I have been commuting on my bike in Washington for more than 30 years – on the same route, riding the same bike for almost 20 years. But this epoch is coming to an end soon. Thursday, I had the perfect bike day. It was only 63 degrees when I set off, with sunshine and low humidity, so I took my camera to document the ride.
It is a total of 17 miles from my house to old USIA, which I count as the end for reasons of both tradition and practicality. Back in 2005, I started to do the one-way ride, i.e. riding to work but taking the Metro home. You can take your bike on the Metro after 7pm. When I worked in old USIA, I used the Federal Center SW Metro. I still do, since I really cannot find a place for my bike if I get on at Foggy Bottom or Smithsonian. I do not take the shortest or the faster route; I take the most pleasant one that mostly follows bike trails or quiet streets. I would say that I am lucky to live near both a Metro stop and the bike trails, but that is not true. When we bought our house in 1997, one of the most important consideration was that the house be near both the Metro and bike trails.
I will break this up into several posts, so that I do not have more than four pictures per post.
This is my Metro station with the area around under construction. It will be a nice place within a few weeks. There are already a few restaurants open and there will be a Harris Teeter. Next is way up Gallows road. Usually it is pretty clear and most cars respect the bike path. Here is where I catch the W&OD trail and next is looking down it.
Post 2 – This bridge crosses 495. My experience with commuting is atypical. I don’t think I have driven to work in Washington more than a dozen times in more than thirty years.
I mostly share the trail with runners and a lot of women pushing baby carriages.
Next is crossing Lee Highway. The most dangerous are people making right turns. MOST drivers are respectful of bikes. Things have improved a lot. There are more bikes now and drivers are better behaved, but you still need to watch.
Post 3 – The top is where I turn back onto the W&OD. This is my favorite few meters of the trail. I am not sure why. I always feel good and energetic when I hit it. There are a few miles of uninterrupted trail. The Custis Trail follows 66 on the other side. I don’t go there usually.
You pass under Wilson Ave along the side of Four Mile Creek. This stream floods with even a little rain and leaves mud on the trail side. It is not a good idea to go too fast after a rain and a very bad idea to go under when it is still raining. I tried once, hit what I thought was shallow water and almost got washed downstream, bike and all.
I continue on to the the Bluemont trail, cut left and catch up with Carlin Springs Drive. The one that goes straight is the path to FSI. The Bluemont trail goes up to … Bluemont and then you join some quiet roads.
Post 4 – This is where I start on the streets, not very busy ones generally. These little houses were built in the post-war time to house the burgeoning population of the suburbs. I like them. Many people now think that they are too small and they are being torn down and replaces by bigger ones. But that was standard middle or upper middle class housing in those years.
Next is the opening to Carlin Springs. This is probably the busiest road I go on. It is not very busy, but the cars tend to come in squirts. Last is Thomas Street. It used to be all those small houses, but they are relentlessly building apartments and condos. Crossing Glebe Road. I rarely make this light. I don’t mind. It is nice to have a short break.
Post 5 – Arlington has lots of quiet streets with big trees and riding through them is another pleasant part of the morning ride. Next is Pershing. You really cannot see on the picture, but there is a stop light at the bottom of the hill. And I know it doesn’t look very much like a hill on the picture, but it is one. If it is red when I get to the spot on the picture, I start down the hill, since it will be green when I get there. If it is green, I wait, since I don’t want to stop at the bottom of the hill just to start again. When you ride a bike, you anticipate things.
Next is Hwy 50 looking back at Pershing. This is a very long light, as much as four minutes. I almost always get caught there.
This new bike trail shown in the last picture parallels Route 50 and is a great addition. They built it only last year. I used to go through Fort Meyer, but that is closed off now. The alternative takes you miles away though not as pleasant streets. You could not go down Route 50 on a bike and expect to live very long, so you went way around. This trail takes care of the problem. Sometimes the horses are grazed near the bike trail, giving it a nice farm smell.
Post 6 – The bike trail along Route 50 is wonderful going toward Washington. It is all downhill. I usually sit up straight as I go down in order to pick up more wind resistance to slow down, since the only concern comes at the end, when you have to merge back into the street. As I wrote earlier, the biggest danger from cars comes when they turn. This is especially true when they make right turns. Drivers often just do not pay attention to bikes on the right. During rush times, traffic back up. People get sick of waiting and decide to turn right on the local roads in hopes of getting around the crush.
I cannot say anyone has come close to hitting me … yet, but I have had to be very careful and go much slower than the slope and general conditions would permit. After that, I get to pass the monuments on the Virginia side, such as Iwo Jima or the Netherlands Carillon.
Post 7 – As you come down the hill, you get a good look at Washington. It is a beautiful city. An unpleasant stray thought crossed my mind as I came down that hill. We think of wars as things that happen elsewhere or maybe not again, but this is fantasy. At some time, Washington might suffer the fate of Berlin or Warsaw, or maybe it will just be neglected and fall into ruin, like those many in the Middle East after the fall of the Roman Empire.
Washington is not a natural site for a big city. It is not like New York, Istanbul or London, which are prominent place where you would naturally locate a city. If Washington stopped being a political center, it would decline. Too heavy a thought for a bike rider. I ride around Arlington Cemetery, cross Memorial Bridge and come out past Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington.
Post 8 – This is my current place of work at Smithsonian. That little building is the Ripley Center, portal to a vast subterranean complex that houses my office, among other things. Were I to borrow up, like in the Shawshank Redemption, I would come up in the garden. Across the street are pictured the Capitol Mall and Earth Day Park.
Post 9 – I don’t go there anymore but I thought I should include the old USIA. Old USIA is now SA 44 (State Annex 44). I spent more of my career associated with this building so it still seems like home. The neighborhood has improved a lot since I started here. They put in a completely new garden like area with elm trees. This used to be a surface parking area. the picture with the trees is along Constitution Avenue and finally is new construction along the waterfront.
Post 10 – This completes my set on my bike Odyssey. Riding my bike to work has been one of the most consistent parts of my work life. Through changes in jobs, offices, success & failure, the biking has stayed more or less the same. I ride from March to November, so I get to see the changes of three seasons. I arrive at work in much better shape than if I were to drive or when I take the Metro. You get a chance to think when you are riding and the cardio exercise keeps your brain fed with oxygen. By the time I get to the office, I have worked through many of the problems I will face. Beyond that is the sublime experience of mixing your effort with the peace of nature and the changes of the days and the seasons.
Different parts of the evoke memories of thoughts past. I understand that thoughts gestate but they sometimes come out as epiphanies and for me they are most likely to do this when I am on the trails. Biking in the morning calm is conducive to this as nothing else. For my first twenty years, I rode both ways. Going back is harder than going to work, since it is more uphill and I am tired at the end of the day. Then I discovered that I could take the Metro back. You can take your bike on the Metro after 7pm. This was great for a couple reasons. For one, it extended my bike season. The gathering darkness used to stop me in late September. If I do not need to worry about the dark, I can ride through middle November.
It is sad to think that this will soon come to an end. It will be almost like the ending of a long and happy relationship.