Trail(s): Mt. Vernon Trail, Four Mile Run, Custis Trail in Virginia; Capital Crescent Trail in Maryland
Distance: 32 miles
Weather: Cloudy but warm for March; high of 59 F
Company: Climate Riders!
300 miles is a long way. But this past Saturday, I got to bike a few miles with the folks I’m going to be doing it with. On a cloudy but warm March day, we held our first DC Climate Riders outing.
We started at the Jefferson Memorial, which is annoyingly surrounded by construction equipment. I completely support the Parks Service fixing up the place, especially because I know it’s probably using Recovery Act money (aka the stimulus to non-feds) that needs to be spent yesterday. But I feel rather bad for the tourists who come and see a cluttered monument. Despite detouring around said construction, I eventually did find my group, clad in spandex and rugby shirts. We pedaled over the 14th Street Bridge, which made me panic a little bit. For one, I don’t normally mind bridges, but I feel much more vulnerable bicycling over bridges than in a car. You’re more exposed to the wind and you’re on there so much longer than if you were driving. Second, I already felt tired and we had just gotten started! On the way back, I felt a lot better when realized the bridge is uphill as it goes into Virginia.
From there, we hopped on the Mt. Vernon Trail, which passed by both soccer players and the Reagan National Airport before intersecting with the Four Mile Run trail. Let me tell you – it’s weird cycling with planes landing that close to you. It’s sort of like a loud motorcycle pulling up, except instead of the noise startling you enough to wobble, it’s the sudden visual.
The Four Mile Run trail and the Washington and Old Dominion trail, which it intersects with, are a great paths, but oddly diverse. Parts of them are very pretty and feel as if you’re in the middle of nowhere. Others are through very suburban sprawl, strip mall parts of Virginia. Despite not being the most scenic route, I’m glad they traverse such geography. I’m always complaining that multi-use paths are designed more for weekend recreationalists than commuters that actually need to get somewhere. So it was good to be on paths for once that actually went useful places.
We then turned onto the Custis Trail, which turned out to be the hilly part of the ride. This was the first place in the ride that I truly felt slow. Meeting up with the group, I had the feeling that they were both more experienced and in better shape than I am. Considering that I’ve never done a ride of this length and D.C. has a number of all-season bike commuters, it was a pretty reasonable assumption. Thankfully, up until this point, everyone agreed that starting the first joint ride of the season slowly was a good plan. So we kept up a steady, but moderate pace. I was starting to feel tired, but not winded. But on that first hill up the Custis? I felt winded. Going down helped, but not enough. And then up again, and down, and up, constantly trying to spin faster to keep up. In some ways, it was good to get the pacing in, to push myself further and see what I could do. On the other hand, it was pretty damn discouraging. The thoughts of, “If I can’t do this, then how the hell am I going to bike 70 miles in one day?” kept intruding when I wasn’t working too hard to think. It didn’t really help that everyone else had road bikes that are faster than my hybrid, or that I tend to put on the brakes once I hit about 25 mph going downhill. The other folks in the group were encouraging, but shutting up my critical voice is a battle I’m going to have to win on my own.
We finished off as a group back on the Mt. Vernon Trail, winding along the Potomac River. We passed by Teddy Roosevelt Island, a National Park. As I had assumed was only accessible by car, it was refreshing to find out that I could make it a long training trip if I wished. After riding back over that long, long bridge, we took a photo and went on our merry ways.
At this point, I truly didn’t know what I was going to do. Beforehand, I had thought, “If I feel good, I’ll ride to Bethesda and get on the Metro there.” (On my way there, I had taken the Metro most of the way to the Jefferson Memorial.) But as the hills were exhausting, I felt pretty much done with biking. Nonetheless, something in me still wanted to go for it. So after wandering around the Mall and ending up at the Lincoln Memorial snack bar, I took a break. And surprisingly, after eating a granola bar and drinking some more water, I felt quite up for it. Not for anything strenuous, of course. But a nice, calm ride by myself down the Capital Crescent Trail. After all, the miles are more important than the speed – no one says you have to ride 60 miles quickly.
So I did, and it was lovely. The trail was crowded, but not as bad as it had been in parts of Virginia. At the end, due to the kindness of strangers, I was able to get frozen yogurt drenched in granola, chocolate chips, and cranberries. Absolutely perfect.
My ride was over – or so I thought! As it turned out, the silly, silly Metro was once again busted. All of those broken elevator announcements were relevant to me for once. While I’m usually able to hitch my bike up on my shoulder and walk down the escalator, this is completely impossible at the Bethesda station. In fact, according to this nifty Washington Post graphic, the Bethesda escalator was the deepest in the Western Hemisphere until they installed the one in Glenmont. My original plan being foiled by Metro, I ended up biking to the Medical Center station which actually had a working elevator. I was lucky that I was able to do that – I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be being disabled and having to wait for a shuttle every time the elevator somewhere was broken.
In total, including riding back and forth from the Metro, I put in 32 miles, or about half the distance that I’ll be doing every day on the Climate Ride. But considering it was more than twice the distance of my first ride outside, I thought I did pretty well.
The route I took, with lines marking my trip with the other Climate Riders and my trip back in to Bethesda. (It says it was created by Christopher because I was logged in to my husband’s Google account by mistake when I made it.)