Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lost In Columbia

(click to embiggen)

Riding a bicycle in Columbia Maryland is not for the faint of heart. The 'planned' community is full of twisty roads, dead ends and endless loops. It's a quintessentially 1960s car-oriented bedroom community. Bordered by I-95 to the east and Route 32 to the south, it is bisected by US29, all very bicycle unfriendly limited access highways. To ride around Columbia requires a precise knowledge of which major roads lead into and out of any given 'village' as the neighborhood strip centers are called.

For my Sunday ride this week, I decided to combine some of my shorter routes and try for a forty mile ride which would be a record for the year. Little did I know how long it would be. As usual, I took Route 108 west to the edge of Columbia where Harpers Farm Road becomes Homewood Road and then Folly Quarter Road and finally Tridelphia Road all while staying the same road. From there it was back to Clarksville and the Bagel Bin. This was the 20-mile point and I rewarded myself with a bagel and a juice drink. Since my biking rule of thumb is one water bottle per twenty miles, it was time for a fill-up. With a cold full water bottle, I pressed on to the more experiemental longer route.

I skirted the edge of the Johns Hopkins Advanced Physics Lab campus and went past the famous Bollman Iron Truss Bridge in Savage. Then it was through Savage Park and back into Columbia. Here is where a bicycle route becomes tricky. All the major roads in this area including US29, Broken Land Parkway and Snowden River Parkway are major roads and not all that good for biking. But if you go north from the Kings Contrivance Village Center and cross 32 on Eden Brook Drive onto Shaker Drive (another road that changes names for no reason), you can thread your way through east Atholton and cross Broken Land Parkway at Stevens Forest. I had done this just once before, but I had had a map with me to figure out the precise twists and turns needed to make it. But I didn't.

  1. I pass Touché Touchet Bakery (which bakes excellent cupcakes) with half of bottle of water and the odometer reading 36.5 miles. I had been keeping a very steady 14 mile per hour pace and was eager to get home.
  2. I hit Beechwood Road and should have turned left, but instead I prematurely turn right.This was the critical mistake from which I would not recover.
  3. Wandering aimlessly looking for a landmark, I run out of road at the end of Allview. The road disappears down a narrow path and I figure it must lead somewhere. Somewhere is the wrong side of the river coming from Lake Elkhorn. Instead, I cross a smaller stream which requires getting my biking shoes thick with mud and lifting my bicycle over my head out of the stream bed on the other side. I then wander through nettles, miraculously none deflating my tires, and sneak through someone's back yard back to pavement.
  4. As I cross Route 32, I realize I have gone the wrong way and u-turn in traffic.
  5. Hot, muddy, and sweaty, I stop at the bakery and have half a coffee cake and an iced coffee. I also refill my empty water bottle. The odometer reads 41.5 miles. I have trekked five miles and gotten nowhere.
  6. Rather than get lost all over again, I cut my losses and cross US29 at Seneca Road. From here I can find my way back.
  7. Traffic is completely snarled at the entrance to Merriwether Post Pavilion. I assume there is some big festival concert going on.
  8. I cross US29 yet again, this time on Broken Land Parkway, which is exactly what I was trying to avoid.
  9. Finally back on the residential roads of Columbia I rejoin my planned route.
Just as the odometer swings past 50 miles, I get home at about 1 pm after having left at 8 am. I start rinsing the mud off my shoes in the shower when my wife tells me we are meeting some friends at the GiantWarehouseOfCrap where they are members so we can buy groceries on their card.

So the object lesson here is to never take roads in Columbia for granted. If you don't know where you are going, you will get lost. And while in a car, that is a minor inconvenience, on a bicycle, it turns a brisk Sunday ride into meandering nightmare.


Alex said...

The Virgin Mobile FreeFest 2009 was yesterday at Merriweather.

I get lost in Columbia all the time. Unless you live there, a GPS is pretty much mandatory if you stray at all from the roads you know.

yellojkt said...

The paper had an article on the V-Fest this morning. Pavilion seats were first-come first-serve, which explains the traffic at noon.

Malnurtured Snay said...

What about all those bike paths? Aren't they still there?

yellojkt said...

There is a very nice bike path the runs north south from Long Reach to near Savage. The Columbia paths are really too windy and narrow for serious cycling and tend to get dangerously slick after a rain. My whole goal was to find an on-road alternative to the path. My effort was a massive FAIL.

Flyboy said...

I don't wamt to go on this route when we go biking next.

ScienceTim said...

The other problem with the cute little bike paths is that they meander around within the "villages", but are rather poor at connecting villages. They are for joggers and for kid-cyclists -- not for anyone who is really trying to get somewhere.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Sometimes getting lost is fun :) At least I try to tell myself that every time it happens to me.

A Free Man said...

Just think of all the exercise you got!