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.
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.
Since it’s cherry blossom time and today is peak bloom, I decided to ride to DC to see the show. I did my best to stay as far from people as possible. If someone on the trail stopped, I stopped ten feet behind them. If I passed someone (or someone passed me), I held my breath until I was beyond them. (I even adjusted this for wind speed and direction.)
When I got to National Airport I was amazed at how empty the economy parking lot was. There were fewer cars than yesterday.
Out of frame to the right was yet more empty parking spots.
Rather than take the 14th Street Bridge directly to the Tidal Basin and the crowds, I decided to ride another mile to the Memorial Bridge and skip the Tidal Basin entirely. I did a big loop, thanks in part to very like vehicular traffic, and ended up in East Potomac Park where the main road, Ohio Drive is lined with cherry trees.
I rode to Hains Point along Ohio Drive. The road had very light traffic.
There’s a golf course to the right of this picture. I spotted a ball in the grass and passed it by. After a minute of thought, I decided to ride to Hains Point a second time and retrieve the ball. I know it’s been there for a few days and its been rained on so the odds of it carrying the virus were small. Still, I touched it like it might explode and placed it in the side pocket of my saddle bag. I rinsed my fingertips off with my water bottle. (And washed my hands with degreaser and with soap and water when I got home. Paranoia strikes deep.)
During the second trip to the point, rain began falling. Temperatures and the humidity felt more like mid May than mid March so the rain felt good. An added benefit was that it cleared out most of the tourists near the Tidal Basin. This allowed me to take the 14th Street Bridge back to Virginia.
I must say that people seem to be doing a great job of social distancing. I only saw one cluster of people with more than three or four people in it.
Finally, I learned just before leaving for my ride that one of my nieces and her boyfriend are sick. They live locally and are in their twenties. He interacted with someone who tested positive when he was at a party out of town. So presumably they are both infected with the coronavirus.
Yesterday, in anticipation of my appointment with Dr. Pain, I walked 3 1/2 miles. I experienced some discomfort in my left leg but it never amounted to much. In fact, several times I stopped using the trekking poles. I also found that I am no longer walking on the balls of my feet, which is really awkward. Oddly, I seem unable to walk slowly. My body is full of mystery.
I had a minor, split second twinge of pain in my lower back when I was taking off my shoes but I haven’t had any symptoms of nerve pain shooting across my lower back for a week.
I almost cancelled the appointment out of an abundance of caution about the coronavirus but decided to go and be super careful. No one was in the waiting room. I used hand sanitizer three times while in the office.
After a short wait in an examining room, Dr. Pain came in and sat as far from me as physically possible. We discussed what I’ve been doing (e.g., riding a bike like a boss, walking more than a mile, physical therapy exercises twice a day) and she said that she wasn’t giving me any more shots for now. “That first shot has allowed your body to heal itself. Don’t stop what you’re doing.”
The plan going forward is for me to come back to see her in early May, but only if I have pain. Otherwise I am good to go on my annual bike tour, coronavirus willing. One thing is very clear, I am riding much stronger than I have since my 2018 tour.
After the doctor’s visit, I went to the drug store to secure some shaving stuff and paper products. They had a few shaving things. I decided to buy the expensive stuff thinking the cheap stuff was more like to have been handled by virus vectors. (Great name for a sports team!) There were no paper products. Big surprise.
When I checked out, I didn’t let the clerk (who was wearing gloves) to touch my items. It pays to be paranoid.
Then I took off for parts north. I rode the Mount Vernon Trail 15 miles to Rosslyn and crossed the Key Bridge into Georgetown. Traffic on the adjacent GW Parkway was light as it was on the bridge. Georgetown lacked its usual chaos. Mostly, the people I saw were alone or in groups of two or three. I rode past the White House and made my way through Lafayette Park. There I encountered three teenage boys on scooters as I entered the west side of the park. When I prepared to use a curb cut to leave the east side of the park, the scooter boys cut in front of me. No problem. Then I let three people on Segways, a guide and two tourists, also go in front of me. As the third person started down the curb cut she turned and sneezed over her shoulder.
