Ten Reasons to Love #BikeDC

10. Group Rides

If you are relatively new to DC, biking, or both, joining a group ride is the absolutely best way to get started. Pretty much all the DC bike shops organize weekly group rides. For example, the 7th Street Social organized by my favorite bike shop in town, BicycleSPACE (700 5th St. NW), on Thursday nights is a classic. They also organize Nice-N-Easy rides for people who are new to (urban) biking, and several others for more experienced cyclists. I can highly recommend the Hills of Anacostia ride if you feel like starting your weekend by acing killer hills in SE DC, and the City Explorers ride if you just happen to be a very curious person like me. If you wish to go all out on a road bike, check out the group rides organized by The Bike Rack (14th & Q NW). You might also find like-minded company in the DC Triathlon Club.

Hills of Anacostia

9. Bike Commuting

DC traffic may feel like a jungle first. Once you get used to it (which took me about three weeks), bike commuting becomes a real joy. In addition to saving you time and money, it makes you happier, healthier, and more productive. The list of benefits is nearly endless. As the winter in DC is relatively short – at least compared to Finland – and the streets are seldom icy, it is possible to commute by bike almost year round without any particular winter riding equipment apart from warm clothes. As a bonus, on rainy and cold days you can often have the bike lanes all for yourself.

Biking in the Rain

8. Bike Advocacy

Washington Area Bicyclist Association, WABA, does an amazing job promoting better bike lanes, better bike laws, and better bicyclists in DC and in the surrounding metropolitan area. They run an impressive range of advocacy activities, and additionally they organize classes and events. WABA also runs a Women & Bicycles program to encourage more women to pick up biking. Coming from Finland where biking is roughly equally common among men and women, it was quite a shock to realize that in DC less than 30% of cyclists are women, so the program is very much needed. (Many of the Women & Bicycles activities were actually so awesome that we might want to copy them with pride in Helsinki anyway.) Read more about WABA and become a member today.

Inspired by WABA’s example, I decided to convince the American Red Cross headquarters facility management to invest in an additional bike rack. The earlier bike parking capacity simply was not enough when the weather got nicer in spring. I started lobbying for an extra bike rack in April. After four months of chasing, a brand new rack was assembled at the Red Cross Square just before I finished my Fulbright project. I could not resist decorating it with a Women & Bicycles sticker on my last day.

The Extra Bike Rack at the Red Cross Square

7. Special Events

There are loads of bike related special events throughout the year. In addition to WABA, especially BicycleSPACE has been super active in organizing them. I went for example to their Halloween themed ride, Holiday Lights ride, and Holiday Party. Both BicycleSPACE and The Bike Rack also offer weekly yoga classes in their stores outside the regular opening hours. Additionally, The Bike Rack organizes events specifically for women. Every now and then there are even public alleycats in DC. These urban navigation and problem solving races were originally a cult thing among bike messengers only but now there are also events open for anyone.

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6. Bike Trails

If biking with traffic does not appeal to you, don’t worry, there is a wealth of trails in the DC area as well. Some of the most popular ones are the Mt. Vernon trail (gets hilly towards the end), the Four Mile Run trail, the W&OD trail, and the Custis trail. Parts of these also form a nice roundtrip also known as the Arlington Loop. Once you have covered these, you can head to the Capital Crescent trail (very scenic and paved), C&O trail (very scenic, but unpaved), the Metropolitan Branch Trail (spot murals along the way), the Bethesda Trolley Trail (a little hard to navigate), and the Sligo Creek Trail (excellent ice cream in Takoma Park). Additionally, large sections of the Beach Drive in the Rock Creek Park is closed from cars during weekends. Many road cyclists also enjoy doing “lycra laps” in Hains Point and biking to the Potomac Village even if that means sharing the road with cars.

