Sleepless nights < Glorious Weather

I have spent the last several nights dealing with insomnia. This happens from time to time. I sometimes stress out about things to the point where I just can’t shut down my brain. It happened to me last winter. Now I am obsessing about vacation planning. It’s totally stupid but all the details are running around in my head all day.

The last three days have been primo for bike commuting. The weather couldn’t be better. On Tuesday, I was a bit groggy but enjoyed the ride. Yesterday was groggier still. I struggled and wobbled quite a bit. Today, forgetabout it. I am very reluctantly working from home.

I tried exhausting myself last night. I came home from work and mowed the lawn. I was physically tired. I took a melatonin tablet at 9 and started to fade when Mrs. RC decided it was time to chat. Then the Nats game got interesting. By the time it was over the fade had faded and I was wide awake. Yawning, tossing, turning.

Ugh.

I am hoping tonight is the night the sleep dam breaks.

Dialing It In

Whenever you ride a new bicycle, there is a period during which you make adjustments. You figure out which adjustments to make by reading the pain in your body. The simplest adjustment is seat height. If your seat is too low, the backs of your knees will hurt. If it is too high, the front of your knee (or more likely just below the knee) will hurt. I measured the distance between the crank axles and the saddle on The Mule and set the Corss Check’s saddle at the same height.

Other adjustments to the back end (so to speak) are the fore/aft position of the saddle and the tilt of the saddle. I use the identical tilt on my other bikes so I can use a level to ensure that the tilt on the Cross Check’s saddle is correct. I also know that my Brooks saddles are always shoved as far back as possible. This is partly because the rails on Brooks saddles narrow toward the front of the saddle making extreme rearward positioning pretty much impossible. (You can force the issue but the saddle rails almost surely will break. This happened to me when riding down a big hill in the Catskills. It was an interesting experience.)

The front end of the bike can be adjusted as well. You can raise or lower your handlebars and rotate them up or down. Finally, you can swap out the stem (the horizontal piece that connects the steering tube to the handlebars) for a longer or shorter one.

After 160 or so miles, my knees were happy. My buttocks were happy. My hands were happy. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that my neck and shoulders were decidedly not happy. And my lower back was aching 30 miles into every ride.

I measured the distance between my handlebar’s brake hoods (the tops of the brake levers where I usually rest my hands) and the saddle (using the center hole in my Brooks saddles which are identical on all three bikes). I compared the measurements on the Cross Check and The Mule. The Cross Check was a couple of centimeters longer than The Mule. So I tilted the handlebars up and to the rear, just a bit. The distance was still longer but I had cut it by two-thirds. Then I went for a ride.

This helped quite a lot. My lower back seemed happier. I was no longer reaching (and extending my back) to get to the brake hoods. My neck and shoulders were still not thrilled.

So I raised the handlebars a bit. This is really easy. You take the spacer on the top of the stem and move it beneath the stem.

I took this configuration for a 12 mile ride. No problems. So I think I have made some progress.

Past experience tells me that the adjustments are not over. It took me 7,000 miles of fiddling to dial in Little Nellie. Similarly, The Mule once had a lower rise stem. Time made my back less flexible so I put a higher rise stem on it.

So I suspect I may need to try a shorter stem. I did this on Little Nelle only to eventually return to a longer stem. Sometimes your body adapts, I suppose.

I

Running Quilt

Most people think of me as a bicyclist or, maybe a hiker. That’s because they weren’t around when I was a runner. After losing 70 pounds and quiting a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, I had energy to burn. I bought a bike. Soon the days shortened and my bike without a light became dangerous to ride. So, I switched to running.

My first run lasted all of a quarter mile until I stopped gasping for air. Day by day, I added distance and speed. It helped that I was living in Providence RI and, for a summer, Berkeley CA. The weather in both places is ideal for running. More than half a lifetime ago, I ran my first marathon, the Ocean State Marathon in Newport RI. 3:10:18. Lord was it hard!

A couple of years later I ran a 3:04:29 in Troy NY. Then, I played a volleyball game and my left knee popped. I tried and tried to continue with running but my body no longer wanted any part of it.

