Only 400 States – What a Slacker

My favorite bike event is the 50 States Ride here in DC. I’ve written about it many times. It’s hilly. It’s hot, except when it rains like a monsoon. It’s long. It has an impossibly complicated cue sheet. And I have met dozens of people doing it.

For some reason I have had it in my head that this September would be my 10th time riding it. Nope. Only number 9. Bless me father for I have sinned.

I did the ride in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016. I skipped 2008 and 2009 to attend my son’s high school football games. 2010 was so hard that I never wanted to do it again before being coerced by a friend who I met on the 2007 ride. By 2014, I had once again decided to retire but the same friend convinced me to do it again. In 2015 I was in Australia visiting my globe trotting kids. Last year was a solo effort.

So this year will be number 9. I am delaying my bike tour just so I can ride it. Registration isn’t yet open. I highly recommend doing this ride at least once, especially if you are new to DC.

Not to get ahead of myself, but if all goes according to plan, I’ll do the 2018 50 States Ride as a victory lap after a cross country bike tour.

Stay tuned.  xxx

 

 

Weekend Round Up

Dang am I tired!

I rode to the baseball game yesterday. The weather was great. It was a 4 pm start. I figured I’d get home long before dark.

Then the Nationals put 18 runs on the board against the woeful Reds. You know you’re in trouble when your pitcher’s first name is “Homer”. I am not making this up.

I nearly got whiplash from watching batted balls fly all over the place. Home plate had a dent in it by the 8th inning.

I rode home at twilight. I used blinky LED lights and made it about 2/3rds of the way home before it became legitimately dark. Rather than stop and mount my real light, I carried on. The entire ride would have been wonderful but for the exploding midge population along the river.  Ick.

Today I got up and did some light yard work. Mostly I cut branches so that I could ride straight to the shed in my backyard without getting my face all torn up.

After writing an unintentionally woo woo blog post, I hopped on my bike and headed back to the ballpark for another game. This time the Reds scored a bunch of runs early and the game dragged on under a hot sun for over 3 hours. I was fried despite the sunscreen I applied. Rather than buy beer, I bought water.

The game really was a dud to watch. So I kept looking up and the clouds drifting over the park. The sky was just perfect.

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I left quickly and rode home on impulse power. All weekend the trail was cluttered with people in groups riding slowly on rental bikes and Bikeshare tanks. Little kids popped up as if obstacles in a video game.

I did not drop one single f-bomb. (Takes a bow.)

I even stopped to help a woman on a Bikeshare bike who crashed. I saw her go down and knew it wasn’t serious, but these things tend to feel much worse than they are. It took her about five or ten minutes to let the pain dissipate and to get her composure. We sent her on her way. “Finish your ride, then drink some wine.” She and her partner liked the idea. Then I said “No tylenol.” When I told her that tylenol and alcohol are toxic to the liver she was shocked. She explained she regularly took tylenol before drinking to avoid a hangover.  My work here is done.

When I got home I was pretty tired from riding and sitting in the sun. So I mowed my lawn. What a maroon. I am now officially rode hard and put away wet.

Tomorrow I am dropping my daughter’s car off for service and cutting 24 miles off my bike commute. It’s a bit like resting your old players in a day game after a night game.

Finally a note about yesterday’s blog post. A friend of mine, who I will call Brian because that is his real name (or so he tells me), declared me to be his guru. He is currently sitting on my back porch meditating which is appropriate given the twisted provenance of the title of his advice column in the local weekly newspaper. Anyway, he will henceforth be referred to herein as Sexy Sadie.

The thing is my woo woo post was actually motivated by the neurology of attention. A few years ago there was a video about attention that went viral. It demonstrates that our brains have limited processing capability, especially when assigned a complex task. Watch a teenager learning to drive. They are overwhelmed mentally. They have to sort out what’s important and what’s not. Over time, they learn to tune out the “not”.  We all do. The problem comes when the “not” unexpectedly becomes important. This happens a lot when you’re driving.

Another takeaway from this is the fact that we are on autopilot so much of the time. Walk into the kitchen. Grab a cookie. If you want to lose weight, all you have to do is become aware of your brain seeking a little pleasure reward and ask “Is this a need or a want?” If you want to increase your savings you do the same before you buy anything.  This may explain why I am an incompetent consumer.

What flips me out is the fact that your brain can hyper focus during an emergency. Mrs. Rootchopper and I both experienced this when we each were hit by a car. It turns out that for brief bursts our brains can pay attention to and absorb an astounding amount of information with incredible clarity. It’s really unsettling, in a way. You have more thoughts than you normally have time to think them.  So you normally unthink them. Your brain knows to ignore the useless stuff. If you stop for a few minutes and refocus on them, you’ll find out what you are missing. As it turns out, you’re missing a lot.

