August: The Retired Bike Commuter

I commuted by bike 14 times this month. I’d have done more but I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.

The commuting was good for 423 miles. I did another 443 1/2 miles mostly after I threw in the chain rag. This included the back-to-back death marches, Colin’s ride over rocks and roots and the Reston Century.  Truth be told, they would have been infinitely harder had the weather been more typical of August, blast furnace hot with sauna-level humidity.

It was my highest mileage month of the year. I’m now at 5,736 miles. 2,406 miles or 42 percent were on my Cross Check. The other three bikes each had about 1,100 miles on them. I finished my bike commuting career at 133 rides to work.

After mowing the lawn today, I took Big Nellie out for a ride. I was in t-shirt, a swim suit, and Teva sandals. I rode to the Lincoln Memorial and back. 30 miles. I saw a dozen or so snowy egrets, smelled honeysuckle, and heard a rather exotic bird call at the power plant in Old Town. It was nearly the same ride as my bike commute, without the work in the middle. I do believe I am adjusting just fine. Tomorrow I’ll do it again, but I’ll stop at Friday Coffee Club to rub it in.

 

 

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Losing my Perch in the Sky

The State of Maryland has broken ground on the Purple Line. This is a light rail project that arc across the top of DC connecting two spokes in the wheel of the Metro rail system. The right of way will include a paved trail which is great news for cyclists. Unfortunately, while it is being built the Georgetown Branch Trail, an unpaved trail that connects the Capital Crescent Trail in downtown Bethesda to downtown Silver Spring will be closed. That trail includes one of my favorite places in the DC area, the Rock Creek Trestle.

The trestle carries the trail at tree top level over Rock Creek Park. I go there to catch my breath, to eat lunch, to check out the fall foliage or simply to show off the view to friends. I’ve been there dozens of times. Unless plans change, September 4 is the last day to ride to my perch in the sky.

A Nudge into the Calming Rain

This day had to come. Rain. All day. While working, I just resigned myself to getting wet as I rode to the office. (Trust me, biking to work around DC in the rain is infinitely preferable to driving.)

No office, no ride? No way.

Still I needed motivation. A bike commuting friend posted a picture from her ride to work on Instagram. It was of the tree-lined paved path along the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. For all the dreariness, it made me miss playing in the rain.I could see her in my mind’s eye, plodding along with little effort, enjoying every splash. I envied her.

On when the rain gear and out I went.  From inside the rain looked like it was falling hard, but once I was outside it somehow seemed less daunting, inviting even.

I took the Cross Check to see if the gears were working properly, (They were. Yay!)

Long ago, I identified routes around my neck of the suburbs that required very few left turns and no highway crossings. I took one today. The streets were virtually empty. I made my way to Fort Hunt Park which has a 1 1/4 mile circuit. I rode around and around and around paying no mind to speed or effort, just letting the rain wet my face as I listened to the sound of the water passing through my fenders. I must have done about 10 laps. If not for my odometer I’d never know.

I finished on some more suburban roads. Passing houses under construction, devoid of work crews on this soggy day.

That’s okay everyone. Stay inside. I like it out here alone.

A tip of the helmet to my friend for the photographic nudge.

The Butterfly in My Old Hood

My co-workers wanted to get me a retirement present. Of course, they know about my bicycling habit so they decided to feed my addiction. Kelly sat right outside my office. I convinced her to try bike commuting. Her schedule didn’t allow her to do it much but she was persistent. She even braved flooding on one of her commutes.

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We’re having fun, right Kelly? The waters receded. She survived.

Chip, Kelly’s husband, bought her a new bike for Christmas. About three weeks before I retired she asked me where to get her bike worked on. Knowing where she lives I recommended two places, Spokes Etc. in Alexandria where I bought The Mule, and Papillon Cycles in Arlington. When I lived in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington, Papillon was the closest shop.

About 17 years ago The stem (the part the handlebars attach to) on The Mule kept coming loose. I had it tightened over and over again and still it came loose. So I called Papillon and explained my conundrum to Bailey, the owner. Bailey didn’t know what else he could do to help me but he referred me to Paul, a mechanic who at the time worked at CityBikes in DC. (Paul now works for Bicycle Space.) Paul fixed the problem in five minutes with a very thin washer. So because Bailey was so helpful, The Mule lives.

(Side note: the people of BikeDC are super lucky to have so many good bike shops. There are many more than the ones in this post.)

Kelly wasn’t really looking for a place to get her bike repaired. She was looking for a shop that I liked where she could buy me a gift certificate on behalf of my co-workers.

For the last few weeks the shifting on my Cross Check has been messed up. I’ve tried to fix it. And my local Spokes shop tried to fix it. It worked fine in the mechanic’s stand at the bike shop but didn’t work well at all on the road.

I was going to have Spokes replace the shifter cable and the housing (the black plastic casing through which the cable runs). On a whim I decided to take it Papillon to use my gift certificate.

