Some of You

Some of you have ridden bikes with me.

Some of you have fixed my bike when it was broken.

Some of you have waved or said “hello” or just smiled as you rode by.

Some of you have organized or volunteered at events that I rode in.

Some of you have advocated on my behalf.

Some of you made me amazing gifts.

Some of you took me to far away lands.

Some of you have had a cup of coffee with me. Or split a fritter.

Some of you have had a meal with me.

Some of you have gone to baseball games with me.

Some of you have had a beer or two or four with me.

Some of you have hung out in the park with me.

Some of you have gone on hikes with me.

Some of you have counseled me when I was depressed.

Some of you have told me intensely personal things (in confidence where they remain).

Some of you have opened my mind.

Some of you have made me laugh.

Some of you I haven’t seen in far too long.

Some of you have said, “Goodbye.”.

Some of you have given me a hug.

Some of you have even read this silly blog of mine from time to time.

All of me thanks you.


Let’s Play “Was It Worth It?”

Today’s bike commute was an exercise in serial stupidity. I felt like I was trapped in a video game populated by idiots.

I was headed to DC, riding along Morningside Lane, a shoulderless two lane road about 2 miles from my house. For cars, this road leads leads to the GW Parkway; for bicyclists, it leads to Park Terrace Drive. I am on this street for all of 200 yards. I was rolling along and heard cars coming up from behind. I stuck my left arm out to indicate that I was going to take a left turn. The driver of car behind me immediately stepped on the gas and passed me on the left, exactly where I had indicated I was going. Somehow this driver thought my hand signal meant “Kill me over there.”  Endangering my life saved the driver at most ten seconds. Was it worth it?

I stopped to take in the sunrise. You never know when it’s going to be your last.


I headed to Friday Coffee Club. Afterward, I roll west on G Street, a one way street that goes past the World Bank and through the campus of George Washington University. As I was about to start out, a sedan came zooming onto G Street from 17th Street. It careened down the street swerving around other cars to get to a right turn just before the light turned green. The driver nearly hit two cars in the process and saved himself one minute at most. Was it worth it?

A few blocks later a short elderly woman (Think “Where’s the beef?”) was making her way down G. She could barely see over the steering wheel. She decided to turn right into one of the garage entrances to a World Bank building. She didn’t bother to signal and nearly took out two bicyclists. Was the parking space worth two lives?

Our next contestant was a DC bound bike commuter on the narrow path on the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge. I was heading outbound. There was a strong, gusting cross wind. As I usually do, I wave DC-bound riders to pass me then I stop and hug the rail so they have plenty of room. (By the way, very few say “Thanks” which really pisses me off.) Today I waved a cyclist to come on by me. He was looking up river at the Georgetown waterfront. He had a wool hat on and it was pulled over his ears.  He kept coming. On my side of the path. Straight at me. I yelled “Wake up!” He kept coming. I yelled again. About ten yards before hitting me, he turned and saw me and swerved around me. I could see wires extending from beneath his cap. He had earplugs in and didn’t hear me. Was the view and the tune worth it?

At the Intersection of Doom, I normally have at least one close encounter with large deadly metal objects each day. Today did not disappoint. Although the light had just turned red (giving me a walk signal), the driver of car turning from the I-66 off ramp decided to turn right without stopping, the better to save a minute on the way to work. As I have learned to do, I delayed crossing to avoid getting hit. I wonder if the driver even thought about the fact that she could have killed me. Was my life worth one minute of her time?  


Our evening contestants included two ninjas. These fine folks wore dark clothing and nothing reflective and no lights as they ran along the Mount Vernon Trail. Was the money you saved on a blinky lights worth it?


Finally, just south of the Beltway, the Mount Vernon Trail takes a 90 degree right and turn across South Street, the access road from Washington Street to two big apartment buildings. A left turning motorist (sounds so refined) didn’t bother to signal saving at least 10 seconds of bulb life. Had I not anticipated his stupidity I’d have been t-boned. Was the bulb life worth mine?

