Mapping BikeDC: Photos from the Nation’s Capital

The BikeDC Flickr map displaying photos tagged BikeDC from around the city.
The BikeDC Flickr map displaying photos tagged BikeDC from around the city.

What does biking look like in Washington, DC? Find out with the new BikeDC Flickr map created by Michael Schade.

It’s a heat map of Flickr photos of bikes and bicyclists in DC. Areas with the most photos glow red while those with none are gray. See the favorite spots for pictures of bikes, taken by people on bikes, and ponder the empty quarters of the city. Zoom in to find your favorite trail and zoom out to see an overview of  the Washington region.

How it works

When you take a photo on your iPhone, location data is captured. If you upload it to Flickr, that geolocation is included, joining a worldwide map of photos auto-generated by this online service.

Another little-known feature of Flickr is the ability to tag photos with keywords. Doing so helps you and others find your photos.

To build his map of biking in DC, Michael used Flickr’s map and limited it to photos tagged with the BikeDC keyword.

Surprises

The BikeDC Flickr map corresponds neatly with the Strava heat map of biking in DC. Most biking occurs in the Northwest section of the city. People go on bikes go to their jobs downtown and then on the trails during the weekends. Still, there are surprises in the data.

Anacostia Trail – why so few riders? This gorgeous new trail follows the Anacostia upstream by Kenilworth Gardens and the Bladensburg battlefield.

No one bikes to H St? After wrecking on the trolley tracks, I’m not a fan of biking to this neighborhood. But I know people do.

The Metropolitan Branch Trail is underrepresented. This urban trail is lined with beautiful murals and is an active commuter route. It needs photos!

BikeDC really loves Dupont Circle. It’s a convenient meeting spot and where the DC Bike Party starts so it’s a flaming red hot spot.

15th and P – en fuego! Okay, this is my fault. I’m a prime contributor to BikeDC photos and this is my neighborhood. I take a lot of photos of the 15th St bike lane, especially when the Awesome Foundation cheered on bike commuters.

Cyclecross in the City – BikeDC doesn’t just happen on the roads. If you pan up to Park View, you’ll see a bunch of pictures from DC Cyclocross, where city cyclists go off-road at the Old Soldiers Home.

BikeDC is just not DC – The BikeDC photo blob extends across the river, following the Arlington loop of bike trails as well as extending south to Alexandria and north to Silver Spring, MD.

How you can help

Got a favorite bike spot that you don’t see on the BikeDC Flickr map? Know a neighborhood or trail that’s underrepresented? Upload your photos to Flickr. Make sure that your pictures include location info (if not you can add it in the Organizer) and tag them with the keyword BikeDC. Help build a pictorial representation of biking in the city.

If you have questions about the map, contact Michael Schade. He generously created this project on his own time. It’s still a work-in-progress but demonstrates the breadth of BikeDC across the city and beyond.

En La Florida

SunRail in Winter Park

Bathed in light, I watched the cutest little bit of stimulus money creep into the green environs of Winter Park, FL. The station is tiny, and families waited along the palm tree-lined track to catch the three cars of the SunRail train. The destination was Orlando, five miles away. Driving (or even biking) would’ve been faster but this was some cheap fun for bored children a couple days after Christmas.

Kids love trains, as do most adults though they dismiss them as impractical. But if trains ran more often, and to more places, they would be practical.

Instead, we build roads. Near where my parents live, the state built a flyover at a suburban intersection, allowing traffic to soar on a concrete ramp twenty feet in the air, going from Red Bug Road to 436, one of those six-lane highways lined with fast food joints and gas stations that could be anywhere in America. In a car, you wait for the light to change, go under the massive flyover and then run into another traffic light.

After watching the train disappear into the verdant flatness of Florida, I drove to my favorite hipster coffee joint. I love how Orange Avenue meanders between Winter Park and Orlando, winding around lakes and passing lingering bits of Old Florida. Along the way is Foxtail Coffee, which makes a great cappuccino and has an outdoor seating area with fake grass and real palm trees. Next door, there’s a place for tiny, tortured salads and a local brewery. It’s about as Portlandia as Florida gets.

Foxtail is nine miles from parents’ place. Easily bikeable, where it not for the presence of six-lane roads like 436. The Google bike directions send you through the flyover.

