The trail running bug has bitten me and an infection is raging --- so for the past week my expeditions have taken me off the paved pathways that I usually frequent. Fortuitously I find a new route, freshly blazed in almost-fluorescent violently-violet paint. I call it the "Inner Purple Line" after a proposed suburban mass transit system that probably will never be built, since the most logical route passes through wealthy, politically powerful neighborhoods. Oops, my cynicism is showing ...

2004-04-04 - Western Ridge and Valley Trails

~7+ miles @ ~15 min/mi

Mud, cliffs, deer, fallen trees, high winds, freezing rain — a fun morning in Rock Creek National Park (Washington DC) — south on Western Ridge Trail from near Oregon Ave. & Bingham Dr. to Bluff Bridge, returning northward via Valley Trail to Rolling Meadow Bridge and back to the starting point via Bingham.

After last Saturday's experience (see HAT Run 2004 for report) my feet ask permission to try some local off-road routes. #1 Son is an organist at the Knollwood Memorial Chapel today, so I drive him there and set sail (the winds are gusty) south. I lose the path at the Park Police stables but rediscover it at Military Rd, and from there am only befuddled a few times.

The Western Ridge Trail (green blazes) is steep but straightforward to navigate until south of Pierce Mill (Tilden St.) near Hazen Park, where suddenly it becomes terrifying. Huge trees have fallen across the route, and after cautiously clambering through them there are some severely eroded segments of cliffside: rotten shale covered with wet leaves and mud, plus a bonus 50 foot drop into Rock Creek. Visions of falling keep my adrenaline level up; I tuck my water bottle inside my shorts to free both hands for clinging, and literally sit down to descend at a couple of places. Finally (after 49 min) I reach that trail's end.

Crossing Bluff Bridge east and heading north again, I turn onto the Valley Trail (blue blazes) near the Jusserand Memorial and follow it up and down as it parallels Beach Drive. (It should have been named "Hill Trail"!) At about the 1 hour mark on my watch (~9:15am) the cold rain begins, intermittent and noisy as the gales drive it against the fallen leaves. Just north of Military Road I see that a shoe has come untied and pause to fix it. While bent over I think I hear some hissing/whistling sounds, and when I stand and start jogging again I meet three big deer (no antlers, sorry) who eye me fearlessly from ~20 feet off the path. Soon thereafter I misstep and plunge my left shoe deep into a pool of muck. Ah, the glories of nature ...

A fence blocks the path and a sign announces a detour at Rolling Meadow Bridge, just north of Bingham Drive. I take this as a portent and turn back toward Knollwood. Probably I spent almost as much time walking as trotting, but the perceived effort was much higher than on a typical asphalt path run.

2004-04-06 - Purple Line Discovery

~5.5 miles @ ~10.4 min/mi

I invade the US Army's Walter Reed Medical Center Annex and find the gate open at the top of the southern branch of Ireland Drive where it enters the ballfields. On the way back downhill I take the 'low road' at the bottom, and see an elderly gentleman on the other side of a small tributary stream of Rock Creek. He shows me a neat dirt trail, meticulously marked in bright violet blazes, leading across some small trickles of water and over a couple of huge fallen tree trunks. It parallels Rock Creek on the eastern side for about half a mile and then joins the regular RC Trail ca. mile 1.7 ( = MitP mile 22.9), at the eastern end of a small wooden bridge over the water. Cute! --- and I never knew it was here, only a mile from my home.

2004-04-08 - Purple Line Exploration

6+ miles @ ~15 min/mi

From home via Georgetown Branch to the Rock Creek Trail (RCT) water fountain near East-West Highway (mile 1.25 = MitP ~23.4) --- then north on RCT to just before the first bridge, where I turn off the pavement and onto a lavender-blazed woodland trail --- the newly-revealed "Inner Purple Line". I follow it all the way back to its start, through almost 2 miles of beautiful scenery. I miss the track at a couple of points but always find it again, once after doing a quarter-mile side trail circuit along the eastern bank of Rock Creek. When I return to the beginning I do the first half of the loop again to make sure of the route. The GPS I carry briefly loses lock under the foliage a couple of times. I go home via the Forest Glen Seminary, with an obligatory orbit around the pulchritudinous Mermaid Fountain.

