Sunday, July 26, 2015
The W & OD
I wanted to go to a softball game---men, women, kids, it didn’t really matter. There was no tangible reason, just a desire to see balls hit, people run, someone win and someone lose, all the while knowing it made no difference whatsoever. At the end of the season, losers and winners alike will get trophies.
I took the W&OD trail, a nicely paved path that starts near the Potomac River and wanders 45 miles through Northern Virginia. I chose to walk from Falls Church where I live to Vienna, the next small town four miles away. I took five silver mints, a bottle of water, a small pack of salted almonds and two peaches. I tried to find someone to go with me but there were no takers. True, it was in the mi-80s and pretty humid, but the fact is that, with a few exceptions, my friends are wusses.
On weekends, the W&OD is normally crowded with joggers, walkers and cyclists. One of the things I noticed almost immediately is that nine out of ten people had earbuds on, and I wondered why these folks felt it necessary to isolate themselves from the sounds around them. The trail generally runs through walls of bushes, and there’s a constant hum of cicadas and birdsongs, and the rustlings of small creatures—not an unpleasant susurration (I’ve been wanting to use that words for years.)
I saw an extremely well-fed groundhog that vanished into a burrow in the wink of an eye. Overhead, crows belabored a hawk and frogs croaked where a small stream ran.
It wasn’t busy. Families on bicycles, with Mom and Dad bookending their flocks; younger, childless couples; and a majority of solitary walkers and riders. I wondered if the latter were fleeing crowded homes or empty ones.
A lot of riders wore the panoply of the full-fledged bicycle road-racer, which may have been à propos since the Tour de France ended today. Some actually looked like the stick-figure athletes who defy fatigue and good sense and ride hundreds of miles at a clip, but the majority of the expensively and colorfully-garbed men and women were, well, plump. I felt for them. The seats of racing bikes are simply not very comfortable, and none of the rotund riders were smiling as they passed me. Rather, many wore airs of aching resignation as they pedaled at a steady, mindless pace.
There were some real would-be racers, young men and women who sped by with shouts of “On your left!” and, two or three times, came perilously close to running me off the trail. One tanned young millennial almost did hit me, but then gave me the pleasure of having a flat a hundred yards down the road. I walked by and smiled indulgently as he wrestled the front wheel off his 87-speed bike.
When I finally got to the playing fields, there were no ball games. Not one. Not even a father and son playing catch. The fields were completely empty, forlorn, even. Possibly Virginia has laws against softball on Sundays, I don’t know and no one at the nearby community center knew either. There’d been games yesterday, and some were scheduled for tomorrow evening. “It’s because of the churches,” said an older man whose tee-shirt told me he was a Trail Patrol. “The churches don’t want you having a good time on Sundays.” He rode off on his recumbent bicycle, a complicated vehicle that looked like a cross between a very low wheelchair and uncomfortable beach furniture.
I ate the peach and the nuts while seated on a park bench watching the parade of Lycra-clad bottoms pass by. Few were attractive, and I was reminded of the modern saying that stretch pants are a privilege and not a right. I headed home.
By Mile-7 my feet were getting pretty sore. I started walking like some of the homeless people I occasionally see on the trail, shuffling, head down, string bag dangling from one hand. By Mile-8 I seriously considered calling Uber. I began to envy the bicyclists, large-bottomed or not. I ate the other peach and finished all the water. At Mile-9 I weighed the possibility of spending the night on one of the benches.
Half an hour later, I spotted my car 500 yards away. When I was nearly there I lost the shuffling gait, stood up straight, and walked the last 100 feet with graceful determination. My Fitbit said I’d walked 10.2 miles. Imagine that.
Ten miles? Piece of cake.