Hop Off Santa's Lap and Take a Healthy Holiday Hike

By Howard Schneider
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The trail challenge committee really let me down this time. Dogs, friends and wives all decided to sleep in on a chilly Saturday morning.

Thanks a lot, Aussie, you lazybones.

Live Discussion, 11 a.m. Tuesday

But Vicky, at least, rose from her beauty sleep and joined me to map out a walk we're calling "The Miracle on 12th Street." That's in honor of Vicky's favorite Christmas story and the fact that it begins near the downtown Macy's at 12th and G streets NW. I tried to bribe her to go sit on Santa's lap and start speaking Dutch. No luck.

She said that was a stupid idea. I was hoping for pictures.

We had three things in mind in designing the contest this time.

First, we took to heart the suggestion some people had after our October hike at Turkey Run. Folks asked us to make sure some of our challenges are easily accessible by public transportation. You'll have your choice of Metro stops on this one.

Second, we wanted to keep the District in the loop and not make this a solely suburban venture.

Lastly, we wanted to take advantage of the season.

Voila, the perfect holiday stroll, a route that will take you past a couple of prominent Christmas trees, a super-cool train display and some nifty sculpture. There are also options for ice skating, shopping and seasonal drinks along the way.

And prizes, of course. This time we are offering a HoMedics Shiatsu massage pillow and 1,000 PostPoints for first place (assuming the first-place winner is registered for our reader loyalty program). Second place gets a Bailey Works courier pouch and 1,000 PostPoints, redeemable for merchandise and gift cards at area stores and restaurants.

As you do the walk, simply decipher the riddle clues below and send your answers by e-mail to misfits@washpost.com before 11:59 p.m. Sunday. Be sure to include your name, address and phone number with your entry. We will put all correct answers into a Christmas stocking and Health section elfette-in-chief Frances Stead Sellers will pluck out the two winners.

As a bonus, we'll offer 100 PostPoints to anyone who completes the course and sends in a correct answer (assuming they are enrolled in the program; register at http://www.washingtonpost.com/postpoints by Dec. 31).

For contest rules, see bottom right -- and be sure to read them before you take part.

The walk is simple: a nice, flat stroll that circumnavigates the Mall and loops past the National and Capitol Christmas trees. If you don't feel like driving and fooling with downtown parking -- or if you don't have a car -- you can pick up the trail at several points via Metro. [Here's a map.]

The way Vicky and I did it, the walk took about an hour and a half.

We began at Metro Center, but you can shave off that bit as long as you do the rest as described -- the part from the Museum of Natural History, over to the Capitol lawn, along the other side of the Mall, and on to the Ellipse near the White House. (The clues refer to that part of the walk.)

Emerging across from Macy's, we moseyed down 12th Street to the Mall, turned left and started walking toward the Capitol. The route passes what Vicky has dubbed the hysterical tree from Arizona at the National Museum of Natural History and soon comes to the National Gallery sculpture garden on the left. If you choose, you can pop in for a skate at the ice rink. (Vicky and I were there too early, so for contest purposes this is an optional stop. Check the hours at http://www.nga.gov/ginfo/skating.shtm#hours).

Keep trekking toward the Capitol and visit the Christmas tree on the lawn, then continue over to the south side of the Mall. The U.S. Botanic Garden has a great train display as part of its outdoor holiday decorations. The garden usually closes at 5 p.m. but has extended hours and music on select nights during the season. Check the schedule at http://www.usbg.gov/whats-happening/exhibits/Holidays-at-the-USBG.cfm. This hike is tailor-made for dusk or early evening, so plan accordingly (though anytime is fine).

Continue walking along the south side of the Mall and detour through the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden on your right. After checking out the sculpture, keep walking on the Mall toward the Washington Monument. When you reach 14th Street, start angling right toward the White House Ellipse and the National Christmas Tree.

After your visit to the tree, it is dealer's choice for the rest of the walk: back to your Metro stop or car, if you choose, or onward to the path Vicky and I walked.

We went up 15th Street past Old Ebbitt Grill and back toward the shops around Metro Center and an opportunity to grab a few gifts. Vicky had been extolling the seasonal virtues of peppermint soy milk, but I'd recommend ducking in past the grill's giant nutcracker sentries for an oyster shooter, which is kind of like a tiny bloody mary with a juicy dollop of protein.

Okay, so it might not be to everyone's taste or the fittest way to end the afternoon. But my great-granddad was the Maryland state oyster inspector down in Dorchester County in the late 1800s, and legacy dies hard. I'm a bit of a Scrooge in that regard. We should celebrate our ghosts, Past, Present and Yet to Come.

Now bring me that goose!

Here are the clues:

1) Freedom and Unity.

2) Solid abs, but what about the biceps?

Walk whenever you want between now and Sunday, but Vicky and I will be hanging around near the Botanic Garden with more MisFits lip balm on Saturday from 12:30 to 2. Hope to see you there as you traverse the Mall.

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