Last Saturday night, I finally took advantage of one of the Potomac Pedalers Touring Club‘s organized rides. In this case, it was the “Moonlight Memorial Monument Ride”, which was scheduled for a rollout from 11th and K St. at 9pm. All PPTC rides are volunteer-led affairs, which generally means that while there’s an agreed upon pace and route, it’s up to you to make sure you can take care of yourself. Given the ride-filled schedule this approach produces, I think it works pretty well.
Perhaps the ride was advertised beyond the usual PPTC venues (I know that I was reminded of it by a posting on an MTB-related site), but as the ride started, it quickly became apparent that there were more than a few folks who hadn’t either ridden downtown before or ridden at night. And as you might imagine, there was a lot of overlap between those two groups. Now this, of course, is perfectly fine – no way to get experience without doing it for the first time, right? But it does end up requiring some extra care (and work) on the part of the ride leaders. While I did see someone hold up a yellow triangle of cloth and say something about following that at the beginning of the ride, I think that was pretty much the last time I saw him. There may have been other people who had been recruited to shepherd the groups as they drifted apart (in addition to speed differences, there would be inevitable – and multiple – separations by cars and traffic lights), but I never saw them.
The route, which clocked in at 15 or so miles, was a good one. Down 11th to Pennsylvania, and then left towards the Capitol. A loop around the Capitol, passing Union Station, the Supreme Court, and back across the Mall. West on the Mall until 15th, and then up and around the White House, coming back to the WWII Memorial. And this is where my knowledge of the official route ends. I’d been sticking around near the back of the pack with a couple of friends, and we were in the company of a lot of the new-to-this folks.
By the time we were headed past the White House, the vast majority of the group was out of sight, leaving those of us near the back guessing as to where they went. Cue sheets had been passed out to some at the beginning of the ride, but they must have run out as neither I nor anyone else near by had one. However, it wasn’t too hard to guess that the group had gone back to the Mall, and after getting that confirmed by one of the guards near the Old Exec building, we headed down that way. As we approached the WWII Memorial, a guy in front of me thought that he saw some flashing bike lights up along the Reflecting Pool, so we all hopped onto the sidewalks and headed that way. Not exactly an ideal situation, but I think it gave some comfort to those who were getting worried about getting left behind.
The hopes of comfort seemed to turn into relief as we encountered a pretty large part of the group arriving in front of the Lincoln Memorial (from the opposite direction, natch). A bit of a pause for pictures (all of mine being useless, as I’m apparently not up to the multiple challenges of shooting – against a dimly lit background – a crowd of people wearing reflective stripes in the dark foreground). And then . . . where? Despite the plurality of riders being present, no one seemed to know where to go next. I did manage to find a cue sheet this time, and sorted out that Ohio Drive was up next. Someone else had sorted that out a second or two before me, and then it seems that everyone decided to follow us. Which was fine, of course. Unless you’re bothered by things like the guy (who was in front of me by a couple of seconds) leading us through a crosswalk (instead of the street) and up onto the sidewalk (instead of the street) before actually hitting . . . the street. I’m sure that the tour group that has previously been occupying the sidewalk had something to talk about for a while.
The group started to stretch out again on Ohio Drive, and I must have had to direct a half dozen people on how to get to Hains Point. From my perspective, the “group” part of “group ride” had disappeared entirely by this point. I didn’t want anyone to come away from this ride with a bad experience (about city riding, night riding, or PPTC), so I was trying to be as helpful as I could. After Hains Point came the Jefferson Memorial, which was the last place I saw more than a few riders in one place. Even I, who could draw a map of the entire ride thus far with my eyes closed, couldn’t understand the cue sheet. So I – and a number of other people – decided to cut our losses and just head back to the beginning of the ride by our own route. I’d say that I would guess we were “mid-pack” at this point, but there didn’t seem to be any pack. I can only hope that no one had too hard of a time finding their way back (tho’ I have to say that I was stunned more than once by the lack of DC knowledge on the part of a participant – “is that the White House?”).
When we got back to 11th and K St. (along with a few others who latched on), about half of the starting group was there. PPTC, with the help of the hostel next door, had very kindly made some water/juice/cookies available to all. I should have tried harder tofind the ride leader/coordinator at this point, but I had a (much longer) ride scheduled early the next morning, so we called it a night. Despite the uncertainty of the evening, I and my friends had a great time, and I hope that was true for the rest of the riders.
I write and post these ride/race reports for a couple of reasons. First, and most importantly, I want to give those who are considering the same event in the future and idea of what it looks like on the ground. Secondly, it’s sometimes useful to consider how an event might be improved. In this case, and in view of the likely composition of future rides, I’d suggest that the cue sheet include a visual map on the back. Further, I’d suggest more (and more visible) ride leaders. This isn’t complaining from the sidelines – I’ll soon be sending off an email to volunteer for the next one of these. PPTC – like most clubs – depends on its members to make things work. Time for me to chip in.