Surrender Winter

Having survived a couple of atypically stressful days of bike commuting, I was looking forward to doing some errands by bike today. Mother nature was not on board.

Shortly after waking, I did my 45 minute yoga routine (doctor’s orders) and 15 minutes of less than fruitful meditation. Yoga and meditation are supposed to go hand in hand but I spend so much effort concentrating on my form and my breathing while doing yoga that I have nothing left for the sedentary portion of the program.

I am getting a bit better at balancing which is not saying a whole lot. My routine ends with one pose that involves sitting on your lower legs and leaning back. This is supposed to lead to the reclining warrior pose. The reclining warrior involves leaning all the way back until your head and shoulders rest on the floor. Very relaxing. That is of course if you don’t have bicycle quads and bad knees. I am lucky if I can get to a 45 degree angle before my knees start chanting, “Fuck yoga, Fuck you.” Be one with your cartilage is my mantra.

Suffice it to say, I do only as much as I can. The can’t poses all involved stressing the quads or doing a headstand. It still amazes me that at one time in my life I could actually do a free standing head stand. It is also true that at one time in my life I drank heavily. Coincidence? I think not.

Having endured my weekly self abuse session, I decided that the howling wind and 23 degree temperature was not bike friendly. I drove to Huntley Meadows Park for a walk in the woods. Please don’t tell anyone but Huntley Meadows is an oasis of calm in a sea of suburban ick. A trail through the park makes something of a figure eight. About 1/3 of the trail is a boardwalk out into a wetland.

As a kid I spent many a summer day on Dead Man’s Pond in Albany. Big sections of tree trunks made for awesome rafts that we would pole across the scum-covered water. To my nine year old eyes, Dead Man’s was enormous. In reality, it was probably smaller than an acre in size. Not true of the wetlands at Huntley Meadows.

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The recent decision to allow beavers to do their thing has greatly expanded the wetlands. Only a few years ago, the swamp would drain completely during parts of the year. Now the waters go well into what was once woodland. Beaver lodges are all over the place. I think the most interesting thing about the wetlands is that it never looks the same from visit to visit. Today it was iced over. A couple of times my weight on the boardwalk put stress on the ice and it made a surreal creaking sound. The wind kept my time on the boardwalk to a minimum. Thankfully, only a few other people were in the park. Once I made it back into the woods all I could hear was the sound of the wind, the groaning the trees, and the occasional chirp of a chickadee.

I did two laps through the park, warming as I went. On my final circuit a couple with three young boys stopped and pointed into the woods. A small deer was about 100 yards away munching something on the ground.

I drove home and figured the animal portion of the day was over. As I pulled into the driveway, I spotted six robins bounding on my front lawn. An hour later, Mrs. Rootchopper, camera in hand, woke me from a brief nap. A fox was hanging out in the backyard. It’s the first fox sighting we’ve had since last spring.

Spring. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Surrender winter.

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When the Going Gets Weird….

Yesterday’s bike commute ended with a white snake on my front doorstep. In January. What could be weirder than that? Be careful what you ask.

It was warmer today. These things are relative. It was 36 degrees. The weather gods could not leave well enough along and added a 15 mile per hour headwind. To make matter worse I over slept. I was going to be late. For Friday Coffee Club. Eek.

Pedal. Pedal.

The bridges on the Mount Vernon Trail were icy but rideable. The pavement was clear. But for the relentless headwind The Mule and I would have made decent time. Then we encountered the flyover bridges at the airport. Ice, ice baby. I made it over the first one without slippage. I said three quick “Hail Marys” and forged ahead. As I approached the second bridge an oncoming runner warned of ice. Just as I reached the icy part, a recumbent rider blew past me. My recumbent is useless on ice because it has very little weight over the front wheel. His was a different design and his weight was more evenly distributed. Still I expected to see him skidding on his side in no time.

Nope. He just flew across the ice. My brain said. “It’s a trap!” and I slowed to a crawl as another runner approached looking very concerned. I pulled my left foot off its pedal and touched the ground. Solid ice. Somehow I kept rolling forward without slipping. Once I cleared the ice I expected a panel of judges to give me scores, knocking me down 0.5 to 1.0 points for my foot tap. I’ll bet the judge from the Netherlands screws me over. He always does.