Sligo Creek Trail

5. Bike Maintenance Skills

If you have ever wanted to learn bike maintenance, in DC it is very easy. Bike shops offer basic maintenance and fix-a-flat workhops on a regular basis. These are often completely free of charge. A fantastic community-based bicycle repair cooperative, the Bike House, also organizes more in-depth maintenance courses for a nominal fee. I attended their excellent four week long course in Petworth in May. I could not have imagined how much one can learn about brakes, gear, cables, hubs, and spokes in such a short time. So empowering! Highly recommended.

Mechanics Class

4. Volunteering Opportunities

The Bike House is completely volunteer run. In addition to offering bike maintenance courses, they organize weekly bicycle repair clinics at Petworth and at the Bloomingdale Farmers Market. Every now and then they also do the same in other locations, often in the spirit of outreach. In summer 2014, the Bike House teamed up with DC Public Library, WABA, and DC Police and organized four clinics in Anacostia in SE DC. I joined one of these clinics as a volunteer. That turned out to be one of the most rewarding and eye-opening experiences during the entire Fulbright year.

If you ask me, these free clinics in Anacostia were a marvelous concept: SE DC is one of the lowest income areas of the city. For quite obvious reasons, there are no bike shops in the area, meaning that if someone’s bike breaks down, it is tough to get it fixed. At the same time, for many residents their bike is their main form of transportation for getting to work and school, doing groceries, and running errands. Hence, teaching people fix and maintain their own bikes is simply brilliant as it solves so many problems in one go. In addition to a couple of professional mechanics and a bunch of us volunteers with varying skill levels, even a couple of DC police officers were wrenching with us. For them, this was a unique opportunity to interact with the residents in positive terms. We helped more than 50 happy customers during the afternoon. (As a side note, some of them were quite puzzled with my accent. One gentleman even asked if I am from Siberia. Maybe I was the palest person in Anacostia so far…)

The Bike House Volunteers

3. Bike Lane Art

Whenever one stops at traffic lights, it is worth glancing down: There are small witty stencil pieces with biking related messages painted on the bike lanes around the city. What a brilliant form of street art! Check out some more of my photos on Flickr to get an idea. Unfortunately, the mysterious artist has had to take a break of stencil activism for now, but I’m sure many of the pieces are still visible.

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2. Mural Tours

For an urban art junkie like me, mural tours by bike were a treat. As a bonus, they are also an excellent way to explore DC neighborhoods that you might not feel totally comfortable checking out on your own. A hip-hop nonprofit Words Beats and Life organizes mural rides in cooperation with BicycleSPACE a couple of times a year. Also, if you have any designer connections, you might want to check if AIGA DC is planning another mural ride.

Mural Riders

1. Coffee Clubs

Each Wednesday morning a group of bikey women swing by the Coffee Bar (or another carefully selected location) on their way to work for a cup of coffee and some bike talk. These weekly informal gatherings hosted by awesome Nelle from WABA are a part of the Women & Bicycles program. They are a great way to meet like-minded people, get tips and peer support – often also in non-biking related matters – and generally become energized. On Friday mornings, there is a co-ed Coffee Club at Swings (17th & G NW). The DC biking power couple Mary and Ed founded the coffee club some three years ago, and it has become an institution. I do not even drink coffee, yet these morning coffee clubs might be the DC routine that I miss most.

Women & Bicycles Coffee Club

Best of July

1. Fourth of July Fireworks

Musselman, Toronto, Nigara Falls, and the Disney World definitely belong to the Best of July, but many cool things happened also back home in DC, like the Fourth of July fireworks. This was the third time I was in the U.S. on the 4th of July. In 2007, I went to see the Macy’s fireworks with 40,000 others. As the weather was extremely cloudy and rainy, unfortunately there was not that much to see in the end. In 2012, I happened to land in NYC exactly on the Independence Day. This time the weather beautiful. Routinely, we headed to the East River for the spectacle, only to find out that the fireworks had been moved to the Hudson River, in other words to the west side of Manhattan…

4th of July Fireworks

The third time definitely was the charm. My Independence Day did not start too well as I had a terrible cold. After spending the day in bed, in the evening I still decided to leave the house, hop on my bike and head downtown to meet up with friends. I’m so glad I did! I had been invited to a friend’s friend’s rooftop to watch the fireworks. The vantage point was fabulous: an unobstructed view of the Washington Monument, the Old Post Office Tower, the sunset, and magnificent fireworks. The view of the U.S. Capitol was not too shabby either. It made me think of my first 7th Street Social bike ride in September, and all the great things that had followed.

