Archive for the ‘Washington DC’ Category
Here’s my year 2015, recapped in approximate order. I’ve been doing very little blogging despite much happening in my life, but the new year is a nice time to reflect on how things have been developing.
When you’ve lived in a place for awhile and move away, the gradual changes become more obvious with each separate visit. But I think all longtime residents of Washington DC would agree that development in the city is accelerating. Neighborhoods like Shaw, Navy Yard, Bloomingdale, and 14th Street (does this stretch of 14th from about Q to U Streets have its own name yet?) have seen significant upheaval in the last year or so since I’ve moved away. And the sheer amount of construction that’s happening even now is staggering.
This past weekend we caught the Crafty Bastards art market (following the trends from Adams Morgan to Union Market), saw the new streetcars on their test runs along the H Street tracks, and happened upon some Art All Night activities in Shaw. Performers scaling the column of a building, a few pieces played for the crowd in the street by the Batala drummers, and masses of people crowding the reimagined Wonder Bread Factory.
And also: lots of new hometown brews.
The quality and abundance of produce here is staggering. The first time we went to the neighborhood farmers market here was eye-opening. So much grows here, and availability of certain fruits or veggies depends less on following the seasons than it did back east. In DC, we shopped much more seasonally: the market only ran from May to November, and what you could purchase was highly dependent on what was available that time of year. At the Goleta farmers market, I found not only peaches, berries, tomatoes, kale, squash, meats, and dairy, but local dates, figs, nuts, and honey, as well as many, many vegetables I couldn’t identify.
Did you know there are many varieties of avocado? I had no idea. The flavor varies: some are nuttier than others, some grow much larger, some are rounder while others are more pear-shaped. One of the many avocado vendors this morning gave me three free avocados when I paid for mine. That’s something you wouldn’t get at the supermarket.
It never registered in my mind that in Washington, DC, it’s just not as easy to get fresh, local produce without going out of your way. The produce stocked at the supermarket is shipped in from hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away. The farms represented at the DC farmers markets came from further away than you’d expect, too. The Washington, DC metropolitan area is growing too urban for farms – look at how much Loudoun County, an exburb of DC located about 40 miles from downtown, has shifted from its historic roots as a farming community – so they’re located further out in the rural parts of Maryland, Virginia, or Pennsylvania. And produce is much more expensive in DC. In Goleta, many of the farmers market vendors are from within Santa Barbara County, and at least one of them (Fairview Gardens) only has to drive their produce two miles to bring it to market. Most of the farms are right in Goleta or Santa Barbara. You can get fifty-cent avocados or a huge bunch of kale for a dollar at the regular supermarket. We’ve been eating well.
But that’s an inevitable difference between being located right in the middle of a huge agricultural area versus being on a more built-up coast. Besides the people, whom I miss above all, there are other things I prefer about DC living:
- The abundance of Asian supermarkets in the suburbs. We have small Asian markets in Goleta and Santa Barbara, but they’re overpriced.
- Our favorite Ethiopian takeout place, Zenebech Injera in Shaw. Washington, DC has the largest concentration of Ethiopians in the U.S. and Ethiopian food is some of the best affordable cuisine around.
- All the neighborhoods in DC – and parts of Arlington – are only a few miles away. Things are much less dense here, and it seems like a lot of the places we go to are in suburban-style shopping centers. Going through busy parking lots on a bike is the worst.
I’ll surely miss the crisp autumn weather that should be approaching DC soon. Even the winter holds fond memories of getting bundled up to ride to work in the dark, with only my thoughts and a bright beam of light leading the way, and the sudden comfort of leaving the outside freeze and entering a heated building. Everyone here tells me I won’t miss winter. I think it’ll depend on reading the more subtle cues that mark the passage of seasons here.
After three nights camping on the C&O Canal on this trip, I thought I’d write up our experience. Hopefully it’ll serve also as a guide for anyone who is considering spending a night camping on the trail.
The C&O trail is an ideal place to camp because it provides free hiker/biker campsites at about every 5 miles along the 185 miles of the trail, each with a water pump, port-a-john (basic toilet), picnic table, and fire ring. Strap a tent to your bike and bring a couple of friends. Alcohol isn’t allowed since it’s National Park Service ground, but we occasionally saw people bring in beer. More importantly, pack out whatever you bring in – this means don’t leave any trash at your campsite.
We spent the first three nights of our cross-country bike ride camping on the C&O and got to meet some great folks this way. Our neighbors the first night were a father and son pair bicycling to Washington, DC from Brunswick, Maryland. The son looked pretty young, maybe 10 or 11 years old, but even he was carrying some gear on his bike.
Setting up near Williamsport the second night, our campsite neighbors were two pairs of guys, all arriving by bike. The first pair who arrived were headed back to DC from Harpers Ferry. The other two were also headed back to DC, but had been riding from Pittsburgh through the rainy days. We were glad they finally got to have some dry, sunny weather to ride through for the end of their trip. One of the guys, Rich, had done a cross-country bike ride of his own and said we could stay with him when we got to Cleveland (his hometown). He wished his place was a bit closer to the Adventure Cycling Northern Tier route so that he could host cyclists, but offered to pick us up if we needed it.
