A group of riders has gathered in the parking lot, huddled together around their bikes. At first I mistake them for the WUSS crew, but after a second glance as I drive by, it's clear that none of them looks familiar—the absence of a single fixie is the first dead giveaway.
I park my truck in the shadow of the red boxcar, an act laced with unintentional irony: the disembodied hunk of train stands in mute homage to an age that may just see a partial redux under the harsh realities of peak oil, of which my truck uses more than its fair share. Butch sits on a bench just behind the boxcar, his fixed Bianchi lolling in the grass nearby. I get a call from John-o saying he's on his way with his brother, Jeff, but that traffic is bad and they're running late.
I offer Butch a seat in my truck to warm up while we wait for the others to arrive. Butch has pedaled out from Alexandria, and in his usual understated way he describes the trail conditions as "pretty bad" in spots. If things go as planned, he's looking at almost 100 miles out and back, so I offer to give him a ride back to Alexandria when it's all said and done, if he wants it. The thermometer in my truck reads 37 ° F. Not bad for riding, but not warm enough to melt the residual ice on the trail into a more bike-friendly slush. I throw on my biking boots and bullshit with Butch about potential bar stops along the planned route.
It isn't long before the Claman brothers show up. John breaks out his latest project, Il Clamanelli Tartaruga, a lugged fixie graced with the finest rattlecan two-tone paint job one could achieve for less than five bucks and fifteen minutes of unrecoverable life. Jeff has brought his old standby, a GT "triple triangle" fixed conversion of indeterminate ancestry, clapped out in a no-frills matte black finish, a sort of black bloc guerrilla bike if ever there was one. I unrack my own trusty fixie, an older model CrossCheck clad in a color that I affectionately refer to as eff-you green, and air up the tires a bit.
Soon Jonny B pulls in behind the wheel of his aging, yardsale-deal BMW, a Cannondale gearie—rescued from the crowded orphanage of a bikeswap a year ago—dangling from the rear hitch rack. Jon's a late entrant for the event, apparently having reconsidered the ride since bailing on it earlier via email. The group begins to grow and it looks to be a good showing.
Minutes later, Aaron rolls up on his IRO. Like Butch, he decided to pedal out from Alexandria. Aaron's description of the trail conditions seems more in line with expectations. He admits to walking some of the icy stretches in an effort to make sure he arrived intact for the group ride. I offer a pre-ride beer to everyone while we wait for the remaining two riders.
Nick pedals in next on a makeshift single speed, followed minutes later by Keith (aka "The Possum"), another gearie who was only a "maybe" for the ride days before. The first mechanical happens before the ride even starts, as Nick points out the loose lockring on his converted freehub, a casualty of the choppy terrain of the ice patches he's hit on his way in from Reston. It's no big deal, since it's not a fixed setup, but we do our best with limited tools to bang the thing tight while the others agree on Jimmy's Old Town Tavern in Herndon as the first thirst stop.
The sun is beaming and the air is crisp and cold. We mount up and head off west on the W&OD, five fixies, two gearies, and one single speed.
[End Part 1]