US Capitol

2. Paddling on the Anacostia River

I love to brag how Helsinki is such a unique capital city as there is so much nature just a stone-throw away from the city center. I was astonished to discover that DC has a bit of the same flavor. The Rock Creek Park has a feel of a real forest, and paddling on the Anacostia river makes one forget the surrounding huge metropolitan area instantly. My first paddling experience on the river was in May in a wonderful free event organized by Casey Trees. During our couple of hours of paddling we even spotted a turtle and a beaver! In July I had the opportunity to get on the river again, that time to celebrate the anniversary of the Anacostia Watershed Society. So peaceful, so relaxing, highly recommended. Both Casey Trees and the Anacostia Watershed Society are worthy organizations doing invaluable work to preserve urban nature. They offer a vast array of exciting and fun ways to get involved. Have a look!

Paddling on Anacostia

3. American-Russian-Ethiopian Celebration of Love

Two of my roommates got married in June. Due to my conference in Florida, I was unfortunately not able to travel to Italy to attend the actual wedding. Luckily, the groom’s mother organized a wonderful Welcome Home party for the newlyweds in July. The event started with the blessing of the marriage at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist not far from our house. I had become very familiar with the cathedral during my triathlon training, as I ran by it on most of my morning runs. Actually my favorite hill for hill repeats was right by it. I had never had a chance to peak inside, though. Seeing the incredibly beautiful interior was like stepping into another world.

The blessing of the marriage was followed by a reception at the River Farm of the American Horticultural Society. The venue was amazing: an old estate house surrounded by beautiful gardens overlooking the Potomac River. Funny enough, I knew also this location from before as it happens to be right by the Mt. Vernon Trail. We spent a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon and evening enjoying delicious American, Russian, and Ethiopian food and saw some unforgettable Russian dancing bridging any generation gaps. Realizing how many of the other guests I had had the opportunity to learn to know during the year made me feel like a part of the family. (Ironing the groom’s suit five minutes before leaving for the church had of course given plenty of that feeling as well.)

Ceiling at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Bike to Vote Day

Bike to Work Day was a big deal in DC today. Unfortunately torrential rain in the morning messed up the plans of some of the nearly 17,000 registered participants, but many did not let that matter. I was lucky to be able to head to the office only when the rain had almost stopped, and I still made it to a Bike to Work Day pitstop at the National Geographic Society. I got some free breakfast and swag, and – of course – a free T-shirt. Americans love free T-shirts.

Together

As I commute by bike daily, for me a bigger deal than Bike to Work Day was my very own invention, Bike to Vote Day. Another five years have passed, and it’s time for the European Parliament Elections. Finland will elect thirteen members to the European Parliament. The elections in Finland will take place on May 25, but the advance voting has already started and lasts until May 20. Outside Finland, the last voting day is already May 17, so especially Finnish friends living abroad, hurry up!

Finnish & EU Flags

Luckily if not surprisingly, the Embassy of Finland here in DC is a voting location. That’s where I headed with two Finnish friends to cast our votes. No waiting in line, a very fast and efficient procedure, just like you would expect from us Finns, I guess. Finns in DC can still vote tomorrow on Saturday from 10AM to 2PM.

The Greenest Embassy

The Embassy of Finland is the first embassy in the United States to be certified as an energy efficient building. Bike parking was provided for Bike to Vote Day participants. Yet another reason to brag about our green embassy.

Bicycle Parking Only

In 2004 I lived in Belgium and voted at the Embassy of Finland in Brussels, so this starts to feel like a nice tradition. Any wild guesses where I might find myself in 2024?