I had been keeping my distance and I am glad I did. Still I waited a few seconds before proceeding into her germ cloud. I saw no point in lecturing her about her hygiene as I was pretty sure she sneezed as she did to avoid losing control of the Segway on the curb cut.
I rode the 15th Street cycletrack back toward the Potomac River. At the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance to the Ellipse I saw a group of at least 25 tourists walking across the street. Normally there would be dozens of similarly sized groups all over the tourist areas but today they were the only big group.
At the Washington Monument, DC’s famous cherry blossoms were starting to put on their show. A few trees at the Tidal Basin were also putting in a decent effort. Here’s a view looking back toward the Washington Monument across the Tidal Basin.
As I began crossing the Potomac on the 14th Street Bridge I spotted a whopper of a cherry tree in bloom. This tree is quite old and, for some reason, seems to be the first to reach peak bloom. The ramp to the bridge puts you right on top of the tree. You could go snow blind looking at it.
The ride home was uneventful. When I got home I put my clothes in the washing machine just in case Madam Segway was packing coronaheat.
The shift to daylight savings time is always a problem for sleeping. It doesn’t help much when you are twice woken up by sharp pains in your lower back. Apparently I was rolling over when the pain hit. It felt like someone was sticking a needle in me. When I did get out of bed, I had a sharp pain across my lower back.
Four hours later my back felt fine. Go figure.
I did some light work around the house. I was surprised that my lower back didn’t start aching until I’d been going at it for over an hour.
Next up was a ride up the Mount Vernon Trail to DC to check out the first blossoming trees of the year. The Enid Haupt Garden is situated at the rear of the Smithsonian castle. The flower beds had been planted and the magnolia trees were in the first stages of bloom. (The blossoms weren’t open but they were colorful nonetheless.)
There was a controlled burn about 35 miles to the southeast. This accounts for the slight haze in what otherwise would have been a perfect spring sky.
I then rode down the national Mall slaloming through scores of tourists along the way. The reflecting pool between the World War II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial had been emptied. I couldn’t resist going for a ride in it. I had lots of company.
The ride home was into the wind. I didn’t mind.
Time to hit the hay. That lost hour of sleep is catching up with me.
Before we begin my overdue recap of this year’s 50 States Ride, let me clarify something about this weekend’s axe incident. I did not hit myself in the head with an axe. Using the axe, I split a piece of wood lying on the ground. Half the wood launched into the air. The spinning mini-log and its jagged end caught me in the forehead right above the eye. I have a small cut and a welt on my forehead. And a headache. I should also point out that if you think this is a good way to get a third eye you would be eligible for a rare Darwin Woo Woo Award.
As for the 50 States Ride, the day started on a down note as it took some members of my posse 45 minutes to get registered. Given that this was at least the 14th time this event has been run, we were not happy campers.
This year was the 11th time I have done this ride so my ride was dedicated to the great Nigel Tufnel. I had lined up an impressive posse: Michael and Kevin returned from the last two years. Sean, husband of Kristin from the 2014 Ride with the Rookies, and his college roommate Alan were riding for the first time. Peter, Chris, Tony, Rachel M., Andrea, and Cassie were all in. Cassie expressed some concern about being able to do the entire ride so she left before any of us got to the start. She managed to ride the entire thing in about the same time as us. Sean and Alan left early because they were worried they’d take all day. (They threw in the towel somewhere around the 50 mile mark, which is not too shabby. A for effort. See you next year.)
We intended to start around 7:45 but didn’t get underway until around 8:30. We were joined at some point by a tall woman, presumably Muslim, dressed from head to toe in black. (She told me her name but my fusiform gyrus ate it.) It being a comfortably pleasant day this did not seem to be much of a comfort issue until the last few miles when temperatures surpassed 80 degrees. It didn’t matter, she was quite a strong rider.
We rode the first 15 miles, how should I say, rather aggressively. At least there were no arrests for traffic infractions. We stopped at the first pit stop for only a few minutes. And in no time we had made our way through downtown, past the White House, and the Capitol Hill complex of granite and marble buildings, Next came a quick spin through Southwest DC before flying by Nationals Park and across the Anacostia River to the second pit stop.
