The 2021 Fifty States Ride: 50 x 13 = A Whole Lotta Hills

The 50 States Ride, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association’s signature event, is my (nearly) annual exercise in self abuse on a bicycle. I’ve done it all but three years since 2006. making this my 13th time. The course is about 60 miles long, weaving through all eight wards of DC so that riders pedal their steeds on the avenues named for all 50 States.

Each year the course is tweaked. This year for the first time that I know of the start of the course was moved from centrally located Adams Morgan to Yards Park in near Southeast DC, on the banks of the Anacostia River. The change moved the first 15 miles of flat terrain to the end of the ride. Yay! Oh, wait.

Starting at Yards Park meant that the first of countless hill climbs came at about one mile into the ride instead of 18 miles. Put on your big boy pants, this is gonna hurt.

And it did. Riding up Martin Luther King Boulevard in Anacostia, I was dropped by my posse – Michael B., Kevin W., Peter K., and Chris M., augmented by Shira and Steve O. piloting tandems with blind stokers. All of these riders are young whippersnappers and I knew I had no hope of keeping up.

After a brief descent from Alabama Avenue and a flat section on Mississippi Avenue we climbed right back up to an even higher point on Alabama. Dropped again. My posse humanely waited for me to catch up. Another flat-ish section was followed by a descent to Texas and another climb back up. Whose idea was this, anyway?

The next 10 miles or so was relatively easy as the route descended to and over the Anacostia to the Hill East and Capitol Hill neighborhoods. Despite its name, Capitol Hill isn’t much of a hill. We rode north through NoMa and into Trinidad past my friend Dave’s ghost bike (a bicycle painted all white as a memorial to and reminder of Dave’s demise from an out-of-control driver in a stolen van).

After a brief pit stop, we began to climb again up aptly named Montana Avenue and up 18th Street Northeast. This long stretch on 18th was designed to put us on busy and traffic crazy South Dakota Avenue for the shortest distance possible. After three quick turns we were headed southwest on busy and traffic crazy Michigan Avenue. We took the lane and rode in a pack which gave us the illusion of safety.

Once past Catholic University we began another climb up bumpy Hawaii Avenue. At this point, Michael left us. He was riding a single speed bike and wisely opted to swap sanity for knee cartilage.

Next up was the Petworth neighborhood. This section was not particularly hilly but involved several turns (and a walk through a farmers market on Colorado Avenue). We headed north to the northern peak of the city. (DC is shaped like a diamond with a bit taken out of its lower left quadrant.) Here we stopped at the Takoma pit stop, home of Mike and Lisa, about whom I can’t say enough nice things. So I won’t.

(No seriously. They do this pit stop thing every year allowing totally sweaty total strangers to use their restrooms and trample their front yards. And they are Nats fans. Lisa maintains a bobblehead shrine. And they ride a tandem that has weird asynchronous pedaling. And Mike has a DC area GPS in his head and knows every street within a 50 mile radius. Also, he laughs at my jokes.)

Lisa and Mike – They’re the pits

After the pit stop we headed to Alaska. As we made the turn back toward the southwest we had our pictures taken by Patti Heck, who does this every year rain or shine. She posts the pix on her Flickr page so check them out. She even got a group picture of my posse. (And an shot of me too.)

We rode down into Rock Creek Park then back up the opposite side into Chevy Chase, home of posh single family homes. We continued working our way south to encounter a climb up Fessenden Street. Somehow I always forget about this monster. Dropped again.

Down and back up to ride Nebraska past American University. Then down a looong way to MacArthur Boulevard in the Palisades neighborhood. Now came the hard part. Up a short, steep stretch on Aspen. Then a reprieve for a mile followed by the longer, steep climb up Garfield Street. When the route started in Adams Morgan this beast came around the 55-mile mark. This year it came around 40 miles when legs were not completely spent. We managed it without much difficulty at all.

Unfortunately, about a mile after a descent from the top of Garfield came Cathedral Avenue, another tough climb my brain had blocked out. Fortunately, there was a water stop at the top of the hill. Unfortunately it was out of water. No worries; all of us had plenty of water to spare on our bikes.

