Thinking Globally, Adventuring Locally: Washington, DC

Sunday, September 7, 2008 | Washington, DC, USA

Fly fishing at Burke Lake, Virginia, a 30-minute drive from Washington, DC. (Photo: J. Powers)
For all my stories on the far-flung destinations I've visited in recent years, I have yet to write about the city that has been my home all this time. But Washington DC bears recognition as a distinct and enjoyable place to live and—though few realize it—as one with great access to worthy adventures all around the city:
  • I just began to get into DC's outdoors scene at the end of my Georgetown days in 2006, when Jacqueline and I spent several weekend afternoons kayaking up the Potomac from Jack's Boathouse. Our favorite destination early on was a rope swing anchored high in a tree on the Virginia side of the river. The rush of that initial plummet, pendulum arc, and final leap into the river below were well worth the long paddle against the current.
  • Those cleaner waters upstream of the city also provided me an opportunity to feed my greatest outdoor obsession: fishing. My favorite spot was a 20-minute bike ride up the C&O Canal trail from Georgetown, and was the site of many epic moments in the history of human-icthyian competition. Or so I'd like to think, though in reality I caught a triflingly small number of fish that certainly did not justify my obsessive pursuit weekend after weekend. But somehow each time I forded Little Falls, gripping my fly rod with white knuckles as I tottered through the thrashing current, I convinced myself that this time a sympathetic rockfish would reward my sacrifice and just bite the damn hook for once.
  • Jacqueline and I had more success fishing (well, actually she had more success) and a surprisingly great camping experience just outside of DC proper at Burke Lake park.
  • Going a bit further from the city opens up yet more options. This spring, Jacqueline and I drove with a few friends to Shenandoah National Park in western Virginia, along the Appalachian Trail. The hikes in and out of the mountains' gorges were punishing, and definitely far more strenuous than I had expected. Nevertheless, the streams and waterfalls, mountain laurel blooms, plentiful fauna (including one unfriendly critter who rattled his tail at me) and relative seclusion made each day's brutal trek worth the blisters and aching muscles. Even in late spring, the mornings were chilly, a nice respite from the swampy weather of DC.
  • Recently, my uncle and I have taken two fishing trips in the area: Our first destination was the beautiful Big Hunting Creek, nestled in the Catoctin Mountains near Camp David, where we had little success catching the seasoned brook and brown trout. Just a few weeks ago, however, we headed up the Potomac past Harper's Ferry to Antietam and Sharpsburg, where we waded into a wide stretch of the river and hauled in several small- and largemouth bass.
Between these diversions and weekly softball and soccer games on the National Mall, over the last two years I have managed to keep myself occupied between my travels, and catch some exercise and a few fish in the process.

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