. This, as it turned out, was his first time in Washington, DC. His only request was to see the Lincoln Memorial. Easily done! But I couldn't help but ask him why? After all, he was from Georgia and liked to refer to the Civil War as the "War of Northern Aggression." Wasn't Lincoln the bad guy from that point of view?

"Yes," Blueberry told us. He wanted to "meet the enemy" to better know what he was up against. Said with a completely straight face, I almost believed him. =)

We took the scenic route towards the Lincoln Memorial, walking around the Jefferson Memorial at the Tidal Basin and passing the FDR Memorial before arriving at the Lincoln Memorial. Walking around often times proved to be difficult. Chain-link fences had been set up all over the national mall with narrow holes opened for security checkpoints. We'd have to walk around the fences until we found the opening, then have our bags searched every time we wanted to enter one of them. We quickly made it a policy of trying to limit the number of times we'd have to exit and re-enter the secure areas.

Late in the afternoon, we noticed more and more people setting up camp on the national mall in preparation for the fireworks later that evening and Amanda agreed to save a spot for us on the slope going up to the Washington Monument. There was still some daylight, though, and being Blueberry's first time in Washington, we figured he had to see a bit more before we stopped.

We headed back out of the secure area and towards the Air and Space Museum. We really didn't have time to explore that whole building--you could spend all day just exploring the one building--but we went in to do a quick walk-through. While inside, Amanda had called me on my phone and asked for us to pick up something for her to eat. Upon learning we were at the Air and Space Museum, she said that there was a McDonalds there and she'd be happy with a couple of small hamburgers or something.
The Korean War Memorial

So we wandered over the McDonalds. Blueberry and I got dinner as well--we were both hungry anyhow! But we ran into a problem when we tried to re-enter the museum.... drinks weren't allowed in the museum. We couldn't leave with our drinks! But it turned out that we could leave outside from an emergency exit which is what we proceeded to do. Drinks and a couple of quickly cooling hamburgers still in hand. =)

We continued around the national mall, up towards the Capitol building, then down towards the White House. It's kind of cool to see these iconic buildings in real life if you'd never seen them before, and Blueberry had never seen them before. And anyhow, we didn't want to go across the mall since it would have required going through another security check. Instead, we went around it.

Near the Capitol building, a squirrel dashed across the lawn and up a tree, and I sensed Blueberry wanting to chase it. He'd done this on the Appalachian Trail last year, and even managed to kill a groundhog and cook it for dinner over the campfire later that evening.

"Blueberry!" I shouted. "No! Leave the squirrels alone! There are kids around for God's sake! And lots of policemen! A LOT of policemen! Walk away from the squirrel!"

You could sense a certain degree of sadness, but Blueberry walked away from the squirrel like a chastised puppy.

At the White House, without thinking, I joked to Blueberry about "not jumping the White House fence." As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I knew it was a mistake. Blueberry's eyes opened wide as he contemplated actually jumping the White House fence. He quickly decided against it, much to my relief, but still wanted to pretend like he was about to jump it. "The keyword," I told him, "is to pretend to jump it. Pretend!"

He put his umbrella in his mouth and gripped the metal bars making up the White House fence, wide-eyed and crazy-looking as you could imagine. "This is a great photo!" I told him, meaning it. It looked hilarious in my camera.
Blueberry wanted to visit the Lincoln Memorial in
order to "meet the enemy."

Darkness was quick approaching now, and we decided it was best to get back to Amanda near the Washington Monument. The line at the security checkpoint was considerably longer now. Earlier in the day, there were no lines at all--it was merely a hassle. Now Blueberry and I had to wait for 10 agonizing minutes to get to the front of the line. Agonizing because both of us had to pee and the porta-potties were on the other side of the security fence.

Once past security, we rushed to the lines of porta-potties and took care of business. The crowds on the national mall were much bigger than when we left Amanda. Once we arrived, she ate her McDonalds burgers and went off to do her own potty break, relieving her of the duty to guard our spot for the evening.

I was amazed at the crowds. I knew Washington, DC, on the Fourth of July--for the fireworks would be crowded, but I had hoped the on-and-off rain storms all day would have discouraged people from coming out. Maybe it did--I had nothing to compare these crowds to--but it certainly didn't discourage many! There were people everywhere!

I semi-joked with Amanda that if we were to be killed in a terrorist attack, this would be the where it would happen this year. We very rarely go to crowded places preferring to avoid hoards of people. Very rarely do we end up at large stadium events or hang around places that would make obvious terrorist targets. Not so much because we're afraid of terrorist attacks, but they just aren't the kind of places we like going to usually. There was certainly a lot of security prowling the area today--considerably more than I'd seen on previous visits to Washington. And I could totally imagine that there are terrorists who would absolutely love to cause a mass panic or casualty event in the heart of Washington on Independence Day. It's so thick with symbolism, how could they not be thinking it?

I knew the likelihood of being killed (or injured) in a terrorist attack was low, but if it were to happen.... this evening really would have been the most likely time. (Spoiler alert: no terrorist attacks!)

At the appointed time, the fireworks shot off over the Reflecting Pool with the Lincoln Memorial far in the distance. Although the rain had stopped, the cloud layer was low and some of the fireworks got lost in the clouds--a disappointment, to be sure. But we saw enough that it was still fun and not a complete waste of time!

After the fireworks ended, I walked up to the base of the Washington Monument and took several photos. Although the C&O Canal officially started a few miles away in Georgetown, I wanted to walk around the National Mall as sort of an "approach trail" to the C&O Canal, and I wanted this hike to begin at the Washington Monument. At night, in the fog and rain, the photos probably wouldn't be great, but I wanted to try anyhow! Because, why not? =)

We parted ways with Blueberry at the metro station. Blueberry didn't have time to join me for a few days on the C&O Canal so I'd be hiking without him. But it was fun catching up with one of the Four Horsemen before the hike!

Blueberry pretends to jump the White House fence. However, I did create this fake press release about him being arrested for jumping the fence. =)
The fireworks were fun... even if some of the higher ones got lost in the clouds.

Washington Monument

Amanda and I take the metro back to the hotel for the night. =)


Karolina said...

Yeah! Green Tortuga's next hiking blog! Let's the adventure of reading it begin! :-)

Ryan said...

Yes! I got a comment! I was sweating it out there for a bit! =)

Baqash said...

Comment. :-)

Dilton Martian said...

Hooray! A new series of blogs! That gives me something to look forward too.