Hot and Fast with Nellie

I am still recovering from the back spasms that knocked me for a loop last week so I decided to go on a ride with my Tour Easy recumbent.  This bike is incredibly fast downhill.  When I first got it, I would freak out at how fast the decents could be.  I found myself yelling “Whoa, Nellie!” whenever things seemed to be getting a bit too speedy.  The name stuck and the bike is now Nellie;  Of course, I also had a habit of yelling “Holy Shit!” just before “Whoa, Nellie!” but I decided that Shit just didn’t work well as a bike name.

Today Nellie and I went for a ride to Fort Washington MD.  This ride is made possible by the nifty bike lane that runs along the north side of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.  If you live or visit DC, you’d be doing yourself a favor by riding across the bridge.  There are bump outs with tourist trappy binoculars for checking out the sights.  Most people ride over to National Harbor. The biggest building in National Harbor is the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center.  Not surprisingly National Harbor is teeming with tourists who often where “HELLO” name tags.  It’s a bit of a work in progress.  There are two things worth doing there. One is drinking a milk shake at Elevation Burger and the other is getting a shot of yourself sitting in Prometheus’s mouth at the Awakening Statue.  This used to be in East Potomac Park before the National Park Service decided to have it removed apparently because it was more popular with tourists than the FDR memorial.  FDR would be a lot more popular if his statue was 30 feet high and you could climb on his head.

If you don’t ride to National Harbor your only choice is to ride up a long hill to Oxon Hill Road.  Once you get to the top you can take a left into traffic hell or hand a right and head down to Fort Washington.  Fort Washington is an early 19th century fort that guards the capital from invaders along the Potomac River. It’s basically a well preserved mess o’ red bricks but for the little kid in you it’s hard to beat.  Also, in Fort Washington is the Fort Washington Marina.  Since I had already toured the fort, I headed for the Marina.  It’s pretty easy navigating: Oxon Hill Road to a right on Livingston Road to a right on Fort Washington Road.

Oxon Hill Road is a busy two-lane suburban street that has a paved shoulder that comes and goes. The pavement is a bit rough so it’s not exactly a pleasant ride.  Just before the Livingston Road turn, there is a big down hill run.  Nellie hit 42 miles per hour on that sucker today and I wasn’t even pushing the pace.  Nellie is really long so she’s quite stable at high speed. Unlike conventional bike, recumbents keep you low to the ground which lends a street luge vibe to these little escapades.

There are quite a few rollers on the route so I broke 30 miles per hour several times.  The ride down to the marina being one of them. The marina seemed pretty dead so I stopped to take Nellie’s picture next to a colorful boat parked in the lot. 

The downside to riding a recumbent is that uphills take a long time. Nellie has beaucoup little gears so she is up to the task.  Once again, we managed to hit 40 miles per hour on the return which is only fair since I had to grind up a couple of hills at 3 to 4 miles per hour. After one of these uphill fun fests it dawned on me that it was getting hot.  How hot was it?

Plenty.

I decided to be sensible and head for home.  I stopped for fluids and a snack twice on the way back and am happy to report that I am all set to do a nice long ride tomorrow. I’m taking the day off from work. I’m thinking of taking Nellie out for lunch in Occoquan.

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Anything Can Happen

Most of the riding on my bike commutes is uneventful. Fun, to be sure, but mundane. Still I try to keep my eye open for the unusual and, more often than not, I am rewarded for my vigilance. Today was one of those “rewarding” days.

On the way into work, about a mile from home, I stopped for a red light and spotted this notice attached to a telephone pole next to the road. Missing.  A cognitively disabled girl had walked out of her group home and vanished. All the way in I thought of stories behind the poster. Did she leave with someone? To find someone? To get away from someone? Is she alive? Did she stick her thumb out and catch a random ride to some faraway place? Or is she just wandering around the neighborhood?

There is another odd thing about the picture. Look at how many staples and tacks are in the telephone pile.  This pole is the poor man’s Craigslist of our neighborhood!

