May 2009


It was about 6:15am when I set out. A few minutes later than I’d wanted, as expected, but early enough to practically have the road to myself. And that was perfect for me.

I got a little lost-but-not-really as I rode through Arlington to the Key Bridge into Georgetown. There are quirky angles to some of the streets and funky intersections, and not all of them go through even when they look like they do on a map, so when I drive the mile and a half between that part of Arlington and the part I live in, I only ever go the two routes I know because I find it confusing. I don’t drive much in DC either, for that reason plus the pain-in-the-assness of parking in DC. The Metro is just so much easier. So…it didn’t surprise me to have to make a couple extra zigs and zags from my planned route just to get to the Key Bridge. And once across the Key Bridge, it wasn’t straightforward to get onto the Capital Crescent Trail, despite having looked at maps and read up on it. Also not unexpected. I managed to find it in the end, which is the important part.

Once I got on the CCT, it was like a dream. Quiet and green, following the Potomac river for a ways, it was hard to believe that I wasn’t even a mile out of the city yet. Still in the DC limits. I instantly became a big fan of the CCT, which I’ve always heard raved about by commuters, and now I can understand why. A trail like that is as close to a bike highway as you can get in this area, it lets you cut through a large swath of the city without dealing with stoplights. It is crowded on the weekends (but not as early as I was on it), but that’s to be expected. It is a beautiful place to spend some time.

I would have appreciated some signage beyond the mile-markers.

I knew, from my research, that I wanted to get off the CCT and onto MacArthur Blvd somewhere between mile marker 6.5 and 6.0. On the trail, however, it was completely unclear how to make this happen. After I passed mile marker 6.0, I asked a fellow trail user how to get to MacArthur. Luckily he gave me perfect directions, and that was the very last tricky bit of navigation I had on my route. And luckily it was a quirky intersection (easily recognizable on the way back) where that trail emerged, because there was no signage at the trail entrance, not any more than there had been anywhere on the trail other than the mile markers. That’s something I really don’t get – if you want a trail to be easily usable, making it easy for people to get on and off where they intend to get on and off is pretty important! I guess they assume people already know…

MacArthur is considered a great road to bike on. And now I understand why. There was a gradual incline most of the time on the road, I think, yet I couldn’t even feel it. I was pedaling easily, feeling like I was maintaining a good speed with almost no effort. The first hour went by so quickly that I was actually shocked that an hour had gone by.

My second hour passed with ease as well. In fact, it was so easy that I thought I’d likely be able to ride to the sanctuary most every weekend. Even in my thoughts, I put a condition that – I’d wait until I’d finished my ride home to let myself really think that.

And that’s when the hills began. I’d been expecting them, I have driven them every weekend for years. I knew they’d be hard, and they were. They weren’t actually as physically demanding, individually, as I had thought they would be, but there were just so many of them! I knew that, yet on the bike, it seemed like it was never-ending.

Sometime in the 3rd hour my butt bones and my feet started to hurt. I was no longer comfortable, and I was starting to feel like it was a really stupid idea to ride to the sanctuary! It passed, eventually, and though I was still looking forward to getting off the bike, I re-found my sense of fun with the bike.

Arriving at the sanctuary on the bike, traveling down the gravely dirt road through the peaceful pastures…it was worth it, the worries, the pain, the time, all of it.

I’d borrowed a friend’s old GPS (thanks Rich!) out of curiosity, to see what my moving time was compared to my clock time for my commute. I brought it with me on the trip to and from the sanctuary as well.

why, yes, I do believe the GPS is perfectly accurate!

why, yes, I do believe the GPS is perfectly accurate!

You can see that my average speed was just over 13mph. This is where I confess to a gripe about recording this kind of information – it makes me feel inadequate! I enjoy the interaction on DailyMile, but I’ll tell you, everyone is much faster than I am. It is hard to put in all day effort, and not have some thoughts in the back of my mind about how these DailyMile “friends” so often average 19+mph, even on these long rides. Not that they’d ever ride a steel bike, let alone a loaded one. I need to get past my frustrations with my not-so-speedy averages. I’ve never been a sprinter, I’m a long-haul kind of girl, and I ride a Long Haul Trucker to prove it! (That really is the model name of my bike!)

