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Fireflies and Angry Storms

July 7, 2012

Fireflies are one of my favorite parts of living this far south. The other night, I just stood on our porch, gazing at their lights flickering in the trees, little flashbulbs of brightness. So when BicycleSpace announced they were having a Firefly Ride for the full moon, it already sounded lovely. Conveniently, it was also on July 3, so even if I stayed out late, I didn’t have to go to work the next day. I invited a friend along, grabbed my bike that morning, and set off for D.C.

Unfortunately, getting to work wasn’t as simple as usual. While my inability to get my butt out of bed is usually what keeps me from biking in, more physical forces stood in my way on Tuesday. Because we never lost electricity, I kept forgetting the extent of the devastation from Friday’s storm.

The beginning of the Bethesda Trolley Trail was so far so good, despite its usual bumpy lack of maintenance. But when I got to the bridge that runs over the Beltway, my luck ran out. I saw a cyclist doubling back who told me that there was a power line down. I had to reroute to Old Georgetown Road and ride on its narrow, awful sidewalk even further than usual.

Realizing that the Bethesda Trolley Trail might be the least of my concerns, I checked the status of the Capital Crescent Trail – closed, closed, closed. The storm had taken down a number of the trail’s adjacent trees and power lines. With its attention focused elsewhere, Montgomery County had declared it closed until further notice. (That further notice has now happened – someone cleared it over July 4, according to the trail’s blog.) Unfortunately, the Capital Crescent Trail is the only direct and safe biking route from Bethesda to D.C. As Metro prohibits bikes during rush hour, I had the flash of insight to take the bus again. Much to my confused disappointment, the only bus that goes from Bethesda – a very inner suburb – to DC stops barely over the DC/Maryland border. To get even close to work, I’d have to transfer twice, resulting in an hour and a half ride – a half-hour more than it takes to bike from there! I ended up locking my bike to a railing outside of the Bethesda Metro Station, taking the Metro in, and then coming back after rush hour to retrieve it. Even then, I couldn’t even take my bike back on the train because the Bethesda elevator is closed until September. As its escalator is the second-longest in the Western Hemisphere, carrying my bike down it just wasn’t an option. Instead, I backtracked to the next stop down the line just to take my bike back into D.C.

I finally ended up at Mount Vernon Square, across the street from BicycleSpace, around 7:30 PM. My friend Kevin showed up right at the start time, but due to who knows what, we didn’t get rolling until nearly 8:30. By that point, it was getting dark and the lights on the bikes did in fact begin to resemble adorable flickering bugs. As there were 600 bicyclists there (!), we were quite the pretty swarm.

This cyclist really got into the “firefly” theme.

In addition to regular lights, some people really went all out – Christmas lights, multi-color spoke lights, and even costumes were all on display. The staff also handed out that favorite of kids on July 4 and ravers – glow sticks.

The ride meandered through the D.C. streets, merrily blocking traffic. A few drivers were annoyed, but most of them were quite good-natured about it, an attitude reinforced by the cheering bystanders. One person commented, “It’s a bike parade!” Even though it wasn’t anything official like the Memorial Day parade, there’s an element of performance to these rides that elevates them to something special. It also helped that the D.C. police blocked some of the intersections, a favor for which we thanked them heartily.

About a third of the way into the ride, the weather began to rear its head. It started raining, which at least tamped down the heat a bit. Unfortunately, it also started thundering. Kevin convinced me to stay on the ride because the thunder was still quite far away and there were plenty of tall buildings for it to hit. It still took some of the fun out of it.

Holiday-appropriately, the route circled around the Capital a few times, providing us with several perspectives. We stopped in a park just outside of it, where we regrouped and an aspiring musician sang us a rather interesting song a cappela about bicycles and fireflies. She had hauled her guitar on her bike but unfortunately, couldn’t use it because of the rain. Nonetheless, we rewarded her effort with plenty of applause.

At our stop. This looked a lot prettier in person – camera phones don’t capture night scenes well.

The ride ended in Capital Hill around 9:30 PM with the sky still drizzling and no full moon to be seen. Desperate for liquids, I deigned to drink that elementary school staple, Capri Sun. It was as grossly sweet as I remembered, but it was also a lot colder than the water in my bottle. Kevin and I hung out for a while and happened to run into another rock-climber that belongs to our gym. I also ran into my college classmate Bradley, who I end up seeing about every four months at either a gardening or bicycling event. (She taught the canning class at Rooting DC this year.) After grabbing some picnic food, I headed over to K St., where I was able to meet Chris as he got out of work.

I love BicycleSpace’s rides because they bring biking out to the community in a way that invites everyone to participate. Although we have far fewer riders participating, I hope that our Rockville community rides create a little bit of the same atmosphere.

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