In Orlando, people bike in subdivisions or they bike on trails but they don’t bike on roads, especially ones like 436. You don’t even see people walking along these suburban corridors.

There’s a tendency to think that this is the natural state of things, as if God ordained the car and America built a network of highways in response to his word.

I watched Secrets of Spanish Florida with the family. American history doesn’t begin with Jamestown but with St. Augustine in 1565, where Spain established a melting-pot colony of Europeans, Indians and escaped slaves. The first Americans were not Puritans, and the first Thanksgiving was not in Massachusetts. By the time the English got to America, the Spanish had been living here for decades. In La Florida, citizenship was available to all, no matter your race.

Perhaps if the Spanish remained in control, Florida would look like Spain, with high-speed trains and excellent ham.

Florida doesn’t have to be a place where retirees go to escape taxation. It can be different. America can be different, too.

Photos from 3000 miles of biking

Last year, I biked a little less than 2000 miles. More than I had ever done before but I was a little disappointed in myself, seeing the mileage number at 1948 or so in Strava. So close!

In 2017, I vowed to do better, shooting for 2500 miles. I passed that in September then kept on going, breaking through the 3000 mile mark in November.

For people who don’t bike, 3000 miles will seem unfathomable, like biking across the country. My bike commuter friends will look at 3000 miles and think, “I did that over the summer.”

For me, it’s not about the miles. It’s about the experience. It’s about going someplace new, drinking coffee and taking lots of photos – that’s what biking is about for me.

Biking a century (100 miles) was the highlight of the year, riding to the end of the WO& D Trail in Purcellville and learning that you can’t eat enough on a long ride.

While most of my rides were around DC, I also participated in Bike to Work Day in Savannah, cruised around New Smyrna Beach in Florida and visited Asheville twice, stopping at New Belgium Brewery both times.

My ten-year-old Specialized Sirrus faithfully carried me on all these adventures, a bike that just refuses to quit. Most of routine city riding was done on Capital Bikeshare. In 2017, I also tried out a Brompton folding bike, sampled the junky new dockless bikeshare bikes and rocketed down a trail on a JUMP electric bike.

Here are highlights from 3000 miles of biking!

Unshaven on Ross Drive

The Field School bus

Ed and Ricky - with cake!

Mellowdrome in Asheville, NC

Foggy morning for bikeshare

Northeast Branch Trail

my bike on the CCT

made it! the end of the trail

Flannery O'Connor Free Library

John on a cruiser

made it! Peters Point

Rachel is behind the handlebars and ready to roll, off to do battle with bureaucracies and bad drivers #bikedc

steep!

cleanest, nicest alley in DC is off U St

beer for better biking

deep crossing in Holmes Run

sad to say goodbye to this bike

Resist/Persist

Lake Anne in Reston

90 degree turn + slippery boardwalk = crash

Trump Chicken rules the roost in DC

I'm at New Belgium. Again.

everyone bikes - even Juggalos

Biking back to DC from Great Falls

Kitty at the Capitol

this could be a millennial-themed ad

Looking sexy as hell, DC Bike Party

Sharrows has all the WABA socks

free trailside coffee from WABA!

JUMP pedal-assist electric bike

Nelle is outgoing

Sam and Rudi

Look out, Limey!

MPD blocks the bike lane at 15th and K

My old Specialized Sirrus

Biked to Port City!

Lessons from a Biking Birthday Century

a cathedral of trees

I hate my birthday – it’s a reminder that I’m getting old. Rather than stewing in annual misery, I decided to do something about it. My birthday would be the perfect opportunity to bike a century (100 miles). A Birthday Century!

I’m a city cyclist. A typical ride for me is a Sunday jaunt around DC, with a requisite stop for coffee. Decidedly not a MAMIL (a middle-aged man in lycra), I don’t have clip-in pedals, bike shoes, a trip computer or any of the other accoutrements of the serious cyclist.

Instead, I have a ten-year old Specialized Sirrus that I call Bikey.

With little more planning than filling up a water bottle, I set off early on May 31. Destination: the end of the WO&D Trail in Purcellville.

A hundred miles provides a lot of time to think. Here’s what I learned along the way:

BikeDC is a Rolling Community

I like Best Buns. I cannot lie. With hours of biking ahead of me, I decided to fuel up with a massive pastry from this Shirlington bakery.

Rolling up after crossing the river from DC, I saw bikes and a couple of bike people that I recognized.

