A marathon stride among gi­ants

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL -

Our read­ers share tales of their ram­blings around the world. Who: Tr­ish Don­nally (the au­thor) and her hus­band, Robert Don­nally, of the Dis­trict. Where, when, why: In early May, Robert and I flew to Hum­boldt Red­woods State Park in Cal­i­for­nia for four days to cel­e­brate our 40th wed­ding an­niver­sary by walk­ing the Av­enue of the Gi­ants Marathon. High­lights and high points: It felt mys­ti­cal to walk 26.2 miles of the Av­enue of the Gi­ants, a scenic drive among the coast red­woods. (They are the old­est liv­ing things on Earth.) To have these old­growth trees — many more than 300 feet tall and of­ten 20 feet in di­am­e­ter, with some more than 2,000 years old — tow­er­ing over us made me feel like we were in a great nat­u­ral cathe­dral, among the pil­lars of the Earth.

Un­like most marathons, with cheer­ing crowds that line the sides of the road, it was serenely peace­ful with just the rus­tle of the wind through the red­wood canopies and the lush ferns on the for­est floor. Even the sound of the run­ners’ feet strik­ing the as­phalt was hushed. The fresh­ness of the air as it swept through the ma­jes­tic sen­tinels lin­ing the road helped us com­plete our jour­ney. Cul­tural con­nec­tion or dis­con­nect: Robert and I were among the few who signed up to walk “the Ave” rather than run. We were de­lighted by how much en­cour­age­ment we re­ceived from run­ners who would pass us on the other side of the road and vol­un­teer: “Good job!” As we cov­ered more miles, the crowd thinned, and we found our­selves bring­ing up the rear, two lone walk­ers search­ing for the fin­ish line. Even­tu­ally, Robert Leit­er­man, a friendly Cal­i­for­nia State Park ranger, pulled along­side and of­fered us a ride to the end. “Thanks, but we’re cel­e­brat­ing our 40th an­niver­sary, and we’ve come this far, so we’d like to fin­ish it to­gether,” Robert told him. “How about some wa­ter?” the ranger asked, hand­ing us two cold bot­tles. Wa­ter had never tasted bet­ter to me, even though I had sipped some at ev­ery aid sta­tion along the marathon route. Leit­er­man said that he would be back.

Later, he drove up again. “Want a ride now?” he asked. “No, we’re go­ing to make it!” I said. He took our empty bot­tles and gave us two more. Again, the wa­ter tasted like nec­tar and re­stored us. Un­be­liev­ably, the ranger checked on us a third time with these en­cour­ag­ing words. “You’re re­ally close,” he said, “only one more mile to go!” With his en­cour­age­ment, we com­pleted the marathon. Big­gest laugh or cry: Af­ter en­joy­ing our long week­end at the Ben­bow His­toric Inn in Gar­berville, Calif., we went down to the lobby the night be­fore we were go­ing to check out and were star­tled to see — seated next to the concierge — a gen­tle­manly, 6-foot-5, tawny toned bear wear­ing a vest. See­ing the ex­pres­sion on our faces, the concierge in­tro­duced us to “Ben­son,” who ap­par­ently shows up in spots around the inn wear­ing var­i­ous clothes de­pend­ing on the oc­ca­sion. How un­ex­pected: The day af­ter the marathon, we took a side trip. Af­ter driv­ing a scenic and windy road with hair­pin curves — and no guardrails — for about 22 miles, we reached Shel­ter Cove, on the aptly named Lost Coast. The sight of the deep-blue Pa­cific Ocean, with waves crash­ing on black beaches, bril­liantly col­ored ice plants hug­ging the boul­ders and 600pound pin­nipeds sun­ning them­selves on rocks just off­shore, was breath­tak­ing. The pris­tine white light­house, which was moved from Cape Men­do­cino in the late 1990s, an­chors this en­chant­ing sea­side com­mu­nity. Its fire­house, perched on a hill over­look­ing the Pa­cific, pro­vides one of the best coastal views of any in the world. Fa­vorite me­mento or mem­ory: Robert and I trained for this marathon, my first, by tak­ing long walks around the Dis­trict for months. We walked from our home in the Pal­isades to the Capi­tol, to the Na­tional Zoo, to Theodore Roo­sevelt Is­land and the Lyn­don Baines John­son Memo­rial Grove on the Po­tomac, along the C&O Canal, then to the Belt­way and back — and more. For each walk, we’d search for a heartshaped stone to mark the oc­ca­sion. Now, we have our Av­enue of the Gi­ants Marathon medals to add to our col­lec­tion of beau­ti­ful stones. To tell us about your own trip, go to wash­ing­ton­post.com/travel and fill out the What a Trip form with your fond­est mem­o­ries, finest mo­ments and fa­vorite pho­tos.

COUR­TESY OF ROBERT DON­NALLY

The au­thor and her hus­band, Robert Don­nally, at Hum­boldt Red­woods State Park in Cal­i­for­nia.

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