The irony is that distance running, as hard as it is to do physically, is really not about the body at all. It’s all about the mind. Any meditation teacher will tell you that meditation is about calming the mind. Clearing out thoughts and mental restlessness. Getting rid of the monkeys (or squirrels) in your head. This is what happened to me on every long distance run. Once I trained my body to handle the task, my body would go on auto pilot and my brain would calm. I missed this aspect of it terribly.

The only thing left from my running days are a drawer full of t-shirts.  In the early years of our marriage, Mrs. Rootchopper took up quilting. We talked about creating a quilt out of my old running t-shirts but scores of other quilting projects took over, including quilts for Project Linus.

Night after night she quilts away at the dining room table. It’s such a common sight that I don’t pay attention and try not to interrupt her. This is pretty much what happened over the last month or so.

Little did I know that she was crafting the running quilt all that time. Here it is presented to me as the best 60th birthday present. What an incredible surprise.

Old Bag on Old Rag

I started hiking last year to do some weight bearing exercise. I’d only done one hike before. It was when I was in college. We hiked several peaks in a day in the Adirondacks. I had a blast but then dropped hiking in favor of running, then bicycling.

When I started running I had to goal of working up to a marathon. I didn’t tell anybody but I ended up running seven over the course of four or five years. I set a more modest goal with hiking, to do Old Rag.

Old Rag is one of the most popular hikes in the eastern United States. It has a reputation for being challenging, for having tremedous 360 degree views at the summit, and for being incredibly crowded.

I left home at 5:30 and was hoofing it by 7:45. The first 0.8 miles is a walk along a narrow country lane from the parking lot to the trailhead. Along the way I passed a temporary shelter that had Tibetan prayer flags hanging from the edges of its canvas roof. I also passed a dilapidated shack and some hunting and fishing clubs.

The last bit of the road goes steadily uphill and the uphill continues on the trail. It took a while for me to get warmed up. I had ridden over 260 miles in the previous week and my legs were not exactly springy.

Lucky for me, the trail was deserted for the first half hour. There was plenty of room between all the small rocks for me to make decent walking speed. Soon I was hitting switchback after switchback. A couple came down the trail from above. Once they were gone, more desolation in the woods. I looked over to the right and saw a man puttering around his tent. His tent was on a giant rock reachable by walking along a huge felled tree. Very cool.

Soon I heard loud voices from below. Five kids went by me. I thought I was making a fast pace but these teenagers made me feel my age.

A young man and woman passed me. Then another group of teenagers. Among the teenagers were what appeared to be a husband and wife and a single woman. I later learned that one of the three was a high school cross country coach and these kids were the team doing a training exercise.

Soon they were far ahead.

Up and up. Switchback after switchback on the densely wooded mountain. This was reasonably hard work but after about an hour I was cruising along just fine. Every so often I would get a view of the nearby mountains then it was back into the tree cover.

Then a big boulder. This must be the rock scramble I’ve heard so much about. So I scrambled. A few more of these and then it was back to the trail as usual. I thought, “That rock scramble was much easier than I expected.”

Wrong.

The real rock scramble was just ahead. Boulder after boulder. Many requiring me to use my arms to yank myself to a foot hold. Some gave no option but for a good old fashioned butt slide. At one point the trail came to the meeting of two immense boulders with a two foot gap between. How the hell was I going to get past this? A hiker in front of me showed me two narrow footholds, one on the rock I was on, the other below on the other rock. Miss the footholds and it would be a very bad day. I dropped my right foot onto the first one, then dropped my left on to the second. Not fun.

It was just a warm up. In several parts of the rock scramble (which seemed to go on for an hour) there was nowhere to put your feet. I figured out that the way up involved propping my back against a boulder and pushing my feet onto an opposing boulder. Then I would push my back up the one boulder and walk my feet up the other. I the middle of this one of my water bottles paid the ultimate price, bursting open and soaking me and the rocks. Oh, joy.

A father in a Navy t-shirt came down through one of these scrambles with his teenage daughters in tow. Message to the boys at their schools. These girls are badass. Don’t go messing with them.

