Five Boro Tour 2016

The day dawned gray and wet. It stayed that way. Paul and I dressed for the worst and rode the three miles to the Staten Island Ferry. The boat was filled with bicyclists and their steeds. In 30 minutes we were delivered to Manhattan Island. I expected to walk to the start but everyone just hopped on their bikes and rolled out. We followed. Past the World Trade Center. I didn’t look up. It’s tall. You couldDSCN4784_1198 fall over.

In short order we were in a massive street-wide queue. We soon le
arned that this was Wave 2 leaving at 8:10. We were supposed to be in Wave 3 scheduled to launch at 8:45. Yea, well…

After a half hour of waiting we started. We made it two blocks and stopped. “Gonna be a long day” thought I. After about five minutes we were underway again. Only to stop after another couple of blocks. The organizers were trying to give Wave 1 a little more time to get away. Slackers.

Two minutes later we began, this time for good. We made our way up Church Street past a building that looked like a jenga tower to the Avenue of the Americas. Really, 6th Avenue was too useful a name, I suppose. In the gray of this rainy day, the Avenue of the Americas looked unimpressive. We were going through some of the most famous neighborhoods in the city but it all looked like the back of a pack of wet bicyclists to me. I focused on not running into anyone, dodging asphalt patches, metal grates, and manhole covers. New York City loves manhole covers. It’s the manhole cover capital of the free world.

We remembered ourselves through Herald Square and soon passed Radio City Music Hall. At Central Park we were slowed and told to go either left or right. I thought the route would take us on Central Park East but instead we went left into the park, itself. The curvy, rolling road made for a much more relaxing vibe. I found my flow and went with it. Somehow, even after walking nine miles yesterday, my pedaling mechanics were dialed in. It’d been months since I’d felt this way on a bike. Which would have been great but for the fact that the flow was interrupted again and again by the thousands of bicycles I was sharing the road with. Just gotta roll with it.

We wound our way through the park, taking in views of the museums on Central Park East. Soon we were rolling through Harlem on Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard. I grew up hearing horror stories about Harlem but, frankly, it was just about the most pleasant part of the ride. Clean streets. Well kept buildings. Friendly people. So much for Manchild in the Promised Land nightmares.

Soon we were crossing the Harlem River into the south Bronx. The Bronx has probably seen better days, maybe in the 1920s. Fortunately we were there for only a mile or two before re-crossing the river to Harlem Drive and FDR Drive. One thing became clear, the streets of New York are filled with debris. I saw several metal bolts, lots of glass, and other random junk. Word to the wise: don’t do this ride on a road bike with skinny tires, unless you want to get a lot of practice changing flat tires.

FDR Drive was hardly scenic. The rain starDSCN4804_1218ted falling harder. I passed a unicyclist. Seriously. Ev
ery few minutes some young dude would come blasting by in a big hurry. In the process he’d spray all he passed with the water coming across his rear wheel. Each time I said a sarcastic “Thanks” and suppressed my curses.

Along the way, we were occasionally stopped to let traffic get across the route. At the Queensboro Bridge we came to a stop because of a bottle neck. We turned right for a few blocks then left to the on-ramp for the bridge. I was surprised at how many riders had trouble climbing this bridge. I had no problem with it other than to safely ride around all the walkers and 3-mile per hour climbers.

A gondolla drifted by on wires above the East River. I hoped to see Spiderman save it from falling into the river but he was indoors making webs.

Once off the bridge we headed north into Astoria, a neighborhood in Queens. All kinds of famous people were born here. You could look it up.

At Astoria Hills Park we stopped to rest. We talked with a couple who were clearly underdressed for the raw weather. The woman was shaking but looking forward to continuing until Brooklyn where she planned to exit the ride and go home. Good luck.

Paul and I forged on. Heading south into a slight headwind down the east side of the East River. The pace picked up here as the crowd thinned and the rain came down.

Over the  Pulaski Bridge into Brooklyn. I imagine Brooklyn looks better when the sun is out. I spent most of my time trying not to rear end people. I’d ride as straight a line as possible until I had to get around an obstruction. I found that the dedciated, protected bike lanes had less debris on them than the main lanes of the streets. Right lanes were pretty torn up, probably because they carried more buses and trucks.

