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One Day Hike: Torture and Fun on the C&O Canal

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A 31-mile day hike sounds impressive until you meet the people who are walking 62 miles in one day.

While D.C.'s fancy people were hobnobbing awkwardly with President Obama and Lindsay Lohan this past weekend at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner, my dad and I were walking -- then staggering -- from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. along the lovely, flat, green, bird-filled C&O Canal from Whites Ferry in Maryland to Bolivar in West Virginia, just up a steep hill from Harpers Ferry.

More than 300 people signed up for the Sierra Club's 2012 One Day Hike, which took place on Saturday -- about 200 signed up for the 50K version of the hike; almost 130 reckless fools agreed to take part in the 100K version, which starts behind the Thompson Boat Center in Georgetown.

Before you ask: this event isn't for charity. It's done for entirely selfish reasons. In my case, I did it in order to assure myself that my 70-year-old father is not more physically fit than I am. My father did it because my brother -- who did the 62-mile version of this walk last year -- told him that the One Day Hike is fun.

I have an ex who used to call me "walksie" because I like to walk, so it wasn't shocking to discover that the One Day Hike really is fun, or it was for at least half of the 12 hours it took to complete. The other hours I spent variously feeling tired, sore, wet and then, once it got dark, all those things plus nervous about walking around in the woods by myself. (My dad was up ahead; he is a faster walker than I am. Again, he's 70.)

The Sierra Club's Potomac Region Outings did a great job putting this event together. They had camps with soup, cookies, Gatorade, and first aid set up every six or seven miles along the path. They had volunteers on bikes riding around to make sure that no hikers were lost or otherwise in dire shape, and cheering us on. I am not a rah rah sort of person, but after six or nine hours of walking, I appreciated the encouragement. Not that I was going to give up -- unless Dad stopped first.

By the end, at about 9:30 p.m. as we walked out of the woods, up a big hill through Harpers Ferry, and into the charmingly terminal town of Bolivar, my dad and I talked about how much we used to enjoy walking. I cursed William Douglas, the Supreme Court justice credited with preserving the C&O Canal's hiking trail, back in the 1950s.

But today, with my legs feeling better, Justice Douglas again seems like a treasured preservationist, and I could even imagine doing the hike again, if someone nearly twice my age were to tell me they were going to do it, too.

2012 One Day Hike
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