Bikeage and Dhikr: A Three-Day Biking Expedition Along DC’s C&O Canal Trail

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There is nothing quite like using one’s two legs to explore their surroundings, particularly the natural variety. I was able to embark a journey to do just that in the company of a few old friends and several new ones who drove in from Michigan. Several months prior we had started a long e-mail chain to discuss possible routes, activities, accommodations, etc. – the end result: a 60 mile bike trek beginning in Georgetown and ending in Knoxville, MD. In addition to the biking aspect of the trip we would get the chance to whitewater kayak along the Susquehanna River in class I-III rapids. I signed on right away, seeing as my current state of underemployment allows me to enjoy such adventures (a full-time job is still optimal but hey, this is a nice temporary bonus) and encourages me to pursue those things I might otherwise make excuses for not attempting. For example, I would sometimes avoid going out to events that I never tried before because of not knowing others attending.

I am not sure where this change in mindset stems from fully, but I believe it has to do with the acknowledgement that for all of the certainty I perceive in my life all of it can suddenly be thrown to the rocks, namely the ability to be physically active. Perhaps more importantly, I know that pushing myself to experience new situations and meet new people strengthens my self-esteem by reminding me that I am capable of adapting and thriving even when the future is unclear. This specific trip, for instance, saw me embarking on a lengthy outing with only two of the seven other people being familiar faces; they are a married couple I met through my halaqa, or weekly spiritual gathering. Aside from seeing their names on our e-mail chain and understanding them to be college friends of Ryan and Nada’s, I did not know anything about these individuals. Would we all get along? Would we be able to maintain a sense of shared accountability and desire to help each other in what would surely be a testing weekend?

In short, yes, we all got along and did bond as a team throughout our adventures, often times in ways that I would never have foreseen. Looking back, I feel that the way in which I met three of the seven really solidified our bonds quickly and fostered an opportunity to get to know each other prior to the stresses of biking and the wilderness set-in. Because of numerous last-minute issues Saturday morning, some of the group got delayed while the rest would be meeting-up with me in Georgetown at the bike shop and hang tight. In usual white boy fashion I arrived early and ended up waiting for a while until I encountered three people joining the trip: Yasmine, Nehal, and Zain. As we got talking over cupcakes at Baked and Wired (shameless plug for what are the best cupcakes in the city) I was in awe of everyone’s life stories, which included being graduate students, a family therapist, and a biology teacher. The diversity of the group, whom also would be joined by an engineer, a biology PhD student, a lawyer, and an NGO professional, reminded me of a mix between Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Kerouac’s On the Road/Dharma Punx.

Over the next few days we would all grow closer to one another, silently realizing our interdependence and how we each fit into wider Creation. Below are some photographs documenting some of our sights throughout the trip; well, at least the ones I managed to have my camera ready for. Such ideal scenes included Great Falls (a series of rapids northwest of DC along the Potomac River), long abandoned canal lockhouses that had facilitated part of the US’s economic growth in the early 19th century, and remote campsites situated along the canal trail with only a fire pit and a water pump. There is a latent beauty in these spaces, one that I observed only after consciously disconnecting from the hyper-attached world I usually operated within, i.e. turning off my iPhone.

Being with my own mind in complete silence, aside from that of surrounding nature and my bike’s tires wrestling with the gravel path underfoot,  definitely took some getting used to and will be something I hope to continue practicing post-trip. The necessity of being fully present in order to focus on pushing through 30 miles of riding each day, despite having a literal pain in my ass and sleeping on the uncomfortable ground for two nights, showed me that I could overcome mental blocks. As the group continued on throughout the weekend I felt myself becoming less attached to my phone and even the need to talk to others. I was given the rare opportunity to be quiet and reflective without others questioning me – I was able to do dhikr and make dua’as while riding without worrying if someone was about to call or text or a social media notification would pop up or a job application needed to be submitted. Knowing that certain dangers were ever present – be it a biking accident, weather, or something else – also recharged my mind to remain aware and let go of other petty worries.

With that I hope that if you are physically capable of attempting something like this or some variation, go for it and do not look back. Life, while seemingly endless and busy, will not wait and we all owe it to ourselves to strive to leave our comfort zones if we are to truly grow and convene with something larger than ourselves. Salaams for now.

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