Days 58 and 59: Washington DC
I was a little groggy the next morning due to the alarm going off and my clothes weren't entirely dry because I had to take them off the A/C. Today the plan was to finally make it to dense population centers, which I hoped meant I'd be in the clear when it came to having somewhere to stay for the rest of my trip. There were so many Warmshowers hosts on the east coast that it would slow down my phone as it struggled to load them all.
Despite me being in a non-smoking room, and the alarm going off in the middle of the night, there were no issues checking out of the hotel. Despite the plethora of options now available, tonight I was actually not using Warmshowers. Instead I would be meeting up with family friends (Sandra and Hans) who I hadn't seen in 18 years because they moved close to Washington DC. But my parents had stayed in touch with them, and I was excited to meet them again after all this time. They have a son, Adam, whom I often played with as a kid, but I wouldn't be able to see him on this trip because he was away at the time. That did mean I would be able to use his room when I arrived though.
They lived in Maryland, bordering DC. Today's ride would be taking me from West Virginia, through Virginia, through DC, and finally into Maryland. It was also taking me through the last significant climbs of my trip in the Appalachians. West Virginia had been a very pleasant surprise, and I am very happy I visited while on my trip. From the parts I was able to visit, I don't think it deserves the reputation it has outside of the state. That being said, I was still happy when I passed the sign for entering Virginia. State lines always make it feel like you're making real progress, even when the scenery doesn't change.
Because I had so far to ride today, I decided I would try and take the most direct route possible. I hoped I would have enough time to explore some of the capital before heading to meet Sandra and Hans. Seeing Highway 50 on the map felt like seeing an old friend as I had been riding Highway 50 more than any other road on my trip. I rode it in California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Kansas. Those being some of my favorite states of my trip, I decided to take it again.
Unfortunately, the roads leading to Highway 50 were not especially friendly. While they were fine in West Virginia, as I approached Virginia they became more trafficked. Suddenly the lack of shoulder became a real issue as cars would get stuck behind me as they either couldn't pass because of the oncoming cars or couldn't pass safely because of the small hills I was still riding through. Some cars would do it anyways, which would always make me very uncomfortable. I really wanted off the busy and narrow roads.
I would pull over for traffic whenever possible, but it's not always an option and I wasn't the only one holding up cars. Oncoming cars would switch into my lane to pass slow cars in front of them. In one especially shaded section, an oncoming car must not have seen me as they entered the oncoming lane (my lane) to pass the car in front of them and forced me to whip my bike off the road entirely in order to avoid getting hit. That was probably the closest encounter I've had with a vehicle on my trip. If I wasn't in a position where I could have made my twitch off the road, things could have gone very different, but luckily all I suffered was some high blood pressure and an adrenaline rush.
Because I was desperate to get off these roads, I had been riding pretty hard. That's one benefit to having cars behind you, it gives you the motivation to continue to push yourself. I was very tired though, so I pulled over at a rest stop and planned to get some water. I asked the guy at the counter if I could refill my bottles, and he said I could, but he would advise against drinking the water in the area... He did say that someone left a gallon jug outside not too long ago and I was welcome to refill using that... I bought a couple energy drinks to make up for my lack of sleep the previous night and refilled with the jug. The water was warm, but my bottles were always warm to hot within the first thirty minutes of riding, so at this point I was used to it.
The roads didn't get much better as I approached Highway 50, so I was excited to get off them and onto the Highway, which I had been able to ride comfortably for so many previous miles. Unfortunately, the highway was hardly an improvement.
While it was likely safer than the highspeed and trafficked roads, instead I was riding next to gridlock and have to wait constantly for lights to change. This part of Highway 50 was close enough to the city that lights were abundant. When there weren't lights, I usually didn't have much room on the shoulder. While I tried to bike on the shoulder for the sections that I could, because of all the cars, I would often have to ride on the sidewalks to feel safe or to avoid all the crud that had collected on the side of the road.
While sidewalks are fine for casual rides, it really slows your riding. The traffic lights made it even worse. It was not the reunion I hoped for with Highway 50, but it was still something to check off my list of things I did, riding Highway 50 on both the west and east coasts.
After I couldn't stand the highway anymore, I deviated from my planned route on a slightly less efficient route, just to avoid all the cars. It didn't really work as there was plenty of traffic on this road as well, but it was still more interesting than stop and go on the highway. It also took me towards a more residential section of city and finally a little shopping center, where I was able to find a bakery. Usually I stop at bakeries out of obligation, but I was pretty drained and this cookie was the pick-me-up I needed.
After a short rest, the capital was only a short ride away. As I approached, I called Claudia. She had also just arrived in Washington DC and we planned to meet up the follow day. Sandra and Hans said they would be happy to have her stay the following night, so we had a good place to stay.