The Brooklyn stretch was by far the longest. We passed under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges and rode onto the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, an interstate highway. There were grooves in the pavement that occasionally made it feel like I was getting a flat tire. Little Nellie’s little wheels were probably not the best for this pavement. The BQE was just plain dreary. Rain came down. Spray from cars on the other side of the road hung in the air.

As we approached the Verrazano Narrows Bridge a security officer motioned a cyclist to the side of the road. He had on a back pack. No-go since the Boston Marathon bombings. We were warned about this.

The climb up the bridge on the lower deck was long but very gradual. Again cyclists slowed to a crawl. Some walked. Avoiding them made the climb hard, not the climb itself. Near the top word of encouragement were painted on the road as if this were L’Alpe D’Huez. The big payoff for the climb is the views but not this day. You could barely make out Manhattan through the gloom.DSCN4847_1261

The ride down to Staten Island was fun but we held our speed in check thanks to the grooves in the pavement and the water on our rims. At about 1 pm, we rolled into a park and under a finish line banner. The park had food of every sort for purchase by the riders. Paul and I partook of chicken parm subs that were delicious. After about a half hour we rode the rest of the route back to the ferry terminal and, from there, back to the B&B.

48 miles for the day. No accidents. No flats. Lots of smiles despite the crummy weather.

My Flickr pix are here.

Some other comments:

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a big thank you to the organizers, sponsors, volunteers, and police and other public servants who kept an eye on us. There were scores of volunteers along the route. How they stayed cheerful on such a lousy day I’ll never know. The police were out in force. Some looked pretty unhappy; others cheered us on. Imagine that, hardened NYPD veterans whopping encouragement. Every couple of miles, we’d pass a band playing under a canopy. Rock, soul, country, marching band drums, congas, you name it. Unfortunately, some EMTs had work to do. We saw or heard many crashes along the route.

The rest stops had hundreds of porta potties and seas of snacks and drinks. Apples, bananas, pretzels, energy bars. Early rest stops were quite crowded, later ones weren’t. To get to and from the rest stop, you had to walk a a block or two. Not a lot of fun in the rain but clearly a smart move from a safety perspective.

Riding in this kind of crowded event is best done by holding a straight line. Don’t look over your shoulder; you’ll drift off your line and potentially into someone behind you.

I would think that you could see a lot more of the city on a clear day, but, in truth, you’ll spend much of your focus on the bikes in front of you.

This is not a particularly hard ride. It’s easier than any metric century I’ve done and far easier than the 50 States Ride in DC. Except for the bridges and Central Park, it’s very flat. Ride it on a hybrid, cross or touring bike. Single speed riders found the bridges challenging, not for their steepness, but for their length.

 

 

 

 

Five Boro Tour Warm Up

Way back in February I signed up for the Five Boro Ride in New York City. This annual event involves riding 40 miles through all five boroughs of the Big Apple on a lovely spring day with over 30,000 or so of your cycling friends.

On Friday, Paul, Amy, and I drove to a B&B on Staten Island on a cool gray day. We should have known the gods had it in for us when we saw that the Bay Bridge was closed because of an accident. This added about 30 minutes to our drive. The entire ride featured a truly  annoying buzzing sound coming from the bikes hanging off the rear of my car.  We found out two days later that it was caused by a dangling blinky light. Our annoying drive to the B&B ended up eating most of the day.

Our first impression of Staten Island was not favorable. It is incredibly run down, particularly given the fact that it is a 30-minute ferry ride from the biggest financial district in the western hemisphere. Fortunately, our B&B was down a quiet side street. The B&B owner is a pleasant Polish woman who showed us the ins and out of her home filled with antiques, reading material, and snacks. (Yay, snacks!)  She explained how she escaped from behind the Iron Curtain and eventually found her way to America.

At her suggestion we headed out to Bruno’s for some dinner. It was a little Italian restaurant with a bakery. Suffice it to say, the bakery case was a pastry orgasm and the dinner was so good I wanted to cry. Bloated we headed out in the car determined to find a posh neighborhood on the island. Sure enough, Todt Hill filled the bill nicely. Enormous, new mansions on large, impeccably landscaped lots with exterior lighting to show off all their opulence. Relieved to know that the American dream hadn’t completely bypassed Staten Island we headed back to shelter and readied ourselves for a Saturday in Noo Yawk.