There were two or20501084569_edba35c98f_z three of these shimmy scrambles. All I could think of was my friend who used to rock climb impossibly high rock faces. She looked like a spider dressed in black and with a rope dangling near her. She liked this?

More scrambling. Some of the big boulders gave beautiful views of the mountains and valleys neighby. Of course, if you looked to long you might go right over the edge and die. Eek. Did I mention that I have a fear of heights? Did I also mention that I have balancing issues?

More and more scrambling. I noticed that assertive moves were much less likely to lead to slipping or falling so I copied some of the hikers around me. Hop across the gaps in the boulders. Use your hands to pull on the crags in the rocks. Turn around and move backwards if you can’t make progress walking. Get creative.

Had I not been soaked in sweat and water from my broken bottle I’d have been having a blast. Now all I wanted to do was get to the top. Soon a few of the cross country runners and I had made it. Look at the views!!! Then we heard voices down below. “You’re off the trail. The summit is over there.” We looked in the direction of the pointing hands and saw more of the runners standing on a much higher bunch of rocks.

We heard the roar of an engine and a red World War I era biplane flew past. Just somebody with a super cool hobby out for a spin, I suppose.

So we had to climb down and make a few more boulder crossings before we were at the summit. The entire mountain is strewn with huge boulders, many perched precariously on each other. This is what the top looks like. On top of the toppermost of the boulders were the cross country kids seemingly oblivious to the certain doom one false step would make.

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Oh, and they were swatting at the bugs. The peak, and only the peak, was aswarm with some really annoying bugs. I took a pass on the glory of the top of the rock and walked around admiring the magnificent views all around.

Unfortunately the skies were cloudy. And, more importantly, I could see rain scattered about. I decided not to reverse course for about three miles and go back down the rock scramble. The other option was a six mile hike down a steep-ish trail. This trail had steps made from logs. The steps were arranged for the comfort of Andre the Giant.

Thud. Thud. Thud. My quads were not having a whole lot of fun. The dense forest was beautiful though. Every so often my solutude would be interrupted by a cluster of indefatigable cross country kids. Boing. Boing. Boing.

Then I heard what I first thought was a stream. No. The wind was blowing the leaves in the trees? No. Rain. Gentle,cooling rain. The trees were letting just the right amount through to keep me comfortable. Very nicely done, Old Rag.

Switchbacks and steps and switchbacks and steps finally gave way to an unpaved road. Then next four miles were steady downhill on this road to the trailhead. At a turning point four of the cross country kids were sitting waiting for the others. They told me that they were carrying 20 pounds in their knapsacks and would run the final three or so miles to the parking lot.

As for me, my quadriceps were toast. I was just going to plod away. After about five minutes of plodding, the cross country kids came bounding past. Among them were the adults. I was alone trudging along when suddenly I had company. Two tiger swallowtails flitted about me as I plodded along. They were joined by a pipevine swallowtail. My companions stayed with me for about a mile, letting me to forget that my quads felt like bricks.

About an hour later I was approaching the car on the country lane. I noticed that one house had a separate garage with a PUB sign hanging from the side. I’ll bet these folks make a nice buck selling cold beer to hot, tired hikers. Too bad it was closed.

And so I spent my 60th birthday with a bunch of high school cross country runners on a mountain. Their energy was inspiring but I have to admit the bounce in their step made me an Old Bag on Old Rag.

I took a bunch of pictures. They are on my Flickr page.

Any Excuse for a Ride

I am going hiking tomorrow and have three medical appointments on Wednesday so I figured I might as well take today (Monday) off and get a five day weekend out of the deal.

The shifting on my new Cross Check was sloppy. It was starting to annoy me even though this is expected as the chain stretches. I could have fiddled with the little dial adjuster thingie for a few minutes and fixed it myself, I suppose. That would be rational. That would not be me.

I bought my Cross Check at Bicycle Space in DC. As part of the purchase, they will tweak your bike’s gears and brakes for a year after purchase for free. Good deal. So I hopped on my bike and headed into town along the nearly empty Mount Vernon Trail.

It was a nice ride except for the inferno part. Dang was it hot!