The rest of the ride was blustery but, if anything, I was overdressed for the occasion. I arrived at Friday Coffee Club to find a decent sized gathering. I advised Sam, who had to brave the same flyover bridges after coffee, that she was in for an interesting ride.

Caffienated, I headed for Rosslyn. I took the TR bridge which empties out on the Virginia side of the Potomac onto an icy boardwalk. Somehow I made it across the ice field without slipping. (I am sure that I will pay for my good fortune someday down the road.)

The workday was pretty slow. I had a 90 minute meeting after lunch. When the meeting was over, I walked into my office. My boss followed me and said, “Go home now.”  I looked at him like he had two heads. “There has been a threat against the building. Leave.”

Dang.  My brain said, “Yay, I get to ride home in sunlight.” Then my brain said, “If something really nasty doesn’t kill me first.” I can handle snakes on my doorsteps. Threats to life and limb are a bit above my pay grade. As the late Hunter S. Thompson once said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

I closed my door and changed like Superman in a phone booth.

The ride home was actually pretty nice. I had a 25 mile per hour tailwind.There was no ice at all left on the trail. In fact the only slippert stuff on the trail was an abundance of geese poop. Apparently Canada geese have begun their northern migration. This was taken about half way into this particular gaggle of geese.

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Cold? OK. Ice? OK, sorta. Snakes? Getouddaheah!

I awoke to calm winds and 16 degrees. Sounds like a good day for a bike ride to me. I hit the road on The Mule and was quite cold for the first mile. The only concessions I made to the low temperature were a long sleeve base layer (instead of my usual short sleeve shirt) and chemical hand warmers in my boots. I was a little worried, but once my blood began to flow it was like any other ride to work. I was totally comfortable.

I reached Dyke Marsh just before sunrise. As usual, it was glorious. I can’t recall the first time I saw a sunrise and truly appreciated it, but I was well into adulthood when it happened. I missed thousands of light shows!!!

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The trail still had icy spots. The ones on the Dyke Marsh boardwalk were ridable, but when a section of the trail just to the north of the Woodrow Wilson bridge had black ice. I walked this bit and was glad I did. It was incredibly slick.

From the bridge to DC the trail was clear. Some patches of black ice on the trail opposite the Washington Monument caused me to ride in the grass for a bit but I can’t complain. It was pretty good riding with no wind to speak of. The troll bridge, the boardwalk underneath the TR Bridge, had abundant ice but it was all roughed up so I it was rideable. I had to focus hard on riding in a straight line, pedalling smoothly, and not tensing up. “Just relax. Breathe. Pedal gently.” Riding on snow and ice is a curious mixture of meditation and terror. I feel pretty good that I made it to work without once slipping.

The ride home was a whole ‘nother ballgame. Reports from co-workers were not promising. The sidewalks outside our office building were icing over from sleet and freezing rain. So, I packed up my things and hopped on The Mule for what could turn out to be a really interesting commute.

When I reached the sidewalk from the garage in our office building, I tested it with my foot. Not too bad. I duck walked my bike to the street. Test. Not bad at all. Off I rode. The street was wet and it seemed safe to ride on, but I wasn’t about to ride over the metal grate at 19th Street and I was super careful about riding on any painted lines.

I could see that the connector o the Mount Vernon Trail has a thin layer of sleet on it. I took a chance and rode down to the trail. I was doing fine until the switchback. As I came around the corner, I could see that the slope to the MVT was really icy. I slowed to a stop and grabbed a railing. Ice!  Ay!  I carefully walked the bike down to the pavement. It was a good thing I dismounted because I almost certainly would have crashed otherwise.

Okay, 1/2 mile down, 14 miles to go. This is going to take a while. I rode very gingerly down the trail. The surface would go from wet to sleet covered and back at random. The troll bridge was covered in sleet but I could see bike tracks and guessed that it was rideable. With great care I slowly rode the entire bridge. At the end I started breathing again. Then another concrete bridge. Same type of ice. Same success.