It was the Hump Day Coffee Club, a meetup of Northern Virginia cyclists. There are coffee clubs around the region, including a Friday Coffee Club that I occasionally attend at A Baked Joint. It’s a chance to meet other bike riders, swap notes about commuting routes and plan future rides.

I proudly told them of my plan to bike to the end of the WO&D, as if I was Magellan about to set out into the unknown. One of the coffee klatch casually tossed out that she had done the whole trail herself, on a whim, when she got a new road bike for her 60th birthday.

Suitably shamed/impressed, I set out from Shirlington, following Four Mile Run until it connected to the WO&D Trail. A long day of biking stretched ahead. Twenty miles later, as I biked through Reston, I heard a shout. It was one of the coffee club members, passing me, with a friendly hello.

As I rode my century, I tweeted and shared photos using #abirthdaycentury. In return, I received suggestions and encouragement from other #BikeDC cyclists on Twitter and Instagram. Though I might find myself in a dark wood, in the middle of my journey (like Dante), I never felt alone because of the BikeDC community. Instead, I felt like I was part of a small town on wheels, a rolling community of cyclists that exists on streets, trails and in cyberspace.

Eat, Eat, Eat

My plan was to get as far down the trail as possible without stopping. I knew that each time you stop, it’s harder to get back on. So, I kept going, the towns going by every few miles – Falls Church, Vienna, Reston, Herndon, Ashburn.

I reached Leesburg around noon. Eat here or keeping going to Purcellville? I had packed a single Clif bar so I ate that, before beginning a four mile ascent through Clark’s Gap and over the low range of green hills that I’d been watching since Reston.

Long climb to Purcellville

The elevation profile tells the story. Doesn’t seem a lot but it was enough to wipe me out. This was the hardest part of the ride, 45 miles in and a climb to the highest point on the trail on an empty stomach.

You really cannot eat enough on a long bike ride. During the day, I ate:

  • Massive muffin (Shirlington)
  • Clif bar (Leesburg)
  • Burger and fries (Purcellville)
  • Smoothie (Herndon)
  • Clif bar (Vienna)

But this was not enough. I could’ve fit in a whole other meal and not been satisfied.

Never(mind) the Weather

I felt sense a tremendous sense of accomplishment seeing the end of the trail and the iconic Purcellville train station, photos of which I had seen in the Instagram feeds of countless #BikeDC friends. Now I had joined them.

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55 miles done. I just needed to get back. Thankfully, it was mostly downhill, providing me the opportunity to enjoy a gorgeous ride through the woods back to Leesburg.

Then I went back through the towns I had passed earlier, like a film being rewinded. Leesburg, Ashburn, Herndon. Local biking legend Mr T in DC suggested on Twitter that I stop for a smoothie at Green Lizard Cycling so I did. It was delicious but I needed more food.

The day before, Northern Virginia had been hit by a line of severe weather, possibly including a tornado. More storms were expected. As I biked back, I noticed the puffy clouds gathering behind me, chasing me back to DC.

Rolling into Vienna (almost home!), the skies grew dark and I felt the first patter of rain. I decided to duck into Whole Foods as a thunderstorm swept the region. I bought some Clif bars and waited for the storm to pass. It was a big one, with hail in Reston (which I had just gone through).

Rain won’t kill you. But lightning will. You should respect the weather. After the rain was mostly done, I resumed my journey on a jet-black trail with steam rising off it.

Gear Matters

I was going to write that gear doesn’t matter. After all, I did a 105 miles on an outdated hybrid bike with an even more outdated human.

But gear does matter. Without padded bike shorts, I wouldn’t have been able to spend all day in the saddle. A bike jersey with a ventilating zipper kept me cool in the stuffy weather. Gloves enabled me to hold on to handlebars slick with rain.

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Riding back after the storm, my backside grew damp, as my wheels kicked up water and grit from the trail. Fenders! Why don’t I have fenders? And as much I love Bikey, a road bike or even a newer hybrid would’ve made the century faster and in more comfort.

Gear matters. Of course, you can bike without bike shorts, a jersey, gloves or, hell, even a water bottle but those basics make biking easier.

I took the Custis Trail back into DC, a roller coaster ride, going up and down overpasses all the way into the city. I was hungry, and moving, flying down the descents as the sun emerged over the Washington Monument.