The ride went smoothly. It’s fun to ride a brand new bike over familiar terrain. I was taking it easy and still going significantly faster than when I ride my other bikes. This Cross Check is an animal.

As I suspected from riding with Katie Lee and her Cross Check, this bike shines in traffic. It is so much more agile than my other bikes and it’s wide-ish tires eat up the bumps in the road.

The good mechanic at Bicycle Space on K Street tweaked my gears and showed me a peculiarity of my shifter. We traded names and, true to form, I forgot his within about three blocks. He was a very nice guy. So, thanks Nice Guy.

I decided to meander around town for a bit. My friend Emilia teaches at Mundo Verde, a bi-lingual (Spanish and English) charter school with a focus on sustainability. I decided to go check it out. I should have taken a picture. It was muy bueno. My boss and a co-worker send their kids there. They tell me that the teachers are muy bueno too.

As I rode by, some people were sitting on the lawn in front of the building. It looked like some teachers were getting organized for the coming school year. This must be an exciting time of year to be a teacher.

I circled back and headed west across town on O Street which is a pretty quiet route to take considering it’s only a few blocks from downtown. At 11th Street I turned north. This was another quite street. I guess everyone must be working. What’s up with that?

I took a left on Euclid and rode over to Meridian Hill Park, which was featured on page 1 of the Washington Post today. The park is in two big tiers. The top tier is an open rectangular field with shaded areas along the longer sides. This is where the drum circle is and where circus of slack lining, hula hooping, acroyoga-ing folks hang out on the weekend. From the edge of the top tier, you can look down on the cascading water feature of the low tier. Whoever designed this was a genius. It is just stunning. A public sector thing done amazingly right.

After chilling in the park, I headed down 16th Street. A driver from Virginia nearly sideswiped me about a block before he made a left hand turn from the right lane. Some people simply should not be allowed to drive.

I slalomed through the tourists near the White House with aplomb. Actually, it was with a bike but I don’t get to use the word aplomb often.

Acro20651892132_b05724fba0_zss the river and down the MVT rode I. Instead of mindlessly riding straight home, I made my way over to Del Ray where I had had a root beer float at the Dairy Godmother ice cream shop. It was gone within minutes. Darn tasty.

Back on the bike, the heat of the day was starting to wear on me. I rode to Old Town to buy a postcard for the August Post Card Challenge.

On the way home I decided to chow down on some tater tots so I headed to Del Ray Pizzeria‘s Belle Haven location. (I could have simply gone to the Del Ray location. It’s only three shops down from the Dairy Godmother.)  The tater tots were ho20669470851_a12618b5b3_zrs categorie. The pilsner and the koltch were not too shabby either.

The ride ended with a slog up a big hill on Fort Hunt Road and a long glide toward home.

By the time I arrived my lower back was feeling sore. Too many miles and hills on a new bike will do that to you. Good thing one of my Wednesday medical appointments is a massage.

Passing the Audition, My Cross Check not VDOT

After yesterday’s successful shakedown ride, I had to take my Cross Check out for a longer romp. So far the bike feels wonderful, especially during the first 30 miles. I might need to tilt the handlebars up a tad to avoid shoulder fatique but, compared to the dial in process for my other bikes, this is going really well.

After toying with the idea of driving to the country, I decided to ride from home. I headed south to Mason Neck State Park. Door-to-door this is about a 45 mile round trip. To up the mileage, I did a mile-and-a-quarter lap in Fort Hunt Park. I was riding at 16-18 miles per hour without a big effort. This just does not happen.

Down the Mount Vernon Trail to Mount Vernon. I was stuck behind a family who were struggling on the long uphill slog to George’s house. I downshifted and blew by them. This just does not happen.

I continued pastDSCN4054 Mount Vernon, down the highway to US 1, speed in the high 20s. Across Route 1 and up a long hill on a side path. VDOT was kind enough to place an electronic sign in the middle of the path. Why they do this when they have ample space in the weedy transition between the path and the road is beyond me.

At Telegraph Road I had to use a beg button to get across the road. I would have been better off just starying on the road. I jumped on the trail on Telegraph only to find a bike lane in the road. VDOT make up your mind!

