2013-06-01 - Northwest Branch - Sligo Creek Solo Loop

~22 miles @ ~12.5 min/mi

I pause to read the park sign at the Northwest Branch Trail crossing of Colesville Rd. On 21 June 1904 President Theodore Roosevelt wrote to his son:

Mother and I had a most lovely ride the other day, way up beyond Sligo Creek to what is called North-west Branch, at Burnt Mills, where is a beautiful gorge, deep and narrow, with great boulders and even cliffs.

Excepting Great Falls it is the most beautiful place around here. Mother scrambled among the cliffs in her riding habit, very pretty and most interesting. The roads were good and some of the scenery really beautiful.

We were gone four hours, half an hour being occupied with the scrambling in the gorge.

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Northwest_Branch_Trail_New_Hampshire_Av_tunnel.jpgFrom New Place at 5:25am I trot the block east into Wheaton Regional Park. Two dozen geese with gray goslings part their flock to let me pass through near Pine Lake. As usual I take wrong turns and meander on the tangle of trails. A big deer pops her head up to eye me from concealment in waist-high grass. Another pair of deer startle and flee at my approach. Eventually I stumble upon the park maintenance area at Alpert La near Kemp Mill Rd. Then suddenly I'm back on the horse trail that Mary Ewell and I took less than a week ago (cf. 2013-05-26 - Wheaton Regional Park with Mary). It leads to Northwest Branch Trail, where from this direction the correct detour is apparent: just follow the outside of the fence past construction equipment. A fellow early-bird runner on Kemp Mill Rd waves at me as I cross in front of him.

Heat and humidity are already notable as the temperature prepares to rise toward 90°F later today. Soon blue shorts and Red Sox mesh shirt are sweat-soaked. Downstream a couple is walking a giant fuzzy black dog that looks almost like a bear. It sniffs and nuzzles me. I debate cutting the run short at Colesville Rd, at Piney Branch Rd, and at East-West Hwy, but decide to continue. It seems craven to stop early when Ken Swab, Rebecca Rosenberg, and Barry Smith are doing the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k, and Stephanie Fonda and Marshall Porterfield are attempting the 50 miler. (What kind of a wimp am I, anyway?) I slow to scramble over the "Fall Line" section of Northwest Branch, where according to the Park Service sign "... the tough metamorphic rocks of the Piedmont, meaning 'foot of the mountain,' give way to the sandy sediments of the coastal plain." This is also called the "Torrent and Gorge" section of the trail. (Maybe it should be "Torment and Gorge"?)

After scrambling over boulders and narrowly keeping my footing on some slippery stones I go under the I-495 Beltway and reach the paved section of the trail. Dear friend Rayna Matsuno texts me as I approach New Hampshire Av. We exchange messages. I send her a quick photo of the tunnel under the road, with graffiti partially blocked by my ugly mug. I take a Succeed! electrolyte capsule in her honor: Rayna and I first met at the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2005 when she gave me an S! cap and saved my race. Thanks, Rayna!
At the cricket pitch, my mile ~10 and milepost 4.5 of NWB, the fountain is too weak to fill my hydration backpack's bladder. But I get a bit more water into it, and pause at later fountains to drink as much as possible. Nonetheless, by mile ~19 I'm sucking on fumes.

At the first bridge on Sligo Creek Trail, near where it joins Northwest Branch, there's an apparently handmade cross decorated with an artificial flower and green ribbons, new since I was last here two weeks ago (running the opposite direction; cf. 2013-05-18 - Sligo Creek - Northwest Branch - New Place Loop). I send the photo to Rayna, who speculates that someone passed away here. My pace slows now, and the density of other runners and walkers increases. I take S! every hour, nibble on a crunchy peanut Clif Bar, suck a root beer barrel and an atomic fireball candy, and eat my last mini Heath Bar. To no avail, however — the swelling of my fingers suggests either dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. Walk breaks increase in frequency and duration, but the cumulative average pace continues to creep down from ~14 min/mi (on the natural-surface rocky trail for the first half-dozen miles) to eventually sub-12.5 min/mi.

Major construction work is underway to improve the trail bridge over Sligo Creek at New Hampshire Av. Near the Silver Spring International Middle School a young child on a bicycle, one eye bandaged over, says, "You look like Santa!" His mother starts to apologize, but I reply to him first: "You're right — a lot of people say that!" A tall runner passes me, then has to jump aside when a dog on a loose leash growls at him. The owner says, "Sorry!" and I tell the runner when he again goes by, "Wow, that really got your heart going, didn't it? You can run fast now!" He laughs. In the final miles a lanky fellow wearing a Qatar Foundation shirt raises his arms to symbolize "Victory"; I do likewise and say, "Go Qatar!" to him.

The final block from Wheaton Regional Park to the New Place on is a staggering sprint up the gentle hill. A man sits on the front porch of the last little house on Henderson Av, smoking, and waves at me. He saw me run past and waved a couple of times last week too.

Runkeeper and Garmin differ by ~3% in their distance estimates: 22.28 vs 21.62 miles respectively..

^z - 2013-06-18