I Gotta Learn to Shoot First

No this blog is not about firearms or the second amendment. It’s about taking pictures. When it comes to taking interesting pictures I am utterly inept. This is because I gawk instead of click. A ride doesn’t go by when I don’t think after some interesting thing goes by, “That would have made an interesting picture.” Doh.

Take tonight for example. I saw a bear and then a naked supermodel. Okay, not really. But I did see I guy riding an extremely low hand cycle. It was a recumbent that looked like it could roll underneath an SUV. 

As I approached Slaters Lane I spotted a police car parked on the trail just before the long boardwalk where the beavers build their dam. Not good. The car was empty. Hmmmm?

Trouble ahead?
Trouble ahead?

Interesting. At the far side of the boardwalk, I saw the cop talking into his lapel mounted radio mic. A cyclist had taken a tumble and was in need of assistance.

Help is here, ma'am.
Help is here, ma’am.

The handcycle guy came next but I gawked instead of snapped. Luckily I got a second chance of sorts. Nearly every morning I am passed by a bike with big knobby tires pulling a trailer that looks like a hand cart from a golf course. It’s an electric assist bike and it can move!  I am pretty sure this type of set up will be commonplace in five years. 

Electric assist bike and trailer
Electric assist bike and trailer

Of course no ride home would be complete without a resident of the 400 block of North Union Street obstructing the bike lane with the butt of his parked car. 420 North Union seems to be a repeat offender.  I didn’t see a ticket on his windshield. 

420 North Union needs some parking ticket love
420 North Union needs some parking ticket love

In an attempt to redeem myself, I decided to go for what any good Bostonian would call a wickid ahtistic pickcha. 

Is it art?
Is it art?

 

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Traveling Light

I saw this bike in Rosslyn today as I was going to lunch. Whoever is riding this machine has travelling light down to a science. Handlebar bag and seat bag and that’s IT! Note the absence of a water bottle is made up for by the canteen strapped to the front of the handlebar bag. I would venture to guess that I carry more stuff to and from work than this cyclists carries wherever he may be going.

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Billy Goating (Again)

A couple of weeks ago I went on a short hike in Great Falls Park near the C&O Canal. It nearly killed me. So, of course, I decided to give hiking another go.

The near fatal hike was on the Billy Goat A Trail. The A trail is an continuous nasty rock scramble interrupted by a couple of minutes of walking in the woods. It was not one of my better outings in nature. 

When I was a kid, I used to hang out in the woods near my house all summer. When I wasn’t in the woods I was usually at home painting myself with calamine lotion. So Help Me Hanna! Putting calamine lotion on a poison ivy rash is like treating the leather on my saddle: it gives you something to do when you are bored but it doesn’t actually accomplish anything.

Today’s hike was along the B and C Billy Goat Trails.  These trails and the walk along the C&O Canal towpath that connects them are much more my style. There was beaucoup walking on dirt trails and some fun rock scrambles here and there. I only had to slide down one on my butt. My only complaint about these trails is that there are lots of tree roots and jagged little rocks to negotiate. This meant that I spent a whole bunch of time looking at the ground and not enjoying the scenery. And there’s plenty of scenery,  bubbling water, turtles, huge jagged rock faces, rock climbers, and vultures. (At one point I inadvertantly startled a vulture in a tree along the river bank. After seeing him launch, I am glad he eats carrion and not hikers.)

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To do both trails in one go, you have to walk over two miles on the C&O Canal towpath. This is a very pretty walk, completely flat. I am so used to riding it that my subconscious wanted me to run. Running would have ruined the laid back vibe, not to mention my aging knees. The repetitiveness of the unvarying flat surface was much harder on my legs than the rock scrambles and tree roots along the trails.

All in all, the hike was a success. I hoofed it about 6 1/2 miles in 2:30. In my running days I could have easily done the whole thing in under an hour. Those days and the cartilage in my knees are long gone.  

Here’s hoping that I didn’t brush up against any poison ivy. Some more pix are on my Flickr page.

A Bicycle Friendly City?

The League of American Bicyclists of which I am a member has named Alexandria Virginia a sliver level bicycle friendly city. About once a week, I see an example of how far Alexandria has to go to move up to gold status. I occasionally see evidence that they should be considered for demotion to bronze level status.

This week, Alexandria police have beefed up their enforcement of stop signs and red lights for bicyclists. This happens once or twice a year. One might think that this is intended to bring an end to the bicycle related carnage on the streets of the Port City. One would be wrong. So far as I know there hasn’t been an increase in bicycle crashes in Alexandria. A few years ago I had an email exchange with an Alexandria cop who is also a cyclist. He explained that non-cycling residents of Old Town crab about cyclists all the time so the city throws them a bone once in a while by harassing cyclists. (One year they called it an educational campaign.)