Despite the fact that it was a Friday in the summer in DC, I lingered at work until 5:30.  I check weather.com at 4 and it was 104 degrees outside. I figured it was best to wait the heat out.  Good thing I waited; it was a brisk 99 degrees when I left.  After 9 miles of riding I was soaked in sweat and about to cross the line from Alexandria City and Fairfax County on the Mount Vernon Trail.  At just about this time, two Alexandria City fire trucks went screaming past on the adjacent Parkway headed toward Mount Vernon in Fairfax County.  For the next 10 minutes I wondered what was so serious that Fairfax had to borrow equipment from Alexandria. When I was two miles from home I found out why.

A two-story house on Ridgecrest Drive about a block west of the Mount Vernon Trail had caught fire.  Fire trucks and ambulances were all over the place. A hose filled with water snaked down the street. The house was set back from the road and sat on its lot at an angle to the street. I could see smoke coming from the house and a ladder leading to an upstairs window. 

I overheard some neighbors talking. They said no one was hurt. Off to the side EMTs were getting a woman ready for transport.  She was sitting up on the gurney and didn’t seem to be in discomfort. I felt for the firefighters who were just melting in the heat. I suppose it’s better than fighting fires when it is so cold they end up covered in ice.

I continued on to home wondering what happened here.  A fire in the middle of the day is rare. Was the fire upstairs?  Short of falling asleep with a lit cigarette, I can’t think of many things on the second floor of my house that could cause a fire. 

It’s good to be home in my group house.  No fires. No lost loved ones.

I’m Back in the Saddle Again. Make that the Comfy Seat

About a week ago my lower back went into a muscle spasm that has left me leaning to my right from my waist up.  It looks weird and is very painful.  The cure for these back episodes is similar to the cure for the common cold: rest for 7 to 10 days. Medicine doesn’t much help. Stretching is futile. Doctors usually prescribe muscle relaxants and painkillers.  These are as effective as shooting Superman with a bb gun. 

Before she left for the office on Thursday last, Mrs.Rootchopper’s suggested I use some of her major league medications. She had these as a reward for being run over by an SUV.  The painkiller is dilaudid.  It is seven times more powerful than morphine. I know this because her doctors told us that several times. (How the heck did they come up with that number anyway.  Do they have a pain-o-meter someplace?)  She also suggested I try an anti-inflamatory called Mobic.  These little suckers are powerful.  They helped reduce the swelling in her legs overnight. My back is apparently from Krypton because neither of these medicines had the slightest effect whatsoever on me.  Except for the fact that the dilaudid gave me a colossal headache. And one, or both, made me nauseous.  My sister-in-law suggested that I eat some ice cream to calm my stomach.  Comfort food seemed like a good idea at the time.  Not so much. About an hour later, however, I was bowing to the porcelain god.  Many offerings later, I fell fast asleep in a painful ball on the floor of the family room..

While all this was going on we were experiencing a record heat wave here in DC.  It was something like 105 degrees outside. I’m pretty sure that was Farenheit, but I could be mistaken.  In any case, when I awoke it became pretty clear to me that the air conditioner had met its match and shut down.  By the time Mrs. Rootchopper came home it was 90 degrees in the house. We’re havin’ fun now!

Day two came and so did the AC repairman (T J Fannon & Sons rocks!).  I was still hobbling around like Igor in search of a brain for the monster. By day three the house was back to its normal frigid state and I was still in pain, and brainless.  (Master! Master!) On day four I ever so carefully left the house for some social interaction at a cook out for the Bike Friday Club of DC.  I drove my New World Accord. It doesn’t fold.  They let me in anyway. Along the way I bought a bicycle trainer from my friend Chelli. Carrying it into the house when I got home was big fun. Not.

I went back to work on day five taking a mighty long time to get to and from the car.  Fast forward to day eight, which would be today. I was feeling okay when the alarm went off. Still sore to be sure.  I decided to ride to work.  I rode my Tour Easy recumbent and I am happy to report I made it to and from work without incident.  I don’t think the riding made things any worse so I am riding in tomorrow as well.

If you’ve never ridden a recumbent, you should give it a go.  Coming down a big hill on mine is more like street luge than biking.  It takes a little getting used to.  The view from the seat is very different from a conventional bike.  Especially when the fairing is a scratched up mess.  Check it out.