After about 15 minutes we attacked the first hills of the day, the formidable trio of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Stanton Road, and Alabama Avenue. After roping Texas we moved through Fort Davis. Next came the 0.7 mile downhill on Massachusetts Avenue, SE. Weeee!
Negotiating Minnesota Avenue and its two traffic circles made us lose contact with Andrea. Michael did a quick recon search once we were back across the Anacostia River and couldn’t find her. She had missed a turn but, after the main posse crossed Hill East, we reconnected at the third pit stop at Eastern Market.
PB&J sandwiches and munchies were provided. After about 30 minutes we regrouped joined by Shira and Qudsiya on their tandem. We rode back across Hill East and then through NOMA past Gallaudet University and into industrial Ivy City. Although the gin mill and brewery were tempting, we forged ahead and began the climb up Montana Avenue. This led us to the most traffic-y part of the ride. South Dakota Avenue, Taylor St, and Michigan Avenue in Northeast DC are godawful places to be in a car or on a bike on a Saturday. And the cars let us know it. Michael led the charge into the traffic mess and in ten somewhat messy minutes we were free and clear, riding past Catholic University on John McCormack Drive. A few hundred yards afterward, I spotted an apparently crazy woman in a broad brimmed hat standing in the middle of the road. It was Ursula, fearless leader of WABA’s Trail Ranger’s, giving out high fives to the riders. It was the kind of nice surprise that makes you forget the craptastic car hellscape we had just left. Thanks, Ursula.
As we made out way up a short hill to Hawaii Avenue a cyclist nearly took me out. He was clipped in and didn’t want to wait to get around a car that was parallel parking. He cut me off. I belted him across the neck with my frame pump.
Okay, I didn’t. Violence doesn’t solve anything. I stopped and let him go, even forgoing an f-bomb in my magnanimity. (If he does it again, I’m letting him have it with the bicycle death ray.)
We scrambled up hill and down across Northeast DC. Most of the posse went to Rachel’s house in Petworth for mid-ride beers. Kevin and I forged ahead. I was starting to feel my age at this point. Sometimes sobriety is your friend.
We pulled into the Tacoma pit stop at the top of the DC diamond. This stop is at the home of friends Mike and Lisa. Mike is a bit deranged and Lisa isn’t so they match up well. And they are incredibly nice, not just because they let hundreds of sweaty strangers into their house. They collect Nats bobbleheads. I think this is because Mike wants to be one when he grows up.
As Kevin and I were about to leave, the posse showed up. So we waited a few minutes and all took off for the final eight miles. We rode west to Alaska where Patti Heck stood on the corner and took pictures of us. In a previous year I yelled “Hey, Patti” which caused her to look up and miss taking my picture. I called well in advance this year. She got me.
A mile later we descended into Rock Creek Park. The route took us up a nasty, paved trail on the far side of the canyon. It was steep-ish and bumpy. Several people chose to walk. This was wise. I, of course, didn’t. No way was I walking up another hill after Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California this summer.
On the far side we crossed but did not ride on Oregon Avenue. I don’t know why the route didn’t go down Oregon. These things are mysterious. So technically this was a 49 State ride. Sue me.
We rode the next few miles in Chevy Chase and not one person made an SNL, Fletch, or Community joke. Strange.
After climbing an insulting little hill we rode past Fort Reno. The posse took off while I stopped at the last pit stop to say hello to Colin. Hi, Colin.
Back on the road, I couldn’t see the posse. Dang. Climbing up Wisconsin Avenue I was blocked by two clusters of riders, a bus, and some chunks of metal with people in them. I followed the bike as they made their way onto Nebraska Avenue. They were chatting but I had a posse to catch. I stepped on the gas, or The Mule as it were, and passed them as we cruised by American University.
The ride down Loughboro Road and Arizona Avenue was rather rapid. Not quite as fearsome as the Hogback but not bad for DC. I figured somebody in the posse would find it intimidating. Wrong. The posse abides.
Now came the dreaded climb over Cathedral Heights. First, a short warm up climb on Ashby Street followed by a flat ride half mile on 49th Street. Then came Garfield Street. Oh, how I hate this street. Straight up. No posse in sight. Dang.