Of course, cars that run red lights and stop signs actually DO cause harm but you won’t see the Porsches and BMW’s of Old Town pulled over in a targeted enforcement campaign. In all my time cycling through Old Town I have seen one car pulled over for a traffic infraction. Jack Webb, phone home.

I am not naive. I see traffic violations every day by both cyclists and cars. They piss me off equally. The traffic laws should be enforced equally.

The crabby residents of Old Town bitch about plane noise (the airport’s been there for over 60 years, get over it) and the tourists (they missed the memo about the Lees and Washingtons and such). On North Union Street they complain that outsiders park across their driveways. Their solution is to park their cars perpendicular to the curb and jutting out into the bike lane. Why they can’t park their cars parallel to the curb in front of their garages is beyond me. If they did, they could still show their disrespect for cyclists by standing in front of their homes and flipping us the bird. 

For the record the BMW is parked like this several nights per week. It’s at 420 North Union. The Porsche is at 406 North Union. When I told Alexandria police about this a few weeks ago, they said they were not aware of it. “I know nothing! Nothing!”


A note to the reader who searched tax records and sent me a comment with the homeowners’s names. I did not approve your comment because I do not know who owns the cars. I did send this blog to Alexandria’s finest via Twitter. I’ll let them sort out the particulars (I will be stunned if they lift a finger.)

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Tree Down, Man Down

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Summer brings overnight storms. They sometimes knock trees down along the Mount Vernon Trail. I was riding down the serpentine path from the Old Stone Bridge when I came around a corner to see the cyclists in the white shirt holding his hands up telling me to stop because a tree had fallen across the trail. The speedy bike commuter behind me, possibly screened by me, saw the warning too late. He hit is brakes and fishtailed. Then his front wheel slipped on the yellow stripe in the center of the trail and down he went. He didn’t stick, sliding instead. I think he was more mad at himself than hurt. He didn’t seem to have a scratch on him and his shorts were intact.

When I arrived at work I sent an email to the National Park Service office in charge of the trail and advsied them of the tree.

On the way home he rode past me and remarked “No pictures tonight”.  He explained that he was unharmed and all was good and sped away. When I got to the scene of the fallen tree there was no evidence that the tree had fallen. Not even sawdust. The National Park Service once again did an amazing job of clearing the trail. 

I’m No Billy Goat

It’s Monday. I could have ruined the week by going to work. Instead I decided to go for a hike in oppressive heat and humidity. I might want to reconsider my use of annual leave. I had a backpack with two water bottles. My shoes were some shiny faux hiking boots with a slick tread. Two mistakes. I should have brought four bottles and boot with some grip. The first few hundred yards were on the C&O towpath at widewater. It is one of the most scenic parts of the C&O Canal park. I turned left at the sign that warned hikers of the difficulty of the trail. Pshaw. (MORON!)

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Into the woods went I. After 100 yards I gingerly made my way down a rocky hill. Then the trail alternated between a wooden path and rock scrambles. These scrambles weren’t particularly long but there was nowhere to put your feet. Sometimes I hopped down when the drop to the next flat part was only a couple of feet. Sharp edged rocks alternated with smooth rock faces. I slowed to a literal crawl.   Some of the scrambles were impossible to hike down, especially in my slippery boots. So I sat down and slid. I don’t have a whole lot of padding on my posterior (a genetic trait from my father). In fact, I once went rock sliding on the Ausable River and severely bruised my tailbone. Some of the scrambles involved pulling and pushing with my arms. The rocks were exposed to the sun and they were hot. I once ordered steak on a hot stone in Sintra, Portugal. I felt like that piece of meat. About a third of the way through the hike, my shirt and shorts were soaking wet with sweat. My legs were wobbly and my heart was racing. I sat down in the shade and drank a half of a bottle of water. Five minutes later I was back at it. More rock scrambles. Each one harder than the last. IMG_0133A pretty girl in a lacey blouse and shorts came by. “It’s a better hike in the spring when the cool wind is blowing.” Good to know. Got any beer? Up. Down. At one point my left foot got stuck in a seam in the rocks. Oh great. I sat down on the hot rock and nudged and twisted my foot. After a minute it popped free. Good, cuz I didn’t bring a saw to cut it off. I arrived at the half way point where a bail out trail takes you back to the canal. I sat down and drank some more water. Tempting. Onward. Effing rocks. Up. Down. Sideways. Drink more water. Careful. Don’t turn and ankle or you are screwed. There was an occasional view of the river but the water level was low. The rush of water through the Mather Gorge is spactacular. Today it was serene. When I wasn’t avoiding the perils of the rocks, I had to deal with tree roots that arched across the trail. This isn’t a trail, it’s an obstacle course. At last the trail turned away from the river and toward the canal. I had at least a mile of towpath to get back to the car. The heat was pretty intense but I kept my mind occupied with watching wildllife: snapping turtles, box turtles, geese, cormorants, and hawks. I girl rode by on a bike. I resisted the urge to give her a hip check and steal her bike. Back at the car, I looked like I had been in the canal not alongside it. With the hike done, I have a renewed appreciation for offroad distance runners like Ultrarunnergirl. I also have a hankering for more. Old Rag, anyone? Pix and a short video on my Flickr page.

