B-b-b-b-bike C-c-c-commuting, Ow!

It somehow seems unfair that global climate change would bring about vast changes in weather patterns that result in me having to bike commute in blustery 20 degree weather before Thanksgiving. After all, climate change is all about MEEE!

Out of bed and on the floor. Back exercises as usual. I had my full range of motion. I mixed in some yoga stretches. (I recently saw some pictures of yogis doing basic balancing poses. I can’t balance a check book. Not gonna happen.)  When I was done my back felt normal.

I was ready for the worst the weather gods could throw my way. Here’s what I wore:

Torso: Base layer + t-shirt + holey wool sweater + Marmot Precip jacket

Legs: Decade old mountain bike shorts + wool blend socks to just below the knee + Marmot Precip pants

Feet: Wool blend socks + Lake Mountain bike shoes + Performance fleece lined over boots

Head: Neck gaiter + watch cap

Hands: new performance lobster gloves

Bike commuting in the cold is easy as pie if you have the right clothing. I’ve accumulated all sorts of stuff over the last 10 or 15 years. Admittedly I am a fashion disaster but I’d rather be comfy than chic.

After about a mile I was toasty. My finger tips were cold on and off throughout the ride but I could wiggle them to warm them up. The rest of me was fine.

My over boots have a solid rubber bottom that keeps my feet dry when I walk into my backyard to get my bike when the grass is wet. I don’t want to cut them so that my cleats will show through so I rode The Mule which has platform pedals and rat traps.

I was cruising along fine. The Mount Vernon Trail was all but unoccupied. Near National Airport I came down a slight decline and there is was: ICE. Eek! I froze, figuratively, stood on my pedals, and glided over the 20-yard-long patch. I didn’t slide a bit. Yay, me.

Around Gravelly Point I was hit with a strong headwind all the way to Rosslyn. I started grinding away. This was not a good idea. I made it to work, locked up my bike, and headed to the fitness center. I sat down on a bench, stood up, and my back went out.

OW!!!!!

Fuck me.

All day I was stretching my legs and swaying like I was at an Elbow concert trying to free my back up. All day the spasm came and went, turning my back into a Z from time to time.

I could call the wife or the boy for a ride home but that would mean surrender. Not gonna do it.

My co-worker Kelly gave me a sense of how cold it was outside. When people dress like this, it’s cold.

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And, of course, I rode home. It was actually pretty comfortable. The idea of dismounting wasn’t very appealing. I saw a half dozen ninjas along my journey home. A couple were dressed entirely in black. What the hell are these idiots thinking. One man came out of a porta potty at Gravelly Point dressed from the hat on his head to his shoes in black. I yelled as I passed “I can’t see you.” I yelled this at everyone else. I passed a cyclist heading in my direction. No lights. The only reflectors were on his pedals. I wanted to stop and give him the blinky lights that Pete Beers had given me at Friday Coffee Club. This, however, would have meant dismounting. And dismounting wasn’t going to happen.

For about five miles my fingers were cold but somehow they warmed up and stayed warm. A few bumps along the way sent shocks through my back but for 95 percent of the ride I was spinning slowly in comfort. Go figure.

After I arrived at home I did what everyone with back spasms does. I dropped things. My glove. My camera. My glasses case. Ugh.

I ended my day popping muscle relaxants and applying ice to my back. Ahhh. Oh, and I packed for my bike commute tomorrow. I’m either and optimist or a fool.

 

Tell Tale Signs

The tell tale sign of Christmas is the arrival of Christmas decorations. There’s a house down the street from me that lit up, albeit in purple, one of its trees in October. I’ve seen outdoor trees on display elsewhere. Then there was that Corona Beer Christmas ad on TV last night. Nothing says Christmas like beer that tastes like skunk pee.

The tell tale sign that the good weather days are behind us is a cold, rainy day. I grew up in upstate New York when cold rainy days were the norm in October and November. There’s no way to sugar coat it, cold rainy days suck. Unless you have the right clothing.

I have the right clothing. (You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?)

So out I went at 7:10 on Little Nellie. I was quite comfortable under my Marmot Precip rain gear. Over the weekend I bought some neoprene covers for the front of my shoes. Somewhat unexpectedly they kept my shoes dry. I dug out my old Novara (the REI house brand) rain gloves. These suckers are long, they go well up my forearm and have a cinching cord in the wrist. The rain was even kind enough not to turn into a deluge for the commute. My only problem was seeing. Water on my glasses made navigation a bit of an annoyance. Lucky for me, there was hardly anybody else on the Mount Vernon Trail.