Without the Tour Easy I would not have been able to ride.  To ride this bike properly without messy your knees up, you have to spin at a high rate against a low gear. The spinning motion was kind to my back.  As was the big foam cushion of a seat. It’s good to be back on a bike. Tomorrow may hit 100 degrees again. This time I’ll be off the floor and on the bike.

Anybody got a brain they want to sell?

Oh, Quit Complaining

We’re in for a real, honest to god heat wave this week.  Somebody at work said to me, “You’re not riding to work in this heat, are you?”  My answer: “It sure beats January.”   

So let’s not bitch too much about this week’s inferno. After all, you could be dealing with this:

I’d Rather Be Biking

Hey, My Bikes Are in There!

Bicycle Friendly City – NOT Part Deux

In their quest to rid the city of its Bicycle Friendly City designation, the Alexandria City Police have apparently stepped up their efforts to piss cyclists off.  Today on a beautiful summer evening, I was riding home along the Mount Vernon Trail. It was an uneventful ride until I found the trail blocked by not one but two police cruisers from the Alexandria Police Department.  After I took a picture of the situation,

I slowed down and looked around for crime stopping in action.  All I could see was a nice gathering of happy people under a temporary canopy in the adjacent park.  No fleeing perps, no safe crackers, no terrorists in sight.  After I passed the police cars, I checked to see if their was no parking in the street just 30 yards ahead. That would explain it, thought I.  Well, there were 3 spaces right next to the trail. 

So I am thinking maybe these police cars were transporting coolers of refreshing police juice to the revelers at the party.,  Maybe they had offered to drive some physically impaired party-goers to the big do.  Maybe they had just finished solving a cold case involving a serial killer and a frisbee. 

Or maybe the people of Alexandria don’t much respect trail users.

Bicycle Friendly City – NOT

The League of American Bicyclists has bestowed the Bicycle Friendly City designation on Alexandria, Virginia.  I find this interesting because a couple of years ago I was harassed by Alexandria City police for riding my bike through Old Town. In once instance, I had the temerity to roll through the intersection of Union and King Streets at about 4 miles per hour.  No pedestrians or other traffic was within one-half block of me at the time. An APD officer stepped off the curb, ordered me to stop, and proceeded to lecture me about how I had broken the law.  I stifled the urge to ask him when the last time he used the same tone with a similarly situated motorist. 

About a week later I was riding along North Royal Street when I came to a four way stop.  The car on my right was stopped and the driver was pondering his navel.  An APD officer was stopped across from me – also not making any attempt to move into the intersection.. I came to a stop (a track stand) then, when no one else moved, I went through the intersection. The cop started yelling at me out her window, “Wait your turn!!!”  I wanted to say “Um, I did, dummy. I am not obligated to wait until sundown for you all to get your automotive shit together.”  Instead I kept riding.

I filed a complaint with the APD and they started an investigation.  Despite the fact that there were only 2 female police officers on duty at the time, a positive identification of the rude and clueless officer could not be made.  I bitched about this on the Internet and soon found myself in an email conversation with an APD officer.  The officer (also a cyclist) told me that the APD is occasionally asked to educate cyclists when the residents of Old Town bitch about cyclists to the mayor.  These are probably the same folks who complain about airplane noise, pollution from the nearby coal fired power plant, smells from the sewage treatment plant across the river, and all those damned tourists.  Yes, they must not have seen the airport, the power plant, the sewage treatment plant, and the hoards of tourists when they bought their million dollar townhouses.  0They probably also didn’t know that the river floods twice a year.  Poor Old Town residents. How did they become so wealthy with such small brains?

The residents of North Union Street – which coincides with the Mount Vernon Trail – have a parking problem too.  Those damned tourists sometimes block their driveway with their parked cars.  So the solution is to block your driveway with your car so that it sticks out into the street.  The street immediately in front of their homes has a bike lane marked on it. So I get to deal with this on a regular basis:

What you can’t see is that this ass hat has also blocked the sidewalk.  You can see in the background his neighbor is doing the same thing.  How often do these folks get a parking ticket?  Wanna bet when hell freezes over?  So what I want to know is how often these upstanding citizens call the mayor’s office to bitch about cyclist?.  