Sometimes Things Work Out

Up at 6:15 I was ready to ride. Until I stood up and felt achy all over. I tried stretching and sit-ups and such but there was no negotiating. I wasn’t riding anywhere.

After breakfast, I went out to the deck with the newspaper and promptly fell into a deep sleep. I awoke at 10:30. No aches. So I turned on my computer. No Microsoft Office. The gods are messing with me.

Get me out of here.

I went for a quick ride in a blast furnace. I rode down near Fort Belvoir to check out Mulligan Road. When it opens, Mulligan Road will connect Telegraph Rd and US1. It’s still underconstruction but looks promising.

I rode around the Woodlawn area and felt pretty good.  After about 20 miles, my right knee started barking at me. Okay. I’ll go home.

I arrived home expecting the World Cup game to be over. It hadn’t started. And the Nats were playing. Into the Laz-y-Boy with this bicycle terrorist.

Tomorrow I am taking the day off. I have some medical/insurance stuff to deal with then I may go up to Great Falls Park and go for an easy hike before the thunderstorms arrive.

Vamos, Argentina! Go Nats!

 

Errandoneuring in the Summertime

Sleepless in Mount Vernon could be the title of my biography. I got all agitated over a billing dispute with my doctor on Friday. I kept waking up stressing about it. At 5:45 a.m. I gave up and had breakfast.

I hoped to go on a really long ride today (sound familiar) but grogginess had other things in mind. So I decided to do some errands and bike maintenance instead.

There is a bird feeder in front of my kitchen window. Apparently it had become the drive through restaurant of choice for every bird within 20 miles. The damned thing sometimes has 30 birds on and around it. Suffice it to say that I like my birds like Groucho liked his cigar. I rode to the hardware store on Little Nellie to buy more seed. On the way I ran into Nancy “Two Sheds” Duley. We gabbed for a half an hour. One of the shortcomings of living in suburbia is that there is no Swings House of Caffeine nearby.

Once I shut my piehole, I made my way to the hardware store, bought a ten pound bag, and rode back home, listing slightly to the left the whole way.

Next up was adjusting the brakes on Little Nellie. There was no stoppage happening. That accomplished, I pedaled The Mule to Spokes to get a new drivetrain. I was expecting to replace some chainrings but Carlos the Wrench said I didn’t need to. They changed the chain and casette on the spot (Yay, Spokes!) and I was on my way.

After lunch I rode to the drug store to get a baby syringe which I used to inject new lube into the Speedplay Frog pedals on Little Nellie. I had seen this done on YouTube but it didn’t work as well as I had hoped. (You can buy a lube injector but it costs about $20 more than a baby syringe.) I think I’ll spring for the injector.

After 15 miles of riding to stores. I took a much needed nap.

Next up was a walk through what has usually been one of my favorite places in Mount Vernon, Huntely Meadows Park. It’s 1,500 acres of woods and wetlands in the middle of ugly suburbia. If you go early in the morning it’s quiet, but not this afternoon. Cell phone conversations, radios, the sound of people partying in an adjacent neighborhood stole my serenity. But the two mile walk was a nice change of pace. The park authority is allowing beavers to reclaim the park. Much of the swampland has turned dry and is lush with vegetation. The woods that used to be on the perimeter of the swamp are now flooded. Huntley Meadows Park never looks the same twice. Nature never rests.

Tonight I’m going down to the Wilson Bridge to watch fireworks in Old Town. Then I will rest.

Blocked and Blockhead

The Blocked

After a late night of watching the rain fall down at Nationals Park, I awoke in a bit of a fog. Unfortunately the fog in my brain was accompanied by humidity outside. I rode off into the mugginess officeward.

There was considerable leaf and twig debris on the roads. Somehow this debris was concentrated along the right side where I normally ride. So I boldly moved toward the center of the lane. No drivers’ egos were harmed.