Most of the trip home was a bit of a blur. I stopped several times. I did have my camera with me after all, all 20 lbs of it, and without the morning pressure to arrive somewhere “on time”, I gave myself permission to stop for some of those photos.

does anyone need a house that huge?

does anyone need a house that huge?

I knew, when I left the sanctuary, that I’d need to stop more often. Part mental, part physical, partially to make sure I drank and ate more on the way home, and partially to remind myself that there was no need to hurry.

sign advertising indoor cycling on one of the areas most popular outdoor cylcing routes?

sign advertising indoor cycling on one of the area's most popular outdoor cylcing routes?

I passed by a big sign advertising the area’s Folk Festival next weekend at Glen Echo Park. I might go. I’ll probably fumble getting onto the CCT again, but other than that it is an easy trip there by bike, maybe 12 miles away. A good way to add a few more miles without overdoing it.

I also passed by some landmarks that I recognized from the photography class I took last year. I had no idea I’d pass by them!

fletchers boathouse

fletcher's boathouse

All in all, it took me closer to 4 hours to get home, though my actual moving time, as recorded by the GPS, was only about 20 minutes longer than the ride there.

key bridge, looking towards rosslyn

key bridge, looking towards rosslyn

As I rode back through Arlington, it was with a great feeling of having proved something to myself, of having done something I’d wanted to do practically since I first started bike commuting. It was also with great relief to get off the bike. At the time, I wondered if I’d ever want to get on a bike again. My quads felt bruised that night. I thought I might have actually bruised my legs, having my loaded bike leaning against me at various times. I was asleep by 8:30pm.

When I woke up, there were no leg bruises, and the muscles themselves were only somewhat tired. One day of rest, and I feel as good as new. (We’ll see if I still feel that way after riding to work tomorrow!)

I’ll do that ride again. I’ve proven to myself that it can be done. I’ll even look forward to it…someday it might not even be as full-body exhausting as it was this weekend!

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I’ve been researching my route for my Saturday adventure. It has been in my mind for a long time that I want to ride the 35 miles to the sanctuary, and I think I’m finally ready. Sorrow’s encouragement / excitement happened to be just what I needed to push me over the edge from dreaming to planning. Ready or not, I’m doing it this Saturday. I’ll have an extra day to recover thanks to the long weekend, and a shorter week following to bike to and from work. Even if I’m wiped out from the adventure, I should be able to get through the following week’s commuting.

I found enough routes on sites like Bikely that I’m now comfortable with how I’ll get there.

Here’s the map of my planned route:

map to sanctuary

map to sanctuary

And here’s why it is only after 10 months of biking 120 hilly miles/week that I think I might be ready:

elevation graph for trip to the sanctuary

elevation graph for trip to the sanctuary

By the time I get home, I’ll have climbed 4600 ft (and thankfully descended 4600 ft as well), in addition to my normal Saturday workout of hauling buckets of water and poop!

Still contemplating how I will bring my camera (the big one, not the p&s) and whether I’ll need muck boots. Whether I should bring a full change of clothes, and how much food. A lot of food, I’m thinking.

35 hilly miles. I’m budgeting 3 hours, thanks to the hills! And that’s just one way…

The neat aspect about planning this trip, and looking at it on a map, I really get a feeling of going somewhere on the bike. Utility cycling is what appeals to me, is what gets me excited. It is wonderful to feel fit, to know that my body can power me just about anywhere I want to go, but what trips my heart in excitement is having transported myself from place A to place B on my bike. Even now, after these 10 months of bike commuting, I feel a little ping of excitement every time I arrive at work or at home from my commute. “I did that!” a little part of me sings.

