February in the Books

Looks like I am off to a pretty good start this year. I rode to work 15 times in February and managed to cover 506 miles in the month. Most of my riding was on The Mule which hit 40,000 miles last week. I switched over to Big Nellie for a few days, but barely rode my other two bikes at all (10 miles).  For the year I have ridden 953 miles. That’s not half bad considering that snow kept me off the bike for several days.

I’m 100+ miles ahead of 2015 and have ridden to work 8 more times, although I had a leap commute this year.

Warm days with over 11 hours of daylight make me look forward to long bike rides in the country in only a month or so.

 

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Can We Have Winter Back?

The day began with a backpack and a driver’s license on my front lawn. Hmmm. Watson, the needle! I left them there and awaited developments. Twenty minutes later I noticed a police car parked across the street. Then a policeman came walking to the car. I went outside and pointed out the backpack and the license. A clue! Excitement. Somebody get me a meerschaum pipe!  The game’s afoot! It turns out someone had broken into some cars up the street and dropped the backpack as they left the area. Maybe they’d try to take some prints off the license. Maybe not.

But that’s not what this post is about..

When you ride through the winter you have to put up with annoying clothing layers and frozen toes. What you get in return is blissfully empty bike trails. Today was the first spring-like day of the year. All the people who spent their winters binge watching Downton Walking Dead were outside enjoying the weather. Many of them came to the bike trails. A few of them came with athletic fantasies.

After filing my taxes I hopped on Big Nellie and headed out for some blissfully warm riding. I made my way to the Mount Vernon Trail beginning about three miles south of the Beltway. I was surprised that it wasn’t busy at all. I rode through Belle Haven Park which is usually busy with people crossing the trail. No surprise there.

Not wanting to tempt fate, I rode over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. On the far side I rode down the spiral trail. Spirals are a blast on a recumbent.

Then it was the long slog up Oxon Hill. Hills are not a blast on a

25325369056_4f464a4774_m
Bikes on houses? Also, windy.

recumbent.You look like Fred Flintstone doing the pee pee dance, spinning your ass off and going nowhere.

 

Instead of riding back down to the river via Oxon Hill Farm, I took a series of access roads along side Indian Head Highway. I traded scenery for a more direct route. Then I turned off Oxon Hill Road and got lost.

I rode through one low-income housing project after another. So scenic. So damned hilly. At least the people were nice. Anacostia has a very high crime rate but on sunny spring days you’d never know it. Mostly you see people coming and going from church dressed in Sunday best. It helps to be on a recumbent. Little kids go “Wow” and adults get a (usually) silent laugh out of the sight of me.

I rode through Anacostia Park along the Anacostia River to Benning Road then crossed over into a maze of streets, few of which seem to go continuously east. I was headed for Bicycle Space’s K Street NW shop to buy a mirror for Big Nellie. I had $66 of gift card money left over from my birthday so I decided to ride 20 miles to use it up rather than simply buy the same mirror at my local bike store near my house.

I made my way up H Street hoping to spot the new trolley car. I didn’t see it but the rails made me wary of catching a wheel and crashing. Trolley cars are a pain if you are a cyclist. Actually, they are a pain if you are anything but a trolley car rider. I rode the trolley in Boston all the time. I loved it. In most places in Boston, the trolley is physically separated from the cars. Not on H Street.

I survived. I made it to Bicycle Space then made my way home. The Mall was packed with tourists. The streets were packed with wannabe tourists in cars looking for parking spaces. Maybe they could put a trolley along the Mall in a loop. Like they have in downtown Melbourne Australia. (The loop trolley in Melbourne is free too.) This would require taxes and coordination. Things American government doesn’t know how to do. Vote for me. I’ll put a wall around the Mall and make the tourist pay for it.

I made my way up 15th Street which had some traffic lights out of service. Joy. Not.

As I turned onto Maine Avenue near the Tidal Basin, a bicyclists heading the opposite way yelled “Hello.” I waved clumsily as I rode over some irregularities in the road. I learned later that it was Ted, a.k.a. Mr T in DC. He looks nothing like the Mr T from the Rocky movie. I suppose this is a good thing.

