There’s something about riding cross country that changes your perspective on adversity on a bike. Your brain starts talking to you with pearls of wisdom like “You may be hurting but remember how hard Rogers Pass in Montana was?” and “It’s not as wet as Iowa” and “You’ll feel better when you get to North Dakota.”
Your brain can be an idiot, if you know what I mean.
For the uninitiated, the 50 States Ride is a 60-ish mile ride through nearly all the neighborhoods of DC. The route takes riders on all the avenues named for the 50 U. S. states. The ride is the big event for the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. The route is hilly as hell and somehow almost always occurs during bad weather. (WABA has a weather machine.)
The cue sheet for the ride is over 10 pages long and now comes in book format. I am not making this up.
The 50 States ride happens on open-ish streets. There is regular Saturday DC traffic to deal with. This year we also had to ride around several neighborhood block parties and a big fun run.
I met up with a frightful posse of #bikedc friends. Returning to the fold from last year were Michael, Rachel, and Kevin. New to the fold were Jesse (in the Maryland flag jersey and Jeanne to the bottom right).
As you can see Rachel was an official Ride Marshal. This required her to hand out fritters to disabled cyclists. Would I lie about such a thing?
Jeanne was doing the ride for the first time and trusted me, a nine-time participant, to guide her. Poor Jeanne.
Amid temperatures in the mid 70s and high humidity, we took off> In keeping with tradition, I missed the first turn about 100 feet into the course. Hey, they changed the course again. What was I supposed to do?
We corrected my gaffe and were soon rolling through the streets of Northwest DC. We appeared to be having a good time despite a remarkable number of street closures. It turns out that we were riding during DC’s Annual Construction Crane festival. Who knew?
The entrance to the White House plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue was closed to keep out anonymous trolls but I rode around the closure. I was waved back by White House security police. Okay, we’ll ride on Pennsylvania Avenue some other time. (We did. Three times, in fact.)
We hit the first rest stop at City Center (which was once my favorite dirt parking lot in the city). There we met Friday Coffee Club charter member Brian and his lovely wife Nicole. Nicole was staffing the health food table where I managed to score some cheese puffs. Well, played Nicole!
Experience does actually count for something in this ride. We made it through the confusing maze of streets from downtown around the Capitol and over to Southwest DC. The course then took us to Ohio Drive but not down to Hains Point as in recent years, thus shaving 3 miles from the route. Next up was a roll past the new DC Wharf development and down a long stretch of M Street where the Nats were preparing for a double header with hours of rain delays. (Ain’t baseball great?)
We rode over the Anacostia River to Anacostia Park in Anacostia. (We looked for hobgoblins with little minds but saw none.) We did all enjoy the new path connecting the bridge directly to the park. It’s short and sweet.
On the flat road to the rest stop in the park I started to feel faint. I had no strength in my legs and the group faded into the distance. Uh oh. I guess those chills that woke me at 4 a.m. weren’t caused by a glitch in the house thermostat.
Fortunately the rest stop had plenty of food like bananas, Doritos, pretzels, potato chips, and, thank god in heaven, cheese balls. The assault on my gut biome must have smothered whatever was going wrong with my body and I was ready to roll once more.
We took off into the hills of Anacostia. I must say that our group did a truly laudable job of the climbs. Last year these climbs were extremely difficult for me. It may have been the result of pulmonary embolisms that ultimately put me in the hospital in December. This year I did okay. I weigh less, my bike has lower gears, and I am much stronger owing to my bike tour.
After bombing down the long Massachusetts Avenue hill, we rode through a series of traffic circles where I got out ahead of the group and lost contact. I think Rachel had to hand out some fritters. Anyway, I continued on with a couple of other riders through Capitol Hill east to Eastern Market for lunch.
The lunch was $10, pre-payed, and was rather disappointing. Just a small bowl of veggies. I almost went up to the food tent and said in a child like English accent, “May I have some more please?” To make matters worse, there were no cheese balls. WTF!
While waiting for the posse to arrive, I ran into Jeff and Tara. Jeff met in the fall of 2007 and have done many rides together, including at least two 50 States. Jeff and Tara were doing the new Route 66 version of the ride which is a bit shorter and goes into a few neighborhoods missed by the main route.