John, the mechanic, greeted me and we put the bike up on a stand. He loosened the housing and examined the cable. It looked like it was brand new. He moved it back and forth through the housing. It moved freely. Next, he examined the teeth on the cassette (the gears in back) and the alignment of the derailler with the cassette. All looked good. Then he ran the chain through the gears. Once, twice, three times. We could barely hear the chain clattering a bit in the one offending gear. He released tension on the chain by dialing the barrel adjuster about 1/4 turn. Then he shifted it over and over again. No clattering.

I took it out for a test ride. I tried and tried to get the chain to skip. In every gear. It shifted properly up and down.

Happy face.

Mission accomplished.

Thanks to John, to sneaky Kelly, and my co-workers.

 

Death March Day 2

After yesterday’s shenanigans, I took to the roads to ride the Reston Century, an event that I have never done before. Once again the weather could not have been better. And the ride started with about 30 miles of relatively flat, traffic-free roads that were free of potholes and debris. As expected my legs were dead but this forgiving start gave them new life.

Until we turned onto Woodburn Road outside of Leesville VA. The Reston Bicycling Club has a witty sign maker. They posted a road warning side (black text inside a yellow diamond) that said “Trending Higher.” I cracked up. Then I died. The road trended higher forever. Constant effort. Control your breathing. Stay loose on the handlebars. Wish you had brought a bike with granny gears rather than the one missing its second easiest gear. Ugh.

I made it and within a minute of soft pedaling my heart and respiratory rates came down from the red zone.  More hills followed. Pretty farms. McMansions in the woods. Puffy clouds overhead. Gentle breezes. La di da. You’d never know my legs were toast.

The decision point came at 42 miles, wimp out and ride back to the start for a 60+ mile day or go for broke and ride the full 100 miles. Being a bear of very little brain, I went for it.

I knew where we were heading. The hilly area north west of Leesburg has several quaint colonial mill towns. Mill towns need fast moving water. Water moves fastest at the bottom of hills. Are you seeing where I am going with this?

We followed Hillsboro Road to Hillsboro, the first of the colonial era towns. Then afetr a brief and somewhat scary tenth of a mile on VA 9, a death trap for all travelers, we turned onto Mountain Road. I was expecting to die from climbing but instead Mountain Road turned out to be a road with a view of the mountain to the west.

We rode eastward. Good for us, no? Well, no. We descended at high speed into Taylorstown, one of those mill towns. What goes down must go up and damned if we didn’t. It was a truly brutal climb. I had nothing in my legs. People were walking. I refused. At one point I was going 3 mile per hour. My knees were on fire. My respiratory rate was waaay too high. I looked at the ground in front of me and persisted. Had I been able to get to it, I should have taken a hit of albuterol because nothing adds to the fun quite like asthma.

I made it to the top and recovered again within a minute. A very fit woman with long wavy gray hair was waiting for some walking friendsby the side of the road. She said “That’s the last hard one.”

Then we descended into Stumptown. Fast. I hit 42 miles per hour and I could easily have pushed it higher. For some silly reason I didn’t want to die so I feathered my brakes. The climb out of Stumptown made me curse my birth. As my mamma would say, Jesus Mary and Joseph. (I was thinking more along the lines of “Fuck me!”)

The gray haired woman was waiting near the top. “I thought you said there weren’t any more?” “Sorry. I forgot about this one.” Lady, I will go to my grave remembering “this one.”

On we road. My legs were burnt toast. Somehow they continued to push the pedals. Perhaps it was the knowledge that the last 20 miles of this ordeal were on the W&OD Trail, which is downhill for most of the way.

I stopped at the last rest stop. Ate some junk including a snow cone (shaved ice with sugary juice poured on it). We were right next to the trail but did we go on it? Noooo. First we had to do two more hills. Knowing these were the last two made them much easier. And truth be told, they were not in the same category of difficulty as earlier ones.

Finally. we hit  the trail. With fresh legs I can easily cruise the trail from here at 20 miles per hour. Today, I had to settle for 16. For ten miles. Then my legs basically started calling me vulgar names and refused to propel me. I threatened them with no post-ride pasta and they quit their protest. It was a pathetic slog to the finish though. Even the walkers from the hills of death passed me.

I think I may have been the lanterne rouge. (The last finisher.) I got my t-shirt. And sat down to eat some pasta and salad. People started folding up the chairs and tables in the outdoor space we were in. Fortunately, my mouth still function. I snarfed my food and began to leave. I met Steve O and Erin. I recognized Steve O because we was wearing a Nats cycling cap. I’ve met Erin twice before. She lives less than a mile from my house. And my brain could not make the connection. It was the second facial recognition failure of the day. At a rest stop, I parked my bike and a cyclists said hello, gave me his name, shook my hand, and told me how much he enjoys the blog. I know we’ve met before. But my fusiform gyrus locked up once again. Sorry.

I deliberately did not use my phone to Instagram pictures of the ride. I treated this as work and I wanted to be focused on the task. Also, you can’t take pictures when your lungs and knees are working beyond their rated capacity.

Late in the ride I took a few pictures with my point and shoot camera. In Waterford, one of the colonial era mill towns, the road way had been milled. (Remarkably this was one of the only bad road surfaces for the entire ride. Many of the country roads we were on had recently been paved.) When I hit the bump at the end of the milling my camera bounced out on the road. A minivan came up behind me. I motioned for the driver to veer to the left and she drove so that her tires missed the camera. It’s supposed to be shock proof. And, thankfully, it is!