As I rode over the 14th Street Bridge it began. A woman was looking out over the river to the right. She was pulling a suitcase. She decided to carry on in the direction of Virginia and immediately headed for the left side of the trail directly into the path of a DC-bound cyclist.

I slowed allowing him to swerve around her. I told her as I rode past, walk on the right. I looked in my mirror. She was still on the left.

The Mount Vernon Trail was absolutely packed with people of all ages. Cyclists, walkers, kids, old people, prams, skateboards. Many folks were walking three abreast creating pinch points for everyone else. Good to see you are having a nice time folks. With uncharacteristic calm and patience (I am a former Boston cabbie so just don’t push me too far okay?) I made my way through the throngs. It was actually pretty nice but for one thing: the fair weather cyclists who decide that today is the day that they will instantaneously get in shape and become Lance Mamilstrong!! Yes, with their amazing cycling skill they’ll ride headlong into the mass of peaceful trail users.Everyone will get out of their way because they are…..Lance Mamilstrong, cyclist in tights!

Fuggum.

For the record I didn’t put one pump into the spokes of one passing Lance Mamilstrong (like that mean Italian in Breaking Away. Everybody cheats. I just didn’t know). I didn’t swear. I just went with the flow. Slowly.

I made it home with a smile on my face. Even Lance Mamilstong couldn’t ruin such a fine day.

A few more days like today though and I’ll be praying for a return of cold weather.

 

 

 

TLC for The Mule

Given the fact that I’ve been riding The Mule 90 percent of the time since November, it’s not surprising that this bike is beat up. All that sand and salt and crud has taken a toll. I took in to my local bike shop for some TLC. Here’s what the to do list:

  • Replace the bent handlebar, brake levers, and bar tape  (damaged in a crash last winter)
  • True both wheels
  • Clean and adjust brakes (front caliper was sticking)
  • Replace the pulley wheels in rear derailer (they squealed like crazy. One has teeth that were worn to points)
  • Replace bottom bracket (I could feel crunchiness every time I pedaled)
  • Replace chain and cassette
  • Tune up whatever is left to tweak

Fortunately, the shop’s winter service deals were still going on so I got a break on the labor. I also put my WABA membership to use to get a ten percent discount on all the new parts. (Basically, the membership just paid for itself.)

The bike will be ready next weekend.

In the meantime, Big Nellie will do service as my bike commuter. Fortunately, we will be having a spate of springlike weather for the next several days. Just the thing for a little laid back riding.

 

40,000 Miles for The Mule

I read the other day that some fitness experts say it is a bad idea to keep track or your workouts. What balderdash.

I like numbers. By keeping track of my workouts I learned a lot. I learned that after 400 miles, running shoes (at least the ones I wore back in the day) that looked like they were in good shape lost the cushioning in their midsoles. If you rotated your shoes, they’d last a lot longer. And if you felt sore and listless, there was a good chance you hadn’t taken a day off recently. Finally, I found out that for me running 60 miles a week gave me the same or better running performance as running 70 miles per week.

You can get carried away. I became obsessed with running 3,000 miles in a year. Let me tell you the last month was a bitch. But I made it in the last week of December.

When I switched to bicycling, I had to figure out what was worth keeping track of. I counted the number of commutes each year, which bike I rode, how far I rode, and any other incidental information. I was a much more intense rider in the early years. Now I really don’t care much about the stats. But every so often a big one hits and it’s cause for celebration.

The odometer on The Mule hit 40,000 miles on my ride home from work25167767542_42cc5f4bd2_m. I have had this bike since 1991 so I’ve been averaging 1,600 miles per year on it. In the beginning, I rode a Trek 1200 for a few years. I sold that and rode The Mule exclusively until the early 2000s when I bought Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent. I then started using The Mule as my back up bike. I bought Little Nellie and The Mule was ridden even less. And my Cross Check was added to the stable last summer. Somewhere along the line, I came full circle and The Mule became my go-to commuter once again. All together, not counting the Trek, I have about 96,000 miles on bikes since 1991. That’s 3,840 miles per year over 25 years.

