Navigating the Blossom Borg

Yesterday I rode my bike to the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC.  I was going to a get together for my friend Ricky who was hit by  a car a couple of weeks ago. He was also celebrating his 50th birthday. Under the circumstances, he’s probably grateful to be 50 instead of pushing up the daisies.

My trip took me through Old Town Alexandria where I did some business at the UPS Store. Then I rode the inland route, the alternate to the Mount Vernon Trail, all the way to Lady Bird Johnson Park opposite the monuments in DC. There I crossed back over to the MVT. There were an unusual number of walkers on the Virginia side of the Potomac so I knew it would be crowded at the Tidal Basin directly across the river.

As I took the ramp to the 14th Street Bridge, I waved a family group of bicyclists to go before me. There were perhaps 15 people in the group. Their ages ranged from 10 to 50. They took their time and were very careful to avoid crashing into each other or into other trail users. Nicely done folks.

On the bridge I could get a closer view of the crowds around the Tidal Basin. It was insane. When I arrived at the Jefferson Memorial at the DC end of the bridge it was an absolute zoo. Suffice it to say, “On your left” doesn’t work with a busload of disoriented tourists from Japan.

After my bicycle escort veered off to park, I rode through the tourist hordes. I tried to use pavement but it was pointless so I rode on the grass and eventually found a clear path on the sidewalk that follows the approach to the bridge to the east of the Memorial.

The sidewalk curves back to merge with the cherry tree lined sidewalk that goes around the perimeter of the basin. It was a sea of humanity. Moving ever so slowly through a pinch point on a bridge over the inlet that connects the basin to Washington Channel. It must have looked like a swarm of ants from above.

You could almost hear the voice in their collective hive mind:

Must. See. Blossoms.

Must. See/ Blossoms.

Resistance is futile.

I crossed the street to get around the swarm. At 15th and Maine, I waited for  a red light. Pedestrians who were waiting to cross Maine were so thick they spilled from the sidewalk and blocked my way.

The light turned green and the swarm moved as one. As I rode up to Independence Avenue, the swarm moved on the sidewalks to either side of me. At Independence, the swarm swallowed a crosswalk. Two traffic control officers tried in vain to maintain order. The swarm would not be denied. It swallowed them. After half a light cycle, an opening appeared and I carefully slipped through. Now I only had to deal with the swarm of cars moving so slowly.

The Touroid Borg at 15th and Independence. If you look closely, you can see one of the traffic cops. 

A turning tour bus blocked 15th at Pennsylvania allowing me to get onto the 15th Street cycletrack where I was joined by a woman riding alone. She seemed uneasy with riding in such conditions so she told me she was going to follow my lead. She had an accent, and, as it turns out, was German. Having lived on Capitol Hill for the last year, she discovered that riding a bike was the best way to get around town. Especially on days like today. Once we escaped the White House area the crowds dissipated and we made good time. She peeled off at P Street while I forged ahead.

I reached Meridian Hill Park and did a victory lap. The water cascade had not been turned on but otherwise it was a normal Saturday in the park. No swarm of tourists. Just local folk doing local folk park things.

I made it to the get together at a pool hall in AdMo. Ricky looked to be in great shape. He seems to be recovering nicely. He may even start going to work next week full time. It will be a lot longer before he can ride a bike again however.

The get together featured a bunch of BikeDC folks from Friday Coffee Club so it was a reunion one day after the finale.  I stayed way too long. Twilight was descending as I emerged on the street. The effects of the beer were made evident by the fact that The Mule seemed like a bucking bronco.

No guts, no glory.

(Do not try this at home. Really. Riding through traffic at twilight after drinking beer is just not a good idea. )

I rode back down to the swarm, touching cars here and there at stop lights to get my low speed balance in check. The swarm was smaller. Perhaps touroids calm down like hornets when the air cools.

The river crossing was almost normal. As was the ride down the trail to my house.

Today was the first day this spring that The Mule and I seemed to be in sync. After tweaking my handlebars and saddle, I finally found the sweet spot where pedaling seemed effortless. This gives me hope for the spring riding season and my tour planned for early July.

The day really zonked me. I fell asleep working a crossword puzzle at the kitchen table. When I awoke, I lied down on the couch in our family room. Then the spasms in my legs began. First, my left thigh, then my right calf, then my right thigh, then both  my thighs. On and on into the night.

Apparently beer is not the best electrolyte drink.

I drank some water and lemonade and hoped for the best. Then I slept like a log from a cherry tree.



Riding to Test Ride

It was high time that I got off the couch and rode into the city to test ride some bikes. My current stable includes a 12 year old recumbent with 38,400 miles on it, a 24 year old touring bike with 38,400 miles on it, and an 8 year old travel bike with 15,000 miles on it. So?  I wanna new bike. I’ve been good. Waaa!

I took The Mule, my touring bike, and rolled out to the city. Wrapped up in thoughts, I missed a turn in a neighborhood called Waynewood that has curvy roads instead of a grid. (I actually have heard it referred to as Whitewood, because there are so few people of color living there.)

Once back on track I took East Boulevard Drive to the Mount Vernon Trail. East Boulevard runs parallel to the GW Parkway and was once lined with small houses, cottages really from back in the day when a trolley line ran down the middle of the Parkway. The Washington area is filled with neighborhoods like this where people with money once escaped the heat of the city. Over the past decade, many of the small houses and undeveloped land have been cleared for massive egoboxes that are triple the size that any rational person would need. This week several cottage houses and trees were bulldozed to make way for more mega-homes. Sad.

