The sun has turned the DC area into a desert. Trees are dropping leaves without changing colors. The soil in my yard is rock hard. The crabgrass in my lawn was over a foot tall, the rest of the yard was dust. Mowing the lawn stirred up big clouds of the stuff. During my ride today, there was so much dust in the air that it didn’t smell like the same place. I rode through Nevada in late June and it wasn’t as dry as this. It was 97 degrees today. In October. Dang.
Yesterday, I spent five or six hours outside doing physical stuff, including digging a trench for a downspout extension, mowing the lawn, and riding 25 miles on Big Nellie.
I was tired and hot so I knew I was going to crash early last night but the Nationals were playing a do-or-die playoff game against the Brewers. I did my best to watch the game on TV. To be honest, it was boring. Sometime around the sixth inning, the sun won and I fell asleep.
I was awakened from my slumber by insane cheering on the TV. The Nationals had pulled out an amazing, improbable, lucky comeback in the eighth inning. I watched the last half inning in a semi-coherent state. They won.
For those of you who know what an avid baseball fan I am, you’re probably thinking, “You idiot! How could you of all people miss the greatest comeback ever!!”
Get a grip, children. Pull up a chair.
I did miss the comeback but, except for the do-or-die aspect, this wasn’t even the biggest comeback of this year. The Nationals scored seven runs in the bottom of the ninth to walk off the Mets a month ago.
As sweet as that was, it didn’t come close to the biggest comeback of my lifetime.
In 1967, as the Red Sox contended for the American League pennant, Tony Conigliaro was beaned. On my birthday. Hello, karma.
I went to college in Boston in the 1970s and, for a semester, lived a five-minute walk from the Green Monster of Fenway Park. Of course, the Sox lost in the World Series to the Reds, but surely they’d win it next year.
Twenty eight years later, I watched from my home in DC as the Sox were walked off by Aaron Boone and the Yankees in the eleventh inning of the seventh game of the American League playoffs in 2003. The next year, the Yankees annihilated the Sox for three games in the playoffs. I was fed up.
Then, the Sox came back. For four nights I sat on my sofa and went totally sportsball insane. The Red Sox eliminated the Yankees in Yankee Stadium and went on, in beautifully anticlimactic fashion, to win the World Series and reverse the curse of the Bambino.
Last night’s game was pretty great but, for me, nothing will top those four games in 2004. In fact, I even stopped watching baseball for a few years because I’d been to the mountain top.
All that said, I have only two words, inspired by the basketball fans of Boston, left to say.
The idea was to celebrate my 64th (god that sounds terrible) birthday by riding 64 miles but things got a bit complicated.
My daughter Lily decided that we should go to a Nationals baseball game for my birthday so last night I met her at the bike valet (I biked; she took Metro) and went inside the ballpark to watch the Nats take on the Milwaukee Brewers.
We bought two beers each at the center field bar’s happy hour and some fries and headed to our perch in Section 318. The extra beers were a money saving venture that backfired as the second beers became warm in the oppressive sauna of the Washington summer night.
The contest was entertaining. Lots of home runs. Just when you thought the Nationals were done for they came roaring back. They led by three runs into the ninth inning. I thought I’d get home by midnight (the ride takes about 1:20). The Nationals brought in their closer who was shelled like an oyster. Three home runs and the Brewers were ahead by one run. The Nats tied the score in the bottom of the night but stranded the winning run in scoring position.
They stayed tied until the Brewers took another lead only to surrender it. Again the Nats tied the game but left runners in scoring position. In the 14th inning the Brewers scored twice and the Nats scored once. End of game. It was now today. I had aged a year in 14 innings.
The 14 1/2 mile ride home was pretty great. A near full moon made up for the still, muggy air. I arrived home at 2:30, showered, and surrendered to the sandman at 3.
I awoke about 5 1/2 hours later and lazed around the house until 11:30. It was once again hazy, hot, and humid outside. This, combined with my bleary, sleepy head, made me dread the idea of riding 64 miles, one mile for each year. But wait! I already had 14 1/2 miles in the bank because the ride home occurred well after midnight.
I climbed aboard Little Nellie and we rode to Bethesda and back, taking a lap of Hains Point for good measure. 50 miles done. Mission accomplished.
