Winter has returned. It was in the 30s with a northwest wind. A snowstorm looms in the days ahead. DC’s famous cherry blossoms are in jeopardy. So I went up to DC today to check out what was in bloom. Short answer: not much.
I parked at Gravelly Point Park near the airport across the river. This was a good idea because the highways heading into the city were jammed with traffic. The 1 1/2 mile ride was pleasant enough. Blue skies and puffy white clouds practically commanded me to look up. So I did. Here’s one from the back side of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
There were only a handful of trees in anything close to peak bloom. And the wind picked up as I walked and rode among them. Even without peak bloom the blues skies and the trees and the monuments made for pretty views. Deets couldn’t resist striking a pose.
As it gets warmer and lighter, we begin to see signs of spring. Today I saw my first new bike commuter. I’ll call her “Robin.”
There is a short connector trail that links the Custis Trail along I-66 with the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac River. The connector trail starts/ends at the Intersection of Doom. Along side the trail is a little used service road that goes basically nowhere. It is often confused with the connector trail.
As I reached the IoD traffic light on the connector trail, I spotted Robin coming from the Key Bridge toward the IoD. She looked confused and started to turn down the service road. We made eye contact and I shook my head “no.” Then I motioned with my head “this way.” (My hands were busy braking.) She immediately got the point and veered off the service road. As she rode past me she said, “Thanks. It’s my first bike commute.” Based on her gear – bike with rack and panniers – she was not an inexperienced rider; she was just new to commuting in DC. She would have figured out her mistake so I saved her all of 20 seconds. Nevertheless it felt good to help a fellow traveler.
So here’s a reminder to all #bikedc commuter. Spring is almost here and, with it, many Robins. It doesn’t take much to help them out. Maybe just a nod or a shake of the head. Give them directions or offer to lead the way. Invite them to one of the scads of bike commuter coffee get-togethers. Tell them about upcoming local events like the Vasa Ride.
Be Kind to Clueless Touroids
And while I am on the subject of being kind, we are just a few weeks away from the massive influx of tourists. Tourists in DC think they know where they are and what they are doing because they see DC on TV every night. The truth is most of them are clueless. Be kind to them. (Yes, I admit I lose my cool with five abreast cherry blossom tourists on the trails. I will try to be more patient this year.) Be especially kind to the ones from far away lands, particularly those who do not speak English. If you’ve ever been disoriented in a place far away, you know how frustrating and scary it can be. The people you help will long remember what you did for them.
Later in the morning I had to go to CVS for some things. I decided not to bother with a sweater or jacket since it’s only a block away and 45 degrees is tolerable in shirt sleeves. I was totally comfortable. I spotted a woman walking toward me in a cross walk. She had on a heavy winter coat, oversized sunglasses, and big ear muffs. I stifled a laugh and wondered if her last name was Shackleton. Then I realized she was a friend of a friend, the kind you know of but don’t actually know. Derp. I guess it’s not spring for everyone yet.
The Fifty States Ride is an event put on each September by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA). The ride covers every nook and cranny of Washington DC so that participants can ride their bikes on every street named for a state. I’d done the ride six times: 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. In 2006 and 2007, the ride was held in the sweltering heat of August. WABA moved the ride into September but the 2010 ride had all the heat and humidity of the August rides. Last year it poured buckets for the last hour. No matter what the weather, riders have to be prepared to climb a dozen (probably more, I lose track) hills. Every few blocks, riders come to a stop sign or red light, making for sore hands from so much braking.
When I lived in Boston, I drove a cab during the sunmers. The only part of the city my college friends knew, was the half mile around the subway stops they used. The same happens in every city. DC-area residents know the area near work and home, and a few other often frequented parts of town. The rest is a mystery. Riding the Fifty States ride gives a cyclist the chance to experience the entire city, warts and all.
Getting to know the city is a plus, but the real secret to the Fifty States Ride is the fact that all the starting and stopping all but forces riders to sociallize. I’ve met dozens of people because of this ride and they represent an incredible breadth of humanity. Students, writers, scientists, lawyers, educators, police officers, librarians. Black, white, asian, latino. Young and old. Incredibly fit and not so much.
A Plan Falls Apart
My friend Florencia and I have never done the entire ride together, In 2007 she abandoned me in the oppressive heat of Rock Creek Park. In 2011, she took off after we reached the lunch stop. So the plan was to ride the entire route together. Then life interceded and she had to cancel. Sad face. As it turns out, her friend Emilia had signed up but didn’t know anybody. So I agreed to ride with her.
