Guest Post: Laura's Fortnight and a Half of Fortitude

Every so often, Walloon railway workers go on strike and to demonstrate class solidarity, I cease all blogging operations. Nonetheless, the Tales From The Sharrows juggernaut must roll on and I cannot let my sympathy labor actions spoil your right to reading about someone's bicycle commute. Tonight's post is brought to you by me, but from Laura, who heeded my desperate plea. My gratitude to her, much like Wallonian discontent, knows no bounds. 

I've only been commuting by bike for like.. 3 weeks. I started building up an old Raleigh road bike  into a city bike [Editor's note: this is a sweet bike] and the weather has cooperated enough that I can test it out as I make changes. Totally realize that this could mean that it fails on me on the trail, but luckily nothing too bad. The crappy, cheap derailleur I put on it as a replacement conked out last week, but thankfully that was only 4 blocks from work. 

Enough rambling.. I work in Dupont (19/M above Chipotle, look for the huge green tear drop on the side of the building) and live in Crystal City. When I first started this commute 3 weeks ago it was hell. The hills going up to bridges wore me out and I wondered why I had even decided to do this. (Why are there so many bridges! Not even just over water but over roads and train tracks and itty-bitty waterways!) But since then I've been enjoying it more and more, and keep trying to remember that at least I'm not in a car or on the metro.

Leaving the studio I work at is always interesting - it's on a busy corner of M St, right on 19th where you never know what to expect. Sometimes there are a ton of cars and people everywhere, other times there aren't. Luckily tonight was a lighter night so off I went. I always feel like I'm going to slow when I ride on the rode, especially the busy roads like M. Normally I ride down M to where it connects with Pennsylvania Ave to loop onto the Rock Creak Park Trail. It's kind of a pain to get on the trail, the tight turns, all the people walking, all the cars. I can't wait until they get the M and L cycle-tracks/lanes in.

Riding the Rock Creek Trail is nice enough - though I always get passed by the carbon-dudes. I dress in my street clothes, don't wear a helmet half the time and peddle along at a leisurely pace. But whenever these guys pass, I always feel inadequate. Crossing in front of the Kennedy Center is always bumpy, literally. Who's idea was it to make a trail with a ton of bricks—bump bump bump. Always feel like my poor old bike is going to fall apart. This area is usually a busy thorough-fare which works when I want to peddle along slowly, but in this section all I care about is getting over the bricks.

Over the bricks, down the trail a bit more to where the volley ball fields are right before the Lincoln Memorial. I stopped here briefly to figure out my path because I wanted to try going over the Arlington Memorial Bridge instead of the 14th St Bridge. Glad I made the call - 14th St Bridge is noisy, windy and narrow in comparison. While checking my route a guy on a recumbent passed me. I don't get it. You're so low to the ground, and you take up so much room - which I found out just a bit later when I got stuck behind him. A cyclist coming the other way was almost pushed into the Parkway because his recumbent took up so much room.

Crossing the Memorial Bridge was fairly uneventful, but like I said much nicer than the 14th St. Traffic moves at a slower pace, and despite going into traffic it was a pleasant crossing into Virginia. The drivers were actually nice when I came to the crossings at GW Parkway and slowed to let me cross. Once on the Mt Vernon Trail, I proceeded to get passed by everyone on their bike as I grinned like a fool while staring over the Potomac at the monuments. I tend to take them for granted unless I see them at the right time of day, and the sun had just gone completely down, leaving a nice dusty tone in the sky.

I always pause at Gravelly Point to sit on one of the picnic tables and watch the planes. Partly because it's calming and better than sitting on the metro or in traffic, and partly because I'm still a lazy ass who needs breaks. I also like to take the time to watch the bikes, though sadly most of them were newer bikes; I really do have a place in my heart for old bikes, handle built bikes and all those lovely lugs. Yum. But I have to remind myself that not everyone cares about that stuff.

I continued on to Crystal City—traveling along MVT past the airport always presents two challenges, the smells and the oncoming traffic's lights. I've smelled pizza and chinese food (yum) but this evening it was jet fuel, which made it hard to breath. My only wish for the trails would be that they were lit. I realize this would be a big expense, but it's so difficult to see as you are biking along, right into oncoming traffic. Several times I've almost gone off the trail or ran into a ninja-runner.

The rest of my commute is pretty boring, down some hills, up some hills then along 15th St in Crystal City to home. Though I almost did get hit by some woman in an Audi who couldn't figure out 'enter' from 'exit' and decided that since there were no cars, she could just back into the road without looking for anyone else.

I'm enjoying the commute to and from work so far, and can't wait to continue full-time once the weather gets nicer. Hope to see you on the trails, say hello! :)


  1. You're right, that is a sweet bike! Happy riding :).

  2. Yay! Another Crystal City/DC commuter! Thanks for writing, Laura, and I hope to see you out there. Someday I'll be so cool as to own an old bike.

    1. Thanks Jane! Everyone has their own taste in bikes, as long as you are happy when you're riding, I think that's the important part. :) See you on the trails!

  3. I love your bike! And yeah, my teeth always knock together on that stretch in front of the Kennedy Center. Makes it hard to go fast...

  4. There is much to be said in favor of riding in street clothes. Have you heard of the Mary Poppins effect?

    1. Oh yes, and even as a cyclist and not a motorist, I can agree. I find myself relating more to cyclists in normal clothing than those decked out in spandex on speciality frames. While I might disagree with the notion that when in spandex you are only riding for leisure and not to a destination, there is definitely a note of humanity to jeans and a tshirt. What's more amusing is I've biked in jeans and sneakers and felt a bit of hostility, but when I wear dress boots and a peacoat, the driver's seem much less agressive. Could be coincidence.

  5. You have put together a very pretty bike, all decked out with racks and a sprung Brooks saddle. Very nice. Stick with the commute (unless we get a lot of snow and ice for a few days), and by the time the warm weather comes along, you will be a master at it and the overpasses and bridges won't bother you. As for the lack of lights on the trail, your would be best served by investing in a small headlight, preferably with rechargeable batteries, with a light bright enough to indicate your presence to oncoming traffic and also to light the path in front of you. The brighter the light, the faster you can ride. But it will be Spring soon, with sunset coming later, so perhaps you can make do with a smaller light for now. As a former bike commuter, all I can say is, "Keep at it." It is well worth it. Cheers. Bob