The final day. All I need to do is pedal about 90 miles and I will have crossed the continental USA by bicycle for the second time. Greg, who I met outside of Pittsburgh, is with me and also interested in making it to D.C. by Friday night. We met for breakfast in the Waffle House, which was beside the motel and had some eggs, toast and juice. We set off pedaling about 8:15 AM.
The first 10 miles were paved and went through scenic Western Maryland countryside. Then at the top of a hill, Greg pulled over and said he had a problem. He had broken a rear spoke. Spokes are a tough item to fix on the side of the road. It was even tougher than usual to fix since neither Greg nor I were carrying any spare spokes. Searching the Internet showed no bike shops close to us, so we carried on and Greg rode on a broken rear wheel all the way to Washington.
About 20 miles into the ride the instructions told us to get back on the C&O Canal bike path. The bike path started out drier than yesterday but soon started having big problems. We had to cross over a large tree that had fallen across the trail. We had to cross three different places where the trail had been washed away by floods. In two of the washed out places the park service had created temporary detours or bridges.
In the third place the park service had given up, closed the trail and expected cyclists to take a long detour that included sections of a highway and a very large climb. In the west when I came to a road closed or detour sign I had to guess if it was possible to get through. In the east it was much easier because there were at least a dozen cyclists coming from the other direction who offered advice.
The consensus view of the west-bound cyclists was that we didn’t need to take the highway detour. It was possible to push our bikes up a short hill, jog or run along a set of railroad tracks for about 200 feet and then slide down a hill to rejoin the trail on the other side of the washed-out bridge.
Reading this previous paragraph now, which is hours after the day is over, suggests this should be no big deal. However, it was a lot of effort to get up to the railroad tracks and down the other side, not to mention my concern about being hit by a train while on the tracks, even if it was for only a couple of minutes. We managed it all safely and the only lasting problem was a profusion of mosquito bites from the swarms that attacked us during the mini-adventure. The mosquitoes even got under my clothes and I have a large series of bites on my arms, neck and head.
For the next 50 miles the trail was at various points muddy, slippery, rocky, very narrow and for a few miles had branches which kept smacking me in the face.
It all didn’t matter because the mile markers were counting down to zero, which was Washington D.C. I could feel the end.
Around 4 PM we made it to the Potomac River falls. Just after the falls Google Maps told me that we needed to get off the C&O Canal and take the “Billy Goat Trail.” The name seemed quite suspicious.
Luckily, near the falls a park service ranger walked by while Greg was in the restroom. I asked her if the Billy Goat Trail was suitable for bikes. She told me that the trail was something people did by scrambling and jumping from rock to rock and that our bikes would not make it. She told us to stay on the canal path, but to make sure we took a small detour that allowed us to stop and see the falls. It was great advice. The falls were spectacular, and I would have missed the best part of the day if I had just kept pedaling.
I left Greg just after we crossed the Beltway into Greater Washington. His brother met us in a parking lot just off MacArthur Avenue. It was now 6 pm and I had one hour to get myself across town for an interview with a National Public Radio reporter at Union Station before boarding an Amtrak train for home.
I texted the reporter that I had crossed the Beltway. I pedaled more and stopped and took a picture of the “Welcome to Washington, D.C.” sign. No one was there to see it but the smile on my face stretched from ear to ear.
Two blocks after taking the welcome sign’s picture, Google Maps told me to get off MacArthur and onto a bike trail. The trail turned out to be a two-foot wide dirt path that led down a steep cliff. I turned around and pedaled back to MacArthur and kept heading towards downtown. This was a small mistake because Google was furiously updating my screen and trying to both explain where I was going wrong and how I could “fix” it. I made it Georgetown at 6:30 PM. Thirty minutes to go before the interview.
For weeks I had been picturing myself and the bike being photographed at the Lincoln Memorial at the end of the trip. I had half an hour to get to the Memorial and then to Union Station. I texted the reporter that I was in Georgetown. The message went out and then the phone’s battery died. I don’t know if the furious updating killed the battery, but it certainly did not help.
I now had two small dilemmas. First, I didn’t know exactly how to get to the Lincoln Memorial. I had a rough idea, but rough ideas don’t cut it when you are short on time. Second, I now had no way to contact the reporter. I didn’t know what he looked like or where he would be located at Union Station.
Solving the first problem was easy. I didn’t go to the Memorial. Instead, I pedaled down Pennsylvania Avenue and got a quick shot of me, the bike and the White House. Then I asked several other cyclists pedaling down the street for directions to the train station. I had been to Union Station a number of times in the past, but I had always taken the Metro and been below ground on the subway.
Around 7 PM I pedaled up to Union Station and asked a tourist to take a photo of me and the building. The second problem, contacting the reporter, resolved itself. The reporter was standing outside the building and was looking for me. I guess there were not that many cyclists covered in mud who were out pedaling that evening.
We had a wonderful interview sitting in a quiet wing of the station. We talked about economics, the trip and traveling in general. I don’t know if what I said makes for a good radio show, but both the reporter and I were pleased by the conversation.
I had a quick bite to eat and then caught the 10 PM train to Boston. The train is not fast since it took over 10 hours to get to Boston but Amtrak was happy to take my muddy bike unboxed all the way home for just $20.