Thursday, October 9, 2014

Day 337 - October 3rd

This morning did not go as planned. Usually, the plan is to pack up my shit and go and to remain dry while doing so. However, I failed to factor in the motives of a nearby creek. Yesterday I maneuvered deftly across a fallen tree spanning the banks of the creek where I found the swankest campsite. Returning to the road in the morning proved slightly more difficult. Because of the way the tree had fallen, the trunk was positioned at an angle. In order to cross back I would have to walk down the sloped trunk with my wet, slippery boots. I was not deterred by this. Instead of seeking an alternative route, I decided to straddle the trunk and inch my way across using my feet to push off from the bank. Upon reaching the middle I began using a helpful smaller log below me for both support and a means to propel me forward. The rotted log disintegrated the instant I settled my weight and, like a pendulum, I tipped over sideways into the waist deep water, backpack and all. Shocked, I hoisted myself from the only deep part of the creek and in the process withdrew approximately 10 gallons of water in my clothes and shoes. There was nothing to do but laugh at my idiocy, especially considering the fact that not 10 feet away was an easy crossing with zero threat of falling in. With no sun there was little hope of drying off. I laid my stuff out on a pathway to assess the damage. My electronics got wet and one video I tried to take of the incident got wiped out but in the end all survived. My sleeping bag took on some water but really my backpack took the brunt of the damage. Pants and shoes: completely soaked. 

Sighing, I changed clothes, packed up as best I could then resumed the walk. I walked in as far as Fairfax then I arranged to get a ride into D.C. proper. It would be good timing for my hosts/relatives Steve and Shelley Heller but also I was ready to get into the city. I've seen plenty of box store malls and endless labyrinthine sidewalks and city roads. I holed up in a Korean bakery until Steve arrived.

Steve is an interesting guy. Originally from the Bronx, he sports the accent and fast pace of the region. He's extremely intelligent and dispenses with day to day activities with deft practice. He seems perpetually under siege as if there is always some fire he has to put out or a mole whose head needs to be whacked. We picked up sushi after fighting through midday traffic and made it to the Heller home in the northern suburbs of D.C. I immediately set about taking care of my gear, drying off my sleeping bag and washing my clothes; there's a whole city to explore.

Shelley got home later and I finally got to hug someone who has been supporting me since I began walking. She's an impressive, extremely high-functioning woman who has donned many roles in her life. She worked for IBM, raised a family of three, and attained her Bachelor's, Master's and PhD in Computer Science. "One degree per decade," she tells me wryly. A raptor-like intelligence moves in her gaze which you sense when speaking with her. I become aware of the 50 year chasm of experience and learning between us. It makes me feel young when I want to be wise. Shelley's mother Bubbe was also there and I fell in love with her immediately. At 98, her mind is still sharp and sparkling with humor. I can see from whom Shelley inherited some of her gifts.

Shelley put together a delicious dinner of chicken, carrots, mushrooms, green beans and bread before they hustled off to the Yom Kippur service, leaving me with a metro card and a house key. I walked to the nearest metro stop, Wheaton on the Red line, and arranged to meet up with Matthew, a friend I made in Barcelona who I haven't seen in 3 years. I descended into the tunnel riding the long escalator down, down, down. Inset lights cast strange shadows of the commuters on the wall as they rode up, up and up all in a line. I swear I heard a drum beat of some kind. I recalled what Shelley said when I'd asked her about D.C, "It's like a company town only in this case the company is the government." I was back in a city. There was even an advertisement inside the train for a depression study.

My apprehension melted when I resurfaced. The area I'd arrived in was beautiful and lit with lanterns. Young professionals bustled about in the cool, calm evening among the shops and bars and I watched them while I waited. Before long. Matthew and his friend Chelsey appeared from the steady stream of strangers and I was no longer alone. Matthew and I became friends in Barcelona, bonding over the fact that we were among the few Americans in our program trying to integrate into Catalan life. He's going to grad school here at SAIS for conflict management and international economics. His friend Chelsey is here on a Fulbright Scholarship. Half-Chinese, born and raised in the Netherlands, and with an English accent, Chelsey's diverse background epitomizes D.C.'s multicultural demographic. I never realized how interesting and fun a city is when its people are of many races and faiths.

The three of us celebrated over drinks at a German bar then moved over to the Mad Hatter. I haven't had much to drink over the many months of travel and so my tolerance is fairly low now. By the time I lurched home I was pretty well drunk. Goooooooooooooood times.

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