Sadly, these near misses are pretty much typical for my commute. I am very much aware that most of my #bikedc friends have it much worse since they are on city streets for their commutes. I have managed to survive another week of “Was It Worth It?”

Pass the wine.


Bicycling for Escape

Sometimes my bicycle is a vehicle of escape from tragic events. Others it shields me from knowing about them, for a short time at least.

The DC area has had three events that allowed me to escape scary circumstances. On September 11, 2001 I was working in a government office building in L’Enfant Plaza in Southwest DC. When the decision was made to shut the government down, the entire city emptied out. Or tried to. My wife worked in the same building. She drove. I rode. She spent five hours on the road for what is usually a 30 minute drive home. I was home in about two hours. This was longer than normal because I was not allowed to cross the 14th Street Bridge by a very stern looking police officer. Then I was not allowed to approach the Memorial Bridge near the Lincoln Memorial by another very stern looking police officer. So I rode to the opposite side of the bridge where I did not find a very stern looking police officer and rode over the bridge directly toward the crash site at the Pentagon. I turned south along the Mount Vernon Trail and was making good progress when a very stern looking police officer with a very big firearm told me to cross to the other side of the Parkway. It took about ten minutes to do so because so many cars were zooming away from DC. All the while the plume of smoke from the fire at the Pentagon passed overhead.

When the DC snipers were randomly shooting people, it was creepy to be outside. Riding my bike to and from work seemed sensible. The snipers were staking out stationary targets. Even a slow moving target like a bicyclist is less desirable than a man gassing up his car. My biggest worry was that I’d get a flat. I didn’t.

An earthquake hit DC a few years ago. Once again the government shut down. I had no trouble riding home, avoiding yet another immense traffic jam.

I’ve had two other escapes of a different sort. I don’t have a radio on my bike. So when something tragic happens I don’t know about it. For this reason, I didn’t learn that my friend’s best friend had been killed by a bus until 24 hours later. My wife had heard about the incident on the radio but since she didn’t know the victim there was no reason to tell me about it.

On Friday evening I had an enjoyable ride home. My wife walked in the house and said, “Isn’t it awful about Paris?” I had no idea what she was talking about. The news broke during my ride home.

I am torn between wanting to know what’s going on for my own survival and not wanting to know to avoid sadness. It is a comfort that my bike can help me escape danger. What a shame that  it can only old sadness at bay for a short time.

47 Miles for a Cup of Cider

The WABA Cider Ride is one of the last DC bike events of the year. In its first two years it was held in early December. From where I sit, holding a bike ride in December in DC is like holding World Series games in November in Boston. You’re just asking for trouble. Last year trouble arrived in the form of cold temperatures and rain. Even before the ride began I was feeling plenty depressed which only made a bad day suck more. Let’s just say it was not a whole lot of fun. I swore I’d never ride the Cider Ride again. (I also said this after the 2010 50-States Ride and then went on to ride the event four more times.)

Then someone at WABA got a pretty darn great idea: they decided to move the ride up to mid-November. So I signed up to ride the 47-mile option.

The ride began (and ended) at the Dew Drop Inn. This bar is located along the Metropolitan Branch Trail and immediately next to railroad tracks. It is an old building with a shipping container attached. I think one could say it has character.

I arrived about 40 minutes early thanks to non-existent traffic. Michele, the WABA events coordinator, was working with a scruffy crew of unscruffy women (including Sarah, another WABA employee, and volunteers Leslie and Sam) getting the ride’s check in area set up. I helped a little, got my cue sheet and headed out.

The course took us on city streets through middle-class Northeast Washington and into neighboring Mount Rainier, Maryland. Soon we were on the Northwest Branch Trail which follows the northwest branch of the Anacostia river. We traveled north-ish. I had my fingers crossed. Every other time I’ve ridden this trail system I’ve gotten lost. Thanks to many, many well-placed arrow signs, I managed to get only mildly confused a couple of times. One of these befuddlements came because a sign had been blown down. Did I mention it was windy. Well, now you know.