I shifted into my granny and let The Mule do the rest. I must have passed ten people on the way up. The hill was not giving them bike joy. There was lots of grumbling. Not by me though; I was too focused on spinning my legs off.
Over the top then down a ways working my way back to Wisconsin. There, right next to Cactus Cantina, I could see the posse waiting at the traffic light at Wisconsin.
I sped up and made the light, and caught the posse a half mile later. I do believe mid-ride beers may be a thing.
We jumped onto Connecticut Avenue, our last state. Connecticut is not for the faint of heart. Here. at Peter’s suggestion we turned off a couple of blocks early, and took the new counterflow bike lanes on Woodley Place.
Onto Calvert Street, across the Duke Ellington Bridge into Adams Morgan. A half mile past the start we finished at Mellow Mushroom where pizza, beer, and t-shirts were acquired.
Many thanks to the posse for getting this aging road warrior through the hills of DC without a scratch. I had a great time. On a scale of 1 to 10, this one went to 11.
After a week and a half, I welcomed a knock on the door this morning. Christmas in July. The Mule is home.
I took it out of the box and started putting it together. Some of the hardware, the screws for the water bottle cages and the front rack, as well as a proprietary part for mounting the front fender, was missing. I reassembled the bike and took it to my local bike store to have them finish it off.
I was planning on taking it to the shop anyway. In addition to the final touches for the reassembly, they are putting on a new front derailler (the old one has had shifting issues for over a year), new fenders, new bar tape, and a new water bottle cage (one of the old ones broke in Nevada). They will also tweak my brakes and true my rear wheel. By this time next week, I should be back in the saddle.
Last night I rode into DC to attend my second happy hour this week with Jessica who is back in town for a few months. We used to work together. She’s been travelling in South America for the last year. Many of her wanderings have been unplanned. Maybe I should do a bike tour like that.
While I was at the happy hour, some people in DC held a protest/vigil in a small park on Pennsylvania Avenue just a few blocks from the White House. After the happy hour, I headed over to the park to see the site of a crash that killed two men who were sitting on a park bench. It took me a while to figure out how the car managed to hit them. Suffice it to say that the driver either had murderous intent or he was impaired beyond human comprehension. High speed fatal crashes are happening in DC with sickening frequency.
Next I headed to the national Mall to check out a very cool event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. For the last few nights the image of a Saturn 5 rocket has been projected on the Washington Monument. It’s actually a video (you can see the vapor venting from the rocket). I waited until 9:30 for the image to appear. I was one of perhaps 10 or 20,000 people on the Mall. I found being in a crowd like that very unsettling. Tonight and tomorrow night the image will lift off. Too bad I’ll miss it. Then again, I saw the real thing on TV live back in 1969.
I rode home in the dark, something I really enjoy, except for the spider webs and the ninjas on the Mount Vernon Trail. (I nearly hit one.) Passing through a neighborhood closer to home I had a close encounter with a fawn standing across the middle of the narrow road.
This morning a reckless driver killed a bicyclist on Florida Avenue, NE in Washington DC. The early news reports said the victim was “an elderly gentleman.” I don’t know any elderly people in that area of town. It couldn’t have been anyone I knew.
And yet it was.
Dave Salovesh was 54 years old. He was a wonderful man full of life and love. You could tell every time you saw him with his partner Jean that he loved her to the moon and back. I laughed so many times as he described the travails of being the parent of Kid O, his now teen-aged daughter. Being a parent is hard but, God, did he love her, too.
I’ve known Dave for over five years. Every interaction was a joy.
He was a passionate advocate for bicycling in DC. In 2015 he helped organize a protest on Pennsylvania Avenue, to get the city to install small barriers to keep cars from making u-turns across the cycle track in the middle of the road. We made a temporary barrier with people and pool noodles strung together. The protest succeeded and we had a ton of fun in the process.
At the end of the event Dave gathered up the pool noodles and we all went out for a beer down the street.
What a difference a week makes. The autumn that wasn’t put on a fantastic show today. Reds and yellows and browns and crisp breezes and puffy clouds.
