Mobility is a luxury. As midterms finally begin to wane and I find myself with enough time to wander off campus, this has again become achingly clear. Without a nearby metro stop or access to a car, transportation options can certainly seem limited.
Back at home, my stolid Honda Pilot waits patiently for me. It sits at a curb that has been tattooed with tire streaks from years of hasty parking jobs. I’m sure it’s amassing a new collection of scrapes as my brother negotiates his last year of high school. Although the stickers on the bumper have started to peel and the dashboard buzzes underneath my hands when I turn up the radio, my car still offers me freedom.
Here, such lazy mobility is certainly not an option. Zipcar is a great solution for certain days, and a taxi is always just a call away when I really need it, but there’s something to be said for being able to walk outside and hop behind the wheel at any moment.
I’ve been able to find a way to soften the pangs of this particular brand of separation anxiety. In the absence of a car, I have finally embraced the bicycle. It took a good year for me to discover this — all of freshman year I was a slave to the peculiarities of the GUTS bus schedule and the winding Circulator route.
But this year, things have changed. Perhaps it’s the fact that as a Henle resident, I’ve been sequestered from the body of campus by a maze of fencing. Or maybe it’s just the familiar itch to escape campus and see a little bit of the city. But I’ve found that all I really need is two wheels and a little bit of motivation to reclaim the mobility that I’ve been craving.
The largest obstacle to using a bike for mobility is simply obtaining one. Here, I have to thank the Free Bike Project and a roommate with the patience to allow me to borrow her free wheels. Every time I need to escape, I simply grab her bike and go. My wanderlust hasn’t yet created a rift in our friendship, but the year isn’t over yet.
For those who don’t have access to a bike through this program or an exceedingly patient friend, Capital Bikeshare offers a yearly membership for $75. The sticker price shocked me a little bit at first, but if you plan on using the bike on a weekly basis, this is one of the smartest investments you could make. The best part is that you don’t have to worry about security — anyone who has struggled with a U-lock will agree that this is a huge advantage. Capital Bikeshare also offers something that the Free Bike Project lacks: gear. This may seem like an insignificant point, but remember that Georgetown is on a hilltop. It makes a difference.
As far as cycling goes, Washington, D.C., is exceedingly approachable. The city has topped the charts as the nation’s fourth most bike-friendly city. Along with the Capital Bikeshare program, a web of bicycle lanes extends into nearly every neighborhood. Georgetown is admittedly a little behind the curve, but any picturesque ride along the waterfront fully compensates for the annoying cobblestones that line the streets further into the neighborhood.
Just over the Key Bridge, the Mt. Vernon trail provides the perfect trail to dive into Virginia. The trail runs down the Potomac, by Arlington Cemetery and the Pentagon, then winds beyond the airport and deposits the rider right in the middle of Alexandria.
Old Town Alexandria brings new meaning to the word “quaint.” From the ice cream parlor selling egg creams, a uniquely East Coast creation that I hadn’t seen before this year, to the old man playing Beethoven on moistened wine glasses, the neighborhood feels like a surreal flash forward into retirement. As long as my retirement includes that butter pecan ice cream, I’ll be fine. The bike ride back is just the right length to prepare oneself for the push back up the Hilltop.
The bicycle is one of the most modest modes of transportation. It doesn’t take up much space, require any real maintenance or make any noise. It is unpretentious. But it enables anyone to readily escape campus and explore the city. Although I may have to give up a passenger seat and a radio, I am more than happy to claim this particular feature of urban life as my own.
Erin Hickok is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. DISTRICT ON A DIME appears every other Friday.