Ride Report: Along the River and Through the Woods
Trail/road: Bethesda Trolley Trail, Capital Crescent Trail, Metropolitan Branch Trail, Sligo Creek Trail
Distance: 38 miles
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.