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It was 6 a.m., and I was high.

December 17, 2009

My Drug: The Wilson Boulevard hill

Get high on the car-free life.

About everyone who lives in the Washington, D.C., area knows of the Wilson Boulevard hill. If you don’t live in D.C., you probably have a hill in your neighborhood that shares a similar notoriety in the eyes of cyclists, pedestrians, and other self-propelled beings.

During the two and half years I lived in the District, I worked in Arlington, Virginia, which meant a twice-daily (there and back) encounter with the Wilson Boulevard hill. The hill starts in Rosslyn, right after you cross the Potomac River and enter Virginia. With just a few flat stretches mixed in, the thing continues all the way into Clarendon. For non D.C.-ists, that’s about two miles.

For me, the up-hill was on my way into work. Just after the Key Bridge, I’d steel myself for the challenge before me. Under the overpass, around the curve, pray for a green light so I can keep my momentum through the intersection, past the Safeway, wonder if the pedestrians in their crisp suits can see the sweat dripping from underneath my helmet. Brief flat stretch in front of Greenberry’s Coffee, and then up again, past a gas station and a Whole Foods and that place that always smells like barbecue.

Finally, wheeling past the Clarendon Metro stop, safe in the knowledge that only gentle terrain lay between me and my destination, I would start smiling, and that smile would stay with me right up to when I stepped into the bike commuter locker room at my office. Can you imagine: arriving at work smiling?

My dealer

I was smiling, because the hardest part of my day was over. I knew that if I could pedal, panniers packed full, up a 45-degree incline, then I could definitely handle that tedious spending report that was due. I was confident I could deal with that disgruntled customer who insisted I personally had lost her payment. And I was confident I’d come up with a fitting response for that infuriating colleague who habitually interrupted women.

Some may roll their eyes at the term “natural high,” but this was one. Blood pumping, mind active, heart happy—and all before the sun was up. I didn’t even need coffee when I rode the Wilson Boulevard hill.

OK, that’s an outright lie.

Still, if you’re a bike commuter, I encourage you to seek out your area’s Wilson Boulevard hill. If it’s not on your commute route, weave it in. The high is worth it.


15 Comments leave one →
  1. Dave Chase permalink
    December 17, 2009 6:31 pm

    How do you like your Jamis Aurora? My roadie is on it’s last legs so I am starting to look for a new one and I think I want a touring bike. Torn between the Aurora, Surly Long Haul and Trek 520.

  2. avaerewyck permalink
    December 17, 2009 10:05 pm

    I love love love my Aurora. I don’t pretend to be a bike connoisseur, as this is my first non-yard-sale bike, but I find it to be very sturdy and comfortable, as I think a touring bike should be. I don’t know anything about Treks, but my old housemate had a Long Haul. Stern, if you’re reading, care to chime in?

  3. stern permalink
    December 20, 2009 4:33 pm

    …Stern speaking on his Long Haul Trucker…

    I love it. I owned a Bianchi Volpe and rode it across the country with a friend who was riding a Jamis Aurora. The Aurora has improved a bit since then, but I’d still strongly encourage you to buy the Long Haul Trucker.

    I think it is a phenomenal value for the money. It is a bit pricey than the Aurora but you get a better wheelset and better components. It is also outfitted a bit better than the 520.

    Ultimately, I think it comes down to what you plan to use the bike for. The Aurora might be a bit lighter and you save a few bucks but if you plan on doing long, fully loaded turning and you don’t consider yourself to be a really skinny person, you could run into wheel problems with the Aurora.

    One other consideration is whether you prefer the bar end shifters found on the LHT and the 520 to the integrated shifters found on the Aurora. Bar end shifters are much more durable and cheaper to replace but many people prefer the integrated shifters found on the Aurora and other touring bikes.

    I’ll watch the comments of this post, so feel free to reply with more questions and I’ll try to answer ’em.

  4. avaerewyck permalink
    December 21, 2009 3:29 am

    Thanks so much for all the info, Stern!

    Regarding shifters, I’ve never used the bar-end kind that the Long Haul has (and I’m not trying to battle my bike against Stern’s), but the Aurora’s gear shifter’s are really nice for quick, frequent shifting, because you don’t have to move your hand off the break. For the bar-end shifter, you have to reach down to the end of your handle bars. Probably not a big deal, but definitely a difference, as Stern notes.

    One other thing about the Aurora is that it has a second set of breaks for upright riding. To my knowledge, this isn’t a common feature, even on touring bikes. I hardly ever use mine, because you can’t change gears from that position. My typical rides are between 10 and 20 miles, so they’re not essential for me, but for longer tours, they could provide a welcome change in riding position.

    Now, who’s owned a 520 or other Trek and wants to give their two (or more) cents?

  5. Melanie Evans permalink
    December 21, 2009 2:52 pm

    Hi Amy!!! I know little to nothing about bikes….I’m a car-commuter….and only a recreational-biker, but I had to say hi!! I love your blog and I MISS YOU!!! I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself out east. If you ever come west, I’d love to see you again! Have a great Holiday!!! Love, Melanie

  6. jeff permalink
    December 21, 2009 8:02 pm

    For touring purposes it’s hard to beat the value in either the Long Haul Trucker or 520. I would say buy either based on what your local shop can actually get in stock, as both can be difficult to find from May-September.

    Other than than the main difference is in wheel size. For those less than 5’9″ or so the smaller frame sized LHT’s come in 26″ wheels and will offer a much better fit and less toe overlap than the 520. For those taller than that but riding off-road, towpaths or Central/South American pot-holed and gravel strewn ‘roads’ the 26″ wheel would still probably be preferable.

  7. avaerewyck permalink
    December 23, 2009 4:04 am

    Hi Melanie! Thanks for your kind greetings! Miss you too and will let you know the next time I’m in Boulder. Happy holidays to you!

  8. Yuri permalink
    December 23, 2009 4:46 am

    Though I’m not car free, nor an avid biker, I am a long distance runner. Nothing teaches you about the geography and elevation levels of an area better than going car free. You learn about every hill, turn, creek, crack and everything else you simply don’t learn while sitting behind the wheel. The same route is never the same when going in opposite directions.

  9. avaerewyck permalink
    December 29, 2009 10:48 am

    So true! Drivers don’t experience the rush of icy air that streams out of shops onto M Street in D.C.’s Georgetown, giving brief interruption to the swampy summer heat – an odd sensation, to be sure.


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