The District of Columbia is of course not a state, but it seemed unfair to leave this most American swath of America un-summited. I parked at a middle school and raced up a low grassy hill through a city park full of giant stately old-growth oaks. Squirrels scampered out of my way and scolded me from the safety of the shadowy branches.
I jogged towards the obvious highest point in the park, pushed my way through some dry shin-high grasses, and stopped short at an eight-foot chainlink fence topped with barbed wire. Well. I circled the perimeter of the fence like an impatient zoo animal, but there was no entry. The tantalizing swell beyond the fence was at least ten feet higher than the trampled path through the grasses at my feet.
I could throw a piece of cardboard over that barbed wire, I mused, and then glanced back at the kids playing soccer outside the school behind me. It isn’t a state anyway, I poutily tried to comfort myself as I wandered back through the grasses, kicking petulantly at clods of dirt. I slumped against one of the huge trees, enraging the resident squirrels, and pulled out my phone to search online for clues.
There was a tiny but curious elevation profile, and the comments there were inspiring. “The level hill beyond the fence is man-made” — I sat up with interest, throwing a cautiously approaching squirrel into apoplexy– “the natural high point is nineteen paces due north of the big oak tree.”
All of the trees were big oak trees. I whirled through the park and realized the largest tree of all was the one I’d been leaning against. This time I kept the phone in my pocket and judged direction by the afternoon sun slanting down through the sturdy oak leaves, their velvety green just beginning to be tinged by orange tips that faded to a warm yellow streaming infectiously down their veins. I faced north and counted off nineteen long straight-legged paces like a cartoon pirate, earning a smirk from a man walking a collie on the path next to the tree.
At eighteen absurd paces I saw it, an unusually large USGS marker placed in the grass. I’d probably stepped over it on my run to the fenceline earlier, but now I stood triumphantly on the “true” highpoint, lower than both the nearby fenced hill and the 555′ Washington Monument, reflecting on the irony that the highest point in our nation’s capital was entirely due to a technicality.
About the beer:
My very first stop in the District, well before the monuments and marble, was at DC Brau to scoop up a “Fermentation Without Representation” t-shirt and a can of their legendary brewery-only DIPA, On the Wings of Armageddon. I expected an east-coast style IPA, but this is like a mashup between east and west– a sweet mango smell, a malty biscuity backbone holding up rich hop oils, and a bitter orange-rind finish. I rolled it around on my tongue and imagined the tastes from across all of America, the pines and grains and citrus fruits, fittingly all melded together here in D.C.