cycling expeditions

Over the past few weeks I’ve been out on Pearl for three longer rides, in the range of 15-18 miles. I’m not my friend Frances, who’s been racking up hundreds of kilometers per week on her bike, Lucky. Nonetheless, after those two years when Pearl languished in the back room looking sad as her tires slowly deflated, I’m feeling pretty good about my efforts.

A few weeks ago I accompanied my friend all the way to the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, instead of branching off at Lake Artemesia as I’d been doing. The ride was good, along a clear route, with plenty of space on the streets to ride out of the stream of traffic. Except for Pearl’s chain coming off when I downshifted too suddenly—my own fault as it desperately needed to be cleaned—everything went smoothly. There are a few decent hills, and I got a workout, as this was the first ride longer than an hour that I’d been on this year. We paused briefly at Lake Artemesia, and were able to see a mother Wood Duck and her brood of ducklings paddling along through the lilies. On the way back I saw some Baltimore Orioles, as well as several Goldfinches, darting around just at the exit of the research park.

The weekend after that ride, I joined a neighbor and her friend for another two hour ride on a Sunday morning. We first went up to, and around, Lake Artemesia, where we were again lucky to catch sight of two Wood Duck mamas with ducklings. From there we did the loop I’d done last month, down the Northeast Branch to the Northwest Branch and back up to the University Hills pond. Along the Northeast Branch Trail, south of Riverdale Park, we spotted a Belted Kingfisher, a life bird for me! My neighbor has seen it (or one of its relatives) there quite regularly, so I hope to catch another look on a future ride. As we went north again on the Northwest Branch Trail, I learned that my neighbor’s friend is undertaking a river bank study that involves reestablishing native plants in the hope of aiding with flood control. I hadn’t realized that aster, which we’ve planted in our front bed, is a wildflower native to this area, so that was a nice piece of information. Later on in the ride, in the stretch near East-West Highway, we heard what my neighbor’s friend identified by ear as a Yellow-Breasted Chat. I really should take my binoculars and field guide back to that stretch of woods one morning, as we saw a Baltimore Oriole not far from where we heard the Chat.

Most recently, I played hookey from ditch digging weed pulling last Friday and enjoyed the gorgeous afternoon from atop my bike. The day before, I had (finally!) cleaned Pearl’s chain and derailleur, so I was spared the guilt-inducing grinding and scraping I’d been hearing more and more. I rode the Sligo Creek Trail from the Northwest Branch (this is the trailhead that I’ve passed a few times, so I knew how to get on it from this point) to Wayne Avenue, and then back from there. The trail itself is fine, if a little winding with all of the switchbacks over the creek which make it difficult to build up speed. Or rather, make it difficult to build up speed without fearing that I’ll steamroll a dog or small child when I come around a blind turn.

I didn’t go quite early enough in the day to avoid all the dogs and small children, nor to miss the beginning of rush hour traffic. At most street crossings I had a light, but the first two (Riggs Road and East-West Highway) were a little hairy. The path itself was relatively deserted when I headed out, but all of the after-work crowd was out two deep on the way back. I did get a cup of pink lemonade from an enterprising child and her dad in Takoma Park. I hope I didn’t scare her too much with my talk about weathering spills early in life. I meant only to extol the virtues of my trusty helmet, forgetting that words like ‘smash’ and ‘crash’ can loom large in the minds of small children.

Despite not really looking for birds, I saw a Baltimore Oriole on the Northwest Branch, in the same stretch just south of East-West Highway where we’d heard a Yellow-Breasted Chat on my previous ride. I haven’t yet seen so many orioles in my life that it’s not a thrill to catch sight of one, so that was nice. The other high point of the ride was my skill at unwrapping and eating a semi-melted Luna Bar without either getting off my bike or littering. A feat which, sadly, no one was around to appreciate.

cycling expeditions

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