"Dopé!" I say to myself in French early on a Sunday morning, as I finish my second cup of coffee and go upstairs to pop a couple of ibuprofen. Dopé is a taunt shouted at Lance Armstrong during the Tour de France by skeptical spectators who can't believe he has gotten to where he is without chemical assistance. In my case caffeine is a wake-up call, a voluntary addiction. Anti-inflammatory medication is a temporary crutch for my ankle, which aches after a too-abrupt ramp-up of mileage during the past few weeks. Legal drugs, to be sure, but I'd much rather do without. Sometimes I ask myself whether I should give up fancy padded socks and high-tech cushioned shoes. Then I come to my senses. "Dopé!"
"You dope!" I say to myself in English an hour later. I've arrived at the starting point for a much-anticipated 20 mile race and find myself the only one there. A quick phone call confirms that the event was held yesterday, on Saturday. I simply misread the schedule. "You dope!"
What next? Pre-race butterflies magically leave my stomach as soon as I discover my mistake; I'm now ready to stretch my legs. Another call, and friend KS agrees to go jogging with me. He leads me at a brisk pace along a course in his neighborhood, a couple of laps around a huge open field where local TV/radio transmitter antennas tower adjacent to a conjunction of freeways. We do ~4 miles together, plus warm-up and cool-down walks, chatting all the while.
I drive home, still in the mood for motion. Hmmm --- there's a gap on my route map between the origin of the Anacostia River and the National Mall. I've been thinking about filling it, some day. Today? A check of the charts suggests that the missing link is maybe half a dozen miles along city streets; add a few more for zig-zags. It will take me a similar trek to reach the starting point if I follow some nice paths I know along tributary streams. Total 15-20 miles, assuming I ride the subway home. Sounds both feasible and fun, especially since there are a couple of obvious opportunities to bail along the way and take public transit back to Che^z. And some solo time might be refreshing.
I change socks; feetsies feel fine. I fill a water bottle, tuck a few dollars and some change into a pouch along with a cellphone and an energy bar. Plans A through Z are available to me if necessary. I grab a GPS receiver and set off.
It's a lovely day, unseasonably warm for early January, with scattered clouds, light breezes and damp roads from earlier showers. I'm dressed in my usual summer attire of thin mesh shirt and dayglo fluorescent orange-pink shorts. High visibility helps when crossing busy streets. I take it slow and give myself generous walk breaks every 5 minutes, plus occasional bonus walks on uphill segments. Average pace is a comfortable 11-12 minutes/mile.
After half an hour along local streets I join Sligo Creek Trail. I greet joggers headed upstream and wave at babies being pushed along in their perambulators. Cyclists blast past --- how can they see enough to enjoy themselves at such a speed? Wooden bridges escort the trail across water that riffles and ripples on the rocks below. Squirrels dart away at my fearsome approach. I cross from Montgomery into Prince George's County and pause at a neighborhood store to buy something sugary to drink. Then I juggle GPS, water, and cherry cola for the next few miles until I finish the bottle and find a trash can to discard it in.
I reach the end of Sligo Creek and continue down the Northwest Branch Trail. Stairs to the West Hyattsville metro station beckon --- but I resist the temptation to stop. A dog-walker confirms that Rhode Island Avenue is the next major street, just before the railroad bridges. I leave the footpath and climb an embankment. I'm on US Route 1.
Now instead of flowing waters, sidewalks lead me beside parked cars and bus stops, fire stations and pawn shops, garages and liquor stores. At the two hour mark I cross Eastern Avenue and enter the District of Columbia. Kids on an apartment balcony shout greetings down at me. I catch a fragment of a Sunday afternoon sermon through a half-open church door. Several passers-by smile at me and say "Happy New Year!" I thank them and return the benediction.
The weather remains warm, almost uncomfortably so. My shorts start to chafe; my shirt is sweat-soaked; my pace slows. I take advantage of DONT WALK signs to catch my breath --- wisely, given the number of cars that speed through red lights in front of me. But the old legs still feel good. I don't even think about punching out as the route takes me by another metro stop.
Approaching downtown I turn onto 7th Street NW, thread my way around construction projects, and pass the DC Convention Center. There's an automobile expo. Attendees carry away big logo-marked plastic bags of loot. They look happy.
I slant down New York Avenue to the White House. Guards guard the entrances. Concrete barriers and spiked fences form a backdrop for people taking pictures of one another. Street vendors block half the sidewalks with souvenir t-shirt displays.
Then the Mall, where geese honk and tourists attempt to refold maps. The high density of landmarks overwhelms my little GPS receiver's screen and I give up trying to consult it. I proceed west past the long black walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. There's a water fountain that I remember from last winter, the first functional one along the route today. I refill my squeeze bottle.
The Lincoln Memorial rises in front of me. I climb the slippery-wet marble steps and pause to read an inscription where Martin Luther King Jr. spoke, then turn to look back at the Washington Monument. The obelisk blocks the view of the Capitol building, but the Library of Congress dome peeks around on the right. In the foreground the Reflecting Pond doesn't reflect; it's drained.
I enter the shadows inside the memorial. Abraham Lincoln's statue broods above a few dozen people who speak in hushed tones or not at all. I join a handful standing to one side. We read the Gettysburg Address carved on the wall. My eyes go misty, as they did when I saw the same words on a plaque at Gettysburg Cemetery.
198 minutes elapsed time. I stop my watch in the quiet space there at Lincoln's feet. Journey over.