I am a “Pedal Pal.” A pen pal for a cyclist who is riding 4,000 miles to raise money and cancer awareness. The 4K for Cancer started at Johns Hopkins and I was asked to be a Pedal Pal for this year’s group.
My friend, Alan Ruof, graciously allowed me to be at his house in Alexandria at 5:30 p.m. and he drove me to Baltimore.
When we arrived at 6:45 it was easy to spot the riders. Team Portland wore blue jerseys. Team Seattle wore gold jerseys. Team San Francisco wore white jerseys. The riders were standing in a dedication circle holding hands and one by one announcing who they were riding for on that day.
|Chey Hillsgrove, Barry Sherry|
I had to find Chey Hillsgrove, the Team Portland leader. He is the Pedal Pal for Jake the Hero Grecco. I didn’t know when we would be rolling out and made sure I found him first. He was very gracious and very thankful that I came to say hello to him.
|Chey riding for Jake|
I then found Patrick Sheridan, my Pedal Pal. He introduced me to our riding team of Jeff Graves, Chris Chitterling, and Lauren Shoener, as well as Lauren’s father, who would be riding with us. At some point before we rolled out we had an alumni rider, Mark, join us but I don’t remember meeting him until I gave him my water bottle – because he forgot water bottles.
|Team San Francisco|
Shortly after 7:00 a.m. we rolled out of the parking lot and over to the Inner Harbor. A strange sight (to me) was seeing so many of the bikes turned upside down. Perhaps in my circle we never do that because we would smash our bike computers. The riders were then called over for the opening ceremony.
|Lauren Shoener (Chris with his back turned)|
After the National Anthem, the riders dipped their rear wheels into the Inner Harbor followed by a group photo op. The San Francisco group was called up and were ready for the send off. Although I had pictured a peloton of 30 riders, that was not to be. We were sent off in groups of four or five, each one spaced seemingly 3-4 minutes apart. Our group was the third to go and it was then I saw the mystery alumni rider, Mark.
Within a few hundred yards we were caught up with the front groups and were in the midst of a 10k run. Perhaps the four riders had cue sheets and our alumni rider did as well but I didn’t. I was simply along for the ride.
We had only gone one mile when we got on a trail that was littered with broken bottles and glass. Stay classy Baltimore.
We meandered, literally, about the streets. When we looked up we saw riders headed in different directions. So we followed them. We went east on Ostend Street then made a U-turn and went west. And others followed us. I was along for the ride.
Mark then led us down a street with a clear “No Outlet” sign visible. I enjoyed pointing to it while we passed it. We turned around. I was along for the ride.
As little confidence as we had in our alumni leader, others may have had less in theirs because they asked us to go to the front and be the lead group. Jeff then stepped up and took the lead on reading and calling out directions and I did most of the pulling. Just tell me where to turn. It worked well because I had a good odometer. Not sure about the other riders. I can’t imagine doing a cross country trip without one though.
|Pikachu backpack Chey is taking to Portland|
Once we finally got rolling we got to the BWI Trail. When we came to Stoney Run Road we turned left instead of right. We even stopped about 50 yards from where we turned to contemplate our decision and one of the 4K vans even stopped and didn’t say a word (that we were going the wrong way). Nice. We went 1.5 miles before turning around. We rode back four miles when we could have continued with a right turn and been back on course after two miles.
|Riders dipping their rear wheels in the Harbor|
We stopped in Jessup for Rest Stop #1. While our bonus miles had dropped us back as the third or fourth group in we were the first to leave. As we rolled on the open road we noticed we soon dropped Mark, our leader. We waited and discovered he needed a tool to fix his seat.
Once fixed, we dropped Mark again. This time we learned that he hadn’t eaten breakfast. And that he ran four marathons. And six half marathons.
Mark would have a rough day. He was on a borrowed bike (not his fault), lost his water bottle (partially his fault) and failed to eat breakfast before a 65 mile ride in the heat (his fault).
|Dipping the rear tire in the Inner Harbor|
With our confidence in Mark waning, I asked Jeff to read me the street names on the cue sheet. That’s when I learned we would connect with the Capital Crescent Trail, a trail I ride 2-3 times per week. I told him to get us there and I would lead us home. We were brimming with confidence.
We rolled into Rest Stop #2 in College Park. Then things started to go terribly wrong. Mark was insistent that we would have to wait for all the groups to check in and we had heard one group was more than one hour behind. We were not patiently waiting.
To make matters more confusing, Mark told us that one of the drivers (alumni) stated we had to wait while another one was clearly telling us to go. Lauren’s father was with us and was really pushing the issue to ride. With three groups checked in, we left.
|Patrick Sheridan (L), Jeff Graves (R)|
We followed the directions and then they just blew up. They made no sense. We showed locals and they simply shook their heads. We used Barry’s rules of navigating: (1) If you’re trying to get to the river (Potomac) follow the creek as it flows downward; and (2) If you don’t know where you’re going at least get there in a hurry.
|Lunch Stop – Papa Johns Pizza|
Even stopping and asking a Maryland Park Policewoman, she was also confused by our directions. So at Queen’s Chapel Road in Hyattsville we stopped in a broken bottle, glass strewn Exxon parking lot.
It was hot and we were thirsty. I gave Mark some money and told him to go itno the CVS and brink back a couple gallons of water. Mark went across the street and got himself a Coke.
|Christopher Chitterling, Lauren Schoener, Patrick Sheridan, Jeff Graves|
Eventually both support vans found us and since we had been leading and chalking the turns, the other groups followed. Mark was insistent that we all stay together and Lauren’s dad not-so-gently informed him that we were in a pretty unsafe area.
That was the end of Mark’s day. Not literally because he kept riding with us but he fell to the back and didn’t say a word after that.
Patrick found us a nice car route to D.C. although we rode on the sidewalk on Queen’s Chapel instead of on the street. I told Patrick we couldn’t ride down North Capitol Street which was his plan but we could find parallel streets. Although when he said we would run into Michigan Avenue I thought that could work an alternative route.
We came to the bridge that crossed Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and I instructed the group to stop. I didn’t tip my hand, at first, but I knew exactly where I was.
I had twice ridden the Metropolitan Branch Trail at lunchtime in the winter and didn’t like it. But I at least recognized the area. I had Jeff put down an arrow to turn on 7th, then on Monroe, then on 8th. Then we joined the Metropolitan Branch Trail. I told our group the MBT would take us right to Union Station, downtown. Talk about big smiles. They called the vans immediately.
We followed the trail to Union Station then down to the Mall. I took out group to 15th Street simple to sign it then we backtracked for bonus miles. I took my group for a tour of Hains Point then Jeff and I went ahead and signed the rest of the route while the others took a rest in the shade of a tree at the Jefferson Memorial.
Once our task was completed, we took the 14th Street Bridge across the Potomac and followed the Mt. Vernon Trail to Old Town Alexandria. We did briefly stop at Gravelly Point and watch the places land at Reagan National Airport.
I said goodbye to my new friends and had to find my way to Alan’s house, without a 4K cuesheet. It was easier that way.