Navigating the Blossom Borg

Yesterday I rode my bike to the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC.  I was going to a get together for my friend Ricky who was hit by  a car a couple of weeks ago. He was also celebrating his 50th birthday. Under the circumstances, he’s probably grateful to be 50 instead of pushing up the daisies.

My trip took me through Old Town Alexandria where I did some business at the UPS Store. Then I rode the inland route, the alternate to the Mount Vernon Trail, all the way to Lady Bird Johnson Park opposite the monuments in DC. There I crossed back over to the MVT. There were an unusual number of walkers on the Virginia side of the Potomac so I knew it would be crowded at the Tidal Basin directly across the river.

As I took the ramp to the 14th Street Bridge, I waved a family group of bicyclists to go before me. There were perhaps 15 people in the group. Their ages ranged from 10 to 50. They took their time and were very careful to avoid crashing into each other or into other trail users. Nicely done folks.

On the bridge I could get a closer view of the crowds around the Tidal Basin. It was insane. When I arrived at the Jefferson Memorial at the DC end of the bridge it was an absolute zoo. Suffice it to say, “On your left” doesn’t work with a busload of disoriented tourists from Japan.

After my bicycle escort veered off to park, I rode through the tourist hordes. I tried to use pavement but it was pointless so I rode on the grass and eventually found a clear path on the sidewalk that follows the approach to the bridge to the east of the Memorial.

The sidewalk curves back to merge with the cherry tree lined sidewalk that goes around the perimeter of the basin. It was a sea of humanity. Moving ever so slowly through a pinch point on a bridge over the inlet that connects the basin to Washington Channel. It must have looked like a swarm of ants from above.

You could almost hear the voice in their collective hive mind:

Must. See. Blossoms.

Must. See/ Blossoms.

Resistance is futile.

I crossed the street to get around the swarm. At 15th and Maine, I waited for  a red light. Pedestrians who were waiting to cross Maine were so thick they spilled from the sidewalk and blocked my way.

The light turned green and the swarm moved as one. As I rode up to Independence Avenue, the swarm moved on the sidewalks to either side of me. At Independence, the swarm swallowed a crosswalk. Two traffic control officers tried in vain to maintain order. The swarm would not be denied. It swallowed them. After half a light cycle, an opening appeared and I carefully slipped through. Now I only had to deal with the swarm of cars moving so slowly.

DSCN4716.JPG
The Touroid Borg at 15th and Independence. If you look closely, you can see one of the traffic cops. 

A turning tour bus blocked 15th at Pennsylvania allowing me to get onto the 15th Street cycletrack where I was joined by a woman riding alone. She seemed uneasy with riding in such conditions so she told me she was going to follow my lead. She had an accent, and, as it turns out, was German. Having lived on Capitol Hill for the last year, she discovered that riding a bike was the best way to get around town. Especially on days like today. Once we escaped the White House area the crowds dissipated and we made good time. She peeled off at P Street while I forged ahead.

I reached Meridian Hill Park and did a victory lap. The water cascade had not been turned on but otherwise it was a normal Saturday in the park. No swarm of tourists. Just local folk doing local folk park things.

I made it to the get together at a pool hall in AdMo. Ricky looked to be in great shape. He seems to be recovering nicely. He may even start going to work next week full time. It will be a lot longer before he can ride a bike again however.

The get together featured a bunch of BikeDC folks from Friday Coffee Club so it was a reunion one day after the finale.  I stayed way too long. Twilight was descending as I emerged on the street. The effects of the beer were made evident by the fact that The Mule seemed like a bucking bronco.

No guts, no glory.

(Do not try this at home. Really. Riding through traffic at twilight after drinking beer is just not a good idea. )

I rode back down to the swarm, touching cars here and there at stop lights to get my low speed balance in check. The swarm was smaller. Perhaps touroids calm down like hornets when the air cools.

The river crossing was almost normal. As was the ride down the trail to my house.

Today was the first day this spring that The Mule and I seemed to be in sync. After tweaking my handlebars and saddle, I finally found the sweet spot where pedaling seemed effortless. This gives me hope for the spring riding season and my tour planned for early July.

