It rained today. It was raining when I woke up, raining when I drove to DC, raining as I pedaled to the Swedish Embassy, and it rained almost the entire duration of the Vasaloppet Ride. Most of the counties in the region are under a Flood Watch. It’s rained a lot. So today’s ride report is as much a tale of riding in the rain as it is a discussion of the Vasaloppet Ride.
I parked a couple of miles from the Swedish Embassy and enjoyed a leisurely pedal to the registration area. 600 riders were signed up for this ride but it was hardly surprising to see only a fraction of that at the starting line. There were about 30 riders ready to head off for the “Full Vasaloppet” ride at 8:00 AM. The Half and Quarter Vasa’s were to start after us, so I didn’t see how many riders showed up. I’m guessing no more than 100 total for the day, I’m afraid.
I was immediately faced with a quandary: what to do with the cue sheet? It was vitally important I kept this paper in decent condition, but exposing it for more than 30 seconds in the deluge we were experiencing would obliterate it. I had stored my camera in a zip-lock bag in my jacket pocket and so I decided to put the sheet in there as well. I planned on finding a group of locals who knew the route and stay with them as long as I could to avoid repeatedly pulling my cue sheet out of storage.
This decision lead to me hanging on to a group of ten riders who appeared to know where they were going. The only problem was they were going fast and I was on a hybrid (the only hybrid at the start line, I am proud to add!). I strongly suspected there would be some difficult patches ahead where the trail would turn to muddy crushed gravel and I hoped these areas would give me time to keep up. My theory seemed to be confirmed at Mile 3, when we hit just such a patch and one of the roadies fell. Little did I know, but that would be the one and only such spot on the entire route. It would be hopeless to try to keep up with this pack, but I didn’t know it at the time. So I gamely pressed on.
I was surprised to see us leave the Capital Crescent Trail after only a few miles and head up a steep hill into city traffic. I had thought this ride would take advantage of Northern DC’s many mixed-use trails. I have heard a lot about these routes and I was looking forward to seeing them. By Mile 10, I had figured out this was predominately a road ride and Old Ironsides was hopelessly outclassed. Several members of the lead pack gave my bike long stares as we pedaled next to each other. They weren’t rude in the least. It was more a matter of them being mildly surprised by its presence and wondering if I was really going to hang with them. That was my plan and I am pleased to report I was fairly successful at it.
We wandered northward, moving across the DC Beltway and into Montgomery County. I can report some very rich people live there – their homes are something to see. I was able to keep up with the 17-19 mph pace on the flats, but the hills took a lot out of me. The leaders of this little band were very considerate and regularly stopped after the larger hills so stragglers such as myself could catch up. This was important as it allowed me to keep my precious cue sheet nice and dry. After 26 miles, we pulled in to a convenience store for a break and some bike maintenance. One rider’s front derailleur wouldn’t shift and he was stuck on his big ring. Another more experienced rider generously helped him fix the problem. Very nice.
With the rest break over, the group started back to the embassy. At this point, two riders had dropped out, leaving us with eight. Riders strung out very quickly, with Yours Truly bringing up the rear. Two cyclists, Saul and Courtney, were moving at a more leisurely pace and we ended up cycling by ourselves. We struck up a nice conversation. Courtney was visiting the States from his home in London and Saul lived in Arlington and was friends with Courtney. We were moving along in fine (albeit soaking wet) form when we crossed a busy intersection at River Road and Oakley St. Saul came upon some road debris and needed to quickly swerve to his right. There was a puddle there, which he entered and quickly discovered to be a mammoth pothole. Saul immediately flatted and I then had an opportunity to watch an experienced cyclist execute a fast inner tube exchange in terrible conditions. I was pleased to see he executed the maneuver in much the same way as I would have, albeit at a faster pace.
With the tire repaired, we pressed on. Soon we were in downtown Bethesda, a busy urban area full of double-parked cars and jay walkers. We zig-zagged our way through the maze and found ourselves back on the Capital Crescent Trail. Courtney was very tired and wanted to take the trail back to the embassy. This would shorten the ride by eight miles. Rather than head back into city traffic alone, I elected to travel with my new partners. I had wanted to see the trail network and this was my chance. I was treated to a gradual downhill ride for six miles with some excellent views of the Potomac River. The rain had stopped by this point and I was able to take some pics as well.
Back at the embassy, I locked up my bike and headed inside to enjoy the much-anticipated blueberry soup. I grabbed a paper cup already filled with the concoction and gave it a go. It was… interesting. Definitely an acquired taste. It was very sweet and very thick – not quite as thick as syrup, but in that category, I would say. I did not ask for seconds. The embassy staff was very accommodating and I enjoyed my visit very much. There was even an exhibit of urban bicycles which the staff graciously allowed us to tour despite the fact it was not officially opened. One concerned member saw me taking pictures and asked me not to publish them until after tonight’s advance screening to the media. I’ll abide by his request, though there wasn’t anything more exotic than a Barclays bike from London.
Upon leaving the embassy, it was time to head back to the car. I felt guilty about not completing the entire 58 mile ride, so I resolved to put in some extra miles around town to get my mileage up to the proper level. I swung by the Kennedy Center, the Watergate Hotel, and the Lincoln Memorial (where I discovered the reflecting pool was drained for cleaning). Eventually, I made it back to my truck, soaking wet and absolutely filthy from road grime spit on me by the tires of my fellow cyclists. I loaded my bike and started for home.
20 minutes later, it began to pour again.
Thus concluded the 2011 Vasaloppet ride. I spent more time in the rain today than I have in the previous 12 months combined. I learned a great deal about how to dress and prepare for the rain. I was very pleased with my ability to hang with the roadies on my humble hybrid, and as fellow cyclists fell by the wayside due to chain derailments, broken derailleurs, and flat tires, I had to pat Old Ironsides on the side as it pulled me the distance without issue. The event organizers, embassy staff, and riders were all extremely pleasant and made the ride enjoyable despite the elements. Although I probably should have brought the Trek, I am glad I took the Crosstrail. Pushing that weight made for some great training. And besides, this was probably the last opportunity to take it on an organized ride. After owning it for almost a year, I owed it that much!