Who knew?

 

 

Awareness, or Going from Soon to Nope

This morning I went out on my deck and made an obvious discovery. The suburbs are supposed to be quiet but they are not. It’s noisy out there. Somehow, in the grind of daily life, we tune it all out.

I was just sitting there feeling groggy from too many miles, too many midges consumed on the ride home from yesterday’s baseball game. I closed my eyes. And listened.

Crows. Cardinals. Assorted other birds. The general hum of the traffic on US 1 about a mile away. (Sounds a bit like a kitchen exhaust fan set on low.) The leaves rustling in the wind. The occasional jet plane over head.

Listen more closely.

A voice in the distance singing what sounds like a very spacy tune. The clacking sound of squirrels. The rumble of a truck on the nearby side street. The more I listen, the closer I pay attention, the more birds I hear. There are layers of them that I tune out. The coo of a dove. A horsefly buzzing by.

I found out later that meditators call this choiceless awareness. Of course, you can play the game with just one sense or all your senses, but that seems rather overwhelming. Hell, I can close my eyes and see all kinds of interesting things on the inner side of my eye lids. Floaters. Blood vessels. A glow from the light through the skin. A dead spot where my retina was reattached. The retina itself. More floaters. (Floaters are like bird songs. The more you pay attention to them the more you detect.)

This passive noticing is good fun. You can easily piss all over the fun part if you sit there with your eyes open and notice that the world is a rather grungy place. The deck needs washing. The lawn is too tall. There are spots of mildew on the siding. This chair has gross dirt all over it. I’ll keep my eyes closed, thank you.

A few months ago I noticed what I think is the opposite of choiceless awareness. It has to do with flipping your visual processing on its head. We see that we are passing through various environments. The shrubs on the side of the trail. Grass. The river, The tree limbs hanging down. There’s too much of it and we tune most of it out. This explains what going somewhere new can be overwhelming. We don’t know what is important for our task at hand and what is useless visual clutter. Which of those road signs matter? What landmarks are important? And so on.

So one night I stumbled into focusing my attention on a limb overhanging the trail as I rode toward it. Instead of me riding toward it past it, my mind flipped this on its head. Instead of me passing through the landscape, the landscape was passing by me. The limb took on an eerie fake 3-D quality with everything around it out of focus.

From time to time, I play with this inverted awareness on my bike commutes. Just another way to go into a bike trance.

This awareness game does not work at all with faces or names. At least not for me. I can’t detect Chris M. at all, but I have regular sightings of dopplegangers for Bob (Don’t Call Me Rachel) Cannon and Flogini. They are both distinctive looking but my brain just gets them visually mixed up with other people. I can’t even…

The other day I saw a woman on the trail riding toward me. I was on my recumbent. She smiled (this happens a lot when you’re on a bent) as she rode past and I nodded. There were familiar laugh lines on her face. And shoulder length dark brown hair fell from beneath her helmet. She was fit and riding an upright bike. Flogini? I haven’t seen her in over a year. Was it her? I texted her. He one syllable answer: “Nope.” Loquacious, no? We’ve gone from “soon” to “nope”. Maybe that’s the problem.

Oh well, things are always looking up.