We followed the trail and the arrows. It was not encouraging that course marshalls were stopping to get their bearings. It wasn’t their fault. The directions are almost comical:”Bear left up big hill. Over bridge. Through the woods. Bang a left at Grandma’s house.” At times I was expecting to turn the page and see “HA HA!”

But I didn’t.

We kept following the trail  and the occasional road mostly through College Park until we were all dropped on the outskirts of Greenbelt Maryland. There are hundreds of acres of agricultural land used for research purposes by the Department of Agriculture. The roads are pretty darned nice for cycling. So we cycled.

We rode into the National Wildlife Federation property for a two mile loop through the woods with hardly any auto traffic. This was sweet. We returned through the Ag complex and into Greenbelt. From Greenbelt we wended our way back to College Park for a short ride on the very nice Trolley Trail. Next up was my big goof of the day. After the Trolley Trail we jumped on Route 1 and I took a right onto the Northwest Branch Trail instead of a left. After about 1/2 mile I came upon a course marshal. He told me I was off course and led me back to the point of my mistake and soon I (and the dozen other people who also goofed) was on my way to majestic snow covered Mount Rainier Maryland. (Just kidding. No snow. Just can’t figure out why this town has such a peculiar name.) The rest of the ride was an approximate retracing of the first four miles of the route.

The Cider Ride route is almost as complex and mysterious as the 50-States Ride. This is an incredible achievement made possible only by WABA’s proprietary RRGS (random route generation software). I have heard that NASA is considering using it for a mission to Mars.

There were two pit stops along the route. The first stop was at the 12 mile mark outside Proteus Bicycles in College Park They had warm cider and a ludicrous amount of granola bars and donuts. I felt health conscious and had a cup of cider and a Boston cream donut as I walked to Nelle from WABA. Nelle was in her usual good spirits despite the fact that the wind was threatening to blow her entire pit stop away. She reminded me as I parted that getting lost on a ride this complex is inevitable. You just have to go with the flow.

The second stop was at a park in Greenbelt. Here I selected the healthful choice of hot cocoa and apple pie. I spent a few minutes talking with Colin another WABA staff person. Colin’s bike is an touring bike that seems to have been set up by Dr Frankenstein. Or, considering its ability to carry thermoses, Juan Valdez.

The circuitous route made it hard to tell when you were going to get a tailwind, headwind or crosswind. I assumed that anytime I was going more than 20 miles per hour it was because of a tailwind. I assumed that because my legs were dead right from the start. They were the only legs I had so I did the best I could.

There was an after party at the Dew Drop Inn. There was beer. I drank some. There were chips. I ate them. There was a burrito. I ate it. There were many people I knew from #bikedc. I didn’t eat them.

Just before entering the bar, a young man with a clipboard asked me if my name was on “the list.” I was somewhat surprised to learn that it was. What was this list, I thought? It was the list of people who were given this really nifty mug.


So another Cider Ride is in the books. Many thanks to WABA’s Greg Billing, Nelle Pierson, Colin Browne, and Sarah Katz-Hyman for a great event. Thanks also to the many volunteers who helped out along the course.

Extra special thanks to WABA’s Michelle Cleveland. These events take a ton of time to set up and pull off. As my father said when he was particularly impressed or proud of one of his kids: “You done good.”

