Saturday 31 March 2007

It's Cherry Blossom Time in the District of Columbia

Magnolias in blossom in John Marshall Park,
beside the Canadian Embassy

Friday, March 30, 2007

The weather this week in Washington has been beautiful as Spring arrives triumphant. In the four years I have been here I have never tired of this season, so unlike the muddy, rainy grey Spring we have in Ontario. The air is clean and fresh and the wind blows the promise of a new beginning. I often go for a bicycle ride at lunchtime and today I brought my camera to record cherry blossom time, when the tourists come out of hibernation and invade the District of Columbia in full force.

The Washington Monument, with cherry blossoms

Jefferson Memorial

Leaving affairs and diplomacy behind, I rode out of the Embassy at 12:30 and headed along Constitution Avenue, turning left on 15th Street and passing the Washington Monument. The flags at the Monument are a good indicator of the wind strength I could expect and it looked much better than when I had ridden the same stretch on Tuesday and Wednesday.

When I approached the Tidal Basin I could see the vast hordes of visitors one can always expect at this time of year. And who could blame them for coming? The weather was gorgeous, with clear blue skies, light wind and temperatures around 18C/65F. I had to thread my way past more than the usual number of tour buses and when I reached the Tidal Basin itself I pulled off onto the sidewalk and enjoyed the view.

Putting away the camera and turning away from the Tidal Basin, I rode into East Potomac Park to begin my workout. I passed a sign encouraging people to park there for the Cherry Blossom Festival since there were 1300 more trees to look at. There were no blossoms to be seen there on my Wednesday ride and today, two days later, the trees were simply glorious.

Passing the golf course, I pulled off the road to wait for the inevitable group of racing cyclists to come by. Hains Point is the choice for cycling in downtown DC at lunchtime, both for hardcore racers doing sprint practices and people on sit-up-and-beg bicycles just wanting some fresh air. The road is in excellent condition and has two lanes in one direction so cars can easily pass. There are no stoplights but three stop signs and the loop is around 3 miles in length. I usually do four or five circuits, giving me 17 to 20 miles (28 or 33 kms) in just over an hour with the slow parts coming from and going back to the Embassy.

I am not much of a sprinter but even though I generally do not join the large (and terrifying) group I always find someone to ride with. After I took my second photo, I saw another Squadra Coppi jersey and discovered it was Brian, for whom I will be pet-sitting this weekend. I caught up to him and we were soon joined by a third rider, who was visiting from Pennsylvania. The three of us did five circuits together, practicing our sprinting on the west side of the loop, where there was a slight tailwind. I set the pace for the others since I wanted to get into a higher training zone and they held my wheel until near the end when they both jumped and sprinted. It turned out that Brian and the other rider both came from the Susquehanna Valley and had lots to talk about.

I felt pretty good, and was able to reach 53 km/h (33 mph) on one of my pulls on my old but honourable steel Bianchi, which limits me to a maximum gearing of 52x13. I went slower than I usually do on the east side of the course to recover so my average speed was a bit lower than usual but the workouts were excellent, bringing my heart rate pretty high up. Of course, my average would have been better if it were not for all the cars and buses that kept getting in the way. The Cherry Blossom Festival will run for two weekends, the first being tomorrow, and the crowds will be immense so I am not sure if I can get many more rides in at Hains Point in the coming days. But this week was great!