Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lunch Break Hike on Belle Isle

I really hope that in Heaven, everyone gets October off from work. It is too nice a month to be chained to a desk, going to meetings, having to report on projects, and having 8 hours of your life under someone else’s control each day. If I had unlimited money and didn’t have to work, I’d be tempted to hike every nice day in October. Of the seven weekend days this month (counting a holiday), only three of them have been nice. We had a week of chilly days and rain, but starting this Monday, the weather has been gorgeous for four straight days. But work beckons. In fact, it insists.

Today, I had another alcohol injection for the neuroma in my foot, which meant I had to miss my carpool to get to the doctors this morning. But that also meant I didn’t have to be restricted to a 45 minute lunch break. Belle Isle, in the James River, is almost a four mile round trip walk, not feasible for 45 minutes. But if one can take a hour and 15 minutes for lunch, and work late to make up the time, it is very feasible to not only do the walk, but spend about 20 minutes sitting on the rocks as the river roars by just feet away. It is my favorite spot in the City of Richmond. I am sure that the men imprisoned here during the Civil War in a horrible and brutal prisoner of war camp would be amazed that people voluntarily come over to the place of their torment and misery. But it is popular with the lunchtime running, walking, and biking crowd.

So I packed my running shoes, a tee-shirt, and spare socks, brought a little pack and my camera, and hit the streets and then the trails around Belle Isle for a little mid-day break from work madness. Sitting on the rocks eating my simple lunch of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a banana, and a pear was like eating in a five star restaurant. It was so beautiful there, and with temperatures in the 70’s and a nice breeze, I had to force myself to return to work for my 1:00 meeting.

Here are some photos from my hike. Although great blue herons, osprey, and an occasional eagle can be seen along this hike, the only wildlife I saw today was a grey squirrel and some Canada geese.

Looking downriver, it is clear that you are near a big city. You can see the Robert E. Lee Bridge with the suspension bridge underneath for pedestrians.

But turn to the left, in the exact same spot, and look upriver, and you could mistakenly think that you are nowhere near civilization. I once brought a friend here, and he could not believe the remote feeling so close to the downtown.

My lunch spot was feet from this rapid, part of the Hollywood Rapids. Talk about a table with a view. Are you jealous?

Across the river is beautiful Hollywood cemetary, one of our traditional last training runs for Team in Training.

This inviting trail makes a loop around the island. Other than needing to get back to work, I could have stayed here all day.

Another view of the wild James River after hiking a little ways up the trail. I think that the James might be the longest river in the United States that is entirely within one state.

This sign reminds us that things were not always so peaceful and beautiful here. This six acre spot on the south end of Belle Isle was once hell on earth for thousands of Federal prisoners during the Civil War. Many hundreds of them never saw home again. The sign says that both sides in the war deliberately mistreated and underfed prisoners to break their will to want to serve in the army again if they were released.


  1. How nice that you got to take such a great mid day hike. Sounds so nice. It would have been nice to walk along with you.

    I love PB & J sandwiches!!

  2. We used to go here a lot in high school, but that was in the late 70's long before the pedestrian bridge was built. If the river was low, you could rock hop across from the south bank. If it was high, we would hoist ourselves up a stone wall onto an abandonded railroad trellis and cross on the ties to the island. The recently flooded remains of the mill and power plant were still there with ruined equipment, furniture, old invoices blowing around and lots of other cool things. It was like going into an abandoned city.

  3. Hi Karen - It was a lot of fun. Gosh, I hated to get back to work though. Come on along next time! ;)

  4. Hi Lee - That rock-hopping route to the south side is still there. I've done that a few times, and then hiked along some of the James River Park trails on the south side. But the pedestrian bridge is much better. Yeah, some of those ruins are still there after all these years. But the furniture and invoices are gone. I guess no one paid the invoices so the furniture was reposessed. :)

    It is a great place right in the city. Art