Today was the last Vasa ride ever. Vasa is the first bike event on my #bikedc ride calendar each year. It was begun as a collaboration between the Washington Area Bicyclists Association and the Swedish Embassy. This year the Swedes decided to discontinue their participation so WABA teamed with REI to do one last ride.
The Vasa Ride is inspired by the Vasaloppet 90 kilometer cross country ski event in Sweden. The event is testimony to the fact that, by the end of winter, Swedes go mad.
The full Vasa ride is 100 km, about 62 miles. For mere mortals there are shorter distances. As usual, I did the Halvasan (the Half Vasa).
The Vasa ride is not to be confused with the Vasa ship, named after a Swedish king. The Vasa ship was an ancient wooden warship that sunk on its first trip out of Stockholm. It was the king’s dream ship. Alas, it was dangerously top heavy as it was designed with two levels of cannons high above the waterline. During the short maiden trip, crosswinds tipped it over and it sank. Derp.
The Vasa warship was recovered and reconstructed in 1961. It is on display in a museum in Stockholm. This was one big, ornate boat. If you ever go to Stockholm it’s worth the trip.
Because the rides today began at the REI store in northeast DC instead of the Swedish embassy, the routes were redesigned. I have done the old half Vasa route probably 15 times so I needed a change.
Like the old route, the new Half Vasa route headed out toward Great Falls. Instead of continuing past the Washington Beltway to Potomac, Maryland, it turned north to Bethesda. After a pit stop in downtown Bethesda, the route continued through Chevy Chase to get to Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park. The ride through the park lead back to the city and included a detour. The detour required a climb away from Beach Drive at the bottom of the park. The windy (in both senses of the word) descent back to Beach Drive was the highlight of the ride. The route left the park and climbed through Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights. (Note the references to high ground.) It continued due east, around a massive medical complex, past the Basilica, and ultimately back to REI by way of the mercifully flat Metropolitan Branch Trail.
I rode 16 miles into a sometimes rainy, cold headwind to get to the start. I decided to try the electric socks that Mrs. Rootchopper gave me for Christmas. They might have worked okay but I had turned on the power to only my right leg. Derp again. (Later I corrected this. They kept my calves warm but my toes would have been better off with chemical warmers and decent wool socks.)
I rode with Michael B., Friday Coffee Club’s scuba expert. Michael and I have done a couple of Fifty States Rides together. He’s a very powerful rider which is to say, I have a hard time keeping up with him. Peter and Todd (I’m guessing at this name) rounded out our quartet. Unfortunately, plans to include my 50 States Ride partner Emilia in the festivities fell through. Te extranamos, amiga. Hasta pronto.
As the ride progressed the temperature dropped. We had some conversational sleet followed by some conversational snow. The former was a little painful. The latter was just plain pretty.
At the rest stop at the halfway point we ran into Joe. I don’t know when I met him but he always has to remind me of his name. Maybe cold bike rides cause brain malfunctions. I’ll ask Klarence the next time she psychoanalyzes me.
Joe and his friend more or less joined our quartet. We stayed together until Beach Drive where the light car traffic induced Peter and Todd to zoom off the front. Michael patiently waited for me as I slogged up the hills.
Medical Note: Although I slogged up the hills, my lungs were functioning just fine, unlike last summer. It just happens that I truly suck at hill climbing.
As mentioned above, a detour resulted in a climb leading to a twisting, bumpy down hill that woke my ass right up. Actually, I carried way too much speed into the first couple of turns and had to bear down so as not to catch a crack in the pavement or go careening off into the trees. Michael seemed born to descend.
Once we left the park, the ride became more urban. Michael nearly mated with a city bus in Columbia Heights. (The distance between the bus and Michael could have been measured in inches.)
The ride back on the Met Branch Trail felt like we were sailing. All the hard work had been done. On to the soup!
The blueberry soup was plenty hot and hit the spot.
This ride was the fact that it was like old home week. During the day I ran into Steve, Erin, Kevin W., Dan, Jeff and Sam, Judd and Josephine, Cyrus, Kristin, two Elizabeths, and one Grace. (And I’m probably leaving someone out.)
At REI I ran into Lisa with whom I’ve done countless rides. Lisa is the official Taiko drummer and flutist of Friday Coffee Club.