The asphalt trail went back and forth between wet and sleet-covered. I suppose the granualrity of the sleet pellets afforded my tires just enough grip so as not to slip. All my concentration was on keeping my arms and shoulders loose. If I tensed up and slid, I’d go down for sure.

Pedal, pedal.

After a couple miles, my confidence increased and I picked up speed. Thank god there were no ninjas or cyclists behaving like jackasses.

Each time I went down the slightest incline I held my breath. The two flyover bridges at National Airport were icy messes but I made it over both. The slight decline to go under the Metro bridge was scary. It wasn’t icy but a fall in the wrong place might send me skidding into oncoming traffic on the GW Parkway. No problem. The downhill just before the connector bridge to Crystal City was another tricky one. Got it!

If I didn’t have gloves on, I would have chewed my nails off by this point. I could have abandoned the MVT for the Four Mile Run trail and the streets of Alexandria which were likely to be treated but, having made it this far, I went all in.

Of course, the MVT bridge over Four Mile Run was an icy mess. Ha! Again and aganin I gambled and won. No sliding at all. I was getting pretty good at this. The beaver bridge (a boardwalk with a treacherous S-curve) was bad news, but I had it all to myself and could pick a straight line. Done.

The boardwalk around the Slaters Lane apartment building has one tight right turn. Gonna make it,. Gonna make it. Stay loose. Got it!

The concrete bridge around the power plant nearly got me. There were two big puddles on a curve. I looekd down and under the water were sheets of ice. I managed to come to a near stop and duck walked the bike over the ice.

For the rest of the ride, the trail was wet not icy. The wooden bridges from the Beltway south were more of the same but these were either very short or straight. I rode them all without incident.  When I arrived home I was incredibly relieved. I put the bike away and went to my front door only to find this:

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Snakes!? In January? In an ice storm?!

Hurry spring.

The Continuing Saga of My Right Foot – EMG and Other Delights

I went back to my neurologist today. Her level of enthusiasm about my case makes each visit fun. She spent the first five minutes re-familiarizing herself with my symptoms. When I corrected one of her notes (my numbness is more intermittent than constant) she made the correction.  She seems very detailed oriented. Then she began the EMG test.

Electromyography or EMG is a test of the sensory and motor function in a specific area of the body. For me, this was my foot, my lower leg, and my right buttock. The test involves putting sensors on specific nerves and muscles and then using a separate device sending electical shocks into the muscles. When she did this to specific nerves I would feel a jolt down the nerve. When muscles were involved my foot or leg would react. Later in the test she poked a needle into a muscle and zapped the muscle. OW! Suffice it to say, I have very sensitive nerves.

There were many OW moments but they are very brief in duration.

She also did a tuning fork test on both feet. My left
Continue reading “The Continuing Saga of My Right Foot – EMG and Other Delights”

Impending DOOM

Tonight, at approximately zero dark thirty, the Washington DC metro will become paralyzed with a dusting of snow. That’s right, supermarkets have been stripped of toilet paper, milk, and cilantro in advance of this cataclismic climatic event.

So I went for a bike ride.

(Truth be told, we should get a couple of inches over the next two days. Since the National Park Service refuses to treat the Mount Vernon Trail this will mean I won’t be riding until Wednesday. Hence the desire to get my two-wheeled ya-ya’s out.)

I took off on The Mule. I rode to my local bike store, Spokes Etc.  Unlike this blog they are not shy of a full set of spokes, or of bike knowledge. I asked them to look at the seatpost on The Mule and tell me if it is a setback seatpost. I have a Brooks leather saddle on The Mule and its rails, like all Brooks saddles, are short. This means I can’t push my saddle back farther which is, I thought, necessary for me to get ideal pedalling position. Not only do I already have a setback seat post but the store manager took one look at me on the bike and said, “You actually should be riding a bigger bike, but a simpler short term solution would be to raise your saddle because it is way too low.”

Doh.

