Now We’re Getting Somewhere – Taking a Mulligan

I needed a grease injector to service my pedals. It’s a bit of a mess trying to do it with a baby medicine injector. Not enough oomph in the lilttle plastic plunger.

My local bike store doesn’t sell them but Performance does. I could have ordered it online but that would have taken away a prefectly good excuse to ride over to their Springfield store. A couple of weeks ago, friend of the blog, bike commuter, and Friday Coffee Club devotee Reba told me that Mulligan Road was now open.

Mulligan Road is the new road that connects US 1 with Telegraph Road near Fort Belvoir. Woodlawn Road used to serve this purpose but the military closed it for security reasons after the 9/11 attacks. Traffic has been a mess ever since. In true Washington area style it only took 13 years to fix the problem.

The road seems to have been recently renamed, Jeff Todd Way. Jeff Todd was a local businessman who was very active in the community. He died in a car crash in 2011.

Whatever the name, it was time to check out the road on two wheels. Big Nellie got the call.  I stepped out of the house and was smacked by searing heat. Labor Day may be the first day of meteorological autumn but somebody forgot to tell the weather gods.

To get to the new road, you ride the Mount Vernon Trail to the end at Mount Vernon. Then you keep going down the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway all the way to US 1. At US 1 you’ll see a mess of road construction which will soon be cleared up. Cross US 1 and you are are on the old Mulligan Road. It has been moved a bit to the south and widened. (The old entrance to Woodlawn Plantation has been removed. Access is now available from US to the south. Good luck with that if you are on a bike.)

In a half mile you come to Pole Road. This used to be the end of the line for Mulligan Road, but not anymore. A new road winds up (and I do mean up) through Fort Belvoir. It’s a four lane highway with a 40 mile per hour speed limit. The road isn’t quite done yet. For one thing it needs another layer of asphalt to make the road bed even with the concrete edge of the road. The right lane seems extra wide which I hope means there will be a bike lane.

Up, up, up. Put me in the zoo.

After cresting the hill, you get a nice reward descending through broad curves until you start to ride up again to Telegraph Road. Telegraph is a bit of a mess heading south. The hill you just came down now goes back up, and then some. There’s no bike lane (yet) so it’s just you and the constant flow of impatient drivers yearning to get to I-95 and go absolutely nowhere.

Just before the crest of the hill there is a sign saying “End of Bike Lane” which suggests that maybe there is supposed to be one. Not 30 yards later a new bike lane begins. Signage is not VDOT’s strong suit. This bike lane continues all the way to US 1 south of Fort Belvoir. I turned right at Beulah Road expecting to do battle with heavy car traffic but to my surprise I was given a bike lane of my very own. Yay! It continued all the way through Kingstowne to the Franconia Springfield Parkway. (It wasn’t actually my own. It was used by a man driving a car while messing with his smartphone. He kept weaving all over the road. I caught up to him at a red light and yelled at him to put the damned thing away before he killed somebody.)

I could have taken a side path all the way to Performance but the wide paved shoulder on the Parkway was too nice to pass up.

Mission accomplished thanks to the folks behind the Fairfax County Comprehensive Bicycle Plan.

The ride back was more better because the other side of Telegraph was in much better shape including an on-road bike lane. I turned right onto Mulligan/Todd and saw a wide side trail. I do hope this is not going to replace on on-road bike lane because the right lane is extra wide and can easily accomodate a bike lane.

Ever notice how the ride back seems so much faster once you know where the roads go? I flew down the long hill on Mulligan and zoomed right across Pole Road without so much as recognizing it.

Mulligan/Jeff Todd will be finished soon. I have sent a note to Adventure Cycling so that they may consider adding it to their Atlantic Coast route.

I took a whole bunch of pix so you can see for yourself over on my Flickr page.

What’s an Extra 20 miles between Friends?

Kirstin, a fellow bike commuter, blogger, and Friday Coffee Clubber, signed up for the Backroads Century next month. She is a little worried that she doesn’t have enough bike miles in her legs so she asked me to go for a ride with her this weekend. I picked out a 43-mile ride that I did on the Great Pumpkin Ride last fall. I wanted to check out the area around Warrenton, Virginia when the air was warm and the winds weren’t howling. Kirstin is usually accompanied by her Hubz but alas he is on the DL and she had to go it alone.

