The Fifty States Ride is an event put on each September by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA). The ride covers every nook and cranny of Washington DC so that participants can ride their bikes on every street named for a state. I’d done the ride six times: 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. In 2006 and 2007, the ride was held in the sweltering heat of August. WABA moved the ride into September but the 2010 ride had all the heat and humidity of the August rides. Last year it poured buckets for the last hour. No matter what the weather, riders have to be prepared to climb a dozen (probably more, I lose track) hills. Every few blocks, riders come to a stop sign or red light, making for sore hands from so much braking.
When I lived in Boston, I drove a cab during the sunmers. The only part of the city my college friends knew, was the half mile around the subway stops they used. The same happens in every city. DC-area residents know the area near work and home, and a few other often frequented parts of town. The rest is a mystery. Riding the Fifty States ride gives a cyclist the chance to experience the entire city, warts and all.
Getting to know the city is a plus, but the real secret to the Fifty States Ride is the fact that all the starting and stopping all but forces riders to sociallize. I’ve met dozens of people because of this ride and they represent an incredible breadth of humanity. Students, writers, scientists, lawyers, educators, police officers, librarians. Black, white, asian, latino. Young and old. Incredibly fit and not so much.
A Plan Falls Apart
My friend Florencia and I have never done the entire ride together, In 2007 she abandoned me in the oppressive heat of Rock Creek Park. In 2011, she took off after we reached the lunch stop. So the plan was to ride the entire route together. Then life interceded and she had to cancel. Sad face. As it turns out, her friend Emilia had signed up but didn’t know anybody. So I agreed to ride with her.
I drove to my office in Rosslyn and rode the 3 1/2 miles to Adams Morgan in DC for the ride start. While waiting for Emilia, I started talking with Lorraine, a first-time rider who was having some anxiety about getting lost. I invited her aboard the Rootchopper Bike Bus. Next I spotted Emilia. As I introduced Lorraine, she said she was my “daughter” so I introduced Emilia as my wife. Instead of adopting a son, we added Jeremy Cannon, the son of Bob (Don’t Call Me Rachel) Cannon. Bob was marshalling the shorter 13 Colonies ride. I did the Great Pumpkin Ride with Father and Son Cannon last October. Then we added rookies Kristen and Elizabeth with whom I did the Backroads ride last September. Up stepped John Roche, Mr. Hoppy 100. Dave Salovesh, man with the Green Bay Packers bike, joined in. (It had belt drive. You gotta have belt drive in your group!) We tried to draft Rachel (Don’t Call Me Bob) Cannon, but she had commited to riding with Ursula Sandstorm who was a volunteer ride marshall and her friend Jordan. So we went into the draft and picked a ringer: Friday Coffee Clubber, Michael Brunetto a man who knows DC like the back of his bicycling gloves. From my pix, I can see we were joined by a tenth rider, a woman in green, whose name I neglected to get.
Leading Is Overrated
Kristen decided that we should leave before the formal ride start. This turned out to be a great idea because it meant that we avoided the usual congested roads for the first 10 miles. Since I was the grizzled veteran I was dubbed the point man for our group. I nearly missed the first turn, so Michael grabbed the reins and off we went spiralling through DC neighborhoods and downtown.
Despite gray skies, there were smiles all around as we picked off states in quick succession without much effort. We skirted a 5K race near the Mall, and zipped over Capitol Hill and into Southwest DC. The route took us to East Potomac Park where the friskier riders among us sped away. We regrouped at a public restroom and headed for Maine, crossing the path of the riders who had started after us.
We rode past Nationals Park where Emilia proudly told me that three of her Venezuelan countryman (Ramos, Cabrera, and Lobeton) were on the ballclub. Go Nats! Go wife!
I led the posse through the confusion of near Southeast, through an alley, and over the Souza Bridge. We hit the pit stop in Anacostia Park, chatted with some friends and headed out for the first hills of the ride. We climbed Martin Luther King, Junior Avenue. It was a bit of a shock as the climbers among us got their ya yas out. All I could think of was: this ride is going to suck if I don’t get my legs in order. The next climb came a mile later on Stanton Road. By this point my legs were loose and I made a decent showing of things. Our climbing contingent – Elizabeth (QOM), Justin, Michael, and Jeremy- put us to shame but they kindly waited at the top for the rest of us.
