The ultimate concept ride, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) put their creativity to work and pulled off a socially distanced edition of the 50 States Ride – a here, there, and everywhere course that traverses all four D.C. quadrants and covers all streets named after states (except D.C., that’s a pending addition).
Despite having participated in this ride a few times, and knowing full well it would be a 65-mile stop-and-go affair while following almost 20 pages of cues, I convinced Felkerino and myself that this would be a great idea and we signed up.
WABA worked hard to incorporate pandemic precautions into this event. The overall registration number was reduced by around half (I think?), with a cap of 375 total riders. Riders selected from two pre-established start windows (a 7:30 a.m. wave, and an 8:30 a.m. wave) of around 45 minutes, and could choose to join the course from four or five different locations around the city.
The WABA team had packaged the event swag for all registrants into petite event fanny packs (including putting the cue sheet in a nice baggie in case of rain!) so you could just grab one and go after completing the no-contact sign-in.
The various rest stops throughout were located in national parks. Food was laid out on long tables and riders could easily retrieve them. Each stop was well-stocked with sanitizer, water, and snacks. The WABA team had also thought to install a porta potty at each location, too.
Weather for the ride was nearly ideal. Overcast sky was the theme of the day, but the clouds never did more than spit on us, and the temperatures were in the mid-60s with a very light southerly breeze.
Felkerino and I chose to begin the ride from the Anacostia stop in Southeast, since it’s a couple of miles from home. This start also set up well terrain-wise, as you take on the hillier sections of the course on the front end of the day, and are rewarded with trending downhill to flat for the last 20 miles.
The reduced ridership and distributed start, both in terms of start windows and locations, meant that I didn’t spend 65 miles with the constant worry that I would run into someone else’s wheel or that someone would rear-end me. In addition, it was a treat to pop on over to Anacostia and begin, rather than roll to what has been the traditional start location in Adams Morgan.
Felkerino and I rode the event with Sheun, who we met on the ride. She was also doing the 50 States Ride for the first time, which was very exciting for us veterans. Even though it’s always nice to ride with Felkerino, meeting someone new who was good company and kept a pace similar to ours added an additional element of enjoyment to the ride.
Our copacetic group of three slowly but steadily worked our way from one state street to the next, quadrant to quadrant. (For a full decription of the route by another rider, please check out Rootchopper’s summary.)
Compared to previous times, I’d call this year’s event a mellow affair that allowed me to soak in the sights of all four quadrants of the city for the first time. I found myself on a lot of streets – particularly in Southwest and Southeast – that made up segments of my long runs over the summer. I enjoyed experiencing them on two wheels and as part of this larger course.
The ride had all the stop and go that I remembered, but without the crowds of riders it was much easier to navigate. Cool temperatures allowed us to put all of our energy into the event, as our bodies did not have to worry about overheating.
We stopped at most of the rest stops to say hello to the WABA volunteers and staff, and to refill our water and supplies before taking on the upcoming segments. Most stops had no more than 10 people at any given time and as a randonneur from a small town that worked well for me.
Even though D.C. is not that hilly a place, parts of the town have their share of ups and downs, and the 50 States Ride always makes sure to remind me of that. I took on rollers that I only ride during the 50 States Ride.
I rode up sections that used to be part of the downhill sections of bike commutes of days gone by (hello, Garfield!), and climbed streets that had made descending portions of my summer runs (Fort DuPont area). It was just good fun to have all the memories and rollers repackaged into the 50 States Ride package.
Felkerino peeled off a few miles from the end, but Sheun and I both rode back to the place where we had started the day in Anacostia. This ride may not look hilly or hard on paper, but it is an all-consuming affair. It has a kazillion twists and turns.
Roads are not closed to vehicular traffic so you must always be paying attention. Any momentum you build up on a dowhill will almost surely be met with a stop sign or a long stoplight. You’re legs are digging in from dead stops throughout the day. You really do earn the t-shirt (or in this case, the fanny pack).
Like everything that’s happened since March of this year, this was not the 50 States Ride that WABA imagined hosting. However, I was totally impressed by everyone who pitched in to pull off the event.
WABA’s safety protocols helped me feel safe. The rest stops offered good support (including the aforementioned porta potty), and they were smartly distributed throughout the course. The choose-your-own-start location was a stroke of genius and I want to start in Anacostia every year!
Seriously, I hope they continue the multiple start waves, multiple start locations practice in future editions. It eliminated bottlenecks and clots of riders intermingling with other vehicular traffic, which I believe reduced the potential for conflicts on the road and allowed us more space to move throughout the day.
The volunteers and staff were super kind and friendly to us. I finished the 50 States Ride and my gratitude level was a 10. There was no post-ride gathering, but WABA staff and volunteers met us at the finish (from several feet away) and gave us shout-outs for our accomplishment. I wish I could have given Sheun a high five, but we’ll save it for next year.