The last time I had seen Claudia was back in Salida, CO. Since then, I had done part of the Colorado Trail, spent 10 days in Winter Park, raced in the mountain biking nationals, and had days cut short due to rain. While I was doing that, Claudia had continued to make progress east and we both thought it was unlikely that I catch her again after Salida. But with how much riding I had been doing every day since I went east of the Rockies, I had caught up again after being more than two weeks behind. I was lucky to have Claudia riding ahead of me because she would provide me info about the route well before I ever got there.
We finished our conversation right as I was crossing one of the bridges behind the Lincoln Memorial. I was arriving on a Friday evening, so the memorial was pretty crowded and there were people everywhere trying to sell me all kinds of things. I can't carry anything else on my bike unfortunately, so I was only able to get someone passing to take my picture as my souvenir.
I had been to DC once before when I was very young and was able to go to many of the museums at that time. Because it would be difficult to go to any with my bike in tow, it's a good thing I had been up the Washington Monument before and didn't feel like I was really missing out as I rode by.
I finished my tour at the capital building. I decided I was exhausted enough that I would just head to Sandra and Hans' house. The following day I would be able to come back without my bike and hopefully explore a few of the museums. At the time I came, it was the first week that many of the museums were open to the general public since COVID had caused most museums to sell limited tickets for many months prior. So while it was lucky for me as I would be able to visit some museums, it also meant they were all pretty packed as everyone was coming all at once now that they were open. It was also a little unfortunate that the following day would be a Saturday. It probably wouldn't be getting much busier than that...
As I biked through DC, I now clearly remembered why I really don't like biking in cities. The constant stop and go with lights makes even short rides much longer than they need to be. There's also the fear of drivers not paying attention. I am constantly reminded of Denver's bike paths and just how much better it was for everyone with that lower path design. Eventually, I was able to find a decent bike path and that took me almost all the way to Sandra's. I made it right after the sun had set and got to meet Sandra for the first time in 18 years!
She was incredibly welcoming and we had a good time catching up on what everyone had been up to. Hans was working a late that day as he had recently made an important discovery with satellite imagery on China having more buildings for the development of nuclear weapons than previously thought. A few months after this visit, I would see an article on his discovery in a California newspaper. Sure enough, it was written by Hans. So when I arrived in DC, it was busy time for him compiling information.
After some much healthier food than I had ate in weeks, I was ready to sleep and get ready to head back to the capital the next day and meet up with Claudia.
In the morning, I was on the train going back to the capital. While I didn't have an exact agenda for the day, I had gotten some recommendations of places to visit from Sandra and Hans. I decided I would try to go to as many of them as I could while dealing with the large number of people. I got to check out a botanical garden, but everywhere else seemed to be packed. Eventually, I decided the Native American museum would be worth the line and began to wait.
As I waited, I texted Claudia to see where she had decided to go. She texted back a minute later saying she was waiting in line at the Native American museum...
Sure enough, just a few people behind me was Claudia! So that was a fun coincidence and we would explore the museum together. A lot of the museum was closed still due to COVID, so we couldn't see any of the films they normally display, but there was still a variety of artifacts and memorabilia to look at. Afterwards, we decided to go to a pho place for lunch. Claudia had ridden her bike from her previous host's, so she would ride ahead as I found a Lime scooter.
As I figured out the scooter, I would get a message from Holly, the climber who had tried to help me recover my drone back in Seneca Rocks. She said that two climbers had seen my bounty for the drone and, after hours of searching, had been able to recover it! Amazing!
While I didn't have too high of hopes that the drone itself still worked after the rain, the SD card inside the drone was likely still readable and that meant I would be able to get all my footage from after Colorado! Wade and his friend sent me a picture of the drone. After I told my parents, they replied with a picture of their own. I arranged to have them ship the drone to Boston to the address where my parents would be staying to meet me when I finished my trip. It meant I wouldn't have my drone for the rest of my journey, but at least I would have some footage from it instead of none.
After pho, Claudia and I visited a little bakery across the street. Claudia would bike back to Sandra's house and I would take the train. After waiting in line for so long, neither of us had much energy for more museums.
After I got back, Claudia got an equally warm welcome from Sandra and Hans. Hans also made us some delicious cocktails with crushed strawberry and raspberry. I'm usually not a big fan of alcohol, but this drink was an exception. We all had a ton of fun talking that evening, but Claudia and I also had to plan for the next day. I didn't have anywhere to stay yet, but Claudia did, so we reached out to her next host to ask if it would be okay if I came as well. Her host said it should be fine, so Claudia and I decided tomorrow's destination would be Baltimore.
It was a short ride of only 40 miles, but it was largely urban and the forecast also called for heavy rain the next morning. I am bit of a wimp after my experience with rain in Colorado, but Claudia is a much more determined rider and the weather never seemed to deter her. I planned to wait until well after the rain stopped to start riding, Claudia said she would see... Back in Salida, CO I had waited at our Warmshowers house for several days while waiting for good weather. Claudia had left after the second day and told me about how she had rode over 90 miles through rain and hail... Hearing about her experience later made me happy I chose to wait... With that, we all said goodnight and went to bed.