The Ride

Posted on 27 May 2009

Every day, I ride my bike to work.  This involves two parts: going to work, at 6:30 am, and coming back home from work, usually around 3:30 pm.  These two rides are very different; but both have become a cherished part of my day (though, to be fair, the giddy, freedom-infused ride home is generally more cherished than the sleepy, often thoroughly-chilled ride in).  Over the months I have found these commutes to be a pleasant hiatus in my day, a literal as well as metaphorical breath of fresh air, and a frequently enlightening glimpse into the life of the city.

My favorite thing about my morning ride is the air.  I truly hate getting up early, but sometimes it almost seems worth it when I step out the door and take those first few breaths of dawn at its freshest.  At that moment I finally feel awake, ready to pump my pedals and breathe deeply of the envigorating, untouched atmosphere that only seems possible when the day is young. 

Other treats of my 6:30 ride include wildlife sightings of deer, fox, and rabbit; and–best of all–the various cusp-of-dawn DC oddities.  For example, I frequently see men spraying the sidewalks of downtown businesses with water from a hose.  “Why are they doing that?” I wonder groggily as I coast by.  It seems an inane waste of water, at worst, and only a temporary solution to an ongoing problem, at best.  But I leave it to DC…and hope that in the coming years of environmental enlightenment, this practice will cease.

Another feature along the ride in to the office is the prostitutes.  Yes, you read correctly:  hookers regularly work along my route, once I reach downtown.  In fact they seem to do rather well, judging from their numbers.  I regularly see one or two, and sometimes three or four, sidling down the sidewalk utterly nonchalantly, at 6:30 am.  It is more than a little bizarre, but judging from the good luck I seem to have on days I see them (on about 70% of the days I spot a hooker, providence seems to shine benevelently down on me), I may soon start to see them as my own personal ladies of fortune (even more bizarre, I know).  At any rate, they keep the tale end of the ride entertaining.

My ride home, between 3 and 4 pm, is almost always a treat not only because I am more awake, but because I am abandoning the grey, noisy concrete corridors of the city for the quiet green streets of my own neighborhood.  Even in the dead of winter, when the cold wind only increases as I head out of downtown, this holds a kind of pleasure.  But the best moments of all are at the height of summer, when descending into Rock Creek Park is like dipping into a cool blue pool on a hot day.  From what I can tell, temperatures drop about ten degrees when I roll into the shady, verdant arms of the park woods, and for the first time on my ride I breathe deeply–the relatively fresh, earthy smell of the air filling my lungs without the spiteful nip of automobile exhaust.

It’s a good thing I’m more awake on my ride home, as I run into all sorts of things along the way.  I have witnessed several near accidents–luckily never involving myself, though sometimes I confess I have played a role.  For example, a couple of weeks ago I was riding on one of the park’s windy roads, a road I ride every day but on which I rarely see cars.  As I came into a sharp, blind curve I could hear a car approaching from behind me; I continued riding and hugging the bumpy shoulder the best I could.  I figured he or she would probably wait for us to get around the corner and then pass me, in the interest of safety.  But to my surprise they instead began to pass me, barely relenting in speed.  As I watched in consternation, a second car appeared around the corner, cruising along in the oncoming lane.  This car honked and both cars slammed on their brakes, as I too came to a hault about 15 feet behind them.  A mere few inches separated their bumpers from collision, and I cringed at the thought of what could have happened if they had collided.  Those dry old highschool physics projects sprang to mind: “If car A is traveling at 30 mph, and car B is traveling at 35 mph, will their collision cause them to hit the biker traveling at 15 mph and traveling 15 feet behind car A at the time of impact?”  In reality, the two cars pulled out of each other’s way and drove on, but both the memory of physics class and the prospect of a bike accident made me shudder. 

Luckily, I can count on one hand the number of times I have had close calls of this kind.  More typically, I’m able to sit back, relax and get some very pleasant exercise on my way home.  I often have the most interesting encounters in the park.  The other day I came upon an overweight, shifty-looking man standing alone on the path, and couldn’t help noticing a very strong marijuana odor as I rode by.  I sometimes cross paths with policemen on motorcycles, cruising along in a pleasant break from the usual city traffic.  One of my favorite sights of all are the ducks in Rock Creek (way cuter than the policemen); a couple of weeks ago I saw a whole convoy of tiny ducklings–floating yellow fluff-balls wandering after their mother on the glassy, dappled surface of the water.  I couldn’t help but smile for the next quarter mile.

Down in the picnic areas I pass fathers playing catch with their sons, old couples holding hands, parents walking with their toddlers and groups of school children playing frisbee.  People are seated on the grass, at tables, or standing on bridges looking out peacefully over the ever-flowing, dribbling water.  I cross paths with countless runners and a few other cyclists, and sometimes I see people working out on the fitness equipment below Connecticut Avenue.  Seeing all these various city folk enjoying the outdoors is one of the greatest pleasures of all, speaking to the pure humanity, and enduring worth, of urban parks everywhere.

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