18-Apr-2010 -- After 8 years of confluence hunting, I finally did something I have always wanted to do: I bicycled to a confluence. I also continued my tradition of visiting a confluence point during each of the annual meetings of the Association of American Geographers. This year's meeting, held in Washington DC, attracted over 8,000 geographers, making it the largest assemblage of geographers on the planet. (I wonder if any of them asked for directions!). Surely I could not let an event pass by without visiting a confluence point. In years past, I have visited confluences in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois, California, and elsewhere during the conferences. Indeed, the conferences feature a wide variety of cultural and physical geography-based field trips, but due to a heavy teaching, presentation, and exhibiting schedule, the conference was drawing to a close this year before I had my opportunity to take my own field trip. Finally, on Saturday night, I had my chance.
Earlier in the week, I had discovered that the hotel I was staying in rented bicycles! This Omni Shoreham was the same hotel where President Truman used to play poker in 1946, where the Beatles had a wing to themselves in 1964, and where Bill Clinton played his saxophone during the 1993 inaugural ball. I dashed over to the bicycle rental, which was in the fitness center, as soon as we closed our exhibit for the day at the conference. After the attendant showed me the bicycle, I went back to my room to change shoes and get my map, GPS, and camera. Valuable daylight was being lost and by the time I came back to the fitness center, it was 6:10pm. It was interesting to leave the hotel with bicycle in tow, as the attendant had to unlock the gate, follow me through the beautiful back gardens, and inside and through a wing of the hotel before I was released to the parking lot. It felt a bit strange wheeling a bicycle through this magnificent hotel, but once through the parking lot, I was essentially on the Rock Creek Trail. I planned to follow this magnificent and historical trail for a portion of my trip to the nearest confluence, which was 39 North 77 West. I had to turn in the bicycle by sundown. Would I make it?
It was a pretty nice bicycle and the tires were all pumped up. At the bottom of the hill, I repacked my backpack and tucked my pant legs into my socks. I took a photograph of the magnificent arched viaduct there that spans Rock Creek, and set off to the north. This was really a wonderful trail, winding through the trees for a few miles, and then suddenly I was on a road all to myself blocked off from traffic. I wasted no time but moved along as fast as I could, even though I would have liked to take some photographs. My printed map was not detailed enough, nor were the streets in my GPS unit, but I rode until I came to a street that crossed the valley. I exited the trail on this road up a very long hill. I was on the border between Washington DC and Maryland, on Military Road that turned into Missouri Avenue NW. So far, so good, but here, in retrospect, I should have turned north. Instead, I kept going east through Silver Spring, and came back into DC. After going down a long hill, and on a very busy street with no shoulder, worrying I was going to be hit by a car, I stopped.
I got out the GPS unit but lacking a bracket on the bicycle, found it difficult to handle. I was still over 5km away from my destination with the sun rapidly sinking. I backed up and when the light turned, I rode up some serious hills, despite the name of Kansas Avenue NW. I crossed back into Maryland and Kansas Avenue became Kansas Lane. Here I should have turned northwest, but I continued northeast and encountered, for the next 30 minutes, very steep hills and narrow streets. I wound around up and down hills, even asking someone the direction to the library which was adjacent to the apartment buildings at Piney Branch. He did not know, and I kept plugging away. It was enjoyable to see the neighborhood but I was in a hurry. After all of this, I didn't want to log this as an mere "attempt." My GPS ran out of battery power. After what seemed like an eternity, I found Carroll Avenue, then University, and then Piney Branch Avenue. The traffic was extremely busy and it was slow going. I turned west on Piney Branch and rode into the apartment complex. I had been here before, so I knew what my destination should be.
I took the batteries out of my CD player, so the Delfonics would have to wait a bit, and put them in the GPS unit. Sure enough, just as before, the confluence is actually inside the apartment just about 5 meters east of the building wall. I located the point as best I could, and fortunately, nobody bothered me. I spent only 10 minutes at the outside lawn closest to the point, shaking a bit due to the haste I had made to get here. The temperature was about 60 F but there were heavy breezes hampering my progress. It was good to be here again. Just like last time, there was quite a bit of trash about. I saw someone tearing open and rooting through a plastic clothes donation bag. These are tough times indeed.
Fortunately, on the way out, I found the street I should have taken on the way in: Piney Branch Road. This winds up and down hills as well, but at least there is a bicycle lane. I took this all the way back to Central Silver Spring, and then got back on the Rock Creek road and trail. It was becoming dark and I was the only bicyclist, concerned that I would get in trouble for being here after hours. I therefore made as much haste as possible until I returned to the viadust. Lacking the energy to pump up the hill to the Omni, I got off and walked, through the hotel and back to the gardens, buzzed for the attendant, who came and ushered me back through the gate. That was good exercise! Though rather hurriedly, victory had been achieved on my first bicycle trip to a confluence, and a continuation of the AAG conference visits. Truly a fitting component to the world's largest gathering of geographers!