The day really zonked me. I fell asleep working a crossword puzzle at the kitchen table. When I awoke, I lied down on the couch in our family room. Then the spasms in my legs began. First, my left thigh, then my right calf, then my right thigh, then both  my thighs. On and on into the night.

Apparently beer is not the best electrolyte drink.

I drank some water and lemonade and hoped for the best. Then I slept like a log from a cherry tree.

 

 

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Bittersweet Friday

Today was a bittersweet Friday.

I had a two-tailwind commute. That’s pretty sweet.

In the morning, I rode past the Tidal Basin with the cherry trees in peak bloom and there were hardly any tourists. (I think the forecast of rain that held off until later scared people away.) That’s pretty sweet.

In the evening, I rode through a tunnel of blossoms to Hains Point and back. That’s pretty sweet.

I arrived at Friday Coffee Club and it was packed. Everybody seemed to be in a good mood. That’s pretty sweet.

And it was my last one. That’s a bitter cup of joe.

Friday Coffee Club started a little over four years ago as a get together with five bike commuting friends: Ed, Mary, Brian, Lane, and Lisa. Soon, like me, others joined. Ages ranged from one to 62. (I’ll never tell.) It became a thing. I became fascinated with the almost bizarre diversity of the crowd. Journalists, writers, editors, economists, lawyers, IT professionals, college administrators, grad students, librarians, Congressional staffers, candidates for public office, chemists (okay, just one), world travelers, randonneurs, marathon runners, bike shop owners, musicians, engineers, and on and on. If you couldn’t find someone interesting to talk with, you were probably dead from the neck up.

I heard about people visiting places like Afghanistan and McMurdo Station at the South Pole.  How often do you have coffee with someone who argued a case before the Supreme Court the day before?  It was at Friday Coffee Club I learned about how you deal with seasickness when scuba diving. (Don’t ask.) The last time I read Green Eggs and Ham was at Friday Coffee Club.

Maybe what has been even more interesting is how nice these people are.

Okay, everyone except Brian.

Just kidding.

M.E. Swings at 17th and G Streets Northwest has been the home of Friday Coffee Club since its inception. The Swings building is being renovated and Swings will close for 14 months. A new venue called A Baked Joint has been chosen. It’s on the far side of downtown which makes it too far from my office to attend.

Friday’s are going to be tough.

 

When in Rome

Even with our relatively mild winter (save for one whopper of a snow storm) I grew really sick of winter. I try to console myself by recalling that for the first 28 years of my life I lived in Albany, Boston, and Providence. These cities have about 6 more weeks of winter and it gets much colder there.

DC is a beast in the summer, but it is heaven in the spring and fall. In the spring, we get life. A week ago I saw three small deer around the corner from my house. Birds are returning to the area. The stars of the show are the bald eagles. I’ve seen bald eagle pairs at two of the four nests along my commute route. As much as I like seeing them in person, I find it hard to beat watching the eagle cam that monitors the nest at the National Arboretum.

The National Park Service and other agencies plant thousands and thousands of bulbs. They are everywhere. The Mount Vernon Trail passes through scads of daffodils up near DC.

The star of the show are the cherry blossoms. This is the week when the 25910740231_b4dc02edca_mcherry trees in DC reach peak bloom. When the trees reach peak, you can go snow blind walking around the Tidal Basin. It’s really a spectacular show. This morning on my way to work I crossed over the Potomac to take a walk around the Tidal Basin.  The trees around the FDR Memorial seem to be a bit ahead of the trees nearer the water. Martin Luther King is still waiting for Boba Fett to come take him to Jabba the Hutt. He looks pretty awesome behind all those blooms. As I was finishing my circuit, I was joined by Brian, blogger, columnist, administrator, grad student, poodle lover, and rider of bikes big and small. Like me, he was a bit underwhelmed by the blossoms.

On the way 25923095971_5cd5dac2bb_mhome, I once again rode over to the Tidal Basin. This time though I took the road to Hains Point. It is lined with blooming cherry trees. The ride to the point and back is
about three miles. I did it twice mainly because the tailwind coming back from the point was a blast. Once headed for home it became a headwind. Boo.

