Cycling Hains Point


April 29, 2012, Washington, DC: Over by the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial is a long, narrow slice of land, an island actually, that juts south between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel. Hains Point, home of East Potomac Park, is named after Peter Conover Hains, a major in the Army Corps of Engineers who served as chief engineer on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers during the 1880s. Hains is credited with designing the Tidal Basin, and for good reason: He did it to eliminate the awful stench of this marshy area here at the entry to the nation's capital. Thank goodness for that, because the smells beckoning me around the perimeter of this point today on my bicycle are to die for.

I'm motivated this afternoon by the smell of BBQ -- first at King Ribs on the Southwest waterfront and then again and again as I circle Hains Point while families fire up the grills out there for birthday parties and Sunday celebrations. Before I know it, I am sprinting, if only because I'm motivated by the promise of a good meal on a sunny afternoon. I'm suddenly pedaling my heart out trying to keep pace with the dozens of athletes clad in lycra, bent intently over their handlebars, flying by.

Hains Point is a tremendous place for exercise. In addition to this quiet one-way road around the perimeter of the point, there's a public golf course here that we're circling, as well as a public 50-meter outdoor swimming pool, a mini golf course, and several busy tennis courts. When I left the Northwest side of this city, one of the things I missed most was easy access to Rock Creek Park, but Hains Point is our equivalent on the south side of the city: a wide open space in the middle of a major metropolis.

People on foot and on bicycle far outnumber cars here, and the lack of traffic gives me a good opportunity to check out the views -- east across the Washington Channel to Ft. McNair, then south at the point overlooking the confluence of the Anacostia and the Potomac rivers, and finally west to planes landing at Reagan airport over in Virginia.

It's clear as day here why I find it so impossible to exercise indoors: There is too much to see in Washington. We've got major attractions in our backyard all along our regular routes.

I cycle home back through Southwest, coasting through the fish market and back past King Ribs. I head into Southeast, taking a detour around Nationals Park where Joel Osteen's prep team is doing a soundcheck a few hours before the evening's big event. I take the long way back to Capitol Hill, clanking along the waterfront bridge that now connects the ballpark to the rest of the Navy Yard.

Somewhere along the ride, the south side of this city became my favorite part.

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