Cider Ride 2022 – Celery and Donuts

Last Saturday was the final event of my bicycling year, the 60-mile Cider Ride. This event is run annually by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA). I’ve ridden all six Cider Rides.. The first two were held on suburban roads in December. Riding in 40-degree weather on roads with impatient Maryland drivers did not make for a fun time. The second Cider Ride also featured rain. Woo boy. Thankfully my friend Reba’s chain broke about 13 miles into the event. We spent about a half hour in the cold rain trying in vain to fix it but we had neither the parts nor the expertise to get her rolling again. Cold and wet, we called for the WABA sag wagon and Gina picked us up in her blissfully warm van.

Ever since that lovely day, the event has been held in early November. This year’s event featured light breezes and 75 degree temperatures.

I rode in a group of ten riders. Michael, Kevin, and Chris and I have been doing WABA events together for several years. We rode the 50 States ride together in September. Chuck, Catherine, Jonah, and Sara who were also part of our 2022 50 States posse joined us for this ride as well. Our 50 States alums welcomed Jean and Domitille. It was a coincidence that they are both French. I seem to be making a habit of meeting French bicyclists after chatting with the French sisters in Boulder, Utah in 2018 and to two separate French riders in close succession this summer near the Oxbow, Oregon this summer.

Domitille only recently moved to DC so she was not at all familiar with where we were going. And she expressed uncertainty about her ability to make it beyond 30 miles. Little did she know that we at the Rootchopper Institute specialize in the care and support of newbies – such as Chris and Katie (Cider Ride), and Shane, Veronica, Richard, Tito, Jeremy, Emilia, Larraine, Jeannie, Elizabeth, Lisa, and Kristen (50 States Ride).

At about 9:15 we were off. The ride took us through middle-class, residential Northeast DC into Mt. Rainier, Maryland. There we jumped on a succession of bike trails along the Anacostia River and it’s northeastern tributary. Occasionally we’d ride under a canopy of trees with leaves floating down like giant puffy orange snowflakes. Near College Park we passed through a running event. Here I was surprised as I passed my old biking friend Lisa running in the opposite direction. Hi Lisa

Around the University of Maryland campus and the College Park airport we spun. Michael who knows these trails and the course by heart, led the way, keeping a steady 12 mile per hour pace. We arrived at the first pit stop at Proteus Bicycles in College Park. Warm cider and donuts! Yes!

Domitille pulled out a bag of personal healthful snacks and pulled out a stalk of celery. Domitille, you got some learnin’ to do. The truth is that the food table included healthful things like bananas and apples but they were right next to the icing-covered chocolate donuts. Mon Dieu!

In her defense, Domitille did explain to us how celery, in addition to being nutritionally beneficial, is every bit as good at cleaning your teeth as a toothbrush and toothpaste. Oh, give me some of that dental goodness! On my next event ride I’ll be sure to pack some Colgate.

All kidding aside, she was holding up quite well and having a good time so who am I to deny her such utterly healthy habits.

With full tummies and clean teeth, we headed off towards the Greenbelt USDA research farmlands. At the pit stop, I had assured Domitille that there was only one bad hill on the entire course. Sadly, I had forgotten about the four miles of rollers along Beaver Dam Road. It’s a wonder she didn’t whack me with a celery stalk.

Once clear of the farm land we rode into the Patuxent Research Refuge. It was a lovely three miles out and back through the woods. The turnaround had a pit stop of sorts: no food, just bathrooms. As we rode back toward the farm area we split off to the right, riding a big circle through a suburban neighborhood. I somehow caught my stride and sped clear of the group. They reeled me in after a mile or so. Back at the farmland we used Research Road to cross our outbound path. Now we had a noticeable headwind just in time for the day’s big climb. (At this point I was hoping that Domitille did not have a knife in her food bag.)