As I told a friend today, life is like the eagle cam: sometimes you get fuzzy gray eaglets, sometimes you get dead fish innards. Innards look nasty but they help the eaglets become bald eagles.  Headwinds may suck but they make you into a badass bike rider if you endure.

Here are some more pictures from my ride.

 

Check Engine Light: Advantage Bicycles

One of the key advantages of riding a bike is that there are no idiot lights to deal with. The most idiotic of all idiot lights is something called the check engine light. When this light is illuminated something is wrong with your car’s engine. It could be a big thing. It could be a trivial matter.

I suspect that this is all a ruse to get you to spend money on your car. It works.

I was planning on driving Mrs. Rootchoppers 2004 Accord to the dealer for an oil change and an overdue state safety inspection. Total cost of these two items is $50.

I went to start the car. It sounded like I was going to have to get out and turn the crank. The engine did turn over but I made a mental note to add a new battery to the list. The bill was now closer to $200.

Then I realized that the check engine light was on. Danger Will Robinson. I was soon to learn that this particular dealer charges $139 to ascertain the cause. This involved plugging a thingie into the gizmo and writing down the code on the display. Good work if you can get it.

Of course, the car ran fine all the way to the dealer, but I needed to pass inspection and the check engine light was between me and PASS. Arg.

I dropped my car off and pulled Little Nellie out of the trunk for the frigid ride to the office.

The mechanic called and said the reason for the check engine light was a bad solenoid (in plain English, this is an electronic doodad) in the fuel system. He also said the engine was leaking oil.

Not good.

Long story short, $1,000 later I got the car back. Smoke was coming out of my credit card.

Ow.

At least the three mile ride to and from the dealer confirmed that the new shifters on Little Nellie cured it’s shifting woes.

The check engine light stayed off all the way home. The low-on-gas light came on instead.

 

 

Retirement Practice

It’s cold and dreary outside. Not a good day for a bike ride. Or a hike. Or much of anything outdoors. I am trying to find things to do. It occurs to me, I had better get used to this. Soon I will be retired. For the first time in my life I face the interesting challenge of having to come up with my daily schedule on my own. This is likely to be doubly difficult since the overwhelming majority of people I know will still be working. Anyway, somebody else has been calling the shots for most of the last 55 years. Now it’s my turn. It’s actually a fairly daunting prospect. I wouldn’t mind learning an instrument, taking a language course (Spanish, ASL), taking  a bike repair course. All are things that I could have done in the last few empty nest years and haven’t. The reason is that, other than hiking and biking, I am a sloth. Yeah, well….

Today’s schedule will include comparing my bikes with a tape measure. Sounds exciting, no? Bicycling is no fun when your bike doesn’t fit properly. Right now I have two that fit that description.

I have yet to dial in the fit on my Cross Check. I loved riding it when I first bought it but it wrecked my body when I got off the bike. Sad face. The Mule recently got new handlebars. I think in the process of working on it, the bike shop inadvertently changed my saddle height a tad. And the handlebars have a slightly different reach to them. So the fit, which was dialed in, is now a bit off. Fortunately, the set up on my Bike Friday, which was custom made to mimic The Mule of old, is unchanged. So it’t time to compare and tweak. Little changes make a huge difference. Pro tip: if someone tells you that your saddle is an inch too low, raise it in increments of no more than 1/4 of an inch. A one inch increase will almost certainly cause problems in your knees, back or neck. Also, as you move your saddle up, you’ll might actually find a sweet spot that you’d otherwise miss.

The rest of my day will be taken up with reading back issues of magazines that have accumulated on my nightstand as I read a stack of books received for Christmas. I also received season one of House of Cards so that’s probably worth a plowing through before baseball season starts. And there’s always the time sucking bald eagle cam.