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Key West Bike Tour Planning

  • My Atlantic Coast Route maps have arrived from the Adventure Cycling Association. I spent an hour plotting a tour from DC to Key West.
  • There are many maps covering about 30 miles per map. Each one has tons of detail indicating camping, food and lodging locations along the way. Mostly this means that you have to curtail a day here and there to find a place to rest your head. It also means that getting past Miami will likely involve riding a century. This will not be a whole lot of fun.
  • Each of the maps has a narrative. Sections of the Florida Atlantic coast sound very unfun. There are long sections of the route with no bicycle repair facilities. Derp.
  • I addition to riding the main route straight to Key West, there are four optional side trips to choose from.
    • I can ride the outer banks of North Carolina. This adds 80 miles and about 2 days to the trip. It might also add a whole lot of wind. And sand. I’ll probably take the inner route since I have already driven the outer banks.
    • A spur route goes to Charleston. This would be fun. Another 2 days.
    • A second spur route goes to Savannah. Another 2 days.
    • There is an alternate route through the Okefenokee Swamp. This only adds 15 miles and I’ll almost certainly do it just for the bragging rights.
  • I tried to plot a course that averaged 60 miles per day. It’s not really doable, because of camping/lodging issues. I’ll probably end up averaging 70 miles per day which is okay since I don’t expect to be dealing with a lot of hills once I get to North Carolina. I am more concerned about wind and thunderstorms and meth addled rednecks and alligators. Oh my.
  • A possible alternate route would take me diagonally through Florida from Jacksonville to Orlando and on to Fort Myers on the southwest coast of the penninsula where I would take a ferry to Key West then ride back to Miami. The instructions for riding in Fort Myers are pretty scary. (Ride on sidewalk. Take the lane. Call your momma.) Also, this diagonal route might cause me to bypass Saint Augustine which might be the coolest thing ever.
  • I am still debating with myself whether to do this as a straight unsupported tour or to do Jacksonville to Key West as part of a supported charity ride. The charity ride has lots of logistical advantages. Basically I’d flip the tour on its head. I’d have the bike transported to Jacksonville at the start, ride back to Key West, then get a lift in the support support van, back to Jacksonville, and ride home). The charity ride adds the burden of raising $2,000 by October. Over the last weeke or two, I have watched a friend drive herself to distraction raising money for a charity (for a different ride) in the last couple of weeks. Being a world class introvert, I honestly don’t need the stress nor do I feature hitting people up for money. Worst case scenario: I raise only a couple hunder bucks and I’m on the hook for the shortfall.
  • I can think of a thousand reasons not to do this trip at all. So the thought of just getting on the damned bike and riding until I run out of road has a very strong appeal. I can figure out the return logistics once I get to the Keys. There are three options: fly back, take a train, or rent a van and drive my ass home. What I don’t want to do is schedule the return too far in advance. Then I would stress out about meeting a flight or train for the last week or two. The best option is to fly Southwest back (using points) and ship the bike home via bikeflights.com.
  • I know of 3 or 4 people who live directly on route (depending on my specific route). I am not above mooching a layover at their places.
  • Finally, there is the unanswered question: what size bike pump would I need to fend off meth-addled rednecks and alligators?

 

Summer Solstice Bike Commute

I left home an hour early today, not because it is the summer solstice but because I needed to get home early. The weather could not have been better: warm with a touch of humidity. I didn’t see any of my regulars; I was traveling too early for that.

When I passed beneath the Woodrow Wilson Bridge I noticed that the sun was on the north side of the bridge. Big Nellie thought this was odd too. (I’ll bet you didn’t know that bikes have thoughts. They do. It’s some kind of two wheeled woo woo thing.) It made me think of the short days of winter. I hate winter. I should get a summer home in New Zealand or Australia or Argentina.

I often see Chris, Kathy, Dave, Shawn, or lawyer Mike during my bike commutes. Although they also bike commute along part of my route, I hardly ever see Paul, Emilia, or Flogini. I half expected to see one of them today, because of my early departure from home. No dice. Maybe they lie about bike commuting and carpool together. Maybe they see me coming and hide. I would if I were them.

I took a picture of a man fishing on his boat in the Potomac River with the Washington Monument in the background. Fishing must be an introverts delight. I’d probably get into it if I didn’t think fish and bait and unhooking a fish were gross. The picture was taken from the Humpback Bridge. I love that name. It was named after Ronald Humpback, the recently expired bridge superintendent for the Department of the Interior. Or not.

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You can see the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial. Also, you can just make out the Smithsonian Construction Crane exhibit. Would I lie about such a thing?

 

 

A Corpse and a Rainbow

A strong tailwind pushed me as I rode to work as usual on Monday. 14 miles into my ride I reached Theodore Roosevelt Island. As I rode past the parking lot I saw a fire and rescue crew removing a body from the Potomac River. The only detail in the newspaper this morning was the fact that the body’s gender could not be identified. Eww.

Last night a massive line of thunderstorms moved through the DC area just as I would have been going home. Fortunately my office had a happy hour after work.  Wave after wave of the storm tore past as I drank my beer. Happy hour indeed. I left at 7 pm and rode home. Just some clouds  A half mile from home I looked up and saw a rainbow.

So it goes.

 

The Brain Squirrels Have Their Say

They pulled a body from the river today

He was born on third base

Now he’s nothing but a bag of bones

Good bye blue Mondays

Put a Buddha in the bathroom

Paint it teal to make it feel roomy

You can kill a rain forest

For a night of pure love

She started a salad bar fight

And took instagram pictures of her gluten free food

Even if you screw up the ratios

They’ll still like the shape of your crepes

You can fly around the world

See the Maoris’ eyes and tongues

Watch the penguins come ashore

As the ladyboys go to a show

See a sheik in the airport

With his tall glass of water

Climb the spirals inside and out

And float in a blue lagoon.

