The lost way home, guided by Google maps

Last month, on Mother’s Day, I rode with a bunch of lovely bike women in DC for the Cyclofemme ride. It was a lovely ride. The sun shone bright but it wasn’t too hot. The ride was a good 13-or-so-mile leisure-paced ride. At the end of it all, it probably would’ve made more sense for me to just haul my bike home on the metro but no. I was determined, as always, to try and bike from whatever DC location I was at, back home to Silver Spring, Md.

When I first bought my trusty bike, I was a given a quick rundown on which trails were safe, and what hours were the best for travelling, especially as a woman biking alone.

Safety is a big deal, which might explain why I have never even thought about biking the Metropolitan Branch Trail until last month. I’ll admit though. The thought of being on the MBT made me a little uneasy. But seeing how it was during the Cyclofemme ride, I thought it might be worth a try.

After all, by the time the ride was finished, it was still only 1:30 p.m. Daylight a plenty for a sort of mad dash through the MBT. And there were a few runners here and there… at least until I got to Catholic University.

I’ve heard angry stories about the MBT on Twitter, Facebook, news articles, and bike folk, but I didn’t realize that when they said the MBT was “unfinished” it didn’t exactly run parallel to the Red Line all the way to Silver Spring.

The trail ceases to be a “trail” after CUA, bending deeply left by some sanitation center. From there, there is no trail. Just tiny, small, bland signs here and there to let you know which way the MBT is, and that you’re still actually (technically) on the MBT.

And with that, fellow reader, is how I got slightly lost.

There I was, somewhere between the Brooklyn/CUA and Takoma stations, peddling around the neighborhoods, in direct sunlight, making sure I didn’t miss any of the poorly placed “MBT trail” signs.

I was doing pretty good. Taking breather breaks here and there from the hilliness of the neighborhood. But after a point, I started getting that feeling that I might’ve missed an MBT sign. But instead of doubling back, and trying to find a sign, I just kept going. After a while I pulled my phone out to check where I was on Google maps, and with that, a dying phone battery, and little bit of water, I made it to familiar territory. A landmark: Montgomery College Silver Spring-Takoma campus.

Odd. Yes. But I made it. And now I can put the MBT under my bike belt.

Needless to say, the MBT is a very annoying trail if you’re actually trying to connect beyond the DC border. To the powers that be: Please hurry up and finish a more complete MBT.

From the White House
I love the bike lanes and cycle tracks in the city. I find them quite enjoyable—despite the occasional pot hole and rogue car—and in some sense, a peace of mind. I’m still with the flow of car traffic, but in my own small space.

But that’s until I went up 1st st or 4th street (avenue?) Or some other numbered street towards M from 15th.

That got a little weird but I wasn’t going to take it laying down. In what may have been a few questionable moves on my part, I hustled through traffic, onto M street, towards NoMa/Gallaudet metro, and caught the MBT.

From there I was free and clear. Or so I thought.

Like I said earlier, the trail as you’d assume it to exist just … disappears.

Desolation
Every time I see the MBT while on the Metro, I always think about how desolate it looks. In the winter months, it just looks cold and miserable. In the summer months, it looks unforgiving, hot, and miserable.

It’s open. Like a desert, but instead of sand, it’s just asphalt and sparse tree coverage (until you end up in the “neighborhood” parts of the trail).

So how does it feel to actually be on it?

Exactly how I thought it be passing by it on the Metro.

Lonely.

Desolate.

Miserable.

Never ending.

This isn’t to say the trail itself is terrible. It’s actually quite a nice trail… or I should say, the part of the MBT that’s an actual trail, from NoMA to CUA is a pretty nice trail. Nice smooth surface, with plenty of space for people to pass each other going in opposite directions.

It’s the rest of the trail after you continue away from CUA, towards Silver Spring that it gets terrible and miserable and annoying but not in the desolate way the trail is.

In hindsight, I probably could’ve done a better job a planning, and scanning through Google street view before I left, but the adventure is part of biking.

Even in questionable-looking neighborhoods or industrial parks.

Despite possibly getting kind of lost on my way home, I still managed to bike the 10-or-so miles in under an hour and a half. Not bad, considering all the fucking hills.

It was a nice adventure, and even though I used Google maps to help gauge where my location was, there’s something to be had for an “unfettered” .(.. untethered?) bike ride.

Now I just have to experience the MBT, in all it’s annoying glory, in the opposite direction: From Silvering Spring to DC.

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