Cherry Blossom Special

Having been a hanami enthusiast in Finland and elsewhere for years, I could not have been happier to learn that the cherry blossom is a big deal in DC. The tradition dates back to 1912, when Japan gave 3,000 cherry trees as a gift to the United States to celebrate the nations’ friendship. Another 3,800 trees were donated in 1965. These trees were planted around the Tidal Basin, East Potomac Park, and on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Each spring, over a million people come to see them bloom.

There was still snow on the ground when I familiarized myself with the bloom statistics and started to check the bloom forecast almost daily. After weeks of waiting, the peak bloom occurred this year on April 10, only 11 days after the last snowfall! During the past 30 years the peak bloom has occured this late only twice. The record is from 1958, though, when the peak bloom happened only on April 18. The earliest peak bloom was on March 15, 1990.

A Finnish friend of mine was extremely lucky with the timing of her visit to DC: She landed exactly on the day of the peak bloom. We spent most of her stay cycling around the super sunny and warm city and viewing the flowers. Here’s a glimpse of what we saw:

Cherry Blossom

Finally!

Cherry Blossom / Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

Cherry Blossom / Washington Monument

Washington Monument

Cherry Blossom / Arlington Cemetery

Arlington Cemetery

Cherry Blossom / National Arboretum

National Arboretum

Magnolia Blossom

So beautiful!

Like the hawk-eyed readers surely noticed, the last photo is actually of magnolias. For some reason the magnolia blossom is not as famous as the cherry blossom, but if you ask me, that is pretty sweet, too.

After five days of summery weather, it was raining heavily and it was (literally) freezing cold on Tuesday. Now the sun is back, but the city is green rather than pink all of a sudden, as most of the petals are on the ground. This is a classic example of how quickly the bloom can be over, and exactly the reason why the “luminous and beautiful yet fleeting and ephemeral” cherry blossom has become a metaphor for life itself. Make the most out of it while it lasts!

Best of December

1. Progressive Dinner

Month after month, my new home keeps on surprising me positively. At the beginning of December I learned that our 2-block strip of the Monroe Street has an active street association and received an invitation to a progressive dinner. I had never heard of the concept before. The idea is that a number of residents open up their houses for neighbors to enjoy one course of the dinner at each home. The other dinner participants contribute by providing food, so that the hosts do not need to worry about that.

The schedule looked like this: appetizers at 5:30pm, soup at 6:30pm, salad at 7:15pm, dinner at 8pm, dessert at 9pm, and nightcap at 9:45pm. Busy with other Saturday activities, I missed the first two courses, but joined the fun starting from salads that were served at our place. I was amazed when exactly at 7:15pm the doorbell rang and the house filled with people, young and old, kids, adults, grandparents, students… Food contributors brought amazing salads featuring everything from pomegranate seeds to jícama.

After 45 minutes, the “boss of the block”, an energetic 9-year-old rang a bell to signal that it was time to move on. We followed the crowd across the street and got to enjoy numerous mains and sides, endless desserts and finally a night cap (or a few) in three more homes. What a great way to learn to know your neighbors and strengthen the community feeling!

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2. Gingerbread House Workshop

I have been a big fan of gingerbread houses since a kid. In our family it was always my mom who made the gingerbread dough and prepared the parts for the house, and we kids focused purely on decorating. My mom was also in charge of assembling the house with melted sugar, as that step was considered way too dangerous for kids. At the age of 26, I decided I was finally old enough to maneuver the whole process, and since then I have built a house every other year or so. Inspired by my new home town, this year I selected the Washington Monument as my gingerbread house project, and I must admit I am very happy with the result.

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Getting company to my multi-day gingerbread house workshop made the project more fun than ever: My designer friend had never done anything similar before, but she was eager to give it a try and turned out to be a natural gingerbread house talent! Without using any patterns, she created a lovely farm scene with a barn, a silo and a whole array of animals from piglets to roosters. The other workshop participant was one of my house mates who loves building just about anything. Leveraging his experience from making surfboards out of fibreglass, he was great at dealing especially with 3D shapes. The credit of the hill under the Washington Monument goes to him.