The trail was busy, as it always is on a nice Sunday morning in the summer. I managed not to get mad at the long clusters of families riding slowly. They will stash their bikes in the garage soon enough, probably once the temperature falls below 70 degrees.

Once in Alexandria, I took the Woodrow Wilson Bridge across the Potomac River to Maryland. The path is wide but two walkers managed to take up 3/4ths of the width with their bodies. They really needed the walk.

On the Maryland side I slogged up to Oxon Hill Road. It’s not a difficult climb but there is no shade and it goes on forever. The massive lot on the hillside was once empty. It is now the site of the construction of a casino. What a shame that all that effort isn’t going into something that produces something beneficial and lasting.

Once at the top of the hill I had to deal with the fact that MDOT can’t figure out how to build a bike lane to the Oxon Hill Farm. I rode against traffic for a few hundred yards in silent protest to MDOT’s stupidity. (They recently made changes that made this situation worse, making the left turn into Oxon Hill Farm illegal.)

A rather beat up road goes around the farm and back down the hill to Oxon Cove Park. The path through this park sucks. It’s all weeds and potholes. A deer bounded across my path to take my mind off how this route could be made so much nicer for not a lot of money.

Once out of the park I rode the steep uphill on Blue Plains Drive to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. (Are you following all the ups and downs? You’d think MDOT would build a bike trail along the river. You’d think wrong.) A left at the top of the hill took me through some of the poorest parts of Anacostia. There were groups of men sitting in the shade every 100 yards or so. They didn’t look very happy. I rode past the old Saint Elizabeth’s hospital. This was what Karl Childers in Sling Blade called a nervous hospital. For a minute I imagined what a godawful place this must have been back in the day. It’s closed now. Old red brick buildings behing walls and chain link fences slowly giving in to the passage of time. Why can’t they bulldoze this mess instead of those cottages?

After riding through an uninspiring commercial neighborhood, I turned into Anacostia Park. As I made my way northeast along the river I stopped to refill my water bottle. The first two water fountains I tried were not working. On a humid 90 degree day. Go DC!

I finally found a fountain that worked near a roller skating facility. Shortly thereafter I left the park and headed across the Anacostia River, northwest up busy Benning Road. Most BikeDC people I know leave the city to get away from their daily battle with cars. Every so often I go into town to play with the beasts.

I rode through the gentrifying areas of Northeast DC then into Northwest. After a million traffic lights I arrived at the new Bicycle Space mother ship in Adams Morgan. This bike store is NICE! And there are beaucoup bikes on display. So many bikes. I want them all. Just what I needed.

I said hello to my friend Rachel (Don’t Call Me Bob) Cannon who conveniently works for Bicycle Space. What a coincidence! I promptly had me test riding an All City bike. I took it on a loop that included a hill. Riding it out of saddle up the hill was not to my liking so I went back to the shop. where Rachel was prepping a Surly Cross Check for me. Ryan, from the No Wrong Plan tour, came into the shop while the Cross Checvl was being adjusted. He told Rachel and me that despite the fact that he really liked a particular Salsa Warbird bike, he couldn’t buy it because it would cost him too much in divorce lawyer fees.

He joined me aboard the Warbird for one of two test rides on the Cross Check. We were coming to a stop at a traffic light when Susan, Ryan’s wife, saw us and said (I kid you not), “Ryan, no more bikes!”

The Cross Check is a tweener bike, not quite for touring, not quite for road riding. I really liked it a whole bunch, but this whole bike buying thing was really about getting a new touring bike, a Surly Disc Trucker. So Rachel ordered me up one in my size and I will go back in next weekend to do a ride-off. Stay tuned.

Before I left, Rachel told me that her friend Kate is returning to the east coast, because the correct number of Kates to have is N+1. Rachel and Kate are like Mary and Rhoda to me because listening to them talk is like sitting in on a sitcom. Kate and Rachel did the Great Pumpkin ride a few years ago (I joined them for a post-ride beer). It looks like they’ll be back for a repeat. We’ll have to figure out some logistics because a car is needed to get to the ride and they are both car-free.

After the bike shop I picked up some food at a 7-11 and rode to Meridian Hill Park to sit in the shade and read. All was great until a man doing a Humans of DC knock off came by and started talking to the barechested, dreadlocked man of about my age sitting on the bench next to me. I couldn’t listen for all the chatter so I packed up The Mule and rode for home.

At Lafayette Park near the White House swarms of disoriented tourists were obstructing every possible pathway. Once clear of them, I had to deal with the tourists who stood in the 15th Street cycle track as they took in their surroundings. Next came the rent-a-bike tourists riding blindly across the cycle track nearly causing a bicycle pile-up. You probably didn’t know this but Washingtonland is a theme park. We should have funny people in costumes milling about. Oh, I forgot, we do. They’re called politicians.

A few minutes later I was riding past tourists on the Mount Vernon Trail at Gravelly Point Park. Look, Ma. Pavement! Let’s walk four abreast so that all these bikes have to stop or ride across the grass through all the other tourists.

Anabolic touroids. Must not kill.

Thankfully, the rest of the ride home was uneventful. The Mule felt slow, however. I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t that Cross Check be nice right about now?”

After 43 miles I arrived home. It was HOT. I put The Mule away in the Old Bike’s Home. and returned to the couch.