After a sumptuous breakfast that couldn’t be beat, we took a cab to the ferry. I had some trepidation about taking a boat anywhere as I get motion sickness at the slightest tipping of a deck. The Staten Island Ferry is smooth as silk so I had no problems at all. The ride goes past the Statue of Liberty so the sight seeing was underway while we were underway.

Our first order of business in Manhattan was to pick up our event packets at the Bike Expo located on the waterfront two miles east of the ferry terminal. We decided to walk because the weather was splendid. Along the way, by previous arrangement, we met up with Susan, an old friend from my college days in Boston. Susan has lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn for most of her adult life so we had a great tour guide the day.

The Bike Expo was well organized. We picked up our packets without a wait and proceeded to browse to exhibits. There were scores of them. After getting some free ice cream we headed out to be shameless tourists.

Susan took us down Madison Street to Canal Street and Chinatown. We passed dozens of people hawking jewelry and purses and whatnot, all authentic brands no doubt. We somehow resisted making a purchase. Susan gracefully begged off when an eastern monk handed her a medallion and slipped a beaded bracelet over her wrist. Hare Krishna, Beauregard.

In Chinatown, Susan ducked into a bakery to buy a sweet rice treat. As we were sampling her purchase, two muscular thugs came bounding through the sidewalk crowd, looking over their shoulders as they slalomed through the mass of humanity. We all thought this was bad news until we started walking and found them talking to their cameraman and director. I don’t know what they were filming but we may be inadvertent extras in an epic crime fighting movie spectacular. Or maybe just a student movie short.

We walked to a square filled with court buildings. Susan pointed out that we should recognize them from movies and the TV show Law and Order. This would become a recurring theme. Basically Manhattan is a giant TV and movie set. This began a recurring theme for the day: everything seems to look familiar because you’ve seen it all before a million times on screen.

After our court date, we worked our way over to the World Trade Center area. Susan was in lower Manhattan on September 11 and she lived in a neighborhood where many 9/11 victims lived. She pointed out Saint Paul’s Church where pictures of the missing (and mostly deceased) people were posted, as well as a firehouse that lost all its fire fighters when the towers came down.

The memorial includes two deep square pits with water pouring down their black marble sides. On the top of the sides the names of the victims are carved into the stone. I couldn’t get over how many buildings so close to the twin towers survived the collapse. The new tower looms over the sight, reaching into the sky.

We sat for a while and rested our legs. Susan’s Fitbit read 10,000 steps. Good thing we only have to ride 48 miles tomorrow, I thought.

A cab took us to Chelsea where we walked the length of the High Line linear park, taking a break for lunch in the process. The park includes places where people sit in what look like grandstands. Perfect for people watching.

We exited the High Line and walked into the garment district back across Manhattan past the New Yorker, Madison Square Garden and Macy’s. We turned up the Avenue of the America’s just a block or so shy of the Empire State Building. Then we hailed a cab. And got a limo. Dead legs love limos.

We rode to Central Park South and walked through the southern edge of the park to Columbus Circle. In the Time Warner building we found a bar with comfy chairs and sofas and had ourselves a drink. Pooped.

After resting up, we headed back out and hoofed it past Carnegie Hall and into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. I am a very lapsed Catholic but even a heathen can admire such an amazing building.

Spent, we hopped a cab back to the ferry. We thanked Susan profusely for wearing us out. (20,000 steps at least!) The ferry ride and a taxi ride later found us watching hockey on TV at the B&B. We hoovered a pizza and hit the hay.  The weather forecast called for rain and 50 degrees, all day on Sunday.

The ride would go on, rain or shine.

My pix from this crazy adventure on on my Flickr page.

Next blog will describe the ride.

 

 

 

My Ride in the Twilight Zone

After riding to the Nationals game on Saturday in the rain, I couldn’t pass up riding to the Sunday game when the forecast called for perfect baseball weather. So I hopped on the Cross Check at around 11 and headed to DC.

The ride in was just a little on the chilly side but the skies were blue and the trees had leaves. Spring rocks.