We met up in Old Town Warrenton and headed out, she on her Surly Long Haul Trucker (My Precious) and I on my Bike Friday New World Tourist (Little Nellie). After a mile or so on a rail trail, we found ourselves riding winding country roads at a conversational pace. Split rail fences, fields of soy and corn, and even the sight of a biplane cruising overhead made the first ten miles a breeze.

We were following the yellow route on a map I used during the Great Pumpkin ride. After a while we noticed that yellow arrows were painted on the road at every turn so we decided to use them as our guide. What could go wrong?

Every so often the country roads would penetrate a wooded area. A couple of times, we saw turkey vultures soaring up into the trees waiting for us to pass. They are graceful flyers but butt ugly birds.

Speaking of butt ugly, did you know that longhorn steers think I am a whole mess of ugly? We came upon a small herd of longhorns in a field. Several of the steers were looking over the fence along the side of the road. We stopped for a photo and the steers turned and ran. When they reached the rest of the herd the whole lot of them took off.  Well, I got one thing to tell them: those horns look ridiculous.

Go ahead. Run.

Go ahead. Run.

Kirstin and I have different hill climbing styles. I HATE hills and take every opportunity to hill hop: speed down one side to use the momentum to carry me up the other. She rides hills like a recumbent rider. She gets down into her lowest gears and spins like a crazy person. This makes maximum use of her incredible stamina; she recently completed a very hill 100-mile ultramarathon. They don’t call her Ultrarunnergirl for nothing. As she approached each hill she’d let out a howl and get down to work. At the top, she’d take a couple of breaths and then her breathing would return to normal. Hills? What hills?

As we rode along, a cyclists pulled up along side us. He started chatting and told us how he was training for a century in Fredericksburg in a week. I figured he’d already ridden a long way of he was from Fredericksburg. After a while he sped off.

Not long afterward we passed a sign indicating we were entering leaving Fauquer County and entering Stafford County. Funny. I didn’t recall riding in Stafford County on the Great Pumpkin Ride. We kept riding and following the arrows and enjoying the scenery and quiet country roads. Then we rode past the Spring Hill Farm. This farm went on for what seemed like eternity (It’s actually over 1,900 acres). Funny, I didn’t recall seening such a large farm on the ride last fall.

We rolled along chatting about the Nationals, crops, Whole30 diets, recovery from endurance events, and animal sex. Kirstin says you know you’re on a long ride when animal sex comes up. No, we were not discussing zipless monkey sex. What kind of blog do you think this is, anyway? You see Spring Hill Farm has a sign indicating the road to its foaling stable. Which got me thinking about the mating stable at the Morgan Horse Farm in Vermont. Morgans are big and expensive. So they are brought into a controlled environment for mating to reduce the chance of injury. Really. Would I make this up?

After this discussion, we stopped for a cigarette.

No,  just kidding. We stopped when we reached a crossroad and I announced that I was pretty sure we were off course. Out came the smartphones. We were not off course. We were WAAAAYYYY off course. We were closer to Fredericksburg than Warrenton.

Lost? No problemo!

Lost? No problemo!

Kirstin seemed pleased. More riding for MEEEEE!.  After she ate some baby food (Whole30 diets are interesting), we headed north-ish with the hope that the roads would be merciful and kind. We were in luck; they were every bit as lovely as the roads that came before. Up until this point clouds had kept us out of the sun, but now the sun was burning through. We came to Dodds Corner which is an intersection with a country store and nothing much else. The sign on the door said “No public restroom,” but Kirstin thought she could get the old man behind the counter to offer her the use of the facilities. No dice. That’s the last time I buy an iced tea from you, sir!

Back on the bike we now felt confident of our ability to finish the ride comfortably. After another five miles we came upon another country store with a porta potty. Yay! Take that you old codger!

We stopped and did the rest stop thing. As we were about to leave a wide-eyed couple in their late 20s walked up. The woman asked us if it was safe to ride bikes “around here.” I responded, “We rob banks.”  I kid. We reassured her that she was in bicycling heaven. She and her man looked at us with amazement, said thanks, got in their car and drove off. Even with a day to think about it, it was a weird conversation.

