At Mount Vernon with Deb, our host and guide for the afternoon
May 31, 2018
The first 4o miles of our ride today were kind of bland. We rode in morning fog that turned to mist that turned to drizzle. We climbed plenty of hills and spent more time beside the rushing traffic on Route 1. Then we pulled into the little village of Occoquan to meet our new friend, Deb. She had read about our trip weeks ago and wrote to offer us her place to stay in Alexandria. She was able take the afternoon off, meet us for lunch, and ride the last 25 miles in to Alexandria with us so we didn’t have to navigate.
Everything changed when we met Deb. The sun even broke through; we haven’t seen the sun for almost a week! We had greenways and bike lanes for the rest of the ride. Soon after leaving Occoquan we rode on a greenway through a former prison in Lorton that is being converted to condos, artists’ workshop, and more — with a greenway running right through it. Very cool.
We had a long stretch up Route 1 again but we rode on a greenway beside it, imagine! Finally we hit the Mount Vernon Trail and rode it 10 miles into Alexandria’s Old Town. I was the 58-year-old lady grinning from ear to ear on that trail, feeling like a kid again. I’d heard of it through my work and seen photos. It was just as fun as I’d imagined. We rolled down the hill from the parking lots at Mount Vernon then along the Potomac and through picnic areas and woods, ups and downs and twists and turns.
Riding through the prison grounds turned residential community in Lorton
Deb and Dee on the Mount Vernon Trail
We are camped out at Deb’s place for two nights, taking a rest day tomorrow to visit Washington DC and such. We’ve known Deb for 9 hours now and she feels like an old friend. The kind of friend who takes good care of you — she gave us cold drinks and snacks when we got to her place, invited us to do laundry, and took us to dinner at Lost Dog Cafe (recommended, and with a good mission!).
We happened on the halfway sign for the Greenway at the end of our ride. Perfectly timed; tomorrow starts the second month of our ride.
Lunch with my Greenway colleague, Niles, who was also in D.C. for a few days, was a great treat. We saw him last Fridsy in Durham, so now he has to show up in New York City and Boston for our other rest days.
June 1, 2018
Today was a day off worth sharing, even though we never rode our bikes. After coffee and some Rodney Yee yoga with our host, Deb, we met Tom Kaiden for breakfast at the Royal, a fine old diner in Alexandria. Tom is COO of Visit Alexandria and a member of the East Coast Greenway board. We talked about our trip and about the tourism industry. He shared some insights on his city and sent us to the top of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, where we got a sky-high view of the Potomac, D.C., and Alexandria.
We headed into Washington then to see the Burnjng Man exhibit at the Renwick Gallery and the Obama portraits at the National Portrait Gallery.
#nospectators, from the Burning Man exhibit at the Renwick.
We loved these young students’ enthusiasm for the sights
We came back to Deb’s house and got to walk her dog, do a little bike maintenance, and put together dinner. We are going to miss Deb, we have felt right at home with her.
Tomorrow we are off to Annapolis.
On the National Mall early this morning
June 2, 2018
As we were waking up and packing up early this morning, our host Deb announced she was riding with us for a while — she’s definitely intrigued with bike touring and the East Coast Greenway.
So Deb led us up the rest of the Mount Vernon Trail — beautiful — along the Potomac, then we crossed over Memorial Bridge into D.C. It was a beautiful morning, clearing skies and soft air. We loved having the Mall and the monuments almost to ourselves early on a Saturday —just us and a scattering of runners.
We found our way past new construction to the Anacostia Trail, a complementary route of the East Coast Greenway on the east side of the city and the trail’s namesake river. Our first 25 miles were nearly all on greenways as the Anacostia merged with the main route and a few more trails. They were wonderful, making for carefree, feel-like-a-kid again biking right out of the city.
On the Mount Vernon Trail headed to Washington DC. Thanks for riding with us, Deb!
A painter capturing a bridge on the Anacostia Trail. “It looks like fun,” I told him. “This isn’t fun,” he told me. “Fun is sitting in a chair drinking a glass of wine. This is work.”
The rest of our miles, some 43 more, were a mix of trails (WB&A rail trail and some side paths), suburban streets, and country roads, with fairly gentle rolls.
We haven’t seen the harbor and historical downtown of Annapolis yet because our warmshowers host lives a few miles outside of town. Warmshowers is a nonprofit that matches bike tourists with people willing to put them up in their homes for the night. Cindy is our first warmshowers stay — we had a few nights booked in Florida and Virginia but the hosts have had cancel for various reasons.
Turns out we hit the jackpot: Cindy welcomed us and our bikes inside, showed us to our bedroom and bathroom for showers, then began feeding us — for hours! We moved from afternoon snacks and fun conversation to dinner on her deck and more conversation, then dessert and more laughs. She hosts cyclists partly in honor of her brother Glen, an avid bike tourist who lost his battle with cancer this past year. Once again, we are grateful to be showered with such kindnesses, including hugs and slobbery licks from Cindy’s two big sweethearts, Cooper and Charlie.