As I approached Jones Point Park, I noticed a cyclists standing next to a loaded bike. Seriously loaded. It was a cargo bike with six panniers, a handlebar bag, and a solar panel on the rear rack. The cyclist was looking at a map and seemed confused. I stopped and helped him by leading him through the streets of Old Town Alexandria. When we got to the Washington Sailing Marina between Old Town and National Airport we stopped to talk. Charles star26344076450_983dc79897_mted this ride in the Pacific Northwest. He rode down the west coast, hung a louie at San Diego and another at Saint Augustine. His tour had taken him over 5,000 miles so far. He spent last year riding coast to coast across the northern part of the US. He was planning on taking a break in DC. To buy a boat. And store it at the marina. Or some such thing. I couldn’t follow the logistics, probably because I couldn’t understand how he could afford to spend his life on a bike. And buy a boat.

I left Charles to his nautical aspirations and rode into DC. I absolutely love riding to the ballpark because I get to ride by the parking lots that get progressively more expensive as I get nearer to the park. The bike valet – really just a secure bike parking facility under the watchful eyes of two attendants – is inside the ballpark itself. It is free (except for the tip which you give to the attendants at check out).

I took my seat out in the stands beyond left field with the warm sun shining down on me. I had forgotten to bring sunscreen but I figured I would be okay for a couple of hours. I ate a sandwich that I brought instead of the expensive junk food at the park. Then I settled in for a nice game against a weak opponent, the Minnesota Twins.

As usually happens the people that I sat among became friends for the day. There was a mom and her ten-ish year old daughter in front of me. Daughter had a small baseball glove. (“You’re going to save me if a baseball comes our way, right?”) There were two dudes to my right manspreading and drinking beers. (I moved over a seat and got into the slouchy vibe.

The guy to my right scoffed at the Nats leadoff hitter, Matt den Dekker. “He can field but the Mets got rid of him because he can’t hit.” I retorted “He’s got some power for a little guy.” And so den Dekker homered to make me look like a baseball genius. Later, he made several brilliant catches in the outfield so my bro was also vindicated.

Our section had plenty of Minnesota fans. So there was good natured teasing going on throughout the game. Our fearless pitcher Stephen Strasburg pitched for seven innings after over 100 pitches he becomes mortal, but the bullpen was tired so the manager left him in. In a flash he gave up a three-run home run which landed about ten seats to my right. Down 4-1 it looked like the game was lost. People started to leave.

It was 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth. More people started to leave.

Our manager, Dusty Baker, had decided to rest the 2015 MVP, a fellow by the name of Bryce Harper, for the day. Baker actually told Harper before the game that he would only use him in a situation that would make him look like a hero. So Harper comes up to pinch hit and powers the second pitch he sees into the stand beyond center field. Tie game! The crowd goes nuts!

And so we went into extra innings. After four innings the Nationals have a comical race among six “presidents” who are men with giant heads. They run around the wa.rning track to a finish line tape near the Nats dugout. It is utterly stupid and funny as hell. Our game was running so long that they ran a second presidents race.

We were getting slap happy in the stands. The game dragged on. 10, 11, 12 innings.

The Nationals ran out of position players. They used a pitcher to pinch hit. He got a single. No lie.

Fans starting joking about being held hostage. All I could think of were the lyrics to “Band on the Run”:

If we ever get out of here

Thought of giving it all away

To registered charity

All I need is a pint a day

If we ever get out of here

If we ever get out of here

I moved down to the front row overlooking the left fielders. I yelled down to Werth, “Hey, Jason. Want some coffee?”

In the middle of the 14th inning we had a second seventh inning stretch. I kid you not.

The Twins left fielder, Eddie Rosario, had littered the grass with pieces of yellow paper. The Nats left fielder, Jason Werth, picked them up and

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My View of Werth

 

methodically arranged them in a neat row. A guy sitting behind me joked that Werth was trying to get enough paper to spell out SOS on the grass.  Another guy said, “Hey, we are literally trash talking.”

The Twins went ahead by a run in the top of the 15th. All hope was lost. Rosario made a mess of Werth’s paper pile. The fans in left field started yelling “Pick it up Eddie.” Rosario laughed. I yelled at him: “It’s karma, Eddie. You’ll pay for this.”

The Nationals got a man on first base. The Twins ignored him and he advanced to second. The next batter up was Oliver Perez, a pitcher who hadn’t batted since 2010. The Twins unbelievably brought in another reliever to face him.

