This past weekend I participated in WABA’s 50 states ride. This is a 65 mile route that covers all 50 state streets in the District and goes to all 4 quadrants of the city (SW, SE, NE, NW). When I signed up, I did some research to see how hard it might be. Most people don’t usually think of DC as being particularly hilly but the blogs I read by people who had participated in past years quickly put an end to that idea. For a person with average bike fitness like myself, it was clear the hills would be significant! Also- 65 miles is not an insignificant amount of miles to bike. However, I felt confident in my ability to complete the ride. I had, in fact, ridden RAGBRAI and 30 miles on Skyline Drive. I could do 65 miles in moderately hilly DC!
Got that memorized?
I rode with Melissa, who rode with me and Shannon on Skyline Drive. She was not wearing her cute red earrings, but I decided to ride with her anyway. Check in started at 7:30 and we got there a little after 8. We were thinking this would mean we could leave early, but they didn’t want anyone to leave until 9! While this meant we had an hour to kill, it also meant we got front row line up! Yeah! The one and only time I will be lined up in the front row for anything bike related. AND Melissa totally got the hole shot! The ride was definitely off to a good start.
On the front row (all the way to the left, from my best side) Photo: WABA Flickr
Now, I was a bit nervous about the 7 page cue sheet and the hundred some cues. However, my nerves were unfounded. It was surprisingly easy to stay on track, often because there would be another group of 50 staters ahead of you, showing you were to turn. And even when we were by ourselves, it really wasn’t that hard to follow the cues. The best part was when we missed a cue and a bunch of construction guys started yelling at us that we were going the wrong way! “Over here! You missed the turn!”
The first 20 miles flatish and fast, as we wound through downtown DC. Once we got to Anacostia (SE DC), that’s when the road turned up. Right after the Anacosita rest stop, it was a long ride up MLK Jr Ave, which I didn’t find too hard and thought to myself, if that’s the worst of it, I’m golden. However, it wasn’t the worst and I was not golden. We soon turned to go up Alabama, which I found to be MUCH worse- longer and steeper. I felt a little throw-upy at the end of that hill.
Throw up Alabama
The rest of the route was up and down, up and down. I thought the worst section was the NW section- the hills were significant and we kept riding over the same roads over and over.
The WORST hill was right after the last rest step, where we had to do a little out and back to hit Arizona. As we went down Nebraska, I could see others coming up the other side, and thought, shit, we gotta come back up this! Then it was a very, very steep descent down Arizona and as we whizzed down that, i thought oh SHIT, what goes down has to come up again! And come up we did- I almost had to get off and walk the first part, as the road went directly up after it turned and I didn’t have time to shift down. And it was a steep mo-fo! I had to employ the zig-zag technique to get up the hills. It was the only way I was able to keep up enough momentum to avoid stopping or even going backwards. And once we escaped that section, we still had to go back up a section of Nebraska we had descended to get to Arizona. It was brutal. But! Shockingly- I felt okay! I didn’t feel throw-upy at all, even though I was quite out of breath. Ever since RAGBRAI, I don’t care either way about hills. I don’t love them, but I don’t hate them either. I just accept them- when one hill is immediately followed by another, I just think, Oh well, another hill, and start climbing. It’s quite refreshing, actually!
The hills of Arizona
The coolest part about the ride was going to all the different areas of the city and the thing I liked the most was seeing the variety of housing around the city. I wished I had taken more pictures of the all the different styles. There were the beautiful townhouses, uniquely colored and styled, with elaborate yards (no matter how small). There were the functional rowhouses, all the same with their brick simplicity. There were the mid sized detached houses a little further out, with yards. And there were the run down houses of all varieties.
You absolutely need to be comfortable riding in traffic and on crazy city streets to do this ride. As the day went on and traffic picked up, some of the roads were super sketchy to ride on. I would say South Dakota and Michigan NE were the scariest roads to ride on- lots of traffic, lots of lanes, all fast, with nowhere for bikes to go. The same went for Connecticut NW. Trying to cross 2 lanes of heavily trafficked road to turn left is not for the faint of heart.
Of course, a bike trip with me wouldn’t be complete without a flat. It was a frustrating flat, because in the spare tube I had, where the valve sat in the tube was wider than other brands and prevented the tire from sitting directly on the rim. Once I figured out this was the problem, I just used Melissa’s spare tube, but we probably wasted about 40 minutes trying to figure out my flat.
It was a great ride. I’m glad I participated and I’m definitely coming back next year! To close the post, an obligatory photo with our home state street signs!