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I wanted to get a picture in front of the White House but, of course, the Secret Service had it blocked off. I settled for a photo from behind the yellow tape. Welcome back to the security theater of Washington, DC.

105.1 miles in nine and a half hours, according to Strava. But numbers don’t tell the true story of a Birthday Century. It wasn’t the miles biked or the hours in the saddle that was important. Instead, like any journey, it’s the lessons learned along the way.

Canon G9 X Update: Love This Little Camera

Sometimes, you don’t want to shoulder the DSLR. But you want something that’s better than the iPhone. The Canon G9 X is ideal for this kind of everyday shooting.

Saturday was a day that began in ice but ended with dry roads and blue skies. Once the melting began, I hopped on Capital Bikeshare and headed for Hains Point. Popular with area cyclists, it’s a peninsula that juts out into the Potomac. People like to ride loops around the park. But on Saturday, with a good chunk of the region still dealing with icy roads, the park was deserted.

In the pocket of my jacket, I stuck my Canon G9 X. I’ve been really happy with this purchase. It’s the perfect camera for my photographic adventures, featuring the ability to take great photos – and it do it with a camera that’s not much bigger than an iPhone. You can even shoot one-handed with it. I did so while pedaling on my bike, which is something you can’t do with a DSLR.

It has its weaknesses, of course. No camera is perfect. It lacks a big zoom and the quality of the photos are DSLR-like but will never be as good as a DSLR with a big piece of glass mounted on it.

But, as the camera you stick in your pocket as you head out the door – the Canon G9 X is absolutely perfect for that, offering the ability to take lots of great photos with a convenient and easy-to-use camera. I’ve grown to love this little camera.

Photos from Saturday’s adventure with the Canon G9 X!

reflections on the Potomac River

the graceful lines of East Potomac Park

glowing sun over National Airport

Took this photo with one hand, while biking.

Bikeshare at Hains Point

between the bridges

 

Biking the NCR Trail

flags in Parkton

I’m a Brand Ambassador for Enterprise CarShare. In return for sharing my photos, I get three free trips from the carsharing service. For my first trip, I went on a lovely loop around western Maryland, including a stop in Shepherdstown.

For my second trip, I returned to Maryland but this time went north, to Monkton, and the Northern Central Railroad Trail (NCR). Loading up my Specialized Sirrus in the back of a Nissan Rogue, I got an early start on a very steamy Sunday.

A couple hours later, I was in Monkton Station, the most scenic starting point on the trail – and the most crowded. Parking restrictions meant that I had to park a couple blocks away, on a side street. But I had a bike so it didn’t matter to me. I rolled over the bridge and onto the trail.

Monkton Station
Monkton Station on the NCR Trail is a popular spot for biking, hiking and tubing.

And into the mud. Epic rains had hit the night before, flooding the nearby town of Ellicott City. The trail had some big puddles and some muddy patches to traverse. There was even a tree down. My Specialized Sirrus is an older model with skinny tires. It got wobbly at times passing through the mud.

NCR Trail
NCR Trail has a crushed stone surface with some muddy patches.
Gunpowder River
Gunpowder River

The trail follows the Gunpowder River upstream. It’s an incline that I only noticed by the amount I was sweating. Trail amenities (like water) are sparse once you get north of Monkton. It’s a pleasant ride through the woods with a river for company. Lots of runners on the trail, utilizing several access points along the NCR.

A dozen miles in, and I was about out of water. But, by then, I was really close to the Mason-Dixon Line, so I kept going for the photo-op. Pretty cool to pass over the line and then cross into another state.

Bike at the Mason-Dixon Line
Made it to the Mason-Dixon!

At the Pennsylvania border, the trail becomes the York Heritage Trail as it rolls into New Freedom. What a cute trail town! Reminded me of the towns along the WO&D except this one had a real steam engine plying the rails. I had lunch and waited for my friend Bob, who started later, and caught up with me at the trailside cafe in town.

Steam engine in New Freedom
A working steam train in New Freedom.
Me in New Freedom, PA
I did not visit the Party Caboose.

On the way back, most of the mud had dried, so we flew downhill. Bob exited at Parkton, which had a very cool stone bridge and a former bank that had been turned into a private residence.

There was a slight uphill portion getting back to Monkton. I passed people carrying tubes along the trail. They put in the river upstream and float down to Monkton. It was a long walk for them – at least a mile. After hours in the muggy heat, I was ready to get home.