The remainder of the ride took us back across Rock Creek Park to the start of the old route. From there we weaved our way down to downtown on flat streets. During this part someone on a bike yelled out to us. I had no idea who it was but one of my posse recognized the voice. It was Ursula who works for WABA. When we reached the final pit stop at City Center, she re-appeared. She was riding a shorter route with her parents. We chatted a bunch then the posse headed out for the finish. Down to Penn Quarter, over to Union Station, around the Capitol, through Southwest, past the Tidal Basin. We did a 3 1/2 mile loop to Hains Point in East Potomac Park. I had been feeling dead at that last pit stop but adrenaline kicked in and the wind-assisted ride back from the point felt like I was sailing.

The last bit of the ride took us past The Wharf and around Fort McNair. We then did a close pass of the northern end of the brand new Frederick Douglas Bridge, being careful to navigate a construction zone and beaucoup bridge traffic. After a half lap around Nationals Park we arrived at the finish. Knackered and chuffed, we joined the after party where we picked up our t-shirts and shared a victory beer and a slice of pizza.

The things this idiot will do for a t-shirt

As an added bit of pleasantness we were greeted by Jesse, a member of my 2018 50-States posse, and her friend Mike (the two of them housed me at the end of my 2019 tour in San Francisco) and Kitty, a friend who has been living in Brazil for the last few years.

As always, big thanks to all the volunteers (including my friends Monica and Josephine) and to the WABA folks, especially Anna McCormally WABA’s events coordinator, for making this ride a success once again.

Any road in a pandemic

Wandering through DC

I am out of clever ideas for riding in this pandemic. On Monday I left home thinking I’d ride out the C & O Canal to Great Falls. When I got to the turnoff to pick up the towpath I decided not to turn. Instead I rode up Rock Creek Park for a mile and then exited up the short hill onto P Street.

From P Street I headed east until I spotted a statue. Must be someone important, I thought. It was the Bard of Ukraine. Yeah, well.

After checking out the bard, I moseyed over to Q Street where I found a statue of the man who united the Czachs and the Slovaks to create Czechoslovakia. He died a couple of years before the Nazis invaded. Timing is everything.

Next I started riding across town on Q Street. A cyclist rolled past. His bike was adorned with touring items, a set of front panniers, a rack bag, a tin cup hanging off the bag, etc. At the next stop light he turned and realized he knew me. It was Joe, a #bikedc friend. We had bonded over tails our our separate cross-country bike tours and the post-tour afterglow we both experienced.

Joe guided me across town through a chicane at Florida Avenue. He pointed out the gun sensor (used to notify policy of gunfire) and noted that we were in the neighborhood where the notorious drug kingpin, Rayful Edmond, ran his operation back in the days when crack was king. (Mr. Edmond was sent to the big house years ago.)

A mural at a Q Street restaurant

We made it through unscathed then took on the intersection of New York and New Jersey Avenues, the infamous Dave Thomas Circle. It’s actually not a traffic circle. It’s just one of dozens of places where avenues and streets intersect to form a traffic triangle. It gets its name (albeit unofficial) from the fact that there’s a Wendy’s in the middle of the triangle. City planners have promised to fix this mess for decades. I suggest a well placed explosive device would be a good start.

Joe guided me off road across the circle using curb cuts. I am impressed that he pulled this off without eliciting a single honk from drivers. We were fish on a reef swimming past the sharks. Back on Florida Avenue, we made our way into a protected bike lane. It had flexposts on the left hand side. This was great. It was filled with debris and park vehicles. This was not great.

To our left were several brand new high rise apartment buildings. Joe said his good byes and veered off to his posh abode. I continued on past Gallaudet University. A few blocks later I passed the ghost bike (a bike painted in white) that marks where my friend Dave was killed by a maniac driving a stolen van.

As depressing as the site is, I am always buoyed by think of Dave. He was a splendid human being.

Florida took me to H Street and Benning Road. I crossed the Anacostia River and took the Anacostia River Trail all the way to the South Capitol Street bridge. I rode on the side walk across the bridge and admired the new bridge being built to my left. They can’t finish it too soon. The sidewalk is falling apart.

