Trail/road: Millennium Trail, mostly roads
Distance: 18 miles
Weather: High 50s, sunny
Company: Just me
This weekend, I had the pleasure of taking one of the first rides of the late winter, on a pleasantly brisk, sunny day. We’ve had a number of very warm days this winter, but most of them were on weekdays. As I work in a windowless hallway, I hardly even noticed those days, much less had a chance to enjoy them. But with a weekend above 50 F and the sun making it seem much warmer, I had no choice but to take advantage of it.
On such an unusual day, I decided to take an unusual route. I decided against the route down to D.C. that I did so often last year because I hope to be biking into work regularly and will soon see plenty of that terrain. So I looked to the north of me, to see what routes Google recommended. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much. While much of Montgomery County is farmland, due to our awesome Agricultural Preserve, a depressing amount of it is also sprawl. Unlike that of my suburban hometown, which at least has wide-shouldered streets, the area to the north is a knot of four-lane highways. Despite their inherent unfriendliness, Google marks a few of these roads as cycling routes. Willing to take a chance, I pulled my bike out of the shed, pumped up its tires, and set off.
The first part of the route was both very familiar and foreign, as a result of reversed perspective. I took part of our town’s bicycle beltway, which I’ve ridden numerous times, but always in the opposite direction. Climbing numerous hills, it was odd to realize how much downhill I normally enjoy. The grass is always greener, I suppose.
From there, I turned on to the paths paralleling the multi-lane highways. As it turned out, this section wasn’t completely unfamiliar. I had actually covered it previously in my ride to King Farm, that trip of the infamous abruptly ending bike path. At least now Google clearly demarcates the end to this path, so I had the good sense to avoid it. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the glorified sidewalk on the other side actually continues much further onward.
In addition to avoiding of the Bikepath to Nowhere, I had another good reason to enjoy this excursion more than my previous attempt. My prior ride was in the middle of D.C.’s humid, hot summer. As the path along the highway offered little shade and the sun beat down on me, I was overheated by the time I arrived at my destination. In contrast, the same route was perfect for a cool but sunny day as I had this weekend. In fact, riding in the shadows now would be quite cold.
After a few miles along the highway, which despite offering little to see was fairly enjoyable, I turned onto a completely unfamiliar road, which Google had marked as a “recommended route.” As I’ve seen many “bicycle routes” that are that in name alone, I was pretty skeptical. Sadly, I was right. Muddy Branch Road was not the back-country ramble that its name might suggest, but a road with 45 mph speed limit and no shoulder. Despite the fact that I hate riding on the sidewalk, because it’s both slow and unsafe, I personally was not comfortable at all taking the lane in that circumstance.
Thankfully, that didn’t last too long before I had the chance to turn down a much more pleasant town road, albeit one that was periodically narrowed. Although I think traffic calming as a method of slowing down car traffic is useful, I find using islands to narrow the road frustrating. Unlike completely narrowing the road by putting in a bike lane or widening the sidewalk, islands stick out into the road, creating odd bottlenecks. As a result, as I’m riding on the right hand of a one-lane road, sporadically I have to swerve into traffic to avoid hitting a curb. Thankfully, this road was fairly calm and there was hardly ever anyone coming when I had to pass through these gauntlets. In fact, this road was so pleasant that I completely overshot my turn and added another mile to my trip as a result of my mistake.
I finally arrived at my destination, Old Town Gaithersburg. Considering that I had seen it advertised on the side of buses and our area has a number of very cool historic areas, I should have had high hopes. On the other hand, knowing that Gaithersburg is best known for the aforementioned sprawl, I was skeptical. The reality was somewhere in the middle. While they have a lovely concert pavilion and a cute community museum that I hope to visit when it’s open, the “Old Town” section is extremely small. The historic section of my town has a number of beautiful Victorian houses, brick buildings on the National Historic Register, and leafy green trees along sidewalks. In contrast (although perhaps I missed something here), Old Town Gaithersburg was two blocks of one street long. In its favor, there appeared to be a number of very authentic South American bakeries, a reminder that even the suburbs of D.C. are far more diverse than my hometown has ever been. As I wasn’t in the mood for pastries, I ate a piece of tasty cheese pizza, got on my bike, and started back home.
The ride back was not only shorter, due to the fact that I didn’t get lost, but also much easier. I was huffing and puffing a bit on the way there and chalked it up to being out of shape. As it turns out, I was riding uphill most of the way! The most eventful part of the ride back was the rapidly descending sun, which kept me motivated.
Overall, a pleasant ride on a lovely day with a less than exciting but still satisfying route.