Lucky for me there was a bike event to get me out into the glorious outdoors. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association’s Sixth Cider Ride was today. Somehow, someway the WABA weather curse failed. A storm front moved through the area last night bringing high winds and heavy downpours. A couple of hours before the ride began, the front moved eastward. I had come prepared for rain but made a last minute decision to change from rain gear (rain jacket and long pants) to cool weather gear (shorts with long wool socks, topped off with a pull over fleece). Perfect.
I also decided to raise the saddle on Little Nellie, my Bike Friday folding travel bike. Just a tad. Even minor adjustments can have big benefits or cause big problems. I guessed right, however. I rode about 2-3 miles per hour faster today than yesterday. And my back and knees didn’t bother me at all.
The ride started in Northeast DC just before 9 a.m., and took us on a ramble along the Anacostia River trail system. The trails were covered with wet leaves making the going a bit dicey. One unfortunate rider fell and had to be taken away in an ambulance. Elizabeth, the rider immediately behind him, couldn’t stop and crashed as well suffering a big boo boo on her left thigh.
I knew several of the riders. I rode initially with Leslie but she was riding as a course marshall and had to stop and render assistance to the injured riders. Before the crash we came upon Jesse whose bike had died a hero on the trails. Somehow her rear derailler had fallen off. She was forced to take the Uber of shame. (She had her bike fixed and actually did one of the shorter versions of the ride. She persisted!)
We left the trails and stopped at Proteus Cycles in College Park to partake of warm cider and apple slices. No wait. There’s doughnuts over at the next table. Ixnay on the apple slices. Bring on the junk food!
After achieving sugar nirvana, we headed on roads through the Beltsville agriculture research area. Here my tweak to Little Nellie’ saddle height paid off. I was riding 15-20 miles per hour through fields and stands of colorful trees. Clearly, the tailwind helped a lot but I was feeling very comfortable on the bike for the first time in weeks.
Did I mention that it was gorgeous outside?
I could have stopped dozens of times to take pictures but I figured one would do the trick. Light car traffic, the low angle of light, colorful leaves everywhere, and a road with some bikes receding in the distance. Dang.
The route took up to the Patuxent Research Refuge where we turned around to fight the wind for a few miles. Then we crossed back through the agriculture complex, over a hill, and into Greenbelt. Here we stopped in a park for warm cider and pie. I went with the apple pie because pumpkin pie makes me gag.
I stayed long enough to hear more about the crash from Elizabeth, who showed me her bruise. (Elizabeth, Dr. Rootchopper recommends red wine. It won’t help the bruise but you won’t care.) And I got a surprise hug from Laura. I am a fan of the hammy Instagram mini-movies she makes of her bike commutes and other shenanigans.
I left the rest stop and headed back toward DC. This part of the route was different from last year so I stopped frequently to avoid getting lost. I only went about 100 yards off course all day. (I missed the cue “Take a right at the porta potties.”) We rode back to the trail system by way of the College Park Trolley Trail in Berwyn.
Just before getting back on the Anacostia Trails I passed a rest stop where people were yelling at me. I learned later they were yelling “Mead!” I was in a nice flow so I passed up the offer to wet my whistle, choosing instead to make a crossing of a busy highway behind 20 other cyclists. Within minutes I realized I had goofed. This group was doddling along and I was in the mood to motor. After a mile of hanging off the rear, I started passing people. In five minutes I was alone off the front of the group and whizzing down the trail along the river. It was beautiful. The sunlight off the water was the perfect complement to the breeze and the colors.
The change in the course also involved going south along the Anacostia on the east side of the river for about a mile then doubling back on the west side. This portion on the ride featured a strong headwind off the water and was serious work. It appears that most other riders skipped this part. I can’t blame them. Perhaps the highlight was riding past dilapidated RFK Stadium. The stadium was one of many “multiuse” stadiums built in the 1960s. I looks ripe for implosion these days.
The last few miles were across Capitol Hill and up the Metropolitan Branch Trail. I rode most of the second half of the ride much harder than the first so I my legs were ready to call it a day. And soon I arrived at the finish at the Dew Drop Inn. There, after 55 honest miles, I tossed back a couple of Raven lagers and hung out in the sun with friends on the elevated deck.
And tonight we set the clocks back one hour. The extra hour of sleep is exactly what my tired legs need.
