You guys! I have a milestone to report: first start line since pre-pandemic. Look at me go!
Months ago, I signed up for the DC Bike Ride, billed as twenty car-free miles through DC. Apparently, this is the fifth year running for this event, although somehow I’d never heard of it before. I was stoked. My friend Zoya signed up as well, and we made plans to ride together, but at the last minute she decided to be in Boston that week (Zoya and her husband split their time between cities) so I was riding alone. No matter! I missed Zoya, but I was looking forward to a blissful ride around gorgeous DC scenery.
It had definitely been awhile, because I was not at all on my start line game. I used to have races and events down to a science, but apparently I’ve forgotten everything. I remembered to lay out my clothes the night before, but spent the early morning dashing around looking for my race dots, then realized halfway to DC that I’d forgotten a mask for the start line (but fortunately had a Buff in the glove box). I left my water bottle in the car (d’oh!) and spent the entire pre-race festivities worrying about whether I’d remembered to lock up. (I had a distinct memory of zipping my car keys into my bike saddle pack, but no memory of actually locking the car door. Figuring I didn’t have enough time to get back to the car and check before the ride started, I just trusted in my personal autopilot. Spoiler alert: I had locked the car.)
I also noticed, while riding from my parking spot to the starting line corrals, that both of my tires seemed to be lower on air than they were when I left the house. Very weird, considering I just had my bike tuned up for the race. And I don’t have a travel pump – another fail; I’ll be putting that on my Christmas list for sure. I found a volunteer who had a pump and got a quick top-off, hoping it would be enough to get me through the ride, and then I could figure out what the heck was going on with my tires.
From where I set up, in the middle of the intermediate riders’ corral, it took forty-five minutes from the starting gun to actually get across the start line – oof. I spent the entire time worrying about (1) whether I locked my car; (2) whether I would get back before my meter ran out; and (3) the air in my tires. Not the most restful start line experience – but pretty much all on me. The crowd had fantastic energy, and I was looking forward to a great ride if my tires held out.
8:45 a.m. – hey! The start line! Wahoo!
We set off through Potomac Park, bound for Haines Point – one of the most scenic spots in DC, so a lovely place to begin a race. The first few miles were quite bottlenecked, so I rode along slowly, looking for opportunities to thread through the crowd and find myself a bit more riding space. We rounded the corner and – look at that view!
What a place to ride! Normally there are cars whipping down this scenic street. It was very cool to share the road only with a few thousand of my best cycling friends. The last time I got to ride through cool car-free city scenery was 2014, when I did the Five Boro Bike Tour with my dad, brother, and sister-in-law. This ride had a similar feel (albeit much smaller crowds – not a bad thing) and it was fabulous. Would have been fun to ride with my family again – or with Zoya, as planned – but I had a grand time pedaling along by myself and enjoying the scenery.
My smooth ride was not to last, though. My front tire held up fine, but as I rounded the traffic circle near Arlington Cemetery, I noticed a sickening bump-bump-bump sound; it was my back tire, and it was completely flat. Woof. I thudded my way over Memorial Bridge, enjoying the stunning view of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, but wondering what I should do. I quickly dismissed the idea of pulling out of the race – my car was parked so far away that it wasn’t worth trying to ride back, and I’d be more likely to solve my problem by finding a race volunteer to help. Instead, I decided that my goal was just to get to the next rest stop, where hopefully a volunteer would have a pump (I had a patch kit in my saddle bag). I thumped over the bridge and under the overpass by the Kennedy Center, where several people helpfully informed me that they thought I might have a flat. I waved and agreed that I definitely had a flat, and hoped that no one else would talk to me or I may not be able to rely on my natural politeness to bite back a rude retort, and I might channel Phoebe Buffay and shout “THAT IS BRAND NEW INFORMATION!”
As I pedaled over Whitehurst Freeway towards Georgetown, scanning for a rest stop with the bumping getting worse all the while, I spotted two riders in yellow shirts pedaling slowly along the right side of the road. When I got close enough to read the back of their shirts (“Conte’s Bike Shop Mobile Mechanics”) my heart soared. I drew up next to them and called over, “Excuse me! You guys doing repairs?” They were. Hallelujah. They quickly diagnosed my flat tire as a valve problem – not a hole, thank goodness – and kindly (and efficiently) replaced my inner tube, pumped up the back tire and topped off the air in my front tire, before sending me on my way. HEROES, totally saved my ride. The last eight miles of the ride were as smooth as the first twelve were bumpy.
Finish festival! Thanks to the Conte’s Bike Shop Mobile Mechanics, or I would never have made it – I’d have had no choice but to peel off and ride back to the car at my first opportunity.
I’d have liked to stay and enjoy the finish festival, but I was still worried about whether I’d locked my car, and I had definitely exceeded my parking meter (because of the flat tire; even with the extra forty-five minutes to cross the start line I’d have finished well before my meter ran out if I hadn’t run into that trouble on the course). So I snapped a quick picture, collected my new water bottle, and rushed to the car. I was parked right across the street from the Washington Monument, and I did stop for a solemn moment with the white flags commemorating the American victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. Please get vaccinated, my friends.
What a crazy ride that was! Hopefully, the next start line will lead to a smoother experience – but that’s all on me; this was a fabulous event and I’ll definitely be repeating the ride next year.