Tonight I expected less of the same, the rain having supposedly moved through the area. A brisk tailwind made the ride a, forgive the expression, breeze. It wasn’t a breeze for a bike commuter on the boardwalk at the TR Bridge. He was coming down from the bridge when he hit his brakes to avoid a turning cyclist. Thud. He was down on his side in a split second. He popped up and started walking his bike. He said he was okay so I pedaled homeward. It was seriously dark the whole way. In Belle Haven Park I saw two lights in the leaves next to the trail. Next thing I knew a racoon was running across the trail in front of me. He bounded up onto a tree trunk and scurried up the tree. The rest of the ride home involved not falling on the wet leaves. I succeeded.

Tomorrow is a whole ‘nother story. The forecast is calling for temperatures in the low to mid 20s with strong headwinds. This is the kind of weather we get in late January. I am prepared to wear everything I’ve got for the ride. I’m going all Charlie Brown. If I fall off my bike, I’ll just lie there on the ground like a felled tree.

Or I’ll drive.

Hiking from the Hips in Great Falls Park

The prospect of going for a bike ride the day after my back went into spasm didn’t seem very inviting. Lying around and feeling sorry for myself wasn’t doing my back or my head a whole lot of good so I decided to drive up to Great Falls Park in Maryland for an easy hike. I’d also get to test out my new hiking shoes on some uneven terrain.

It was in the 40s when I arrived at the park. This passes for a cold day here in the DC area so there were plenty of empty spaces in the dirt lot. I headed out on the Berma Road Trail and, after turning onto the Valley Trail, walked into solitude. The winds were calm so all I could hear was the sound of my shoes swishing through the fallen leaves. It’s a sound that rivals rushing water for soothing the soul.

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I quickly discovered that following  a trail after the leaves have fallen can be tricky. Everything pretty much looks the same. Every so often I stopped and did a scan for a blaze just to make sure I was on the trail. At one of these stops a white tailed buck ran across the trail. He seemed to be following a trail of his own but there were no markings.

Soon I came upon the Gold Mine loop which I had hiked previously. It’s a pretty enough circuit. I would use it to make my way to the Great Falls Tavern at the C&O canal. Along the way, I took a wrong turn and ended up at the park access road. The trail that I took was crisscrossed with large fallen trees so it my little diversion had an adventurous aspect to it. I walked back to the loop trail and notice that the trees all about me looked like spires without their leafy coats.

I took a spur trail from the loop down to the tavern. Then after a quarter mile walk through the concrete I made my way onto the Ford Mine Trail. It turns out that gold was discovered in this general area over 100 years ago. So prospectors invaded the area in search of riches. There are few traces of their activity today save for the names of the trails.

The Ford Mine trail is an out and back oval. I chose to hike it counterclockwise. This meant that I would be taking on the hilly half of the loop first. Following this trail was difficult. It has many twists and turns, often to get across small brooks. I went off trail several times. In the process I figured out some more clues to where the trail might be.  One clue is to look for man made improvements such as cutaway sections of fallen trees. Another clue is to think in terms of switchbacks which cause the trail to twist and turn on hillsides.

Even with a gimpy back, I was hiking much faster than I ever have before. My new hiking shoes are closer to running shoes than proper hiking boots and the soles are grippy so there was no slipping and sliding as I had been doing in my old boots. I took hills with a speed skater gait swaying my arms from side to side. This somehow seemed to engage my cycling legs and get me up the hills with much less effort.

The Ford trail turned around after about a mile. The return trip along the side of the canal was much flatter and faster. Back at the Tavern I decided to hike the towpath for a bit to hear the rushing water in the river. The river did not disappoint, but the towpath was populated with loud kids so I decided to cross the canal and take the flat Berma Road Trail back to the car. This trail gives a birds eye view of the Widewater section of the canal. For my money this is the prettiest section of the entire 180+ mile canal.