We all made it up the hill and around a couple of annoying gates designed to keep drivers from cutting through the Greenbelt neighborhood ahead. A mile of so later we arrived at Buddy Attucks Park and our second pit stop. There was more cider. More donuts. Snacks. And pie! Pumpkin or apple. Or, as Sara was to discover, BOTH! Also, there were lots of bees buzzing about. I made sure to check my cider cup before drinking.

By now we had gone about 35 miles. Domitille was holding up fine. Maybe there’s something to that celery thing after all. We headed back toward DC. Our route took us around Lake Artemsia which we had skirted a few hours earlier. Down the Northeast Branch of the Anacostia, the route took some streets through Hyattsville to ride the Trolley Trail. It was hard not to stop at the gastropubs along the trail but somehow we managed. (Did you know that IPA makes an excellent mouthwash?)

Back to the NE Branch Trail we crossed the Anacostia at Bladensburg and stopped for our last rest stop. I ate an apple. Domitille ate a donut. Will wonders never cease?

The next ten miles involved a ride down the river on the Anacostia River Trail (ART). We rode past an athletic field where a high school cross country race was underway. I must say some of the runners look quite unhappy with the heat and humidity. At Eleventh Street, we crossed back over the river and headed north to the RFK Stadium complex. We rode around the hulking decrepit concrete hulk, Joe and I reminisced about separately attending the Tibetan Freedom concert where lightning struck a young woman. (It was in my seating section. I was getting some liquid refreshment on the concourse above when I heard the BOOM.)

D to 14th to C Streets Northeast took us to and around Lincoln Park. After a brief spin along Massachusetts Avenue we rode around Columbus Circle and up the 1st Street cycle track to M Street. M took us to the Metropolitan Branch Trail which we rode a mile or so back to the finish at MetroBar.

We celebrated with a group picture and some snacks and liquids. We all made it in great shape. Celery and donuts for the win!

Kevin, Jean, and Domitille on the ART in DC during the 2022 Cider RIde
Kevin and Domitille following Jean on the Northeast Branch Trail
Me on Beaver Dam Road during the 2022 Cider Ride
Me, powered by donuts on Beaver Dam Road.
Catherine leading along the ART on the 2022 Cider Ride
Catherine leading Domatille on the ART
Jonah bringing up the rear on the ART during the 2022 Cider Ride
Kevin, Me, Michael, Jean, and Jacob on the ART
At the FInish: Our 2022 Cider Ride Crew minus Chuck plus Monica
Chris, Kevin, Jean, Michael, Monica (our finish line greeter), Me, Jonah. Domitille, Sara, Catherine and Joe. All smiles after nearly 60 miles of riding. Not pictured: Chuck (who finished as well, see below).
Chuck capturing us re-hydrating at the 2022 Cider Ride finish at Metro Bar
L-R: Chuck, Me, Micael, Domitlle, Joe, Sara, Kevin, and Jonah at Metrobar after the ride

47 Miles for a Cup of Cider

The WABA Cider Ride is one of the last DC bike events of the year. In its first two years it was held in early December. From where I sit, holding a bike ride in December in DC is like holding World Series games in November in Boston. You’re just asking for trouble. Last year trouble arrived in the form of cold temperatures and rain. Even before the ride began I was feeling plenty depressed which only made a bad day suck more. Let’s just say it was not a whole lot of fun. I swore I’d never ride the Cider Ride again. (I also said this after the 2010 50-States Ride and then went on to ride the event four more times.)

Then someone at WABA got a pretty darn great idea: they decided to move the ride up to mid-November. So I signed up to ride the 47-mile option.

The ride began (and ended) at the Dew Drop Inn. This bar is located along the Metropolitan Branch Trail and immediately next to railroad tracks. It is an old building with a shipping container attached. I think one could say it has character.

I arrived about 40 minutes early thanks to non-existent traffic. Michele, the WABA events coordinator, was working with a scruffy crew of unscruffy women (including Sarah, another WABA employee, and volunteers Leslie and Sam) getting the ride’s check in area set up. I helped a little, got my cue sheet and headed out.

