May 17, 2013

One Does Not Simply Bike into Mordor

For Bike to Work Day 2013, I pledged to actually ride my bike into the automotive Mordor of Tysons Corner. In previous year BtWDs, I've just done a ceremonial ride; I've put my laptop in a backpack, put on business casual, stopped at the Vienna pit stop, and then completed a few miles on the W&OD trail before riding back to work at home. Though supportive in spirit, it wasn't the same as playing Frogger through angry car traffic and cramming the bike in my tiny office - so that's what I decided to do in 2013.

Though my usual car commute is only 2.8 miles, it goes along very non-bike-friendly thoroughfares, so hostile I'd label them as a potential suicide mission. Given my young daughter at hone, I opted to modify my commute to 5.6 miles to take advantage of riding along the W&OD trail and connecting with the Gallows Road bike lanes towards the gates of, Tysons. The night prior, I left some dress clothes at the office and parked a car for the return commute. Though the inner-Tysons trip to my centrally-located office is navigable in the early morning hours, the return route was just too dangerous and with the ubiquitous afternoon rush hour, I wasn't comfortable making my way back out of the gridlock.

Vienna pit stop
So the Morning of the 17th I woke up, added a flashing red light to the back of the road bike, and set off for the Vienna pit stop to join the Fellowship of the (Chain)ring. Headed along the W&OD trail, there were dozens of bikes going in both directions, everyone was enjoying the 60s temperature, and the pit stop was hopping by my 6:40 arrival. Dozens of people were milling about, grabbing swag, and enjoying the refreshments. As it was my official pit stop, I picked up my 2013 shirt, along with a bunch of other swag. The first item was a really cool bike route map for the area, printed on a micro-fiber cloth that doubles as a glasses wipe (swag pictures at bottom of post). The Friends of the W&OD organization was giving out reflective safety straps (slap bracelets) and bike water bottles. Vienna Whole Foods was giving out bananas, water, and breakfast bars, and of course there was hot coffee to warm up.

From the Vienna pit stop I headed down the W&OD trail a few miles, connected with Gallows Road, and started up the bike lanes towards Tysons. It was fun to see so many bikes, and especially young kids, getting into the day and riding along the trail. Once I started up Gallows though, I was on my own. The trip was fairly uneventful; I was a bit nervous by some close-passing traffic, but overall it was easier than I expected. The only hiccup was having to stop midway up the largest hill for a red light and having to crank the pedals to get going again while avoiding the angry glares of vehicles waiting behind me for a right turn. Before the bike lanes ended, I peeled off on Tysons Branch Road, crossed the small bridge by the mall, and rode along Fashion Boulevard to the Tysons pit stop at LL Bean. Though this final stretch was along roads sharing with traffic, I was early enough to pretty much have the road to myself and the Metro buses around the mall.

Tysons pit stop
When I arrived at the Tysons pit stop, there was only one other person there, and no one else was showing up. I'm hoping it picked up a bit later, but it was surprisingly empty of much activity. LL Bean and Atleta were there with raffles, the the swag was mainly from Access Tysons. They were giving out a string backpack, another Tysons microfiber map, a card-sized map of Tysons bike routes, blinking red lights, and a green bar light (wraps around front bike bar with a couple white LEDs). Unfortunately absent was refreshments; though the stop was sponsored by La Sandia and California Pizza kitchen and they advertised refreshments, there was nothing there. Not that I needed much, but I skipped coffee in Vienna in the hopes I could mill about in Tysons and drink there.

I rolled out of Tysons and started heading around the back roads and Westpark Drive. There were a few hills and some traffic, but other than generating a bit of sweat and burning a few extra calories, it wasn't a bad ride.

Burn a few hundred calories and win free parking.

All told, door-to-door in 26:30 if I cut out the pit stop time, and that's extending my commute to 5.6 miles of cycling. That's on par or better than my usual car commute (yes, it usually takes me that long to go a mere 2.8 miles). It was a fun ride and definitely more relaxing than sitting in traffic. It's a commute I would do much more often if I didn't have to drop my daughter off at daycare each day.