It was a long hill but I made it without medical assistance. Over the top and down and up and down and up and down and up until I reached Gunston Road, the main drag of Mason Neck. I stopped to give a lost driver directions to Ikea and then headed down toward the neck.

Gunston Road is a two-lane road with no shoulders. Many of the vehicles on the road are pulling trailers that are wider than the vehicle itself. The road dead ends at the Potomac RIver. The speed limit is 50 miles per hour. Why? Because VDOT probably thinks boaters have a need for speed or something.

After two close passes by trailers, I bailed onto Belmont Road. With no traffic, I tried riding no hands. Success! After a mile, I encountered a dead end sign. Um, VDOT, can you put a sign at the turnoff please?

Back on Gunston an SUV buzzed me, then another trailer, then a guy on a road bike. Oof.

I finally reached the abrupt dowhill and turned into Mason Neck Park. Just after turning I turned again onto a path through the woods next to the road. This is a sweet ride, made sweeter by the Cross Check’s ability to eat bumps. Curves and bridges and trees went by. Soon I arrived at the end of the line on Belmont Bay. What a pretty day.

After downing a drink, I headed back home. I took a right on Gunston to check out the quiet neighborhood on the river. New developments have sprung up along the road, but the end-of-the-road neighborhood retains its charm and style.

I did a loop through the neighborhood before heading for home. I took a left at Springfield Driveto avoid a half mile of boats and SUVs. Back on Gunston, I set my jaw and rolled. My reward was a fun, shady, curvy downhill on Old Colcheser Road. This gives way to big, sunny, ugly Telegraph Road. I endured at 30 miles per hour. Weeeee.

Going fast was fun so I took the Farirfax County Parkway. It has an enormous shoulder so this is actually pretty safe by VDOT standards. It has a side path too but who cares when you have your own 8 foot paved shoulder.

Turning off on Backlick a remnant of the pre-parkway era of crummy roads in this area, I arrived at Route 1. I was shocked to see the destruction caused by a wideninDSCN4055g project that politicians hope will improve on gridlock in this area. This will encourage still more development to the south solving not a thing in the long run.

I waited for the light to turn green but it was operated by a metal sensitive wire in the road. The Cross Check has insufficient steel to activate the switch, a fact that I could only learn after getting stiff in a very long light cycle. I noticed a beg button to the left. VDOT, this is not England. Bikes don’t ride on the left. Once the oncoming cars went through the intersection, I blew the red light.

I rode into Fort Belvoir and stopped behind a van at the security checkpoint. The van was being given a serious search. After waiting a discrete amount of time, I walked over the curb and used a different lane. I think the van was operated by the base’s security people. They were testing the thoroughness of the security. I showed my drivers license and rolled through.

Up the hill and through the base I rode. A sign said that the golf course is open to the public.Woot.

I rolled by the Officers’ Club past the roadside signs that announced a seafood buffet on Friday! Woot. Woot.

Down the hill I rode to Walker Gate. I smoked that sucker only to find for the first time since 9/11 the gate was close.

I rode across the base to the Route 1 gate which dumped me onto a three-lane highway without a paved shoulder (go VDOT!).

I reached the Mount Vernon Highway and realized that the breeze from my riding had disguised a pretty hot day. I slogged away riding the gradual uphill to Mount Vernon.

After a short water break at the end of the Mount Vernon Trail I took off downhill on the MVT. A family was riding up the hill. Their ten-year-old was struggling with his head down. He veered into the left lane. He’s lucky I wasn’t a Lancelot trying to time trial down the hill. I braked and called out to him. He looked up, realized he was in the wrong place and, with a fatigued wobble, moved to the right.

A half-mile later at Riverside Park, a begining bicyclist on a pink bike with tassles and a training wheels was riding between his mom and dad who were on foot. The three abreast left no room for any other trail users. Mom, who was on the left, had headphones in. I rang my bell. She stepped further to the left making a bad situation worse. I think this family has situational awareness issues. Or maybe they are just more important that the rest of us.  Regardless, the Cross Check had a simple solution: go overland. I swerved onto the grass and blew past them.

