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.)
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.
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.
There are right ways and wrong ways to do a hilly bicycling event. I chose the latter.
On Friday night, I dined on a Texas chili mac with cheddar, beans, and onions, a true gut bomb. Saturday morning I ate shredded wheat for breakfast. Then I rode 15 miles to Nationals Park to take in a baseball game, my first since the before times. There I drank my June beers, two tall, bland, vastly overpriced lagers.
The Nats won and I left the ballpark happy. Well, most of me did. The combination of chili, shredded wheat, and beer was causing me intestinal distress that would make both a gastroenterologist and a volcanologist proud.
I made it home in one piece and felt a bit better after some time on the porcelain throne.
Fast forward to the wee hours of the morning. Rumblings within woke me and kept me awake all night. By six in the morning all was calm but I now had the brain fog of a sleeplessness to deal with.
After breakfast I rode The Mule six miles to Jones Point Park in Alexandria. The park is bisected by the massive Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Beneath the bridge was the starting point for the Washington Area Bicyclists Association Sweet Ride. I had chosen to do the 50-mile route despite the fact that the registration page warned that it was “a challenge” because it included 2,654 feet of climbing.
I have issues with climbing. Basically, I stink at it. I could get better if I rode up hills with some regularity, but my thinking is: why ruin a nice ride with pain?
The Sweet Ride route was merciful for the first ten miles, following flat streets and trails in Alexandria and Arlington before using the Mount Vernon Trail for a mile-long spin along the Potomac River.
Alas, the MVT ends at a switchback climb to the Martha Custis Trail. The Custis (nobody calls it the MCT for some reason) climbs out of the Rosslyn neighborhood for a mile or so. Then the “challenging” part begins.
The next nine miles traverses scenic (check out the landscaping, see the pretty Arts and Crafts McMansions) North Arlington. The hills seemed to go up forever until they plunged down to a stop sign, stealing riders of their reward for all that hard work going up. I was glad I had chosen The Mule for this event because it is equipped with a tiny granny gear that I purchased to climb over Monarch Pass in Colorado in 2019.
I stopped at a pit stop to refill a water bottle and say hello to Kristin, WABA’s development and acting managing director. I seem to see her only when I am zonked from riding. In any case it was the first time I’d seen her since 2019 so I didn’t mind the zonked part. That is until she said there would be more climbing in the miles ahead.
And there was.
Thank the gods for granny gears.
At least the neighborhoods were interesting and the traffic was light. At mile 10, I arrived on the Custis Trail again. This led to a somewhat confusing meander through the Ballston area. I briefly lived in this area in the mid to late 1980s. I proposed to my wife at the miniature golf course and took my sister for her first Mexican food meal at a tiny place in a small wood framed shop. Those places are gone, replaced by fancy townhouses and mid rise apartment and office buildings.
Most of the riders I encountered during the event were using GPS cue sheets. I am old school and had a paper cue sheet attached to my handlebars. I couldn’t keep up with the mod crowd because I had to stop and turn the page of my cue sheet booklet from time to time. Also, I am old and slow.
We connected to the Bluemont Trail which I haven’t ridden in 25 years. This led to the Washington and Old Dominion Trail which was packed with families enjoying the lovely weather. In short order I pulled into the pit stop in Bluemont Park where I was greeted by old friend, Ursula, another WABA person, and generally all around great human. Once again this was my first time seeing her since 2019.
I briefly chatted with a man named Adam who kidded me that he thought I should be riding “out in Montana somewhere.” For the life of me, I have no idea how he knew who I was. My broken fusiform gyrus once again was paying me a visit.
Just before I was to begin riding again, Ed Felkerino, randonneur extraordinaire and co-founder of Friday Coffee Club, appeared at my side as if out of the ether. We chatted briefly, He wasn’t doing the event, just out for a bike stroll, probably headed for Cafe Amouri in Vienna. Yet another person from the before times. Maybe if this keeps up I’ll start to feel less pandemicy sometime soon.
I rolled away on the W&OD to the city of Falls Church where the route wandered past all kinds of smaller but finely designed homes. By this point, my landscaping envy was through the roof. How the heck do these people get such awesome hydrangeas, enormous bushes with blossoms that look like cotton candy. Mine just dry out and die no matter how much I water them.
