Trail(s): Small amount of Millennium Trail, but mostly roads
Distance: 65 miles
Weather: Sunny and hot; high of 85+
Company: Me, myself and I
Well, mostly. Towards the end, the alive part seemed like it was definitely coming into doubt. But on Monday, I actually biked 65 miles in one day, on one ride. Not surprisingly, challenges abounded.
My route was adapted from a route provided by a previous Climate Rider. I needed to add on about 5 miles each way to get me from my house to the starting point and back. Except it turned out to be quite a bit more than that. First, I ended up taking the long route without thinking about it. Then, completely misinterpreting the Google map, I turned right instead of left, not realizing it until the road I was on intersected with completely the wrong road. Thank goodness for GPS on iPhones.
Feeling like quite a schmuck, I turned around to at least find myself heading downhill. But the entire time I coasted, I had a sense of creeping dread. For what goes down must inevitably come up.
It didn’t take terribly long for my dread to catch up with me. Gazing upon the first major hill, I actually swore out loud. It was like looking up Mt. Everest. And somehow, I knew that it was even higher than I could see – the top was not actually the top, but instead continued on, winding up the road further. This was a hill my car would have trouble climbing. But instead of giving in, I sighed to myself, laughed a little, kicked my bike into a low gear, and started the long slog. Sadly, it was to be the first of many. Who knew you could fit so many hills into one route?
The one saving grace of this route’s hills is that they are fair. Unlike the steep, annoying slopes peppered with sharp turns and other hazards, like those on the National Institute of Health path, these hills put their cards on the table. They said, “We are hills. If you do not conquer us, we will defeat you.” And in the end, I did. I didn’t walk a single hill. On one of the them, I took a very long time to pass someone walking, but I never actually got off my bike.
After a sampler of the hills at 20 miles, I stopped at a convenience store. The friendly owner, who seemed to be associated with the nearby “chaat shop” as well, thankfully allowed me to use their bathroom. It was grungy, as I expected a convenience store bathroom to be, but charmingly decorated with a 1970s Ben and Jerry’s poster. Also, they had shampoo instead of hand soap.
Riding away from the shop, I had two unpleasant realizations – that I got hit in the mouth by a barbed insect and that I didn’t have my wallet with me. Of course, the second realization occurred just as I had descended a large hill. Naturally, I freaked out a little. Remembering that I had put my wallet in my jersey, I was afraid it had bounced out into a ditch, never to be seen again. Hiking back up the hill was shockingly easy, because so much of my attention was focused on scanning the side of the road. Thankfully, my fears were dispelled when I found my wallet in the bathroom, right where I had taken it out to ensure it wouldn’t fall out of my jersey pocket. Ironic.
From there, I rode through Potomac, the land of Houses that Are Entirely Too Big for Any One Family to Occupy. I think you could fit 7 or 10 copies of our house in some of them! A few were rather pretty, but many were just depressingly showy. Greek-inspired columns work in the National Arboretum and Monticello, but not in suburban Maryland.
I then made my way along McArthur Boulevard, which parallels the Capital Crescent Trail and Clara Barton Parkway. It’s actually far above both of those roads, which is why I had no idea it had a significant bike lane/trail previous to this ride. It’s quite pretty, and runs through the charming but expensive Palisades neighborhood, judging from its proximity to Georgetown and Potomac. The one odd thing about McArthur is that its bike lane/path is basically a rural cycletrack. In the city, a cycletrack is a bike lane that goes both ways on a street that is one-way for cars. McArthur is a two-way road, but the large shoulder that turns into a path in parts is only on one side of the street. Riding into D.C., biking on the right of the pathway seemed perfectly natural. Biking back home, it was disconcerting to ride against traffic. Although I hate when people do it, I ended up biking more in the middle of the pathway than staying to the right.
Along the way, the weather just kept getting hotter and hotter. Originally, there were supposed to be scattered thunderstorms, which I was quite worried about. But it turned out to be incredibly sunny. Although the sun brought the heat, fortunately D.C.’s infamous humidity didn’t come along for the ride as well.
Coming into Georgetown, I was starting to drag. Unfortunately, I hadn’t taken my mom’s advice about eating every hour and a half, and I was feeling the consequences. The fact that traffic significantly picked up combined with yet another set of hills just made the task all the more monumental. When I finally rolled into Wisconsin Ave., my mind was entirely set on finding somewhere to eat. Unfortunately, the direct area was populated more with boutiques and cafes than a sandwich shop suitable for a bicyclist with spandex shorts and dirt in her hair. Thankfully, Marvelous Market offered sandwiches, drinks, couches, and most importantly, air conditioning. I plopped myself down on a cushion, struggling to comprehend the idea of getting back up.
Of course, I eventually did, dragging myself and my bike up Wisconsin Ave’s steep incline. Although I was still a little nauseous, my legs pedaled and the miles fell away faster than on the journey there. I took in the scenery, from the green boughs above to the Easter-colored flowering trees. Only 20 miles until home!
Unfortunately, my enthusiasm started to run thin once I left McArthur. Heading back a more direct way, I assumed I would avoid a few of the hills built into the initial route. False optimism much? I started checking my phone every few minutes, wondering how much further I had until home. Facing yet another giant, I whipped out my phone to realize that I was on top of a shortcut that also allowed me to detour around the uber-hill. As a bonus, it was also a less busy road! As I turned the corner, there was a cop car sitting right in front of an opulent house – an ominous sign. Ambling along, I had the sneaking suspicion – after I had just climbed up another hill – that I was going the wrong way. Taking a closer look at the map, I found my paranoid was well-founded. Down one hill and up another, the uber-hill had its revenge on me for running away from it.
When I finally reached the Millennium Trail, the bicycle beltway around Rockville, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. I was out of water and exhausted, but knew the terrain was downhill and the end was only a few miles. When I finally pedaled into my driveway, I mustered the last bit of my strength to put my bike on the deck before collapsing onto the couch.
Thankfully, my longest ride yet left few aches and pains. Due to a solid regimen of stretching throughout the evening, my muscles felt fine the next day. Or it may have just been that I was distracted by the most bizarre sunburn I’ve ever had. I forgot to put sunscreen on my legs, and ended up with a sunburn that went from the bottom of my bicycle shorts to my knees, with paler parts indicating where the shadow from my handlebars fell.
I expect this ride will be a microcosm of The Ride – lost items, directional confusion, surprising weather, unexpected joys, bizarre physical ailments, and lots of hills. But knowing that gives me confidence. Because I completed it – finished it by myself, without any support. So on the Ride, where I have both physical and emotional support and a few more weeks of training, there is no question that those hills won’t stand a chance.