Back on the bikes, we were now miraculously back on the route. The clouds came back to give us some shelter from the hot sun. The trees along the road added some shade. The cows and horses and corn gave us some bucolic stuff to admire. I turned down a lane that wound through a field of soy, across a stone bridge and up a hill to a stone house. It was a restaurant that served as the last rest stop on the Great Pumpkin Ride. Alas, there was no hot cider and pumpkin soup but Kirstin admired the charm of the place as she munched on a cricket bar. Yes, made from insect flour. In my day we lived by the expression, If you wanna go fasta, you gotta eatta your pasta. So much for the wisdom of the ages. Fartlek anyone?

Crickets! Yum!

Crickets! Yum!

As we started the ride, I told Kirstin that the ride out of Warrenton was a gradual downhill not unlike the start of the Backroads Century. Now we were on the last miles into town. Hills got hillier. The flats were slightly uphill. No worries. We slowed a bit but kept trucking along.

In short order we rolled into town past the caboose at the finish. Our unplanned tour of Stafford County had added 20 miles to our 43-mile route. A metric century by accident.

We went to a nearby watering hole for food and drink. We toasted our good fortune with club soda (she) and a showerless pint of Harp. Cheers!

And so it came to pass that Kirstin gave notice to the hills of the Berryville countryside that she is indeed ready to take on the Backroads Century. Hell, she could probably run the bloody thing.

Here are some more pix from the ride.

 

My First LTTE

I never feel comfortable doing bicycle advocacy but once again I have entered the fray. The local newspaper down here in Mount Vernon published a huge letter to the editor complaining about the new bike lanes on Sherwood Hall Lane near my house in Fairfax County.  After living in this community for 25 years, my car-obsessed county finally threw me a bone! The gist of the letter writer’s argument is that the bike lanes are incomplete and poorly designed putting bicyclists in harm’s way. Don’t chew on that bone you might choke!. 

How a bike lane makes things worse is beyond me. Here’s the response that I emailed tonight:

I read with great interest Queenie Cox’s letter to the editor opposing the new bike lanes on Sherwood Hall Lane in the Gum Springs neighborhood. As an everyday cyclist who lives ½ mile from Sherwood Hall Lane I think Ms. Cox makes some very good points. Sherwood Hall Lane in Gum Springs is a challenging place to ride a bike or walk. The problem is not bicycles, pedestrians, or bike lanes; the problem is too many cars and trucks going too fast. The problem has only grown worse as overflow traffic from US 1 spills into our neighborhood. The bike lanes and other markings on Sherwood Hall Lane are intended to help calm this vehicular traffic.

 

A little over two years ago I rode my bike on Sherwood Hall Lane on a beautiful spring day. Not a cloud in the sky. As I turned onto Parkers Lane, I could see police activity at the intersection of Sherwood Hall and Schelhorn Road. A pedestrian had just been taken by ambulance to Fairfax Hospital after being run over by an SUV driven by someone in too much of a hurry. That pedestrian was my wife. It was many painful months before she could return to work.  She wasn’t hit by a bicycle or bike lane. She was hit by a motor vehicle. What kind of community do we have where we accept this sort of thing as normal? That walking to the Post Office is literally death defying.

 

Ms. Cox concern about the safety of cyclists like myself is interesting. I doubt very much that she rides a bicycle to run errands or go to work. I do.  I am a 59-year-old who has been riding a  bike and paying taxes in this area of Fairfax County for 25 years. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see me riding to work and  to the stores on US 1 and Fort Hunt Road.  I suppose Ms. Cox would prefer it if I drove everywhere, putting yet another car on the roads. This sort of thinking is a dead end for Gum Springs and Fairfax County.

 

What Fairfax County needs is more, interconnected, high-quality bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, not less. It is my hope that the Fairfax County Bicycle Plan is implemented and expanded so that we may have a safer, healthier community.