I drove to my office in Rosslyn and rode the 3 1/2 miles to Adams Morgan in DC for the ride start. While waiting for Emilia, I started talking with Lorraine, a first-time rider who was having some anxiety about getting lost. I invited her aboard the Rootchopper Bike Bus. Next I spotted Emilia. As I introduced Lorraine, she said she was my “daughter” so I introduced Emilia as my wife. Instead of adopting a son, we added Jeremy Cannon, the son of Bob (Don’t Call Me Rachel) Cannon. Bob was marshalling the shorter 13 Colonies ride. I did the Great Pumpkin Ride with Father and Son Cannon last October. Then we added rookies Kristen and Elizabeth with whom I did the Backroads ride last September. Up stepped John Roche, Mr. Hoppy 100. Dave Salovesh, man with the Green Bay Packers bike, joined in. (It had belt drive. You gotta have belt drive in your group!) We tried to draft Rachel (Don’t Call Me Bob) Cannon, but she had commited to riding with Ursual Sandstorm who was a volunteer ride marshall and her friend Jordan. So we went into the draft and picked a ringer: Friday Coffee Clubber, Michael Brunetto a man who knows DC like the back of his bicycling gloves. From my pix, I can see we were joined by a tenth rider, a woman in green, whose name I neglected to get.
Leading Is Overrated
Kristen decided that we should leave before the formal ride start. This turned out to be a great idea because it meant that we avoided the usual congrested roads for the first 10 miles. Since I was the grizzled veteran I was dubbed the point man for our group. I nearly missed the first turn, so Michael grabbed the reins and off we went spiralling through DC neighborhoods and downtown.
Despite gray skies, there were smiles all around as we picked off states in quick succession without much effort. We skirted a 5K race near the Mall, and zipped over Capitol Hill and into Southwest DC. The route took us to East Potomac Park where the friskier riders among us sped away. We regrouped at a public restroom and headed for Maine, crossing the path of the riders who had started after us.
We rode past Nationals Park where Emilia proudly told me that three of her Venezuelan countryman (Ramos, Cabrera, and Lobeton) were on the ballclub. Go Nats! Go wife!
I led the posse through the confusion of near Southeast, through an alley, and over the Souza Bridge. We hit the pit stop in Anacostia Park, chatted with some friends and headed out for the first hills of the ride. We climbed Martin Luther King, Junior Avenue. It was a bit of a shock as the climbers among us got their ya yas out. All I could think of was: this ride is going to suck if I don’t get my legs in order. The next climb came a mile later on Stanton Road. By this point my legs were loose and I made a decent showing of things. Our climbing contingent – Elizabeth (QOM), Justin, Michael, and Jeremy- put us to shame but they kindly waited at the top for the rest of us.
On the way to Texas a woman riding ahead of us almost took a wrong turn. It was the first of many wrong turns we witnessed and thwarted throughout the day. We zoomed down Massachusetts Avenue (a real thrill on the 20 inch wheels of Little Nellie, my Bike Friday) and headed back to Anacostia Park.
My peeps were pretty happy to arrive at the Eastern Market rest stop for lunch. Our rookies were smiling so we knew that the pace was reasonable. We took our time and steeled ourselves for the second half.
Staying Off Track
The route took is through the eastern side of Capitol Hill which combined flat roads with numerous turns. As we headed northward, we encountered a closed road. I took us down H Street which has trolley tracks right where we would be riding. At the next cross street, I dismounted and walked across the tracks, fearful that our entire posse might catch a rail and fall. (This is not a good road design, folks!)
The climbers took off up the steep hill on Mt. Olivet Road. They waited for the rest of us to pull up the rear. We crossed over the railroad and US 50 in pursuit of scary North Dakota Avenue. The gray skies had given way to a light rain. I was grateful that the traffic was light and we made it unscathed to Taylor Street. Soon we were riding busy Michigan Avenue and lucked out again with light traffic.
After riding past Catholic University we were treated to Hawaii Avenue, another big climb. We plodded on undaunted. The rookies were holding it together. The rabbits were humoring by waiting at the top of each climb.
Zig, zag, pedal, pedal. We made good work of long stretches in Northwest, as the rain started coming down hard. Jackets came on. Lorraine and a bunch of other riders from other posses headed back home. The rest of the crew plowed ahead, thankful to reach the Tacoma rest stop at the home of Mike and Lisa. For some reason, Mike gets a kick out of my Twitter name, Rootchopper. Last year he stood on his porch shouting ROOTCHOPPER as I rolled in. This year, he had a banner up that said “Hail Rootchopper!” It’s nice to be loved.