Evening of day three was a sleepy little campsite past the creepy and wonderful Paw Paw Tunnel. The site was buggy, the water pump wasn’t working, and the toilet was spider-infested, but after we got a big fire started and cooked a big meal, it felt like home.
I loved falling asleep with the sun to the sound of owls, woodpeckers, and other local birds. We even saw a quail (we think) running along the trail. But sometimes you’ll have trains passing in the night, waking you at odd hours. It’s a great mix of being close enough to amenities, yet far enough to feel like you’re really getting away.
Hello also to the staff at the Cumberland Trail Connection bike shop, hope you’re following along! And to our fellow GAP Trail riders Arnold and Pam, hello and hope to cross paths again.
We’re at the tail end of our fourth day of our cross-country bike tour now! With very limited Internet access from the C&O, we haven’t been able to blog (or even tweet much). Here are a few snapshots from our departure from the lovely Washington, DC. And of course, our cheery send-off from Friday Coffee Club.
Obligatory photo in front of the White House with Friday Coffee Club folks. Can you tell who’s camping?
A moment to see Great Falls.
At our favorite aqueduct, with a new banner displaying WABA pride (courtesy of Brian).
Tomorrow we start our cross-country bike trip!
Here are a few snapshots from our finishing preparations: packing up our Uhaul box, making our goodbyes, soaking up the DC sun and humidity.
I’m excited to finally share the plans we’ve been working on for the past few months! In short, we’re spending this summer riding our bicycles across the United States and interviewing people along the way about where they live.
We’re calling this trip “Migration Trail” for two main reasons. The motivation for the trip is our bi-coastal move – we’re moving from DC to California for me to start my graduate program in Geography, and decided to make it an adventure by doing it as a bike tour.
Since we are moving to a completely new-to-us place, we’ve built upon the idea of interviewing people along the way about the places where they live and how they came to live there – whether it be a recent move or their family has been settled in the area for generations. We will be posting what we learn to my website to help people explore the variety of circumstances that bring people to all kinds of places in our vast country.
Our cycling route takes us up to Michigan, west across the northern part of the United States, then south through California. Plenty of miles. One hundred days on the road – give or take.
We start Friday, May 24th. That’s only three weeks away! We still need to wrap things up at work, finish packing and ship our pod to California, iron out everything we need to take care of beforehand (medical stuff, bills, insurance), and make our final goodbyes. Our first week will be mostly on the C&O Canal Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage to Pittsburgh, and we’re inviting friends to join us for the first day or two of our trip.
Five days on the bike, 243 miles of riding, all kinds of weather and terrain. Through rain, farmlands, and mountain passes.
Day 5: Harpers Ferry, WV to Washington, DC
Our fifth day of riding was a lovely, mostly sunny day of riding back to DC via the C&O Canal towpath from Harpers Ferry. A night of restful sleep and a great waffle breakfast at the Teahorse Hostel completely refreshed us, so even after four days of riding we were ready for more. We chatted with the hostel owner, Laurel, and two Appalachian Trail hikers who had also stayed the night. They were headed in different directions on the AT with very different hiking styles.
Along the way, I found that bicycle speed is the perfect pace at which to notice flora and fauna, start up conversations with new people, and feel the sun warming up the land. We paused at one of the lockhouses on the canal and met a volunteer named Bud who offered to show us the interior of one of the restored lockhouses further down the trail that he was checking up on. The three of us continued down the trail and had the opportunity to look inside the lockhouse, which would be fun to rent for an overnight stay (it’s $70-100/night for up to eight people). The house was very basic – you have to carry in everything you need, including water – but has two bedrooms that can easily accommodate eight. It does a good job of evoking the feeling of a bygone time.
We talked with Bud for a little while before starting off down the trail again. Soon enough, we were stopped again to chat with an older man who was curious about where we were headed and where we were coming from. He said he had done a lot of bike touring in his day and sent us off with a cyclist creed: “For every uphill there is a downhill, but for every headwind there is another headwind.”
The rest of the ride back into Washington, DC via the C&O was pleasant and had pockets of sunlight to warm us up enough. We were both feeling tired of trail-riding by the last 10 or 15 miles, but soon were back into the city with all its familiar traffic (rush hour on L Street isn’t pretty). Happened to run into Chris on our way in and then stopped to visit a friend at a nearby coffee shop. Nice to see familiar faces!
We had a wonderful trip overall, and it was refreshing to get out of the city for awhile. Bike touring can be very affordable: no rising gas prices to worry about, free lodging if you already have camping equipment (the C&O Canal hiker/biker sites are free), and plenty of time to stop whenever you like. Most of our meals were made on the road, and as cyclists we also had to snack constantly. We had a good idea of what we didn’t need to bring, though we didn’t overpack too badly. If we tent camped more it would have been more worthwhile to haul the camping equipment, but low nighttime temperatures drove us to seek indoors shelter more often on this trip.
A few takeaways if you’re considering a bike touring trip:
- Wear more sunblock. It’s easy to forget on cloudy days.
