Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Adventures in urban cycling

Saturday promised to be a gorgeous day and I was determined to make the most of it. Scott had plans to practice sword work with a friend in Herndon and I was left without adult supervision. I decided to head into DC and test ride some bikes I've been stalking on the internet. To keep me honest on this being a recon mission only, I took Lily with me to use as my mode of transportation in the city.

The most difficult part of the trip was finding a metro station that either had available parking or wasn't closed for track work. My preferred station is East Falls Church as it is the next exit off I-66 after the Dulles Toll Road spur. Unfortunately, the parking lot was PACKED and I was forced to find another station. I headed back to West Falls Church and learned that the station was closed for track work. Shuttles ran back up to East Falls, but I chickened out of trying to get my bike on the front of a bus and hunted for another station. I eventually found the Ballston station and a mostly empty garage attached to the mall a couple of blocks away. After locating the elevator, re-upping my SmartTrip card, and wrangling the Ariel onto the train, we were headed to the city for our urban adventure.

I am incapable of taking a good photo of the White House.
I hopped off at the Foggy Bottom station because it was closest to the first bike shop I wanted to visit. I got my first taste of honest to goodness urban cycling while weaving through traffic jams on K and Pennsylvania. I played chicken with a taxi (and won, I guess, since I'm not only still breathing but also have full use of all limbs and organs) and dodged GW University grads and families.

After the test ride, I took L to Massachusetts to Mount Vernon Square where I hopped onto the sidewalk to get out of another traffic snarl. At this point, I was completely sold on a bicycle being the best mode of transportation in the city. I swear, if we lived in an urban area, we'd be selling one of the vehicles without hesitation.

After a second test ride, I headed over to Adams Morgan and got to play in bike lanes and the 15th Street cycletrack. OMG, so much fun. Now, I've been kind of meh about bike lanes particularly since they put cyclists in the door zone and I also feel like they might cause vehicle drivers to think those lanes are the only places that cyclists are allowed to ride. However, I realized that bike lanes can allow one to more safely (-ish) filter past stopped cars. The bike lane on V certainly made my ride from 15th to Florida a better experience. Not sitting in four blocks of stopped cars for the win!

Other urban cycling experiences: pedaling through salmons and getting shoaled by super bikers. Whoo hoo! I can see how dealing with both on a daily basis could wear down a commuter. I also noticed that the inbound 15th Street cycletrack was a little more harrowing than outbound since there weren't any stoplights pointed in the inbound direction. Luckily, I didn't sail through any red lights and I eventually realized that I should watch the crosswalk signals to know whether or not to stop. There were too many light-running cyclists to count of them being good signals. A few passing cyclists smiled or compliment my flowery basket, but most wore super serious faces. Come on and lighten up: you're on a bike! Occupiers are in McPherson Square. I thought they were only in Freedom Plaza.

I didn't realize they were still occupying.
I pedaled in front of the White House and took even more bad photos. A couple of protestors railed about the US being a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah and blew a large plastic horn in a walls-of-Jericho reenactment, minus walls. A huge (and I mean HYOOGE) wedding party emerged from Lafayette Square taking guerrilla wedding photos in front of the White House. Based on the bride's pale skin and strawberry blonde hair, I assume she was of Irish descent. The throng of darker skinned women in saris caused me to assume the groom was of Indian descent. All of the gorgeous saris were like a glittering rainbow traveling down Pennsylvania Avenue. As I passed the White House, I saw a large man with a very big gun and an enormous dog round the northwest corner of the White House. I did not spy any snipers.

I chose poorly and got stuck in traffic on 17th Street. Unlike the filtering girl, I waited to find a curb cut and hopped on the sidewalk again. I'm not entirely sure what constitutes the Central Business District and I don't know if riding on the sidewalk there is prohibited on the weekends, but no one official pulled me over. Continuing on to Independence, I found signs pointing toward the FDR Memorial, but between heavy traffic and getting turned around, I missed the exit for both FDR and MLK. Of course, now that I am looking at Google Maps I can see there was an easier access point which I passed after I gave up on visiting those memorials. Instead, I chose to explore the mythic Hains Point which I've read about in other blogs. I obeyed traffic LAWS and clutched invisible pearls at the cars which did not. My mind was blown when I rode past a miniature golf course. I don't know why it seems strange and out of place for DC to have a miniature golf course, but it does. I mean, DC is about stately marble monuments and humorless politicians, lobbyists, and businesspeople. Miniature golf is completely incongruous with DC. Except, apparently, it isn't. As I pedaled along the DC-facing side of the island, I heard a bagpipe from across the water. From the National War College, I guess...? I like bagpipes from a distance. A cyclist I'd passed earlier passed me and complimented both my flowery basket and my cycling speed. I smiled and thanked him.

Virginia-facing side of Hains Point.

I wound my way back to Independence and decided that it was time to head home. I'd been riding around DC for almost five hours -- well, four-ish if you deduct my stop for an omelet and milkshake at the Diner in Adams Morgan -- and had put nearly fifteen miles on the bike. En route to the Smithsonian station, a Lexus with DC plates buzzed me. I was miffed until I saw him cut off an SUV up ahead and realized the guy behind the wheel was an equal opportunity jackhole.

Aside from getting on the New Carrollton platform and wrestling Lily up the escalator so I could get to the other platform (not recommended, by the way) and then missing the first west bound orange line train, the trip home was easy peasy. I'm looking forward to my next urban adventure where I can visit the above-mentioned memorials, the Titanic memorial, the waterfront, the Eastern Market, and all sorts of other places I've never seen in DC. I am super excited about the prospect of being able to leave the truck at home and cycling over to the Wiehle station and riding Metro into the city from Reston when phase one of the Dulles rail extension opens next year.

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