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3. Ugly Holiday Sweater Parties

In the past couple of years, ugly holiday sweater parties have become an “ironic” megatrend in the US. Also I got invited to two. Although the last weeks before Christmas were quite busy, I did not want to repeat my rookie mistake from Halloween of showing up without appropriate attire. My plan A was to head to Goodwill to look for a suitable sweater, but it turned out there is no Goodwill in DC; the nearest ones are in Virginia and Maryland. Instead of looking for another thrift store, I chose an alternative approach as my plan B: I decided to ‘uglify’ my old black snowboarding sweater myself!

In my opinion, the Christmas tree with a bunch of bow ties that I made out of metallic ribbon intended for wrapping gifts came out pretty ugly indeed. To my surprise, many Americans considered it cute rather than ugly. Someone even described my creation as a typical example of elegant Nordic design! Next time I need to come up with something way more extravagant, I guess. Well, no matter ugly or cute, I had a great time at both parties – surrounded by an impressive selection of funny, tacky, and hideous sweaters. One of my favorites was the genuine retro sweater from the 80s that the girl on the left is wearing in the picture below. Her mom had apparently not been too flattered for getting her dear holiday sweater rebranded as ugly, though…

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Bubbling Under

At the least the following additional highlights deserve to be mentioned: Opening the holiday season with The Nutcracker by Washington Ballet at the Warner Theatre, baking Finnish Christmas buns and pin-wheel shaped prune tarts for the Fulbright Holiday Party at the Slovenian embassy, baking even more and hosting a Pre-Holiday Brunch & Hangout for friends, checking out the National Christmas Tree by the White House, the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree and the ZooLights, experiencing my first white elephant gift exchange, and eventually getting introduced to the 30-year-old ultimate holiday movie classic A Christmas Story (highly recommended!) and promoting Rare Exports and the Finnish film industry in return.

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With this, I wanted to wish you and your loved ones Happy Holidays and lots of Sweet Surprises in 2014 already a few weeks ago. Most holidays are over by now, but as today is the orthodox Christmas, I use the opportunity to finally wish you all ‘Hyvää Joulua ja Onnellista Uutta Vuotta 2014’!

Enriching Experiences with Fellow Fulbrighters

One of the perks of being a Fulbrighter is getting to participate in the Fulbright Enrichment Program. DC is one of the six cities in the US where a dedicated Fulbright Enrichment Coordinator is in charge of organizing all kinds activities to enable us visiting scholars “to better experience America and to further the Fulbright Program’s goal of increasing mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and people of other countries”.

The 2013-14 Fulbright Enrichment Year was kicked off in early October with a reception at the offices of the Institute for International Education (IIE). After numerous emails exchanged to complete the immigration paperwork, it was great to meet Fulbright program administrators from the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) in person. In addition to them, we were warmly welcomed by the representatives of the United States Department of State. The diversity of the Fulbright community and the wide spectrum of Fulbright programs became very tangible when mingling with fellow Fulbrighters. For example, I met several Humphrey fellows who are here for a very cool program consisting of non-degree academic study and related professional experiences. A special highlight of the evening was learning that there is an awesome bike trail from DC to Pittsburgh.

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In the end of October, it was time for the next activity: a Symbolic Tour of Washington, D.C., a bus and walking tour around the city. Buildings, monuments and other sights looked great in the beautiful fall weather: Embassy RowGeorgetown Waterfront, the White House, Union Station, U.S. Capitol, Jefferson Memorial, and finally Lincoln Memorial. Out of the endless anecdotes that our guide shared with us, for me the most memorable ones were related to the statue of Abraham Lincoln. I learned that his hands symbolize his two opposite traits: power and strength (the closed fist), and peace and compassion (the relaxed hand). The guide also pointed out that a face is carved in the back of Lincoln’s head, potentially Robert E. Lee‘s – although the authorities do their best to bust this myth.