We ate for about four hours, but we did move from the kitchen to Cindy’s deck and back inside.
Entering the Middle Branch Trail south of Baltimore, just a wee bit of rain lately.
June 3, 2018
Staying in the present is one of the exercises I’ve been working on during this trip, not anticipating too much into the future or dwelling on days past. But seeing as our trip is just over halfway done, and we’re wrapping up our sixth of 15 states tomorrow, I’ve let my mind drift off sometimes in the last few days to imagine how it will feel when the trip is over. You know, back to normalcy: the five-day work week in an office, two weekend days for play but also chores. Like grocery shopping! It gives me good perspective on how amazing this time is, two months in which the day of the week has no meaning. Sixty days in which we spend the majority of our days outside, in sun and wind and (like today) rain. The sights, sounds, and smells we absorb: birds, honeysuckle, humidity.
And so very little routine. Routine bores me, it makes me restless. One incredible feature of this trip is how different each day is. We have little idea of what to expect and we are often pleasantly surprised. We’ve watched the topography, the trees and vegetation all change as we’ve inched our way north. The cities, towns and crossroads each have their own character, nothing we could predict until we reach them.
Today’s ride is a great example. It was our second shortest at just 34 miles. A chilly, gusty wind blew all day and rain fell for all but our first few hours, so we were good with ending the day early. We never heard back from a warmshowers host another 10 miles up the toad in Towson, so we booked a room in a funky downtown Baltimore hotel.
Of our two most pleasant surprises today, one was the Greenway network that starts with the beautiful Baltimore-Annapolis Trail (former rail line), then a connector trail to a greenway running alongside the Baltimore-Washington airport. A few miles of roads later, the Middle Branch Trail took us into Baltimore. It made for easy, pleasant riding even in the rain.
Jane meets us on the trail, before the rain started
Happy surprise #2: meeting Jane Wadsworth. Jane has ridden a few of the East Coast Greenway Week A Year tours. I met her quickly last fall in Wilmington, NC, as the last WAY tour started, and I loved reading her funny blog posts during that trip.
Jane took the time to write to me about meeting up with us somewhere near Annapolis. She confirmed last night that she’d ride with us today. But when the forecast was pretty definite about rain and cold today (50s! In June!) we were sure she would politely decline and wish us well. Instead she showed up at the B&A trailhead, wearing a familiar East Coast Greenway bike jersey and a big smile on her face.
We loved Jane’s company and once again having a local who could lead us through a couple turns and connections on the trails. She’s a bonafide athlete: a former professional tennis player who transitioned into triathlons, marathons, competitive rollerblading, and cycling. Aside from her athleticism, Jane felt like a sister — we are the same age, both married to older men, and she is a writer on the side when she’s not writing software.
Jane loves the B&A trail and for good reason— it’s well maintained, travels 12 miles from Annapolis to Glen Burnie, and offers access to coffee shops, ice cream stores, a bike shop and other important amenities. We pulled off mid-morning to a small diner just steps from the trail.
We said goodbye to Jane at the start of the BWI trail and shook our heads as we rode further in the wind and rain. Who do you know who would meet you to ride 15 miles or so in cold rain, then turn around to ride back alone? Pretty impressive.
Dee went to use the bathroom at a ranger station on the B&A trail and met these rangers, all very keen on their local trails, she reported. Meanwhile Jane and I helped a grown man riding a kid’s bike who needed an Allen wrench to raise the seat. I felt mechanically competent to pull my key set out of my pannier.
We arrived in downtown Baltimore and the inner harbor with Dee nearly hypothermic, her fingers white and useless from Raynaud’s. There’s the one advantage of the extra body fat I carry, compared to Dee: I wasn’t nearly as chilled. We stopped at the visitor center and a kind staffer — turns out he’s a bike commuter — was sufficiently impressed with our trip and called to book this hotel room for us, $90. Yes, the rain is dripping through the ceiling in one corner of our room and soaking the curtains but hey, we are now warm, drying out, and resting up for tomorrow’s adventures. And grateful.
We entertained some horses just outside of Monkton, MD, after leaving the beautiful Torrey Brown Trail.
June 4, 2018
Today was a long (68 miles) but fun day of riding, offering the full range of scenery from urban to suburban, trail, and rural. We left Baltimore early, the morning cloudy and chilly. Very quickly the Greenway took us through Druid Hill Park on the Jones Falls Trail, a huge urban park and a pretty way to leave the city.
From the park the streets morphed from working class urban to suburban. Traffic was busy with school dropoffs but we usually had a bike lane or wide shoulder, nothing I take for granted these days.
