Mother’s Day, 2012, found my wife and I driving through the early morning light to Washington, DC, to participate in Bike DC. At 24 miles, this was by far the shortest organized ride I have ever signed up for. I would normally not give this distance a second thought except:
- We would be riding through downtown DC on streets closed to traffic, which promised to be an interesting experience.
- My wife was interested and it would be the longest event in her incredibly brief cycling resume. I was excited to be part of the experience.
We found street side parking near the White House with no problem and made our way 1.5 miles down Constitution Avenue to The Capitol, where the start line was. The weather was fantastic, though a slight nip in the air at the start caused many to don jackets. Yours Truly did not, and I hope everyone who saw me concluded that I was a hard man. The fact of the matter was I managed to pack only one of my arm warmers and didn’t want to advertise that fact by wearing it. Then again, I may have started a new cycling craze. I encourage others out there to give it a shot and provide feedback in this space.
I’m not very good at estimating crowd sizes, but there were a great many people at this event – hundreds, certainly, and perhaps a thousand or two. The “long” ride left promptly at 7:00 AM while scores of others were still arriving for the 12 mile ”Family Ride” which would start 45 minutes later. To thin the throng of riders, ride officials put up some small blockades which funneled the riders almost immediately. This was handy as we needed to make a left turn onto Pennsylvania Avenue almost immediately. Well done, ride officials.
We cruised down Pennsylvania Avenue and saw all manner of bicycles and cyclists. Recumbents, mountain bikes, cruisers, folding bikes, tandems, and even a threesome bike were on the route. We saw roadies decked out in full cycling regalia and others riding in gym shorts and flip-flops. The pace was casual and the atmosphere was relaxed – exactly what I was hoping for my wife’s first organized ride.
After passing the White House, we zipped along E Street and through a tunnel which required the ringing of bells (we had none) and shouting (which we could help with) to achieve an exciting echo. All streets were closed and intersections guarded for us by the Metro Police, which helped explain where our $40 registration fee went. Marshals were present at each turning to keep us on the right path. We quickly reached Rock Creek Park and pedaled up it for about three miles before turning around and coming back. The road is nicely shaded with some incredible bridges spanning over it, such as the one pictured above.
Shortly after Mile 8, we crossed over the Potomac River via Interstate 66 at the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. I enjoyed playing tour guide and pointed out the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Watergate Hotel (now an apartment complex), which we ran by during last year’s Army Ten Miler. My wife was very polite and feigned interest. It was quite enjoyable to be riding in the middle of a U.S. interstate highway and the view of the river was nice as well.
Onward we went to the George Washington Parkway, which had a moderate climb for well over a mile. I heard several residents expressing awe at being on this road, which is normally packed with traffic and closed to cyclists. I was very pleased to let my wife lead the way, past a great many casual cyclists who acted as if this was Alpe d’Huez. Ironically, I passed a cyclist at this very point who was actually wearing an Alpe d’Huez jersey. I asked him if he had climbed that fabled mountain and he looked at me in confusion. Even though he was wearing the jersey, he had no idea what Alpe d’Huez was. He probably thought it was some sort of beer.
We hit the turnaround point and zoomed down the GW Parkway. At Mile 17, we reached the Iwo Jima Memorial, which I was very much looking forward to. After climbing a short hill, we moved onto N. Meade street, just west of the monument.
It was at this point that everything went wrong.
As we reached the end of North Meade street, a ride marshal instructed us to turn around and head back, which we dutifully did. Had I been closely following my cue sheet, I would have said, “Now see here, miss, the instructions clearly state to turn left onto Marshall Drive. Why are you telling us to turn around?” Sadly, I had not been following my cue sheet closely. Everything had been going smoothly and the ride officials were everywhere telling us where to turn. Inexplicably, this one gave us incorrect information. Possibly, she had us confused with the Family Fun Ride. I don’t know what their route was, but they were definitely mingled in with us at this point.
This is becoming a bit of a tradition for me – a major navigational error on a ride, usually due to no fault of my own. I’ve been on four rides this year and three have had this sort of issue. Thank you, DC Randonneurs, for being the exception to this rule.
As I pedaled back up North Meade Street, I could see the monument and wondered how we were going to reach it. When we were subsequently directed BACK onto the road leading to the bridge, I knew we were not where we should be. A confused gaggle of about 50 riders began to build up at a point where oncoming cyclists blocked the path to the bridge. We compared notes. Some had already done the full ride and were heading to the finish. Others were on the Family Ride. Still others were like us, wanting to do the Full Ride but horribly off course.
What we needed to do was turn around, go back up a short but steep hill, and get to the monument. When I explained this to my wife, I could see the figurative wind leave her figurative sails. We agreed to simply head back with the others. Even this was a challenge as there was no ride marshal to direct us on the DC side of the bridge. We followed the riders in front of us, who chose poorly and we ended up in the middle of DC traffic on very open roads. Fortunately, it was still early on a Sunday and the danger was minimal. I could easily handle these streets but it was not the sort of experience I wanted for my wife, who chooses to ride on sidewalks in our suburban neighborhood in order to avoid traffic.
After a few blocks, we found our way to the finish line, where there were ample amounts of food and drink. We picked up our ride T-Shirts and tried to decide if we were happy. We ended up riding 19.6 miles, which was still a personal best for my wife. We got to see much of DC on closed roads, which was all we hoped it would be. But we didn’t complete the course and that was very deflating. I think my wife’s expression in the above photo captures the mood quite well.
And that concludes the Bike DC trip report. This event was sponsored by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA). It is the third WABA event I have attended and all three have featured route confusion. UPDATE: Alert reader Liz P. points out that WABA does not run nor sponsor the event and merely is a beneficiary of a portion of the proceeds earned by it. Riding in a major city is difficult and full of split-second navigational decisions. I can see how it is easy to make an error, although having a ride marshal specifically take you off course is a level of difficulty I was not prepared for. I think I will give WABA and downtown DC a rest and strike out for other places in the coming months/years.