Wicked Nice

During my gap year between college and grad school, I lived in Boston and bought a bike. It was a blue Raleigh Grand Prix. It had ten speeds and side pull breaks. After work I would ride it along the Charles River and on weekends I’d go for bike rides with friends out to the suburban kettle ponds called Walden and Farm. Riding a bike in New England in the summertime is bliss. The weather is so agreeable that I didn’t carry a water bottle on these jaunts. (I learned the benefits of hydration a few years later during my first summer in the DC blast-furnace.)

Today was like one of those New England summer days. Just wicked nice. So, naturally I drove to work. Well, not exactly. I drove to a mechanic in North Arlington and rode Little Nellie the two miles to the office. Down hill. On fresh pavement. Ahhh.

The car need to stay in the hospital overnight. I didn’t mind. I got to ride 15 miles home in this bliss. The Mount Vernon Trail was crowded but somehow the usual population of fair weather asshats stayed away. 

Tomorrow I do it in reverse. Even after over 100 bike commutes, I am looking forward to commuting to work. I seriously doubt many car commuters could say the same thing.

Wetting My Whistle – The 2014 Hoppy 100

The curse is on us. 

The Hoppy 100 is the invention of John Roche, craft beer enthusiast and bicycling masochist. It was his idea to combine a 100 mile ride with visits to local craft breweries. It worked out pretty well until the monsoon hit. The second Hoppy 100 was toned down a bit. Instead of 100 miles, John designed a route that was 100 kilometers. And instead of a monsoon, we had a steady drizzle. And a medical emergency involving blood. And a Pythonesque trip to a police station. So it was with a mixture of excitement and dread that I threw my helmet into the ring for the third Hoppy 100.

Now this year’s version was designed to be about 45 miles. In order to get it up over 100 kilometers, I decided to ride Little Nellie to the start at the Washington Monument. There I met Casey (@waterfroggie) wearing a bike jersey from a Belgian brewery. Casey had come from Annapolis via bike and Metro to participate. Obviously Casey was hardcore.  Kevin U. (@bicyclebug) showed up to ride his third Hoppy 100. Next came Avery and Kevin-the-Second, a thirsty couple from Arlington (I think).  Our starting group was rounded out by the arrival of Rachel “Don’t Call Me Bob” Cannon (@rachelcannon), Peter (@jopamora) and our main man, John Roche (@dirteng).

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All Smile on Hains Point

After introductions we were off in search of brunch. To warm up a bit, we took a ride down to Hains Point, a spit of land along the Potomac River opposite National Airport. It became immediately clear that this was a chatty bunch in no need of beer to loosen our tongues. We crossed over the river on the 14th Street bridge and took the Mount Vernon Trail to the Four Mile Run Trail south of the airport. About a mile later we came upon a barrier forbidding our passage. This was literally as sign that this Hoppy 100 would go just about as smoothly as the first two. Uh oh.

 

Being very familiar with the trails in these parts, I routed us without delay across Four Mile Run via the US 1 bridge to a parrallel trail. After re-crossing the Run about a mile later (and encountering a man dancing rather erratically to his own jam in the middle of the bridge) we reconnected with the Four Mile Run Trail and sped hungrily to Shirlington. In Shirlington, we encounted a street festival of sorts but the assorted crafters and dog people were no match for our hunger and thirst. We met up with Kathy (@arlingtonrider) who conveniently lives in Shirlington and reserved brunch accomodations at Busboys and Poets. We were joined by Bob “Don’t Call Me Rachel” Cannon (@Rcannon100) and his wife Elizabeth. 

We ate and talked and talked and ate. Rachel, just back from a summer interning at a museum in Alaska, told many tales about the resourceful and eccentric residents of Haines. She is still adjusting to life in the lower 48, particularly when it comes to prices of food. She could be the only person I have ever heard say, “Food is so inexpensive in DC!!!” (When we first moved to DC, whenever we drove out of town, my wife and I would buy groceries there because food is so costly here.)

Stuffed and caffeinated, we headed out on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail. A light drizzle began to fall but we were not deterred. We knew that in just a few miles we would be tasting a fine pint of beer. Ahh.