Tubers and bikes in Monkton
Carrying tubes upstream at Monkton.

In the morning, there had just been a couple cars on the side street where I parked. When I returned in the afternoon, cars were everywhere and there was a tow truck on the street. Time to leave. My bike was covered in soft sand and mud. I put it in the back of the Rogue and took off.

The NCR Trail is a beautiful woodsy trail – but the Heritage Trail in Pennsylvania looks even nicer. I hear there’s ice cream along the trail, too. That’s my kind of bike ride. Looking forward to going back to New Freedom and riding it north to York.

Del Ray Ramble: Going Back for Biscuits

I'm in historic, sweaty Del Ray.
I’m in historic, sweaty Del Ray.

Record heat is predicted this weekend. But last weekend was plenty hot for me, so I got my biking in early Sunday morning.

I was up at 7 and out the door not too long after. Sunday morning is the best time to bike in DC, with very little traffic in the city and before the tourists arrive. I cruised over the Memorial Bridge and on to the Mount Vernon Trail. Destination: Alexandria.

Approaching the boardwalk on Daingerfield Island, a cyclist going the opposite way shouted an incoherent warning to me. Wonder what that was about?

Then I saw:

Tree down on the Mt Vernon Trail at Daingerfield Island.
Tree down on the Mt Vernon Trail at Daingerfield Island.

There had been a storm overnight, leaving a massive tree branch across the trail. The bridge was damaged – chunks were missing from it and debris was scattered everywhere. I walked my bike through this mess, stepping over the missing boards.

After having coffee at the Starbucks in Old Town, I decided to take a different route home, to avoid the tree across the trail.

From Strava: detail of route.
From Strava: detail of route.

Cameron makes a nice alternative to King Street, a low-traffic route that led me up from the river and to the Potomac Yards Trail, which parallels the train tracks into DC. I followed this new trail for about a mile before detouring into Del Ray on Monroe Av.

There, I passed a beautiful-looking Swing’s Coffee across from a park – that’s where I should’ve had breakfast! I filed that way for next time.

Making a right on Mount Vernon (the avenue, not the trail), I idled through Del Ray. It’s like hipster Alexandria. It was early but there was a line to get in to a place called Stomping Grounds. If only I knew they had biscuits! Another place filed away for next time.

My bike in historic Del Ray.
My bike in historic Del Ray.

Mount Vernon takes you back to Four Mile Run. Along the way, I passed this bus, which I found very interesting. Traveling the country in a rolling coffee house – that sounds like a dream.

Bus owned by Cllegro Coffee Company.
Bus owned by Allegro Coffee Company.

Rather than take Four Mile Run to the Mount Vernon Trail, I went through Crystal City, stopping to take in this spooky bit of art near some new apartments off Route 1.

eyes watching you
eyes watching you

Then I got back on the Mt Vernon Trail and returned to DC, just as buses began disgorging hordes of tourists at the Lincoln Memorial. The day only got hotter after that. Glad that I got in my Del Ray ramble early.

I’m going back for biscuits.

The Year of the Capital Weather Gang

2015 was the perfect storm, in which my love of digital photography met the opportunity to be featured in the Capital Weather Gang. I was already wandering around the city taking photos so why not submit them to the Washington Post’s weather blog? By the end of the year, my photos were appearing about once a week on the site.

Here are some of my favorite CWG photos, along with notes about how, when and where they were created.

A little bit of color on a snowy day on Rhode Island Av

This photo was featured in a roundup of snow photos in February. It was one of the first photos I took with the iPhone 6 and it stunned me. There is such a qualitative leap from the iPhone 5 to 6. The 6 is so good that it’s become tough for me to distinguish DSLR shots from iPhone 6 shots. Especially when you get soft, bright light like under an overcast sky with fresh snow. I kept taking photos until my hands froze.

15th St Cycletrack is now a tulip-track

While we didn’t get much snow, it was a very long and cold winter, the year of the polar vortex. When spring finally arrived, I had tulipmania. Everywhere you looked, flowers were blooming, like this photo I captured for an April CWG forecast. Landscape photos look better with people in them so I waited until someone biked by on 15th Street – this is just a block from the Washington Post building.

Bikeshare, tulips an the Capitol

And more flowers and bikes on the following day.  