So we raised the saddle about a centimeter (which is metric for “a little bit”). The saddle is connected to the seatpost which in turn is connected to seat tube. The seat tube is angled back. This means that raising the saddle also has the effect of moving the seat back. Genius.

Then I went for a 25 mile test ride. On the way I ran into Mr. TinDC of #bikedc social media renown. He was riding the Mount Vernon Trail with Rachel whom I had never met. We stopped to talk long enough to get cold. Then went our separate ways. My way took me over the Potomac River on the Wilson Bridge. I rode through National Harbor which continues to be the ugliest development I have seen in decades.  Then I rode up the long hill to Oxon Hill Road. The half mile+ ride was along side a massive construction site for a new casino. Personally I think it would be more usedful to have a giant Costco filled only with TP, milk, and cilantro but what do I know.

Once at the top of the hill, I turned around and rode back down because when it comes to designing lollygagging rides I am Mr. Creative.

Back over the river and through Old Town I rode. By this point I noticed that my left knee was not barking at me as usual. My arms were a little tense but otherwise the new saddle position seemed to be working out okay.

I made it to Four Mile Run and crossed over to Commonweath Ave. I rode through Alexandria and made my way back to the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County where I live on the incredibly coincidentally named Fort Hunt Road.

When I arrived home I was quite wet from perspiration. I checked the thermometer. It was 51 degrees. Not half bad for late January.

The skies are cloudy. The air is still. I await the doom.

Sleet and Other Gifts

Today was one of those days that everything seemed to lift me. A picture on Facebook of a friend who recently passed away was posted by her widower. She was dressed in winter clothes and smiling her signature radiant smile. A gift from the beyond.

I left the house ready to greet the day with the smile in my mind’s eye. The day had yet to break. The Mule and I rode off in the dark thankful that the 26 degree air was calm. Within a mile I was completely comfy in my layers of pathetic looking winter gear. If I wasn’t on a bike, I am pretty sure passers-by would give me money for a hot meal.

I arrived at the Mount Vernon Trail still before sunrise. About 1 1/2 miles into the ride, the predawn sky was an hallucination. I stopped to admire it and take a picture. A gift for the eyes.

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The rest of the ride just flowed. Without effort, I reached the 14th Street Bridge. Dawn had broken. The monuments, cathedral, and other DC buildings were reflected in the calm river. A gift on the water. I paused to admire the tableau then climbed the ramp to the bridge and headed into DC.

Riders coming towards me were bundled up so much that I could see only part of their eyes and noses. They all looked unhappy. Cheer up people it’s awesome out here!

I arrived at Swings House of Caffeine and bikes were parked everywhere. It was the third anniversary of Friday Coffee Club. The joint was packed with bike commuters. Coffee Club co-founder Ed had brought a cake and was handing out slices to the throng. Aside from Ed there was Lisa (who hasn’t been to Coffee Club in months) and Kirstin and Kristen and Reba and Chris and Ricky and Lawyer Mike and Michael and Ted and Brook and Jesse and Ryan and Jacques and Mary and Jeff and Sam and on and on. I even met a first time attendee, Jessica who commutes most days by bike from Capitol Hill. And so I enjoyed the gift of friends, old and new.

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The gift of cake for breakfast
Ricky with the 8-ball helmet and Jacques behind him
Ricky with the 8-ball helmet and Jacques behind him

The ride to work back across the Potomac was  serene. The river was ice free and I spotted a magnificent great blue heron wading next to the river bank on the Virginia side. A gift from the skies.

The workday was uneventful. Just before I left work a friend who had recently left DC  posted a short video of her feeding baby goats some milk. It was the first time I had heard her laugh in months. A gift for the ears.

The ride home began in a cold, light rain. The path downhill to the Mount Vernon Trail had been sprayed with brine. The Trail itself is never treated. Could I make it home if the rain started to freeze? The rain shone like tinsel in my headlight. Then sleet came down, stinging my face. I stuck out my tongue to feel the icy cold pellets. A gift for the senses.

As I rode along a cyclist approached. It appeared to be a woman but her face was covered in a scarf. She said something to me in passing. Someone I knew? No way to tell. [I subsequently learned it was Sam who was not getting this whole gift of sleet idea.]

