May 15 was Bike to Work Day, a nationwide celebration of bicycling as a clean, fun, and healthy way to get to work.
It’s a huge event in DC, with 79 pit stops around the region to receive refreshments, swag and a free commemorative t-shirt! I had shirts from the past three years – no way was I going to break my streak.
One problem: I was scheduled to fly out of National Airport at 8:35 AM. Could I attend Bike to Work Day and make it to the airport in time for my flight?
I was determined to find out. And I would do it by bike (of course).
That meant taking a backpack. Can’t exactly bike with a suitcase. But I was going to Florida so didn’t need much more than shorts and a swimsuit. And a Kindle. And sunscreen.
I prefer to travel light, anyway. Who wants to check a bag, pay a fee and then have to wait for it when you reach your destination? Not me.
Bike to Work Day dawned with perfect weather – sunny and in the low 60s. I hoisted my backpack, hopped on my Specialized Sirrus and hurried down the 15th Street Cycletrack.
My Bike to Work Day pit stop was Freedom Plaza. Located at 14th and Pennsylvania, it’s a great open-air plaza where you can see the Capitol in the distance. I got there about 6:45; they weren’t scheduled to open until 7. Pretty sure I got the first t-shirt issued – they had to open one of the boxes for me.
I made a quick walk around the plaza. WABA was there, ready to advocate for biking in DC. Whole Foods was passing out granola bars and bananas. Riide Bikes offered me a test ride on an electric bike. Sadly, I had to decline – I had a plane to catch!
It’s a lovely ride to the airport. I went around the Ellipse, looped around the Lincoln Memorial, crossed the Memorial Bridge and then rode down the Mount Vernon Trail as bike commuters headed the other direction into DC.
Twenty minutes later, I was at National. It’s very easy – you just veer left off the trail as it goes by the airport. Then follow the service road to USAIR baggage claim. I rolled my bike into the airport – no one paid me any attention – up the elevator and across the pedestrian bridge to the Metro. Around the right of the Metro entrance are a couple of bike racks.
And I mean a couple – just two, which were already occupied with bikes. I couldn’t squeeze my bike in there so locked it to a fence instead.
After going through security, I was at my gate with a good thirty minutes to spare. Biking to the airport is so easy that I’m surprised more people don’t do it. Good thing they don’t – DCA doesn’t have enough bike racks. And it would be nice if they had someplace a little more secure than some racks by the Metro.
But even better than biking to the airport is biking home. By doing so you miss the worst of the airport experience – luggage and taxis. My packed flight from Florida arrived Sunday night. While everyone trooped downstairs to wait for their bags, I headed for my bike. I wheeled by passengers plaintively staring at the carousel. Then I passed a line of broken-down cabs waiting to gouge people desperate to get home.
The Mount Vernon Trail was dark and buggy and gorgeous. There were plenty of people out. Kids clustered at Gravelly Point to watch planes land. Joggers huffed and puffed. I passed a couple of women on a long-haul excursion, their bikes loaded with panniers and lit up like Christmas trees.
It’s a good thing that I know the Mount Vernon Trail like the back of my hand because there are no lights on it. I might’ve ended up in the Potomac if I didn’t know where I was going. The headlight on the front of my bike seemed inadequate for the task.
I was glad to reach the streetlights of Memorial Bridge. I stopped at the Jefferson Memorial. It was calm and quiet, with just a few school groups climbing the steps. I took my time coming home.