How Not to Go Christmas Shopping

I had a pretty good plan going into Saturday. I was supposed to go Christmas shopping but that went out the window with the tie rod thingies. Let me explain.

The day began with a trip to a garage to have my son’s car inspected. This usually takes 1/2 hour. The car failed the inspection because the tie rod thingies on the right front wheel were failing. (The thingies are called “ends” which isn’t terribly descriptive. The tie rod is a metal rod with threads on either end that are screwed into the thingies. The whole thing attaches the wheel to the steering mechanism. The bad thingies made the right front wheel wobble. If the thingies fail, the steering fails. If the steering fails, you blame a bicyclists for getting in the way.

So I walked 1 1/2 miles home.

Then I pulled The Mule out of the shed and rode it to my local bike store. Last week, the mechanics there had installed a new cassette (the gears in the back) and a new chain. The chain was skipping all week. A mechanic adjusted the cable tension and turned a screw and the skip was gone.

I rode onward to Old Town Alexandria where they were having the annual Scottish Walk. This is a parade that wanders over a route the shape of the letter “P”.  The parade is an interesting mix of Brownies, rescue dogs, business people, bagpipe marching bands, and drunken men in kilts. The crowds were enormous. This was not good because I needed to get to my bank which was inside the P. Alexandria law enforcement people told me to ride around the route and come at it from the far side, where the parade had yet to reach. This worked like a charm but left me with the prospect of being trapped. I made an effort to watch the parade from behind the crowds lining the street, but gave up, and headed home. I escaped the P by riding to the start of the parade and finding where the staging areas ended.

Once at home I pulled out the lawn mower to drain the gas in the tank. This was done by, clever me, mowing the lawn until the mower conked out. I thought this would take 10 minutes. Somehow gas lasts longer in the winter and I ended up mowing the lawn 1 1/2 times. (Our lawn looks pretty darn OCD right now.)

While mowing, the garage called. My car was ready. I pulled Deets out of the shed and rode to fetch the car. The car was indeed ready except the steering wheel now pointed to 10 o’clock. So I drove back to the garage and they  made three attempts to fix this. It is now permanently 11:15 aboard the flight deck of the Millenium Falcon. Note to self: never use a mechanic on US 1 in Fairfax County.

Back to home I went where I pulled a ladder out to check the gutters for leaves. The gutters are usually jammed with leaves but this time they were clear.

Back inside I scoured my laptop, Facebook, and Flickr pages for pictures of my family and me for the infamous Rootchopper family Christmas mass mailing. We send Christmas cards to over 100 people. Many of the cards contain a photo montage and the annual two-sided FOMO Christmas letter. (Which is not to be confused with this blog’s annual top ten list and top ten photos posts which are well underway.)

Once the pictures were acquired, I managed to track down addresses for three local friends.

Then I did the Crossword puzzles from the newspaper, ate dinner, and drank some wine.

Very little of the day went according to plan but I just went with the flow and I have to admit I am surprised that I enjoyed the day despite all its ups and downs.

In a few minutes I am heading out to do some Christmas shopping. Just goin’ with the flow to the Home Depot.


Latest Sunrise, No – Rise of the Ninjas, Yes

I thought today was the latest sunrise of the year but I got it wrong. We’ve reached the earliest sunset. Sunrises get later until the end of the year. Yeah well. Here’s the picture I took of The Mule at Dyke Marsh on the Mount Vernon Trail.

On the ride home, I nearly hit 5 ninjas – walkers and runners wearing absolutely no reflective or light colored clothing. In addition to it being too dark to see them, they are also backlit by car headlights.Good luck you clueless ninjas. I hope I don’t hurt myself when I clobber one of you.


449 Miles to Go?

After 11 months, I’ve ridden 7,551 miles, an average of 686 miles per month. I rode 675 miles in November despite missing 4 days for a business trip. Good weather helped a lot.

I rode to work 14 times, 10 times on the Mule and 4 on Deets. I have 162 bike commutes this year. Both bikes were rewarded for their hard labors with new chains and cassettes. I also rode 113 miles on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent. Since I am out of practice I managed to have a slow speed crash of sorts that damaged my ego but not my body.

My long ride of the month was 53 miles during the Cider Ride.

I need 449 miles in December to get to 8,000 for the year. That’s only 3 more miles than I rode in January. I already know I will be missing 2 days to holiday parties. And I won’t be riding to work the last week of the year. On the plus side, I hope to ride a few dozen miles during the Hains Point 100 in mid-month. Fingers crossed….



Fairfax County Gets with the Program

Richmond Highway in Fairfax County is an eclectic mix of old and new tied together with traffic jams. Old motels, high rise residential buildings, new hotels, and big box stores are intermingled with gas stations, trailer parks, garden apartments, office buildings, and a seemingly infinite hodge podge of other retail businesses. It offers a lot. I avoid it like the plague.

