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Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 03/ 8/2010

Blossoms, by paddle and pedal

By Lavanya Ramanathan

By March, I'm so sallow and sun-starved that I'm literally dreaming of the first cool, bright days of spring, when breezy bike rides and leisurely walks in the sunshine are possible again.

But in Washington, it's the cherry blossoms -- nevermind the vernal equinox -- that signal that those days have arrived.

Paddle boating on the Tidal Basin opens for the season this Wednesday, well ahead of the blossom crush. Always wanted to take a paddle boat out on the basin during the festival? Wednesday is also the day you can begin reserving boats for the next several weeks, including predicted peak bloom days, April 3-8.

Through the end of the festival on April 11, Tidal Basin Paddle Boats will allow folks to reserve boats for hour-long increments between 8 and 11 a.m. To keep things fair, from 11 to dusk (around 6 p.m.), boats are rented on a first-come, first-served basis only; because there are approximately 50 boats, you do have a fair shot of landing one...eventually. Renting a two-person paddle boat is $10 an hour; a four-person boat is $18. Reserve one here.

On Sunday, we'll all set our clocks forward, and sunny days will last a little bit longer, making the ranger-guided lantern walks around the Tidal Basin feel more like evening strolls, not moonlight hikes. The popular nighttime tours start at 8 on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays beginning March 27 (the first day of the festival); bring your own flashlight. The tours begin in two spots: the Tidal Basin welcome area (near the paddle boat dock) and the Washington Monument ticket lodge.

And if you can't wait to take out that fixed-gear you bought because it was cool, hit the free, three-hour ranger-led bike tours of the cherry blossoms offered Saturdays and Sundays through the festival. Tours begin March 27. Want to hop off and walk some of the way? The Washington Area Bicyclist Association is bringing back its cherry blossom bike valet: You can park your bike with them free on Saturdays and Sundays for the length of the festival (March 27-April 11).

Even if you don't have your own bike, you can throw your name on the list to rent a bike and take tours during the festival. Bike and Roll offers rentals, as well as two-hour, six-mile Bike the Blossoms tours that begin and end at the kiosk on Pennsylvania Avenue. New this year -- and ideal for locals and serious cyclists -- is an approximately 15-mile, Blossoms by Bike River Ride, which starts in Old Town and runs along the Mount Vernon Trail into Washington.

-- Lavanya Ramanathan

By Lavanya Ramanathan  | March 8, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
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