On the way to Texas a woman riding ahead of us almost took a wrong turn. It was the first of many wrong turns we witnessed and thwarted throughout the day. We zoomed down Massachusetts Avenue (a real thrill on the 20 inch wheels of Little Nellie, my Bike Friday) and headed back to Anacostia Park.
My peeps were pretty happy to arrive at the Eastern Market rest stop for lunch. Our rookies were smiling so we knew that the pace was reasonable. We took our time and steeled ourselves for the second half.
Staying Off Track
The route took is through the eastern side of Capitol Hill which combined flat roads with numerous turns. As we headed northward, we encountered a closed road. I took us down H Street which has trolley tracks right where we would be riding. At the next cross street, I dismounted and walked across the tracks, fearful that our entire posse might catch a rail and fall. (This is not a good road design, folks!)
The climbers took off up the steep hill on Mt. Olivet Road. They waited for the rest of us to pull up the rear. We crossed over the railroad and US 50 in pursuit of scary North Dakota Avenue. The gray skies had given way to a light rain. I was grateful that the traffic was light and we made it unscathed to Taylor Street. Soon we were riding busy Michigan Avenue and lucked out again with light traffic.
After riding past Catholic University we were treated to Hawaii Avenue, another big climb. We plodded on undaunted. The rookies were holding it together. The rabbits were humoring by waiting at the top of each climb.
Zig, zag, pedal, pedal. We made good work of long stretches in Northwest, as the rain started coming down hard. Jackets came on. Lorraine and a bunch of other riders from other posses headed back home. The rest of the crew plowed ahead, thankful to reach the Tacoma rest stop at the home of Mike and Lisa. For some reason, Mike gets a kick out of my Twitter name, Rootchopper. Last year he stood on his porch shouting ROOTCHOPPER as I rolled in. This year, he had a banner up that said “Hail Rootchopper!” It’s nice to be loved.
As I walked around at the rest stop, a funny thing occured to me: this is the best I have felt after 50 miles of biking ever. I felt like I could have ridden for hours and hours more. This soon would fade into memory.
The Rookies Start to Work
After the rest we climbed to Alaska and flew down into Rock Creek Park. On Beach Drive we saw a woman rider on the ground with several riders looking on. They had called an ambulance so we left her in their hands.
On the west side of the park we rode into Chevy Chase, the high rent district. Yes, there were more hills. The Rookies were starting to ask, “Are we there yet?” Shut up and climb.
The route differs from year to year. One of this year’s new wrinkles was 36th Street. It is a pretty little windy street with dense tree cover. And bumps. And a steep hill. Ugh. My wife wanted a divorce. When she reached the top of the hill she had a big smile on her face, but then she said “My legs were gone.” Fortunately, the final rest stop had coffee which seemed to revive her. For the climb up Wisconsin Avenue. Ugh.
Is Arizona a State?
After riding past American University, we rode downhill, picking up newly paved Arizona Avenue, and giving up all our climbing work from 36th and Wisconsin. After a flat stretch on MacArthur Boulevard, it was payback time. With five miles to go we rode up Ashby, up 49th Street, then up the sadistically steep Garfield Street. My wife had given up pn divorce; instead she wanted to kill me in my sleep.
After recoveinrg, we forged ahead. This neck of the woods is called Cathedral Heights. To get there you have to go….up. Emilia was one hurting unit but still she climbed. What a warrior. Finally, we crested the heights and made the gradual ride back down to the start. Of course, it wouldn’t be loads of fun without riding on busy Connecticut Avenue. A ride marshall (Rod Smith, perhaps) had taken the left lane in preparation for the left hand turn onto Calvert Street. We followed his lead.
We arrived at the after party with big smiles on our faces. We were triumphant. Photo ops with our hard-earned ride shirts were taken. Beer was imbibed. Other riders arrived. Rachel and Jordan and Ursula appeared with had big smiles. Fists were pumped. Riders were hugged. Faces wore satified smiles.
Very big thanks to the folks at WABA, especially Michelle Cleveland, who works for months putting this ride together. Thanks to the volunteers, especially Mike and Lisa, who literally opened their home to us.
Thanks to Flor for getting me to ride this again. I missed you.
Thanks to the posse. To Lorraine, Dave, John, Justin, Kristen, Elizabeth, and Jeremy. Thanks to Michael who refused to let me get us lost! And special thanks to my new friend Emilia, mi esposa por un dia. Muchas gracias, senorita.