DC Metro Challenge

Seven hours. Fifteen trains. One man. Zero bathroom breaks.

The uncomfortable smile of a man balancing his camera on a Metro seat.

Seven hours, 27 minutes, and 49 seconds – that’s how long it took me to ride to all 86 stations in the Washington Metrorail system. Starting in Shady Grove and winding across the metropolitan area to finish at Largo Town Center, I spent nearly a full work day entering DC mass transit history. Not to mention setting a new personal record for bladder capacity.

The first question most people ask is ‘Why?’ Half of it is my love of mass transit. Maybe it’s because I spent a little too long in the train phase growing up (dinosaurs are so overrated). Or maybe it’s because driving my manual transmission around the region has me on the fast track for knee replacement surgery. Either way, when I had time off before starting my new job, I knew which item was next on the bucket list. The other half? Simply because it’s there.

The night before I mapped out my route. The metro station nearest my apartment is Van Ness-UDC, so I limited my route to starting at Shady Grove. Unlike the New York City subway system, DC’s Metro system has relatively few transfer points, so route determination was a short exercise in intuition and trial and error. I did not consult timetables or maintenance schedules.

The next morning, on November 21, 2011, I entered at Van Ness and began the foggy ride out to Shady Grove. After I reached Shady Grove, I exited and re-entered the system so that my SmarTrip card could provide an official record of the start of my attempt. Entry time: 8:46:42 am.

I boarded a Red line train bound for Glenmont but it wasn’t long before I hit a snag – my train was stuck in a tunnel behind a disabled train at Friendship Heights. Ultimately, the delay only cost me about 15 minutes, but it still made for an inauspicious start to the day. At Metro Center, I transferred to an Orange line train and made the quick trip out to Vienna/Fairfax-GMU. I breathed easy as a largely empty train sped through the Commonwealth.

Heading out to Vienna. The first of only two empty cars all day.

I was slowed down by some scheduled maintenance on the way back to Rosslyn, but after that all my trains moved quickly for the rest of the day. I encountered some familiar Metro personalities, like Uncomfortably Vocal in Delays man, Amazingly Not Already Deaf girl, and the Adorably Desperate Tourist Family. There were some other highlights, like sprinting to make a transfer at Stadium-Armory or riding the Green line end-to-end – the only line on which I did so.

The nine terminus stations.

The biggest challenge of the day, though was adhering to Metro’s food, drink, and (less publicized) urination policies. The first two could be solved with a hearty breakfast. The last one was addressed by just a little dehydration the day before. Some have pointed to that dehydration as the source of my ethereal experiences that day – I use it as justification to put myself on par with other professional athletes, like competitive hot dog eaters.

At 4:14:31 pm, after an anti-climactic SmarTrip error, I exited the system at Largo Town Center and completed my attempt. But did I set a new record?

From the moment I began my trip home that night, I have been scouring the Internet for any trace of a previous record. My own research has been fruitless, Guinness seems to have no interest, and upon inquiring with WMATA, I was told they don’t track it either.

The official SmarTrip record

So, after months of searching I have decided to create that authority. This website, DC Metro Challenge, will chronicle my attempt and any future attempts to traverse the Metrorail system. It is my hope that this central authority will inspire other transit lovers in our region to challenge each other to see who can claim supremacy over the nation’s second-busiest transit system.

Or at least to see who can hold it in the longest.