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Ride Report: Along the River and Through the Woods

June 21, 2012

Trail/road: Bethesda Trolley Trail, Capital Crescent Trail, Metropolitan Branch Trail, Sligo Creek Trail
Distance: 38 miles
Weather: 70s/80s

I spend a lot of time on my bike rushing around. As anyone who has met me in person knows, I’m running at least five minutes late to everything. This perpetual state of delay is one reason it was nice to take the time to explore a new route last weekend, even if I still ran out of time to complete it.

On Friday, I met up with folks from Friends of McMillan to discuss potential communications strategies after they read my blog post. There were three parts to my trip, all of which had elements new to me. The first part was my ride down to D.C., where I tried a variation on my normal route, suggested by a fellow bicycle volunteer. I think the route was shorter than my usual, but not necessarily faster, due to a proliferation of traffic lights and the requirement to walk my bike through the Metro station. The second part had me riding from Georgetown, up the Rock Creek Trail and then all of the way across D.C. using the Q St. bike lane. The last part had me taking the Metropolitan Branch Trail, a relatively new trail running from just south of the D.C. border to Union Station. As I marveled at the trail’s combination of functionality and lack of aesthetics – it runs along the railroad tracks, through a series of industrial areas – I noticed a dome rising in front of me. Although I thought “Why am I riding towards the Capital?” I quickly dismissed it as a different structure in the direction I was supposed to be going. Unfortunately, when I reached a staircase, I realized that my lack of humility had once again bit me in the ass. I added on at least a mile and made myself 10 minutes late to boot. The trail seemed extremely useful, as long as you’re facing the correct direction.

After the meeting, I was supposed to go to a birthday dinner, but my friend canceled it last-minute, so I was left with little to do. Coincidentally, my meeting happened to be in a neighborhood that 1) I’m hardly ever in and 2) has the National Shrine on the campus of Catholic University. I’m not officially Catholic, but it’s a been an influence on my faith (I just described it in a recent guest post for the Slacktiverse) and I love big churches. So I figured, “What the heck?” Unfortunately, Catholic University has a lack of bicycle parking, although I saw a number of people on bikes. I finally locked my bike to a parking meter, hoped that no thief would be brash enough to steal it right outside of the National Shrine, stepped inside, and changed out of my cycling clothes. It just seemed wrong to be in spandex in a formal high church.

The Shrine itself was a mixture of very large, slightly gaudy murals in the main area, and beautiful smaller shrines off to the sides.

The origins of the shrines were particularly interesting – they were gifted from around the world, including Poland, Guam, and Guatamala. As the National Shrine is very much off of the beaten tourist path of downtown D.C., it was fairly quiet. It was just me, a few random worshippers, and a very small tour group.

From there, I decided I was going to take a different route home than I had before. Google recommended using the Sligo Creek Trail, which appeared to wind from Silver Spring up through Wheaton and fulfilled my curiosity to investigate the best way from my house to Silver Spring. The route started by biking north from Catholic University, through the Fort Totten and Brightwood neighborhoods, which I was vastly unfamiliar with. The combination of the neighborhood’s deficit of geographical anchors, the lack of fellow cyclists, and its low-income status evoked a slight unease in me. Although all of the neighborhoods in D.C. have vastly improved in the last few years and my own neighborhood used to have as much crime as many of the D.C. ones, the threat of potential crime, no matter how illogical and prejudiced, sat in the back of my mind. Even the ice cream truck inspired a weird feeling – its melody was bizarrely off-key. I would feel more comfortable a second time through, but I was a little relieved when I saw a sign for a neighborhood I had been in before.

Just after the D.C./Maryland border, I jumped on the Sligo Creek Trail, which is like the less-snobby, more accommodating sister of the Rock Creek Trail. Both paved trails run parallel to a creek on one side and a major road on the other. Both wind through lovely forested areas and connect together a series of recreational parks with playgrounds. However, unlike the narrow, serpentine Rock Creek Trail, the Sligo Creek Trail is wider and more direct. The neighborhoods Sligo Creek Trail connects together are not as expensive and the pedestrians on the path actually seemed less surprised to see bicyclists. It also seemed to be better maintained than the Rock Creek Trail, which often suffers from overgrown plants and splitting asphalt. Although I often don’t enjoy multi-use paths, this one was uncrowded and quite pleasant.

Unfortunately, my combination of meandering and needing to check my phone for directions resulted in me losing a race against the darkness. By the time I finished the trail, I had 8.8 miles to go and it was already 7:15 PM. Although I often don’t mind riding in the dark, I didn’t want to be trying to figure out a completely new route snaking through the suburbs with some dodgy roads at dusk. At first, I was seriously disappointed, as it appeared my only option was taking the Metro, which would involve doubling all the way back through the very place I came from. It would also involve standing on the train awkwardly trying to balance my bike for an hour. Then I remembered every bus in D.C. and Montgomery County has bike racks! I caught a bus after about 5 minutes, secured my bike on the front, and had a fairly comfortable 25 minute ride home. My paranoia compelled me to check that my bike was still on the front of the bus every five minutes – because clearly the bus driver wouldn’t notice if it fell off – but the ride was thankfully uneventful.

So the ride helped me put in a lot of mileage and a couple of new experiences that should come in handy in the future.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2012 8:59 am

    Great report. I explored the Sligo Creek for the first time a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it too. The trail was in better condition and landscape more peaceful than RCP. The Takoma Park hills I passed to meet the trail was something I could have done without though.

    • June 22, 2012 12:35 am

      Thanks! I think it’s a bit of a hidden gem, as many people in Bethesda never see a reason to go over to that side of the Red Line. In terms of the hills, there was also a very unfortunate one shortly after the Catholic University campus, especially because the road wasn’t in great shape and the drivers didn’t seem particularly sympathetic to me inching up pedal by pedal.

  2. Nancy L. Seibel permalink
    June 24, 2012 10:47 am

    Great ride report and gorgeous photos of the Cathedral. Three things jumped out at me. 1) Really, a college campus without bike parking? Come on, folks. 2) For some reason I am scared of using the bus bike racks. I know its supposed to be easy. But whenever I picture myself trying to load my bike onto one I picture myself going all clumsy and being unable to do it! I’d love a chance to practice on a bus that was just parked somewhere for that purpose. 3) Rock Creek Trail. I know there’s so much to be done to improve our bike infrastructure, but that seems like one that is so crying out to be done.

    • June 25, 2012 11:52 pm

      In terms of the bike parking, it could have been that I just wasn’t looking hard enough. But there was a big car parking lot immediately outside of the Shrine, and no bicycle racks.

      The buses will allow you to practice taking your bike on and off of the rack if they’re at the end and waiting for the next time around the route. I’ve never done it on my community bike rides, but I know other bike advisory members have. It’s not that difficult to get your bike on there, but I definitely felt like a klutz while I was fussing with it. Also, it’s probably easier if you have a road bike – my hybrid is pretty heavy.

  3. Nancy L. Seibel permalink
    June 27, 2012 11:16 am

    Shannon, re the practice opportunity – that’s good to know, thanks! It’s interesting to see where one can and cannot find bike racks. There is one outside my local Walgreens, which is located on a busy highway. There are residential roads (narrow ones with no shoulders) I could use to ride there, but I would have to carefully pick the time of day so as not to tangle with heavy traffic. There is one outside my local Chamber of Commerce office. I have never seen that one used. There’s none by our post office or farmers market, places that are very bikeable.

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