A few months ago my eye was drawn to a Surly traveling down the road as I headed home from work. I could see the rust, which seemed a shame. I speculated as to which year that particular bike had been built; it was a color I don’t remember seeing on a Surly before. It could be a custom paint job, or it could be a few years older than most of the Surlys I see. Which, granted, isn’t many.

Last week, on the same road, I saw the Surly again. Traffic was moving quickly, so I had just a glimpse, but I think it was the same bike, and presumably the same person. How many green Surlys are there going up and down Beulah, after all?

Today as I coasted up to a red light, I saw the Surly again! “I like your Surly!” I called. “I like yours too!” he responded.

It made me smile, that Surly connection, our mutual love.

Maybe the next time I see that Surly, it will be on the road instead of on the back of his car.

For me, European bike trips have never been about riding from Point A to Point B. My buddies and I far prefer the explorative method of riding. Rather than being blown off the bigger “red roads” by the noise and dust of passing semis, we seek out the serenity and quiet of remote alpine valleys on the smaller “white roads” – views of massive rock faces and glaciers at every turn. We’ve carried road bikes on our shoulders over high mountain passes, slid down vast glaciers along side our bicycles, and stumbled upon more quaint villages than I can count.

-Gary, founder and owner of clif bar & company

For me, I haven’t gone on a bike trip yet. Every Saturday when I drive to the Sanctuary, I think and dream about riding there. 35-40 miles each way. About twice what I do on a workday for my bike commutes. Worries about my fitness and about getting lost are what stop me, the kind of worries that will seem absurd once I get on my bike and do it.

There’s something about the bike. It is therapy, it is fun. It is transportation, it is independence. It feels good.

I’ve neglected this blog, and I’m not sure whether to keep neglecting it. I started it as a different kind of outlet than I had already created. I’ve met some nice online friends through it, and I still keep up with the blogs via blog reader.

I suppose I have decreased my need for an outlet. Partially because I have these other micro-places I record things in. Dailymile, where I record my (you might guess) daily miles on the bike. Momentile, where I post a daily photo, and which I enjoy because there is no chance for comments, mine or others. Lacking in context, it somehow frees me to take some crazy pictures, unworried as to whether anyone will “get” them. And when I take the uncrazy pictures, I also feel freed from expectations. I’m neither a photographer who takes only crazy pictures nor a photographer who doesn’t take crazy pictures. I’m simply exploring, and in a place with no context I feel freer to do so. And to stalk others who are participating in the life mosaic that is Momentile.

So I have these other outlets. I’m not sure whether to continue blogging here. I won’t take this blog down. What I’ve written and what others have written in response are enough for me to let continue. I know it has always disappointed me when others have shut down their blogs as well as stopped writing. I do like to be able to go back and read archives. Stop writing if you must, I’ve always felt, but please let me read the archived words!

It isn’t about me, though, and I do respect the need others feel to shut down their blogs when they are no longer putting their time into it.

I have continued to bike to and from work 4 times a week. I love it. My coworkers continue to be surprised when I ride in the rain, and express astonishment when I ride in the “cold” 55 degree mornings. Mornings which have me wearing a long sleeve t-shirt and short-fingered gloves. Cold? How quickly they forget.

I have worn through my first pair of brake pads, and met a fellow steel-lover when I took it to get new pads. He looked at my bike, caked in road grime that I’m too lazy and not well enough equipped to clean completely, and said “nice bike.” It could be said that he ogled my bike. I glanced at the sparkling bikes surrounding me, looking like dirt would not dare mar their shiny perfection, and gave an embarrassed chuckle. “It’s a bit dirty.”

A few weeks ago I was at a stoplight, almost home, when another rider pulled up next to me. Unusual, but as he’d been chasing me up the giant hill near home, I knew he was there before he rolled up. “Miserable weather,” he commented. I glanced at the sky, at the drizzling world around me, and didn’t have anything to say.

I was on my bike, it seemed good to me.