All was lost. Until Perez dropped a bunt that the catcher fielded. Perez was out by a mile, except that the catcher threw the ball about six feet over the first baseman’s head. Tie game.

Karma, Eddie. Karma.

We moved to the 16th. Werth came out and repaired his pile of paper. The Twins didn’t score. The Nationals came to bat and their right fielder, Chris Heisey, launched a home run over the Twins bullpen. The place went completely nuts. Delirium.

Dusty Baker later called it a twilight zone game.

By this point, nearly six hours after the game started a chill was in the air. I was an odd combination of warm and cold. Six hours of sun on had given me a sunburn on the right side of my body. I wore a jacket to keep the left side of my body warm.

The by now thin crowd left with ear to ear grins. At the bike valet I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen since December. We celebrated our mini reunion and the exhausting victory with a huge hug.

And then I was off. As I crossed the Potomac into Virginia I stopped to admire an amazing sunset skyscape. Even with swarms of gnats (how appropriate) along the way, the ride home in the cool spring evening was perfect.

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Lemons and Cold, Wet Lemonade

“We’re definitely going to the Nationals game on Saturday and maybe on Sunday. Are you going? We could meet for a drink afterward.”

My friend sent me this invitation on Friday evening. I had already been thinking of going to a game this weekend and I have seen my friend only once since August. (How the hell did that happen? Life.)

So, thinking that “definitely going” and “we could meet…afterward” meant that they had already bought tickets, I bought a ticket of my own. Shortly after making my purchase my friend, who is on a tight budget, sent me a message:

“The upper gallery seats are sold out. We’ll have to stand in line for the $5 game day tickets tomorrow morning.”

What the hell happened to “definitely going?”

Given that the weather forecast called for morning rain followed by near perfect weather for the early afternoon game, it seemed that there was a good chance that my friend would not get tickets in the morning.  I decided to go with the flow and went to bed.

In the morning, the predicted rain was falling. My friend messaged me:

“We don’t feel like standing in the rain to get tickets so we aren’t going to the game.”

Definitely going, going, gone.

I was disappointed and more than a little upset. I felt like a dog who has been teased with food only to have it taken away. Rather than do my usual thing of sending back an angry repsonse, I turned off my phone, put on my rain gear, and hopped on my Cross Check for the 15 1/2 mile ride to the ballpark.

Did I mention rain gear? Yes, the forecast I saw last night said the rain would be over by 10 am. It was clear from a glance at the radar in the morning that the rain would be with us through noon at least.

The ride to DC along the Mount Vernon Trail was cold, wet, and solitary. Perfect for reflection and dissipating my harsh feelings toward how things had transpired.(No matter how hard I tried to deny it, I find it hard to dispel the notion that, for some reason, my social life has gone to hell since last summer. Life.)

When I arrived at the ball park it was still drizzling out. I parked my bike and headed into the park. By pure dumb luck my seats were covered by the third tier of the stadium. As the rain fitfully ended, the wind picked up. Straight into my face. I ate some food and drank some water and hoped for kindness from the weather gods. They were apparently busy with something else. I really needed some hot coffee but settle on a craft lager from the stand next to my seat. It tasted bitter and a bit nasty but it took my mind off my clammy discomfort.

Going to a baseball game alone is a roll of the social dice. You could sit next to nice people or drunken jackasses. (My father took us to a game at the old Yankee Stadium back in the post-Mantle era. The place was a wreck. To our right a spectator walked down the aisle, took a big swig of his beer and spit it in the face of a man seated on the aisle. A nasty, comically drunken brawl broke out. We thought it was far more entertaining than the game. My dad was not of the same opinion.)

To my right was a father and son. Dad was a total baseball nerd who yelled things at the players despite the futility of sitting so far from the field. His son, who was at least 21 judging by the beer he had, was ignorant of the rules or the strategy of the game. To my left a family sat. They were rather on the larger side of human. They appeared to have purchase one of every item in the food court. The teenage girl to my immediate left sat shivering in gym shorts. Her parents later bought her an official Washington Nationals unislipper (you put both feet in it to stay warm). What will they think of next. In front of me were three season ticket holders who seemed like quite pleasant adults. It was an interesting slice of humanity and I considered myself lucky to be seated where I was.

