The day of my departure has finally arrived. The bike looks clean and ready. I look at my belongings neatly folded on the bed and I wonder if something is missing. I pack my things into the bag that will fit onto my handlebar and a few light items into a small rucksack. I am traveling light.
As I leave my apartment the humidity of a DC summer day hits me like heat out of the oven. I make my way to the Italian Embassy where I am greeted by the Ambassador and his staff. I am interviewed by Channel 5 Fox News (http://bit.ly/PzwJa2). So many people to herald my departure, colleagues, friends, people I don't know. It is very humbling for me. All this attention has added a depth of gratitude to my bike ride that I hope I can repay. The buzz generated by this event is overwhelming. I cannot process all the sound bites. The support I am getting from all angles is invigorating. But I won’t even try to play things cool today because I am pretty jumpy with excitement at the send-off at the Embassy. It is thrilling to have friends and colleagues see me off on my bicycle journey of over 3500 miles.
After interviews, hugs and pictures I get on the bike and I have a defined tingling in my stomach as I lock my shoes on the pedals and I throw a quick glance at the watch which reads 2:24 pm as I leave through the main gates of the Embassy compound. Just before rounding the corner I turn around and with a fleeting glimpse I see waving hands disappear behind the building, I take it all in one last time and breathe deeply before it is all gone. I realize that I am alone with a long, uncertain path ahead. The glitter and the smiles are a thing of the past, it’s business now. It is me and the thousands of miles between DC and Vancouver. I am so stoked and pumped up that I almost forget to stop at red lights. I am itching to get my legs moving, after almost three hours of hanging around in the Embassy I wanna get into my ride. It is pretty toasty today and the sweat begins to stream down my arms and face in a matter of seconds. It feels good and I am feeling fine. With the adrenaline that I am generating I feel like my heart would not be able to stand all the fire running through my body!
The entire eastern U.S. has been 'enjoying' a heat wave this early summer which gave me plenty of doubts as to how well I could stand the humid heat of the low DC plains. The moisture, the humidity, the glaring sunlight put a dent in my hopes of covering the desired mileage. Today the high temperature hit 104F, almost beyond bearable. I literally weave my way through the early afternoon DC traffic on Connecticut Ave as I ride north west past Tenleytown and then I turn left on River Road crossing the Beltway. It officially marks my exit from the capital. I am in Maryland. It took me about 20 minutes to cycle out of the urban areas. Past the Beltway I find myself on the two-lane River Road and it is a whole new world. Traffic begins to thin out past Potomac Village. It doesn’t get any more residential than this. It is one of those roads that makes you go “oh, I could live here”... if I were rich I might add. The road is lined with mansions, golf courses, occasional parks such as the C&O Canal National Historic Park, perfectly-trimmed lawns, mightly guarded enclaves and tree-lined driveways where the affluent and well-educated park their weekday and weekend cars. Clean, orderly, safe, classy, take your pick, this is Montgomery County, the 13th richest county in United States (thanks Wiki). The whole area is a vast swath of forest dotted with houses and sports clubs, criss-crossed by the creeks and small streams that feed the Potomac. Suburbanization is very evident here but it is not overwhelming, Potomac manages to retain a calm and almost bucolic veneer. It feels far away from the capitol and yet I am only on the fringes of the city. Past Potomac Village commuting traffic dwindles and I enjoy the ride. Before too long, short but steady hills arrive, a preamble to more menacing hills coming my way in the near future. The road follows the Potomac for as long as it can and fades into several tiny country roads just before I reach the crossing point. I take the Whites Ferry barge to cross the river. The barge is attached to a cable and slides gently with its sides bore down and made stable by the weight of the cars. I come off my bicycle and look across from the side as if I were crossing the Nile. I racked up about 35 miles and downed 2 water bottles already; I haven’t touched solid food yet. It is too hot and my vest is drenched. And just like that I am done with Maryland, the District and my first State are in the bag, eleven to go. As I set foot on the other shore I am in Virginia. I take my first pedal strokes and I breathe in the fresh air of fantastic aroma coming from the lush bushes and tall trees lining the road. It is a nice and short ride to Leesburg, only 4 miles. I reach the hotel - A Comfort Inn I booked a week ago - and despite the heat I feel strong.
It’s about 6pm now, I feel the adrenaline ebbing away. I relive the memories of the Embassy greetings in my head while I wait for my dinner. Today was about conserving energy for tomorrow. I rode conservatively, just 20km/h. At dinner I meet Patrick from Leesburg Today. The interview will run on the Leesburg Today next week.
I eat pretty decent, ribs and steak and mash potatoes and I am ready for a good night's sleep.
Being interviewed by Channel 5 Fox News at the Embassy
The Ambassador interviewed by Mrs. Parker of C5 Fox News
A little showing-off for the camera
With Laura and Ashley from the LLS
For a test ride in the Embassy courtyard
Inside the Embassy just before I take off
The Maryland sign, I am still well inside the Beltway
Mansion along River Road
Another impressive mansion on River Road
A few miles past Potomac Village the scenery becomes more rural
Maryland at its finest
The road all for myself
It is peaceful and traffic-free, great conditions for cycling
Farm on Hughes Road
Pretty church near Poolesville
White Ferrys Road enveloped by trees, makes for a great ride
My bike on the ferry
Not the mighty Mississippi but pretty flowy nonetheless
Easy day, easy pace, at about 6pm I see the Leesburg sign
Downtown Leesburg, courthouse