There’s something about riding cross country that changes your perspective on adversity on a bike. Your brain starts talking to you with pearls of wisdom like “You may be hurting but remember how hard Rogers Pass in Montana was?” and “It’s not as wet as Iowa” and “You’ll feel better when you get to North Dakota.”
Your brain can be an idiot, if you know what I mean.
For the uninitiated, the 50 States Ride is a 60-ish mile ride through nearly all the neighborhoods of DC. The route takes riders on all the avenues named for the 50 U. S. states. The ride is the big event for the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. The route is hilly as hell and somehow almost always occurs during bad weather. (WABA has a weather machine.)
The cue sheet for the ride is over 10 pages long and now comes in book format. I am not making this up.
The 50 States ride happens on open-ish streets. There is regular Saturday DC traffic to deal with. This year we also had to ride around several neighborhood block parties and a big fun run.
I met up with a frightful posse of #bikedc friends. Returning to the fold from last year were Michael, Rachel, and Kevin. New to the fold were Jesse (in the Maryland flag jersey and Jeanne to the bottom right).
As you can see Rachel was an official Ride Marshal. This required her to hand out fritters to disabled cyclists. Would I lie about such a thing?
Jeanne was doing the ride for the first time and trusted me, a nine-time participant, to guide her. Poor Jeanne.
Amid temperatures in the mid 70s and high humidity, we took off> In keeping with tradition, I missed the first turn about 100 feet into the course. Hey, they changed the course again. What was I supposed to do?
We corrected my gaffe and were soon rolling through the streets of Northwest DC. We appeared to be having a good time despite a remarkable number of street closures. It turns out that we were riding during DC’s Annual Construction Crane festival. Who knew?
The entrance to the White House plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue was closed to keep out anonymous trolls but I rode around the closure. I was waved back by White House security police. Okay, we’ll ride on Pennsylvania Avenue some other time. (We did. Three times, in fact.)
We hit the first rest stop at City Center (which was once my favorite dirt parking lot in the city). There we met Friday Coffee Club charter member Brian and his lovely wife Nicole. Nicole was staffing the health food table where I managed to score some cheese puffs. Well, played Nicole!
Experience does actually count for something in this ride. We made it through the confusing maze of streets from downtown around the Capitol and over to Southwest DC. The course then took us to Ohio Drive but not down to Hains Point as in recent years, thus shaving 3 miles from the route. Next up was a roll past the new DC Wharf development and down a long stretch of M Street where the Nats were preparing for a double header with hours of rain delays. (Ain’t baseball great?)
We rode over the Anacostia River to Anacostia Park in Anacostia. (We looked for hobgoblins with little minds but saw none.) We did all enjoy the new path connecting the bridge directly to the park. It’s short and sweet.
On the flat road to the rest stop in the park I started to feel faint. I had no strength in my legs and the group faded into the distance. Uh oh. I guess those chills that woke me at 4 a.m. weren’t caused by a glitch in the house thermostat.
Fortunately the rest stop had plenty of food like bananas, Doritos, pretzels, potato chips, and, thank god in heaven, cheese balls. The assault on my gut biome must have smothered whatever was going wrong with my body and I was ready to roll once more.
We took off into the hills of Anacostia. I must say that our group did a truly laudable job of the climbs. Last year these climbs were extremely difficult for me. It may have been the result of pulmonary embolisms that ultimately put me in the hospital in December. This year I did okay. I weigh less, my bike has lower gears, and I am much stronger owing to my bike tour.
After bombing down the long Massachusetts Avenue hill, we rode through a series of traffic circles where I got out ahead of the group and lost contact. I think Rachel had to hand out some fritters. Anyway, I continued on with a couple of other riders through Capitol Hill east to Eastern Market for lunch.
The lunch was $10, pre-payed, and was rather disappointing. Just a small bowl of veggies. I almost went up to the food tent and said in a child like English accent, “May I have some more please?” To make matters worse, there were no cheese balls. WTF!
While waiting for the posse to arrive, I ran into Jeff and Tara. Jeff met in the fall of 2007 and have done many rides together, including at least two 50 States. Jeff and Tara were doing the new Route 66 version of the ride which is a bit shorter and goes into a few neighborhoods missed by the main route.