As I walked around at the rest stop, a funny thing occured to me: this is the best I have felt after 50 miles of biking ever. I felt like I could have ridden for hours and hours more. This soon would fade into memory.
The Rookies Start to Work
After the rest we climbed to Alaska and flew down into Rock Creek Park. On Beach Drive we saw a woman rider on the ground with several riders looking on. They had called an ambulance so we left her in their hands.
On the west side of the park we rode into Chevy Chase, the high rent district. Yes, there were more hills. The Rookies were starting to ask, “Are we there yet?” Shut up and climb.
The route differs from year to year. One of this year’s new wrinkles was 36th Street. It is a pretty little windy street with dense tree cover. And bumps. And a steep hill. Ugh. My wife wanted a divorce. When she reached the top of the hill she had a big smile on her face, but then she said “My legs were gone.” Fortunately, the final rest stop had coffee which seemed to revive her. For the climb up Wisconsin Avenue. Ugh.
Is Arizona a State?
After riding past American University, we rode downhill, picking up newly paved Arizona Avenue, and giving up all our climbing work from 36th and Wisconsin. After a flat stretch on MacArthur Boulevard, it was payback time. With five miles to go we rode up Ashby, up 49th Street, then up the sadistically steep Garfield Street. My wife had given up pn divorce; instead she wanted to kill me in my sleep.
After recoveinrg, we forged ahead. This neck of the woods is called Cathedral Heights. To get there you have to go….up. Emilia was one hurting unit but still she climbed. What a warrior. Finally, we crested the heights and made the gradual ride back down to the start. Of course, it wouldn’t be loads of fun without riding on busy Connecticut Avenue. A ride marshall (Rod Smith, perhaps) had taken the left lane in preparation for the left hand turn onto Calvert Street. We followed his lead.
We arrived at the after party with big smiles on our faces. We were triumphant. Photo ops with our hard-earned ride shirts were taken. Beer was imbibed. Other riders arrived. Rachel and Jordan and Ursula appeared with had big smiles. Fists were pumped. Riders were hugged. Faces wore satified smiles.
Very big thanks to the folks at WABA, especially Michelle Cleveland, who works for months putting this ride together. Thanks to the volunteers, especially Mike and Lisa, who literally opened their home to us.
Thanks to Flor for getting me to ride this again. I missed you.
Thanks to the posse. To Lorraine, Dave, John, Justin, Kristen, Elizabeth, and Jeremy. Thanks to Michael who refused to let me get us lost! And special thanks to my new friend Emilia, mi esposa por un dia. Muchas gracias, senorita.
After a late night of watching the rain fall down at Nationals Park, I awoke in a bit of a fog. Unfortunately the fog in my brain was accompanied by humidity outside. I rode off into the mugginess officeward.
There was considerable leaf and twig debris on the roads. Somehow this debris was concentrated along the right side where I normally ride. So I boldly moved toward the center of the lane. No drivers’ egos were harmed.
Near Belle Haven Park, a tree had fallen across the trail. According to fellow bike commuter Reba, the tree nearly nailed a passing runner. As a former marathon runner, I can attest that this can ruin your whole day.
I made my way around the tree on foot and proceeded northward-ish. Near the power plant, I came upon a tractor trailer which had fallen across the trail. I rode around it on the grass.
Near the Memorial Bridge, a gaggle of geese formed an occlusion of the trail. I rode through them undaunted. One goose mouth a goose obscenity at Little Nellie, I am pretty sure this goose is a columnist for the Washington Post. He was probably upset that in years past geese were ticketed for using the trail.
Over the course of the day, it got muggier. Or as the French say, “I’ll fait icky.”
I rode home under ominous skies. Sprinkles turned to light rain. Distant rumbles turned to thunder booms. The tractor trailer was gone but the trail was blocked by a cyclist chatting with a surveyor and a pedestrian. I stopped for the pedestrian almost certainly ruining my credibility as a bike terrorist.
On Union Street in Old Town, the bike lane was blocked twice. The first blockage was by an SUV double parked in the bike lane. Shortly thereafter the but end of a luxury car was parked so as to preserve the entrance to a townhouse’s garage. It’s butt end blocked the trail.
At King and Union a King Street Trolley (actually a bus) stopped mid-block obstructing my way up Union Street. I was begining to think this was Block the Bicyclists Day, sponsored no doubt by the Washington Post.
The last five miles home were under a steady rain. The distant thunder and lightning suddenly became directly over head. BOOM! CRACK!
Uh oh. Not good. The hairs on my calves (the lower part of my leg, not my baby cows) stood on end. Eek.
Fortunately, that was the worst of it. I arrived home soaked having somehow not terrorized anybody.
