See­ing the sights while get­ting a work­out

The Denver Post - - TRAVEL - By Vicky Hal­lett

wash­ing­ton» Back when Beth Homicz was a tour guide in Wash­ing­ton, she de­vel­oped her own fit­ness plan: Lead groups through Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery twice a day. “It’s a good way to drop 10 pounds in a week,” Homicz says.

Ex­plor­ing places on foot is bet­ter ex­er­cise than most peo­ple re­al­ize, she adds, be­cause they’re dis­tracted by the scenery. In the Wash­ing­ton re­gion, that’s a smor­gas­bord.

“There’s flora and fauna, ge­ol­ogy, bat­tle­fields, beaches, rolling plains and mead­ows, all within easy reach,” says Homicz, who co-wrote the new re­vi­sion of “AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Wash­ing­ton, D.C.” It fea­tures de­tailed in­struc­tions for tack­ling 50 routes, rang­ing in dis­tance, ter­rain and vibe.

Also de­but­ing this spring is Na­tional Ge­o­graphic’s “Walk­ing Wash­ing­ton, D.C.,” by Bar­bara Noe Kennedy, a travel guide­book de­voted to strolling in the city. In ad­di­tion to neigh­bor­hood tours, Kennedy put to­gether “whirl­wind” op­tions that crisscross the cap­i­tal, high­light­ing themes such as African-Amer­i­can her­itage and kid-friendly spots.

Al­though both writ­ers are long­time area res­i­dents who’ve logged count­less miles on foot over the years, re­search­ing the books was an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I’ve been to Ge­orge­town a bil­lion-gazil­lion times,” Kennedy says of the up­scale Wash­ing­ton neigh­bor­hood. But the shocker for her was the Dum­bar­ton Oaks Mu­seum, with its gem of a Byzan­tine art col­lec­tion. She’d spent time in the ad­ja­cent gar­dens, “but

I never made the time or ef­fort to go.”

Homicz made sure to high­light lesser­known de­tails when she de­vel­oped a hike that takes read­ers around the Mall. Stops in­clude a brick spring­house on Capi­tol Hill, a se­ries of tucked-away gar­dens, and a gate in the World War II Me­mo­rial where you can hunt for a long­nosed car­toon char­ac­ter named Kil­roy.

For Homicz, the big­gest sur­prises came on her first visit to Watkins Re­gional Park in Largo. She hadn’t been ex­pect­ing such de­light­ful na­ture trails and a “Wiz­ard of Oz”-themed play­ground — or the blood­cur­dling shriek that stopped her in her tracks. “It scared the be­je­sus out of me,” Homicz says, though she soon re­al­ized it was just one of the on-site farm’s res­i­dent pea­cocks say­ing hello.

A lot of walk­ing hap­pened in prepa­ra­tion for these books. Homicz and her coau­thor, Annie Eddy, scoped out ev­ery step of each hike so read­ers would know what to ex­pect, whether it be noisy pea­cocks, tight switchbacks or slip­pery sur­faces.

Kennedy’s ap­proach was to sketch out her routes ahead of time and then hit the streets to test them out. If a cer­tain stretch felt too bor­ing or too long, she tweaked it. What she learned from this me­thod­i­cal ap­proach — be­yond the time and dis­tance ap­prox­i­ma­tions that are listed on each map — is that keep­ing your eyes open between sights of­fers its own re­wards.

There are pocket parks, lo­cal hang­outs and other dis­cov­er­ies to make, says Kennedy, who cre­ated a two-page spread fea­tur­ing her fa­vorite “se­cret stat­ues,” in­clud­ing the Al­bert Ein­stein Me­mo­rial on Con­sti­tu­tion Av­enue. On her Em­bassy Row tour, she adds, it’s the route it­self that’s the draw — you’re not nec­es­sar­ily vis­it­ing any spe­cific build­ings but just ap­pre­ci­at­ing the mix of Gilded Age and modern ar­chi­tec­ture.

These types of ur­ban ad­ven­tures qual­ify as hikes to Homicz, who says to­day’s out­door en­thu­si­asts ap­pre­ci­ate a mix of ex­pe­ri­ences and are look­ing for new ways to get out of their reg­u­lar rou­tine. That’s why the re­vised edi­tion of her book fea­tures routes through the Colo­nial his­tory of down­town An­napo­lis and along the Bal­ti­more Wa­ter­front Prom­e­nade.

Prob­a­bly the most un­ex­pected op­tion is a 2½-mile loop around Gwynns Falls and Leakin Park. That’s bound to sound fa­mil­iar — and maybe un­nerv­ing — to any­one who lis­tened to the first sea­son of the “Se­rial” pod­cast. But de­spite its ties to the oc­ca­sional killing, Bal­ti­more’s largest green space is “a charm­ing hodgepodge of his­toric re­mains, modern art, and plant life in a wild set­ting,” ac­cord­ing to the book’s de­scrip­tion.

There are also plenty of more typ­i­cal hik­ing routes, in­clud­ing the Billy Goat Trail, Old Rag and lesser-known op­tions. Homicz says a new “ex­treme” ad­di­tion to the book is Sig­nal Knob in Fort Val­ley, Va. The nearly 11-mile trek fea­tures sec­tions that re­quire folks to leap between rocks and is es­ti­mated to take at least seven hours.

No mat­ter the kind of hike, Homicz says, her goal is al­ways to show­case nat­u­ral and hu­man his­tory. Some de­tails about lo­cal flora, fauna and other points of in­ter­est are al­ways scat­tered among the trail de­scrip­tions. A hand­ful of es­says go more in depth, tack­ling top­ics read­ers can think about as they’re cover­ing new ter­rain — how bald ea­gles were saved from ex­tinc­tion, the story of the Pis­cat­away peo­ple, why Ja­pan do­nated to the Na­tional Ar­bore­tum a bon­sai that sur­vived a nu­clear blast.

There’s a lot to learn. So you’d bet­ter start walk­ing.

Getty Im­ages file

Mo­mu­men­tal scu­pl­ture, like the Martin Luther King Jr. Me­mo­rial, can in­spire a walk­ing work­out.

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