Cycling – Rockville, MD to Washington, DC National Mall (with COVID shut-down coverage)

Distance: 50 miles

Pedal Time: 4.5 hours

Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet

Route Map

Due to COVID-19 in the US, most of us have only seen the impact of the quarantine measures in our local community. I wanted to see first-hand what was going on in the city; plus I was itching to finally get some decent exercise (and a change of scenery).

The weather has been pretty grim lately too. It’s almost May and the temperature has been in the low 50s and very rainy over the past few weeks. For a single day, the temperature finally shot up into the 70s and sunny.

In the last post I mentioned how I see a lot of people using their extra time to get exercise. So I decided I would do exactly that. I ventured out on a solid half-day bike-ride along some of the longer trails in the DC-metro area to see how the shut-down was affecting the surrounding neighborhoods. In case you are thinking that this is a selfish move on my part, I took all of the proper precautions by wearing a mask, not getting close to anyone, and NOT TOUCHING ANYTHING other than my bike and my feet to the ground.

I am not encouraging anyone to break quarantine to do something similar. At a minimum, I was testing the boundaries. I am not sure how much longer we will be shut-down, but we can’t hide forever.

Route Options

There are three main trails to get from the Maryland suburbs into DC (from East to West):

  1. Anacostia Tributary Trails: from College Park, Silver Spring and Western Prince George’s County
  2. Rock Creek Trail: from Silver Spring, Rockville and Eastern Montgomery County
  3. C&O Canal Towpath/Capital Crescent Trail: from Bethesda and Western Montgomery County

Rock Creek Trail to DC

Closed playground in Rockville - 4-29-2020
Closed playground in Rockville due to COVID-19

Using option 2, I started the ride at the Northern end of the Rock Creek Trail at Rock Creek Regional Park/Lake Needwood. The trail, concurrent with Beach Drive in DC, leads all the way to the Lincoln Memorial.

Keeping things simple (and as a “trail purest”) I followed the Rock Creek Trail from end-to-end into DC. Along the way there were obvious signs of COVID-19 impacts. Public areas such as parks and playgrounds dot the trail throughout it’s 25 mile length. Many of the public areas were closed or even blocked from access. It was a little depressing to see.

DC and the National Mall

To the delight of cyclists, Beach Drive is closed to vehicle traffic. Due to COVID-19 however, Beach Drive is closed indefinitely. It was Wednesday, and I saw plenty of people taking advantage of Beach Drive being open only to pedestrians and cyclists.

Like-minded people were also taking advantage of their new-found free time getting some exercise. Assuming that the shut-down has worked, most people that are healthy enough to exercise should be free of the virus right?

People exercising near the Lincoln Memorial - 4-29-2020
Some folks are out getting exercise in DC during the COVID-19 outbreak… at least 6 feet apart of course

If you have ever been to the National Mall during the day, it’s always crowded. It’s a huge area, but there are always tour groups and giant swaths of people. It doesn’t matter the day of the week. So it was surreal to see the National Mall a virtual ghost town and the tour bus parking lots completely empty.

Lincoln Memorial

Minimal foot traffic inside of Lincoln Memorial during the COVID-19 shut-down

Speaking of tours, the Lincoln Memorial is one of the most popular destinations for tour groups. Few people were there and I was able to walk into the Memorial and have a one-on-one with Honest Abe in the middle of the day. Nobody gets the entire building to themselves, especially in nice weather! It was another surreal moment.

Only a few people are allowed into the tourist attractions at a time anyway (if they aren’t closed). Currently there is only one-way traffic allowed entering and exiting the memorial.

Korean War Memorial with one-way traffic – These statues are following the 6 foot rule too

Near the Lincoln Memorial is the Korean War Veterans Memorial which might as well have been closed. I only saw one other person go though (also on a bike).

Most people that I encountered in DC were not wearing masks. Perhaps this was because people were generally spread out. Wearing a mask is required in many parts of the country if you want to go outside. Either way I found this surprising considering the virus can spread so easily in cities.

Capital Crescent Trail to Bethesda

I returned to Maryland along the easy-graded Capital Crescent Trail (parallel to the C&O Canal Towpath until you approach Maryland). Catching the Southern end from Georgetown, I followed the Capital Crescent Trail to the Northern end into the heart of Bethesda.

Bethesda seemed more desolate than DC; even fewer cars and people. Most people were wearing masks. Most businesses were closed. Many restaurants are able to tread water by offering delivery or curbside pickup, but that didn’t seem to be working too well. In fact, there was evidence that some businesses had shut-down permanently as they will not be able to endure the shut-down.

Bethesda happens to be the headquarters of the National Institutes of Health. Perhaps the residents are the “most responsible” in the country and not taking any risks going outside. Maybe they are minimizing the risks of contaminating others since they work with infectious diseases and/or patients with weak immune systems. Either way, Bethesda was a ghost town.

The shut-down scene in Bethesda

End of the Ride

The Bethesda Trolley Trail leads North out of Bethesda and I followed it North to Rockville. The Trolley Trail is a little more ambiguous as it ends abruptly around Edson Lane. However the trail is an important almost complete trail connection to Rockville and the rest of the county.

Along the Bethesda Trolley Trail was the final surreal scene crossing the bridge over the Capital Beltway (I-495). It was the beginning of rush hour and nearly zero cars were on the road. DC doesn’t have the worst traffic, but it’s normally pretty bad by 4pm. This would never happen if things were “back to normal”. On the other hand, look how clear the sky is without all of the pollution.

Interstate 495 in Bethesda at 3:40 on a Wednesday

2 Replies to “Cycling – Rockville, MD to Washington, DC National Mall (with COVID shut-down coverage)”

  1. Stay safe Joe and Lily. Your mother and I are doing the neighborhoods of Sussex County when we are able to get together. Your mother now tracks her route (as you well know); you are her mini-me or is she your mini-me?

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