You may have noticed that I have been making oblique references to the Washington Post today. This is because Courtland Milloy, a Post columnist, wrote a column today that expressed his exasperation with having to share the city with cyclists. In addition to some veiled racist remarks, he said that the $500 fine for hitting a cyclist with your car was worth the expense.
Mr. Milloy’s column demonstrated an astounding combination of ignorance, intolerance, and race baiting, quite the trifecta. It also contained many factual errors. Here are some facts for Mr. Milloy to think about:
My wife was run over on a crystal clear day by a careless driver in a hurry. She was lucky. She got to spend three months in bed. It took her the better part of a year to get back to something resembling normal. The driver nearly killed her in another way, because the aftermath of the crash left her unable to have surgery for a malignant tumor for one year.
My friend Rachel volunteered to ride sweep during a cycling event last December. Her job was to make sure that the very last riders finished safely. She was run over by an inattentive driver near FedEx Field. She was injured but fortunately recovered rather quickly. She is still jittery about riding her bike in the city.
My friend Charmaine was run over by a pickup truck while riding to work on Michigan Avenue in Northeast DC. The crash broke her right arm and destroyed her bike. She missed weeks of work and endured months of painful physical therapy. (It was the second time she’d been hit by a car.)
I didn’t know Alice Swanson, but six years ago today, she was riding her bike in a bike lane near Dupont Circle when she was run over by a truck and killed.
I could go on with more examples all night.
In my entire life of riding about 100,000 miles I only know of one death by cyclist. This happened when a kid at my grade school lost control of his bike and struck an old lady walking home from church. As bad as we all felt for the victim, we felt equally bad for the kid who was going to have to live with this for the rest of his life.
I hope Mr. Milloy parks his car and his hate. If he rode his bike in the city he might see what I see.
Riding through Anacostia on a Sunday morning is a joy. The church goers, dressed in their Sunday best, wave and say hello, even though in Mr. Milloy’s mind I am an evil suburban white guy on a bike and they are black and there are no bike lanes on MLK Boulevard.
That riding through all eight wards of the city during six or seven Fifty States Rides has revealed a city that is finally rising from the ashes of the 1968 riots and the farce of a crack head mayor. The restored Union Market and Lincoln Theater, the hundreds of rehabilitated rowhouses, the new buildings springing up everywhere, the resurrection of near Southeast. You miss this driving in and out of the city with a death grip on the steering wheel.
And that during those same rides and many, many more in DC, dozens of people have waved, cheered me and my fellow riders on, and made sure we didn’t take a wrong turn. Over and over again.
That little kids see me go by on my funny looking recumbent or my equally odd folding bike and say, “COOOL!”
I don’t like riding my bike in DC during rush hours, but I’ll do it to get where I need to be. That doesn’t mean I am an inherently bad person or anti-car or racist. It means that I am rational. I dislike driving in the city too. The difference is that in a car I have steel barrier between me and people like Mr. Milloy. On a bike, I am apparently a viable potential target for a pathetic man with a small mind.
Mr. Milloy should be ashamed of himself. As a 30-year subscriber to the Post, I have but one request. Stop running his columns. They are reckless, irresponsible, and hurtful. Find someone with a positive voice to fill the space.
My friends who live and bike in DC are always riding about doing fun rides all over town, riding to baseball games, sipping espresso in sidewalk cafes and riding to craft beer places. I hate them.
I live in the boring suburbs. Yes, we have good schools and much less crime but I’d much rather be doing stuff in DC than, say, mowing the lawn. (I’ll get around to it. Get off my case already.)
Early in the morning Kristen tweeted that she was thinking of doing a ride with BicycleSpace, a bike shop in the heart of DC. Then Ted joined in. So I said, why not me?
And I was off to DC.
The Mount Vernon Trail was pretty congested. This did not slow me because I was taking my time and enjoying the perfect summer weather. The ducklings have fledged. The herons and egrets have finally returned. The skies are blue.
Once in DC I rolled past the folklife festival on the national mall. It was big on China folklife this year. I made my way up 7th Street diverting over toward the Capitol to scope out the location of a meeting I am going to for work tomorrow.
I arrived at BicycleSpace to find Kristen, Ted, and Brook hanging out together. The ride was announced as an 11:30 start but we didn’t get underway until noon. While we were waiting Chris appeared. Chris moved to San Francisco several months ago. We had a good talk. He seems to be pretty happy. Actually, that’s kind of a forgone conclusion. Chris always seems to be happy.
Once underway the 20 or so riders meandered east to the Metropolitan Branch Trail. We followed it past the Uline Arena, site of the first Beatles concert in America. (You could tell because of the huge black and white banner hanging from the side of the old hulk.)