Before leaving the store, I ended up talking camping and running and cycling with Grace for probably 30 minutes. The long talk allowed me to stiffen up for my re-emergence into the cold outside,
I rode home 17 miles, taking an indirect course to avoid the tourist throngs at the Tidal Basin and the cherry blossom festival. Once in Virginia, a tailwind took over. I fell into a trance, and allowed my mind to think of nothing but food. Near Gravelly Point Park I passed two women walking. One said “Hi John” as I went by. I have no idea who it was. I could have hallucinated this.
Once in the door at home, I ate all the things. 63 cold miles in the books.
Thanks to WABA, REI, and all the volunteers that made this a resounding success.
The day was taken up by a long train ride. I wondered why the train takes about 25 hours to go from Ft. Lauderdale to DC. The reason is that instead of going straight up the coast, it cross crosses Florida. I should have packed some food for the trip. I subsisted on Cafe Car food, mostly hot dogs.
I managed to get about 4 hours of sleep. I could have gotten more but for the chatterboxes sitting in the row behind me.
When I got to DC it was a simple matter to take my bike from the conductor in the baggage car. My checked bag contained my tent, sleeping pad, clothes, bike shoes, and one big pannier. One of my small panniers was nested in the other big pannier as a carry on. I also carried on the second small pannier and my handlebar bag.
My front tire had a slow leak since Key West. It was quite soft when I was all loaded up so I took the bike to the Bike Station run by Bike and Roll just outside Union Station. They let me fill up the tire with air and a water bottle with water. And away I rolled.
My sore ribs were giving me a hard time. Every bump caused a jolt to my chest. I stopped to take a picture a few miles from home and the pain almost kept me from dismounting. I am considerably thinner than when I started this tour a month ago.
Riding the bike on familiar ground, proved two things to me. First, this bike was a tank, And, second, I am a MUCH stronger bike rider than when I started.
After a final 15 1/2 miles I made it home. For the entire tour, door-to-door mileage was 2,127.5 miles.
Yesterday’ weather was fantastic. Good weather for goofing off is also good weather for getting stuff done around the house. Sorry to disappoint you, my friends, but I chose responsibility over slacking.
I mowed the lawn and painted the shed. Most of the painting had already been done by Mrs. Rootchopper during the week but I took on the tedious chore of painting the trim. Four plus hours of pure fun. Not. When I was done I reloaded the shed with all the stuff. It’s good to be back to normal, but my efforts were rewarded with lower back pains.
So I started the today with my usual noga (My wife says it’s yoga, I say it’s back exercises so let’s just call it noga, okay?). After that I languished on my deck reading the Sunday paper. Had I stuck around it would have been tea and buttered scones but I decided to go on a recon ride to DC. I am riding my ninth 50 States Ride in a month and need to find a parking spot near the start. (It’s not too late to sign up. You have to be a WABA member, or come as the guest of one. )
So off I rode to DC on the Mount Vernon Trail. It was busy, mostly with tourists on rental bikes. You can tell because they gape at all the stuff I see every day. On the Dyke Marsh bridge I caught up to a bike tourist. We had a ten second chat from which I learned that he is riding around the perimeter of the 48 contiguous states. He started in Minnesota and is riding counterclockwise. So he’s already been from midnight to three o’clock. The ride will take him 14 months. Go dude! (I found his journal when I got home over on Crazyguyonabike.com. The journal notes say that he also took a side trip to Hawaii and dropped down into Mexico for a few days.)
After ten miles of weaving around the rent-a-bikers, I made it into DC and headed for Rock Creek Park. Along the way, I spotted a cricket match because this is DC and DC is eclectic as fuck.
The weather was nearly as good as yesterday. The park side trail is being refurbished and looks great for most of the way from Georgetown to Military Road. At one point, people were gathering along the trail to look into the creek. Five bucks were making their way across the creek. The road crossing had all us bystanders holding our breath. I think they made it across without incident. (The picture shows only the southbound half of the road just after a merge to the left out of frame. The grassy median is wooded and wide. They had to make it across another two lanes of northbound traffic after that.)
I made it to the new Klingle Valley trail which I had ridden downhill recently. Today, I slogged up the hill. I kept my breathing and effort constant and had no trouble making the climb. Of course, neither would you at 7 miles per hour.
Once i reached the top, I check out some of the local streets for parking. As long as you are willing to ride a mile (or less) to the start of the ride, you’ll have no trouble finding a place for your metal fart barge (Colin made me say that.)
