Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Teddy Roosevelt's Island

So here I was last Thursday afternoon about 3:45, all by myself in Arlington, Virginia, where I was spending the night before arising at 3:40AM Friday to start the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure. Should I curl up in my nice hotel room with a good book? Or sit in an outside cafe and have a mug of tea or a cold beer? Stay off my feet? That would be the smart thing. That would be the sensible thing. Or I could take a hike. Not smart just hours before starting a 3 day long 60 mile walk. Not sensible. But fun. Well, guess which I did? Go on, guess!

Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th and youngest president, was a fascinating and somewhat contradictory man. He was the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and also was a war hero, a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor. (His oldest son also won the Medal of Honor, and I wonder if they are the only father - son combination in American history to do so). He was a naturalist, a big game hunter, and a conservationist - as president, he created the National Wildlife Refuge System and took many other innovative conservation actions by bypassing Congress with executive orders. He was an accomplished author, and wrote something like 30-40 books, one of which was considered the definative history of the US Navy in the War of 1812. He was a rich city-born-and-raised kid who became a tough rancher in the Dakata frontier. He was a nearly life-long Republican who cost the GOP the 1912 election when he ran against Taft as an independent in the Bull Moose Party. He was an explorer who nearly died navigating down the River of Doubt in South America as one of the leaders of the first expedition to do so. He was proably vain and arrogant, and loved being the center of attention. It was said about him that he wanted to be "the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral." He was a sickly child who deliberately lived an active life to overcome illness, lived the life of three men, and died young at about age 60 - totally burned out. He idolized his father but was ashamed that his dad had gotten an exemption to avoid military service in the Civil War. Every one of TR's four sons - the sons of a president - served in the military in wartime, and two of them died in the awful world wars of the last century. Can you imagine that today? We could sure use a guy like Theodore Roosevelt today - he might shame Congress into action.

So as I pondered what to do, the draw of Theodore Roosevelt Island just a half mile walk from my hotel proved to be too much of an allure. Like its namesake, the island is a contradiction - a wild and isolated 88 acre oasis in the middle of one of the world's greatest cities. So that is where I headed, walking about four miles. This was more than I should have walked, but much less than I would have were it not for my three days of upcoming extreme walking. I had a great time, then went out and had that beer in an outdoor cafe, listening to a muscian play the guitar and sing.

What a contradiction! These two photos were taken from the exact same spot as I walked down the ramp to the trail leading to the bridge to the island. The first, facing right, is of the urban towers of Rosslyn, Virginia. The second, facing left, is of Roosevelt Island just across the Potomac:
Roosevelt Island as seen from Virginia:
Once you cross this footbridge bridge, you leave the urban scene, and enter a wild place:
I think the Roosevelt would have been very pleased with this tranquil place. I saw as many deer - two - as humans on the trails. I can imagine the former president roaming the inviting paths.
There is a nice statue of the great man near the center of the island, and large structures highlighting some of his quotes in four subject areas, such as these about nature:
Nuts from a black walnut tree:Crew, I imagine from Georgetown University, crossing near the north end of the island:
Views of the Potomac River, which surrounds Roosevelt Island:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cold Mountain, Wet Day, Great Hike

On Labor Day, for the first time in 2011 - my year of foot surgery, death in the family, and plantar fasciitis - I got in a hike in the mountains. I hiked with a friend up Cole Mountain on a rainy and foggy day. This hike would have amazing views in clear weather, and is essentially a "loop" over from the Pleasant Mountain hike that I did last fall. In fact, you could easily combine the two in a "figure of eight" route, either as a long single day hike or a leisurely backpacking trip. I'd vote for the latter.

The rain started just as we hit the trailhead after a long ride from Richmond along Route 60 and a few miles of very rough gravel road. Within minutes, we saw multiple piles of black bear scat, and kept alert. In fact, my hiking buddy Hawkeye did spot a small bear near our lunch break. Far more dangerous than bears are Homo sapiens. A hiker from Indiana was murdered on the Appalachian trail here less than a month ago and apparently within a few miles of where we hiked - maybe even on the same section of the A.T. So far, there are few details released and no known suspects. It is very tragic.

I captured the track of our route using my DeLorme PN-60 GPS. We went clockwise from the parking spot - the top left-most point on the map on the Wiggins Spring Road, shortly after turned right up the Old Hotel Trail, and joined the Appalachian Trail a little more than three miles later. We turned right, headed through the human maintained balds on Cold Mountain, and headed back to the car.It was about 6.5 miles of walking with about 1,300 feet of elevation gain, most of it very gradual. It rained steadily about 70% of the hike, with very dense fog. Up on Cold Mountain (labeled by the USGS as "Cole") the fog was so thick that if one of us moved 50 paces from the other, we became invisible. I ended the hike with a sore heel from the plantar fasciitis, a blister on my little toe, soaked to the skin, and with a big smile that no amount of rain could wash away. Foot pain? Steady rain? Elevation gain? Can't complain! I was hiking again in the mountains! It was a total blast!

We saw so many cool mushrooms! This one looked like butter:
This one looked like a nicely cooked pan cake to go with that butter - does my little gnome look hungry?
This one was a beautiful lavender:
We came on the most amazing campsite here, under the oak trees. I don't remember seeing a good water source nearby.

A mile or so later is Cow Camp Gap Shelter, which has good tentsites nearby, an outhouse, and a stream not to far away. It was close to here that Hawkeye spotted the small bear. At times, the woods almost looked haunted in the fog.Moisure dripped from this spider web like jewels.
Chris a.k.a "Hawkeye" stands on a rock by a colorful sumac near the summit of Cold Mountain in the flog.