Look out - mutant spores along the cycletrack #bikedc #pollen #igdc

You tend to return to the same spot for pictures, like this photo from May. I like this spot along the cycletrack, especially when flowers are in the foreground.

One interesting sidewalk sale #igdc #dc #dupontcircle

This Instagram photo from May is one of those moments that you never forget. It was a Saturday and I was returning from Glen’s Garden Market. I was on my bike and had a six-pack of beer in my backpack. I passed this cinematic scene on 19th Street and turned around and came back to get a picture of it. The faded brick, the overgrown vegetation, the funky yard sale – it’s everything I like about city life in one photo.    

CCT detour in Georgetown

I take a lot of pictures of bikes. Most of my CWG photos were taken either while running or biking around the city, like this photo from June.  It’s from the end of the Capital Crescent Trail in Georgetown.

Silver Spring on a blue sky day

Little-known fact: I work for the National Weather Service. (Ironic/fitting that I have so many photos in CWG? A little of both.) I’m a contractor in Silver Spring. I am not a meteorologist nor do I play one on TV. This is from the 18th floor of NOAA Building 2, looking toward the Discovery building, on a very hot day in July.

Wilson Bridge

I don’t take a lot of black and white but, when I do, it’s architecture, like this photo of the Wilson Bridge from September.

Cyclist on Pennsylvania Avenue

It was a long and lingering fall, starting in mid-October and stretching nearly to the end of the year. This is the car-free 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, home to you know who.

Key Bridge on a mild Veterans Day

This is a non-iPhone photo. Can you tell? Late in the year, I got a deal on a refurbished Canon Rebel SL1 and took this photo of the Key Bridge in November. The camera can do things the iPhone can’t, like zoom, it’s sharper, better exposure, etc… but it can’t fit in my pocket.

December cherry bossoms

I have a rival. It’s Mary Gersemalina, the Coffeeneur! When she’s not organizing bike/coffee challenges, she runs and bikes around the city taking photos. Her trademark is something I can’t do: jumping. For a while toward the end of the year, Capital Weather Gang was the Joe and Mary show, with one of the other of us every week. After she posted a photo of blooming blossoms by the Washington Monument, I took this Canon SL1 photo of cherry blossoms in December.

I’ve been asked more than once: do you get paid for your shots? I do not. Then why do I do it? I enjoy wandering the city and taking photos. I’m doing that no matter what. Submitting the photos to Capital Weather Gang is easy to do via Flickr. And I like seeing my photos in the (online) paper.

Also, I enjoy sharing my view of the city. I want to show people that there’s a Washington beyond the monuments.

There’s a lot of bikes in my photos. You take photos of what you enjoy. DC is a city that bikes – from tourists tottering on red Capital Bikeshare bikes to the flood of commuters down the 15th Street cycletrack every morning. BikeDC we call it, a two-wheeled community of people who bike. I’m happy to create images that share this community with the readers of the Washington Post. And I plan on continuing to do so in 2016. Here’s to the new year!

The Joy of (Not) Driving

rental car, AspensFor someone who doesn’t own a car, I do like driving. There’s nothing I like more than a long road trip, especially one out west. Over the summer, I flew out to Colorado and then spent a week driving around, taking in hip Denver neighborhoods, the majesty of Rocky Mountain National Park and the wide open spaces of Wyoming.

The previous summer, I started in Las Vegas and did the drive of a lifetime, cruising down Highway 12 in Utah, enjoying red rock deserts and serpentine descents down black asphalt without another car in sight.

A few years before that, I rented a car in DC, drove over the green Appalachians and kept going, across the deep South, through a Texas blighted by drought and then up through New Mexico before returning via the endless prairies of Kansas.

There is something uniquely American about taking a road trip. It’s the experience of being the only car on the road, two lanes stretching to the horizon under a bright sky empty of clouds. Of driving beyond the FM signal, where you only have scratchy AM radio filled with preachers promising damnation. Of stopping in a small town somewhere, to hear your tires crunching under gravel.

IMG_9042.jpg

Every year, I drive down to Florida for the holidays. I love it. Thirteen hours of drinking coffee and listening to NPR. I have it down to a science – I leave on Sunday mornings (little traffic) and spend the night at a super-quiet Residence Inn outside Savannah. The next morning, I leave early, get to Florida, detour off I-95 to Jax Beach or Ormond Beach, then head on to my parents place in Orlando.

