One morning, while he was stuck on a train in a tunnel between Metro stations, Chad Wallace, a D.C. public school teacher, made the decision that taking the Metro was no longer worth his time, money or patience.
“The prices were going up, the problems were piling up, and I was just getting more and more frustrated,” Wallace said. “I had to find another way to get to work.”
With that spur-of-the-moment decision, Wallace began his own personal boycott of the Metro system and began biking to work — a nearly 30-mile round trip every day — saving $50 a week, losing 50 pounds in the process and pushing him into the unlikely position of burgeoning filmmaker.
Very few disgruntled Metro riders would take such an extreme stance against D.C.’s public rail system — but it seems that many at least liked the idea. A guest post that Wallace sent to the popular UnsuckDCMetro blog in 2011 about his decision became one of the most popular posts in the history of the blog.
But he didn’t stop at just the bike rides to and from work.
“About six months after I had started biking into work, I signed up for my first triathlon — an Olympic distance triathlon,” he said.
That success led him to eventually consider the ultra-distance triathlon: a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride, ending with a 26.2-mile run — in other words, not an event for the faint of heart.
Wallace completed his first ultra-distance triathlon in 2011, the ChesapeakeMan Ultra Triathlon in Cambridge, Md. In total, since his Metro boycott began, he has completed three Olympic distance races, three ultra-distance races and two half-ultra-distance races.
But how does a full-time public school teacher, husband and father to a newborn manage to train for 140-mile triathlon events all year round?
“It basically all comes down to waking up really early,” he said.
“I usually wake up at 4 a.m. every day and either run or swim a couple of hours before biking the 14 miles to work.”
And weekends are no picnic, either.
“I try to get one really big workout done on Saturdays — a bike ride of at least 50 miles or a run of at least 10 miles. Sometimes both.”
But the money Wallace is saving on Metro costs certainly isn’t staying in his pocket for too long.
Any decent racing bike costs thousands of dollars — not to mention the cost of the other gear such as helmets and cycling shoes. Then there’s replacement and repair costs when chains and cables break. A full-service shop tuneup before a long-distance race could cost $450 or more.
And that’s just the biking equipment. When it comes to swimming, Wallace said, “the sky is the limit” on what you can end up spending on the best goggles and wet suits suitable for ultra-distance events.
“If it’s not one thing it’s another that needs repair — preventative maintenance,” he said.
That’s why he started a Kickstarter online fundraising project in January to raise the funds needed to shoot a documentary titled “What It Takes to Be an Ironman” about his experiences. It’s also a unique way, he said, to document the training leading up to his fourth ultra-distance triathlon event, which he’ll compete in this August at Lake Tahoe, Nev.
Wallace plans to make the documentary available online for free within a month after the Nevada race.
But don’t think you’ll be out of the woods and blissfully free of Metro-related frustrations if you quit the system.
In another recent guest post on the UnsuckDCMetro blog, titled “Metro Sucks Even If You Stop Riding,” yet another disgruntled D.C. dweller warns of the hazardous effects of commuting through the city by bike.
“Instead of dealing with the Orange Crush, I have to start worrying about reckless bus drivers,” the post read. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority “buses will run red lights and come plowing through the pedestrian crosswalk.”
So, next time your train is delayed 20 minutes, the doors slide open mid-journey or you find yourself having to walk along the tracks because of sudden “electrical malfunctions,” remind yourself, Washingtonians: There is another way.
But before you make your decision, you might want to consider the side effects first, lest you find yourself panting around Dupont Circle dodging rogue WMATA buses every morning.
At the least, you might want to check out Wallace’s documentary to see the play-by-play of the post-boycott world.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.