After a five-minute wait to cross six lanes of US 50, scourge of my ride across Nevada, I found myself in the Lake Barcroft section of Fairfax County. Dang this is nice! I don’t think I had ever been through this area. Rolling hills and curving roads, not to mention the lake, made me not care too much about my now-all-but-dead legs.
Out of Lake Barcroft, the route traversed Bailey’s Crossroads and dropped onto the Holmes Run Trail. The last time I had used this entrance to the trail was in the Hoppy 100 ride. We descended to the trailhead in an absolute deluge. The trial runs along and across Holmes Run (run means creek in Virginia-speak). The downpour had caused the run to flood but we rode through the waters without harm. Today, without a recent downpour, some of the crossings were closed, evidence that this well intentioned trail is a bit of a mess.
The cue sheet said to take a left but it wasn’t clear to me that the left was the one that was directly in front of me or further on. I chose the latter and was wrong. I came out of Holmes Run about a quarter mile south of the route. The Google helped me remedy my error and I was back on track on the streets of Alexandria.
After a couple of easy miles, the streets led back to the Holmes Run Trail where I found the final pit stop, staffed by Anna, WABA’s events coordinator. The only time I ever seem to meet Anna is at pit stops, She’s now officially Pit Stop Anna. Anna informed me that the route has nearly the same elevation gain as the 50 States Ride. It sure felt like it but the 50 States gains about 3,041 feet in 60 miles compared to the 2,654 for this 50-mile ride. On a per mile basis, however, the Sweet Ride gains 53 feet of elevation per mile compared to 50 feet per mile for 50-States.
Anna is soon to be named WABA’s statistics coordinator.
The next several miles were along the trail and completely flat Eisenhower Avenue. I took a left on Mill Road and realized that the next few steps on the cue sheet didn’t work. Hmm. About a mile later I came to realize that Mill Road forms a U, curving back to Eisenhower; I had turned too soon.
No worries. I was now in the Carlyle neighborhood, familiar turf. The route took me up the final hill of the ride, a roughly mile-long incline on King Street headed west. I normally find this climb frustrating because it looks easy but it wears you out with its length. By this point though my legs didn’t much care. I just lowered my torso over the top tube, relaxed my arms and spun away.
The climb was followed by a lovely, curving downhill on Valley Drive through the Park Fairfax neighborhood. This led to the Four Mile Run Trail and blissful level ground. I took Commonwealth Avenue across Del Ray then continued through Old Town back to Jones Point Park.
At the finish, my starting place was now a pit stop for riders who had begun their ride at a second starting point five miles away in Crystal City. The stop was staffed by my friend Monica who seemed elated to learn that I was not passing through but had just finished the route. I was about to ride home when she asked me whether I wanted a vegan, vegetarian, or chicken lunch, I had forgotten that lunch was included in the registration fee.
The food came from Nandos. Lord did it hit the spot. This was the best ride food on a WABA ride in a long time. The grub included a wrap, a bag of chips, a brownie, and a Capri Sun. Sugary drinks taste like champagne after a long slog on a bike.
Other goodies for riders included a bandana with the pattern used on the cue sheet above and a black drawstring bag from Nandos.
After lunch it was time to call it a day. I rode the six miles home on autopilot. I arrived home weary and ready to watch the end of the Nats game on TV, (They won 5-0.)
This was my first Sweet Ride. I missed the first three because of bike tours and the pandemic. Today’s ride makes WABA’s return to more or less normal ride protocols. Aside from masks being worn at pit stops, this seemed like old times.
A final note: I wore my blue 2014 50-states ride shirt today. That year I did a ride with a bunch of 50-States rookies. One of those rookies, my friend Emilia, completed the ride with defective gearing. She didn’t have her lowest gears but managed to ride the distance anyway. (She rode it again with a properly geared bike and kicked my butt.) She proudly held up her shirt at the finish party. I call the shirt my Emilia shirt.
Emilia, who is normally the picture of health, recently had a medical emergency. She posted a couple of pictures on social media of her in a wheel chair. I was pretty upset to see her like this. (It serves me right because I have posted pictures of me in states of medical duress in the past which have resulted in reprimands from friends and family.) After a few days, she contacted me and said she is home from the hospital and on the mend. Get well soon, amiga. The 50-States Ride is in three months!
