The Trouble With Maps

While I was in Arlington last month, my running goal was to get to the National Mall and run a lap around it. More than that – I thought I could figure out how to get to the Mall from Crystal City by foot. I vaguely remember walking to Arlington Cemetery from DC during a visit a few years ago, so I knew there had to be pedestrian access on one of the bridges.

My first night, I take my quest to the internet. According to one website, the most upstream of the three bridges at 14th street has a pedestrian lane. Using various maps (including the awesome Google maps) I charted a route and left early the next morning.

Well, I ran into nothing but dead-ends and freeway entrance ramps. Sure, the streets on the maps did exist, but getting to them alive – without getting plowed over by a car – was an entirely different story. I conceded to run around Crystal City for 40 minutes and try again the next day.

My second attempt was more successful, but still left me in Arlington. I ran under a few overpasses and made it to the edge of Arlington Cemetery. I circled the fenced perimeter, trying to find that bridge in my memory, and still ran into nothing but freeway entrance ramps.

The third and last day, I conceded. I hopped on the Metro, took it to L’Enfant Plaza and ran over to the Mall. I had only enough time to run around it one time and run back to the subway. Something about running with the Capitol at my back and the Lincoln Memorial dead and center in my view made me want to pump my arms in the air. Call it patriotism or, perhaps, the feeling of victory in arriving.

Today I am grateful for Pierre L’Enfant, who first conceived of the National Mall as a grand-open promenade in 1791. Good foresight, mon ami.

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