Unfortunately none of these activities helps with my ever growing body size. (Seefood diets are not a good idea during the winter months.)  I read often about people who do a cleansing of their bodies. This usually involves eating nothing but fruit and veggies and other good things, sometimes combined with some sort of yogic practice. For me a cleansing comes when I do my first long ride of the spring. It’s usually a daylong ride.  I don’t ride it particularly fast. And I am not looking to ride massive hills. The benefit comes in the unrelenting effort over many hours. I am typically exhausted at the end, but  this day of self abuse resets my metabolism.  It has never failed me. I will probably do one of these rides in a week or two. Maybe out to Whites Ferry. Or do an out and back on a long rail trail.

I hear we have a second eaglet. Time for some mindless viewing….

 

It’s Spring – Eagle Mania Is Here

We’ve had a very mild winter, despite the crummy weather this weekend. Our flora is confused. Our forsythia has taken its merry time to bloom. Daffodils and crocuses seem to be resisting.

A sure sign of spring are the young deer I saw the other morning in the park near my home. But our biggest sign of spring has gone viral. Bald eagles. Once nearly wiped out by DDT seem to be taking over, much like our exploding population of Canada geese.

The real show is at the National Arboretum in DC. It has two cameras perched above an eagle nest and people are spending countless hours watching for the eggs to hatch (one down, one to go), eaglets flopping around in the nest, and mama and papa eagle bringing and eating big hunks of fish.

Here’s the link to the cameras: http://www.eagles.org/dceaglecam/

I was feeling a bit left out. I normally see quite a bit of eagle action on my commute, especially at sunrise. There’s been very little this year. I know of three nests along my route. One is just south of the beltway next to the Belle Haven Golf Course. For several years this nest was occupied but the pair of eagles abandoned it a few years back. It’s very much exposed and right next to the GW Parkway. For whatever reason, it seems to be a popular spot for eagles to visit. In the mornings, I often see an eagle or two perched on a branch near the nest, facing the sunrise.

About a mile farther south, just past the Tulane Drive turnoff is a massive nest. I only found this one a couple of years ago. (Pro trick: keep an eye out for photographers!) By its size, it seems obvious that this nest has been there a long time. It was near the Tulane nest that I found skeletal remains of a Canada goose and a small animal. This one is extremely hard to spot even when you know where it is.  It’s also on a curvey section of the trail. Pull over to check this one out.

The next nest, at least until this week, is near the Morningside Drive exit of the GW Parkway, about a half mile further south on the trail. Like the Tulane nest, this one is on the left between the trail and the river. This is a whopper too. And it has been occupied in recent years. I haven’t seen eagles at either the Tulane or the Morningside nests yet.

But there is good news. Right between the Tulane and Morningside nests is a new nest. In fact there used to be two small nests, so small that I thought they might be osprey nests. They were each on wee islets at the southern end of Dyke Marsh. One of the islets is gone, trees and all. The other, closer to the trail, is still in one piece. The other night I spotted two bald eagles at the nest. One keeping lookout the other in the nest. I think we have babies on the way.

So just when winter starts wearing me down, spring lifts me up. In about a month, we will be seeing snapping turtles laying eggs along the trail.

Speaking of turtles laying eggs, the turtles often bury their eggs on the edge of the trail. As I was riding home, I notice several dents in the edge of the trail, about the size of a turtle. Could it be that the excavation the turtles do for their egg clatches are undermining the trail’s edge?

Nature is so cool.

So is my bike commute.

 

 

I love my bike commute.

 

 

 

Errandonnee 2016 Control Card

Here’s the list of errands. To qualify as a finisher you need to do 12, in 7 of 9 categories. Here are mine:

Errand No. 1: Dry Cleaner

This qualifies in the Store category. That’s one category.

I rode 2 1/2 miles round trip for this one. Nice people who run businesses in your neighborhood deserve your business.

Errand No. 2: Drug Store

This one goes in Personal Care. That’s two categories.

This one was also about 2 1/2 miles round trip. Asthma sucks, so to speak.

Errand No. 3: Bike Shop

This one goes in the Store category. That uses up this category.

The Bike Shop is about 4 miles from home. So the round trip is 8. Support your local bike store or you won’t have one no more.

Errand No. 4: Ride to Work

This one is in the Work category. Clever, no? That’s three categories.