The Mule has taken me to work hundreds of times and carried me on two bike tours. It’s slow, it’s weighs a ton, but it won’t die (knock wood). All that remains of the original bike are the frame and fork, the seat post, the cranks, and the rear rack.

So it gave me a sense of satisfaction to write 40,000 in my training diary today. I was 2 miles from work on the Mount Vernon Trail when 39,999 gave way. I had a strong tail wind.

The Mule goes to my local bike shop for some TLC. The pedals feel crunchy, oil refuses to stay on the chain, the handlebar is bent and plastic bits have broken off the brake levers (both from a crash last winter). It’ll cost some $$$ but maybe I’ll get another 40,000 miles out of this bike.

Bike, Wash, and Drink, Oh My!!!

We were under a tornado watch. A long north/south line of intense storms, about 10 miles wide and a hundred miles long (both guesses), was tracking to the north. From the animation on the weather sites, it was clear that no matter what I did, short of staying at the office until 8 or 9, I was going to have to ride through this beast.

The good news was that it was warm out. Over 60 degrees. The first half of my commute was into a strong and gusting headwind but it was toasty. Then, at the 7 1/2 mile mark near the power plant in Alexandria flashes of lightning started. Not cloud to ground but bright enough to get my attention. Old Town passed without incident. Light rain, with big drops, started to fall. As I approached the Wilson Bridge I caught a glimpse of the sky to the west. NASTY. Dark. Reddish. Eek.

The wind now changed direction. It blew me up the ramp to Washington Street. Then I turned left to head down the trail. Oof! Gusts from my left pushed me toward the street to my right. I tucked and pedaled hard to maintain my forward momentum. More gusts. Stronger. More lightning. Then the rain began. Moderate but blowing every which way. The water was cold but the air was warm so my wool clad feet stayed comfortable.

More lightning. Thunder. Every time the trail took me behind brush or trees the force of the wind gusts diminished. As I cleared the trail at Northdown Road the skies opened. I opened my mouth and it was as if I was drinking from a glass. I couldn’t see ANYTHING. So I navigated on instinct having ridden this road hundreds of times. Standing water was several inches deep. A torrent came down the little hill from the stone bridge.

I crested the hill and crossed the bridge and damned it the rain didn’t intensify. This was INSANE! And sooooo much fun. I took the lane mostly because about four feet at the edge of the road had four inches of water rushing along it.

I barely made my turn on Shenandoah Drive. Brakes are not real useful in this sort of deluge. I tried to keep an eye out for debris in the road. It was hopeless. I had all I could do to stay ON the road.

I lucked out when a car pulled in front of me and activated the traffic light at Fort Hunt Road. I blasted across and kept riding. Cars were giving me plenty of room. A mile from home an intense blast of lightning, then, a second later, a bone shaking blast of thunder filled the sky.

Woot!

Pedal, pedal!!!!

I had to come to a stop to make the turn on Collingwood Road a quarter mile from home. I let five cars go by so that I wouldn’t have to worry about them running me over in the blinding rain.

After 15 miles, I pulled into the yard.

If I had driven, this commute would have sucked. On my bike it was a thrill.

We should have tornado watches more often.

Post Script: This is apparently what I rode through after it tracked east about 15 miles. Dang!