Fitful development replaced suburban blight in the 1990s. The Department of Defense relocated thousands of workers to Fort Belvoir and the County did a land swap that led to the construction of a residential city of sorts near Lorton, both on the southern end of the corridor. DC bound commuter traffic overwhelms the highway during rush hours. Transit is heavily used but is simply not enough to move all the people through and within the corridor.

So Fairfax County is developing plans to re-invent the corridor over the next 25 years. If it doesn’t do something, southeastern Fairfax County’s economy will choke on its own auto exhaust. Using bus rapid transit (until it can get Metro service) to reduce or mitigate car traffic, the county will develop a chain of mixed use communities, not unlike the Ballston to Rosslyn corridor in Arlington or the Town Center in Reston.

Today, riding a bike in this area is very unsafe. Pedestrians fare no better, with many being sent to hospitals and morgues each year. The plan calls for bicycle and pedestrian facilities along the highway. Input from bicyclists at prior meetings convinced planners to include bicycle and pedestrian facilities on feeder streets and in each of the mixed use communities. I heard no negative push back on these additions to the plan tonight.

How this all plays out over the next couple of decades is anybody’s guess. It is comforting to see that after decades of embracing car-based suburban sprawl, Fairfax County is finally moving toward more transit, sensible development, and livable communities. Will the county be able to stick to its plans as Arlington and Reston did? Time will tell.

Turkey Hike

My daughter had an early morning flight out of National Airport. If I had my act together I would have dropped her off and driven to the mountains for a proper hike. But I am me and my act is no Oscar.

I went home to bed. At noon I was ready to rumble. Time for a hike. I drove up the GW Parkway past DC and headed for Great Falls Park in Maryland. Then I saw an exit for Turkey Run and decided to change the plan.

I have driven past Turkey Run Park hundreds of times and never checked it out. Today I took a trail from a parking lot down to the Potomac Heritage Trail. The PHT runs 10 miles from Key Bridge to the beltway. I’d already done the first five miles. They were not so hot. Kirstin told me that the part from Chain Bridge (where I stopped last time) to the beltway was much nicer. Today I hiked from Turkey Run Park to the beltway, a 4-mile round trip.

I love hiking in autumn after the leaves have fallen. The sound of the leaves swooshing under my feet is very calming. I also hate hiking in the autumn because the fallen leaves cover all the rocks and tree roots and other irregularities in trail leading to slipping and ankle twisting. So it goes.

The first tenth of a mile was switch backs down to the river. The river’s edge was cast in shadow from the low angle of the sun. It was about five degrees cooler in the shade but my walking soon took care of my minor discomfort.

The lack of leaves gave me views of the river that I might have missed a month or two ago. There was a low hum of car traffic off in the distance that my brain soon tuned out. An occasional plane flew overhead. Other than these modern intrusions I could have been miles from the DC metropolis.

I forded a few streams, called runs here in Virginia. I’m used to this strange language having grown up in upstate New York where the streams are kills. I suck at fording streams but I managed not to get my feet wet.

I did however turn my ankles a dozen times as my feet landed on leaves that obscured the rocks and roots beneath. After about 45 minutes I found myself at Dead Run with nowhere to go. I had strayed off the trail and found double blazes on both sides of the stream. I decided to turn around and just before I headed back down river I spotted the trial on the opposite side of the stream. It was only a quarter mile to the beltway. I continued past and climbed a hill. The path deposited me on a cul de sac just outside the beltway.Here I turned around and headed back to the trail and the river and the trees and the leaves.

My return hike went considerably faster. I knew where all the bad footing was so I didn’t need to stop and probe for rocks and roots. My hat hung over my forehead and I smacked my head on an overhanging fallen tree. What would I do if I gave myself an concussion down here? No worries. @^(()#TY!!$%_

I said good bye to the river and climbed back up to the Turkey Run parking lot.

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

I posted a few more pictures on my Flickr page.

A Banquet in a Lumberjack Shirt

She sits with her forehead on her fists
And tries to think what went bung
Dial the weather to do the deed
Her smile curses him once again

He’s twice her age and slow and frail
He should be easy to slay
Her smile betrays an internal rage
She’s shuffle him off his coil one day

With pen and ink and mindfulness
She’s a banquet in her lumberjack shirt
When she thinks she can’t find happiness
He gives her flowers in the dirt.

Atypical Saturday

I went to Friday Coffee Club for the first time since March yesterday. Friday Coffee Club is a gathering a bike commuters in DC. Friday Coffee Club embodies why I love living in DC. It has so many interesting people from so many different walks of life. In it’s early days, a number of attendees were 20-s0mething women, some in grad school, some just getting started in the workaday world. Laura was one of them.