Depending on the odometer and the route this is 28 1/2 to 31 miles. I think this one was 29. I have the best bike commute ever.

Errand No. 5: Ride to Happy Hour

This one goes under the Social category. This is category number four. I rode a few blocks up a hill to get to this one. So the mileage may be 1/2 mile, tops. Even happy hour can’t make Rosslyn appealing.

Errand No. 6: Ride to Work # 2

This uses up the Work category. Another 29 miler.

Errand No. 7: Bank

This one goes in Personal Business. This is category number 5. Lets’ see I get to go to wokr and see sunrises, bald eagles, ducks and geese and egrets and herons and redwing black birds and jets taking off and landing and monuments and riverscapes and….you get the idea.

Errand No. 8: Bank

Another Personal Business entry. That’s it for this category.Tis one was – 1/2 mile because it chopped off my usual commuting romp through Jones Point Park.

Errand No. 9: Friday Coffee Club

This finishes off the Social category. This one is really only 2 1/2 miles. That’s the diversion from my 29-ish mile commute. To get to this one, I rode through a drone free zone near the Washington monument. I tried not to talk in a monotone here.

Errand No. 10: Hikenneuring

This goes under the Wild Card category. Category No. 6. This was an inventive 4 mile ride to a bike shop followed by a 4 mile hike home. I learned that my legs are not ready for serious hiking, but this was a good way to tune them up.

Errand No. 11: Lost Food Rescue.

Another Wild Card entry. All used up. This was an insane trip to a grocery store located 100 yards from the bike shop. Except I made the trip separately by bike. This wasn’t intentional but the trip involved retrieving cookies and coffee. Well worth the 8-ish mile effort.

Errand No. 12: Seeds!!!

This is falls in the You Carried What on Your Bike category, which is my category No.7

Another 2 1/2 mile trip to the hardware store with the intent of picking up a humongous bag of bird seeds. The store was all out of the bike crushing bag so I went with a ten-pounder and a bag of grass seed. Riding home was somewhat unbalanced but manageable. I thought about putting this one in the Arts and Entertainment category because I probably spend 1 or 2 hours each week watching the birds come and go to our feeder.

So ends my errandonnee. I did a bunch more errands but I already used up the categories.

Here are the pix of my adventure.

The End of the Errandonnee Is in Sight

Today is the final day of the 2016 Errandonnee. I didn’t actually plan it this way, but I had scheduled an eye doctor appointment for today back in February. I have glaucoma. The symptom of this eye disease is an increase in intraocular pressure. I have this pressure problem in both eyes. My right eye pressure spiked when he measured it last month so the doctor proscribed an additional medication for it.

I decided it would be less complicated if I worked from home. The distance to the doctor in Old Town Alexandria is 5 1/2 miles. I rode the Cross Check because I didn’t need to carry anything except a lock.

The skies were gray but the morning rain had stopped. The ride was uneventful. I like my eye doctor. It is only a coincidence that he is a bike commuter but that makes gives our conversation a focal point.

He tested my pressure and found that it was lower than at any time he’d been measuring it, which is several years. Yay drugs! What was interesting was the fact that the pressure in my left eye which hadn’t gotten any additional medication was also way down. Yay no drugs!

I rode home in a good mood and even decided to climb the Park Terrace hill. This hill is best climbed with a granny gear but the Cross Check doesn’t have one. I made it without much pain.

For those readers who are averse to taking medications, I looked up some research. Marijuana is known to reduced intraocular pressure. Its effects are short-lived meaning you’d have to get stoned 24/7 to get the desired medical result. Meditation has shown to have miniscule beneficial effect. Yoga, particularly asanas that involve inversion, that is, with your head down, is bad news.  Basically, I can be limber and blind or stiff and sighted.

So concludes the medical portion of our program.

(I know I only need 12 errands but I have to get them in 7 categories. Otherwise I’d just ride to work for seven of the errands.)

