Do you ever think wow, I don’t ride a bike enough lately? Maybe you want to test if the myth is true—do you really never forget how to ride a bike? I had a day like that today, sort of.
My friend from college moved out here a little before I did, but tomorrow she’s moving back to Arizona. I haven’t been able to see her since things locked down, so I decided to join her at her apartment to say goodbye and grab some drinks. Problem is, in this quarantine, I’m fairly limited in how I get around. The metro is running every 30 minutes or more (and is already a cesspool), you’re not supposed to hop in Ubers, I can’t find an electric scooter to save my life, and I don’t feel like walking six miles to get to her place. My friend in the building could drive me, but I feel bad making her my personal taxi, especially since I can’t repay the favor. Solution? Rent a Capitol Bikeshare for less than $2 and jaunt on over. The weather was nice, and Google Maps claimed the ride was mostly downhill. Armed with a dream; and a backpack stocked with alcoholic seltzers and PPE, I embarked on my journey.
Spoiler alert, I didn’t die, and I made it to my destination. It wasn’t necessarily a smooth ride.
Number one, after reserving a bike, I fooled around too long trying to make a good Instagram story before unlocking the bike. You’re limited to 3-5 minutes before the code expires, which I didn’t realize. After plugging in the code in 20+ times, and refusing to lose my money to this, I ended up on hold with Capital Bikeshare. Through his dog barking in the background, I gathered from Joe (not his name at all, but he needs a name) that I just needed to swipe my credit card again and get another code.
Two, I ignored the bike path signs and followed where I usually walk with my two feet, which was an immediate issue when I hit a bunch of one-way streets going the opposite direction I needed to be. I ended up two stoplights away from an onramp when a good Samaritan stopped me and politely asked if I was looking for a docking station. I told her I was attempting to get to Arlington Cemetery to cross at Memorial Bridge. She warned me that the path I was currently headed on was going to lead me into world of hurt and impatient drivers, and even though there wasn’t a bike path on the street behind me, it was best to just ride on the sidewalk. I pulled a U-turn and followed her advice, even though riding on the sidewalk bothers me to my core.
I found out why everyone in this city rides on the sidewalk—there are no bike paths in this godforsaken place. You’d think that the nation’s capital, one of the oldest cities in America, would be better built for older forms of transportation than a car. But no, apparently we went straight from horse and buggy to big-ass highways, with no regard for cyclists. I rode on too many sidewalks…but avid cyclists were on the sidewalks too! While crossing Memorial Bridge I ended up on the road, like I thought I was supposed to. Me and another lone wolf on the opposite side of the road were riding in the street, while the other dozen or so bikers I saw were riding on the raised sidewalk. I was the only one out of breath, probably more attributed to fear than the terrain. Preferring life over common courtesy, I quickly learned that DC is a sidewalk-bike-city and that if any pedestrians gave me trouble, bike trumps biped.
Three, I couldn’t look at my phone GPS as I have become accustomed to in all other modes of transportation, so I got a little lost. When I last looked at Google the route was a generally straight line, but the only straight street in the entire DMV area is the National Mall. I had to stay by the water line but away from the highway, so I channeled my inner Viking navigator and attempted to stay as close to the Potomac as I could. By the time I got to the Lincoln memorial, I caved and made Siri direct me from my backpack.
Four, after I thought I finished my arduous six-plus (“plus” being the few times I failed to listen to my inner navigator, Siri) mile journey, I had to dock my bike. I thought it would be simple enough, you just push it in until the light turns green.
The light didn’t turn green. No matter how hard I shoved this monstrosity into the dock, the light didn’t turn green. Normally I would have eaten the fee and said good riddance, but the price for a lost bike is over $1,000. If my $2 trip turned into $20, I would have been able to accept running away and donating the next ride to someone, but I need that money for my fucking mortgage!!!
Exhausted and drenched in sweat, I took a break and cracked open my only source of hydration—an alcoholic seltzer. The only soul around was a frazzled Starbucks employee. I figured drinking my own drink, albeit somewhat illegal, was better for the greater good than spooking this man and asking for some water. I thought it would give me enough strength to push the bike in and make the light turn green. Half of my drink gone…and I thought wrong. I called the Capitol Bikeshare help-desk again and lo and behold, Joe and his dog answer the phone after my ten minutes on hold. Not sure if he recognized me, I attempted to give him my phone number in a different voice, which I’m sure didn’t fool him one bit. He put me on hold again to “figure out the problem,” i.e. take a deep breath and decide how his life choices led him to this moment, coaching a random-ass girl how to operate a simple fucking city bike on a holiday. While he was debating, a man came up to the bike rack. I asked him if he was strong enough to push my bike in, to which he realized quickly the dock was just broken. He advised me just to go park somewhere else, a realization I most likely would have come to if I chose buying water at Starbucks over cracking open a seltzer.
I parked the damn bike two blocks away (making this a six-mile-plus-plus journey) and arrived at my friend’s house, my back completely soaked and my armpits smelly. But I made it and was able to enjoy two (possibly three?) jalapeno margaritas with my college friend before she went back to Arizona.
My neighbor picked me up a few hours later and drove me home, a much easier but less notable way of transport.