I gingerly made my way home, taking what route the elements allowed. I stayed off the busier streets and arrived home intact, grateful for the gift of shelter from the elements.

Chill

I have said it many times before but I love my commute. It allows me time to think or to just shut my mind off. I do more of the former than the latter these days. It doesn’t much matter what I am thinking about. Mostly stuff that may be annoying me. I often talk to myself, sometimes out loud. These days you can get away with that sort of thing because people assume you are on your phone.

This time of year I often get a bonus on the ride to work. If the weather and my departure from home align I get to see the sun rise over the Potomac River. More often than not I stop to take a picture from the Dyke Marsh boardwalk on the Mount Vernon Trail. This morning the boards were covered with rime but I managed to come to a stop without slipping. After the picture I took a moment just to take the colors in. I guess this is what causes me, as @sharrowsdc once said, to be “chill”.

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I also like to take in the view of Washington National Cathedral, standing tall above the city as I make my way along the river between the airport and Rosslyn. It is such a beautiful structure. I used to gawk at  it when my kids went to school up in Woodley Park.

In the evening, my ride home usually coincides with nightfall. The monuments of DC are lit up, either by artificial lights or by the colors of the setting sun.

I suppose you can see these things from a car, but you really can’t appreciate them at a glance. Too often we are consumed with the goal of getting to our destination rather than enjoying the ride. That sentiment is a rarity when I commute by bike. I think we’d all be better off if we took some time to chill on the way to and from work.

Seven

I was talking with Sam at Friday Coffee Club. The conversation was about holey sweaters. Sam (and Lawyer Mike) both were chatting about the virtues of old wool sweaters as a mid layer for winter biking. We should form a club or something. Sam is also a redhead for which she gets special bonus points. When I was a kid, and had, um, hair, I was a redhead too. In fact I still am. In places.

As she was about to leave, Sam mentioned that she had to go to a physical therapy appointment. I asked why and she said she was recently hit by a car. Incredulous, I mentioned that she makes six people, all women, that I know who’ve been hit by a car in since May 2011. Then she said, “Make it seven. Jeff was hit recently too.” Jeff is her husband who was standing across the room. He appeared to be okay.

Are you kidding me? Why is walking and riding a bike around here a blood sport?

It makes me think that I have a target on my back and that it’s only a matter of time before my number gets called.

I May Be Sick but I’m Not a Yogi

Last night Mrs. Rootchopper and I went out to dinner in Old Town at a place called Everwood. It’s pretty nice; the food is tasty, the beer and wine selection is good, and you can actually hold a conversation. Mrs. was especially happy that she could ogle her man. Not me, Paul Pierce who was playing basketball on the TV over the bar. (It doesn’t bother me. If she runs off with him, I get Keira Knightly.)

I had a couple of pints of craft beers with my meal thinking nothing of it. This is because I am an idiot. Nine times out of ten beer keeps me from falling to sleep. (Of course, one solution would be to drink ten craft beers and I’d lapse into unconsciousness. That is undignified, however.)  So I was up most of the night. Tossing and turning and, of course, obsessing about all the things that I promised myself I would not obsess about. Just as I was finally nodding off around 6 a.m., Mrs. Rootchopper let out a howl. Leg cramp. This is no doubt a residual benefit from being run over by an SUV.  It was over in a few minutes (easy for me to say) but the drama did its thing and I was awake for good. Need less to say, so was she. I stayed in bed for another 90 minutes to no avail.

I surrendered and went downstairs to do my Saturday morning yoga routine.This involves nearly every posture in the yoga book we have (plus a few more I have seen on friends’ facebook pages). I say “nearly” because there are a few that ain’t going to happen.