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A few weeks later, it was time for the third adventure: a visit to the Amish communities of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Amish are a group of traditionalist Christian churches. Their history dates back to the 17th century Switzerland. In the early 18th century, many Amish immigrated to the US. Today, the total number of Amish is 250,000-300,000. The biggest communities live in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress, and no or limited adoption of modern conveniences and technology.

Before the trip, I felt a bit uneasy: Of course I was excited and curious to learn more about the Amish, but at the same time I was afraid that visiting them with a tour bus would feel impolite and intrusive, almost like going to a “human zoo“. During the day, I managed to convince myself that Amish people might actually appreciate a genuine desire to understand their faith, beliefs, and motivations. Our guide, a lovely retired teacher who has lived her life as a neighbor to Amish families, did a great job helping us build this understanding.

The most interesting stop of the day was at an Amish Farmhouse that now serves as a museum, surrounded by a real farm (as a consequence of which the bus smelled like goat poop for the rest of the day…). There we got to step into a one-room schoolhouse. It was fascinating to hear about the Amish approach to education: Most Amish children go to Amish schools until the age of 13-14 when they typically discontinue formal education. Thereafter children focus on working in the house, the farm, and family businesses, and learn the additional skills needed in life on the job. For Finns who are big believers in education, as well as for many Fulbrighters making a career in academia, the idea of uselessness of higher education and abstract thinking can be quite distant and thought-provoking.

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Amish are often said to be reluctant to adopt modern technology. To be more exact, the main difference between Amish people and most other Americans might actually be the deliberation that takes place before deciding whether to embrace a new technology, or to which extent to embrace it. For example, most Amish are ok with using electricity, but instead of getting it from the grid, they use diesel generators and solar panels, as they want to maintain a separation from the rest of the world. That’s why Amish houses can be recognized by the absence of electric lines. (Another easy way to spot Amish houses are their unique clotheslines that are up in the air and operated with a pulley.)

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Amish are also not allowed to drive cars – and also bicycles are prohibited – but they are allowed ride in cars if other people drive. Most commonly they continue to use horse-driven buggies, though, and those were a common sight on the roads of Lancaster. Amish way of life is very family-centric, and the reasoning behind all these rules and traditions is to “keep the family together”. In other words, it should not be made easy to end up far away from the family, or let anything distract family life. To read more about the Amish and their relationship with modern technology in particular, have a look at this blog post. And like always, Wikipedia is a great resource, both in English and in Finnish.

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The last stop before heading back home was at one of the many Amish farmhouses that have a gift shop for tourists. When I realized they sold jam made without sugar AND without artificial sweeteners, I filled my bag with jars of strawberry-rhubarb jam, blueberry jam, and apple sauce. The biggest hit was a hot, soft pretzel, though, possibly the tastiest pretzel of my life so far – and believe me, I’ve had many, especially in Germany. My first pretzel experience in the US must have been at Auntie Anne’s in New York in 2005, so it took eight years to learn that in this country pretzels are an Amish delicacy. Without becoming a Fulbrighter I would have probably never found out that also the founder of Auntie Anne’s has an Amish background!

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Best of October

1. Hawaii

My father ran his first marathon in Honolulu in 1990. I have been dreaming of Hawaii ever since. Last January a New Zealand based friend of mine and I were joking that if I get the Fulbright scholarship, we should meet on Hawaii, as it is conveniently half way between Auckland and DC. Like (delightfully) often seems to happen in my life, also this joke became reality in early October.

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The state of Hawaii actually consists of hundreds of islands, out of which we had a chance to explore two on this trip. First, we spent a few days on Oahu in Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii. Having been a big fan of the Hotel board game as a child, staying in a hotel by the Waikiki beach felt quite surreal. Highlights of our stay included hiking the Diamond Head crater trail, visiting the battleship USS Missouri at the Pearl Harbor, and meeting up with a researcher at the University of Hawaii.