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Except for the wind. The Nationals sprung out to a 2-0 lead. Their pitcher, Tanner Roark, was having a stellar day. He struck out 15 Twins in 7 innings without giving up a run. The Twins looked absolutely hapless at the plate. The Nats threatened but never crossed the plate again. They didn’t need to. They won 2-0. I even got to boo Jonathan Papelbon, our social-pond-scum closer.

The winds died down after a few innings but the sun and the warmth didn’t materialize until the game was nearly over. I walked out of the ballpark and the sun hit me. It was ten degrees warmer in the sunlight. Dang.

I hopped on my bike and celebrated with a tail-wind assisted ride home. The only downside to the ride was the traffic mind field of Old Town Alexandria. Cars and bike and pedestrians (but, to be honest, mostly cars) were moving about at random. I actually feared for my safety and was glad to be through the half-mile stretch unscathed.

When I got home I reflected on the game, the social mess that precipitated it, and the bike ride. I was glad I didn’t respond to my friend’s message. I would have Papelboned our friendship for sure.

With sunny skies forecasted for Sunday, I decided to buy a ticket to today’s game. I’ll be sitting near left field. In the sun. Maybe I’ll even drink a lemonade.

 

Missing in Action – Wood Floor Refinishing Edition

I kinda bailed on the blog for the last few days. I’ve been busy dealing with non-bike life. We had the wood floors refinished in two of the four levels of our house. It had been awhile. Like 51 years. Surprisingly they only replaced three boards. We spend many nights and weekends boxing up books (we read a LOT) and other stuff (we have a LOT of stuff). I think we filled something like 40 xerox paper boxes and at least 15 30 gallon trash backs with stuff. Moving all these boxes and the lightweight furniture to the bottom two levels of our house was a ton of work. We hired movers to take on the big stuff. Even if I were 20 years younger, there is no way I could handle the stuff they moved. Full size mattresses, a two-tier wood cabinet that weighs over 400 pounds, sofas, dressers filled with clothing, and more.

The flooring crew finished last Friday. Today the movers came and moved all the stuff back. In a half hour they moved the boxes that took us hours to move. (Pro trick: stack the boxes, pick them up behind you and lean them oDSCN4723.JPGn your back.)

The movers were done in under two hours total. Then I rode my bike to get a haircut because I was starting to look like Professor Irwin Corey and the neighborhood kids were afraid of me.After a quick lunch I started unpacking. After an hour of that I watched the Nationals lose to the Marlins. Then more unpacking (15 boxes down, 35 to go!). Then I mowed the lawn.

Now I am drinking a beer and contemplating higher consciousness. Actually, I don’t know about the consciousness part but I am rocking the higher aspect.

After maybe another beer, I will unload my music collection.

I’d ride my bike to the office tomorrow but that would be stupid since I am working from home. My next bike ride will probably be to Nationals Park this weekend, if I ever get around to buying a ticket that is.

 

 

Nice Day for a Spring Ride

I waited for the temperature to rise. I didn’t want to ruin a good spring ride by freezing my toes off. At 11:00 I leaped into action. Sort of. I kept misplacing things. After 45 frustrating minutes I head out on the Cross Check for a bagel. In Bethesda. Over 25 miles from home.

The Cross Check still doesn’t feel right but rather than mess with the set up I decided to ride it a ways. After six miles I stopped and slid the saddle back. I was feeling cramped and too upright. Afterwards I felt more comfortable. I breezed through Old Town with its abundance of well dressed church goers. (My church has two wheels, by god.)

North of Old Town the Mount Vernon Trail started getting crowded. The crowds didn’t bother me but the impatient riders passing with bike oncoming did. Some of these were Lance Mamilstrongs. Others were new to riding on busy, narrow trails. Thankfully, I managed not to get hit. I crossed over to DC and rode Ohio Drive and its pathetically designed side paths up to Rock Creek Park. The side path in Rock Creek Park improves somewhat. After a couple of miles of mediocre, it becomes downright horrible. Tree roots, 90 degree turns, pinch points, blind, low descents under overpasses. People with dogs obstructing the entire path as they admired each others pooches. Must not kill.