I’m Only Sleeping

For most of my life I have been an incompetent sleeper. This turned into weeks on insomnia last winter. Over time I have tried various remedies for my sleep woes. Here are the best ones so far:

  • Thermarest mattress: I have had a gimpy back since I was 19. About 20 years ago I had to have back surgery. Conventional mattresses are brutal on my back, particularly if my back muscles  go into spasm. Some time ago we surrendered and bought a Thermarest mattress. This mattress is made out of high density foam of some sort that conforms to your body. You sleep in it as much as you sleep on it. Because of the foam and the fact that it cradles your body, it traps body heat. (This takes a bit of getting used to). As soon as we started sleeping on this, my need for sleep decreased about an hour a day. One added benefit is the fact that your partner can get in and out of bed and you don’t feel it. The only deficiencies that I have found its that it is harder to sit up and read in bed and the mattress is expensive.
  • Ear plugs and eye mask: I used ear plus successfully on my spring bike tour.Last winter I tried using a Buff as an eye mask. It worked well but 8 hours of use dried out the skin on my face. During my recent around-the-world vacation, I switched to  using a drug store eye mask. The mask and ear plugs kill about 90 percent of the sound and virtually all the light in the room. This is incredibly helpful when your sleeping partner is prone to snoring. (I snore too but unfortunately we don’t cancel each other out.) One caveat: you really shouldn’t use ear plugs if you have kids.
  • Sweat shirt and long sleeve t’s: I find that I get more restful sleep when my body doesn’t notice the decline in temperature from our thermostats set-back feature.
  • Over the counter drugs: My knees and back sometimes want to bark at me in the night. I take ibuprofen with a sleep aid (Advil PM or its equivalent) and I am out like a light and stay out. Since I am allergic to planet earth, I occasionally use the generic version of Nyquil or Benedryl. I think they all have the same drowsiness chemical. The downside to taking these pills is that you wake up a bit groggier than usual, sometimes with a dry mouth. I’ve tried taking melatonin.This is supposed to give you intense dreams as a side benefit. It doesn’t do a thing for me. Obviously, using drugs to get to and stay asleep is not something you want to do on a continuous basis.
  • Exercise: I’d be lost without my bike or my hikes. When I don’t ride, my body isn’t tired until much later than normal.
  • Meditation techniques: if my brain is still filled with chattering monkeys when my head hits the pillow, I use simple meditation techniques to calm it. It’s a bit like counting sheep. Just focus on your breathing. As you relax and your brain calms, you breathing slows. With any kind of luck you’re out like a light in a couple of minutes. (This is probably why some meditation teachers insist on you sitting upright and/or keeping your eyes slightly open.)
  • Alcohol: I get to sleep and i sleep much better when I don’t drink alcohol. Decisions. Decisions.

Using a mix of these things, I have cut my time for sleep down to 6 1/2 to 7 hours. This wasn’t intentional. I think that before I tried this mix of solutions, I’d wake up intermittently, making my sleep much less productive. To get the same amount of rest I’d need many more hours of time in the bed.

I now routinely wake up before 6 am without an alarm.  It’s dark. Maybe I should move to the southern hemisphere for the next five months…

To the Trestle and Back

Today I had the day off for Veterans Day. I still kind of like the original name, Armistice Day, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, and all that.  It’s a decent Paul Simon song too. No disrespect to Veterans, mind you. My father was an amused Veteran. He used to tell the story that medical school students were drafted and left in school. The army would take them out to a base on Long Island and march them around. My father said they were pathetic, skinny, pale, uncoordinated. Gomer Pyles but with brains. My father stayed in the reserves through the Korean War. All this was before my time.

Having the day off, I decided to do one of my favorite rides, from my home in Mount Vernon Virginia to Bethesda, Maryland with a stop at Rock Creek Trestle. The temperature was in the mid-50s when I left with a strong northwest breeze, a headwind. You don’t get many windy days in the DC area when its warm so the breeze was a portent of many cold windy days to come.

I rode my Cross Check on the Mount Vernon Trail to Old Town Alexandria. The trail was covered in leaves and I was fearful of slipping and falling so I was extra careful. Once in Old Town I decided to leave the Mount Vernon Trail and head through most of Alexandria on a couple of newer bike trails. I picked the first trail up just off of West Street and rode it to the Braddock Road Metro station. There I zigzagged to get on the new trail that runs several miles, nearly all the way to Crystal City in Arlington. No lights. No stop signs. No obnoxious ticketing by Alexandria Police.

