So yesterday, I decided to take advantage of the relatively good weather and go for a long ride. I got started much later in the day than I had hoped to – about noon, and was cursing as I began to get ready. Had I gotten up early, I’d have had a legitimate shot at doing a century – but I’d already decided I didn’t want to try to come back at night on the trails. In compensation, I decided to ride hard if I couldn’t ride long; I was curious to see if any of the circuit training was paying dividends on the bike. I'm also a bit nervous about a few things totally out of my control and was thus desiring complete distraction, at least for part of my day.
For the first part of the ride, I swung by the law school to get a few odds and ends from my locker. This was a very familiar ride for me (about 7 miles or so) and I have my own weaving kind of way that I follow – eventually I end up by Howard and the Reservoir, and from there it’s a straight shot down the law school. I was buzzed right before the 395 onramp; somebody decided to shift into a lane in front of me and gun his car at 40mph toward a red light. I always love those little moments of irrational anger or whatever they are. I say irrational because I may have impeded this guy on his way to a red light (no right on red) where he’d have to wait until the same moment in time, in the same order of cars, before he could begin again. Oh – and did I mention that this was a (two-lane) road – that there was no reason he had to buzz me at all? He could have just stayed in his lane. So I caught up with him at the light, as I always do. I’m afraid I was so disturbed by this behavior that I lost my balance and had to slide my hand all over the side of his car and down his windshield, which, from the cry of “What the Fuck!!” coming from the car, evidently creeped this guy out or annoyed him – poor baby. My other car moment of the day was to come much later – and I’ll mention it at the appropriate time.
I decided to take a few pictures of my ride (click for larger image). Here’s one of the law school campus – the new buildings (the two glassy ones on the left, plus the clocktower) make for a more enclosed and less industrial space. Much of DC is enamored of these large square characterless buildings.
After the campus stop I looped down by the national mall – another familiar ride. When Lyco was down in Pentagon City and I was up on the campus, I used to ride along the mall down to the Tidal Basin then over the Potomac to the Pentagon. I thought of this as my civic ride – I got to pass the Capitol, the Smithsonian, the White House, the Washington, WWII, Vietnam, Lincoln, and Jefferson memorial/monuments. It’s a ride full of happy and slow moving tourists who have their eyes trained above street level. Some are obviously pilgrims, and the National Mall is one of the few places nearly anyone in the country can come to for something, beyond the National Parks and whatever small American shrines such as birthplaces, or places where momentous events occurred that we each individually cherish (I once made a pilgrimage to the White Horse Tavern for a whiskey, in honor of Dylan Thomas).
It’s also kind of weird to realize that the Mall appropriates the nation’s great distant tragedies and local personalities, but few triumphs. And, if you think about it, numerous events that shaped the fate of world were decided upon within shouting distance of the mall. It’s sort of odd that these events aren’t also remembered in stone.
Nonetheless, there’s a very powerful sense of what it means to be American (epic, trivial, aspirational, shameful) collected within a few square miles. Having recently re-watched the dystopian “Logan’s Run” it was interesting to think that I’d be covering more ground than Logan during my day. (Logan escapes from a post-apocalyptic refuge and finds the ruins of Washington, DC. Logan’s Run, incidentally, is pretty dated but amusing nonetheless, in an over the top symbolic way.)
When I hit the end of the mall, stayed on the DC side of the Potomac and rode easterly along the river to Georgetown. In the photo, the spires are part of the main campus of Georgetown University, and the Georgetown neighborhood surrounds it. The bridge, which I crossed in high winds, is the Key Bridge (named after Francis Scott Key – another American lawyer-poet). I’ll also include a shot of the old canal in Georgetown.
After that, it was a climb through hilly Rosslyn, VA, then out along the Custis and WO+D trails into VA. Going out is more or less uphill, and plagued with strong prevailing winds and many stops for road crossings. I actually prefer state route riding in CT, even with all the hills, for you seldom need to stop and the winds are usually not impediments.