Errand No. 1425790505135_f8c3d2217d_m

Category: Personal Care

Distance: 11 1/2 miles

Observation:  The pressure test for glaucoma is painless. It involves having a machine guided by the doctor gently putting a pressure probe against the eyeball. If you think this is icky, blindness is ickier.

 

Vasanapping

Each spring the bike riding season in DC begins with the Vasa ride. This is an event put on by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association and the House of Sweden, a.k.a. the Swedish Embassy. There is a family ride of 16-ish miles, the Halvasa of 31-ish miles, and the 61-mile Vasa ride, known in Malmo as the Whole Lutfisk. Okay, I ma25124970033_bdd5088f21_my that up.

It was also the first day of Daylight Savings Time. So we lost an hour of sleep. Michelle is WABA’s event coordinator. She is known to carry a divining rod in her messenger bag. Of the time change, she said this:

“I only control the weather. I do not control time.”

That’s a relief. I think.

I drove to the ride because it was cold and dark and I had misplaced an hour overnight. I blasted the Chieftains because my peeps own this month, dammit. (Oddly, all Chieftains’ songs sound the same to me. Even dirges end up sounding like rowdy nights at the pub.)

At the start I talked with Michelle and Colin, WABA’s Jimmy Olsen, and with Michael from Friday Coffee Club. (Actually he’s one of three Michaels. Michael is the new Katie.) Michael was riding the short ride and I didn’t see anybody to ride with so I rode the 32-ish ride alone. I know the course by heart so there was no need for a cue sheet. Ride out K Street to the Capital Crescent Trail. Cross over the canal at the boathouse. Ride up the steep hill to MacArthur Boulevard. Ride MacArthur Boulevard until it tops out (literally) at Great Falls Park, bang a right on Falls Road. Ride until you see the WABA pit stop at Potomac Village. Drink from Ursula’s stash of Gatorade in the back of the truck. Look around for people to talk with. Seeing no one you know, retrace your path one half mile. Hang a looie into Avenel. See the big houses. See the pretty golf course. Bang a right on Persimmon Tree Road. See more houses. See a different golf course. Bang a left on MacArthur. Repeat the first 10 miles in reverse.

The route was a fitting place to try out the newly tweaked saddle height on the Cross Check. I think I am pretty close to dialing my set up in. My arms were a little sore but that could just be muscle atrophy from riding my recumbent so much. I did a 100 yard stretch on the canal towpath at the cross over point. Dang, if this bike isn’t awesome on gravel. Can’t wait to do the Whites Ferry century loop on this beast.

At the end of the25130723163_e981fa864b_m ride, I went into the embassy and had a cup of warm blueberry soup. It’s a thing. It tastes great after a cold ride. Did you know that the word “babe” is a direct translation from Swedish for Swedish Soup Lady? It’s true. I swear. I took a picture to prove it. Also, they said “Get well, Ricky!!!” because Ricky got clobbered by a car last week and they miss him.

I didn’t see anybody I knew so I left after one cup. Outside I ran into Tom and Kirstin. She’s Ultrarunnergirl . She and Hubs were doing an ultrasugarthon in Georgetown instead of riding the Vasa.

Greg, WABA Executive Director, appeared. He was all smiles after running a half marathon yesterday. You smile when the pain stops. It’s a running thing.

And so, I headed home. After a totally unhealthy lunch, I turned on the Nats spring training game. You know that hour of sleep that I lost? I found it. And a couple more.

Baseball cures the sleepy beast.

Tack to WABA, the Swedish embassy folks, and to all the volunteers.

 

In the Swing with the Errandonnee

It was Friday. So I rode to Friday Coffee Club. It was warm so the clubbers were outside. The place was mobbed. At the end of the month, Swings House of Caffeine, the only home Friday Coffee Club has ever known, is closing for a year while the building is being renovated. The temporary interim site is a bit too far afield for me.  So my days of going to Friday Coffee Club are numbered.

Errand #1025397285380_7eca9b5bf2_m

Category: Social

Miles: 32

Observation: Friday Coffee Club has been such as success that I don’t know half the people who go these days. And it is so crowded that I often don’t get a chance to talk to the people I do know. What a complainer. I think I need a cup of coffee.