The Mule Abides and Other Randomnesses

  • My brother sent me an invitation to his wedding in Jamaica. It’s in July. It’s his 4th. I haven’t talked to him in years. It likely conflicts with my summer bike tour in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Wisconsin. I may be a few spokes shy of a wheel, but  I hear the call of The Mule. The Mule abides.
  • I used to watch Inside the Actor’s Studio. It had some terrific quotes.
    • Michael J. Fox said he got into acting because “Two plus two is always going to equal four. What’s interesting about that?
    • Robin Williams’ favorite word was “smegma”.
    • Sir Lawrence Olivier once described the personality of actors with nine words: “Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.”
  • A friend unexpectedly returned to DC in early January. She contacted me shortly thereafter. Hasn’t made any effort to get together in the 5 1/2 weeks since. Could be a relative of Olivier. Olivier means “from the olive tree” in French. If an olive tree falls in the grove and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a noise?
  • Clarence lives in DC. I’ve seen Clarence but once in nearly seven months. Clarence recently invited me to a happy hour.I’ll bet you didn’t know that Spoetzl made mulled wine. I missed the happy hour. I miss Clarence. I’m pretty sure there is no such thing as an odbody tree.
  • I really like the analogy at the end of this blog post: our bodies and feelings are like rivers. He could have added “our lives.” In my book, this is a whole lot more useful than the dogma that was shoved down my throat in parochial school in the 60s.
  • When I was 24 I had been to one foreign country – Canada. My kids who are a combined age of 44 have been to 18 countries between them. At least we are tied on continents (4). For the record, I have been to seven more. No way I can catch up though; my daughter is bouncing around Europe until June.
  • I went to an Expos game at Jarry Park in Montreal a long time ago. (Willie Mays was on the Giants roster that day but he didn’t play.) I still think the present day Expos, who are now the Washington Nationals, should make all announcements in English and French. I mean wouldn’t calling the pitcher Le Lanceur just be awesome? Maybe they can have an Expos uniform day. (Best caps ever.) And what better names have there ever been for a ballplayer than Vladimir Guerrero, Claude Raymond, and Le Grand Orange?
  • The Nationals are the best immigrants ever. Hope President Trump doesn’t deport them. If he throws out the first pitch in 2017, Jonathan Papelbon will finally not be the most loathed person in the ballpark.
  • Every once in a while I get into a stressful conversation with someone and, as Mrs. Rootchopper says, “They don’t want a conversation; they want an audience.” Remove these people from your life. You’ll thank me when you do.
  • I have been doing crosswords and other puzzles every day since college. While we were in Australia, our daughter got us hooked on a game show that included anagrams. Lately, Mrs. Rootchopper and I have become obsessed with Scrabblegrams (jumbles of letters you make into words to earn a score.) We are pathetic human beings.
  • I can’t wait to ride to work tomorrow. I know my fusiform gyrus is messed up but clearly I need a neurological examination stat. I may even ride my recumbent. Yeah, that’ll help. I expect to see people in white jackets when I arrive at work.

Triple Play for Punxatawney Phil

As every American knows, Punxatawney Phil is a groundhog who comes out of his hole on Groundhog Day (dang, isn’t that clever). If he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If not, liberation! Lord only knows how this myth got started.

At least Phil isn’t as politically dubious as Indian summer.

So today was the first, honest to god springlike day of the year. It took about six hours of daylight to get going in earnest, but temperatures eventually rose into the high 60s.

I started the day warming up for Errandonnee 2016. This was once called the Utilitaire, a name I prefer only to annoy the Goddess of Errands.  Whatever it’s called, it’s all about doing errands by bike. Today, I took my neglected recumbent, Big Nellie, out for some chores. Our first stop was the dry cleaners. I could use a dry cleaner in our office building but I like the people who run the shop near my house. You have to support nice people. Even if their shop is on US 1 in Fairfax County. Not to put to fine a point on it, US 1 is an abomination. It sucks in every conceivable way. And it’s even worse if you are on a bike. If you don’t support nice people, you get not nice people. Nice people are more better.

Next stop was the clothes donation bin. This was on the opposite side of US 1 so I got to play with cars. None of them hit me.

I crossed back over US 1 and made for the local hardware store. The clothes donation bin was 100 yards from a Home Depot. The hardware store is run by nice people (one of the owners rides a bike up and down the Mount Vernon Trail in the mornings). They sell all sorts of useful stuff. Until you buy a house you probably don’t shop at hardware stores. For homeowners, hardware stores are like a toy store. They are filled with all sorts of interesting stuff. Ours sells 25 pound bags of shelled bird seed covered with cayenne pepper. It’s expensive but the squirrels don’t like it and the birds do. I bought a bag and dropped it in my old pannier. The ride home was a bit lopsided but Big Nellie was up to the task.

