For the Love of Biking

I love riding my bicycle. I think that much is obvious. So when a ride is advertised as “celebrating life on two wheels,” You can probably assume I’m interested.

In 2016 I was. For sure. I was meeting my fiance’s friends for the first time. I was looking forward to having a ride without cars since DC traffic is inSANE. It was the inaugural event. Besides the super-early Sunday start time and a somewhat expensive but still doable entry fee, what was not to love?

2017’s bike ride was a different story. I see those same friends on the regular now with intramural softball, dodgeball, and bocce. While I’ll always feel slightly endangered on some of the streets here, I bike on the regular. The entry fee, while still doable has increased and just seems too pricey for a measly 20 mile bike ride. Granted I’m all for supporting local bike organizations and giving back to that cycling community but this was just out of proportion. And even though the ride organizers had assured everyone they had solved the bottlenecks that plagued last year’s course, I just wasn’t into it.

Then, that fiancé found out if we volunteered for two shifts at packet pick up the day before. Doing 8+ hours of handing out packets didn’t seem worth it to me. I thought sleeping in and riding the trails sounded better but I didn’t want to burst his bubble so of we went…all day.

Packet pickup was definitely improved but the overall day did not. In 2016 it was a party: artwork on display, music blaring, free key chains at REI, snacks. This year it felt dull (then again, last year I wasn’t there quite so long).

After earning our free ride, we woke up early on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, it is always nice to get out on my bike, even when it’s not, but I was not feeling it. We had a decent bike ride; however, the snacks were sparse, the route still had pointless (and dangerous) bottlenecks just so we could cross a bridge and come back the same way. That was very frustrating. What was also frustrating is how other riders didn’t move to get out of the way until an ambulance was directly behind them. Come on people.

We skedaddled out of the after-party, not wanting to spend money on food and already loaded down with all the free bike lights we could carry. I will say getting to try out my new cycling accessory was terrific: da brim. Yes I’m aware they seem a little dopey but it is perfect for sun and does alright in the rain.

Because biking is free, that’s why I love riding my bike.

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My Bicycle is a Time Machine

I got off my bike, climbed the dark staircase, stripped off my sweaty clothes, and climbed right into my sleeping bag; 20 minutes later, I started to feel my feet for the first time in two hours.

How did I end up there?

The C&O Canal Towpath, what a cool bike path. It’s a national park. It stretches for 184.5 miles. It links up to other trails so you can basically bike as far as you’d ever want to. There are free campsites along the way with water and latrines. It’s basically flat. It’s away from traffic. It’s in nature and not through the city. What else could a person want from a bike path?

A house.

There are locks all along the canal. At each lock is (or was) a house for the operator of that lock. Six can be reserved and rented out. Back in November we decided the first weekend of April is when we’d make our maiden voyage. Surely it would be warm enough by then for a nice, flat, 30 mile bike ride followed by a stay in a house without electricity or running water.

Our mistake.

Halfway there we stopped at the Visitors Center/Tavern and warmed up while we watched the welcome movies inside. My panniers were loaded with warm clothes and a sleeping bag and I was so grateful we wouldn’t be camping outside that night. We’d missed the rain but there were GALE WINDS. I’m still not 100% sure what that means because I’m a biker and not a boater but what I do know is that my weather app had a gust of wind picture on that day instead of a sun. I also know that, in an attempt to protect my feet from the wind I wrapped them in plastic bags and shoved them in my sneakers, a throwback to my childhood where there was snow but no snow boots that fit.

(Please note: while very effective at keeping my feet dry when I was little, the bags did nothing to help me with the wind as an adult. If anything they just trapped the sweat inside which was no bueno when I took the bags off.)

Anyways, we somehow eventually made it. I don’t think I’ve ever biked slower.

Once my sleeping bag warm-up was over, I put on my leggings, sweatpants, carhart socks, slippers, long-sleeve t-shirt, sweatshirt, winter hat, wrapped myself in a blanket, and headed downstairs for dinner (cold sandwiches which tasted amaaaaaazing) followed by half a dark chocolate candy bar. Yum. Then my fiancé successfully taught me how to play checkers. There we were, just two people playing checkers by lantern light until we were tired enough to go to sleep. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about that Friday night…except maybe the temperature.

Not only does this place not have electricity or plumbing, it also doesn’t have box springs. You know the old expression “sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.” While I think many people now know more about bedbugs than they ever wanted to, we were experiencing the “sleep tight” part of that saying. That’s right, our mattress was supported by ropes. There was one loose one which we never did figure out how to tighten but, it was actually surprisingly comfortable. I don’t know what people back then were complaining about (besides the disease, hard work, and lack of modern amenities, but I don’t blame those on rope beds so that’s neither here nor there).

Then again, maybe the lack of plumbing got to them. I can’t lie, when I woke up in the middle of the night and needed to pee, I glanced at the (I’m assuming decorative) chamber pot and considered the convenience but that was only for like one second…two max. (Don’t worry, I went outside.)

Lucky for us, the ride home the next day was beautiful.

Because a trip to the 1860s is a mere bike ride away, that’s why I love riding my bike.

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I Bike to Work (Even in the Winter)

Look at my options. I don’t know if you know this but I live in Washington, D.C. and parking downtown isn’t cheap. I guess I could take public transit but ANYone who has EVER been to D.C. knows why I’m not doing that. D.C. public transit is one of the main reasons I never wanted to live here. Expensive. Unreliable. Crowded. Stops running at like midnight. How is that even allowed? Top all that with a bunch of people looking 100% miserable on their way to and from work. Sounds like a great way to start and end your work day, right?

Then there’s my commute. Biking to work is amazing. I love the freedom of it. When I’m ready to leave the house, I leave. When my supervisor lets me out of work early, I don’t have a train to wait for. It wakes me up in the morning and clears my head at the end of the day. Some people will say it’s part of their workout but…I’m not exactly doing time trials so I’m not sure it “counts” but whatever.

It’s perfect really. In the fall and spring. Winter and summer can make it downright miiiiiiiiserable.

Winter Woes

  • I layer up so much I start sweating halfway through the ride;
  • When I breathe with my balaclava (facemask) on it fogs up my glasses (which I use to block the wind from my eyes) so I have to choose seeing or a covered nose;
  • I usually have a ring around my face from the balaclava for about an hour;
  • The snow-plowing efforts (or lack thereof) of the city.

Summer Struggles

  • Humidity;
  • Helmet hair;
  • Deciding on whether or not I need shorts on under my skirt, sometimes deciding I can still be ladylike without them, and subsequently flashing oncoming traffic.

I am super lucky that there is a parking garage attached to my office where I can lock up my bike. Not only that, but there are locker rooms on the main floor with showers. I’m not sure how comfortable I would be changing in front of my co-workers but desperate times and all. To be honest though, usually I just throw on some extra deodorant, change, and let it ride for the day. I think there are a lot of my co-workers who don’t even know I bike to work; who knows what they think when they see me coming and going. When they finally figure it out, they’re both incredulous and a little jealous. How could they not be when the words “single-tracking” don’t ruin my day?

Because biking to work is the antidote to zombie-commuting, that’s why I love riding my bike.