Oh, hello there. I've farmed out this post due to [important current event of significant global consequence] that has taken me away from my daily nightly activity of blogging my ride home. Apparently, the only way that [name of world leader] can resolve it is by relying on the wit and wisdom of a bike commute blogger. In short, we're doomed. Or maybe I just had class. Either way. I'd like to thank Rudi for his generosity in supplying tonight's post and I wish him well in his return to bike commuting after an injury and some time off. I know that if I couldn't bike commute for a while, I'd probably go crazy. I'd start blogging Tales From the Refrigerator and you'd learn far too much about the some of the condiments I own. It wouldn't be pretty. And what does one say about soy sauce after a while? It's soy-y? Anyway, enjoy.
However, since injuring myself over President's Day weekend, the mere act of commuting on my bike has gained a new level of importance in my life. For 9 weeks, I literally couldn't ride - no medical clearance to do so, and a very high risk if I did try and ride. For a rider like me, who uses bike time as a necessary workday transition time/stress reducer/demon excision conduit, it was as if I was confined to a torture chamber, playing endless reruns of "Barney the Dinosaur."
I had a ton of time to obsess over my bikes. I completely disassembled one of them, swapping out components and giving the whole mess a thorough cleaning and touching up the inevitable paint chips that come from urban riding. It's not that this bike was in dire need of a new chain, new (to it) shifters and derailleur, and new cables, but I had a lot of time to fill, and this was as close an interaction as I could get with my bike without actually riding it.
Once I was cleared to commute again, I found that my reduced riding speed (fitness fades when injury recovery involves a lot of rest) meant that I noticed more as I rode. Let me take you on a tour:
I pass 109 houses and 7 apartment buildings on this one-way commute, as well as two cemeteries, a library, two schools and two parks. Each house has a story, and even after riding this commute for the past 9 years, taking an injury-induced break has rekindled my interest in their stories and occupants.
Starting out, I pass FDR's old house on R Street. It's currently a residence for an ambassador, so I often see the caretakers watering their attempt at a garden in their tiny front lawn. The caretakers always smile and wave as I pass.
I often see a few commuting cyclists going the wrong way down the westbound R Street bicycle lane. Can't say I condone their behavior (not enough room for two-way traffic, even on the best of days, and there's a parallel, eastbound lane on Q Street), though I can understand why they don't like riding through Sheridan Circle....
...which is my next destination. It's often a traffic snarl in the mornings, but I've noticed that drivers are increasingly accustomed to and aware of the presence of cyclists on this stretch of road. "Just make eye contact," I say to myself, "and be sure to signal where you're going." It tends to work almost every time, getting me a berth in the commuter shuffle. Only the occasional "type-A-must-text-or-call-now" driver breaks that momentum, but they are increasingly rare, much to my appreciation.
Popping out of the circle, I cross the "Bison Bridge" on Q Street into Georgetown. There's often a queue of riders for the D2 and D6 buses, folks nervously waiting for their chariot to arrive. There's a young woman walking her poodle, chatting on her cell phone to what I can only presume is a relative (somewhat loud and argumentative in the way only a parent-child argument can unfold). There's the happiest walker in the world, who is always smiling an walking a jaunty step in time with his music (which plays on a little pocket radio).
Climbing the hill past Dumbarton House and Oak Hill Cemetery (this is a lot harder than it was back in February, lemme tell 'ya), I almost always see fellow bike commuters: a middle-aged man on a mountain bike who is always wearing black workout clothes and a metallic red skateboard helmet; and a middle-aged woman who is *always* in the drops on her vintage road bike, pushing a fairly hard gear but looking unflappable. We exchange our simple, knowing glances.
At this point in my commute, passing the cemeteries, I tend to slow down and look at the gravestones. Many are quite old, and some are more well-tended than others. It makes me wonder about their stories: who were they, what did they do in their time, and do their relatives and descendants still visit? If anything, these final resting places have a beautiful view over Rock Creek Park.
Closing in on Dumbarton Oaks, there are more dog walkers and joggers. The spring flowers are starting to lose their petals, and the residents of the houses with these flowers are on a slow march to swap them out for new blooming things. One of the employees of the Oaks' library rides a similar route to mine, and I see her on her festively decorated bike. She says hello and asks how my recovery is going (yes, there is a camaraderie amongst the commuters - we do, in fact, watch out for each other, which is reassuring).
This stretch of R Street is a narrow stretch of road and gets a lot of car traffic in both directions. Some drivers pass exceedingly close, but most are courteous and give a decent berth. I think this can be attributed to the presence of CaBi, more than anything else, as a lot of CaBi riders use this road connecting from Wisconsin Avenue to Dupont and other points east. Before CaBi, I'd usually have a daily poor interaction with a driver or two; since CaBi's arrival, that number has dropped to one per week, if that often. So.... go, CaBi (memo to self: must renew my membership)!
I cross Wisconsin Avenue, past the gorgeously renovated Georgetown Public Library and toward the double-punch of the Duke Ellington School for the Arts and the Washington International School. Students are making their way to campus, crossing the street in small groups, often oblivious to traffic. Thus, I take extra care. The DCPD officers who work as crossing guards on 36th Street are always genial and wave me through my left-right turn onto Reservoir Road, shuffling me into the mix with the parents and children making their way to school.
I then realize why I'm glad that Reservoir Road is only a short stretch of my ride: the traffic is thick, the drivers a bit less amused with having to share the full lane with a cyclist. I signal my intentions, the drivers usually comply, and I make my way into my work's driveway.
My evening commute is much the same, albeit with a slightly different routing after crossing the bridge back into the Dupont area. Never-ending utility work has replaced once-smooth pavement with patchy, rough surfaces and the occasional metal plate. I often find myself shuffling into a traffic line containing at least one Metrobus, one GUTS bus, and two taxis. I take the lane and nobody seems to mind.
Then there's the 22nd Street-Florida Avenue conundrum. This used to be a fairly easy stretch to ride: slow, but it flowed. And then somebody decided to install an additional traffic light at Phelps Place, mere feet from another light at 21st Street, that being a few more feet from the lights at Connecticut Avenue. These lights could be synchronized to enhance traffic flow (that was my original hope when they were installed a few years ago), but the result has been thick and predictable gridlock during prime commuting hours. I've seen ambulances stuck in this traffic many a time, so thick is the clot of cars and trucks.
And us cyclists? We have to fend for ourselves. There often isn't enough space to ride anywhere, be it between cars or along the curb. Some riders resort to the sidewalk - not an ideal solution, but one that's more-or-less workable as long as the cyclists yield to pedestrians, who often sympathize with their two-wheeled comrades. This situation can - and should - be improved. Perhaps removing one of the traffic lights is in order?
So that's my tale from the sharrows. It's a four mile ride, round trip, that is a little 21-minute slice out of my day, and I cherish it quite a bit - even more so after the forced hiatus.