Taking a less-traveled road to Washington

He could have taken Amtrak from Boston to Washington, D.C. He could have driven down I-95.

Instead, in an improvised Tour de Northeast Corridor, three-time U.S. cyclocross champion and former road racer Tim Johnson led The Ride on Washington -- an epic 475-mile, five-day commute to the National Bike Summit that begins Tuesday night. The riders raised money along the way to benefit a national advocacy group, Bikes Belong.

They also did it to prove a point: "That riding a bike to get somewhere, not racing, is the purest form of biking,'' Johnson said.

Johnson was speaking while riding (do not try this at home, folks; he's a professional) along the last leg of the voyage from Baltimore to D.C. on a bike trail through an industrial park. "It takes a lot to make this happen," he said of the path. "Before, that effort was something I didn't know about or pay much attention to."

"Sweet!" Johnson exclaimed when the top of the Capitol dome came into view, as he promptly snapped a photo for his Twitter feed.

There was little sightseeing for the first few days. A group of 14 riders set out from downtown Boston with one support vehicle on Friday. Along the way, the People's Peloton shrank to seven and swelled to 40. Participants pedaled everything from a hybrid with a rack on the back to a tandem to a custom time trial bike.

Like modern-day explorers searching for inland waterways, they patched together a route as they went along, using handlebar-mounted Garmins. Johnson admitted, "Logistically, it was a nightmare," even for a 33-year-old cyclocross veteran used to miserable and varying conditions. One Rails-to-Trails path turned out to be a phantom. Some bridges were out.

Backtracking extended the Hartford-to-New York City leg to 10 hours on Saturday. The group missed the Staten Island Ferry on Sunday morning and wound up making the transfer by car, only to be soaked by cold rains for most of the trip to Philadelphia. But the riders were rewarded each night when they stumped for better bike trails, paths and safety before enthusiastic crowds at fundraisers.

"As an athlete, you're used to having things go your way," Johnson said. "Everything is geared toward you. But as a bike racer, I'm such a small part of such a gigantic thing. It's the difference between the sport and the activity. It can't be about you. It has to be about everybody."