We somehow rolled by Gaullaudet University and found the National Arboretum. This is a terrific destination and a nice place for a nearly traffic free bike ride. Unfortunately there wasn’t time to take in the herb garden and the display of bonsai trees. If you go, be sure to check them out.
We paused for a group picture near the Capitol columns. You can’t just throw out old columns. So you stick them on a hill in the middle of a park.
We went on a short hilly loop ride inside the Arboretum grounds. A BicycleSpace employee was leading us down a hill on his Brompton. He turned to warn us to be careful on the downhill and veered off the road into some rocks. Only his pride was hurt. (Pretty good controled crash if you ask me.)
Kristen needed to get back home as her two girls almost certainly were by now tying Dad up and pouring maple syrup on his head. (Actually, they are pretty cool kids and would never torture their father. Intentionally.) I decided to join her for the ride to her house. I promptly took us all over creation and we ended up riding on busy Florida Avenue to R Street. R and its bicycle lane took us all the way across town to Massachusetts Avenue. There we began a loooong steady climb up embassy row. Kristen does this everyday on her ride home from work. We crested the hill at the National Cathedral and rode Wisconsin Avenue to Tenleytown. From there. Kristen led me through a maze of side streets and down an alleyway where she mugged me and took all my money.
The alleyway led to her garage where she parked her bike. I hung out at her house chatting with her husband who looked remarkably unharmed and her girls who I swear had halos over their heads. She tried and tried to feed and water me cuz she’s a mom. I still had 18 miles to go to get home so I turned down her offer of a cold Shiner Bock. (Makes me tear up just thinking about it.)
After about a half hour I headed back by way of Meridian Hill Park. It’s usually a pretty festive place. The drum circle was doing its thing but there weren’t the usual hula hoopers and frisbee throwers and such. I hung out and listened to the drums and admired the view of the beautiful gardens and cascading water down below in the southern half of the park.
Back on the bike, I rode down 16th Street to the White House to the 15th Street cycletrack and into the tourist fray on the mall. As I passed the Washington Monument a minivan pulled over into a drop off zone behind me. I heard one of its tires blow. Bummer.
I could feel the temperature drop as I neared the river. The headwind on the way home didn’t bother me. The puffy clouds and blue skies would not allow me to be grumpy.
The ride ended up being 54 miles but it didn’t feel like it. Other than the Mass Ave hill, it was a pretty easy ride. The people on the BicycleSpace ride were friendly and well behaved. I think I’ll do another sometime.
Friday began with a splendid bike commute aboard Big Nellie. My back is feeling better but it is still not quite free of the two-month long stiffness. As usual, I stopped at Friday Coffee Club in DC for some bike commuter chat. It was great to see that everyone was sitting outside!! And Jacques brought Hugo (and Elmo the Muppet). I had quite a good time goofing around with Hugo who likes to giggle at goofy grown ups.
After a day of IT headaches at work, I rode home along the river with temperatures in the 70s. Did it really snow a few weeks back?
For dinner I took Mrs. Rootchopper out to Legal Seafoods in Crystal City. I had high expectations since I have been hearing about this restaurant since my days at BU, but we were both underwhelmed. The food was fine. The service was pretty good. The ambiance was meh. At home we celebrated with dyslexic chocolate fudge birthday cake. Daughter Lily phoned in a fine rendition of “Happy Birthday” from Indianapolis. We will return the favor in a couple of days. Son Eamonn called Mom earlier for his rendition of the song.
Saturday was a near perfect day for bike riding but, having knocked off something like 137 miles in the previous four days I instead devoted the day to lawn work. First, I drove to Sears to get a new mower. The old mower had wobbly wheels and a leveling mechanism held together with zip ties. It gave me 10 years or so of use so no complaints. I had to use up the gas in its tank so I mowed the back lawn with it. It sounded like it was straining to cut even the shortest grass. Then I put together the new mower and fired it up. Yowsa! It had noticeably more power. I could actually hear the blade zipping around inside.
