doing d.c.: gravelly point

posted by catherine / August 26, 2005 /

gravelly point 003
Originally uploaded by CatherineA.
for those who haven't heard of it, gravelly point is a small patch of park off the GW parkway that's pretty much just a stone's throw from national airport. it's famous for its views of incoming planes, and though i am not what you call a happy flier, i'm fascinated enough by planes and how the hell they a) get off the ground b) land to have had a long-standing desire to see this d.c. landmark.

i started off by biking down from our apartment near the convention center. so, i would like to thank whoever implemented the bike lanes down 9th street. they're hysterical! first off, everybody ignores them. second off, they are pot-holed all to hell. third off, the narrow lanes change their location every block. sometimes they're in the center of the road. sometimes they're to the right of the lanes. it's quite a lot of fun to dash back and forth in between the bike lanes amidst fast-paced traffic. kind of like a rollercoaster. a rollercoaster of death.

anyway, i made it down ninth street and biked down constitution towards the end of the mall where the lincoln monument is located. you can reach the mount vernon bike path by 14th street, but i felt like biking the length of the mall because i hadn't been down there in a while, and it was a cool, lovely day. i navigated my way through the throngs of tourists down by the lincoln memorial, then crossed the memorial bridge. once you get to the end of the bridge, bear left on the sidewalk and you'll see the yellow-slash-dotted mount vernon bike path join up. you have to cross a few streets, but just head towards the water and you'll eventually see a sign pointing you towards the official path (or you can just follow the planes coming in to the airport).

the mount vernon trail is very nice; you follow it along on the potomac and by the the navy-marine memorial (i took a few pictures of that as well for peter; it's the big memorial surrounded by red flowers of seagulls over a cresting wave).

after about 1.5-2 miles of biking along the trail, i reached what i presumed was gravelly point park and realized...holy crap, i've already been here! i've passed it several times on marine corps marathon training runs, in particular, the 21-mile run from hell that i did a few weeks before the actual marathon last year. i was just too busy not wanting to die/puke/pass out to realize that's what it was. (for anyone interested in reading my marathon experience, go here.)

so anyway, i dumped my bike, sat down on the grass (i was surrounded by several families, couples, and kids running around) and waited for a plane. at first, nothing was going on - you could easily see national airport and planes taking off, but they were headed in the opposite direction. about five minutes in, a little kid screeched and pointed in the sky, and you could see a pinprick of light headed our way over the trees. oh, cool! i thought. the plane got closer and you could see it was a united airliner. and then it got closer. and closer. and then it was like HOLY FUCK THE PLANE IS TWO INCHES ABOVE MY HEAD PLEASE DON'T LET IT SQUISH ME and there was an unbearable roar and i swear to god, the wind rippled the sky for several seconds after the plane landed safely. i literally had to fight the urge to throw myself to the ground and cover my head. a little kid near me was crying hysterically and being comforted by his kindly-looking grandfather, and i was like, uh, grandpa, can i get in on that? because that was TOTALLY FREAKY.

but after that, it was all neat. i watched several more planes land, and take off, and marveled at flight in general, because, seriously, how do they do that?

anyway, gravelly point itself is unremarkable - just patchy grass, some portapotties, and a picnic table or two - but the views are seriously cool. i can imagine at night that it's even better, and no doubt fairly romantic. you couldn't bike down there in the dark, but gravelly point is reachable by driving along the GW parkway.

more pictures can be found here.

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