We always knew the prospect of staying a whole year on the road would be a long shot. And sure enough, we encountered an unexpected interruption this week: Georges had to fly to Dallas briefly for business meetings.
I opted to stay on the road.
G fretted about the interruption.
It didn’t bother me a bit. Time alone in a national forest with birds, books and bikes…. What could be better? As my late father used to say, it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it.
The first thing I did after dropping G at Reagan National Airport was figure out how I’d pick him up three days later with the Casita in tow. (We’d camped at the Prince William Forest Park national campground the night before, about an hour’s drive – sans Casita and any traffic delays – to the airport.)
Much of the airport is currently torn up and under construction, which required even greater than usual pretzel-like contortions to find my way out after dropping G off. I kept hitting dead-ends – the airport’s signage sucks – and I felt like a frustrated mouse in an endless maze looking for that piece of cheese labeled “exit.”
I didn’t tell G when we chatted later by phone but the thought of negotiating all those switchbacks and Curly-cues with a Casita behind me – not to mention potential turn-around-requiring dead-ends – gave me heart palpitations.
So I scouted the area outside the airport (God bless Google maps) and found a huge strip mall with a giant parking area just off Highway 1 less than two miles from the airport. (It’s probably double that when you factor in all the squiggly turns required to get there from Reagan National.)
In the center? A Barnes & Noble book store. I test drove getting to the B&N from Highway 1. Perfect. G can take a Lyft from the airport to the mall and we’ll meet at B&N.
Plan in place, I felt instant relief/relaxation. Back to the business at hand: Three days to myself, without any obligations, in a beautiful setting. Where to start?
First I did the mundane. A little grocery shopping, exchanged an empty 20-pound propane tank for a full one, put gas in the car. Then I treated myself to a Sunday NYT (the paper version!) and lunch at the Starbucks cafe in Barnes & Noble.
It took 90 minutes to get home to the Casita later that afternoon but I didn’t mind. With NPR on the radio and a cold Strawberry Açaí in hand, I fairly floated back to the forest.
It started to rain.
There’s something special about being tucked inside our little fiberglass comfort egg and listening to the rain outside. The quiet rustle of drizzle-washed leaves soothes the soul; it’s almost hypnotic.
Eventually, I made dinner. It was a bowl of Raisin Bran.
With 1 percent milk.
Don’t tell my chef-husband; it was delicious.
(Truth be told, this fine dish was to be dinner two of my three nights alone. Call it a withdrawal reaction: It’s been literally years since I’ve enjoyed a bowl of cold cereal.)
I’d intended to do some reading, but I started writing in my journal. Suddenly, I realized it was pitch dark in the trailer but for the iPad screen – and had been for awhile. No wonder. It was 1 a.m.
I brushed my teeth and went to bed; fell asleep listening to the music of raindrops.
The next day, after savoring a leisurely cup of fresh brewed coffee without taking more than two steps from my bed, I drove into Alexandria to meet a dear friend for lunch. We co-chaired the Pulitzer Prize board in 2016-17 and cycled off the board last year after nine years of service. Neither of us is in newspapers any more and we both lament the state of the industry. But we had many other things to discuss during our two-hour-plus confab and our warm time together seemed to fly by in an instant.
I returned to the B&N nearby, posted a couple of blog items, scoped out our next week’s route via Google maps and caught up on email. Then it was back to the forest for a walk in the woods.
American robins rule here, rather than Northern cardinals. And the squirrels? Dozens of them. They rustle through the leaves blanketing the ground with the grace and agility of leaping ballerinas.
(At least I think they’re squirrels; no stripes so not chipmunks, right?)
Rain again. Made dinner, another fancy one: Campbell’s tomato soup with pita chips. Delicious.
I crawled into bed with two magazines but on this night I fell asleep barely after the sun went down. It drizzled off and on through the night, which did nothing to dampen the ardor of the resident whip-poor-will. (Yes, I’m sure it was an Eastern Whip-poor-will and not a Chuck-will’s-widow; I compared the songs on my iBird Ultimate app.)
There was a break in the clouds the next morning so I jumped on my bike and went for a ride through the park, a 15,000-acre forested oasis, trimmed in white-blooming Mountain laurel – in the middle of the Washington metro area. It was too wet to do any trail paths, but the 12-mile paved loop with all of its ups and downs across this stream and over that ridge was absolutely lovely.
Everything smelled richly green and alive.
I pedaled past a small cemetery, then turned back to walk amongst the 27 graves marking the passing of the area’s founders. Some had died relatively recently. By contrast, Martha E. Jones was born in 1846 and died 78 years later, the same year my father was born.
Halfway into the ride, just as I was arriving at the visitor’s center at the park entrance, the clouds opened up and dumped buckets. This was no drizzle.
I decided to sit on the porch and wait it out.
Like many state and national parks, this one was built by the CCC in the 1930s. But it closed for three years during WWII and became a training ground for spies. The Office of Strategic Services (the CIA’s precursor) used this area to train spies on how to handle explosives, gather intelligence, forge documents and send secret messages. They reportedly practiced spying in the nearby towns….
I confess that for a few minutes after reading about this, the forest seemed a little creepy….
Thirty minutes later the sun peeked out again and off I went, up the other side of the loop back to the campground. Remounted and locked the bike on the car in the small parking area and walked the quarter-mile back to the Casita – which was illuminated by a cone of sunlight in the middle of the forest’s shade.
That image pretty much says it all.