I don't exactly remember the first 10 miles of the 50 States Ride. I remember starting and I remember eating a donut before starting and I remember when a women fell down in front of Dave and me (she was all right) and I remember a guy with a giant flag waving from the back of his bike (this flag concerned me, as I could imagine myself mistakenly burrito-ed as the result of an unexpected gust of wind), but I can't remember the ride turn by turn or where we went or when the crowd started to thin out, which it really didn't do until many miles later. I do remember seeing lots of people that I knew and even more people who I didn't know and I remember the clouds and the drizzle, but both the crowds and the drizzle remain a bit amorphous and foggy. I didn't remember where I split up from the people that I knew, but then I remembered that it was at Hains Point, where I ditched to use the Little Park Rangers room. Then I was by myself, but not really, since the course was awash in people even when it was awash in rain.
The 50 States Ride is an annual tradition meant to celebrate the 4 states of matter and 46 other things that aren't ever really mentioned in the pamphlet. To celebrate matter, WABA asks bicyclists to ride on the streets, drives, and avenues of the District of Columbia that are named after the states of the United States, states which also home to solids, gases, liquids and plasmas (both at blood banks and Best Buys). Liquids are a recurring theme of the ride as WABA uses its weather machine to ensure that riders are also given a refreshing soak, which also serves as a symbolic cleaning ritual that erases the impurities from body, bike and spirit that one may complete the ride chaste. This is also not in the pamphlet. There also might not actually be a pamphlet describing the ride, but there is a cue sheet. It's 58 pages long and has footnotes. It also features the androgynous blob guy from the Ikea instructions. I believe there's at least 2 appendices and among the turn-by-turn directions, there are helpful pieces of advice like 'steep hill' and 'watch for bears.' Since the state streets are strewn about the District, the ride is more than 60 miles long, though each mile is of the same length.
There was a part when my cue sheet got wet and another part where my wet cue sheet fell off my bike and that was also the point when I decided to make friends, or at least glom onto some folks who knew where the route would take us. I spent maybe a third of the ride, the part from the Anacostia Park rest stop to the Eastern Market lunch stop, with these folks. Some of these folks wore jerseys festooned with the logos of state universities (Michigan State, North Carolina State, etc.) and more than one person wore a jersey decorated with the Maryland flag. It was all very stately.
I remember the hills. Some of the worser hills aren't on state streets at all. If you want the candy of the state streets, you have to eat your vegetables of the non-state streets. Four out of five dentists would probably agree. I bet there were a fair number of dentists on this ride, but that's neither here nor there. Having ridden my bicycle in most every corner of DC previously, I had a pretty good idea of where the hilly parts were and weren't and was adequately prepared to deal with them, which I did by strategically installing funiculars the night before along key points of the route. I then hid the funiculars in some brush. It was all very cunning. No, truth be told, the way I did the hills was the same way everyone else did, which was to ride up them and I didn't much mind that because hills and I have this weird relationship, in which I like riding up them far more than I like riding down them. I am of alpine heritage (my mother's family hails from the Tyrol and my father's family is Yeti) and for whatever reason, going up isn't nearly as much of a chore as going down, which I find terrifying. In the rain or on wet roads, I clung ever closer to my brakes, hoping that a stopping power that could best be considered subpar, but not in a golf kind of way.
At lunch, I was burrito-ed in a good way (thanks District Taco), but I failed to reconnoiter with anyone I knew, so I decided that, being close to my house, I would briefly reconnoiter with my dogs, so I rode home and gave them a few pets before setting off once more. Once more, a group of strangers and then up through Brentwood and Brookland and Petworth and the more northerly parts of the city where I don't spend very much time. We eventually were spat out somewhere Takoma-ish. This part of the ride was very officious because the group was doing this thing where one person would shout out the next turn and then the person in front of him would shout out what that person who just shouted and then it eventually made its to the leader of the group, who would execute the turn. It was like being on a submarine. Also, it was like being on a sinking submarine because we were all very wet.
At the Takoma pit-stop, the rain worsened well beyond he cusp of torrentiality, but I didn't sit it out and wait. Had I done that, I might still be there. FUN FACT: blogging right now from some guy's house in Takoma. He keeps reminding me that the ride ended two days ago, but I keep saying 'buddy, I'm not the one who signed up to host a pit stop, ok?' I set off solo and truth be told, this was the part of the ride that I enjoyed the most. It's not that I don't like big groups of people- no, strike that. It's exactly that- I don't like big groups of people. I wanted the chance to ride by myself for a little, to navigate and to figure my own way and set my own pace and be solely responsible for getting myself lost. And doing this in the preposterous rain storm was somehow even better. There was a four inch deep stream down Alaska Avenue and riding through the park in the dark in the rain and under trees that somehow seemed to block out the sky but somehow not the rain and then to lumber up Oregon Avenue and down Nevada and on streets that are barely even familiar and even then, only familiar in that I've seen them on maps or maybe ridden them once four years ago, this all seemed, I don't know, satisfying. The climb up 36th to Fessenden is when I next saw people and then after the quick pit stop, the stop at which Colin from WABA said that 'this seems like a very much you kind of ride' (I guess my enjoying doing silly pointless city bike rides in weird conditions is common enough knowledge), I was back on the road for the last stretch, which all went well, even though I struggled mightily on Garfield Street. Guiteau hated Garfield, but bicyclists might hate him more. More than he hates Mondays.
At the end of the ride, back in Adams Morgan, you get a t-shirt and a beer and I liked both of those things. I don't know if they would've proven consolation if I also didn't enjoy the ride immensely and I'm glad that circumstances allowed me to finally get to participate after years of wanting to. It's a thoroughly enjoyable experience to ride your bike all over DC and while you don't need to wait until an organized ride to do it, it's a fun concept and I heartily encourage you to give it a try if you haven't. You might learn about the city. You might learn about yourself. You might about Charles Guiteau and civil service reform (note: very little, if any, of the 50 states ride features any educational elements related to 19th century civil service reform. at least not this year's) . But with the right attitude, you'll have fun on your bicyclist and that's not a bad way to spend weekend day at all.