Two Bikes, Two Boats and An Earthquake


August 23, 2011, Washington, DC: Living in cities, I've often given thought to how I'd get out of dodge when catastrophe strikes. I've concluded the best way getaway would be to hop on a bike or lace up my running shoes. I think I first imagined these scenarios while driving through the Lincoln Tunnel. The thought of ever being stuck there in a car really made an impression.

Today I inadvertently had a chance to test my transportation theories following our East Coast earthquake. The lesson: In the event of an emergency, follow your gut and take anything but the car.

To be perfectly honest, that's not the whole story. I got home just fine, commuting back into the city by car shortly after our jolt, getting a significant head start on the traffic, and arriving here just as the early commute was getting heavy. So admittedly, I didn't venture out again out of necessity. The reason I unintentionally tested my theory was because I'd been dead set on going kayaking.

It hasn't been easy to make time for paddling. Once I get home, the last thing I want to do is get back in the car and venture across town to the boathouse. The extra car time is exacerbated by D.C.'s traffic patterns on the return trip. If I paddle during the week, I need to wait to go home until after Rock Creek Parkway reopens its two-way pattern after the evening commute. If not, I'm in for a congested drive straight through downtown K St. during rush hour. Metro is not near the boathouse and I've been discouraged by biking because I haven't figured out how to bring along my gear. This morning, I had decided to pack the car and head straight from Annapolis to the boathouse in Georgetown, but I forgot everything I needed when I left the house. I blame that on forgetting to buy coffee last night.

And then today's earthquake dismissal freed up my afternoon. So after arriving home and hearing from a friend who'd been stuck in the car in D.C. traffic already for two hours, I stuffed my life vest into a backpack, strapped my helmet on my head, removed the last Capital Bikeshare bike from its dock on 3rd St. SE, and headed down the National Mall.

I zipped passed traffic backups the entire way to Georgetown. I passed workers still evacuated from their downtown buildings. With Metro inspectings its rails, I saw more people walking home than usual. And I fielded questions from three people looking for bikes to get home, showing them how to find wheels using with the Spotcycle app on their smart phones.

I then enjoyed a nice, calm paddle on the Potomac. It was a quiet afternoon down there on the water despite loud helicopters every so often zipping through the air above.

A long bike ride home seemed ambitious at that point. Luckily there was another option. At the Georgetown waterfront, I boarded American River Taxi for my first experience in D.C. water transport.

I love water taxis. They combine two of my favorite things: alternative forms of getting places that do not involve highways, and time spent out on the river, the creek or the bay. Last summer, it was late night rides home on the water taxi from downtown Annapolis up Spa Creek. In the Australian summer of 2000, it was transport by a ferry called the City Cat between downtown Brisbane and an apartment near the university. For several years out west, it was an occasional ferry ride between Sausalito or Tiburon and San Francisco. And my first taste of transport by water came early, riding the ferry with my family from Montreal to a tiny cottage on Dorval Island. Think less taxi, more travel. There's something so satisfying about getting places this way.

Photo credit: Family archives

On American River Taxi, I traveled from Georgetown directly to the doorstep of Nationals Stadium, less than a mile from home. It also dropped me off right in front of a Bikeshare station, just like the one down the street from my apartment. And with that, I pedaled home, with a life vest, a bike helmet and a great big appetite along for the ride.