Thus, within a mile, I encountered two examples why kids shouldn’t ride on the Mount Vernon Trail. It’s beyond their skill level or their parents’.

The rest of the ride home, I was on fumes. Nothing to eat for four hours will do that to you. I rolled into home after 62 miles.

I think the Cross Check has passed the audition

Shakedown to Fort Washington

When most people buy a new bike, they jump on it and ride it until they are sick to death of the thing. Not me. Other than a five-mile spin around the neighborhood, I kept my new Surly Cross Check on ice for two weeks. I was waiting for a saddle bag to arrive before going for a longer ride.

The saddlebag is a Carradice Barley bag. It took about a week to arrive from England. For some reason they shipped it via registered mail so I had to sign for it at the post office after the mailman attempted delivery when I was at work. (You’d think the post office would have removed this sort of annoyance from its customers’ experience. You’d think wrong.)

I put the bag on my bike. I think it looks great. My bike is black with white decals. The Barley is black with white leather straps. It’s a bit small for my needs so I have ordered a Carradice Nelson Longflap bag. The Barley will go on The Mule.

A digression about Carradice products: I have two Carradice knock offs made by a company called Zimbale. They look nice but they are starting to fray from very light use. I noticed that at the very point of fraying the Carradice has a leather tab that reinforces the canvas on the bag. Long story short, you get what you pay for.

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The Cross Check on the left. The Mule on the right.

Before I headed out, I measured the seat height on the Cross Check and compared it to the seat height on The Mule. Based on this, I adjusted the Cross Check’s saddle down about 1/2 and inch.

And off I rode.

It’s hard to tell how much of the zoom factor was from the adrenalin of riding a new bike and how much was from the fact that my other three bikes are tanks. Either way, this bike is a blast to ride, not quite as fast as a proper road bike, but very forgiving on bumps and such. After three miles I felt I could ride forever

Bad idea. Anytime you ride a new bike, you should not go overboard. You’re body will freak out from the subtle differences between the new bike and the bikes you are used to.

After five miles of smooth riding, I decied to ride to Fort Washington, part of the defenses of Washington in the early 19th century.

The route took me across the Potomac River on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge (I-95). There are some ugly explansion joints that gave me a jolt. They give me a jolt on all my bikes so I am not complaining. On the Maryland side of the bridge, there is a cool spiral ramp to take you down towards National Harbor. I was hoping to let the Cross Check rip here but it was packed with about 20 walkers.

After that, I rode up Oxon Hill, a long slow grind. It took a while to find a rhythm but once I did the Cross Check carried me up hill nicely.

I took a right on Oxon Hill Road and found myself on fresh asphalt. Maryland’s Department of Transportation (MDOT) did a nice job on this new road, throwing in a couple of roudabouts in the deal. The Cross Check loves roundabouts. So much fun.

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I jumped off Oxon Hill Road in favor of the less trafficky Fort Foote Rd. This road cuts through a suburban, residential neighborgood before it loops back to Oxon HIll Road.

This section of Oxon Hill Road needs some work. I zoomed down a hill, rolling right over all kinds of asphalt patches. Smooth as silk.

I banged a right on Livingston Road and another on Fort Washington Road. Soon I was digging out my annial pass to federal parks. I rolled through the park and eventually walked my bike into the fort. It’s pretty awesome. Tall brick walls protected by a dry moat. I stood next to where the old gun emplacements were.

After hanging out I headed for home, retracing my route, but skipping Fort Foote Road. Also, I stopped at St John’s church, built in colonial times.

There is one big hill on Oxon Hill Road that I wanted to try. Let’s just say, my pathetic ascending skills are not about the bike.

The down hill back to the Wilson Bridge was quite a lot of fun. I was cruising at 33 miles per hour. The bike was on rail. Weee!

After about 30 miles my lower back and neck were starting to complain so I headed home. I will probably need to tweak my saddle position a bit but for a first ride, this one was pretty darn comfy.

For some pictures of my excursion, check my Flickr page.

I have yet to name my bike. I have some pretty strong contenders though.

I wouldn’t want to rush into things.