In Florida, people without cars are regarded as freaks. You assume they’re homeless – why are they walking? Biking is done on trails or sidewalks. Without a car, I wouldn’t even be able to get out of the vast subdivision where my parents live.

Over the Xmas break, I had a ton of fun driving. I went to the beach, explored new neighborhoods and went to my favorite Cuban place (twice).

Cuban sandwich

And seeing how cheap gas was – $1.65 a gallon! – I began to think, “Wouldn’t it be fun to have a car?”

For someone who doesn't own a car, I do like driving, especially when the gas is this cheap. Was having loads of fun until I entered the leviathan road sprawl of our nation's capital. 60 miles of stop and go traffic on I-95 reminded me how much I hate dri

I thought that way until I reached Richmond on the way back. Sixty miles of stop-and-go traffic, from exit to exit, accelerating and braking, three lanes of cars inching toward DC. An ambulance roared by on the shoulder. WTOP reported a gang of ATV riders terrorizing drivers on the Beltway. They had stopped traffic and were setting fires.

After Springfield, traffic accelerated again, a mad rush into the city, sixty miles an hour, cars on one side, concrete barriers on the other. With a massive thump as I hit a pothole, I crossed the bridge into the city. A homeless man limped toward me at a light. I paused to let pedestrians cross and the driver behind me yelled, “Fuck you!” Ah, yes, the traditional greeting to the city.

I watched the car disappear at Avis, leaving me on the sidewalk with my foldy bike. This feeling of relief as you get rid of a car – there needs to be a word for it. Freedom, I suppose. On the bike, I knew I could cruise up to Whole Foods and get dinner. Or go to the Greek place at Dupont. Or go down to the Mall. In a car, I’d have to navigate one-way streets, traffic and where would I park the damn thing? The ability to go anywhere is why a bike is freedom in DC.

Foldy bike at the Lincoln Memorial

Outside the leviathan sprawl of our nation’s capital, I am happy to drive. Within the DC metro region, however, I bike. It’s fast, easy and fun. Driving is none of those things in DC. I’ll save my driving for the wide open roads of the West.

Sunday afternoon bike ramble in Alexandria

Sunday afternoon ramble

Lately, I’ve taken to rambling bike rides in Virginia. I like crossing the Potomac. Like my coffeeneuring friend Mary G., I enjoy looking at the river. It’s more than just open space in the city – it’s a bright, blue, cheerful respite from trees turning brown everywhere.

I don’t bike too far on my rambles – twenty miles or so. And they have a casual aspect to them that makes using Strava a bit of a joke. Average speed: 10 miles an hour, thanks to frequent stops to backtrack, eat cupcakes, get lost and take photos.

Sunday afternoon is a great time to bike, too. There’s hardly any traffic in DC and, if the weather’s the least bit cool, the trails are largely free of other cyclists and runners. I like exploring new places.

I don’t know much about Del Ray in Alexandria so set out there. I biked over the 14th St Bridge (the Memorial Bridge is closed to traffic) and then to Crystal City, for a mediocre slice of pizza, then rolled through Del Ray on Monument Avenue. It’s a cute neighborhood that has somehow managed to avoid complete gentrification.

I wanted coffee (always be coffeeneuring) but didn’t see any place in Del Ray so, after getting lost for a bit, made a left down King Street and another left on Royal. A cop car at a stop sign freaked me out – was he going to give me a ticket for failing to completely stop with my foot down? But the car was empty, fortunately.

One pretty cupcake. Seems a shame to eat it. #IGDC #lifeiswanderfood

Royal led me to the Mount Vernon Trail Alternate, which I knew would take me right by Buzz Bakeshop. Buzz! The coffee is decent and the cupcakes are photogenic as hell.

Afterwards, I got lost in the development north of Buzz, wondering if it connected back to the Mount Vernon Trail. It doesn’t (I didn’t believe the No Outlet sign). I went back to the MVT and then around the makeshift cyclecross trail that the National Park Service has established around National Airport.

Then I zipped home before the early winter sunset caught me.

Trail closed detour

Why am I exploring Virginia? Part of me wonders: could I live there? I like DC but I envy those MVT commuters. And it would be so much fun to live near the WO&D Trail.

Northern Virginia seems bike-friendly, from the perspective of a Sunday afternoon trail rider. What it’s like during the week?