After the recon was over, I rode to Meridian Hill Park for no other reason than it’s one of my favorite places in DC. The water cascade was dry earlier this summer but it is now flowing in all its glory. The park is built into a hill. Looking down from the top (near the swordless statue of Joan of Arc) the cascade is pretty. Looking up from the base of the park, it is just WOW! And it sounds so soothing you could sit beside it all day canoodling with your canoodle-ee.
I thought it would spoil the vibe if I started canoodling with myself so I made my way home down the 15 Street cycletrack. This was a mistake. It took a really long time. I could have been bombing down 16th Street instead. Riding in a cycletrack in DC feels like you’re in a video game. People, ubers, delivery vans, dogs, and other random stuff seem to appear. You’ll never score enough points if you don’t pay attention.
The ride home was a breeze. Literally. I took a side trip through Del Ray for a change of pace. After 40 miles, I didn’t feel the slightest bit tired. I’m ready for my tour, Mr. DeMille.
Winter has returned. It was in the 30s with a northwest wind. A snowstorm looms in the days ahead. DC’s famous cherry blossoms are in jeopardy. So I went up to DC today to check out what was in bloom. Short answer: not much.
I parked at Gravelly Point Park near the airport across the river. This was a good idea because the highways heading into the city were jammed with traffic. The 1 1/2 mile ride was pleasant enough. Blue skies and puffy white clouds practically commanded me to look up. So I did. Here’s one from the back side of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
There were only a handful of trees in anything close to peak bloom. And the wind picked up as I walked and rode among them. Even without peak bloom the blues skies and the trees and the monuments made for pretty views. Deets couldn’t resist striking a pose.
As it gets warmer and lighter, we begin to see signs of spring. Today I saw my first new bike commuter. I’ll call her “Robin.”
There is a short connector trail that links the Custis Trail along I-66 with the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac River. The connector trail starts/ends at the Intersection of Doom. Along side the trail is a little used service road that goes basically nowhere. It is often confused with the connector trail.
As I reached the IoD traffic light on the connector trail, I spotted Robin coming from the Key Bridge toward the IoD. She looked confused and started to turn down the service road. We made eye contact and I shook my head “no.” Then I motioned with my head “this way.” (My hands were busy braking.) She immediately got the point and veered off the service road. As she rode past me she said, “Thanks. It’s my first bike commute.” Based on her gear – bike with rack and panniers – she was not an inexperienced rider; she was just new to commuting in DC. She would have figured out her mistake so I saved her all of 20 seconds. Nevertheless it felt good to help a fellow traveler.
So here’s a reminder to all #bikedc commuter. Spring is almost here and, with it, many Robins. It doesn’t take much to help them out. Maybe just a nod or a shake of the head. Give them directions or offer to lead the way. Invite them to one of the scads of bike commuter coffee get-togethers. Tell them about upcoming local events like the Vasa Ride.
Be Kind to Clueless Touroids
And while I am on the subject of being kind, we are just a few weeks away from the massive influx of tourists. Tourists in DC think they know where they are and what they are doing because they see DC on TV every night. The truth is most of them are clueless. Be kind to them. (Yes, I admit I lose my cool with five abreast cherry blossom tourists on the trails. I will try to be more patient this year.) Be especially kind to the ones from far away lands, particularly those who do not speak English. If you’ve ever been disoriented in a place far away, you know how frustrating and scary it can be. The people you help will long remember what you did for them.
Later in the morning I had to go to CVS for some things. I decided not to bother with a sweater or jacket since it’s only a block away and 45 degrees is tolerable in shirt sleeves. I was totally comfortable. I spotted a woman walking toward me in a cross walk. She had on a heavy winter coat, oversized sunglasses, and big ear muffs. I stifled a laugh and wondered if her last name was Shackleton. Then I realized she was a friend of a friend, the kind you know of but don’t actually know. Derp. I guess it’s not spring for everyone yet.
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 Ursual 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 congrested 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.
After a late night of watching the rain fall down at Nationals Park, I awoke in a bit of a fog. Unfortunately the fog in my brain was accompanied by humidity outside. I rode off into the mugginess officeward.
There was considerable leaf and twig debris on the roads. Somehow this debris was concentrated along the right side where I normally ride. So I boldly moved toward the center of the lane. No drivers’ egos were harmed.
Near Belle Haven Park, a tree had fallen across the trail. According to fellow bike commuter Reba, the tree nearly nailed a passing runner. As a former marathon runner, I can attest that this can ruin your whole day.