Elizabeth bid us godspeed and with Bob in the fold we left the W&OD and began our ride through North Arlington. We rode up. And up. And up. And up.  There were a few downs in between but the ups won out. The crew did itself proud on the hills with Peter easily taking the King of the Mountains. (I suck at hills. How much do I suck? Rachel hadn’t ridden a bike in three months and she whupped my ass.) At Glebe Road, the high point of our time in Arlington, Kathy turned around and headed back to Shirlington.

After another mile of spining  we found ourselves looking down at a narrow switchback that gave way to a scary steep side street that took us to Chain Bridge. All this hill is missing is the slalom poles and some snow. We were but one brake failure from certain death. Rachel’s front brake was not working so we all stood by and cheered as she plunged to her doom.

I just made that up so that her parents would freak out. (She’s fine. Really. Just some surface wounds and a mild concussion.)

We made it safely to the bridge and across the Potomac River. The skies were gray and depressing. 

We took the unpaved C&O Canal Towpath to the Capital Crescent Trail. The CCT was our route up to Bethesda. Normally, the CCT is thick with exercisers but not on this misty, gray day. After some confusion in Bethesda Row, we found the unpaved Georgetown Branch Trail. The rain had turned the GBT into a slippery mess, and Little Nellie’s wee tires were not very happy skidding this way and that. Helpfully, the rain intensified a bit. 

In Silver Spring Maryland we went through a maze of streets until we found Denizen’s Brewery. It was 2 o’clock. Denizen’s didn’t open until 3. Fail.

Peter and Casey headed for their respective homes. The rest of us decided to ride on and, leading the way without a clue, I took a wrong turn. We stopped to regroup and the skies opened up. We huddled under an awning and comiserated, with the emphasis on miserated. We decided to ride a few blocks to the Fire Station restaurant and seek refuge from the deluge. 

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Note Rachel and Avery Are Freezing. We Were Wet and Sitting under a Ceiling Fan

The service was slow but they had beer. Yay. And hot soup. YAY! We ate and talked and checked the radar on our smartphones and talked etc. After 3, we decided to backtrack to Denizen’s where we found Peter hanging out with his wife and kids. They were on their way to get ice cream because nothing slays a gray, drizzly summer day like ice cream

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In Which We Learn that It’s Not Open

Except beer. The folks at  Denizen’s were exceptionally nice and so was their beer. We huddled in a non-air conditioned corner drying our outsides out and wetting our insides. I should point out that we only had a couple of drinks at each bar so we weren’t getting drunk. Except for Rachel who was useless after her 8th pint. (I totally made that up. Sorry Mr. and Mrs. Cannon.)

After an hour of hanging out, the rain turned into a light drizzle. Avery and Kevin-the-Second headed off to the Metro. Bob reversed course to head back to his home in North Arlington. John, Rachel, Kevin, and I headed back into DC. We decided to skip the last two breweries since the evening was nearly uponus. We took the Metropolitan Branch Trail. For about half it’s distance, the MBT is just some signs on streets. During this bit, Kevin U. veered off for home. Near Catholic University the MBT becomes and honest-to-Jesus bike trail. (Was the Pope in on this?)  It is gradually downhill, the rain had stopped, and we had a tailwind. Bike joy was had.

Rachel turned off to head for a dinner date with friends. John and I rode to the end of the trial and parted company. 

From there, I headed home. Once across the Potomac I was treated to an empty Mount Vernon Trail and a persistent tailwind. I arrived home just before nightfall with 70 miles on the odometer.

Many thanks to John Roche for designing the route and recruiting such a fine crew. 

Here are some more pix from the ride. 

Saddles and Rain and Turtles and a PSA

A short while ago I did a ride with my friend Florencia. I had a good time. Most of her had a good time. Her bottom did not. Her saddle is pretty much shot. It offers little support and is fraying all over the place. Ow. While I was messing around in the midwest, Flor and her friend Emilia rode to Harpers Ferry and back along the bumpy C&O canal towpath. Emilia rode a hybrid with wide-ish tires and a decent saddle. She rode the 120-mile ride with a big smile on her face. (If you are reading this Emilia, you are definitely ready for your first 50-States Ride next month.)  Flor not so much. She rode her road bike with its skinny tires and the same old saddle. OW!  At one point she even wrapped her saddle in what looks like a jacket of some sort to give her some cushion. 