 

I finally made it to Beach Drive which is closed to cars. It was apparently open to every grade school kid in a 100 miles radius today. They were swarming like gnats. It took a while to get clear of them. Once I did, I found myself cruising up the  gradual incline at 14 1/2 miles per hour. I wasn’t straining at all. The Cross Check was just getting it done.

I took the Georgetown Branch Trail to the Rock Creek Trestle. I love hanging out in the treetops over Rock Creek. A woman was sitting in the bumpout on the opposite side of the trail. She was speaking on her phone in a Spanish accent. Next to her was a copy of Nick Hornby’s latest book. I love Nick Hornby. I passed up the opportunity to strike up a conversation with her because my tummy was having a conversation with my head. FEED ME!

I backtracked on the GBT to Bethesda Row where I bought a drink and a bage19217984431_878c8b2188_m.jpgl. I sat and ate and watched the people stroll by. This street is really good for people watching. And dog watching too. A golden retriever with waves of flowing red hair was laid out on the sidewalk next to my bench. What a beautiful creature. (Full disclosure: I grew up with a golden retriever. They are the best dogs. Dumb as dirt but they will let you use them as a pillow when you watch TV. And they will defend you to the death.) I want to be a golden retriever in my next life.

After my snack, I headed over to Bradley Boulevard. I rode through Bethesda amid azaleas and dogwoods in bloom. The temperature was perfect for riding. The traffic was light. Yay spring!

Bradley to Kentsdale to Newbridge to Democracy to Falls. I was cruising among the megamansions of Potomac. I hear they have real housewives here.

A left  onto Falls took me through Potomac Village and all the way to Great Falls Park. Cars were parked illegally everywhere. I took a right to ride down to the C&O Canal on the access road. After a fun half mile glide, I came upon a half mile line of cars waiting to get parking in the parking lot.  I rode past the cars and made it to the admissions booth. I was waved in. It was National Parks Day. Admission was free. “Free” sounds like a good idea. Sometimes it’s not. I rode very slowly through the throngs for at least 15 minutes. It was like riding on the sidewalk in Manhattan. Nothing ruins nature quite like tens of thousands of well meaning people.

After the falls the crowds thinned a bit and I could get up to about 10 miles per hour. Carefully, I avoided spooking the strollers near Widewater, easily one of the best parts of the entire 185 mile long park.

I finally cleared the swarm and brought my bike up to a 13.6 mile per hour cruising speed. Why 13.6? I don’t know. I just locked into that speed.

I am happy to report that the Cross Check loves the towpath. I can see many gravel rides in the future. (North Central Rail Trail? Anybody? Bueller?)

I was on autopilot all the way back to Georgetown. I switched over the paved Capital Crescent Trail at Fletchers Boat House. It has way too many tree roots until you get to the last mile which has been recently paved. Zoom.

K Street under the Whitehurst Freeway was a parking lot. I think we need to just ban cars in certain places on Sundays. They are just too big and clumsy. We could pile them up and burn them. We could invite all kinds of latter day hippies, techies, and spiritual whack jobs. Maybe we could do this in the desert. Rosslyn on a Sunday would work. We could call it “Burning Car”.  Maybe we could get the drum circle from Meridian Hill Park to come and not keep a beat.

The ride home retraced my northbound journey. The trails were not as busy as before. Behind the power plant near Old Town, the MVT goes through some blind curves. As I approached I rode my brakes. Sure enough a rider came around the curve on my side of the path. I avoided a head on collision for sure. The rider seemed shocked that passing two pedestrians on a blind curve might not work out so well. I do hope she doesn’t drive a school bus for a living.

I rolled south on Union Street in Old Town. A police cruiser pulled out in front of me. I followed it to the intersection with Gibbon Street. This is where Alexandria police ticket cyclists for rolling through the stop sign. So I watched as patrol car 1414 rolled through the very same stop sign. It was the third such incident this week. The League of American Cyclists will soon designate Alexandria as a Bicycle Hypocritical City at the Silver level.

I rolled home with my lungs burning. The pollen and towpath dust had caught up to me and my asthma was really giving me a hard time.  I  made it home in a bit of discomfort with 69 miles on the odometer. This was easily my longest ride of the year.  But for the asthma attack I could have kept going. Let’s see if I wake up with any back issues tomorrow morning.

