Charlottesville to DC: a few more challenges

4/29/22

It was a bright and beautiful but chilly morning (39!) when I embarked yesterday. I had a nice breakfast with my Charlottesville Warmshowers hosts, and then showed them how I put together my rig—including folding and unfolding the bike—before pedaling off toward the train station. It was just about two miles, mostly downhill.

Once I arrived, the Amtrak station attendant was charmed by the rig! This was a nice contrast to the struggles I’ve had with other station personnel around the country. In fact, anticipating a possible struggle, I had walked right up and asked her how I would need to comply with this particular train (the Northeast Regional, a train I had not yet experienced) and she said there was no baggage car, so I could just talk to the conductor and then carry everything on.

Wow, OK, simple!

So I started converting the trailer to its push-cart mode, which I thought would make it easier to board. That’s when I discovered the wheel wells (not sure if that’s the right term?) were getting very dry and not easy to use. I was so grateful for the fact that I had just yesterday visited the bike shop and got some new cleaner/chain lube. And furthermore, that I had kept it in a very accessible position within my luggage.

I proceeded to sprawl out all over the floor in the middle of the small station—with other passengers looking on—taking things apart, using toilet paper to clean parts… but I was much happier afterward, with a much more easily “convertible” trailer.

Boarding, however, turned out to be a challenge. The stairs to the coach cars were the same steep and narrow steps on Viewliner trains, but this time I had to get the folded bike and trailer up them, since there was no baggage car. The conductor helped me to lift the bike up the stairs, but refused to help with the trailer, presumably because he could see that it was oversized and could surmise—correctly—that it was also overweight. I had to quickly switch the wheel position again, then turn the cart sideways and do my best to heft its 72 pounds up the steps. I made it partway up, dragging it behind me from up the stairs, and then another kind Amtrak employee gave me a hand from the platform.

After that, I had to drag both items sideways down a hallway before I found a place to stash them.

Sadly, by the time I reached my seat (no empty ones left, so I got the aisle, with no phone charger and minimal view) I had begun a weird/inexplicable coughing fit. Thankfully, at the last minute on the platform I had made the switch from my cloth mask to a KN-95, so I felt less “contagious” to my seatmate—who was also masked—and the rest of my train-mates. (The federal mask mandate on transportation was lifted just a few days ago, so most people in the car weren’t masked at all.)

I was embarrassed by the coughing, though, as well as physically uncomfortable, and now also scared that I might be getting COVID.

Oof.

The coughing eventually died down, and the rest of the ride passed without incident. I dozed a bit.

Once we arrived in Washington, though, the crew did not open most of the train’s doors, only the ones in the café car, a couple of cars down from me. This had been the case for the earlier, shorter stops, but the conductor had announced that beforehand, with what seemed to me a strong implication that once the train reached DC—which was a half-hour stop, and he even said you could get off for a smoke break—they would then open all the doors.

But no.

My heart sank. I knew I would at least have time to get off the train before it left, so that was a relief, but the thought of piecemeal carrying first the bike, then the trailer, through at least one whole car length sounded incredibly daunting.

I got the bike to a door area, and decided to leave it there and return for it after getting the trailer out.

The trailer was every bit as heavy and awkward and bulky as I thought it would be to get through the adjoining car. Fortunately, a kind fellow passenger offered to help after a while, and grabbed one wheel. Even for the two of us, though, it was very challenging to heft this through such a narrow aisle of seats, some occupied.

We finally got it down to the end of the car, and then I needed to get it down the steps, off the train. Another kind passenger—on his smoke break on the platform—also offered to help, so together we managed to get the trailer to the platform.

At that point, I climbed back up the stairs to return for my bike, and then the train attendant said she would open the other door for me. I appreciated this, but she seemed annoyed about the whole thing.

I finally got the bike down to the trailer, and put everything back together on the platform. (Again, so thankful for just having lubed the wheels in their quick-release chambers!)

I made my way down to the small elevator, and just barely managed to fit the rig on when it arrived.

In the station, I used the restroom, and got a compliment on the Brompton from a woman in there who said she used to have one, and now regretted having sold it.

Then it was time to see if I could find a free rapid COVID test nearby: I didn’t want to risk endangering my DC hosts, or those afterward.

First I paused for a few photos of the beautiful station, inside and out, but then made my way over to a nearby Safeway that Google Maps indicated offered rapid testing.

I got there and found out they didn’t. They could only sell me a $99 home-testing kit.

Argh.

I was texting my hosts—my friends Mike and Marya—to let them know of the delay. Marya soon replied with a list of DC testing sites. By that time, I was already on my way to another one—George Washington Medical Center—which also told me they didn’t offer rapid testing.

I went to a local library, since Marya’s list indicated that they offered free at-home rapid testing kits to DC residents. They required proof of residency, so I was skeptical, but I thought I could try it, and maybe they wouldn’t ask.

(I did have on me a home test kit that I picked up on the way—Pam, if you’re reading, I think you gave it to me; thanks! But I couldn’t remember where I had stashed it, and for some reason I felt more comfortable biking around town to find a testing site rather than taking apart my rig on the street to find it.)

Once I arrived at the library, though, the big sign outside indicated that the test results would arrive in 3-5 days. The website had clearly indicated these were rapid tests. Apparently not.

By this point, it was about 2:00 pm (the train having arrived at 11:30, and my having last eaten—a locally made cookie I had purchased at the natural food store the previous day—right before boarding at about 8:30.) I was getting hungry and tired.

I decided to hit up the nearby restaurant DC Vegan for some lunch (ordered inside with a mask, of course, then consumed outside) and it was quite tasty and filling. While I sat, I noticed a CVS pharmacy right next door.

So after the meal, I went in to inquire about at-home tests. They had one for $9.99.

Sold!

I biked over to Mike and Marya’s place. Mike was still out at work, and Marya was in Zoom meetings indoors. They had said it was OK if I administered the test on their porch.

So I sat in the pleasant afternoon, behind their lovely cherry tree, and read the instructions, and administered the test.

Fifteen minutes later: Negative!

Whew!

But what a day.

I caught up with the two of them (and their cute cat Nikki) over a homemade dinner of pizza and salad (and a martini!)

Today, I’m looking forward to visiting the National Arboretum. (And experiencing the magic of NuVegan again; they live just a few blocks away from the original location!)

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