Almost exactly one year ago, my sister and I biked the northern section of the Mount Vernon Trail. It was nice. We started on Theodore Island in Arlington, got a great skyline view of the Washington Monuments, saw planes flying just a few hundred feet above our heads at Gravely Point Park, passed the Dangerfield Island Marina and stopped in Old Town Alexandria for ice cream before heading back. This section of the trail is really popular; so popular in fact, you may even find yourself in a biker traffic jam. But it’s well worth it if you want to get a feel for D.C.
Fast forward one year to yesterday. I was up at 6am as I always am on weekends (why????) and feeling a bit restless. I haven’t done much neighborhood exploration lately and I felt like going somewhere , but not too far away. I did a little Googling and discovered that there’s a place called Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve less than five miles from my apartment in the Central portion of the Mount Vernon Trail. I thought this sounded interesting. The only bad thing about this plan was that it was cloudy and dreary outside. I tend to think everything looks ugly without the sun, but my only other exercise option was to jump on the stationary bike at the gym downstairs, and that seemed far more depressing and dreadful than getting out on a less than beautiful day.
One good thing about being me is that I don’t mind doing things alone. This is good because I don’t know that many people who like to do the things I like to do. For me, a walk is more about novelty — seeing new things — than the whole exercise thing. I’m not really a fast-walking, arm-pumping, ankle-weight-wearing power-walker type. I’m more of a stroller. If I see a path in the woods, I take it. I like to explore little nooks and crannies. I take too many pictures. I stop and look at things and Google them if they seem interesting. So going on a walk with me is kind of like going on a walk with a hardcore elderly bird watcher; things move slowly and tediously and you probably won’t work up a sweat.
But one bad thing about being me is that I don’t plan very well. For example, somehow I’ve made it to 29 without ever owning an umbrella, raincoat or waterproof hiking boots despite the fact that I spent five years living in rainy Latin American cities and Virginia isn’t exactly the desert. What this means — besides the fact that I should know better at my age — is that I got pretty wet during my walk. About half a mile in it dawned on me that it had been drizzling for the last 30 minutes. I came to this realization by touching my head and realizing it was wet. But I figured it was 60 degrees out, it was just a drizzle and I’m a healthy 29-year-old; a little rain wasn’t going to hurt me. About a mile in I realized the drizzle had turned into a steady rain but I was already committed; I had decided I was going to walk from Dyke Marsh to Jones Point Lighthouse no matter what. About a mile and a half in, I came to the unpleasant realization that my shoes, socks and feet were soaking wet. Then I came to the even more unpleasant realization that even if I turned around right then, I still had at least a mile and a half to go before getting back to my car. The good thing about this experience is that I learned several lessons: 1.) I need new shoes. Old, flimsy non-waterproof shoes with holes in the soles are a poor choice for foot attire; 2.) I really need to get an umbrella; 3.) It wouldn’t hurt to have a raincoat; and finally, 4.) You shouldn’t commit to a miles-long walk without the proper attire because it’s uncomfortable AND you look like something is wrong with you.
But wet or not, it was a great walk. I parked at Belle Haven Park, walked down to the Belle Haven Marina, walked over to Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve then took the Mount Vernon Trail to Jones Point Lighthouse. The fog was so dense it was almost impossible to tell where the river ended and the sky began, as you’ll see in my pictures. The trees and boats looked like lonesome ghosts emerging out of nowhere and the marina was so quiet all I could hear was the pier creaking beneath me (swaying in some places…is that safe???) and birds chirping. Actually, it was more like birds squawking, not chirping. Tons of birds, in fact. Fog is a very dramatic, eerie thing and I felt like I was in some horror movie somewhere on the New England coast. It was pretty cool. I never realized how little I get out in less than ideal, sunny conditions, but I’m glad I went; it gave me an entirely new perspective of nature.
The southern section of the Mount Vernon Trail feels very different from the northern section. The northern section has a very urban feel; you pass the Washington Monuments, the semi-high-rises of Arlington, National Airport and Old Town Alexandria, which is always exploding with people on nice weekend days. The southern section is quieter; there are still a lot of people, but it feels more rural and peaceful. After I finished my walk, I got in my car and drove the distance of the trail to Mount Vernon Estate at the most southern end of the Mount Vernon Trail and it seems like a great area for a hike. The Potomac seems, I don’t know — wilder? — and the trail itself sometimes leaves the river’s side, dipping into the woods, taking you on wooden bridges over protected wetlands, through old neighborhoods with large, 100-year-old houses (some regal, others not so much) and half a dozen riverside parks and picnic areas. I think I’m going to try to set up a bike ride with some friends next week.