Most people who read my blog know that the Washington Area Bicyclists Association’s (WABA) Fifty States Ride is my favorite event of the year. This year marks the 12th time I’ve done it and each year’s ride is different. None more so than the 2020 addition this past Saturday.
For those of you late to the game, the 50 States Ride is the most ironically named gimmick ride ever. The 60-ish mile open-streets route (it changes a bit each year) takes riders all over the District of Columbia so that they ride on the streets named for the 50 U. S. states. The gimmick part is obvious. The irony is that the ride takes place entirely outside of the actual 50 states. (DC is not a state. Its residents do not have voting members in Congress, despite the fact that they outnumber at least two actual states.)
Although the ride is 62 (give or take a mile) miles long, if feels like 100 miles. Stop signs, traffic lights, traffic circles, and, well, traffic of all kinds (the streets are not closed) slow riders down. Downhill speed is forfeited at traffic lights. Uphills begin with a standing start. This means that instead of taking four or five hours, the ride takes all day. And you can cancel your evening plans because you’ll be trashed after the event. It is hard.
In every normal year, the ride begins in a park in the centrally located Adams Morgan neighborhood. In recent years the 50 States has also had shorter versions for the less insane. This meant that all 700+ participants gathered at a sign in point. Obviously, this is not doable during a pandemic.
So the folks at WABA got creative. They created shorter events for the two previous Saturdays. Then for the 50 States they established five starting points spread strategically throughout the city. Each starting point had three sign-in times, 7:30, 8:30, and 9:30. Each location and time were assign 25 riders. The only downside to this feature is that riders could not form large posses of friends. The upside was that the long lines at check in were gone. Also, in the past, the large mass of riders at the start caused congestion at stop signs and traffic lights for the first 10 miles or so. This was great for meeting people but really annoying for both participants and drivers. Another casualty of the pandemic was the loss of post ride celebration at a pizza place in Adams Morgan.
I chose to start in Meridian Hill (also known as Malcolm X) Park in Adams Morgan, a half mile from the former starting point. Other riders started in Anacostia Park in Southeast DC, Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill, and Forts Slocum and Reno in upper Northwest DC. Each of these points doubled as pit stops where riders could get snacks, water, and use a porta potty.
My History with the 50 States
I have previously done the 50 States Ride in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011 – 2014, 2016 – 2019. In 2006, 2007, and 2010, I started alone, but ended up meeting people or chatting with old friends along the way. All my rides since then have involved posses of friends, new and old, which made for a festive day. Also, the first two or three times I did the ride, it was held in August. It was brutally hot and muggy. Thankfully, WABA moved the ride into September which often involved torrential rains. (Not this year, however.)
This Year’s Ride
To avail myself of free, on-street parking, I parked over a mile from the start. I arrived early at the 7:30 start and checked in without waiting. This year I had a posse of one, Kevin W. with whom I’ve done the ride two or three times before. Michael B. was unable to secure an early start time so he started an hour after us.
A Flat Start
We made our way west on streets wet from overnight rain out of Adams Morgan dispatching Wyoming and California without incident. After a brief downhill we began heading east picking off New Hampshire. After more easting we turned south and rode Rhode Island southwest to Vermont. (Geographic reality had no place in the 50 States Ride). Next we rode toward the White House. Security fences kept us off Pennsylvania Avenue for now. We zig zagged to the east and conquered New York. More zig zagging to the south and east found us harvesting Indiana. We circumvented the Judiciary Square area and headed along New Jersey where we took the exit for Louisiana. After a touching base in Columbia Circle in front of Union Station we back tracked on Delaware to the base of Capitol Hill.
Climbing the hill we turned southeast on Massachusetts Avenue before doubling back toward the Capitol on Maryland. 2nd Street took us behind the Supreme Court and through the Library of Congress buildings. We headed west to Washington before turning south again for Virginia. A security gate caused a brief departure from the route but we were back on track after a couple of blocks. At this point Kevin noticed that his front tire was losing air so we stopped for a repair.