With the Errandonnee practice run complete, I turned my attention to my bete noire: Not the Bryan Ferry record, squeaky brakes. According to Google, “squeeky brakes” is
“freins grinçants” en Francais. Why didn’t I learn this in 4 1/2 years of studying French?

First I worked on Big Nellie’s back brakes. This involves putting this huge bike in a bike workstand, adjusting the brakes, taking the bike out of the stand, going for a test ride and repeating. All the while dropping F bombs, because you really need three hands and I only have two. (If we survive climate change, humans will sprout a retractable third hand from their appendixes. And I bet  you thought it was a useless vestigial organ.)

It took me only two tries and about 20 F bombs but I silenced the squeal.

Next I put The Mule in the stand and went at it. The brakes on Big Nellie are V-brakes. The brakes on The Mule are cantilevers. The adjustment is the same but you need an additional tool (a wrench) to work on cantilevers. This ups the f-bomb count substantially. Fortunately, The Mule isn’t as ungainly as Big Nellie so it’s easier to get into the stand. After about 15 minutes I had silenced the truly irritating screech from both front and rear brakes.

After a quick lunch, I hopped on Big Nellie for a reward ride. I rode over to the Mount Vernon Trail which was busy with families. Many of them had free range toddlers. If you want to identify suboptimal parents, just go to the busiest trail in the mid Atlantic on a warm, sunny day and look for the ones with free range toddlers. As a reformed suboptimal parent, I sympathize and ride especially carefully around these people. There are also the our-kid-got-a-bike-for-Christmas-let’s-go-get-them-killed parents. I know its a “bike path” but it’s got MAMILs and teenagers on it and your kid can’t ride in a straight line yet. DON’T BRING THEM TO A TRAIL!!! Sorry. Life’s not fair. (You can trust Scar on this.)

After a ride across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge sidepath which was filled with British sympathizers (they all seemed to walk on the left today), I rode down into Jones Point Park. Here I saw several optimal parents. They were teaching their kids to ride their bikes off the trail in the big paved area under the bridge. If you have a kid who’s learning to ride a bike TAKE THEM TO JONES POINT PARK. It even has nice bathrooms. And a rudder from a World War I ship.

I rode through Old Town to Four Mile Run, then came back through Del Ray. People were out and about. Cabin fever was being cured. Smiles abounded.

I took the Park Terrace hill on the way home. Riding hills on a recumbent is not big fun, but I needed a challenge. The grind put me in a trance and somehow I found myself riding over the crest of the hill.

So there you have it. Errands, Bike maintenance. Lazy ride.

A triple play on a sunny day.

Thanks Phil. See you in about three weeks.

 

Advocating and Zoning Out

Advocating

Last night I went to a meeting of the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling or FABB. This is an advocacy organization with a geography problem. Fairfax County wraps around Arlington and Alexandria. This makes it impractical for people in the southeastern part of the county (where I live) to attend meetings in the northern part of the county. So I have never gone before. Until this year, FABB has focused on the parts of the county far removed from my home. Last night they moved the meeting to 1/2 mile from my house. So I went. Irony alert: I drove.

It was a pretty crowded meeting and without seven cyclists that I know who live nearby. Much was discussed. A representative from the Mount Vernon Supervisor’s office was there. (Supervisors are like mayors of the county’s various districts.) Also, Adam Lind, our fearless county bike person, came.

What became apparent was that the Mount Vernon District has issues that no other part of the county has. Despite the fact that Fairfax County is one of the highest income jurisdictions in the country, there is precious little money to spend on bicycle and pedestrian facilities, unless the project is part of a enormous road construction project. If you want a bike project funded you pretty much have to organize a whole mess of people and raise a big stink. Repeatedly. Ugh. Or you can move to Arlington or DC.

I have been saying for quite a while that Arlington and DC are far more attractive to young professionals that Fairfax because they are less car oriented and more livable.  I heard this same sentiment last night. I’d say Fairfax is at least 25 years behind Arlington and DC in its approach to livable communities. This meeting, like every meeting I have attended in Fairfax, has had at least one non-cycling resident who thinks everyday cycling is inherently reckless and that cyclists must be protected against their own inability to assess risks. This kind of attitude creates inertia that takes years to overcome.

