April 2: Washington, DC

Submitted by Ben on Thu, 04/02/2015 - 06:59

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on April 2, 2005]
Hi, folks! I'm safe and sound at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC! It's hard to believe I've completed my three months in the South and crossed Virginia in less than a week!

First, to right some wrongs...

I neglected to mention what my friend Scott is doing in Chapel Hill, even though I've described what everyone else I visit is doing, and even though Scott has friends on the list who doubtless would like to know. He's continuing his career in nonprofit management as the staff assistant for the North Carolina Family & Children's Resource Program at UNC. He enjoys the work and the office environment, but he's having trouble getting used to the slower pace of work (and life in general) compared to Minneapolis.

I previously estimated here (and several times in person) that I had travelled some 7,000 miles thus far. That estimate was based on 50 miles a day for 8 months, minus the weeks I didn't travel. Looking at the map, I can see that it's probably only been somewhere between 4,200 and 5,000 miles so far... the entire trip will be about 7,000 miles when I get back to Minneapolis. Sorry for the mistake!

So... I buzzed through Virginia in record time. That's not because I didn't want to see Virginia, or because I was in a hurry to get to DC (though I have always wanted to see the cherry blossoms) -- it's entirely because of where I could find campgrounds. Virginia's campgrounds are almost exclusively located along its Interstate highways, so I followed the parallel US highways due north through the state. Unfortunately this means I didn't see much of Virginia... in fact the only photos I took there were of some kudzu in Richmond.

I also left spring behind: as I rode north, the tender green leaves retreated into their buds, and so did most of the dogwood blossoms. So I'll get to watch spring arrive again during my week here in DC! A few of the magnolias and cherry trees have already gotten started, but they should really cut loose in a few days.

The trouble with riding on highways isn't so much the drivers or the clearance with passing cars -- after all, I have yet to have a mishap, so how bad can it be, right? No, the problem is that the sound and smell of traffic tends to drive me batty, and I make bad decisions about when to stop for a rest and where to camp for the night based on how frustrated I'm feeling at the moment. I mention this phenomenon because you'll notice it was a recurring theme this week.

I last wrote you Sunday night from a cheap (but nice) motel. I was tempted to stay there a second night because rain was falling hard Monday morning, but the air was warm and I had a tailwind, so I hit the road. The rain stopped as I passed through the town of Petersburg. I then had a choice: stay at a private campground near the highway, or go several miles out of my way to stay at Pocahontas State Park in the middle of nowhere? Middle of nowhere sounded good to me, and I had a notion that the park might be historically connected to the princess Pocahontas, which would be neat. But it wasn't, and camping there was surprisingly expensive, and the drivers along the back roads were much less friendly than the ones on the highway.

Tuesday morning I repacked my troublesome front bearings before they rusted and then rode right through the middle of Richmond, Virginia, because I couldn't find a good way around it. I probably should have stopped and looked at something -- the capitol building designed by Thomas Jefferson, for example -- but I was going strong and just plowed right through town. I stopped at a campground right beside the Interstate and considered looking for someplace quieter, but the price couldn't be beat ($8), and I was feeling resentful about the expensive state park, so I just wore earplugs and toughed it out.

I was surprised to find that I could hear morning birds singing through the earplugs Wednesday morning. They're my alarm clock, now that the days are getting so long. Wednesday night's stop was a KOA just south of Fredericksburg, refreshingly far from the highway in a deep valley. It was so intensely quiet after the previous night's highway roar that I forked over $30 for my campsite with something close to gratitude. Then the wind changed, and I had to listen to the highway and railroad all night long! I think I'd be a much happier camper if I could just give up the illusion of control and realize that one rarely gets what one pays for!

While I was still griping foolishly to myself, I saw a sign for Bike Route 1! (Recall that I didn't follow this bike route through Virginia because I couldn't find a map showing where it went, so I couldn't plan nighttime stops around it.) I studied my maps and figured it couldn't take me too far out of my way, so I followed it... until I missed a sign (or a sign was missing) and I had to go back to the highway. The amount of signage on the route is not adequate without a map.

I rode through historic downtown Fredericksburg ("the most historic town in Virginia") but didn't take any photos because the day was gray and dreary. As I passed the turn for Belmont horse track, I couldn't help singing the song my friend Victoria made up as a young horse fancier. The part I can repeat in mixed company goes,

We ain't ridin' the Belmont, we ain't ridin' the Preakness,
We ain't ridin' the Derby or none o' them fancy races.
We ain't ridin' nowhere, we ain't ridin' nowhere,
We ain't ridin' nowhere, 'cept for that damn human race.
That damned human ra-yay-yace.

US-1 was not a bike-friendly road at all, but the drivers were very considerate. I stopped at a bike shop and bought a Washington-area bike map and noticed that it showed Bike Route 1 not far from where I wanted to go. I asked how to connect in with that, but it meant traveling an extra 3 hours that day and another 3 the next, so I just stuck with the highway!

For the rest of the day I heard muffled explosions, coming, I presume, from the Quantico Marine base. I stopped for the night at Pohick Bay Regional Park, which is as quiet and natural a place as you could ask for right on the edge of a major metropolitan area. I believe it's the very closest campground to DC, at least on the southwest side.

I only had to ride about 2 miles on the highway Friday morning; near Mount Vernon I picked up a bike trail that parallels the Potomac River all the way into town. I stopped at a park called Gravelly Point for a first view of the Washington skyline, and I wound up watching a mother trying in vain to get her young son to take an interest in the airplanes at Reagan National Airport. It's an ideal place for watching planes, and she was really fascinated by them.

I had dreamed about bicycling on the National Mall... what I hadn't bargained on was the mobs of weekend tourists. I had to slow down to their walking speed and just go with the flow. But it is really incredible to be here on a bicycle!

My friend Marisa, whose parents hosted me for 6 weeks in Austin, is a Ph.D. linguistics student at Gallaudet University, where most of the students are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and the classes are taught in American Sign Langage (ASL). I'm not sure how much she appreciates the analogy, but as a hearing person here I really feel like a muggle visiting Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry! The little campus is nestled right in the middle of town, but its neighbors seem to ignore it. All the buildings are designed around customs and practices unfamiliar to me, and everyone's making dramatic, significant gestures whose meaning is lost on me. I'm just glad I have Hermione -- er, Marisa -- to help me make sense of it!

For example, after treating me to dinner in the dining hall with her friends, she took me to a one-woman play about growing up as a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults). All the members of the audience who didn't know ASL had to sit up front, so we could hear the interpreter!

I'll be here in DC through next weekend. Happy Daylight Savings Time! (Those of you reading from other countries can join us in pretending to lose an hour tonight, if you wish.) --Ben