With the yard work done, we set out to see my favorite performer, Neil Finn, at the Lincoln Theater in DC. For the uniformed, Neil Finn is a singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist from New Zealand. He’s been the force behind Split Enz, Crowded House, three solo albums, two albums with his brother Tim, and two ensemble productions with the likes of Johnny Marr, Eddie Vedder, KT Tunstall, and members of Wilco and Radiohead. His most well known song is “Don’t Dream It’s Over” but he has written scores of songs, many every bit as good. His show at the Lincoln lasted nearly three hours and exceeded my already high expectations. I am pretty sure that he could put on another show, every bit as good, with songs that he did not perform last night. I once saw Sting play Constitution Hall when he was in his early 50s. Perfect voice. Perfect band. Perfect perfromance. Same thing last night with Neil Finn. So here goes my all time favorite performances:
Neil Finn last night, Sting, Elbow at Club 930 last year, Orchestra Baobab at the Birchmere, Raffi (yes, that Raffi) at GWU, Johnny Clegg and Savuka at Georgetown, Andy Narell at Blues Alley, Los Lobos and Buddy Guy at Wolf Trap, the National Dance Company of Senegal, John Mayer with Michael Franti and Spearhead at Verizon Center.
Today was another perfect weather day. I had a date with Big Nellie. We began by checking out the Morningside bald eagle nest on the Mount Vernon Trail. There was one eagle in the nest and another apparently out and about. I do believe there will be little ones in the days ahead.
I took the Woodrow Wilson Bridge over to Maryland and spun up the long hill to Oxon Hill Road. My intention was to take a left and head to DC but I took the Frostian road less traveled to the right and ended up doing a 15 mile loop through suburban Prince Georges County. It’s not a pretty place to ride but the roads were not very crowded. After the loop I did another couple of loops nearer to DC. Suffice it to say that signage is not PG’s strong suit.
I eventually made my way to the Anacostia River Trail for some flat spinning along the river. I crossed over the river on the Benning Road bridge. I worked my way to Florida Avenue which heads rather laboriously through Northeast DC and ultimately to the Lincoln Theater. Since Neil Finn was long gone, I stopped for some food and water at a 7-11. Sadly it lived down to my expectations.
I rode over to Meridian Hill Park which was packed with people enjoying the weather and listening to the drum circle. After dining al fresco on my Turkey and cheese sammich and three oatmeal raisin cookies, I headed back home. I spent 20 minutes getting through the amazing throngs of cars and pedestrians near the Tidal Basin where the cherry blossoms were now past peak.
The ride home into a stiff headwind kept me honest. During the ride I pondered a set list of Neil Finn songs that he did not perform last night. I’d pay good money to hear him sing them.
Funny thing is with the perfect weather this weekend his last song last night was called “Weather with You” which includes the line: Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire couldn’t conquer the blue skies.”
Riding Big Nellie, my recumbent, is great for sight seeing because I am sitting upright. On the way to work I spotted a bald eagle in a tree along the river next to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. I heard that today was peak bloom for DC’s cherry blossoms. So I had to swing by East Potomac Park and ride under the blooms for a few miles. What can I say? Blossoms make me happy. Somehow they also seem to make my nose bigger. Go figure.
Those of us to lived near the site spent ten years of our lives dealing with the delays and headaches associated with the replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. For those of you who don’t live in Washington, the Wilson Bridge carries I-95, the main north-south interstate on the east coast, across the Potomac river. It is also part of the famous Washington Beltway. The old bridge was built in the early 1960s and was literally falling apart. You could see holes in the concrete decking, erosion of the support pillars, and rust on the steel structure.
The new bridge is about twice as wide and is visually quite appealing. And as a bonus it has a multi-use path on its north side affording views of Alexandria city and DC. The path isn’t perfect (expansion joins make for a jarring ride) but it is a terrific addition to the bicycle route network in the area. There is one problem with the path: it doesn’t connect to much on the Maryland side. You ride across the river, take a switchback to a deck over the highway, spin down a spiral descent on the south side of the road and follow a long curving path to and dirt path paved in a manner of speaking with shells. FAIL.
You can ride this sketchy path directly to National Harbor which looks for all the world like Sodom on the Potomac. It is a development dominated by a massive hotel and convention center with a faux village at its glass and brick feet. The village has many of the usual cookie cutter eateries and shops that I do my level best to ignore. The development also has the statue of the Awakening, Prometheus emerging from the ground. For many years it made the desolation of Hains Point in DC a destination for tourists. Now it is crammed into a narrow riverfront looking for all the world like it was dropped there by a passing aircraft.
National Harbor is growing. Massive townhouses are sprouting from the hill above this off little downtown. It is all fenced in, to set it apart from the run of the mill adjacent suburb known as Oxon Hill. If you want to ride to Oxon Hill, you take a left at start of the shell path, pass through a tunnel made from a corregated steel tube and climb a long steady half-mile hill to Oxon Hill Road.. OHR is not much to write home about but, for the last few months, it has been torn up by construction. About 1/2 mile of the road is now open for use. It features bike lanes on either side. I decided to check the new road out yesterday.
