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Tripping - part 6: The Bikes

Monday afternoon. I had been looking forward to this tour almost more than anything else. The idea of riding a bike around the monuments in Washington seemed perfect. When else had I done something like this? Oh, yes, New York City. Every Saturday all summer long, I rode my bike around Manhattan, even got into the Bronx and Queens, and finally, the last day of my stay there I joined the NYC Ride -a century ride for those up for it, lesser lengths for those of us who were not. My choice was the 40-miler. Although the trek exhausted me and led to my hurriedly throwing together my goods, alone in the house on Long Island, late that night, and heading then for the airport after a fitful and short sleep (the car came to pick me up at something like three in the morning), I loved the feeling of being on that ride.

More, I had loved every minute I spent riding around New York City on Saturdays. The feeling never went away. It was exhilarating and exciting and wonderful. So of course I looked forward to this mini-version, five miles around Washington.

Three of us met at the Bike the Sites place in the Old Post Office plaza, not far from the mall (elaine and I and a guy named Randy). The bike people have a little shop there with a bunch of bikes, all identical as far as I could tell. All mountain-type bikes, in good condition, with cardboard circles stuck inside the wheels - that advertised the tours. They fit us to our bikes, gave us water bottles and fine orange rain parkas (thin things that we had to tie to make fit so they wouldn't interfere with how we rode), told us where the gears were, and explained the rules of the road. The "road" there turned out to be mostly sidewalks. In D.C. the walks are wonderfully wide and it was raining so there were not many people we had to shoo out of the way. When there were resistant folks, our leader Steve rang his little bike bell and they usually moved. Otherwise he asked them to move and they always did. I didn't relish the idea of having to wend my way through crowds, any of whom might do anything at any time that would set me off balance.

I don't have the greatest balance. It may seem odd that I love bicycling so much.

Stopping and starting up again was the hardest thing for me on this tour, and it wasn't that hard. It was just that my knees were stiff and my legs frozen, so getting on and off was a little more trouble than it usually is. It didn't slow the group down because we had a full two hours for the five miles.

We rode down sidewalks, across the occasional street, right up to the monuments and around and over bridges and into natural park areas. We stopped to get closer to the monuments, to walk up the steps of the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments, to read names if we liked at the Vietnam Memorial. Finally I understood the full idea of the Vietnam memorial, and found it as wondrous as I had heard. It was not supposed to "make a political statement" but how can it not?

Right behind this memorial is the Korean War memorial, a series of sixteen figures representing all branches of the service, all sixteen of which are reflected in the glossy surface of the Vietnam stone - to make thirty-two. Thirty-two representing a number of parallels, including the location of that conflict. Steve said the men really come alive after dark, when they are subtly lit. I could well imagine it.

The World War II memorial is in process now, down the block from there. We did not see it but Steve described some of it. I couldn't get a clear picture of it in my head. Cathy had seen it two days before and said flatly that she didn't like it.

I had something of a similar sense of the FDR monument. Although certainly a tribute to this great man, it was, to me, too obvious and overdone and certainly too large. FDR himself had asked that there not be such a thing but if one must be built at least make it very small. I can't remember the comparison, something like the size of a pizza box, but I know that wasn't it. Somehow I don't see him eating pizza.

Many of his words were inscribed in the walls of this "Four Rooms" thing, and I did like reading them and thinking about George W.

We wended our way back to the plaza, gave up our bikes and parkas, kept our water bottles (the labels were printed with "bike the sites" - causing me to think this is no transitory business), and walked away, seeking a metro.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 3rd, 2004 12:56 pm (UTC)
Bikes are great for touring. I've never liked cars - they distance you from things - and walking takes too long. Why are they doing the World War 11 monument only now, after the Korean and Vietnam - didn't they have a national memorial before?
May. 3rd, 2004 04:39 pm (UTC)
No, there was no WWII memorial before. The pressure built up especially after the two later conflicts - Korea and Vietnam - got their memorials. I remember getting calls for donations for the WWII memorial not that many years ago. Somehow it just got missed, which certainly is strange.

Yes, bikes are perfect for getting there easily in so many places. I remember something else - when I was in New York ( this was 1998) I rode all the way to the end of the Bronx one time and on my way back to Penn Station I rode by "Spanish Harlem". A neighborhood mostly occupied by Hispanics, with a lively bunch of stores and many people on the streets. As I rode by in the dusk I saw groups, clusters, of men talking to each other, fairly loudly. There were several of these groups on the streets, each with five or six men. As I rode down the street I heard the sound of these voices and it was a sound I never would have heard either on foot or in a car. I wished then - and now - that I could have recorded it. A wash of musical sounds, really, akin to birds singing.
May. 6th, 2004 05:49 am (UTC)
Another great cycling experience - I like it!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


Judith Lautner
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