Near Belle Haven Park, a tree had fallen across the trail. According to fellow bike commuter Reba, the tree nearly nailed a passing runner. As a former marathon runner, I can attest that this can ruin your whole day.

Little Nellie was not amused.
Little Nellie was not amused.

I made my way around the tree on foot and proceeded northward-ish. Near the power plant, I came upon a tractor trailer which had fallen across the trail. I rode around it on the grass.

Little Nellie was even less amused
Little Nellie was even less amused

Near the Memorial Bridge, a gaggle of geese formed an occlusion of the trail. I rode through them undaunted. One goose mouth a goose obscenity at Little Nellie,  I am pretty sure this goose is a columnist for the Washington Post. He was probably upset that in years past geese were ticketed for using the trail.

Over the course of the day, it got muggier. Or as the French say, “I’ll fait icky.”

I rode home under ominous skies. Sprinkles turned to light rain. Distant rumbles turned to thunder booms. The tractor trailer was gone but the trail was blocked by a cyclist chatting with a surveyor and a pedestrian. I stopped for the pedestrian almost certainly ruining my credibility as a bike terrorist.

On Union Street in Old Town, the bike lane was blocked twice. The first blockage was by an SUV double parked in the bike lane.  Shortly thereafter the but end of a luxury car was parked so as to preserve the entrance to a townhouse’s garage. It’s butt end blocked the trail.

At King and Union a King Street Trolley (actually a bus) stopped mid-block obstructing my way up Union Street. I was begining to think this was Block the Bicyclists Day, sponsored no doubt by the Washington Post.

The last five miles home were under a steady rain. The distant thunder and lightning suddenly became directly over head. BOOM! CRACK!

Uh oh. Not good. The hairs on my calves (the lower part of my leg, not my baby cows) stood on end. Eek.

Pedal pedal.

Fortunately, that was the worst of it. I arrived home soaked having somehow not terrorized anybody.

The Blockhead

You may have noticed that I have been making oblique references to the Washington Post today. This is because Courtland Milloy, a Post columnist, wrote a column today that expressed his exasperation with having to share the city with cyclists. In addition to some veiled racist remarks, he said that the $500 fine for hitting a cyclist with your car was worth the expense.

Mr. Milloy’s column demonstrated an astounding combination of ignorance, intolerance, and race baiting, quite the trifecta. It also contained many factual errors. Here are some facts for Mr. Milloy to think about:

  • My wife was run over on a crystal clear day by a careless driver in a hurry. She was lucky. She got to spend three months in bed. It took her the better part of a year to get back to something resembling normal. The driver nearly killed her in another way, because the aftermath of the crash left her unable to have surgery for a malignant tumor for one year.
  • My friend Rachel volunteered to ride sweep during a cycling event last December. Her job was to make sure that the very last riders finished safely. She was run over by an inattentive driver near FedEx Field. She was injured but fortunately recovered rather quickly. She is still jittery about riding her bike in the city.
  • My friend Charmaine was run over by a pickup truck while riding to work on Michigan Avenue in Northeast DC. The crash broke her right arm and destroyed her bike. She missed weeks of work and endured months of painful physical therapy. (It was the second time she’d been hit by a car.)
  • I didn’t know Alice Swanson, but six years ago today, she was riding her bike in a bike lane near Dupont Circle when she was run over by a truck and killed.

I could go on with more examples all night.

In my entire life of riding about 100,000 miles I only know of one death by cyclist. This happened when a kid at my grade school lost control of his bike and struck an old lady walking home from church. As bad as we all felt for the victim, we felt equally bad for the kid who was going to have to live with this for the rest of his life.

I hope Mr. Milloy parks his car and his hate. If he rode his bike in the city he might see what I see.

  • Riding through Anacostia on a Sunday morning is a joy. The church goers, dressed in their Sunday best, wave and say hello, even though in Mr. Milloy’s mind I am an evil suburban white guy on a bike and they are black and there are no bike lanes on MLK Boulevard.
  • That riding through all eight wards of the city during six or seven Fifty States Rides has revealed a city that is finally rising from the ashes of the 1968 riots and the farce of a crack head mayor. The restored Union Market and Lincoln Theater, the hundreds of rehabilitated rowhouses, the new buildings springing up everywhere, the resurrection of near Southeast. You miss this driving in and out of the city with a death grip on the steering wheel.
  • And that during those same rides and many, many more in DC, dozens of people have waved, cheered me and my fellow riders on, and made sure we didn’t take a wrong turn. Over and over again.
  • That little kids see me go by on my funny looking recumbent or my equally odd folding bike and say, “COOOL!”