My crew showed up and began to refuel. Rachel ran to a coffee shop for life sustaining caffeine. She returned looking like a vampire after a good neck draining. Then we were back on the road headed east to pick off Oklahoma. There were no winds sweeping down the plains so we doubled back through Trinidad and past Gallaudet University on West Virginia Avenue. Our groups’ returning members and I were pleased to see that this year’s course did not ride up Mt. Olivet Street, a tough hill. Sadly, we rode up Montana Avenue instead, which is just as nasty.
On South Dakota Avenue we rode behind a car with South Dakota license plates. What are the odds? South Dakota Avenue brings out the mania in DC drivers. So what better time for the rain to start falling.
As we made our way past the Catholic complex in Northeast DC, we lost contact with Rachel and Jeanne. I think Rachel helped someone with a flat tire.
Michael, Jesse, Kevin and I rode to Rachel M.’s house in Petworth where she had set up an unofficial pit stop. We hung out there waiting for our Rachel and Jeanne. After 20 minutes we took off and made it about 200 yards before Michael got a flat. He changed it in about five minutes in the rain. At the very end as he was putting his Camelback on, his bite valve bounced off and we all watched as it took one…two….three…four bounces on the pavement then down a storm drain.
It’s not like Michael was going to notice waterdripping down his shirt, because it was now raining pretty hard. And I was once again feeling faint. I blame a cheese ball deficiency.
I was soaking wet and cold, because, as we later learned, temperatures had fallen into the low 60s. I sent a message to Rachel and learned that she and Jeanne has skipped Rachel M.’s pit stop and were 30 minutes ahead of us! (Actually somewhere along the way Jeanne abandoned the last few miles for the warmth and comfort of the after party. I can’t blame her. I think she rode about 10 miles more than she expected to.)
I was also pretty much riding blind. My glasses were covered with rain drops and smears from me trying to clear the water off.
At the Tacoma rest stop we refueled and I put on my rain jacket. l started feeling better. Being soggy, I neglected to go inside the house to thank my friends Mike and Lisa for hosting this pit stop. They are awesome to do this every year.
Our route was now near the northern most neighborhoods in DC and we started heading across town to Chevy Chase. We had to cross Rock Creek Park to get there. The cue sheet was rather confusing, a situation made worse by the fact that a critical street sign was obscured by a large shrub hanging over with the weight of the rain.
Flying down busy 16th Street we blasted past our turn. By this point we were joined by Shira who was piloting a tandem with a blind stoker. (I have forgotten her name. My bad.) We back tracked on the sidewalk and did our best to follow the route. We ended up right where we were supposed to be somehow after climbing a long hill on Military Road in the rain. Oregon Avenue was closed so we followed the detour, getting credit for the state in the process.
We were getting a bit testy as we rode through Chevy Chase looking for Linnean St. We found it and rode uphill past Fort Reno to Wisconsin Avenue. With pizza and beer on our minds, we skipped the last pit stop at a coffee shop and rode through Tenley Circle and past American University.
A steady rain was falling as we made our way along Nebraska Avenue. I heard a CRUNCH and looked to my left to see a car and an SUV colliding at low speed.
Down we rode all the way to MacArthur Boulevard. It must have been about a mile and we enjoyed the fun while it lasted. Soon we’d pay the price by riding back up to Cathedral Heights on Garfield Street. This is where my body completely failed me last year. This year, riding The Mule with its low gears, I made it up the hill without distress.
We made short work of the remainder of the ride. The rain kept coming and we kept riding. On busy Connecticut Avenue I darted ahead riding with the cars for a few blocks.
The ride to the finish at Mellow Mushroom in Adams Morgan was a relief. This had been a tough ride. It always is. And I always forget. But riding with a crew of truly nice people made it much easier. We assembled for pizza and beer and t-shirts, basking in the glory of our soggy feet, er,…I mean feat.
Thank you Marshal Rachel, Kevin, Michael, Jesse, and Jeanne. You made my tenth, and final (I’ve said this before), 50 States Ride a day worth remembering.
Special thanks to all the WABA staff, pit stop hosts, and volunteers. See you at the Cider Ride in November.