Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Spice of Spring... Wait. It's Still January!

Two years ago this week, we were enjoying something that we in DC call Snowmaggedon.  We had two feet on snow on the ground.  DC shut down. Normally, DC residents are weather weenies.  Snowmaggedon was the real deal.  Having lived through the New England Blizzard of '78, I feel I am qualified to say that Snowmaggedon was definitely a major league storm. Unlike 1978, I was a homeowner in 2010 so Snowmaggedon was a much bigger pain in the ass.

But enough about snow.  When I left the house this morning there wasn't even the suggestion of snow on the ground.  It was nearly 50 degrees outside. Crocuses are in a state of biological confusion.  People are running in shorts.  Yeah, baby!  Time for a bike ride.

My first stop was the site of a recent house fire about a mile from my home.  The emergency responders went ape with their sirens to get to this fire.  This was necessary because it was nearly one a.m. on a weeknight and the streets were deserted.  They must have been bored because they emptied the fire house. When I got to the house today, I was expecting to see a gutted structure.  Instead I saw an upstairs bathroom window covered with plywood and a tarp covering a small section of the roof above.  Fairfax's finest beat that fire into submission big time.  It wasn't even worth taking a picture.

So after my exciting plywood moment, I got on with the ride. I took the Mount Vernon Trail into Old Town Alexandria and bypassed the epicenter of touroids by riding Saint Asaph and Pitt Streets instead of Royal and Union.  I rejoined the MVT north of the soon-to-be-closed power plant.  I took the tunnel to Crystal City and made my way to Clark Street.  Clark Street is a beat up old road that once was the home of a cement plant.  That site has been turned into Long Bridge Park, which is pretty fab.  Clark Street, alas, is anything but.  Pot holes, patches, humongous puddles, one after another.  I watched a Jeep gun it through a pond in mid street.  It looked like Cecil B. Demille's Red Sea crossing.  The water came way over the top of both sides of his Jeep. Impressive. Fortunately I was several hundred feet away so I didn't get wet at all.

After Moses did his thing, I rode past the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery into Rosslyn.  Here I met up with some car traffic but they stayed out of the bike lane and I stayed in it.  On the DC side of Key Bridge I portaged down a few steps to the C&O Canal.  The towpath in this section has seen better days. The Sequoia was up to the task of bouncing over the stones and swerving around the mud puddles.  At Fletcher's Boat house I switched over to the mercifully smooth pavement of the Capital Crescent Trail.  After a mile or two I spotted a paved trail to the right.  This was the Little Falls Trail, a quaint little path that meanders through a wooded park.  After my wooded interlude, I popped out on some quiet neighborhood streets. It seemed a little hilly but I was up for some work.  Then I came to Albemarle Street.  Albemarle means "steep son of a bitch" in French . (Vraiment, mes amis. I was president of my high school French club.  Would I make something like that up?)  And it was.

I didn't have a clue where I was but the houses were nice and the streets were smooth and traffic-free.  So I climbed up Albemarle eventually coming to Massachusetts Avenue.  Mass Ave has the nicest stretch of down hill riding in town.  Unfortunately, the start of the down hill was a little higher up.  So past American University I climbed. Then around a couple of rather crazy traffic circles including Ward Circle, an always fun near death experience.  Finally, I reached Washington National Cathedral in the aptly named Cathedral Heights neighborhood.

And the fun began.  Down Mass Ave into a head wind went I.  I was barely pedaling and my odometer showed 25, 26, 27,...  I was thankful for the head wind when I hit a depressed man hole cover near the Observatory.  If I had hit it at 40 miles per hour that man hole cover would have launched me for sure.  Onward I rolled unscathed along Embassy Row.  It's one damn impressive street.  I was going too fast to get the names of all the countries so you'll just have to go there yourself.  Collect them all.

I blew through another traffic circle before reaching Dupont Circle,  Normally either one of these is so full of automotive mayhem that a cyclist will see God as he dances with certain death.  Today wasn't bad at all.  I only saw two saints and an archangel.