  • Head stand – I like my cervical vertibrae just fine the way they are, thank you
  • Lion – this involves making a face and spastically extending you arms, fingers and tongue. In short, it looks as if you are having  a seizure. And there is drool. Not for me.
  • Bow – Lying on your stomach you reach back and grab your ankles and gently rock. Reach back and grab my ankles? LOL
  • Behind the back hand pull. You reach one hand over one shoulder and the other hand under the opposite shoulder blade. Glasp you hands mid-back and gently pull. The last time I was limber enough to pull this off I was wearing Doctor Dentons.
  • Scalp pull – yes, take fistfuls of hair and gently but firmly pull from several directions. I lack sufficient hair for this one.
  • Alternate nostril breathing – Seriously?
  • Candle concentration  – stare at a candle for a long time. I have enough vision problems without seeing a candle in my line of sight for an hour, thank you very much.

I can do pretty much all of the other postures, at least to the extent that my steel hamstrings allow. So I spent 40 minutes contorting and stretching and bending and balancing. I am pretty sad at the balancing part. I try to stay away from breakable household objects during the balancing bits.  I do try though. I am pretty proud of the fact that after several weeks of trying I can do a backward bend and sit on my haunches without crying.

Once done with the self abuse, I launched a 20 minute video with nondescript relaxing music and I meditated. This involves sitting still and thinking about your breathing and only your breathing. The idea is not to get frustrated when you mind inevitably drifts, but to simply refocus on your breathing. When the time is up, I feel infinitely better than when I started. I have yet to rule out the distinct possibility that my improved state of mind is the result of hyperventilating, however. Today, I learned that 20 minutes is a bit too much for my level of competence so it’s back to 15 minutes for the forseeable future.

After breakfast I was planning on going for a bike ride but all of a sudden my tummy did not feel so good.

I tried to nap. No go. An hour passed. Two hours passed.

I put on my homeless-man-on-a-bike gear and went out for a ride. I had nothing.  I managed to cover 11 1/2 miles before packing it in. I gave myself a pat on the back (figurative, see discussion above) and chalked up my first 100-mile week of the year.

And now I am going to sleep.

It’s Not the Cold, It’s the Mileage

Something is terribly wrong. For the second day in a row, I looked forward to riding to work in sub-freezing temperatures. This morning I left well before daybreak to arrive at Friday Coffee Club at a reasonable time. I was mighty cold for the first mile but warmed up and settled into a rhythm following the white circle that my headlight makes. It’s a bit like following the bouncing ball from those old sing-a-longs on TV from before the dawn of time.

The roads and trails appeared to have an ever-so-thin patina of ice on them but I only slipped once and that was on a patch of slush that I decided to ride through. The patches of ice on the trail that were there yesterday morning were gone taking away those moments of indecision and nail biting (nail biting while riding with lobster gloves on is an art, let me tell you). I crossed over the Potomac River on the 14th Street Bridge which is actually named for a man (no his name is not 14th Street) on the Air Florida plane that crashed into the icy river on takeoff some 33 years ago. He gave up the rescue line so that others could be saved. He ended up at the bottom of the river.

I digress. The river had frozen into sheets of ice that had buckled. They overlapped haphazardly. So I took a picture.


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On the DC side the curb cuts and other smooth bits of sidewalk looked like sheets of ice but my tires held their line. I made my way to Swings House of Caffeine unimpeded by big metal things. Just before arriving Aaron pulled up alongside me on his massive cargo bike. I think he is overcompensating for something.

At Swings cyclists were just beginning to arrive. I can’t remember the last time I arrived so early.  Last year at this time I recall arriving and being part of a grumpy quintet of frozen male bike commuters. Not today. Within 20 minutes there were more than 20 bicycle commuters, including six or seven women. Nobody, male or female, seemed the least bit grumpy. Except perhaps for Aaron, but, as I said, he has issues.

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The ride to work involved the usual re-crossing of the river on the TR Bridge. A gaggle of geese took off from the river and began to form a V as they passed overhead. One lone goose remained on a small sheet of ice in midstream. I wonder if his feet were frozen to the ice.

When I left the office it was 20 degrees warmer and I had a tailwind. By contrast with the morning it felt like July. I was tempted to pull over and bask in the sun but thought better of it.

When I arrived home, I checked the odometer on The Mule. It said this:

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As Indiana Jones said, “It’s not the age, it’s the mileage.”