With his tube patched, we headed west on Independence Avenue to 15th Street. Turning south we touched Maine before doing a nearly four mile loop through East Potomac Drive on Ohio Drive. Back on Maine we headed past the District Wharf area and down a long stretch of M Street within a block of Nationals Park.
Except for Capitol Hill, this entire 17-mile section of the route was flat, a warm-up for the hillscape across the Anacostia River.
Clockwise for a Change
At 11th Street we headed across the Anacostia River and made our way to the Anacostia Park pit stop along the river. Here Kevin noted that his tire was getting soft so he pumped up his tire. We snacked, used the blue room, and chatted briefly with my friend Josephine who had volunteered to take the early staffing shift. As we were dallying, Michael arrived. He was with a friend who wanted to ride at a faster pace than us. They were gone within ten minutes. Michael has been a part of the Rootchopper 50 States Posse for many years. Sad face.
We gave luke warm pursuit. This year, the route east of the river (EOR) was clockwise and otherwise somewhat different from the past. We wondered what surprises awaited. We followed the Anacostia River Trail to Benning Road, a high speed traffic sewer. Benning took us east away from the river, across DC 295 and into far briefly into Northeast DC. Soon we hit East Capitol Street where we picked up Texas. This section of Texas Avenue, new to the route, was a long, easy climb through a pleasant residential neighborhood transitioning to a still-uphill curvy road through Fort Circle Park. After our park ride, we rode west about a block on Pennsylvania before turning back toward the east on Alabama. The clockwise route now had us at the top of previous years’ long climb. The next 2 1/2 miles were mostly downhill.
At a stop light, an African American man at a bus stop asked to take our picture. “You’re the only white people I’ve ever seen in this neighborhood.” His joke had a point. The EOR neighborhoods were mostly black. We riders were mostly not. I pondered a bit what would happen if the shoe were on the other foot. 50 States comes with a heaping side of white privilege.
Down Alabama and a few steeper side streets and we found ourselves on level ground heading east along Mississippi Avenue. What goes down must go up Whittier. I dreaded the climb but it was not as steep as I recalled from all those downhills of years passed. Zigging and zagging to MLK Boulevard, Anacostia’s Main Street. After another long, steady downhill we found Good Hope and took it east to Minnesota.
With the EOR hills behind us we made a few more turns and came back to the river. I noticed a couple of riders about to climb a paved path up to the Pennsylvania Avenue bridge over the Anacostia. I shouted that they were going the wrong way. They would have ended up on the wrong side of the bridge. (Been there. Done that.) We all passed under the bridge then took it back across the Anacostia River.
Back to Level Ground
Around Barney Circle (maybe the goofiest name ever) to Kentucky Avenue and east through the aptly named Hill East neighborhood on the backside of Capitol Hill. Kentucky led to South Carolina which took us for the umpteenth and final time to Pennsylvania. We stopped at District Taco at Eastern Market so Kevin could get his burrito fix then headed up North Carolina to the pit stop in Lincoln Park. The ride was now only half over.
A few weeks ago, Lincoln Park was the site of protests over the statue of Lincoln standing over a slave in chains. Today, it was the site of parents and kids, playing in a playground in one spot, sitting in a wide circle listening to a singing storyteller in another. Dog owners were being walked by their dogs. DC, it’s a hellscape of anger and violence, don’t you know.
After the burrito and a tire refill, Kevin was ready to ride. I had lunched on free pit stop snacks. (Do not follow my nutritional regimen.) We left the park headed east on Tennessee until we found Oklahoma for all of a block. Next we back tracked on C Street and went this way and that out off Capitol Hill into Trinidad (not a state but a state of mind for sure) where we picked up Florida and West Virginia. (Geography in DC is rather warped.) Another mile of level ground ensued and then, after 37 1/2 miles, things got serious again.
Northeast Traffic Hell
A mile of flat West Virginia (not remotely like the actual state) led to the insane traffic circle where New York Avenue meets Montana. Around the don’t-kill- me circle and up Montana for a few blocks. We headed east for a 1 1/2 miles on 18th to the first of two hair-raising states.