The entire hike took about three hours. I think I walked around seven miles in all. I felt great the entire time. During the hike my left hip ached occasionally, probably the consequence of a bulging disk in my back. Other than that I had no trouble whatsoever during the hike. My body seems to be adapting to hiking. In fact, for most of the hike it felt like it did back in my running days. I used to say that I was in shape when I “ran from the hips.” It’s hard to describe but there is a point where your legs no longer seem to be making an effort; they seem to be swinging like pendulums from the hips. There were several points in the hike, particularly at the end, when I felt like just running for a bit. I think I owe my comfort during the hike to the new shoes that seem to be exactly what the hiking doctor ordered.

I took a bunch of pictures and put them on my Flickr page here.

Frozen, Stood Up, and Backed Out

I’ve been bugging my friend Flor to get together with me before she takes off for warmer climes for the holidays. She suggested that she could come to Friday Coffee Club. Not a bad idea. I didn’t quite know how it would work though. She told me previously that she starts work at 7:30. Friday Coffee Club doesn’t get started until 7:45 or so. I figured I’d better get there really early.

This meant getting up REALLY early, as in 5:30. I stepped outside to get the newspaper and it was breezy and cold. Was it cold enough for my winter commuting garb? Yes, indeed!  I decided to break out my holey sweater and mittens.

At 6:15, fortified with a bowl of Cheerios and feeling a pow-pow-powerful good-good feeling,  I hit the road on Little Nellie. In the dark. And into a headwind. Ugh.

If I was going to get to Friday Coffee Club before 7:30 I was going to have to ride hard. Into the big ring went my chain. And I started hammering away. The harder I pedaled the more headwind I seemed to encounter. So frustrating! Pedal harder still. Ugh.

I should have known that things weren’t going to work out when I was passed by an on-coming cyclists wearing a gorilla mask and a frilly pink ballerina skirt. I kid you not. Poor guy probably had frozen bike commuter brain syndrome (FBCBS to my medical professional friends).

Over the river via the 14th Street bridge and into the city I rode, cranking that big ring for all it was worth, and it wasn’t worth much. Ugh.

At Constitution and 15th with the walk signal illuminated in my favor, I started to ride across the street in the crosswalk . A dump truck driver turning right on red from Constitution onto 15th had other ideas. He apparently wanted cyclist guts on his bumper. I screamed at him and he stopped before hitting me. Ugh..

I pedaled lickety split(-ish) up the 15th Street cycletrack and past the White House. I arrived at Friday Coffee Club where I found Reba, Beth, and Brook sitting outside. “You are insane!” said I. Then I bought some coffee and joined them.

We talked and tried to ignore the cold. From time to time I craned my neck to see if Flor was sitting inside the coffee shop. Then I decided to send her a text. This was her response:

“I am at home in my pjs.”

Must.

Not.

Kill.

Truth be told, in seven years I have known her I have never heard her utter the word “hate” or the f-word except when it was followed by “cold weather.” She really, truly cannot stand it. In a previous life she was proably a reptile.

As time passed more people showed up. They were awesome. The conversation was awesome. We didn’t even notice the cold. Okay, Reba did, but she somehow kept her teeth from clattering which we all appreciated. Later in the day, we even learned that she had signed up for the Cider Ride in December.

Time flies when your freezing to death. At 8:40 I stood to leave It was actually colder and windier than when I arrived. Holy bejebus!.

I headed down G Street to Rosslyn.  A black limo tried to take me out.  I watched an SUV, run a stop sign in front of me. The driver never saw the sign. Fortunately no cross traffic got in its way. Crossing Virginia Avenue two cyclists were coming straight at me on my side of the street. Something or someone was trying to tell me “This is not your day.”

I avoided the cyclists and made my way to the TR bridge over the Potomac River to get back into Virginia. The cross wind was fierce making it “MOTHER OF GAWD” cold. I could be home in my pjs! I should be home in my pjs!

I rode up the hill in Rosslyn. An Arlington police officer stood his chilly ground to discourage bad behavior. I watched a cyclists cross against the light. The cop did nothing. Then as I was turning left to cross the I-66 off ramp, an SUV blew the red light to make a right turn, just missing me. The traffic cop said nothing. He was an equal opportunity incompetent.

I slalomed through the pedestrians along the sidewalk, turned into my office’s garage, parked my bike and then my back started to go out. You gotta be effing kidding me.

I made it up to my office and began the day’s paid work. I found some vitamin I in my desk and had a couple. In an hour my back began to feel better. In another hour feeling returned to my toes.  By four I was ready to do battle with the weather gods once more.

