Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On the Joy of Trails - or - Why I Will Not Take the City Shortcut Again

When I decided to try bicycle commuting from Silver Spring to downtown DC, the first choice was whether to take the Capital Crescent Trail, or just to make a straight shot down 14th Street into the city core. The trail would take a long time, but it would be safer - no traffic. The straight shot wouldn't be as peaceful, but it would be a lot faster. For the first couple weeks, I made the 12.7-mile hour-long journey around the Capital Crescent Trail. Today, for the first time, I took the direct route: Seven miles straight into town. Even with traffic and stoplights, it only took a little over 40 minutes, effectively cutting my commute time by a third. Instead of lazily wandering my way around the outskirts of town, I went right in there and got 'er done. So, I'll be commuting like this every day, right?


I far prefer the hour-long trail journey, for many, many reasons, presented here in reverse order. I will try to recall them here, but bear in mind I am still woozy from all the bus fumes I inhaled this morning, so I might miss a few.

  • Asshole Cabbies and Ignorant Trucks.

    I really do like the concept of "bike lanes." Even though I'm really no farther from the cars than I would be if they just went around me, that solid white line provides an impregnable mental barrier and gives me the confidence I need to just keep swimming, just keep swimming. At least, that's the theory. All too often it's blocked by a megatruck that's decided to rest a while while the CVS unloads some shipments, or by a reckless taxi driver who thinks "bike lanes" and "passing lanes" are synonymous. Actually it's not just taxis that do this, but they seem to be the most flagrant violator. So sometimes when my path is blocked, I have to move into the traffic lane, but there's no room, so I am just stuck there breathing in fumes, until I decide to just pick my bike up and bring it to over the sidewalk, where I have to walk it past hundreds of people until I can get back onto the road.

  • Metric Fuckton of Hills.

    For some reason, I had the impression that riding from Silver Spring to downtown DC was basically one big hill. After all, Silver Spring is at 340 feet above sea level; DC is basically at sea level. That's 340 feet over 7 miles, or about an 8 percent decline. But it didn't play out like that, ohhh no. Here's the log from today's trip -- be sure to check out the elevation profile at the bottom:

    See that? That's not a smooth slope. That's a series of extended half-pipes culminating with a mega hill at mile 1.5, a minor mega-hill just before mile 2, another at 2.5 and 2.75, then again at 4, until FINALLY we see the big quarter-mile roller coaster drop off just before mile 6. So there's a lot of uphills, which sucks, but it's usually not so bad because uphills have a built-in reward: downhills. But EVEN THE DOWNHILLS ARE NOT FUN, because there are so many Stop Lights and Pedestrians and Weaving Cars and Inattentive Drivers and The Possibility of Danger, that you can't just sit back and enjoy the hills. Which brings me to the main problem...
  • Not Enough "Weeeeeeee!" Time.

    Here's what it comes down to. The only way I am going to ride to work is if it's fun. Dodging traffic and dealing with hills is not fun. It gets me to work faster, sure, but it feels so... utilitarian. I'm getting some exercise, yeah, and I'm getting there about as fast as I would with the metro. But it's not fun. It's not something I seek out. It's not something I dream about.

    I dream about the bike trails. I dream about the long 4-mile gently sloping uphill ride into Bethesda, and more to the point, I dream about the amazing 8-mile downhill into DC. I don't buy bike gear and wake up early and get all suited up to go pedal through traffic; I do it so I can feel the intensity of powering up that long big hill, and the rush of reaching the other side. I do it for that feeling we all get on long steep hills with no cars to dodge and no stop lights to contend with. I do it for the Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!

    I dream about the trails because I get to ride to work under a beautiful green canopy, surrounded by nature, passing waterfalls and streams, and when the trail opens up into a view of the Potomac and I've gone over 10 miles and there are only 2 left, I feel satisfied and content and happy. And I'm smiling all the way to work.

    And when I get there, I can't wait to do it again tomorrow.

    Cut 20 minutes off a beautiful journey by shortcutting through a noisy, crowded metropolis?

    Why on earth would I want to do that?