When I first met her, Laura was a working graphic artist. This led somehow to a job as a vice president at an Internet-based marketing firm. The grind ultimately left her ground down. Six months ago she threw in the towel on office life and made the rather brave jump to becoming a full-time artist.

Today she had some of her works on exhibit at Latela gallery in the Brookland Art Walk. Mrs. Rootchopper, our daughter, and I drove up to DC to check it out.

Laura – Infinitely more talented than your average Rootchopper

I haven’t seen Laura in many months but she, with her green highlighted hair, welcomed me with open arms. (Why didn’t I take a picture? I am a moron. The picture on the right is from her website.)

We talked about her work, how she has to balance her artistic muse with commercial concerns. Marketing. Websites. Balancing what formats sell with the cost of investing in materials and equipment. Being an artist is a lot more complicated than I realized.

Laura is obviously so talented. I don’t have the artist’s gene so I am in awe of anybody who can create like she can. More importantly, she seems pretty happy.

In addition to artworks she makes of her own choosing, Laura creates works on commission. Do you have a mute wall that needs to speak? Is a friend or family member getting married or moving into a new place? Check out Laura’s website for details.


Return to Friday Coffee Club

I haven’t been to Friday Coffee Club since it moved from Swings House of Caffeine near the White House to A Baked Joint on the eastern side of downtown last March. Depsite the fact that most #bikedc folks are out of town, Ted announced that he was going to Friday Coffee Club when ABJ opened at 9 am. Ricky soon through his helmet into the ring. I decided that if I woke up early enough, I’d enter the fray.

I woke up at 5:45.


I hopped on Big Nellie and headed to DC riding most of my commute route on my day off. It took me about 1:15 to get there. I was thankful that traffic was very light. This may have been because nearly every one in town appeared to be line up outside the new Museum of African American History on the mall.

I swooped and wiggled my way through downtown.

Ricky was already inside. Soon Ted and Jean (knitting a wool sock) showed up. Then Ed and Mary, Reba and Robert, Sam and Jeff, and Joe and Kathy. Not a bad crowd considering it was black Friday. It was a good mix of people and the conversation was just as lively as I remembered it. I am glad I went. And, in fact, I stayed for a good 2 hours before leaving and following Reba and Robert on a meander through downtown to get to the 14th Street Bridge. Traffic was Sunday-ish.

We made it to the Mount Vernon Trail and headed south while R&R headed north. The ride home was rote but the trail was empty. The betting was heavy and Stewball was there. No wait….my brain must be having an day off too.

And so I managed to get some exercise, see some old friends, and avoid the velociraptors.




If you want a friend in this town, get a velociraptor

She was walking her velociraptor in the park.
She wore happiness on her sleeve
Wrapped up in her woo woo and her thrift store dress
Talking to herself in musical tones.

Arms full of autumn, she walked away
Turned her back on her latest last chance.
Moved on to costumes, waterfalls, and weed
Flew the coop to the warm winter light

Drank a wretched brew that made her head spin
Walked under a ladder to heaven on her way out of town
Perception isn’t reality, whatever that is
Put off to the future while she gets out of town

She put her kayak on a fork
And held a picnic in the park on Audience Day
He held his applause as he drove away
Regarding the perfection in his rear view mirror

Now she walks her velociraptor in the park.
She wears happiness on her sleeve
Wrapped in her woo woo and her thrift store dress
Wondering why she was so alone.



How Does Bri Do It?

Bri writes a blog about winter bike commuting in rural upstate New York. It’s the snow belt and it gets fiercely cold. She looks forward to winter. Bri is a few spokes shy of a wheel.

Bri makes me feel like a wimp.

On Saturday afternoon a cold front came through. The wind howled and howled on Sunday. I was not looking forward to riding into that gale this morning.

When I fetched the newspaper from the driveway the winds were light-ish and the residual warmth from my PJs kept me comfortable. An hour or so later I stepped outside to ride the Mule to work.

Dang. It was cold. And it was colder still once I got underway and rode with a wind out of ten o’clock for the first 11 miles. I knew it was blowing hard when I took the Park Terrace downhill. I normally reach 32 miles per hour. Today I could only make 27.

There were no photos today. Just put your head down and pedal at a depressingly slow speed.

At Gravelly Point the trail turns to the east for 100 yards. Relief! Then when it takes a 90 degree turn to the north the crosswind nearly blew me off the path.

I managed to make it to work in about 90 minutes. About 15 minutes slower than normal.

The ride home was revenge. I had a strong tailwind the whole way. I saw a friend (I think) who hates cold weather riding toward me on a bikeshare bike near the Humpback Bridge across from the Jefferson Memorial. She had on a black parka with a hood drawn tight around her head.  It framed her face. Her jaw was set and her normally joyful demeanor was locked somewhere between determined and miserable.

The rest of the ride home was not half bad. It made up for the craptastic morning commute.

More of the same tomorrow, minus about 5 or 10 degrees.