Flor’s misery got me to thinking about the saddle on Little Nellie. It’s a Brooks Flyer, a leatherIMG_0220[1] saddle. You’re supposed to keep the leather taut by tightening an adjusting bolt on the underside of the saddle’s nose. I didn’t do this on The Mule’s saddle and the bolt bent rendering adjustments impossible. Well, long story short, the same thing happened on Little Nellie. If you look closely you can see the bend in the bolt as it extends from the nut. Today I sent the saddle off to Aaron’s Bicycle Repair in Seattle to get the bolt replaced. They did an excellent job doing the same repair on The Mule’s saddle. 

As it turns out, I have two bikes and four Brooks saddles, three Flyers and a B67. So I put my third Flyer saddle on Little Nellie today. The ride in was pretty nice. The saddle being relatively new was firmer but I had no discomfort. I rode to work in my usual trance only to be startled by Chris M. speeding by in the opposite direction. “Rootchopper!” (I am so glad I don’t use an off color Internet name.)  I met Chris on last December’s Cider ride. After seeing Chris I climbed up to the Rosslyn Intersection of Doom. It nearly lived up to its name today. I took my usual left across the I-66 ramp. The light facing the ramp traffic was red and had been for a few seconds. The driver of the car in the right lane stopped and made no attempt to take a right turn. The drivers of two cars in the center lane however blew through the light and made right turns. They didn’t come close to hitting me only because I always assume that drivers will ignore the light. One of these days this kind of thing is going to get someone killed.

From the looks of the weather radar I thought I might get wet on the ride home. It seems the radar display is delayed a few minutes. Either that or the storm moved really fast between my last peek at the radar and my leaving the garage at work. I left the garage in a light rain which gave way heavier and heavier rain. It didn’t quite reach full on downpour status but I was soaked to the bone within a mile or so. Riding in the rain is pretty simple because once you get wet, you’re wet. Nothing to it. Cyclists and runners took cover under the 14th Street Bridge and the US1 access bridge at National Airport. Message to these cyclists: if you are wet and you stop, you will be cold and wet. If you are wet and you ride, you at least will generate some body heat. I kept riding.

The rain let up near Old Town which was a good thing since the rainwater had gotten into my eyes making them sting. I was riding blind for a while. I’ve often said that I’ve ridden the Mount Vernon Trail so often I could ride it with my eyes closed. I proved myself right tonight.

About two miles from home, the heavens opened up with roars and flashes and buckets of rain. By the time I got home, I was soaked to the gills. I normally ride across the lawn into my backyard. Because of mud and wet grass I dismounted on the front lawn. As I did, I spotted what looked like a clump of sod near where my foot was about to land. It wasn’t sod; it was a box turtle. My yard is a zoo. 

Finally, a note about last night’s commute. I was 1/3rd of a mile from home, slogging along at my usual 12 mile per hour pace when a pack of riders (probably doing the weekly Potomac Pedalers ride in my neighborhood) passed me so closely that they forced me into some damaged pavement on the edge of the road. They gave no warning. A less experienced rider could easily have crashed. To the riders in the pack I have this to say: If you want to ride like a bunch of hyperagressive douche bags, do me a favor. Ride somewhere else. I don’t need the aggravation. Better yet, why don’t you chill out, call your passes, and give other traffic a little room.

Little Nellie Turns 13

Little Nellie reached yet anothe milestone, 13,000 miles. My Bike Friday has been my main ride all summer and seems to be handling the task well. I can’t say as much for the saddle and the chain, however. The chain started to skip the other day, almost surely because it is stretched. By now, my cassette (the gears in back) is lilely ruined so I’ll keep the chain on until I replace the whole works this winter. The saddle, a Brooks Flyer, has the same problem as the Brooks Flyer on The Mule. Somehow I bend the adjustment bolt in the nose of the saddle and I can’t re-tension the leather. So I’ll send it out to Aaron’s Bike Shop in Seattle for a repair. 

In a bit of a freak coincidence my odometer turned on the same day. And today was my 99th bike commute of the year. So everybody sing:

99 bike commutes on the year, 99 bike commutes. You change your bags and clean your chain, 100 bike commutes on the year.

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