back in the (bike) saddle along the Anacostia

This past week I got back on my bike—Pearl—for the first time in over a year. I didn’t ride her at all in 2006, only 4 times in 2005, and not at all in 2004. In 2003, I did the Tour de Friends AIDS ride from North Carolina to DC, and rode Pearl all the freaking time. And, I only got her when we moved out here, in May of 2002. Which means that on average I’ve ridden her over 100 miles a year, but really I haven’t ridden her regularly in 4 years. Pearl is a Raleigh c500, a hybrid that I selected because it was light enough for me to carry up and down two flights of stairs in the apartment we were occupying that year. I’ve replaced the seat (with an old school Liberator that I’ve had for a decade now) and added handlebar extenders, but otherwise she’s just as I bought her.

Well, except for being covered with stickers. Pearl goes undercover as a beater bike, something that made me feel better about locking her to signposts in the District when I first bought her. At the time I started training for the AIDS ride, I had stickers from surf camp (the Surf Diva and Yoga for Surfers logos) and a ‘No Plot? No Problem!‘ one that I was dying to put to good use. Onto Pearl they went. Since then, she’s become a bit more political (NOW, Rails to Trails, a ‘Debbie Dick’ sticker from the Haring shop on Lafayette Street, bought just 2 months before it closed) and advertises the places she’s been (Canada, Chincoteague Island).

At any rate, I pumped up her tires, oiled her chain (I really should clean it before I ride her again) and took her out three times this past week. We are much closer to the trail system up here than we were in the District, which is nice; I used to have to ride several miles one way to get to any trail. University Park is located right at the base of the ‘Y’ made by the Northwest and Northeast branches of the Anacostia River, which means easy access to the path system that follows the tributaries. This week, all three of my rides were along these trails.

My first ride, last Wednesday, was up to Lake Artemesia and back, which took me about 45 minutes (it bears saying: I ride slowly). From my house, I was able to stay on neighborhood side streets until the College Park metro, and then ride down Paint Branch Road to the trail access point at Linson Pool. I’d heard from neighbors that the lake itself is a beautiful place to bike or jog, and I wasn’t disappointed. I spotted all kinds of familiar birds, including Tree Swallows using the nesting boxes, but no new ones (I was handicapped by not having my glasses, let alone binoculars or the bird book, so the likelihood of conclusively identifying something new was slim to nil). Nonetheless, I’m sure there are some relatively common ones around that I personally haven’t seen yet (the Wood Duck springs to mind), and I’m looking forward to going back up there for bird-watching purposes. As a ride, it was on the short end, but there are trails that continue past the lake that I can explore in the future. All in all, it was a lovely way to get back on my bike.

On Saturday, I took Pearl over to the new community garden to water my wee pepper plants (more on that later), and then made a loop back to my house on the Northeast and Northwest Branch trails. Riding along the river was lovely, and very different in a wide-open way from what I’m used to when riding the creek trails through woods. I saw barn swallows galore, but not too many other humans. I also violated one of the cardinal rules of biking and hiking when I made the transition onto the Northwest Branch, which is: ‘When greeted by a used condom at the trailhead, turn back!’ All’s well that ends well, I figure. The ride did end well; I ended up at my pond, and then had to face the climb back to higher ground. The steep hills right at the end of the ride are my least favorite thing about riding along rivers, but I can’t complain; cycling on the flats was getting a little boring, not to mention making my legs beg for a nice downhill break. Which I got as I cruised through my neighborhood back to my house (with the exception of the very last block, which is also uphill from the creek at the end of our street).

On yesterday’s ride I went exploring in a different direction, taking the Paint Branch Trail north from Lake Artemesia through College Park. I wasn’t super thrilled with the route and probably won’t ride it again. The trail itself was perfectly well maintained, it just wasn’t that interesting and the surrounds were quite suburban. The winding around to avoid the roads also made it hard to build up speed, so it felt more like a meander than a decent ride. But, I learned a bit more about my local geography, so that’s always good. And, I saw some fresh-out-of-the-egg (still brown and yellow like ducklings) goslings at the Paint Branch Golf Course, so that was a nice surprise. On the way back home, I stopped in at my new local bike shop and discovered that a guy who used to work at my old local bike shop—and fixed up my derailleur after Pearl tumbled off the top of a car—now works there. He recognized me, and once he made the connection I remembered him as well. So that was a pleasant surprise. While there I confirmed that, despite my fixation to the contrary, my front left brake pad does not in fact rub against the wheel (this was the purpose of my stop).

This coming week, I think I’ll ride over to Silver Spring on the Sligo Creek trail, and/or continue further north on the Northwest Branch trail. I’m planning to stick with hour long rides for a while, and build up to making a loop of DC on the trails (something I’ve wanted to do for years). I’ll keep you posted on how that works out.

back in the (bike) saddle along the Anacostia

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