South Dakota is a four-lane highway masquerading as a city street. Cars ignore the speed limit. Fortunately we were only on it for a few blocks. Despite having ridden this ride so many times, the left on Taylor Street snuck up on me. I glanced in my mirror, saw only a car in the distance, signaled, and turned left. In South Dakota, cars are closer than they appear. Kevin veered off to the right so as not to be run over by the car running up my rear wheel. I made it without harm and waited for Kevin. “That was close,” he remarked rather dryly. To our credit, neither of us wet our pants.
Taylor gave way to a dicey intersection at Michigan which we took back east. We used the sidewalk on the bridge over the railroad tracks in Brookland to Catholic University where Kevin once again refilled his front tire.
A half-mile flat ride gave way to the bumpy climb up Hawaii Avenue. After a slight downhill and rest at a red light, we turned southeast and then east toward Petworth. A hard right and we were on Illinois Avenue heading north. Around Grant Circle and north toward the three-syllable streets. (Streets run east-west and are alphabetical, adding syllables with each turn through the letters.) After a left on Buchanan, we hung a left on Kansas and headed back to Petworth. A right on Varnum took us directly onto Iowa, right onto Arkansas, and left onto Georgia in quick succession. Georgia is another notorious DC traffic mess but the pandemic worked to our advantage by keeping traffic more or less sane.
To the Top
A left on Kennedy took us to a hard right on Colorado. Every year people seem to linger in the street at this intersection. Every year I avoid colliding with them. This year was no different. Colorado took us to Missouri. This splendid downhill was spoiled by speeding DC traffic. The left on Longfellow could not have come soon enough. Kevin spotted his friend Sam hanging in front of his house. Sam and Kevin walked a few blocks as I lolled along on my bike. We arrived in Fort Slocum for another rest stop. Here Kevin changed his troublesome front tire and I ate snacks. The snacks seemed to vaporize before reaching my stomach. Lunch would have been a good idea. I had a chat with Anna, the WABA event coordinator.
After leaving the park we headed southeast on North Dakota, which was decidedly saner than South Dakota had been. When we reached 3rd Street we turned back to the north, lefting and righting into the Tacoma Park neighborhood. We rolled past Mike and Lisa’s house where the Tacoma rest stop was before the virus. I rang my bell and waved at someone working on a bike in their garage. His mask made it impossible to ID him.
We’d now reached the northern most part of DC and turned south along Alaska Avenue. As in years past, Patty Heck was standing at the turn taking pictures of us as we made our turn south. She’s done this in all sorts of weather including downpours. Check out her pix on Flickr.
Alaska was all downhill to busy 16th Street. We took a left for a few hundred yards before banging a right through a closed traffic gate at Sherrill Drive into Rock Creek Park. To this point the day had been overcast. The sun was now fighting to break through and temperatures and humidity were rising. The shade on Sherrill was most welcome but we could have done without the wet leaves that turned the curving downhill into a nervous descent.
Was It Always This Hilly?
At the bottom of the hill we turned left onto Beach Drive in the park only to exit the other side on Bingham. Bingham has been closed for years and the roadbed has been allowed to deteriorate. It was rideable and only mildly annoying.
Next up was a left on Oregon Avenue which has been under construction and off the route for a couple of years. We took a left on Oregon. It had only one lane and of course was bumpy and up hill. Being good citizens, we pulled over after a while to let cars pass. At Military Road, another car sewer, I followed Kevin onto the sidewalk. We backtracked onto Utah and into tony Chevy Chase. If you have to ask you can’t afford it. After a turn south on Rittenhouse. we turned onto Nevada. Unlike the brutal desert basin and range of the real thing, Nevada was like a locale for Landscaping for the Rich and Famous.
We had climbed out of Rock Creek Park but the fun was only starting. At Linnean Street we went up some more. Then we took a left on Fessenden Street and climbed more. And more. And more. How did I forget about this? Really. It was looong.
We stopped at Fort Reno for a chat with WABA’s Kristin at the last pit stop. More snackage. Hey, these little cheese circles ain’t bad. And they go so well with Goldfish crackers.
A couple of blocks later we were climbing up Wisconsin Avenue over yet another hill to Tenley Circle. As we took a right onto Nebraska Avenue an impatient Mustang driver roared past us. (This was only the second aggressive pass of the day.) Mr. Mustang zoomed to a red light 100 feet later. As far as we could tell there was no cross street, just a cross walk. Karma for the gas horse.