- If wearing cycling shoes, it’s worth it to take a pair of off-bike shoes. After a long day of riding, throwing on comfy sneakers can be the best feeling in the world.
Never run out of snacks. Salty snacks especially. And eat lots of peanut butter. You can never really eat too much if you’re riding your bike all day. You can drink too much, though: beer hits you harder after a day of riding.
- Talk to everybody you meet, even when you think you don’t have the time. Plans were meant to be changed.
Two days of bike touring! Two to go. It’s been a beautiful ride so far.
Day 1: Washington, DC to Frederick, MD (58 miles)
As we loaded our stuffed panniers onto our bikes, I started to wonder what we were getting ourselves into: “This bike is really heavy.” “Maybe our first day shouldn’t be 60 miles, or should I have chosen a slightly less hilly route?” But after loading up, tweeting a picture, and pushing off, we found that the bikes carried the weight well. The extra weight was hardly felt while riding through flat DC, and made the bike very stable. Once we got onto MacArthur Blvd, however, we started to feel that we were carrying some extra pounds. I spun thoughts of the gear I should have left at home.
After a full day of riding with this stuff, I can safely say there’s no reason we need two pot sets (the one larger MSR set will do). I think the amount of clothes we packed is well suited to lasting us four days at a time before we need to do laundry – lots of practice from traveling light (thanks, increasing airline fees). And though we have a lot of weight from the food we’re carrying, it’s nice to be able to cook our own meals wherever we want, like a perfect picnic spot overlooking the river. I’m trying to take more photos since that’s something that’s easy to forget when you’re looking for the next turn you need to make or just chatting away with the people you meet.
Speaking of meeting people, I guess riding bicycles loaded for touring makes you something of a novelty. Lots of people were out on the C&O Canal Towpath enjoying the early spring weather, and my favorite moment was when a family of four stopped in their tracks to watch us ride by – the boy waved the entire time we were passing and the mother speculated out loud, “They’re going the whole way!”
We traded photo favors with another family with three kids, all of whom were on bikes. Well, the littlest was in one of those seats that goes near the handlebars and holds each leg – not sure how to describe that well. The father told us he always ended up with the extra weight, which in this case was a cute pink backpack and two stuffed dogs tied to the handlebars. After cleaning up our lunch supplies, we also talked awhile with a woman who lives in Bethesda and regularly rides the C&O. Her husband was still getting back up speed after he was in a bad accident last year when he was doored by a car and his helmet was split open. She had an unusual looking helmet and told us that’s what her husband bought for the two of them after the accident, after evaluating safety ratings.
We rejoined the world of paved roads at Nolan’s Ferry, which meets New Design Road. This was really pleasant riding: smooth roads, gently rolling hills, and drivers that rode fast but gave lots of passing room. We gave our CouchSurfing host a call and met him at his place earlier than we expected to arrive. The total for the day was about six hours on the bike, and about an hour off the bike for lunch and photo opps. Not too bad for riding fully-loaded!
Day 2: Frederick, MD to Gettysburg, PA (42 miles)
Rain all day! We had originally planned on camping out tonight, but it looks like we might grab a motel and get dry. Rode through beautiful Maryland farmlands, mooed at cows, took rainy photos at Gettysburg Battlefield. We crossed Route 15 too many times – a little tricky in places – and had a lunch stop at a local BBQ joint called Chubby’s. That was a nice sweet tea and get-warm break.
Rain and cooler temperatures make you appreciate hills. Climbing a hill lets you warm up inside. Descending is less fun.
Entered Gettysburg, Pennsylvania around 3pm and decided to grab a coffee and upload this blog post. Thanks to friends who have been tweeting nice messages at us. Bike touring is great, even on less-than-perfect weather days. We’re learning a lot so far.
By this time next Friday, Adam and I will be on a short shakedown bike tour before our longer ride this summer. It’s still early in the season, so our routing choices for next week’s bike tour were based partly on which campgrounds would be open by then. We have the option of camping at the free hiker/biker campsites along the C&O Canal, which are open year-round, but don’t want to do the entire ride on gravel.
Our tentative plan to get a good mix of experience – and test the gear we’re carrying – is as follows:
Day 1: Say hello to Friday Coffee Club, then set off towards Frederick, Maryland.
Day 2: Ride to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, then camp at Caledonia State Park in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania.
Day 3: Head towards Falling Waters, West Virginia (near the C&O Canal).
Day 4: Take the C&O Canal trail to Brunswick, Maryland.
Day 5: Back to Washington, DC – likely not via the C&O.
Works out to about 250 miles total. We will be going at a casual pace, considering our bikes will be loaded up with gear: camping and cooking stuff, food, and bike tools. Feel free to join for part of the ride if you have time. It’ll be a good test run if you’re interested in getting into bike touring! I’ll also recap what we learn from the ride when we get back.
Note: We will also be testing out the TrackMyTour iPhone app on this ride. It looks like an easy way to let family and friends know where you are. Let me know if you’ve tried this app or any similar ones, and how it’s worked out for you. Along with the manual waypoints through TrackMyTour, I’ll be using Strava to record our rides as usual.