When WUSA9 met up with Jeff Himmelman, we asked him three times if he was crazy for hiking around the Beltway. Each time, we were greeted with a laugh, and a similar answer.
"I don't think we're crazy..." he laughed. "Half way through, our wives thought we were crazy. And we were starting to wonder if we were going a little crazy. Because we became obsessed with finishing."
Himmelman is a writer and a contributor for numerous magazines and newspapers. Early this summer, he was contacted by Michael Schaffer, the owner of the Washingtonian, about a unique idea.
"He said I'm looking for someone to hike the Beltway," Himmelman said. "Hike it like its the Appalachian Trail."
And that set off a week long journey across three states and 89 miles. Himmelman was joined by his friend, Mike Iacovone, who took photos of the adventure. The duo crossed the Beltway 19 times on a zig-zag route around the Beltway.
Earlier this week, Himmelman met our staff by Live oak Drive in McLean, where his adventure began.
"I don't think as we were walking down here for the first time," he said. "We had any sense of how long it would take us. And what it would take out of us. What we would see. I thought it would just be a fun little jaunt."
Soon enough, he realized that was just an illusion. After 23 miles in the first day, the duo was exhausted, their muscles were cramped, and they decided they should take it slow the next day.
"Within about three hours," he laughed. "We realized we were in way over our heads."
On their voyage, Himmelman said they mostly saw what you'd expect: Roads, cars and power lines. However, Himmelman said the more surprising parts were the slices of beauty hidden beneath the concrete and exhaust fumes.
Himmelman brought up this thought as we stood at the bank of the Potomac in McLean. Overhead, there was a constant crash of cars passing on The Beltway. In front of us, the tremendous contrast of rushing water and serene beauty.
"There's this great line in the Great Gatsby," he said. "Where the narrators talking about what New York must have looked like to the settlers that came then before there was anything there. And I thought about that all the time here. Before they built the Beltway. Before the city was here, it was just this beautiful place."
Himmelman said he also got a glimpse into the various subsections of the Beltway. He said too often we think of "The Beltway," as one community, when in reality it's a vast area, with many cultures. He was surprised to find rural areas within the 495.
"At one point we saw a chicken," he laughed.
Before ending our interview with Himmelman, we asked what lessons could be learned from his voyage.
"You get a sense of the scale of the city," he said. "In a way you would never get in a car. And you also get a sense that in these Beltway exits, they seem like these discrete moments. But in fact, it's just this one continuous thing."
As for the people?
"You just kind of got a little tiny piece of everybody's daily life," he said. "It didn't add up to something more cosmic. But that didn't really matter. That wasn't the point."
You can check out Jeff's article on his journey in the last edition of the Washingtonian, or online here.