 

 

Manassas Gap: A Short Hike on the AT

The floor refinishing job in our house is done. All that is left is the move back into the rooms which will happen on Thursday. In the meantime we are staying off the floors as much as possible. They look great but the air in the house is a tad stinky. (Not nearly as bad as I expected.) So getting out of the house was the plan.

I decided to use the perfect spring weather for a hike. I drove to Linden Virginia to do a solo 2 1/2 mile out-and-back hike on the Appalachian Trail. Last year I did a similar hike a few miles to the north at Ashby’s Hollow. It was pretty tough. That section of the AT is called the roller coaster for good reason.

This hike started 100 yards from I-66 and went up. And up. And up. Most of the climbing was done through as series of switchbacks. For the first half mile, I could hear the traffic on the interstate. Once I put the mountain between me and the highway I was good to go.

I stopped to take pictures as I went. Not because I was seeing anything particularly spectacular but to put space between me and two women who were hiking together. I followed a spur to check out an overlook. It was pretty but I’ve seen the view 100 times before from the highway below.

The trees are just starting to leaf. This allowed me to see a long way through the dense forest down the side of the mountain I was climbing. When I was little, I broke a rule about staying near home and went for a hike in the woods that began a mile away.  It seemed like I was walking forever. It was really only about a mile. There was a thick carpet of pine needles and the pine trees muffled sounds of the nearby roads and suburbs. For some reason, this hike called to mind that one.

The AT is very easy to follow. This section of the trail is well maintained (by volunteers, I might add). I had passed the two hikers before the spur. When I came back to the AT, they were a few hundred yards ahead. I fiddled with picture taking allowing them to get out of sight.

I wanted some space from people and things. My wife and I have been confined to two rooms that are crammed with furniture for the rest of the house. This and a week in the office including attending a retirement reception for our old boss, made my introverted self feel very much trapped.

I was alone. And Asian man, perhaps 50 years old, came bounding down the trail in my direction. He had a big smile on his face. Then I was alone again. Slogging up the hill. I’d smile too if I were coming down.

Then I head footsteps behind me. Within minutes a bearded hiker with a backpack came past. He was moving at a steady clip, much faster than me. We said our hellos and he was gone.

At times the trail flattened out and my pace picked up. This was not a race. I spent most of my attention on the rocky path in front of me. If you look away while walking you’ll trip for sure. So you have to focus on the task at hand. If that isn’t meditative I don’t know what is.

Eventually I came to a shelter built for AT hikers. A middle aged man, his teenaged soon, and the hiker who blew by me were talking. The hiker had begun his trek at the start in Georgia. He was nearly halfway to Maine. The boy aspired to hike the AT with his father. They were doing their first recon of the trail on the date that the boy had set back in December. (This is one determined kid.)  The hiker told us some tales. He wasn’t hiking for some great spiritual experience. He just like to hike and had the time and the money. Why not. He seemed like a totally normal bloke out for a 2,200 mile stroll in the woods.

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After about 30 minutes I headed back down to the car. The going was much easier. No wonder the Asian man was smiling. I passed another northbound through hiker. I told him about the shelter and the through hiker I had met. “He’s my partner.”  No wonder he wasn’t lonely.

We went our separate ways. Two more Asian hikers came through. Maybe this was a coincidence. I had read that in Japan walking in the woods is held in high regard. Perhaps it was a cultural thing. Japanese researchers find hiking to be good medicine for the stress of urban life.

Another half mile and I came upon what looked like a husband and wife. They smiled but didn’t say anything. They were wearing ear buds. I cannot for the life of me understand why you’d wear earbuds in the woods.

After about two miles of downhill trudging, my lower back (which I had pulled a few days ago) was starting to rebel. To ease the strain, I broke into a trot. Of course, this made my knees angry. To take my mind off the discomfort, I looked through the trees down the mountain, trying to pick out the trail as it switched back and forth.

Back at the car, I ran into a man who was about to head up the trail for an overnight hike. He had no information so I told him about the shelter at 2 1/2 miles. Maybe someday he’ll just keep on going all the way to Maine.

The pix I took are over on my Flickr page.

I was thinking of driving to Philadelphia tomorrow to watch the Nationals play. I’ve never seen a game there. I tweeted the idea and none of my tweeps seemed he least bit interested in joining me. So I guess I’ll do a long ride somewhere. The Cross Check is itchin’ to get out.