The ride (at that stage) became very disappointing – I had thought I’d made strides in the gym, and my ride through DC (downhill or level, mostly) had been strong. I wondered if I’d simply gone too hard before this leg of the trip (as I was already at 20 miles or so) and had burnt myself out. I had made a miserable attempt at a century last year along the same route in similar conditions of high winds and chilly air, and at least yesterday seemed to be warmer (I ended up cracking the skin on my thumbs without realizing it, so I guess it wasn’t that warm on the bike). The thin and steady wind seemed to suck all the life out of my ride. At times I was creeping along at 11mph – and my legs felt like lead. I kept pushing though, figuring to get a really exhausting ride if nothing else.
At mile 45 I stopped and wondered just how far I’d go given the conditions. It was getting dark, and I knew that I’d have the advantage of a tail wind and the slight downhill grade on my way back. So I could expect a somewhat easier ride, but I’d be more tired than I was at this point. The trick was when to turn back so that I could hit a metro stop by or shortly after dark (I had already determined that I wasn’t going to climb back through DC in the cold dark.)
While I was paused (eating cinnamon bun, slurping cranberry juice) I was approached by a fellow roadie, and older guy on a sweet trek. He was very curious about The Little Red Rocket, especially because I had removed all the stickers, which makes you look at the bike itself. So we talked bikes for a bit, and he complained about the wind – he normally does 20 miles out, struggling, then 20 miles back, at a pace that’s a bit too easy. He then started talking about an ideal cycling height/weight – and I think there is such a thing for a competitive, stage riding, “all-rounder.” He guessed I was 5’11” – and I replied that I was only 5’6” (although I suppose the shoes and the helmet might have added 3 inches or so.) Then he said, “Oh well, but you must weigh about 165 or so?” I replied that I weighed 145 or so, if I was wearing a fur coat that was soaking wet (I don’t have a lot of upper body weight). Undeterred he went on to say how it was difficult sometimes, to guess about riders (which is true, our legs swell when riding, and we tend to wear shapeless windbraking tops in the winter) that were young. He said that I was probably in that stage where I could still eat anything, but that things had changed for him around 25. By which I can only think that he thought I was less than 25 years old, which puts him off by around a decade, although I probably look a bit young for my actual age, especially if my hairline is covered up.
He was actually a very nice guy, but given his characterization of me, I didn’t think he was likely to be right about the huge difference in the pace. It turns out he was. When I turned about, I was creeping along at 14/15mph, enjoying some (what I thought) was level ground. My legs were not totally wiped, but I was deeply disappointed with my time and speed in general. I kept thinking – did my new gym routine and lack of actual riding for the past couple months handicap my riding so severely? I was running out of light, but I felt I could have done 100 if I had the time. Granted, it would be a very unimpressive 100, but it would be something nonetheless. As it was, I was going to have to settle for an exhausting ride, but one which didn’t rack up a lot of total miles or seem all that subjectively impressive. It runs out that temps were in the 40s and the wind ranged (by the hour) from 17, 13, 19, 14 mph from the NW (I was riding W/NW). Puff, puff.
So I turned back, figuring I’d have to stop at one of the outer orange line stops. What happened next was pretty astonishing. When I turned around and began going (slight decline instead of incline, strong tailwind instead of headwind) I was fairly rocketing along. In fact, it was tempting to just coast along huge stretches at 18mph or so after punching up to the low twenties. It was fairly easy to understand the random roadie’s complaint about working too hard out and taking it too easy on the ride in. I did, in fact, start to take it easy, figuring that I might be enjoying a second wind and that I didn’t want to burn it all out. I was passed by a guy on a high tech mountain bike (yep!). Granted, he had slicks on and huge gears and his climbing bars converted to proto-aero-bars (kind of interesting what you can assess in a flash) but it was *still* a mountain bike. So I had to keep up, and I managed to do so for about 2 miles in the low 20s. (The subjective difference between 15 and 20mph is immense.) We shot through road crossings, climbed at ridiculous speeds, aided by inertia and wind. It was fun to note the different styles, my lead was just crashing over stuff and I was threading along the pavement, weaving amongst the potholes and sand patches. Eventually, he pulled ahead, and my legs tuckered out. I caught him shortly after as he pulled off the trail to his car – he gave me that roadie nod and I kept going past him.
The ride ended after dark, at a metro rail station. I hopped on, took off my sopping gloves and headband, and proceeded to enjoy the roadie endorphin stage. The evening featured a gloriously hot shower, some reading, some snuggling with El Gato Perfecto, and eating lots and lots and lots of carbs.