My crew showed up and began to refuel. Rachel ran to a coffee shop for life sustaining caffeine. She returned looking like a vampire after a good neck draining. Then we were back on the road headed east to pick off Oklahoma. There were no winds sweeping down the plains so we doubled back through Trinidad and past Gallaudet University on West Virginia Avenue. Our groups’ returning members and I were pleased to see that this year’s course did not ride up Mt. Olivet Street, a tough hill. Sadly, we rode up Montana Avenue instead, which is just as nasty.
On South Dakota Avenue we rode behind a car with South Dakota license plates. What are the odds? South Dakota Avenue brings out the mania in DC drivers. So what better time for the rain to start falling.
As we made our way past the Catholic complex in Northeast DC, we lost contact with Rachel and Jeanne. I think Rachel helped someone with a flat tire.
Michael, Jesse, Kevin and I rode to Rachel M.’s house in Petworth where she had set up an unofficial pit stop. We hung out there waiting for our Rachel and Jeanne. After 20 minutes we took off and made it about 200 yards before Michael got a flat. He changed it in about five minutes in the rain. At the very end as he was putting his Camelback on, his bite valve bounced off and we all watched as it took one…two….three…four bounces on the pavement then down a storm drain.
It’s not like Michael was going to notice waterdripping down his shirt, because it was now raining pretty hard. And I was once again feeling faint. I blame a cheese ball deficiency.
I was soaking wet and cold, because, as we later learned, temperatures had fallen into the low 60s. I sent a message to Rachel and learned that she and Jeanne has skipped Rachel M.’s pit stop and were 30 minutes ahead of us! (Actually somewhere along the way Jeanne abandoned the last few miles for the warmth and comfort of the after party. I can’t blame her. I think she rode about 10 miles more than she expected to.)
I was also pretty much riding blind. My glasses were covered with rain drops and smears from me trying to clear the water off.
At the Tacoma rest stop we refueled and I put on my rain jacket. l started feeling better. Being soggy, I neglected to go inside the house to thank my friends Mike and Lisa for hosting this pit stop. They are awesome to do this every year.
Our route was now near the northern most neighborhoods in DC and we started heading across town to Chevy Chase. We had to cross Rock Creek Park to get there. The cue sheet was rather confusing, a situation made worse by the fact that a critical street sign was obscured by a large shrub hanging over with the weight of the rain.
Flying down busy 16th Street we blasted past our turn. By this point we were joined by Shira who was piloting a tandem with a blind stoker. (I have forgotten her name. My bad.) We back tracked on the sidewalk and did our best to follow the route. We ended up right where we were supposed to be somehow after climbing a long hill on Military Road in the rain. Oregon Avenue was closed so we followed the detour, getting credit for the state in the process.
We were getting a bit testy as we rode through Chevy Chase looking for Linnean St. We found it and rode uphill past Fort Reno to Wisconsin Avenue. With pizza and beer on our minds, we skipped the last pit stop at a coffee shop and rode through Tenley Circle and past American University.
A steady rain was falling as we made our way along Nebraska Avenue. I heard a CRUNCH and looked to my left to see a car and an SUV colliding at low speed.
Down we rode all the way to MacArthur Boulevard. It must have been about a mile and we enjoyed the fun while it lasted. Soon we’d pay the price by riding back up to Cathedral Heights on Garfield Street. This is where my body completely failed me last year. This year, riding The Mule with its low gears, I made it up the hill without distress.
We made short work of the remainder of the ride. The rain kept coming and we kept riding. On busy Connecticut Avenue I darted ahead riding with the cars for a few blocks.
The ride to the finish at Mellow Mushroom in Adams Morgan was a relief. This had been a tough ride. It always is. And I always forget. But riding with a crew of truly nice people made it much easier. We assembled for pizza and beer and t-shirts, basking in the glory of our soggy feet, er,…I mean feat.
Thank you Marshal Rachel, Kevin, Michael, Jesse, and Jeanne. You made my tenth, and final (I’ve said this before), 50 States Ride a day worth remembering.
Special thanks to all the WABA staff, pit stop hosts, and volunteers. See you at the Cider Ride in November.