So I fly in to Washington DC Tuesday on schedule. While waiting for my bag, I decided to call a local bike shop to see if they had a rental my size. They did. Big Wheel Bikes was just a couple miles from my hotel in Arlington. I made a last minute decision to pick up a bike in case any holes opened up where I could ride.
My rental car had one of those Never Lost GPS thingies in it. I punch in the address to the bike shop and after a few minutes it tells me it is recalculating. I followed the instructions precisely, or at least as best I legally could. The recalculated route had me making illegal turns. Before you knew it, I was on the DC side of the Potomac. I finally found a place to turn around, look at a map and start over. I started the same way as the first time heading up the George Washington Pkwy. I ignore the Never Lost instructions. I found the shop.
I punch in the address to my hotel and left with a Schwinn Le Tour. Never Lost guides me past the hotel, over the river into DC, then tells me to make a U-turn. Apparently there is no way to make a left at the hotel itself. Not only was it illegal at this intersection, I think you would quite certainly get creamed. So I turn left instead and follow Canal Rd. I was now trapped on the wrong side of the river again! I was livid. Now I was going to be late meeting the team at one of my company's office buildings in Arlington. Canal Rd grinds to a stop-and-go halt. There was no way to U-turn on this road either, as it hugs the river to the left with no bridges for miles. Eventually there is a side street to the right where I got turned around. Hertz should call those things FORever Lost. Totally worthless in the DC area. They just don't have things mapped out in enough detail to capture what is doable at various intersections.
We met until about 9pm. Obviously I wasn't riding any more that evening. I did bring an LED lamp. We were starting up at 9:30am the next morning. I figured I could squeeze in a quick hour before that. The company office is only a 10 minute walk from the hotel. I get up at 6:30. I didn't realize how far back daylight savings time pushed daybreak. Even at 7am, it was still very dark out. Heavy overcast didn't help.
I went out at 7am without a light. Went over the Francis Key Bridge right at the hotel to ride the Capital Crescent Trail on the other side of the Potomac. My map didn't have enough resolution to show the intricacies of how the bike route system worked in tight areas. There are bridges over bridges over bridges in places. Generally, bikes are always segregated from traffic on the paths, but you did have to know what side of the bridge to be on to go down or what level to be at to go across, etc. I got down to the dirt tow path and thought maybe I'll just ride this instead. I ride dirt all the time with my road bike back home. But I use known quantities for tubes and tires too. I didn't know what kind of tubes were in the cheap Conti tires or what pressure they were pumped up to. But I was ready to get a hard hour in, so I ramped up the intensity quickly.
I quickly encountered soft spots, loose spots, and lots of embedded rocks. It was very dark out, just light enough now to tell the difference between tow path and the canal. I nailed something very hard, nearly ripping both hands off the bar. That was close. I few seconds later, I encounter a stairway which led down to a paved path, the one I really wanted to be on. There was a narrow strip of pavement outside the stair railing I decided to ride rather than shoulder the bike down the steps. This was steep, not intended to be ridden. I immediately ran into trouble. The front tire was flat. It was too steep to stop, so I had to ride to the bottom. I was certain the tire was going to roll off the rim. It didn't.
Great, so now my ride time just got dinged. I quickly fixed it and was on may way. I must have passed hundreds of commuters coming in to the city. They all had lights on even though it was getting much lighter out now. Really cool to be in a city that gets it. I bet I was the only one out there not going anywhere but back to where I started. It was 43F. I had medium weight tights on with heavy jersey and wind shell. A lot of old guys with ripped legs wore shorts. I get to where the Capital Crescent Trail dumps out into big time urban environment and turn around. A lot of descent back to the river was to be had, maybe 200-300ft over several miles. This made a big difference in pace. Going out, I got in about a 22 minute threshold interval. Coming back, about 18 minutes. I had enough time to head back out again, which I opted to do over something more risky like venture on to another path I didn't study before hand.
Coming back from my second out and back, my legs felt quite cooked. When the path comes back down along the Potomac, it is flat, yet I was really lumbering along. I thought wow, those three intervals must have been the real deal. Then I realized that no way could a hard hour explain my sluggish performance. I looked down at my rear tire to see I was nearly riding on the rim. I would have noticed this on my own bike, but when the handling and feel is so different on a cheap rental, this just don't jump right out at me. But man, second flat in the same ride? I wonder how long it was soft. The leak seemed to be quite slow, so I tried the pump it up and pedal like crazy trick to see if I could make it the remaining two miles back. I did, barely. I thought I would be late again, but I had just enough margin to shower and make the 9:30 meeting.
The full crew spent the day going over a customer briefing. Some light was leaking through another crack in the schedule for a potential evening ride. Now the daylight savings time was working in my favor. I get back to the hotel, kit up in summer clothes (it was muggy 70F today), grab the bike only to realize I still have a flat to fix. At home I would just grab another bike.
One of my colleagues said this is us giving the rest of the world the middle finger.
This time I stayed on the Arlington side of the Potomac, rode past the Pentagon, Reagan National Airport, out towards Mount Vernon. There are bits of urban riding on this route, especially through Alexandria. Quaint town, but a zillion all-way stops had me a bit tentative. The local commuters seem to have a sixth sense through intersections and don't even lift their head to look most of the time. Gives me the willies to go 20+mph through and intersection when you can't see if anything is coming.
I went out about 12 miles on the Mount Vernon Path, far enough that I would have just enough time riding back to meet the team for dinner at 7pm. I went out at easy pace and was quite smug how fast the miles went by. I must have been riding with a 40mph tail wind. I had to kill myself to get back in time. My legs were reeling from the morning workout the way it was. What ever we were eating tonight, I certainly was going to earn it.
For a trip I thought would break one of my goals (not use a trainer all winter), I made out pretty good for one day's worth of riding. Over 53 miles in just under 3 hours. Plenty of quality intensity thrown in too. Trail users play nice with one another here. Even though the paths were crowded with riders, runners, roller bladers, stroller walkers, all sorts of users, I rarely had to slow down. All the paths have a yellow line up the middle. Most paths are wide enough for three cyclists to pass at the same point. Instead of lamenting I had to use a trainer tonight or show an altimeter profile of 14-floor stairway repeats (one of Brett Rutledge's favorite travel workouts), I got to ride a real bike outdoors. What a treat.