The course took us on city streets through middle-class Northeast Washington and into neighboring Mount Rainier, Maryland. Soon we were on the Northwest Branch Trail which follows the northwest branch of the Anacostia river. We traveled north-ish. I had my fingers crossed. Every other time I’ve ridden this trail system I’ve gotten lost. Thanks to many, many well-placed arrow signs, I managed to get only mildly confused a couple of times. One of these befuddlements came because a sign had been blown down. Did I mention it was windy. Well, now you know.

We followed the trail and the arrows. It was not encouraging that course marshalls were stopping to get their bearings. It wasn’t their fault. The directions are almost comical:”Bear left up big hill. Over bridge. Through the woods. Bang a left at Grandma’s house.” At times I was expecting to turn the page and see “HA HA!”

But I didn’t.

We kept following the trail  and the occasional road mostly through College Park until we were all dropped on the outskirts of Greenbelt Maryland. There are hundreds of acres of agricultural land used for research purposes by the Department of Agriculture. The roads are pretty darned nice for cycling. So we cycled.

We rode into the National Wildlife Federation property for a two mile loop through the woods with hardly any auto traffic. This was sweet. We returned through the Ag complex and into Greenbelt. From Greenbelt we wended our way back to College Park for a short ride on the very nice Trolley Trail. Next up was my big goof of the day. After the Trolley Trail we jumped on Route 1 and I took a right onto the Northwest Branch Trail instead of a left. After about 1/2 mile I came upon a course marshal. He told me I was off course and led me back to the point of my mistake and soon I (and the dozen other people who also goofed) was on my way to majestic snow covered Mount Rainier Maryland. (Just kidding. No snow. Just can’t figure out why this town has such a peculiar name.) The rest of the ride was an approximate retracing of the first four miles of the route.

The Cider Ride route is almost as complex and mysterious as the 50-States Ride. This is an incredible achievement made possible only by WABA’s proprietary RRGS (random route generation software). I have heard that NASA is considering using it for a mission to Mars.

There were two pit stops along the route. The first stop was at the 12 mile mark outside Proteus Bicycles in College Park They had warm cider and a ludicrous amount of granola bars and donuts. I felt health conscious and had a cup of cider and a Boston cream donut as I walked to Nelle from WABA. Nelle was in her usual good spirits despite the fact that the wind was threatening to blow her entire pit stop away. She reminded me as I parted that getting lost on a ride this complex is inevitable. You just have to go with the flow.

The second stop was at a park in Greenbelt. Here I selected the healthful choice of hot cocoa and apple pie. I spent a few minutes talking with Colin another WABA staff person. Colin’s bike is an touring bike that seems to have been set up by Dr Frankenstein. Or, considering its ability to carry thermoses, Juan Valdez.

The circuitous route made it hard to tell when you were going to get a tailwind, headwind or crosswind. I assumed that anytime I was going more than 20 miles per hour it was because of a tailwind. I assumed that because my legs were dead right from the start. They were the only legs I had so I did the best I could.

There was an after party at the Dew Drop Inn. There was beer. I drank some. There were chips. I ate them. There was a burrito. I ate it. There were many people I knew from #bikedc. I didn’t eat them.

Just before entering the bar, a young man with a clipboard asked me if my name was on “the list.” I was somewhat surprised to learn that it was. What was this list, I thought? It was the list of people who were given this really nifty mug.

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So another Cider Ride is in the books. Many thanks to WABA’s Greg Billing, Nelle Pierson, Colin Browne, and Sarah Katz-Hyman for a great event. Thanks also to the many volunteers who helped out along the course.

Extra special thanks to WABA’s Michelle Cleveland. These events take a ton of time to set up and pull off. As my father said when he was particularly impressed or proud of one of his kids: “You done good.”