Zoning Out

After a five-day break, I was back on the bike today. The ride to work was highlighted (pun intended) by the fact that the sun was out when I left the house. Yesss!!! This didn’t stop me from taking my sunrise picture though. There as a small amount of black ice on the Mount Vernon Trail but nothing I couldn’t ride over. I didn’t much care for the cold headwind but the fact that I wore sunglasses the whole way pretty much made up for the discomfort.

The ride home was in daylight for about 1/2 the ride. I could get used to this. Plus I had a tailwind. I was about 2 1/2 miles from home when I went into a bike commute trance. My meditation. I looked up and noticed houses that didn’t look familiar. I had missed a turn. A turn that I have made hundreds of times. No worries. I took a different route and had a laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

It Had to Happen Eventually

A couple of weeks ago I shoveled snow for more than ten hours over the course of several days. I was shocked at how well my back held up. I attributed my good fortune to new exercises I have been doing to strengthen my lateral back muscles.

Yesterday I shoveled five or so inches of snow. And went snowshoeing for an hour. Ever since I have been feeling electrical shocks in my lower right back and hips. I don’t have any muscles spasm yet but it won’t take much to put me in a world of hurt.

Since the roads were an icy mess this morning, I opted to drive to work. Combined with tomorrow’s teleworking day I hope to be back in the saddle on Thursday. Fingers crossed.

 

Of Wovels and Snowshoes

It’s Presidents Day, the holiday we really don’t much need but are stuck with. We had Christmas, New Years, MLK, and Presidents Day in quick succession then bupkiss. Who’s in charge of this calendar really? The long march to Memorial Day begins. Thank god baseball starts up in a month or so. Hell, I’d swap one of these holidays for opening day in a heart beat.

As luck would have it, we are having a cold spell combined with a winter storm. I think we had five or six inches here in Mount Vernon Virginia. It was just the right amount of snow for woveling. I woveled and shoveled for about 90 minutes this morning. The snow kept falling. The snowplows kept plowing my cars and driveway in. I kept woveling. I won.

After a late breakfast and some lying about I decided to drive to Fort Hunt Park for some snowshoeing. IT seemed awfully cold outside but once I put on my bike commuting gear I was perfectly comfortable.

When I arrived the park was empty except for a giant SUV doing donuts in one of the unplowed parking lots and a pickup truck plowing the park loop road.

I waved to the SUV people who were having a blast and headed off into the powder. Except for some cross country ski and critter tracks the snow was untouched. It was remarkably quiet too. Just me and my breath and the crunch of the snow under my snowshoes.

Breathe. Crunch. Breathe. Crunch.

I made a big circuit of the park.  Park of the park’s road system is blocked off so I checked it out. The snow was clinging to the trees. It looked like a giant donut baker had sprinkled powdered sugar on everything. So pretty.

The closed section of road comes back to the main loop road so I veered off down a path into the woods. I tried a steep section. I was stiff legging it, afraid I’d fall down despite the grippy teeth on the snowshoes. No problem. Sweet. Some of these trails are used by high school cross country runners so they are perfect for snowshoeing.

I was getting close to the GW Parkway. It was lightly traveled on this snowy day. I knew I was near a big bald eagle nest. I found two. One was in an evergreen tree. The greenery was only present at the top and the nest was just beneath. It didn’t look like the nest I have seen from the Mount Vernon Trail so I kept looking and soon found a nest made of large branches. This had to be it. (I managed to screw up the picture so you’ll have to take my word on it.) There were no eagle about so I kept slogging ahead.

After making it back to the main loop road I noticed something in a tree on the far side of the road. The underbrush kept me from getting close but it certainly looked to be the size of a bald eagle. It wasn’t moving though.

As I made my way back to the car, the snowplow came around the loop again. He slowed and waved to me. We were the only ones in the park.

Maybe Presidents Day isn’t so bad after all.