Cider, Donuts, and a Red Caboose

My phone said 33 degrees when I woke up. The coldest temperature since April. Time to break out the holey sweater because in an hour I’d be starting the fifth Cider Ride.

The Cider Ride is the last official bicycle event of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association calendar. The first couple of years had routes mostly on roads in the suburbs. Back then the event was held in early December. Leafless trees and hypothermia persuaded the organizers to move the ride into early November. The route was changed to a mix of trails along the Anacostia River and its tributaries leading to agricultural and forested lands outside the DC Beltway.

For the third time this fall, I was riding with Emilia. We met just before 8 am near the start. We had to cool our heels (pun intended) until registration opened at 8:30. We needed to pick up our cue sheets and metal mugs (for hot cider at the pit stops) as soon as we could so that we could finish early. Emilia had places to be later in the day.

This year’s 50 States Ride was marred by a very long line at check in. WABA did an admirable job of improving the sign-in process and we were underway after only a few minutes in line.

After wending our way through the streets of Northeast DC and Mount Ranier Maryland we joined the trail system and proceeded up river. The trails in this area are old and poorly signed. This year WABA put colored arrows on the pavement at all the turns. This  greatly simplified navigation.

My holey sweater was keeping me toasty inside my wind shell. Although Emilia was wearing two layers, she was uncomfortably cold until the sun rose higher in the sky. She forged ahead without complaint. We made steady progress and managed not to slip on the wet leaves on the trails.

We passed through the University of Maryland campus where parking lots were full of tailgaters prepping for the Maryland vs. Michigan football game that afternoon. Emilia is a native of Venezuela and found the whole scene amusing. She suggested in jest that we crash the parties to benefit from the heat of the grills.

On we rode through a 5K run on the trail. Then we went around the little airport at College Park and a small lake. We stopped at Proteus Bicycle shop in College Park where we filled our cups with hot apple cider. Emilia mastered the art of donut dunking while I enjoyed pieces of apple fritter.

Refreshed we soon were cruising through barren fields in the USDA agricultural research complex north of Greenbelt. This area had gently rolling hills and nearly no motor vehicle traffic. Now free of the narrow, windy trails along the Anacostia we made better time. Emilia commented how beautiful the area was. Despite the cold, she was clearly enjoying this ride.

Our northerly trek ended after a ride through the woods at the Patuxent Research Refuge where we stopped briefly. I took off the holey sweater and changed from long pants into shorts. Then we headed back toward DC.

I pushed the pace a bit for the next four miles to keep warm. Then we hit the one long hill on the ride which climbs out of the agricultural preserve and into Greenbelt. A mile later we arrived at the second pit stop for some apple pie and more cider. The sun was higher in the sky and we were both comfortable as long as we stayed out of the shade.

After our snack we headed out of Greenbelt back into the Anacostia trail system. We briefly left the trail in order to ride on the Trolley Trail in Hyattsville. This led us in short order to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, a relatively recent addition to the trail system. Th ART is wider and has better signage allowing for higher speeds.

Before launching ourselves into a brisk ride downriver we stopped at the final pit stop at Bladensburg Waterfront Park. While it may sound like we were pigging out, we each had only a half donut washed down with about four ounces of cider.

In a weird coincidence, we found ourselves standing next to a red caboose.

IMG_3288

After the photo op, we took off down the trail. We cruised by the Botanic Gardens, through some playing fields, along the cycletrack in the Deanwood neighborhood, and around the trash consolidation plant. After riding under four bridges we crossed the Anacostia River on the 11th Street bridge and reversed course.

We passed by the decaying hulk of RFK Stadium and headed up C Street into Capitol Hill. As we rode, two fighter jets roared overhead, en route no doubt to salute the World Series champion Washington Nationals at the parade being held in their honor on Constitution Avenue near the Mall.

We picked up the First Street cycletrack which led us to the Metropolitan Branch Trail. A mile or two later we were at the finish, about six hours and 54 miles after we started.

Emilia took off for home to get washed up and head out to a cabin to celebrate her birthday with some amigas. I headed into the Dew Drop Inn for a beer. I found a spot on the railing on the bar’s deck where I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face.

Many thanks to the folks at WABA who worked so hard to make this event a success. Special thanks for the improvements to the sign in process and the addition of arrows along the route.

Post Script: After I arrived home, I took a nap on the couch. When I went to stand up, my left calf went into a massive and very painful spasm. I felt like the Dr. Pepper guy turning into a werewolf in London. (Just google it, okay.) Mrs. Rootchopper brought me about 2 ounces of apple cider vinegar which is supposed to cure muscle cramps. I knocked it back in one go. I can’t remember tasting anything quite as nasty. And to add to the experience, it burned all the way down. Perhaps it was the diversion in my throat or maybe the stuff does have medicinal properties. Either way, my leg cramps went away. I am not sure the medicine was worth the cure.

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