Day 18 was a long day both in mind and in mileage.
We started out at 9 am at Mike and Marcia’s near Annapolis, MD, ended near Springfield, VA around 7:30pm, and in between visited downtown Washington DC.
The ride from Annapolis to the eastern edge of DC was smooth (although there were more hills than in Delaware…) and the eggs Mike cooked us for breakfast saw us through the first ten miles with renewed strength. We rode mainly on less-trafficked highways and a neighborhood trail, heading for the Anacosta River Trail, a bike path that heads all the way into the center of DC where the Anacosta River meets the Potomac River.
Traffic wasn’t bad on a Sunday morning, and once we got into the DC area, we found the Marvin Gaye trail without any trouble.
Here is a video of me on the trail: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJoe8igCRuM&feature=youtu.be
It was wonderfully maintained and lead us through green park areas and lovely neighborhoods with a few friendly folks who reassured us we were on the right route to the capitol. The trail also had some few walkers and bikers, including parents with their kids. We enjoyed seeing a section of DC that isn’t really visible from the interstates or the Beltway, and riding a bike through these neighborhoods gave us an even better opportunity to see these communities and interact with the people who live in them. The day was sunny and warm and most people were outside their homes, congregated in parks, working in gardens or returning home from Sunday morning religious services.
Getting from the Marvin Gaye Trail to the Anacosta River Trail was not as clear and required a bit of google direction interpretation and some road riding, but when we got to the Park where we met the trail, the route was well marked and well maintained as well. A section of the Anacosta River Trail crosses railroad tracks, and a large and impressive viaduct has been either newly built or recently remodeled for bicycles and foot traffic to get over the rails.
The trail also allows cyclists to cross the river in several places, and we crossed at a section that was about two miles from the center of activity downtown.
After arriving at the US Capitol building, we walked our bikes down the Mall amongst the thousands of people who were out enjoying the weather. We saw a number of them utilizing DC’s bike share program, as well as many other cyclists of all kinds–though we seemed to be the only tourers. After we found a restroom near the Washington Monument, purchased two falafel sandwiches from a food truck and enjoyed a few of the fun sized Snickers Bars and Kit Kats that were a parting gift from Mike and Marcia.
Since it was a beautiful day and we were only blocks away, we decided to head over to the White House and take some pictures in front of it. Elizabeth has been downtown many times but had never bothered to go see the White House. We weren’t really impressed since you can’t really get very close, and it’s far too crowded and chaotic for enjoyable picture-taking, but if we’d have had time for a tour it may have been more interesting (if they even have tours anymore). We spent much more time in the area than we had intended to and at least 25 miles more to travel.
Washington DC appears to have one of the best networks of bike paths we’ve experienced, since they extend well outside the immediate downtown area and connect many areas of the city. However, the signs that help direct a cyclist from one bike path to the next were not as impressive. After the Anacosta Trail, navigating the rest of the route was confusing and at times as stressful. In particular, the bicycle route from the Mall and the Washington Monument across the river into Virginia was not marked. We were exactly where we needed to be, but there were no signs, and the directions we had printed out from Google were useless, not even naming the bridges we were to cross, where to get on or off of them, and, I suspect, incorrectly labeling a few left turns as right turns and without correct street names.
We really struggled just to find and cross one of the 14th street bridges to the western side of the DC area, since none of the crossings were marked. This path appeared to dead end on the middle of an interstate bridge. We ended up having to ride some extra miles around an island peninsula with Potomac Park, and after an hour of searching, plus riding, pushing and lifting the bikes over curbs, we were starting to feel tired and frustrated that we had not even left the city yet.
While there were maps in the park, none of them were located at the bridges where we entered the park and we had already ridden miles before we spotted one. Eventually we ended up at the Jefferson Memorial, which is about where we’d started from, and found the bike path to get us over the river. Once on it, we felt relieved, but that only lasted about 10 minutes. Soon the path connected with a few other paths and we were not sure which one to take, since both directions were labeled “Mount Vernon Trail”.
Some friendly cyclists who were interested in our trip stopped and rerouted us to the Four Mile Run Trail, which would eventually put us on our route but in a more straightforward way. We got confused at almost every trail intersection because there were no useful signs to let an unfamiliar rider know where to go. A few of the trails seemed to dead end into streets. If you knew where you were going, you’d ride up the street and around the corner and be able to pick the trail back up, but since we are not from the area, we didn’t know what these trail links were called or how they connected, and either missed seeing signs for them, the signs did not exist, or they had misleading name or place directions on them. Since it was a beautiful spring Sunday afternoon, TONS of people were out and about, and at least three more DC cyclists stopped to help direct us. One even rode with us from the end of the Four Mile Run Trail to the beginning of the Washington and Old Dominion Trail. I also heard a 3 year old with training wheels (who wasn’t moving much) cheering for “Speed! Speed! Speed!”
Even though we were tired and annoyed with the lack of useful signs, we loved the riding and still can’t get over how wonderful the bike path network is! You can live 40 miles outside the city and ride a bike all the way into the downtown area and barely ever have to ride on a road. Honestly, it impressed Elizabeth enough to consider moving to the DC area at some point (and if we do you can bet we’re going to bother someone to put up more/better signs)!
Since we were headed to a relative’s home near Springfield, VA, the last ten miles of our ride was back on the road. We were tired and the sun was starting to set. Every half mile felt like two miles. We ran out of water. I got sunburned. There were some incorrect or incomplete directions again, and we finally called Elizabeth’s mother to make sure we were on the right road. We were near our destination, about two miles away. Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle promptly took us to a delicious Italian restaurant for big bowls of pasta and bread.
We slept soundly after our ride of about 60 miles and were happy to have a rest day to spend with family.