Cycling from Philadelphia, PA to Reston, VA

In which I once again make poor life decisions fueled by stubbornness.

Tagged: Cycling Stories

A couple days ago, Rob Lass and I embarked on an epic journey from Philadelphia to Reston, VA (just outside of Washington, D.C.)… by bicycle. We had a business meeting in Reston—which is only about 160 miles away—so we figured we’d give cycling a shot. Deep down neither of us thought we could make it, but neither of us were man enough to admit that, so we tried anyway. One puncture, one bike-to-bike collision, one hail storm, weird sunburn, too many bad directions, and many, many hills later, we made it there and back in one piece. Overall, it was a very positive experience for the both of us.

Pictures are available here.

Lessons learned:

  • For anyone that is reasonably in shape, long distance touring is 85% mental.
  • Touring gear (e.g., racks and panniers) add a lot of weight, and weight makes a huge difference. I used a rack trunk and a handlebar bag, which made my bike top heavy and made steering awkward. It also prevented me from pulling a Natty Fab.
  • Even if you wear sunscreen, you’ll get sunburn and tanned in the weirdest places (see the pictures linked above).
  • Even though I used a fixed gear, I’m really glad I at least had a front brake; it was essential on the huge hills around the PA/MD border.
  • Route 1 is the best way to get from Philadelphia to Baltimore. Much of Route 1 is a four lane highway, but there’s a huge shoulder that allows for two bikes to ride abreast. It’s also legal for bikes to ride along the shoulder.
  • There is nothing between Kenett Square and the suburbs of Baltimore. Literally. We had to make an 8 mile detour just to get some lunch.
  • GPS is invaluable, especially for finding the nearest restaurant, hotel, or convenience store when in the middle of nowhere, vi&., between Kenett Square and Baltimore.
  • Never underestimate your appetite. All-you-can-eat places are great.
  • You probably don’t want to ride further than White Marsh, Maryland after dark. This is coming from someone who lives in West Philly. White Marsh is really nice, though, and has a lot of great places to stay/eat, especially around to I-95.
  • We were told that the Bike Washington cue sheet was the best way to get from Baltimore to D.C. It was great, however, it was originally written by people going the opposite direction (i.e., from D.C. to Baltimore). Therefore, some of the directions were wrong; for example, at mile 14.6 you really want to make a right onto Park Circle. Also, the warning about a big hill at mile 30.9 was really a downhill for us; we got really confused and thought we were lost because we never got to a big climb.
  • Getting across D.C. from Union Station to the Francis Scott Key Bridge took a lot longer than expected.
  • The Custis and W&OD trails are amazing.
  • Taking a lot of turns on small roads takes a lot of time; it took us the same amount of time to get from Philly to Baltimore (~100 miles down Route 1) as it did to go from Baltimore to Reston (~65 miles on dozens of different roads).
  • Riding through a hail storm is not fun.

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