I don’t like  riding my bike in DC during rush hours, but I’ll do it to get where I need to be. That doesn’t mean I am an inherently bad person or anti-car or racist.  It means that I am rational. I dislike driving in the city too. The difference is that in a car I have steel barrier between me and people like Mr. Milloy. On a bike, I am apparently a viable potential target for a pathetic man with a small mind.

Mr. Milloy should be ashamed of himself. As a 30-year subscriber to the Post, I have but one request. Stop running his columns. They are reckless, irresponsible, and hurtful. Find someone with a positive voice to fill the space.

 

The Haute Dog 100

Lisa is a busy person, multitalented and goal oriented. After riding 137.28 miles last month she decided it was time to ride a century, 100 miles in one day. Gradualism is not one of her strong points.

Lisa recruited some #bikedc friends, Ryan, Justin, Ted, and me) to ride from DC to Purcelville on the W&OD Trail. Once in Purcelville our plan was to have liunch at Haute Dogs and Fries.

The ride was set for Saturday July 5 at 7 a.m. We would be at the intersection of the Custis and W&OD trauls in North Arlington. Since this is 15 or 16 miles from my house this meant getting up at 5 a.m. Fortunately, we all agreed that 8 a.m. was as early as anyone could tolerate so 8 a.m. it was.

After waking up and daundling I left the house ten minutes late. I chose to ride Big Nellie. my Tour Easy recumbent, to save my back. I rode as fast as I could to the start stoppoing every 15 minutes to adjust my front fender. The fender stay was rubbing against the side of the ture making an annoying buzzing sound. (On the fourth try I realized that the screw holding the stay was loose. One tunr with a screw driver and peace and tranquility returned.

I arrived at the starting point to see Ted and Ryan. Ted was actually shivering. It was in the 60s. I opted for a long sleeve shirt but Ted was wearing a sleeveless shirt and paying for his miscalculation. Justin showed up. Also sleeveless. What did they thing it was July or something?

Lisa rolled in about 8:40. We decided not to kill her.

Off we went on the ever so gradual uphill ride to Purcelville. As we got underway, we spread out. I found that Big Nellie was in the mood to roll so I was going faster than my usual 12 mile per hour trance speed.

In Vienna we stopped for coffee and pastries. My bagel was filled with EPO, Once we got underway, Justin and I were rolling along in the high teens. A MAMIL in a Discover jersey rode by somehat agressively. Justin and I were letting him pull us all the way to Reston where we waiting for the Ryan, Ted and Lisa.

We kept rolling along in one configuration or another, stopping in Herndon and Lessburg. Then we made the final push for Purcelville. The W&OD gets slightly steeper for its final 10 miles. The leafy canopy shading the trail offer a welcome break from the bright sunshine. The uphill grade, however, is a bit of a morale buster. As Ted, Ryan, and Justin sped away, I hung back wondering what happened to Lisa.

She had Fourth of July legs. She was pedaling away but the bike gods were denying her speed.

She made it to the end of the trail with a smile on her face which is pretty much the point of the exercise.

A passerby took my camera and had us pose for a series of photos under the Purcelville sign at the restored train station.

Lisa and the Boys
Lisa and the Boys

Then we rolled through town to Haute Dogs where we made short work of an array of hot dogs. I had the Fenway Dog because it is made exactly the way I make a hot dog at home. I also drank mass quantities of Coke which topped off my sugar and caffeine stores.

Nom Nom Nom
Nom Nom Nom

After a brief visit to a nifty bike and coffee shop we headed back to the trail. Justin, Ted, and Ryan led the way. Lisa decided to save her legs and glided (glid? glud?) as much as the grade and tailwind would allow. I stayed with her and,at one point, actually rode two miles without pedaling. I could have done more but for some congestion on the trail.

We met up with the three amigos at Leesburg. Ted, Ryan, and Justin all had to speed away to family obligations so Lisa and I rode the long trail back to North Arlington. We stopped for drinks, bannas, and ice cream along the way. (We also passed two breweries who had signs on the trail. I’ll have to come back for a taste some other time.)

Lisa took the Custis trail into town and I headed down the rest of the W&OD to the Mount Vernon Trail. I rolled into the driveway after 111 miles. I decided not to have a shower beer so as not to be a bad influence on my impressionable children: one of whom made mojitos for our guests on the Fourth, the other was drinking beer while watching the Red Sox/Orioles game from atop the green monster in Fenway Park. (If a parent sets an example and nobody sees, does the tree make a noise?)

Thanks to Lisa for setting this up. Her account of the festivities is here. My pix are here.