Speaking of suburbia, I was studying the Greenway map last night and nearly gasped. There, just a mile or so from our route north of Baltimore, was the Lutherville neighborhood where I lived for junior high and a year of high school. So Dee indulged me and we added a few miles to go see it.
Amazingly, after 44 years the houses still looked the same. Someone added a screened porch to the back of our Clearfield Circle house, otherwise it looked just the same. Standard split-level in a standard late 60s development plopped down on a former horse farm.
The best thing: the gravel bike path I remembered behind our house, the former carriage lane to the old farmhouse, is still there. It’s paved now, a proper greenway. In those awkward junior high years, my bike was my escape and that path was my escape route. It’s funny to think of it as my first greenway.
The bike path behind my old house in Lutherville
We rode on still north, then turned east and came to our favorite segment of the day: the Torrey C. Brown Trail, a gorgeous stone-dust path on the former Northern Central Railroad line. The Greenway follows seven miles of the nearly 20-mile trail, much of it following the Big Gunpowder Falls river. We didn’t want to leave; the riding was peaceful and the sun was starting to break though clouds and the tree canopy above us.
Dee at mile one of Torrey Brown Trail
The rest of our afternoon was mostly rural and rolling as we headed east to Havre de Grace. The horse farms and fields were some of the prettiest we have seen. We appreciated whenever the sun broke though the clouds to warm us a bit, although climbing a few of those rolling hills also served to warm us.
We have ended our day on the outskirts of town at a Super 8. I felt quite sure a Subway would be close at hand for dinner, for Dee, and it was, plus Dunkin Donuts for decaf latte afterwards. So someone’s a happy camper tonight!
The Wilmington skyline from the river walk along the Christina River
June 5, 2018
Today’s ride, a measly 46 miles, was bookended by two bridges — one a perennial gap in the East Coast Greenway Route, the other a soon- to-open bike/pedestrian bridge that will be a treasured favorite on the Greenway.
We began our day crossing the Hatem Bridge over the Susquehanna River from Havre de Grace to Perryville. It’s a busy two-mile span with jersey barriers, zero shoulders, and joints that can swallow bike tires. Advocates campaigned to open the bridge to bikes, but state officials back-tracked this past year to allow bike crossing only on weekends.
Given my issues with bridges, I was more than prepared to find an alternative crossing method. Daniel Paschall, the Greenway’s Mid-Atlantic coordinator, sent us the timetables for the Hartford Transit LINK busses, equipped with a rack for two bikes. So we waited at the last bus stop before the bridge — conveniently just down the highway from our Super 8 and in front of McDonalds, which meant a better breakfast than the Super 8 offered (just sayin’). For $1 — or 50 cents for seniors! — we loaded our bikes on the 7:30 am bus. We were the only passengers, and gradually our bus driver warmed up to us and dropped us off short of the train station stop, more convenient to our route. It was all easy and, yes, driving safely over the bridge, I can affirm that I would never want to bike it.
With all that multi-modal excitement behind us, we hit the road. It was a picture-perfect morning for a bike ride: bright sun, fresh but not too cool air, and a tailwind. We rode through more rolling, beautiful country and a few pretty riverside hamlets. We stopped for coffee in Elkton, a charming little town that seems to be thriving.
Our seventh state!
It’s a fun adventure each day when we know so little about the route ahead. Twice today we had the pleasure of riding on greenways — the James Hall Trail in Newark, DE, and a trail that took us along the Delaware River into New Castle. And New Castle, what a delightful surprise. Its 18th century buildings and flags flying give it the feel of a European hamlet.
Dee riding into New Castle. Below, flags flying above our rest stop at New Castle’s history museum.
As Daniel warned us, the ride from New Castle into Wilmington is a gritty six miles. But in just a few months, that will all change when a beautiful Jack Markell bike/ped bridge opens across the Christina and leads to a long boardwalk up to the stunning DuPont Environmental Education Center and then the river walk into the city. We rode out to the nature center to check on the progress of the Markell Trail. We had a fun chat with Sarah and Ed, two naturalists on duty for the afternoon. They showed appropriate appreciation for our trip — we like that — and talked to us about the history of the nature refuge. It has been reclaimed from brownfields and cleared of the invasive phragmites grass that had choked the marsh area, now home to cattails blowing in the wind, egrets and butterflies and more.
So nice to see a map of the Greenway on display at the DuPont Environmental Education Center! Sarah and Ed were fun to talk with and justifiably proud of their center.
