After torrential rains and coastal flood alerts, it was not at all clear that I’d be able to row on Saturday morning. But I got up before dawn any way, and dressed in my tights and performance tee — the one that stays warm when it’s wet. I drove out to the waterfront in the dark drizzle, easily found a parking spot, and watched the sun rise from the Bladensburg boat house.
A few other rowers were already on the dock sweeping off goose droppings and pushing heavy debris away from the launch area. Coaches had pulled their motor boats onto the dock the night before so they wouldn’t float away in the storm. The strong current washed the logs easily downstream. As the sun rose, the rain stopped, and instead of the usual mud banks, the high, flat water of the upper Anacostia River stretched out wide across from me. High tide. Cool air. Perfect rowing conditions.
My stress level started to fall once I shoved off — it had been a crazy week. At school, several fights had broken out, and a medical emergency sent us into a shelter-in-place. Rumors were flying that someone had been stabbed (not true, thank god). Every day, a different student was crying at their desk. Senior essays were overdue, college application deadlines loomed, and Halloween hijinks forced school administrators into high alert. 🚨 My own anxiety about paying utilities and the mortgage on time spiked my cortisol levels.
The upper Anacostia is so different than the lower part of the river – with the stadium, Navy Yard, several yacht clubs, and industrial-building landmarks – that fellow rowers at Capital Rowing Club have named us Narnia (after the children’s fantasy). In fact, on that very morning, CRC was hosting their annual Narnia Chase regatta downriver.
What most people don’t know is that our section of the Anacostia River is a lush greenway, full of wildlife and unexpected natural beauty. Normally I row past Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, the National Arboretum, and down past Kingman Island. Osprey flying with fish in their talons, turtles sunning on a log, great white egrets, black cormorants with outstretched wings that look like little Draculas, noisy geese, beavers, and the occasional bald eagle pop into view.
So when Sue suggested we head upstream, it didn’t take much to convince me. Even though I’ve been rowing out of Bladensburg Waterfront Park for 15 years, I’d never rowed upstream. Here’s why: that part of the river, even at high tide, is not usually navigable due to the mud and silt that washes down from the streams further north. The mud is so bad that once every couple of years, the Army Corps of Engineers has to dredge near the docks so that we can continue accessing the river there.
We rowed under the footbridge that normally signals danger, and kept rowing north to the confluence of the Northeast Branch Stream and the Northwest Branch Stream — the headwaters of the Anacostia. Only ducks and geese witnessed our historic adventure. The calm quiet juxtaposed against the fierce current and the surprisingly warm sun created a magical effect. Who needs fiction when such an extraordinary moment can transform us? We turned around at the Route 1 bridge, and I unsealed the plastic case around my phone camera to record the event. I smiled with child-like delight all the way home.