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Arin Greenwood

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

Posted: 04/30/2012 6:11 pm

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.

Loading Slideshow...
  • 2012 One Day Hike

    Just one short, unexpected ferry ride and we're at the start of the hike. Being terrible planners who rarely account for things like ferries, it's really a miracle we got there.

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    About six miles into the hike. Most of the 31 miles looked more or less like this -- flat, well-groomed, with a nice canopy of trees -- at least in the daylight.

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    Me and my dad at one of the designated rest spots, about 11 miles into the hike. Only 20 miles to go!

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    The mile markers along the path were a mixed bag. Sometimes you'd see one and think, "Yay, another mile gone by!" Other times you'd see one and think, "Oy, another 18 miles to go."

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    I wasn't hallucinating -- that really was a man on a bike, wearing antlers on his head.

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    Approaching the third rest station, after about 17 miles of walking.

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    Soup and coffee at the third rest station, some 17 miles into the hike.

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    I was here. I had a long way to go till Harpers Ferry.

  • 2012 One Day Hke

    One of the lockhouses along the canal.

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    The Catoctin Creek Aqueduct

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    United States Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglas is credited with preserving the hiking trail along the C&O Canal. In the 1950s, when the canal was no longer being used as a waterway, there was a proposal to pave the path and make it accessible to cars. The <em>Washington Post</em> editorial board liked the proposal. Douglas championed opposition to this plan, and in 1954 led a Post editorial writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning associate editor, along with some others, on a hike along the entire 184.5 miles of the canal. The <em>Post</em> changed its position after the hike, and the towpath federal protection was named a national monument in 1961. In 1971, President Nixon named the C&O a national historic park. The inaugural One Day Hike was in 1974. There's a lot of time to think about history and nature and Supreme Court justices, when on a 31 mile hike.

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    Foot repair at the fourth rest station.

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    The fourth rest station had a flamingo theme.

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    Dad and I were tired at the fourth rest station, but the prospect of being finished in a mere seven miles made me giddy.

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    Then, around 8:15 p.m., it started getting dark.

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    At 8:30 p.m. it got really dark. Isn't it a bad idea to be alone in the woods after dark?

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    The flowers look pretty when lit up by headlamps. That takes my mind off worrying about people hiding in the woods in the dark, waiting for weary hikers.

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    We're at the end of the woods! Now we just have to walk over a bridge, up a big hill through Harpers Ferry, down a small hill, then up another hill into the town of Bolivar. Dad is ready for the hike to be over.

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    One of these days, I'd really like to go to Harpers Ferrys' <a href="http://www.johnbrownwaxmuseum.com/" target="_hplink">John Brown Wax Museum</a>, to see the 87 life sized figures telling the story of John Brown, from youth to gallows.

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    My husband took this photo of me and my dad, finishing -- finishing! -- the hike. The blurriness of the photo is a representation of how our legs felt after walking 31 miles in one day.

  • 2012 One Day Hike

    Finished!

 
 
 
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