I propose that the League of American Bicyclists rescind Alexandria’s Bicycle Friendly Community status until these folks demonstrate some respect for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Should’ve Read the Fine Print

I sit here at my desk with an ice pack alternating between my left knee and my right.  I’ve probably downed about a gallon of fluids while sitting here.  How did this come about?  It seemed to make reasonable sense at the time….

I spent most of the day yesterday doing some painting on the exterior of my house.  I hate house painting but it’s pretty easy to do.  You just have to be patient and it eventually gets done.  I finished my little paint project after breakfast this morning and decided to reward myself with a bike ride in the country.. I grabbed my copy of The Washington Area Bicycling Atlas and selected a ride in Virginia wine country.  The ride starts in the town of Marshall, heads southeast to Waterloo, then returns through the towns of Orleans, Jerry’s Shop, Hume, Leeds, Upperville, and Rectortown.  I had done this ride 10 or 15 years ago and seemed to recall enjoying it.  I glanced at the description and saw the words “rolling hills” and the 55 mile distance and thought, “Perfect”.


When I started out in Marshall, the heat was pretty nasty.  No worries.  I took off and immediately made a wrong turn.  Hey, it’s an old atlas; the route numbers have changed. Really.

In short order I was on back country roads, bombing along at a brisk pace. The hills were modest; the heat was hottest.  I started to take pictures of the countryside, but I realized that I’d never finish if I shot everything that was picturesque.

For the first ten miles or so, I thought “Some of these hills aren’t exactly ‘rolling.'” I slogged up the hills and enjoyed the breeze from the ride down the other side. At about 20 miles, I stopped for food and water in Orleans.  I bought a biscuit with a slice of ham in it.  Dang was it salty!  On a normal day, I think it would have been inedible but on a hot day like this one, it tasted wonderful.   I re-loaded my water bottles and hit the road. 35 miles to go.

I was feeling my oats.  Cruising along and spotting one oddity after the next:: a young longhorn cow, a sign for alpacas, and vineyards to name a few.  I could see the Blue Ridge Mountains looming over me to the west.  How pretty.  Good thing I don’t have to climb those babies. Then came mile 38.

Mile 38 started like most of the rollers I had been riding but it kept going up. Around a curve to the right – UP. Around a curve to the left – UP. Steeper and steeper. By the time I reached the top of this beast my throat was burning, my head was on fire, and my knees were screaming at me.  Only after the ride did I see the fine print:: “rolling hills with a few steep climbs.”  That would be mile 38 right there.  It was still pretty, except I was looking straight at the pavement in front of me.  Mile 38 looked a lot like pavement to me.  Really scenic pavement as pavements go.

Truth be told, before and after mile 38, there was plenty of scenery to take my mind off the heat. 

After about five minutes I recovered from Mile 38.  The slalom down to I-66 was fun to be sure.  Then the long slog back up past Sky Meadows State Park began.  Yes, mile 41 was another monster. Somehow, I had the climbing rhythm thing down now and took my time riding up beast no. 2. 

The next five miles were on major highways.  These thankfully had smooth pavement and, in the case of US 50, a nice tailwind.  I reached the town of Upperville all but out of water.  I spotted an elderly woman watering some flowers in front of the fire station. She kindly filled up my bottles and wished me well. Angels do exist.

The last ten miles were more to my liking. No more monster climbs.  At one point I spotted what looked like a dog in the shadows on the left side of the road.  As I approached, the dog spread its wings, lifted it red head and took off, just a few feet ahead of my moving bike.  It was a vulture. Ugly.

I had no plans to be his next meal so I got down to business and polished off the last few miles.  When I was finished I had racked up 56 hard-earned miles.  Next weekend I’m heading to West Virginia. In a car.

Bike Commute 64: Summer Rain at the Wilkes Street Tunnel

When it’s hot and muggy out, riding in the rain is a relief. Tonight’s ride included a 100 foot slog through 4 inches of water on Union Street in Old Town Alexandria. I passed a runner who had drifter to the left in front of me. She apologized for getting in my way. Laughing, she said she was trying to avoid a huge puddle on the trail, “but I don’t know why”. She was right; we were both already soaked to the bone.