Consequently, I have a propensity for stumbling into the hiding places of people who more often than not probably just want to be left alone. When you wander off into the woods, you find that the margins of society are often closer than you might think.
It’s a sunny day in late May. Memorial Day weekend, to be precise. There’s hardly a soul to be seen on the campus of Georgetown University. But that’s not where I’m headed; I just needed a rack to stash my bike before I traipse into the woods behind the school. I haven’t told anyone where I’m going, because I don’t exactly know myself.
That last fact suddenly seems important as I come into small clearing in the woods and find myself in the midst of what is clearly an improvised campsite. This is the kind of improvisation that results not from spontaneity but from abject poverty – a small tarp, a rusty chair with chewed up upholstery, beer cans. The components of this camp have the cast-off look of stuff diverted from a dumpster.
No one else seems to be around at the moment, but I can tell you that if I found someone snooping around in my home, I might be more than a little protective. I don’t need that kind of adventure. So I decide to backtrack and rethink my attempt to trace the route of the Washington and Great Falls Electric Railway, a commuter train that once ran this way on its route to suburban Maryland.
It turns out that I never had to try very hard to find one of the last remnants of this precursor to the Metro. This decaying trestle is easily visible from Canal Road. And there’s a busy foot path that runs beneath it, making my exploration a somewhat public spectacle. Until I ascended far into the thick vegetation that has long since swallowed the path of the dismantled railroad in these woods.
The old right-of-way is intermittently apparent well into the Maryland countryside. Three more trestles lay crumbling before one reaches the railway’s former terminus in Cabin John. A few weeks after my visit to the Georgetown trestle, I visit another spanning Walhonding Brook. It’s a little more secluded than the Georgetown trestle, though essentially it resides in a small wooded median between two busy roads. It’s a little more overgrown than the Georgetown trestle, but I was able to scale this one and get a good view of the weed-covered track on top. Georgetown may have a taller structure, but there’s more thrill here in the woods outside of Glen Echo – it’s much closer to being just me and the collapsing remnants of the past.
Georgetown and Walhonding Brook
DCinruins: A Guide to Urban Exploration in Washington, DC published by Insignificant Press.