Notable wildlife: one big water bird (a crane?); three does that crash through the bracken uphill in front of me; one crafty old gray buck who walks downhill into a thicket and stands still, almost invisible ...

Brief sketch of the purple trail: from RCT at the eastern end of the first bridge (mile ~1.7) proceed north, at first near the water, then curving inland, crossing a tributary stream, next going steeply uphill. After climbs over some huge fallen tree trunks, down again to a larger stream crossing (use stepping stones, or walk across on a big log) and join "Ireland Drive" (ill-named --- it's actually a small path) below Walter Reed Annex. Uphill along Ireland, across a couple of stone bridges, then left steeply up toward the ballfields on the western side of Walter Reed. Tiptoe through swampy areas, skirting the fence, then back down to Ireland on the opposite side of its loop. Turn right (uphill again) on the paved drive, cross another stone bridge, then head left and down into a valley; follow a streamlet back to the path at the bottom of the hill and turn right toward RCT. After crossing the metal/wood bridge turn left before the paved trail and proceed southward along the western bank of Rock Creek, zig-zagging through the woods. Finish at the same bridge where the trail began. Don't trip over sticks or fall into the water, and beware the bogs!

2004-04-10 - NW Branch and Sligo Creek

~14 miles @ ~13.2 min/mi

An unexpectedly long jog that, as often happens, starts too fast and ends slower than planned. I get a lift to the starting point on Sligo Creek between Colesville and Wayne. (A neighbor sees me climbing into the car all dressed up to run; I tell him that the family is taking me out to try to lose me, like giving an unwanted dog a long ride into the countryside.) I ramble southeast along Sligo to Piney Branch Rd., head left along the street, cross University Blvd., and proceed to New Hampshire Ave. where I join Northwest Branch Trail.

Several bicyclists ask me for directions; the weather is perfect for a ride and they hope to go north, but I have to break the bad news to them that the trail soon becomes unpaved and broken terrain. They turn back. Many huge trees are uprooted and add to the difficulty of passage. Burgundy spray-paint graffiti offers incomprehensible messages on the path, but soon ceases.

I walk a good fraction of the time once the ground gets rocky --- under the high Beltway bridge, across trickles of tributary streamlets, over trunks of fallen trees, up and down boulder barriers. I see no one for a mile, but then approaching Colesville Rd. begin to find significant numbers of fishermen, dog-exercisers, and a variety of hikers. After I cross that road many more pedestrians meet me on the smoother segments of the trail.

It's now a bit past the 1-hour mark and I decide to carry on rather than short-cut toward home via the Lockwood-Dennis side route. Perhaps that was a mistake: I'm out of water after ~90 minutes and become increasingly tired. Relentless Forward Progress is revived as my mantra, and it helps somewhat. Without guilt I increase the length of my walk breaks, formerly 1 minute in every 5. Hills (or even slight slopes) become acceptable excuses to slow down.

Once I reach Wheaton Regional Park I'm on the lookout for liquid as I meander along the horse trail. Finally, after zig-zagging on the winding paths to the baseball field area, I spy a restroom and a line of soda machines. I refill my squeeze bottle and invest in a Pepsi which soon begins to reinvigorate me. Out of the park and southward along Sligo Creek Trail --- where the first and only measured mile of the entire journey is timed at 11:07, much faster than I would have expected since my running duty cycle is down to ~50%. At Forest Glen I turn west and reach home at 6pm, salt-encrusted but happy.

TopicRunning - TopicPersonalHistory - 2004-04-13

(correlates: TouchdownToRevelation, Winter Wardrobe, 2004-11-06 - Fallen Leaf Forest Floor, ...)