I reached one more traffic circle and decided not to tempt fate.  I turned down 16th Street and headed straight for the White House.  It's so cool living here. It's the damn White House! There was a protest going on in Pennsylvania Avenue.  In front of the White House, Pennsylvania Avenue is a plaza that is closed to cars and truck bombs. I stopped and took a picture of the demonstration. The participants were calm but seemed very depressed.  I think they were Syrian.  If I were them, I'd be depressed, too, I suppose.

I cycled past the protest and around a street hockey game.  These guys were pretty good.  I weaved through the bollards at the end of the plaza and took a right onto the 15th Street cycle track. This is a two-way bike trail on the street separated from cars by flimsy plastic posts.  I spotted a sign that said "No Pedestrians in Bike Lane" as I followed a runner. She must be a local because everyone in DC is more important than you or me.

On my way back to the river I passed the Jefferson Memorial. Old Tom doesn't get any respect.  The White House has bollards.  The Lincoln Memorial has bollards.  More than ten years after 9-11 the Jefferson Memorial still has jersey barriers.  All over the place. Apparently, some friend of W had the jersey barrier contract for the National Park Service.  Why can't Obama get rid of them?  I bet bollard replacement will cause our national debt to be down graded to junk bond status, but it's worth it, don't you think? 
Now that I think about it maybe the jersey barriers are part of the memorial. Jefferson was an inventive guy.  Just tour Monticello and you'll see how clever he was.  He probably invented the jersey barrier.  That must be the explanation.

Rant over.  I crossed the Potomac via the 14th Street Bridge where I fell in line with the slowest adult cyclists in the world. Clearly, they were physicists testing how slow a bicycle could be ridden before it fell over,  Passing was out of the question because the MVT was packed with runners, bladers, cyclists and dogs.  I jumped off the trail at Four Mile Run and made my way through the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria along Commonwealth Avenue, a tree lined boulevard with nice big bike lanes. It also has traffic calming brick speed tables with low spots for bikes.  These are way better than speed bumps.

I weaved my way past Old Town and popped out near the Beltway.  Here, I took a trail over to Fort Hunt Road in Fairfax County instead of jumping on the MVT again.  Fort Hunt Road has a shoulder that comes and goes. This apparently is VDOT's idea of sound road design. After a couple more hills, it was down hill in traffic.  I was cruising along at 25 miles per hour and VDOT had decided that I didn't need a shoulder and could use some asphalt patches.  Some asshat with diplomatic plates took time out of his day to scream at me out his window as he drove past.  I responded with my very best and most sincerely diplomatic F bomb.

Another mile and a half on side streets and my ride was in the bag.  41 1/2 miles of trails and traffic, hills and flats, pavement and towpath, street hockey and political protests, bollards and jersey barriers, 24 inches of snow and early spring.  Riding in DC has so much variety. You should try it.


  1. Thanks for sharing your ride....sounded pretty eventful. I'd love to ride in DC but have lots of other places just a bit closer to home to ride first....


  2. I too am glad Snowmaggedon is well behind us. The winter has been fantastic, as was your ride report. You definitely hit the sites today. Well done!

  3. Sounds like a fun ride! I explored the MVT from the Alexandria Marina to Mount Vernon and back on Saturday. Wow, there are some scary hills and switchbacks down there!

    1. Really? I thought for a moment that I saw you along the way (no lie)). Next time I'll stop and ask. I agree there are a few really nasty switchbacks. Many years ago our neighbor's son crashed on one and was medivac'ed out with a broken femur.

      There used to be a particularly nasty switchback immediately before Mount Vernon. Senator Howard Metzenbaum's wife crashed there (so the story goes) and the Congress appropriated funds to straighten the trail. We need to find another congressional spouse and take her for a spin near Fort Hunt and Candlewood on the trail. :-)

  4. Another great post - - I feel like I did the ride with you! :) I get a kick out of your descriptions along the way! :) :)

  5. Great post! Sounds like a fun ride. And yeah, what IS with the random barriers around everywhere on the Mall?? I have directed bicycling tourists through and around them many, many times. The ones near Jefferson really don't make sense.

    Security gates look a LOT like bike racks, so I once got an angry call from NPS because a group of Dutch renters mistook one placed randomly near the Ellipse for an actual bike rack and locked about 30 bikes around it while they visited the White House.

    Anyway. I'll keep an eye out for you on weekend rides in this nice weather. :)