After catching a flight to the actual island of Hawaii, often referred to as the Big Island, things got even more exciting and intense. Only a few hours after landing we were snorkeling with sea turtles and fish that looked like they escaped from an aquarium or a Disney movie. The same evening we drove to Mauna Kea and visited an observatory where star-gazing – or rather galaxy-gazing – got a new meaning. The furthest galaxy that we saw with the help of canon-sized telescopes and conversant volunteer grandpas was 7.5 million light years away!

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Finally, the main reason for the timing of our trip was the legendary Ironman World Championship in Kona. About 2000 athletes get to compete in this brutal race annually, and complete a 2.4-mile (3.9 km) swim, a 112-mile (180 km) bicycle ride and a marathon (26.2 miles / 42.195 km) in the heat of Hawaii. The professional athletes get going at 6:30 am and are done in some 8-9 hours, whereas the amateurs – also known as the ‘age groupers’ – start at 7am and need to be done by midnight, so in 17 hours.

The nature of the race makes it a long day even for the spectators: We woke up at 4:40am and headed to the shores of the Kailua Bay to maximize the opportunities to witness the madness and cheer our “countrymen” from Finland, Estonia, and New Zealand. The most incredible experience was to see the last athletes cross the finish line at midnight, several amputees among them. Quoting Ironman World Champion 2013 Mirinda Carfrae, “the best IM memories sometimes come very late at night“, like this amazing story proves. If Ironspectating does not maximize your training motivation, nothing does.

Check out additional Hawaii photos on Flickr.

2. Art, Bikes and the City: A DC Mural Ride

AIGA, the professional association for design, organized a fun mural bike ride with the theme “Art, Bikes and the City” as a part of the DC Design Week. Thanks to my wonderful friend, I got to join the designer crowd for the tour. It was fascinating to realize how rich the DC mural scene is. Some of the works I had spotted on my own while cycling around the city. Others I would have never found without our knowledgeable guides. The guides excelled at pointing out interesting details, too. For example, if you look at this mural carefully, you will notice there is a mural in the mural. The first meta mural I’ve ever seen!

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Especially some of my DC readers might be happy to learn that the map of the murals we visited and more information is available online. DC Murals and Mural Locator are excellent resources with lots of photos, and this blog post describes in more detail the efforts of building a bridge to legal street art.

The tour ended to the pretty Georgetown waterfront where we had yummy treasures by the Malmaison for lunch. As an extra turn after the picnic, we still biked to Rosslyn, Virginia, and checked out the Silver Clouds by Andy Warhol at the Artisphere, just in time before the exhibition ended. Designers really know how to spend sunny Sundays!

3. Halloween

Celebrating my first Halloween in the US started when I joined a friend, two adorable 3-year-olds (a pirate and a train conducter), and a 4-month-old (wearing a fake moustache) to a Halloween party for kids at their school in the middle of the Rock Creek Cemetery. On the following night, there was a Halloween party for adults organized at my “second home”, a cool group house where I almost ended up living. Participants were dressed up as meticulously in both parties, and I promise to avoid the rookie mistake of not taking the ‘costumes-preferred’ guidance seriously next time… 

Halloween 2013

On the actual Halloween, my colleague treated us with delicious pumpkin bread, and our home street was filled with cute trick-or-treaters. As a final Halloween highlight, I joined a Zombie Ride around the city. One of the zombies turned out to be a Canadian actor on a 2000 km bike tour to draw attention to the environmental impact of fracking. I promised this energetic trumpetist to advertise his cause on my blog, so please have a look at the Save Our Water with Art project.

PS. If you like to see more photographic evidence of my life in DC, here’s a hot tip: I post extra photos of fun stuff on Flickr every now and then also between blog posts.