Nebraska was flat past American University and through Ward Circle and onto Loughboro where the road turned down. A left down Arizona made for the best descent of the day. Of course, it was wasted by a red light at MacArthur Boulevard but only dreamers get the green.
Garfield Isn’t the Worst of It
We tuned left up the short hill on Ashby Street, then left to recover for a half mile on flat 49th Street. Just as the feeling in my legs returned, we took a right up dreaded Garfield Street. This sucker nearly killed me the last few years but Kevin said, “We’ve got all day.” We dropped into our granny gears and took the hill without undue pain. Then Kevin remarked, “There’s another one ahead that I really hate.”
The other side of Garfield was downhill then up. The up was taken care of by our momentum. We stopped and turned left up New Mexico, a false flat. (Looks flat. Goes up. Kills your psyche.) Our next right turn took us up Cathedral Avenue. This was the hill Kevin was talking about. I think past torture on Garfield had erased it from my memory. UGH.
After the slog we turned left on 39th and crossed Massachusetts to Idaho. The good news was that we were now in Cathedral Heights, the last of the hills. The bad news was that the inside of my left knee was screaming at me. As we turned onto Macomb Street we could see National Cathedral to our right.
Starting up after a red light at Wisconsin Avenue was extremely painful. I felt like a knife was sticking in my left knee. Fortunately, the rest was downhill. A right, left, and right took us through Woodley Park onto Connecticut Avenue.
The WABA route maker always leaves this busy boulevard for last, when riders are exhausted and traffic is relentless. Except for this day. No cars! We took the left lane and sped downhill to Calvert Street where the oncoming cars let us make a left turn without stopping. My knee was grateful. After a mile we were back at the park where we started where Hannah and Chris, staffing the WABA tent, were there to congratulate us.
A Dozen in the Books
It was a tough ride, but well worth the time and effort. Thanks to Kevin for being an excellent one-man posse. Sorry for nearly getting you killed on South Dakota Avenue.
To the participants, thanks for wearing your masks and maintaining social distance. Compliance was excellent.
The clockwise ride EOR was an interesting improvement. Somehow the same hills seemed much easier in the clockwise direction. We had to give up prior years’ screaming downhill on Pennsylvania Avenue, but it was well worth it.
Big thanks to the volunteers and WABA staff, especially the early shift who woke up before 5 a.m. and set up the starting points/pit stops in the rain.
Congratulations to the WABA team for creatively re-imagining this event. It worked! Unfortunately, the social aspect of the ride suffered but your hard work salvaged and, in many ways, improved the event.
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.
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.
Friday night Jessie and Mike took me to the neighborhood Puerto Rican restaurant In Haight Ashbury and we stuffed ourselves. How do you say gut bomb in Spanish?
Yesterday we took The Mule to Bespoke, a bike shop across town. The owner used to work at my local bike shop in Mt. Vernon. He’ll ship my baby home later this week.
I rode a Jump bike back from the bike shop. It was my first time on an electric assist bike. It’s two-wheeled crack.
We had breakfast al fresco at a restaurant on the Wiggle, a bike route that weaves through the streets of this section of the city, avoiding big hills. It’s painted green and includes a counterflow section.
I bought a massive duffle bag Friday. It had straps on it so I can wear it like a backpack. I could wipe out every passenger on a BART train with this baby. Bwa ha ha.
Last night we had phenomenal tacos at a Mexican place before imbibing a huge bowl of punch at a bar. Not much of an improvement on my bike touring diet I must say but it felt considerably less painful.
I’m staying with Jessie and Mike until Monday morning when the duffle and I will relocate to a hotel near the Oakland airport for Tuesday’s flight home. I’ve already scheduled two happy hours for next week. Unfortunately they are for the same evening.
I looked up some descriptive statistics on the Western Express yesterday. Between Pueblo CO and San Francisco I did more than 98,000 feet of climbing.
And today to prove that this tour has traumatized me, I signed up for my 11th 50 States Ride on Sept 7. Nigel Tufnel would be pleased.
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 Ursula 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 congested 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.