We ended our day at Farmer & the Cow, a downtown Wilmington restaurant that caught our eyes when we rode by. We walked into great excitement: eating contests pitting the restaurant owners against local radio personalities. We felt like we were part of a private party with lots of loud cheering and jeering. One of the owners told us the place has only been open 11 weeks but has already made a splash for great burgers and more. (We can vouch for the roasted Brussels sprouts in hoisin sauce.) He didn’t win his spicy wings contest, though; a burly radio guy finished has plateful first. Afterwards our friend looked a little rough and we urged him to go home. Saying goodbye to each of us separately, he took our hands in his and wished us — as so many new friends have over these weeks — safe travels.
Schuylkill Banks Trail in the City of Brotherly Love
June 6, 2018
What a day! So many transitions. We left downtown Wilmington this morning and immediately found ourselves in nature on the Northern Delaware Trail — steep rock faces over the Brandywine Creek, steep stubby hills and twisty trails along a golf course and through woods.
The trail ended abruptly, comically really on the shoulder of a four-lane highway, but a quiet one with ample shoulders. The route got increasingly industrial as we entered Pennsylvania, with one quick respite in Chester on a short Greenway along the Delaware River in Chester.
Our most amazing transition was crossing over a highway cloverleaf into the John Heinz nature preserve. We bumped along for miles over gravel and dirt, past marshes and wildflowers, while traffic roared by on I-95 just out of our sight and airplanes took off from and landed at the Philly airport just beyond the highway.
From the nature preserve we hit working class streets on the outskirts of Philadelphia. We stopped at a corner eatery for superb cups of coffee. Our story inspired the man and woman working there; we could see the wheels turning as they processed what we were doing, as we have seen so many times in talking about our trip. “You’re doing what? At your age?” I pointed to the Greenway sign just out the door and told them they could take off whenever they were ready, south to Florida or north to Maine.
We stopped in Bartram’s Garden, an urban oasis with the preserved home and gardens of John Bartram, one of America’s earliest botanist. The beautiful acreage rolls down to the Schuylkill River, where a community boathouse offers kayaks and rowboats, all with a view of the city’s skyline.
Riding along the Schuylkill on the Greenway is a great treat. The trail is wide and hosts runners, walkers, and cyclists all day long. We rode past the art museum and the beautiful Water Works event venue to Cosmic Cafe, on the river beside the first of the rower’s boathouses. A plaque outside the cafe talks about the East Coast Greenway and notes that the mileage from Key West to Philly is 1,861 — sounds pretty good.
From the river we headed up the hill to the Spring Garden neighborhood to the home of my Greenway colleague, Daniel, and his girlfriend, Korin. They rented two city bikes for us to all to go to a meeting at a brewery about a stretch of the city’s Greenway. It was fun to ride through city streets, led by our friends, on a fall-like evening, feeling like part of this city’s interesting fabric.
Thanks for hosting us, Daniel and Korin!
It’s been a rich, full day. This Relive video offers a great snapshot of it all:
Daniel leading us on the Delaware and Raritan Canal Trail
June 7, 2018
Today we had the privilege of riding out of Philadelphia with Daniel, the Greenway coordinator for Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Washington DC. He handled all of the navigation but he also gave us a preview of the Greenway route of the future, some years away. We loved the beautiful new stretches of greenway along the Delaware River that need a few more connectors. We rode a loop through Bristol Township, where we stopped at a nice coffee shop, and our first taste of the Delaware & Raritan Canal Trail, a hard-packed dirt path beside a sleepy canal.
It was a great tour and a fun day, 56 miles. As Dee told Daniel at one point, “You must know every small patch of greenway in eastern Pennsylvania.” Morning clouds burned off to bright sun just after our first coffee stop, and the air was cool and dry like fall. For the first time in a long while, we didn’t have to ride on a single highway shoulder — that’s a good day!
We ran into John Jensen, stewardship manager for Riverfront North Partnership, as we stopped to enjoy the view. John is responsible for the native plants, wildflowers and other landscaping along a new stretch of greenway along the Delaware River. He and Daniel had just celebrated the ribbon-cutting for another greenway segment the day before.
Thanks again for the tour and sneak peek, Daniel!
Sadly, Daniel left us in Trenton, where he caught a commuter train back to Philly. Some people have jobs to do, I guess. We had 10 miles of canal trail to go to reach Princeton, where we were meeting Silvia. A member of the Greenway’s Advisory Board, Silvia is a Greenway champion: she leads local rides, serves on the New Jersey committee, and advocates for greenways on social media. She met us on the trail and led us on a little tour of Princeton University before we headed on to her home, our stay for the night. She is also a foodie. I loved watching her effortlessly whip up dinner for us while we talked. This evening she and Clive hosted a dessert party for a dozen or so of their cycling friends to talk about our trip and the Greenway — lots of fun and laughs along with a table full of dessert, what’s not to love?
Silvia, our host and ride leader for the afternoon
Silvia and Clive (far right) hosted a dessert party at their home tonight for their local cycling friends to meet the two crazy women biking up the East Coast Greenway.