The car I had dropped off for service yesterday was ready for pick up. So all I had to do was ride Little Nellie up a half mile steep hill in freezing cold weather with a sore back. Not ideal but the alternatives were non existent.

I was dreading this ride like you would not believe. So of course, it was painfree and actually kind of fun. The wind had died down. Climbing the hill generated some much needed body heat. 1 ½ miles later I pulled into the mechanic’s parking lot. This was way better than a 15 mile ride home.

So the first truly cold day is in the books. I didn’t freeze to death or get hit by any large metal objects. Success!  I am looking forward to doing battle with Tuesday. Forecast high: 34 degrees. Winds WNW 21 mph.

 

I’m doomed.

Cold Car Care

“The car won’t turn when it’s cold outside.”

I’ve been hearing these words from my wife and daughter now for over a year. I took the car in to the dealer who wanted $3,000 to fix the steering. For a ten-year old car. I don’t think so.  I could use this as an excuse to buy a new car but the entire family likes how the old heap drives. And other than a few dents and scrapes from my daughter’s first year of driving, it’s in pretty decent shape.

Bob “Don’t Call Me Rachel” Cannon gave me the name of his mechanic in Arlington to try. So I did. The mechanic has formulated some theories as to what is wrong but can’t test them with temperatures above 40 degrees. Lucky for me it’s supposed to be really cold tomorrow.

So I drove the car to work with Little Nellie in the boot. After work I drove to the mechanic with instructions to check out the car first thing in the morning. If it’s cold enough they should be able to determine if it needs a new power steering pump, hose, o-rings, or (fingers crossed) more. 

Once I dropped the car off, I took off for home on Little Nellie. It was cold. Rain and snow approached. Onward!

I dreaded the ride. I thought I would freeze. Fortunately, I guessed right on my clothing selection and was toasty the entire way. I stopped at the W&OD Trail and Columbia Pike to get a reflective vest and some blinky lights. I intend to give them away to a friend who shall remain anonymous until the next paragraph.

Tomorrow morning will be the coldest morning since early April. I plan to go to Friday Coffee Club early to introduce my friend Flor to some folks, something I have been trying and mostly failing at for seven years. Once she gets to know this motley crew, she may never talk to me again.

Coffeeneuring Wrap Up 2014

I finished the 2014 Coffeeneuring Challenge with a weekend to spare, thanks to some super nice Veterans Day weather. Here’s the run down of my seven excursions.

Veterans Day Coffeeclub

Trip No. 1: This trip was facilitated by a gift certificate that was burning a whole in my wallet for two months. The Grounded Coffee Shop was a fun, family friendly place located on one of the least bike friendly roads in Fairfax County. The coffee was good. The soup was outstanding. The bike parking non-existent. Still I’ll go back if only to finish off my rest of my gift certificate.

Trip No. 2: Back in my New England days I lived on Dunkin Donuts coffee and chocolate chip cookies. So I thought I’d give it another go during the challenge. Maybe my tastes have changed but I thought the coffee was lousy. Not a very good choice. Sorry, Dunks. I;m over you.

Trip No. 3: Bread and Water is a new bakery next to my local bike store. It’s kind of a discombobulated shop but they make excellent bread and the coffee gets a passing grade. This one is worth checking out. It’s about 1/2 mile off the Mount Vernon Trail in the Belle View Shopping center.

Trip No. 4: I had intended to go to Old Town to eat some fish and chips. By the time I got there, my stomach had changed its mind. So I walked across the street to Bittersweet Bakery. It took forever to pay for the privilege of serving myself watered down Swings coffee. Skip this one.

Trip No. 5: Peet’s has expanded into the suburban car nightmare known as Hybla Valley. This is what they call Mount Vernon when you get away from the trees and hit Richmond Highway. I can’t say that Peet’s is bad coffee. The place had a decent enough vibe, but the area is soulless and worth avoiding.

Trip No. 6: Mount Vernon may be the home of George Washington but the food court there needs some decent coffee STAT. Not a bad ride though.

Trip No. 7: This was more like it. All my other Coffeeneuring excursions had been solo affairs. Bob “Don’t Call Me Rachel” Cannon decided to post a coffee get togther on Veteran’s Day morning at St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub. I really like the vibe of this place. The neighborhood is very bike friendly too. They even have a bike corral on the street in front of the shop. The coffee’s not bad either.