The completed section of road leads to a new outlet mall that attracts an appalling amount of car traffic. Cars are parked all over the place and herds of shoppers need assistance from a dozen police and rent a cops at the intersections. Lovely.
As for OHR, it leads to Fort Washington and other sites rarely explored by most DC-area bicyclists. To really enjoy checking out this area, cyclists are going to have to wait a while. As I found out yesterday, road construction continues past the outlet mall for at least a half mile. I gave up when I had to cede the narrow road to fire trucks and police cars. From the looks of things (sorry no pictures, I was busy trying to stay alive) the renovated OHR will be a pretty nice ride. For now, you should probably avoid the area. Unless you’re in the market for cheap clothes.
A friend of ours is out of town. She was donating her car, parked at her place on Capitol Hill, to charity. The charity failed to pick the car up yesterday. I decided to check out the situation today, a perfect excuse for a bike ride in to the city.
Before I left home, I once again tweaked the new saddle on The Mule. I measured the fore/aft position of the saddle on Little Nellie. Little Nellie was custom made to replicate the configuration of The Mule. What I discovered was that the saddle on The Mule was one inch farther forward than the saddle on Little Nellie. So I slid The Mule’s saddle back and headed out for DC.
I could tell right away that this little tweak was just what the doctor ordered. Just that one inch was all I needed to get my groove back on this bike. With a steady tailwind, I rode straight up the Mount Vernon Trail to DC. It felt great to be buzzing along feeling as if the bike and I were in sync.
I rode down the National Mall hoping to spot some people I knew to no avail. I made my way to Capitol Hill and verified that our friend’s car had indeed been picked up. Since I had already used up two coffee shops at Eastern Market for earlier coffeeneuring adventures, I decided to head downtown for a cup of coffee at Chinatown Coffee Company. I learned of Chinatown Coffee from the Queen of Caffeine and her husband, the King of Espresso who stop there during the 50 States Ride.
I had some Honduran coffee. It was as good as any coffee I’ve had so far. Right up there with Swings and St. Elmo’s. I was disappointed that they didn’t have much in the way of food. So I sipped the coffee and read the newspaper. I really like the ambiance of this place. I will definitely add it to my future coffee sorties.
Properly caffeinated, I rode across downtown to White House Plaza. None of my peeps were going gaga over the prez, so I headed for home. On the way, I stopped at Belle View Shopping Center to check out a new bakery/restaurant that Nancy “Two Sheds” Duley tweeted about earlier in the day. The place isn’t open yet, but I had a long talk with the owners and admired the loaves of bread they had lined up on the window sill. The owner gave me a loaf of French bread which he called 50 percent. It looked and smelled great but he was still fine tuning his baking products. He was confident that they all will be 100 percent. I am looking forward to that.
With le pain in le pannier, I headed for home. I tried out the new bike trail along side Fort Hunt Road. It’s a lovely trail but pretty much useless for getting anywhere. To get on it, you take a windy sidewalk that twists and turns. The path itself is wide and smooth but it winds left and right, up and down parallel to Fort Hunt Road which is a smooth steady climb. At one point I had to duck under a large tree limb, the remnant of an even bigger limb that had fallen over the trail. Add trail maintenance to the list of many things lacking in Fairfax County bicycle infrastructure. How sad it is that the bike trails and bike routes in Fairfax County, which is mostly suburban, is inferior to the trails, routes and cycle tracks in DC and Arlington.
I took a day off yesterday after a hilly 57-mile ride on Thursday and a 109-mile ride on Friday, both in hot and humid conditions. What I should have done was gone for a short, easy ride, but I mowed the lawn in oppressively swampy weather and took a chill pill for the rest of the day. As a result of this semi-off day, my legs felt tight and sore. Walking down stairs was a little difficult, not unlike the day after running a marathon. (Been there, done that, had to walk downstairs backwards back in the day.)
My plan for today was to go for a nice easy spin on Big Nellie and see where the bent gods took me. As I made my way into Old Town Alexandria, my legs loosened up considerably. I decided to hit a few bike shops to see if they could fix a problem with one of my pedals. On my recumbent I wear sandals and use PowerGrips. These are straps that go across the pedal diagonally. Normally I use toe clips (I am not a fan of clipless pedals) but nerve problems in my left foot led me to try PowerGrips in search of relief. They work reasonably well except that the strap on my right pedal is at a steep angle, and rubs against my toes. The one on my left pedal fits properly, only touching the outside of my pinkie toe. The reason for the discrepancy is that the pedals attached to a metal plate. The left plate looks like an old bottle opener, flat with a bend at the end. The right plate as a second bend in the middle causing it to extend out too far from the pedal.
