|The Mt. Vernon Trail at Mile 15.|
When I stepped out of the car, the wind cut through my jacket as if I was wearing nothing at all. It was the kind of cold that reaches through you and into your bones. White clouds stretched over the sky and matched the blanket of snow that lingered from Friday’s storm. If the sky didn’t betray the threat of snow, the sharp smell in the air erased any doubt. I squinted through the wind, making my way to the back of my car to get a quick stretch on and pluck my iPod and ear buds.
I surveyed the unusually sparse parking lot that normally teems with bikers, runners, and picnickers. Where visitors normally stalk parking spaces, I had the pick of the lot. A couple of black Lincolns idled, their drivers on cell phones or thumbing through the morning paper, waiting for their passenger to arrive.
Satisfied and just damn cold, I slammed the backdoor. The wind gathered noise until it reached a near deafening roar. I tilted my head back and followed the 737 folding up its wheels and gaining altitude as it began to trace the Potomac River and disappear into the clouds.
I ducked into the porta-potty and didn’t bother wrangling the plastic door shut. With nothing left, I began.
Just the other day, I found myself romanticizing about the notion of having snow on the ground. The mercury read 52 and something about seeing that in January just didn’t feel right. Friday night, I got my wish and reluctantly had to postpone my Saturday morning run to Sunday. With my dad in town and an early flight out of Reagan Airport, that’s how I found myself in the unusual position of standing alone in Gravelly Point, just 400m shy of the 15 mile marker on the Mount Vernon Trail.
My first tentative steps to warm up my ankle came and went, and as I trotted by that 15 mile marker, my stride returned, the wind receded, and I knew this was going to be one of “those runs.”
I passed under the 14th street bridge, which offered the first glimpse of the Jefferson memorial. The trail meandered alongside the choppy black water. The silence and the gray made the stone monuments and bridges somehow colder and more imposing. It was as if the storm had drained the color from the trail and muted its soundtrack of passing cars, bike bells, and breathy conversations. Even my outfit, black tights and a gray top, fit the landscape. Only the yellow dashes marking the trail lanes in each direction blazed the way.
Something about that stillness and gray canvas called on past memories of commuting over this bridge into high school every day.
After Memorial Bridge, I charged by the 17 mile marker and stepped carefully around the frozen puddles. As the trail neared its end, the asphalt became wooden planks that linked it to Roosevelt Island. Here, the snow and ice had not melted. I turned off my iPod and listened to the silence that cracked with the crunch of the snow and ice underfoot. I traded views of the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Memorial for the archway of bare branches that opens up to the TR Island parking lot. I chuckled thinking that the last time I made this run, I was shirtless and just meters away from hitting my 400 mile goal.
I made the hard U-turn to start the back end of my out and back and watch the monuments reappear. As I retraced my steps, the clouds gave way and the first flurries of the morning spilled over before a light snow began to fall. A smile broke over my frozen face and I fought the urge to drop the pace to tempo even though every instinct in my body screamed for me to drive forward. Instead, I held back to enjoy that rare moment of having this regularly busy section of the Mt. Vernon trail to myself. I wasn’t quite ready to reenter the real world and let this chapter of my love affair with the City end.