New and Old Frederick Douglas (South Capitol Street) Bridges

Back on the west side of the river, I turned near Nationals Park. I managed to ride through a whole mess of construction, around Fort McNair, and down past the Wharf. This area is normally a beehive of activity but the pandemic…well, you know.

I decided to head for home and ended up riding 40 miles. Not bad for someone just wandering around.

Return to Yorktown

Yesterday, my wife, daughter, and I drove to Williamsburg VA so that my daughter could check out the law school at William and Mary University. We stopped in The Cheese Shop for sandwiches. The inside was very crowded. Everyone wore a mask but I still was very uncomfortable. We ate our sandwiches outside in perfect weather. Then I took off on my Cross Check for Yorktown.

The view from The Cheese Shop

It’s pretty easy to find. You get on the Colonial Parkway and in 13 miles you’re there. What’s the fun of that. I used the Google and found an alternate route. The first three miles were fine but for the next five miles I was on a four-lane highway with no shoulder, Not fun.

I complicated matters by missing a turn. Or two.

Thankful for my mirror, I boogied on until I saw a sign for Yorktown. Yay. I followed the sign then kept going and was rewarded with a placid two lane country road that led directly to the southern side of the battlefield.

As luck would have it I came upon the earthworks behind which the good guys had been positioned while starving the Brits in their encampment along the York River near the town.

Earthworks at Yorktown Battlefield

It was near here (according to a road side sign) that Cornwallis surrendered his sword to Washington. (Cornwallis didn’t actually participate. He was sick. He send his second in command with his sword. The second in command didn’t know what Washington looked like so he tried to surrender to French General Rochambeau. Rochambeau set him right. Washington directed him to his second in command because protocol.

After this odd history lesson I rode past the victory monument, which is the eastern terminus to the TransAmerica bicycle route.

Using the Google again, I rode down to the beach along York River where so many cross country tourists have dipped their wheels.

I followed the river past the quaint town and along a bluff. This took me to the Colonial Parkway which made for easy navigation back to Williamsburg.

All of which is to say, if you don’t know where you’re going any road will take your there.

Heat Wave

At this time in each of the last three years, I was riding somewhere far away. In 2017, I was crossing the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In 2018. I was in the Idaho panhandle. In 2019, I had finally left the high mountains and landed in San Francisco. This year I am in hell.

We are in the midst of a heat wave here in the mid-Atlantic. Temperatures have been in the 90s for days on end. Humidity is stifling too. Today, at the end of my bike ride the temperature was 97, but the effect of the high relative humidity made it feel like 108.

Seriously.

I managed to crawl 21 miles on Big Nellie before throwing in the figurative towel. Too bad it wasn’t a literal one; I was dripping wet, as if I had fallen into a pool.

Yesterday, despite the brutal heat, I rode to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. In July, water lilies, lotuses, and a few other types of flowering plants bloom. The Gardens has a series of ponds separated by walking paths. The lotuses were showing off. The water lilies were being shy. Riding there was a 23 mile jaunt. I brought a trekking pole to help my back handle the walk around the ponds. What I really needed was a parasol. I managed about 30 minutes blossomy zen before heading home.

Image may contain: plant, flower, sky, tree, outdoor and nature

On the way home I cut through Capitol Hill. The streets on the eastern part of the hill were littered with piles of spent fireworks and snacks., the detritus of a night of prodigious DIY celebrating. Whoever lives in this area spent thousands on fireworks.

My return route took me to Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill. The park is a square awkwardly bordered by city streets. It’s a beautiful oasis filled with green grass and majestic old trees. The Emancipation Statue in the middle of the park has been the subject of protests; it depicts Lincoln standing tall and a freed slave on his knees looking up at his liberator. Right now it is surrounded by a series of jersey barriers which are surrounded in turn by a chain link fence, to deter protesters from trying to take the statue down. You may have seen all the ruckus about the statue on the news recently. You probably didn’t see what I saw as I rolled past: folks from the neighborhood relaxing on the lawn, hanging out in the shade. DC is an interesting place.