Hometowns For Athletes


October 25, 2011, Washington, DC: Our hometowns can act as our coaches and our training partners, our biggest competitors and our loudest cheerleaders. Before the daylight fades, before the water gets too cold, before we sink deeper into the couch for a reality show, great places egg us on. We hear them speak to us, inspire us, nag us, really. "Get up," they say. "Get out. It's too good of a day in too good of a place not to be an athlete." I spent Sunday afternoon biking about 25 miles throughout much of DC and a tiny portion of Maryland alongside a dear friend and her fiance. These are athletes, my friends, and they are nomads, too. This dear friend and I met in Australia, lived together in San Francisco, and now reside in the very same hometown of Washington, DC. We've had some incredible travels together, and Sunday's ride -- despite the fact that it was right here at home -- was no exception.

Washington is a fantastic city for cycling. Living in Annapolis last year, I was surprised to find it much less conducive to cycling. But sometimes getting out of the city brings you straight to a place where car culture dominates. To be sure, there are great country rides on farm roads throughout Davidsonville and other less populated areas of Anne Arundel County. But to access them you need a car or the courage to navigate stressful, congested roads by bike to get to the good stuff.

In contrast, more than 85 percent of Sunday's loop was car-free:

From the apartment on Capitol Hill, I take it slow down crowded pathways alongside the National Mall and around the Tidal Basin, then share the road with cars within West Potomac Park. I pick up the pathways that meander through the sand volleyball courts just beyond the Lincoln Memorial and pedal along the path bordering the Potomac River into Georgetown. Picking up the Capitol Crescent Trail at Jack's Boathouse under the Key Bridge, I clip into my pedals and pick up the pace, beginning a slow and steady climb towards Fletcher's Cove three miles up the trail, where my friends wait, waving.

Climbing steadily up the trail from Georgetown through Bethesda and on to Chevy Chase, I realize one of the best parts about being athletic here: We're living entirely in the moment. Not once on that ride do my nomadic friends and I wish we are in San Francisco or Australia. Inspired by this place and staying on the move, right here is good enough.

And then we fly. We connect up with Rock Creek Parkway and we fly down Beach Dr., a woodsy road by the creek that's closed to cars every weekend just for occasions like this one. On Beach Dr. and the trails to its south, we descend back into the heart of the city, though you'd never know from inside a park like this. At the National Zoo, I leave my friends to complete their loop while I finish mine. I climb the steep hill into Mt. Pleasant. I drop into the protected 15th St. bike lane and head straight to the White House, crossing over its broad, car-free plaza out front. Finally, I turned east onto the bike lane that runs straight up the middle of Pennsylvania Ave., like I'm the president and it's Inauguration Day. I can only imagine how he must feel by the time he hits this parade route. He must be exhausted. And pretty fired up.

Does your hometown motivate the athlete in you? Which towns and cities out there do you think are the best places for athletes?