I rode through Crystal City and hit every traffic light on the green. This NEVER happens. My route took me on Boundary Channel Drive along side acres of Pentagon parking. Then I rode through Lady Bird Johnson Park, under the GW Parkway, up and over the Humpback Bridge, onto the 14th Street Bridge and across the Potomac River.

During this part of the ride the rear fender of the Cross Check became disengaged from its frame mount for what must have been the 20th time. I re-attached it and decided it was time for a permanent fix.

Once in the city, I rode the the K Street Bicycle Space store where a mechanic did what mechanics do and soon I had a fender that would not fall off. Knock wood. During the repair, I noticed that Paul, the mechanic most likely to play Doc Brown in Back to the Future IV, was working on an HP Velotechnik Street Machine. This is a recumbent to die for. The owner and I talked about the bike. He bought it from a Canadian for $1,500 Canadian. New this bike costs 2 – 3 times as much. The owner, who looked to be in my age cohort, rode it across the country. Dang! Bike envy!!!

Another customer came in to get her bike ready for Saturday’s Cider Ride. I didn’t have a chance to talk to her but maybe I’ll see her during the ride.

From Bicycle Space I headed up Sixth Street to check out the church whose congregation is upset by the possibility of having to share the street with a protected bike lane. Sixth Street is WIDE. I don’t see the problem here other than selfishness.

Beach Drive

Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park

I wended my way through town and up the protected 15th Street bike lane at Meridian Hill. This short hill is quite a bitch, I must say. I recovered by doing a slow lap in the park. On weekends the park is a hive of activity but today it was nearly deserted. I checked out the view of the water cascade and then headed through Adams Morgan to Rock Creek Park.

On weekends and holidays, Beach Drive, the main drag in the park, has limited car access. I rode north on the windy road, wind in my face, sun on my shoulders. It was a mighty fine ride. I made my way to the Georgetown Branch Trail and to the Rock Creek Trestle. The view from above the treetops is one of my favorites.

RC from Trestle

Rock Creek View from the Trestle

RCT and CC

The Cross Check Takes a Breather on the Trestle High above Rock Creek Park


Georgetown Branch Trail Heading West from the Trestle

After taking some pictures I headed west on the trail to Bethesda. I could tell that my body was not feeling it today. I still haven’t recovered from Sunday’s hike. I slogged on stopping only to refill my water bottles when I should have stopped to eat.

In Bethesda I picked up the mostly downhill Capital Crescent Trail and a tailwind. Ahhh.

Normally I be bombing along this trail at 20+ miles per hour but not today. I was suffering from insufficient junk food syndrome or IJFS. Don’t get this. Eat you donuts, people!!!

On the way home I rode past the Lincoln Memorial. I expected the place to be mobbed with Veterans checking out the nearby Vietnam, Korean, and WWII Memorials. There were plenty of people, many obviously veterans, milling about but I think whatever festivities there were had concluded hours earlier.

I made my way to the 14th Street Bridge and retraced my route to the south end of Old Town. Not wanting to ride the Mount Vernon Trail for the 400th time this year (a guess, but not too far off), I took Fort Hunt Road and Sherwood Hall Lane home. This is a pretty hilly route and I had nothing left in my legs so the going was slow.

Long story short:I managed to ride 55 1/2 miles on a sunny November Day. Not half bad.

A Bicycling Hostile City – Again

Once again the police of Alexandria Virginia are singling out bicyclists by means of excessive enforcement of traffic laws on the streets of Old Town, Alexandria. The primary points of enforcement are along Union and Royal Streets which coincide with the Mount Vernon Trail. The usual reason for the enforcement (sometimes euphemistically referred to as educational efforts) is not an increase in bicycle-pedestrian crashes, but rather the cranky complaints of a handful of residents. Admittedly sometimes these complaints are justified. An example is when Walter Mittys in lycra go zooming through the streets with no regard for any other road user. These people are obnoxious and deserve whatever tickets they get.