It’s all just ass and panties

If you simply begin again

Go back to where you started

We’ll get together soon enough

 

 

Fuzzy goslings, unfuzzy maps, and dead ducklings

Today was a recovery day. My legs and back were sore from yesterday’s 38 mile ride. I suppose I should be used to this. Event rides in cities are a lot harder than the mileage indicates. They are filled with starts and stops and short hills.

Goslings Take Over DC

So today I rode Big Nellie to work. It was warm in the morning then downright hot on the way home. About a mile from work at the Memorial Bridge the trail was covered in goslings.  They didn’t seem to care that I was there and neither did the attending adults.

They had the decency to get out of my way.

Just the Thing for a Mapaholic

When I got home, I jumped in the car to fetch Little Nellie from the bike shop. The folks at Spokes Etc. turned around a cable and housing replacement in 24 hours instead of the promised 48 hours. Well done. Now Little Nellie shifts freely again.

While I was waiting for the mechanic to ring me up, I noticed this on the counter.

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No, not the electric bike demo. The new Fairfax County Bike map! Back in the winter I went to the Fairfax County Transportation Department offices to help with this project. The planners had set up a roomful of long tables. The tables were covered with draft versions of the map. Area cyclists like me were asked to annotate the maps. Mostly we looked for errors and wrote comments about bikeability.

I should confess here that I am a total mapaholic. So this map makes me very excited. (I know. Get a life, dude.)

I haven’t had a chance to look at it in detail but my cursory examination says FDOT did a great job on this. Congratulations.

Dead Ducks

Finally, there is some bad news to report. I have been complaining all spring that there has been a dearth of ducklings this year. I was really jealous when I saw a friend’s Facebook pictures of ducklings in the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial. Well, I am sorry to say that they are probably all dead. A parasite has taken up residence there and it kills ducklings. The pool is being drained this week.

 

 

 

 

Solo in Charm City, Hon

Today was the annual Tour Dem Parks, Hon ride in Baltimore. Charm City has its, well, charms, and, as it turns out, so does this ride. I learned about this ride from my friend Paris who I ran into a couple of years ago when I was visiting Baltimore. Paris was in the middle of the ride and having a blast. So, it went on my to-do list.

Things didn’t start particularly well. I had hoped that my friend Linel, bike commuter and mama to Daphne the wonder dog, was hoping to join me. Sadly she bailed last night. So I did the ride solo.

The ride is a counterclockwise circuit of the city of Baltimore. The route passes through eight city parks. Along the way, the ride shows off the city’s extensive bike route system, including the Jones Falls, Gwynns Falls, and Herring Run Trails.

The trails and the city could use a lot of sprucing up. Some of the trails were riddled with tree routes. Some of them are signed routes on sidewalks.  The city is a strange mix of beautifully restored and maintained old buildings, hundreds of row houses, and a depressing number of dilapidated buildings, commercial, industrial, and residential. It struck me as sad that I was riding through slums with a view of a publicly funded football stadium in the distance.

Normally, I bring a point and shoot camera with me.  And I did today. I forgot to charge its battery so there would be no picture taking on the fly.

Enough depressing stuff. The ride itself began in very comfortable temperatures with pleasant breezes. Since it begins on a trail there is a long string of bicycles for the first five miles. You just have to be chill, and I was. Not having a working camera or anyone riding with me made for a very meditative mood. I’d get into my trance focusing on my legs spinning then snap out of it when another rider would do something unexpected (like veer in front of me, stop in the middle of the trail, etc.)

The scenery varied. Druid Hill Park, the Cylburn Arboretum, and Gwynns Falls and Leaking Park were all stellar. They provided dense shade and rippling streams. At one point we went through Dickeyville, a 19th century village. The road wound past stone walls and picket fences. Beautiful.

Long stretches of the ride were on city streets. Traffic was practically non existent. This let me get my speed fix. My Cross Check may weight a lot but it can roll nicely.

After Leaking Park we rode to the Inner Harbor, passing briefly through Carroll Park.  Near the inner harbor we climbed to Federal Hill Park with its views of the harbor.

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After the inner harbor we went to Patterson Park where we had a rest stop at a pagoda. This is such a beautiful structure and a stop you really need to make if you ever visit. It’s not always open. (It was today but I passed on taking in the view from the top. I’ve climbed the steps many times before.)

 

 

 

 

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Just behind the pagoda there was a yoga class wrapping up on the lawn. Shucks, I missed it.

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The ride headed on city streets into the northeastern section of the city.  Clifton Park seemed more about playing fields than most of the rest of the parks. This was followed by Herring Run Park, where there was a rest stop at 32 miles. My cue sheet had a big 35 on the front so I wondered why a rests top was needed three miles from the finish. The answer was that the ride was actually 37 miles long.