I made my way around the tree on foot and proceeded northward-ish. Near the power plant, I came upon a tractor trailer which had fallen across the trail. I rode around it on the grass.
Near the Memorial Bridge, a gaggle of geese formed an occlusion of the trail. I rode through them undaunted. One goose mouth a goose obscenity at Little Nellie, I am pretty sure this goose is a columnist for the Washington Post. He was probably upset that in years past geese were ticketed for using the trail.
Over the course of the day, it got muggier. Or as the French say, “I’ll fait icky.”
I rode home under ominous skies. Sprinkles turned to light rain. Distant rumbles turned to thunder booms. The tractor trailer was gone but the trail was blocked by a cyclist chatting with a surveyor and a pedestrian. I stopped for the pedestrian almost certainly ruining my credibility as a bike terrorist.
On Union Street in Old Town, the bike lane was blocked twice. The first blockage was by an SUV double parked in the bike lane. Shortly thereafter the but end of a luxury car was parked so as to preserve the entrance to a townhouse’s garage. It’s butt end blocked the trail.
At King and Union a King Street Trolley (actually a bus) stopped mid-block obstructing my way up Union Street. I was begining to think this was Block the Bicyclists Day, sponsored no doubt by the Washington Post.
The last five miles home were under a steady rain. The distant thunder and lightning suddenly became directly over head. BOOM! CRACK!
Uh oh. Not good. The hairs on my calves (the lower part of my leg, not my baby cows) stood on end. Eek.
Fortunately, that was the worst of it. I arrived home soaked having somehow not terrorized anybody.
You may have noticed that I have been making oblique references to the Washington Post today. This is because Courtland Milloy, a Post columnist, wrote a column today that expressed his exasperation with having to share the city with cyclists. In addition to some veiled racist remarks, he said that the $500 fine for hitting a cyclist with your car was worth the expense.
Mr. Milloy’s column demonstrated an astounding combination of ignorance, intolerance, and race baiting, quite the trifecta. It also contained many factual errors. Here are some facts for Mr. Milloy to think about:
My wife was run over on a crystal clear day by a careless driver in a hurry. She was lucky. She got to spend three months in bed. It took her the better part of a year to get back to something resembling normal. The driver nearly killed her in another way, because the aftermath of the crash left her unable to have surgery for a malignant tumor for one year.
My friend Rachel volunteered to ride sweep during a cycling event last December. Her job was to make sure that the very last riders finished safely. She was run over by an inattentive driver near FedEx Field. She was injured but fortunately recovered rather quickly. She is still jittery about riding her bike in the city.
My friend Charmaine was run over by a pickup truck while riding to work on Michigan Avenue in Northeast DC. The crash broke her right arm and destroyed her bike. She missed weeks of work and endured months of painful physical therapy. (It was the second time she’d been hit by a car.)
I didn’t know Alice Swanson, but six years ago today, she was riding her bike in a bike lane near Dupont Circle when she was run over by a truck and killed.
I could go on with more examples all night.
In my entire life of riding about 100,000 miles I only know of one death by cyclist. This happened when a kid at my grade school lost control of his bike and struck an old lady walking home from church. As bad as we all felt for the victim, we felt equally bad for the kid who was going to have to live with this for the rest of his life.
I hope Mr. Milloy parks his car and his hate. If he rode his bike in the city he might see what I see.
Riding through Anacostia on a Sunday morning is a joy. The church goers, dressed in their Sunday best, wave and say hello, even though in Mr. Milloy’s mind I am an evil suburban white guy on a bike and they are black and there are no bike lanes on MLK Boulevard.
That riding through all eight wards of the city during six or seven Fifty States Rides has revealed a city that is finally rising from the ashes of the 1968 riots and the farce of a crack head mayor. The restored Union Market and Lincoln Theater, the hundreds of rehabilitated rowhouses, the new buildings springing up everywhere, the resurrection of near Southeast. You miss this driving in and out of the city with a death grip on the steering wheel.
And that during those same rides and many, many more in DC, dozens of people have waved, cheered me and my fellow riders on, and made sure we didn’t take a wrong turn. Over and over again.
That little kids see me go by on my funny looking recumbent or my equally odd folding bike and say, “COOOL!”