Generally speaking, however, most of the people that get ticketed are the bike commuters who probably average about 10 miles per hour during their time in Old Town. In the morning these bike commuters (like me) are riding on a virtually empty street. Personally I’d rather be focused on delivery and garbage trucks than some overzealous police officer trying to teach me a lesson.

The fine for rolling through a stop sign is $91. And cyclists get tickets for these infractions even when their transgressions have absolutely no impact on public safety. Yeah, I know the argument goes that if you obey the law you won’t get a ticket. Well, how many people who use that argument go below the 55 mile per hour speed limit on the Beltway? Now suppose I called the State Police to claim that red Toyoty Camrys are speeding on the Beltway. And then the State Police strictly enforced the speed limit only for red Toyota Camrys. “Sorry,sir, the speed limit is 55 and you were doing 57.”

While driving 57 in a 55 is technically in violation of the law, it’s almost certainly safe and is probably more safe than driving 54 (as is rolling through a stop sign at slow speed. See my first example below.) I can only imagine the traffic court judge who has to deal with scores of red Camry drivers who show up to contest tickets for going 2 miles per hour above the speed limit. He’d throw them out and reprimand the ticketing officers.

The fact is that cars on Union Street are far more of a public safety threat than bicycles. Here are three recent incidents from my evening commute.

  • One evening last week, I was being paranoid and came to a complete stop at all the stop signs. It was dark. I even put my foot to the ground. (This makes me a sitting duck to any vehicle coming up from my rear.) A Honda CRV came up behind me swerved into the left hand lane and blew through the stop sign without breaking. The car was going what looked to me like 15 to 20 miles per hour. From personal experience, I can tell you that if that car hit a pedestrian at that speed they’d be out of work for at least 3 months. Because that is what happened to my wife three years ago. The driver continued south on Union, blowing through a second stop sign before pulling over near the beach volleyball court in a park at the south end of Union. As I rode past, I noticed the driver was fiddling with her cell phone.
  • Last night I was riding south on Union when I came to a stop at the intersection at King Street. It was dark. A pedestrian wearing a reflective belt across her chest was about to walk across the street in the crosswalk. She had to stop because a car came through the intersection heading north on Union with only its parking lights on. The driver never saw the pedestrian. The pedestrian looked at me and shook her head in disbelief.
  • Two blocks later I was blinded by a northbound car with its high beams on. This blast of light backlit three pedestrians dressed in dark clothing walking across the street in mid block. Had I been going anywhere near the absurdly high 25 mile per hour speed limit I’d have hit them for sure. After I passed them, still in the glare of the high beams I spotted two more mid street pedestrians who were obscured by the intense back light.

If you think I may have contributed to this consider the following set up. I have two rear facing red lights one of which is attached to my helmet with a reflective yellow band. I have four rear facing reflectors. I was wearing a reflective vest. My sidewalls are made of reflective white material. My shoes and pedals have reflectors on them. I have one forward facing reflector and a 500 lumen light on my helmet. If you can’t see me, you obviously don’t belong behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

My short term remedy to avoid this harassment is to use other cross streets in Old Town. Some bike commuters have suggested just riding down Washington Street, the very heavily traveled commuter route to and from DC. I honestly think we should give this serious consideration. The traffic back ups from this would be epic.

My medium term remedy is to do a study of crashes involving pedestrians and vehicles in Old Town. How many are there? When do they occur? What injuries occur? How many days of work are lost? (Wanna bet who would come out on the short end of this study?) Then use the data to enforce the traffic laws rationally.

My longer-term remedy for traffic safety in Old Town: reduce the speed limit to 10 miles per hour. Sorry drivers you’ll have to use that pedal in the middle of the floor. Replace every other stop sign with a yield sign. Enforce the traffic laws without harassment, including ticketing drivers. Problem solved.

And while we are at it, give parking tickets to the homeowners on North Union street who park perpendicular to the street blocking the sidewalk and the bike lane. I routinely see the parking enforcement patrol ignore these violations.