I stopped at Wheel Nuts in north Old Town but they were closed. Seven miles down. I decided to try the Velocity bicycle co-op in Del Ray a few miles away. They had all kinds of junk parts (just what I thought I needed) but no plates for PowerGrips.
Twenty years ago, The Mule, my Specialized Sequoia, had a recurring problem: it’s headset (the part that the handlebars attach to) kept coming loose. NOBODY could fix it. After giving many mechanics a crack at the problem, I took the bike to Papillion Bicycles on Columbia Pike in Arlington. Bailey, the owner, couldn’t figure it out but he said try Paul at City Bikes. I called Paul and before I could finish my description of the problem he knew what was wrong. And he did. It needed a ten-cent washer that he happened to have among his two bazillion bike parts.
Paul is now the head mechanic at Bicycle Space in DC, so I decided to let him have a go at the pedal problem. Several miles later, Dr. Paul examined the patient. “You don’t need a new part. It looks like you bent this one in an accident.” Paul is also psychic. I did indeed crash the bike a year ago and came down on the right side!
He took the right pedal off, walked into a back room with a hammer in his hand and began the operation. I was a little troubled by the hammer and the fact that he did not sterilize his hands before surgery. After a minute, he came back out, hammer in hand, took a look at the left pedal, and went back to the OR. A few whacks later he came out and the pedal was exactly right. Dang,
With a smile on my face, I headed for home. Not wanting to go back the way I came, I decided to ride back via Anacostia. I picked rode east to 11th Street Northeast and took a right. I rode over the Anacostia River on the wicked awesome new 11th Street Bridge (such a clever name, no?). In Anacostia, 11th Street becomes Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard. The MLK (very L.A. sounding, don’t you think) is an interesting ride. There are signs of gentrification with new restaurants, cafes, condos and such. And there are the depressing signs of DC’s poorest neighborhoods with housing projects, job training places, and people handing out on the street corners. Along the way, I glanced at an electric sign outside a church. 104 degrees!!!
After the first hill, the MLK descends to cross busy South Capitol Street. Here the road surface becomes a washboard. At 25 miles per hour, it’s downright hairy. (DC needs to up its game with some serious roadwork on the MLK.) Once you get up a good head of steam, you are greeted by a red light at the bottom of the next hill. Argh!
From a dead stop, I climbed the next hill, slowly. At Blue Plains Drive I banged a right and headed down a steep hill, breaking the speed limit in front of the DC Police Academy in the process. I am a brazen scofflaw.
After a couple of left turns, I was on the Oxon Cove Trail. Park maintenance has gone by the wayside this year. Tufts of grass four or five inches tall protrude from all the cracks in the pavement. Grass on either side of the trail is two feet tall.
The trail and the park were completely empty. As I rode next to the cove, I spotted the remnants of an large bird of prey, either an eagle or a hawk. There were some big feathers and some bones but not much else; it had been picked clean.
The trail enters the grounds of Oxon Hill Farm where it turns away from the water and climbs, gradually at first, but steeper and steeper all the way to the top. I think this is the toughest hill in the area. On the way up I saw what looked like the hoof and lower leg from a young deer. Yikes! A little further on, I spotted a beautiful feather, from a hawk or eagle. I stopped and put it in the flag slot on my Arkel seat back bag.
The steepest part of the hill remained so I yelled “Get ’em up, Scout” and started to ride. (I didn’t actually say that, but I am pissed that Johnny Depp has screwed with Tonto. Tarzan is Johnny Weissmuller. Avery Brooks is Hawk. Jay Silverheels is Tonto. That’s it. Don’t mess with my childhood icons. Okay, the new Star Trek actors are infinitely better than the old ones, but that’s an anomaly.)
After the monster climb, I got to ride down the crazy fun downhill toward National Harbor, then up the corkscrew hill to the bike path bridge over the beltway. (This corkscrew design is brilliant.)
Next I rode over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge (a good place to watch the fireworks in Old Town next Saturday night, by the way) and onto the Mount Vernon Trail. Then, for reasons that escape me, I rode up another nasty hill on Westgrove Boulevard. After a stop for a Gary’s Lunchbox sammich at Sherwood Hall Gourmet, I rode home.
What started as an easy spin evolved into a 37-mile hill fest. So much for my plan. At least, I got my pedal fixed. Thanks to Paul and Bicycle Space. It was worth the effort.
Being confronted with adversity in your life is inevitable. Just keep in mind that it does not have to defeat you. Adversity is often short lived. Giving up is what makes it permanent. As a certified fitness professional, this blog is my way of helping you feel capable of anything.