I don’t like riding my bike in DC during rush hours, but I’ll do it to get where I need to be. That doesn’t mean I am an inherently bad person or anti-car or racist. It means that I am rational. I dislike driving in the city too. The difference is that in a car I have steel barrier between me and people like Mr. Milloy. On a bike, I am apparently a viable potential target for a pathetic man with a small mind.
Mr. Milloy should be ashamed of himself. As a 30-year subscriber to the Post, I have but one request. Stop running his columns. They are reckless, irresponsible, and hurtful. Find someone with a positive voice to fill the space.
My friends who live and bike in DC are always riding about doing fun rides all over town, riding to baseball games, sipping espresso in sidewalk cafes and riding to craft beer places. I hate them.
I live in the boring suburbs. Yes, we have good schools and much less crime but I’d much rather be doing stuff in DC than, say, mowing the lawn. (I’ll get around to it. Get off my case already.)
Early in the morning Kristen tweeted that she was thinking of doing a ride with BicycleSpace, a bike shop in the heart of DC. Then Ted joined in. So I said, why not me?
And I was off to DC.
The Mount Vernon Trail was pretty congested. This did not slow me because I was taking my time and enjoying the perfect summer weather. The ducklings have fledged. The herons and egrets have finally returned. The skies are blue.
Once in DC I rolled past the folklife festival on the national mall. It was big on China folklife this year. I made my way up 7th Street diverting over toward the Capitol to scope out the location of a meeting I am going to for work tomorrow.
I arrived at BicycleSpace to find Kristen, Ted, and Brook hanging out together. The ride was announced as an 11:30 start but we didn’t get underway until noon. While we were waiting Chris appeared. Chris moved to San Francisco several months ago. We had a good talk. He seems to be pretty happy. Actually, that’s kind of a forgone conclusion. Chris always seems to be happy.
Once underway the 20 or so riders meandered east to the Metropolitan Branch Trail. We followed it past the Uline Arena, site of the first Beatles concert in America. (You could tell because of the huge black and white banner hanging from the side of the old hulk.)
We somehow rolled by Gaullaudet University and found the National Arboretum. This is a terrific destination and a nice place for a nearly traffic free bike ride. Unfortunately there wasn’t time to take in the herb garden and the display of bonsai trees. If you go, be sure to check them out.
We paused for a group picture near the Capitol columns. You can’t just throw out old columns. So you stick them on a hill in the middle of a park.
We went on a short hilly loop ride inside the Arboretum grounds. A BicycleSpace employee was leading us down a hill on his Brompton. He turned to warn us to be careful on the downhill and veered off the road into some rocks. Only his pride was hurt. (Pretty good controled crash if you ask me.)
Kristen needed to get back home as her two girls almost certainly were by now tying Dad up and pouring maple syrup on his head. (Actually, they are pretty cool kids and would never torture their father. Intentionally.) I decided to join her for the ride to her house. I promptly took us all over creation and we ended up riding on busy Florida Avenue to R Street. R and its bicycle lane took us all the way across town to Massachusetts Avenue. There we began a loooong steady climb up embassy row. Kristen does this everyday on her ride home from work. We crested the hill at the National Cathedral and rode Wisconsin Avenue to Tenleytown. From there. Kristen led me through a maze of side streets and down an alleyway where she mugged me and took all my money.
The alleyway led to her garage where she parked her bike. I hung out at her house chatting with her husband who looked remarkably unharmed and her girls who I swear had halos over their heads. She tried and tried to feed and water me cuz she’s a mom. I still had 18 miles to go to get home so I turned down her offer of a cold Shiner Bock. (Makes me tear up just thinking about it.)
After about a half hour I headed back by way of Meridian Hill Park. It’s usually a pretty festive place. The drum circle was doing its thing but there weren’t the usual hula hoopers and frisbee throwers and such. I hung out and listened to the drums and admired the view of the beautiful gardens and cascading water down below in the southern half of the park.
Back on the bike, I rode down 16th Street to the White House to the 15th Street cycletrack and into the tourist fray on the mall. As I passed the Washington Monument a minivan pulled over into a drop off zone behind me. I heard one of its tires blow. Bummer.
I could feel the temperature drop as I neared the river. The headwind on the way home didn’t bother me. The puffy clouds and blue skies would not allow me to be grumpy.
The ride ended up being 54 miles but it didn’t feel like it. Other than the Mass Ave hill, it was a pretty easy ride. The people on the BicycleSpace ride were friendly and well behaved. I think I’ll do another sometime.