Best of September

1. H Street NE Festival

Out of all the street festivals that I explored in September (and there were many), the H Street NE festival was my favorite. Super diverse, super laid back. A DC bike map sponsored by WABA, an invitation to join the Black Girls Run movement (they do not discriminate!), and a yummy Burgorilla black bean burger were some of the highlights of the event.

H St. Festival

The most memorable part still was a dance performance by a group of multi-cultural kids. All that energy and joy! Towards the end of the performance, I was astonished to realize that all the kids were actually deaf or hard of hearing. Incredible. Inspired by what I saw, I wanted to learn to understand better how these kids can be so great dancers without hearing the music, and found an excellent article on the topic by Gallaudet University.

2. 7th Street Social

It was my third evening in DC when I was walking back from my yoga class and saw an amazing scene: 50 or so cyclists were riding together, led by a bike that carried a huge stereo system. It looked like loads of fun! The only problem was I had no clue what was going on or who was behind the event.

7th St. Social

Fortunately, soon I figured out that I had spotted the 7th Street Social, which is something between a group ride or a party on wheels organized by a local bike shop, BicycleSPACE. Last Thursday I joined the ride. For two hours we biked around the Capitol Hill area with music playing and lights blinking. We even rode up the ramp of an empty 4-story parking garage somewhere in Navy Yard to take a popsicle break at the rooftop, overlooking the waterfront and the city lit up at night. Unforgettable!

3. Nuit Blanche DC at Wonder Bread Factory

DC tends to have somewhat dull reputation. Based on my first month here, this is an unfair verdict. All you need is to make friends with a few nice key individuals, in my case an interior design student and a graphic designer, and all of a sudden cool-hunting becomes very easy.

As a result, you may find yourself at events like Nuit Blanche DC. This event was a part of Art All Night DC 2013, a free overnight arts festival in the Shaw neighborhood right next to the Howard University. The four floors of the renovated, post-industrial venue, Wonder Bread Factory, were filled with installations, performing and visual arts, short films, and DJs. For a street art fan like me, seeing graffiti artists in (legal) action was like Christmas.

Nuit Blanche DC

The Finnish readers could imagine the event being a mix of the Flow Festival and the Night of Arts in Helsinki. And similarly to these events back home, randomly bumping into acquaintances happened all the time. I had not even realized that I already know enough people in DC for that to happen. DC really is a village rather than a city, a cool village.

Highlights of the First 10 Days

Got a local phone number, a bank account, an ATM card, checks, and a public transportation card sorted out within 48 hours after immigration.

Found a cozy ashtanga yoga studio and went for the first run in the Rock Creek Park with brand new blue running shoes.

Borrowed a toolbox from an IMF economist and dismantled an IKEA shelf while helping a new friend from the World Bank mafia move to NYC.

Got an update of the Syria situation from the Assistant Professor in Arab Politics at Georgetown University.

Went to my first happy hours, ate empanadas (twice!), and found two cool hipster joints where drinks are served in jars.

Pearl Cups

Realized that my new office is a fancy historical building right next to the White House, and got off to a flying start with my project.

Was attacked by nasty mosquitoes and learnt that DC is built on a swamp (which may actually be a myth).

Test-drove city bikes and Pelago bikes on the streets of DC, and attended a dangerously inspiring event hosted by the DC Triathlon Club.

Spent endless hours scanning through Craigslist housing ads, responded to 37 or so, got invited to see a handful of apartments, and learnt what pet peeves are.

Felt grateful for friends for linking me with their DC friends, and for these friends of friends for making DC feel like home from the very beginning.

The Mission Begins

After an exciting Fulbright scholarship application process last winter and an awesome 150 days of summer, on August 27, 2013, it was finally time to catch a flight to the US to start my mission in the world of NGOs: A year-long Fulbright Mid Career Professional Development project with the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C.

I was browsing Fulbright introduction materials on the plane. Somewhere roughly above the infamous Eyjafjallajökull glacier it hit me. In one of the broschures, Senator J. William Fulbright was described a “Man with a Mission”. That’s when I got the idea to call my new blog “Miss with a Mission”.

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