Washington, D.C., was a steam bath last week.
My daughter and I stood looking at the Washington Monument, all frizzy-haired from the humidity and our shirts clinging to our backs, and decided there was no way we were going to walk all the way down the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial in that soup. Yes, we could do the easy thing and take a cab the five city blocks; but then we would feel too lazy and bad about ourselves to look Abe in the eye.
That’s when we saw the bikes, a whole row of shiny red ones locked in place on the sidewalk. It was a bicycle vending machine: you put in your credit card and the rack releases a set of wheels. They’re called touring bikes, with fat tires, a basket in front and a low, curved cross-bar to accommodate a skirt, which I happened to be wearing that day. All the rental bikes are, technically, girls’ bikes.
I told Grace I would lead the way, since I am an experienced cyclist. I reminded her that I once pedaled from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh on the bike trail, 360 miles in five days.
“Can we please just get moving? It’s hot,” Grace said, rolling her eyes, unimpressed. After a wobbly few yards, we found our stride and pedaled off to see some history.
I quickly was humbled out of my Tour de France delusions. On the bike trail you don’t have large swarms of tourists walking toward you. And here, we did. We found ourselves weaving in and around slow moving adults and moms with strollers and groups of yak-yak-yacking teenagers; we were not so much pedaling as trying to thread a needle, over and over again.
And I was doing it all wrong. Every 20 feet, I’d hear Grace ringing her bell and saying, “Watch it, Mom!” Over and over again a group in front of us would slow down and I would either have to put my feet down or pedal very slowly, like balancing a unicycle on a tightrope. At one point, a gust of wind blew my long skirt up to my torso. As I reached with one hand to push it back down I crashed into a row of shrubs near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
I could feel Grace rolling her eyes behind me. She, being 14 and physically infallible, was gliding along like a cast member of Cirque du Soleil. When you are 14, the only thing more embarrassing than your mother is your mother on a bike.
So, I’m storming through our nation’s capital like Almira Gulch headed off to accost Toto, and the situation got suddenly worse. Before starting our ride, I bought a bottle of water and secured it to the front of the bike with a bungee cord attached to the basket. As we were passing a sidewalk ice cream cart, a man on a bike was moving toward us. Just then, the bungee cord uncoiled itself, launching the water bottle into his path. He ran over the bottle with a sickening pop; Dasani rained everywhere. I looked over my shoulder, and he looked over his; I deserved the nasty look.
We got off the bikes and retrieved what was left of the water bottle. By then, we were a half a mile and $25 bucks into the bike rental.
“I need a popsicle,” Grace said. I needed something much stronger.
We eventually made it to the end of the Mall, where Abe was waiting, hands on his knees. I looked up into his face. He had been watching the whole thing.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at email@example.com.