"I'm really exhausted today, I'll just run with you." Uh oh. My running partner was tired, which meant he wanted to run with me and it also meant that I would definitely still struggle to keep up. We usually start and stop our runs together, or meet up halfway through a run, but his typical speed is nearly double mine so we really don't actually run together at all. I've written before about how I don't like running with people very much but I thought for a second and made a suggestion. "OK, that sounds great and could you show me how that right hand trail where the trail splits into three trails, over by the weird sign, you know, like how it links up with the Western Ridge Trail? Or is that the Valley Trail?"
It is a weird sign, right?
He raised his eyebrows. "You know, for a person who purports to have a good sense of direction, you have a really awful sense of direction." We'd been running regularly in Rock Creek Park for 15 months now and he was right. I get turned around in the woods nearly every weekend. Before our runs he'll patiently explain where he's going to run and where I should run. "Take this trail," he'll say, "and don't worry if you get lost because they all loop around." And I get completely confused and most often meet up with him, coming from somewhere totally random, far off the trail that I had planned on running. But I always have a blast and Rock Creek Park is in the smack middle of DC, so I don't worry because I'm never far from civilization. My handy google maps app has helped me from time to time as well.
"Yes. I will show you." And we set out. The pace was such that Matthew was barely moving and I was hustling my ass off to keep up with him. At one point he reached the top of a hill, turned around and just started laughing at me. I laughed back with the very precious little breath I had left. It's a pathetic situation trying to keep up with him but it makes for a good workout. And a lot of laughs.
"Is this the Western Ridge Trail?" I asked. "Nope. I don't know what this one is called but it loops back around so don't worry." And then he took a left turn up another freaking hill and I called out, "Is this the Western Ridge Trail?" "No, it isn't. But we're going up to the top on it and then we'll connect to the Western Ridge." And so I found myself huffing it up a steep ass trail that had no name which we had run to from another trail that had no name and I realized I would never be able to understand where the heck we were. So I just followed him up the hill as fast as I could.
I'd stop from time to time to get my heart rate down a bit. "I'm taking a couple of pictures so I have landmarks for when I get lost in here by myself," I called up to him. He shook his head and ran up the trail.
Trail markings in Rock Creek Park. These are easier to spot than the more traditional flash markings on the trees.
"I'll be right there, don't feel like you have to wait!" I tried to call out to him but it was more of a whisper as I tried to breathe and move and live.
I made it to the top of this hill, turned around to catch my breath and saw this appropriately placed skull-n-bones staring back at me.
Soon after we reached the top of the hill we were running along a flattish path and I was starting to feel pretty good, and Matthew once again took a left. "Is this the Western-" He cut me off. "OH MAN I'VE WANTED TO FIND THIS PLACE FOR SO LONG!" He shouted.
I turned left behind him and looked ahead to a clearing filled with what looked to be large rocks.
My brain was still trying to figure out what it all was when Matthew disappeared through a hole in the rock wall. Do you see him there in the middle far left of this shot?
I caught up to him and he explained where we were. "I can't believe this is where we are!" he said. "I've run by here so many times and I've never realized it was here!" I still didn't know where we were. "It's so cool right?!" Yes, it was magical. But where in the heck were we? The only thing I knew was that we weren't on the Western Ridge Trail. At least I was pretty sure about that.
It's a magical land of slabs of stone. I'm positive gnomes live here.
Finally he explained. The stones were brought to Rock Creek Park from the US Capitol building, and they're the remains of the eastern facade that was renovated in the fifties. The sandstone and marble pieces date back as far as 1818. Some are huge plain slabs, others are ornate corner pieces. Some have decorative accents. Some are stacked into walls and others are piled high as if they were tossed there by giants. It has the quiet feel of a cemetery and the mystique of stonehenge and there's moss everywhere and interesting numbers and markings on the slabs and you could just climb around or take a rest for hours.
It's a secret land of stones and moss in the middle of the city.
Some stones are marked with numbers, others carved with flowery accents.
We stayed awhile, enjoying the quiet and checking out as many details as we could take in, and I managed to catch my breath and get my legs back under me. Before too long it was time to set off again. We continued on, beyond the horse stables, we crossed a road by the Nature Center and then we took another left and Matthew said to me, "Clythie, this is the Western Ridge Trail."