You might have wondered what happened on your way up the Rosslyn hill on the Custis Trail last week. You were pedaling along and quietly passed a fellow commuter slowly spinning his way home. Not 10 seconds after you’ve passed him (and nine seconds after you’ve forgotten him), he blows by you, stomping in the biggest gear he has, passing you in a fury of power and dangling work ID cards.
While you may not have appreciated it at the time, you just encountered one of Arlington’s many “pathletes.”
Not quite ready to join the regular lunchtime peloton at Hains Point, and without the time for 50-milers out in Loudoun County on the weekend, these tortured souls reach for their dreams by competing with unsuspecting commuters, recreational riders and the occasional small child.
Some details of their efforts remain unclear to those the pathletes dominate on Arlington’s paths. This includes where the competition starts and stops, who exactly is competing, and, well ... why.
The only thing that seems clear is the pathlete’s need to win. Winning what isn’t important – it’s just The Win. Some witnesses of these incredible contests have reported a brief, and oddly self-satisfied, grin flashing across the faces of pathletes who successfully drop their unsuspecting prey.
Attempts to determine what look came across the faces of those who failed were defeated by the apparent fact that no pathlete ever loses. It seems that if they don’t win, well, they weren’t racing anyway.
Very occasionally, two pathletes will encounter each other on the same section of trail, and – through some mechanism not entirely understood by the rest of us – try to knock each other out of the Pathlete Championship Brackets. To bystanders, it looks like two ridiculous guys acting like they own the Custis.
But to the pathletes? Everything’s on the line. Unless it’s not.
Mark Blacknell is chair of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, a member of the board of directors of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.