Once we entered the Inner Harbor area we were riding on shadeless streets and the temperature was in the low 90Fs, warmer still because of all the asphalt and the masonry row houses.

So what’s a couple more miles when your cookin’, right. As it turns out the last two miles were in shady Druid Hill Park. Ahh.

On the way up the next to last hill, I ran into John Roche pulling daughter Ellie in a trailer. John used to live in DC, but he and his wife Kate left town a couple of years ago. We chatted for a minute. Ellie was looking pretty wiped out. They headed home and I headed to the finish for a burger (excellent), a hot dog (meh), and a cold beer (might fine).

Before leaving for DC, I stopped by John’s house. I expected Ellie to be asleep but she was full of energy. The last time I saw John and Kate, Kate was past her due date, so this was my first time to hang out with Ellie. She’s a charmer. She speaks a form of English only day care teachers can translate. Talking to her was a bit like watching a French movie; I could understand a word here and there, but it was hard work. After an hour or so, I headed back to DC.

I think the drive home was harder than the ride. I was groggy from the heat.

Bottom line: this is a ride well worth doing. It is a good companion ride to the Tour du Port event that I’ve done four or five times.

 

Full Moon Baseball

Twice this spring I have had tickets to baseball games that were rained out. The first one was called before I got to the ballpark, but I managed to make it an eventful day by being hit by an SUV. For the second game, I rode to the ballpark from work and stood around for an hour while the rain came down. The game was called and I rode home in what I expected to be steady rain. Once I was a few miles along, the rain stopped. Go figure.

So the makeup game to that second rainout was last night. I sat with two co-workers, Bob and Karen, and Richie, who retired after working with Bob for many years. I rode to the ballpark on Little Nellie in case I wanted to get a ride home from Bob by folding Little Nellie up and dropping her in the trunk of his car.

The Nationals arrived back from a west coast road trip at 1 am. This meant that many of the older star players would be getting the night off. The starting pitcher had been struggling all season. So I was expecting the Nationals to lose and for the fans rooting for the Orioles to be really obnoxious.

Instead the Nationals dominated from the outset. The good guys won 6-1 thanks to the performance of Dos Padres, speedy shortstop Trea Turner and pitcher Joe Ross. Turner and Ross are young players that the Nationals acquired in a trade with the San Diego Padres. What were the Padres thinking? These two guys are great.  Turner never hit the ball out of the infield but managed to get on base on three weak singles. Then he stole bases at will. He also made one of the best defensive plays I’ve seen. Ross pitched up a storm, striking out 12 and lasting into the 7th inning.

The haircut on the kid sitting in front of me was as good as the game. He got it for the last day of school.  Sister Irma would have had a heart attack if one of us showed up with a mohawk.

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During the game a full moon rose over the Anacostia River to the east of the park. This was a good omen for my ride home. The game was over by about 10 p.m. and I made my way to the bike valet. I usually run into Klarence there but not this night. (I miss you Klarence, but, no worries, my mouth’s still bleeding. Stay proud.)

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Once clear of the ballpark traffic I made my way around the Jefferson Memorial and over the 14th Street bridge to Virginia and the Mount Vernon Trail. The moonlight reflected off the river and made for a sweet transit.

The trail, of course, was empty. The air was cooling and I was rolling along in trance mode. The moonlight reflecting off the path was only occasionally disturbed by car headlights on the parkway.

I rolled through Old Town Alexandria and didn’t see a single car. There were no tourists. Only peaceful quiet soothing breezes, and the glow from the moon.

Back on the trail south of the beltway, I started down from the bridge over Cameron Run. I spotted a dark mass at the bottom of the brief decline in the shadows. It was a homeless person, dressed completely in dark clothing huddled along the left edge of the trail facing the bushes along the river. If he did not have white hair, I don’t know if I would have even seen him.

The rest of the ride on the trail was just me and the cooling evening air with Mr. Moonlight casting a glow on the proceedings. No bugs to annoy, only a breeze and the sound of my breathing.

Cutting through a neighborhood about a mile from home, there was movement. An animal darting across the road in front of me. A mature fox was crossing the street at a trot. The fox population has exploded near my home in recent years. They tend not to care a whole lot about humans being around, even humans on funny looking machines.

Little Nellie made quick work of the last half mile and we flew across the lawn into the back yard. I didn’t really need my bike light to open my shed; it was illuminated by the moon.

I honestly can’t say which was better, the game or the ride home. I’ll have to try again. Soon.