Last Wednesday afternoon, after my internet went out for the nineteenth time, I went out to enjoy the chill weather with a trail run. The Potomac Heritage Trail is the easiest one I can get to from my apartment, so off I biked to Arlington. I locked up by the Roosevelt Island bike racks and walked to the north end of the parking lot and creepily ignored the ramp to the Key Bridge to stroll confidently into the woods. At the trailhead below the ramp, I waited for all the satellites to find my sad little Garmin. And waited. And waited.
I’d started to suspect I was caught in a metaphor earlier in the week when I realized that each morning, I would sit down at my desk to write and make note of the progress of a single tomato ripening on my windowsill. Very cute, I told the universe. I am going to eat that tomato in a few days, though, and then where will all of your cute symbolism reside? I was about to find out.
After several minutes of waiting, still unfound by the technological miracles that allow me to wear a GPS, I started running anyway. The watch caught up about a quarter mile in, in a way I found suspiciously convenient. Oh, as you start to walk out on the way, the way appears, eh, Rumi? (H/T this Get Bullish interview for that quote)
The Potomac Heritage Trail begins rather flat and grassy, pops up along the highway, and then goes wild. It’s rocky and densely green. The river runs parallel, sometimes beyond a flat patch of grass and other times just beneath your feet on a narrow ledge. I hopped over fallen trees and roots that reached out to catch me. Coming into a clearing, I blurted, “Ah, frig.” Someone had lain a precarious plank across a gap in the trail. I thought about turning back, but I took a deep breath and went forward. How convenient, that when I came to a slightly intimidating obstacle, I was able to go on rather than giving up. Once across, I gave it a suspicious glance over my shoulder.
Again and again and again after that, the trail would drop off suddenly. There were no
makeshift footbridges here, just descents down
rocks worn smooth by rain and runoff, a few awkward steps, and a scramble back up to the main trail. “You’re kidding,” I said, slowing yet again to work through the obstacle. I frowned again. “Don’t you try and teach me patience, trail,” I insisted.
When I got to the waterfall, I shook a finger at it. “No no no, you are not assigning cosmic meaning to this,” I yelled. I ran, ran, ran a little further til I stepped over a can of nightcrawlers and came upon a trash bag full of beer cans hanging from a tree branch (not pictured but 100% true). This seemed an appropriate, vaguely nihilistic negation of two miles worth of uplifting schmaltz. I turned back and retraced my steps back to my bike.
In blogging, in self-help, in life, we often try to ascribe meaning to the randomness of the universe. Our heroes’ journeys seem deliberate and conscious. We are in control, we tell ourselves. We tell our stories and we decide their significance. I love a good memoir, but for myself, I do not fully subscribe to this worldview. I would rather tell 100 other people’s stories than try to wring significance out of everything I do. Some days the internet cuts out too much for me to tolerate. Some days they turn off our water before I remember to shower. Some days are just work. When I’ve done enough work to write anything about it, you’ll know.