I have finished my weekend of torture.

Torture postscript: My family and I went out to dinner. During after dinner conversation, I had a massive muscle cramp in my right hamstring. I was splayed out in a booth going “Ow. Ow. Ow.” After about five minutes of pain (and laughter), I started sipping water and breathing rhythmically and the muscle relaxed.

 

 

 

Death March Tune Up

Back in my marathoning days I didn’t consider myself in shape enough for a 26-mile race until I had run 21 miles comfortably. The first time was usually brutal. But the second and third times were almost easy. Somehow the stress from that one brutal effort re-set my body for the task ahead. (In every marathon I ever ran an invisible bear jumped on my back at around mile 23. Preparation can only get you so far.)

With my bike tour less than three weeks off, I decided to push my body this weekend. Today’s ride was designed by my friend Colin. He rides in suburban and rural Montgomery County Maryland and examines GIS data on places to ride. He concocted today’s 48 mile ride that included secondary roads, neighborhood streets, gravel roads. single track (dirt paths that are only a foot or two wide) through grassy fields, and nasty, rocky, tree-rooted, hill single track in the woods.

After a stop at Dunkin Donuts for proper ride fuel, we headed out on suburban roads. Colin, Ian, Kevin, Austin and I were met there by Jeff. Traffic was light and the pavement was smooth. Not a problem. The roads became more rural. Colin pointed us to a grassy field. Off we went. The grass was so high I could barely see the single track that wound through it.

Whenever the single track went into woods, we’d be surrounded by green and covered in shade. But trees have roots (I ought to know) and paths have rocks. Never having done this sort of riding before I exhausted by grip and my forearm muscles trying to control my Cross Check. An additional problem was the fact that the second to easiest gear on my bike wasn’t working. It turns out this was the perfect gear for much of the riding we were doing. The lowest gear often caused my rear wheel to spin. The next available low gear was too hard to mash on the steep rises.

I persevered and thought I did a pretty decent job. Riding on single track is much more tiring than road riding. Even when you are gliding you are expending energy dodging bumps and negotiating dips and turns.

At one point we followed a trail along the side of a lake. It was truly beautiful. I thought I was doing great. I encountered a three tree roots in a row and didn’t have the momentum to get over them. I fell over sideways. The undergrowth and a well placed large tree limb cushioned my fall. Only my pride was hurt. A few minutes later Jeff fell.

Colin made an executive decision to re-route us, or perhaps I should say re-root us. As we bombed along the path seemed to get hillier and rockier and have more and more tree roots. I am pretty sure that much of this had to do with the fact that I was worn out. I spent an embarrassing amount of time walking because I simply couldn’t power my way up steep short climbs with a bumpy surface.

I was actually worried that my saddle might break. It kept making popping noises because I was not unweighting my butt when I went over the bumps.

The last few miles were on paved streets and this felt incredibly easy. We had to do a minor repair on Jeff’s gears which were partially disabled during his fall. Colin reached down and bent something and voila the gears worked again.

Our pre-final destination during the ride was a brew pub in Gaithersburg. We got there and saw the sign on the door that said it was closed for renovations. What a sad sight to see six grown men cry.

We recovered our composure and found a Tex Mex restaurant with a patio. My god the beer tasted good. And the salt and oil on the chips was heaven.

The last 2 1/2 miles back to the start were uneventful. When I got off my bike, I felt like I had ridden 80 miles.

I really envied the mountain bikers we encountered on the single track sections of this ride. As tired as I was, I was having a ton of fun, but their bikes with wide tires, wide handlebars and big gear ranges would have made it much more enjoyable still.

When I finished I looked at my Instagram feed. I saw a picture of my friend Emilia who had just ridden over 60 miles to Harpers Ferry WV along the C&O canal towpath. She was all cleaned up and wearing a sundress and smiling. I cracked up. I looked like I’d been dragged through the woods. Which I suppose I had been.

Tomorrow I will ride the Reston Century or as much of it as my body will tolerate.

I made a Flickr album of the ride.

 

Biking to The Hive

I woke up at normal work time, something I have not been able to accomplish since I retired, and rode to Friday Coffee Club. It was an all male affair, which sounds a little more suggestive than I intend, I suppose.

Talk and jave ensued. The men of Friday Coffee Club done themselves proud but come back you FCC women, you are missed.

After the group activity I rolled a few blocks down 5th Street NW to the National Building Museum. This building has a huge rectangular open space in the middle which gets filled each summer with a crowd pleasing display of participatory art. A year or two ago it was filled with ping pong balls, an exhibit called The Beach. This year it was filled with large paper tubes, silver on the outside and fuschia or magenta (reddish purple) on the inside. The windows along the perimeter and some task lighting made the tubes look intriguingly different depending on your angle of view.

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It’s the kind of things that’s hard to explain. You just have to be patient and look up at all different angles. And you start saying to yourself “That looks cool” over and over again. At one point it occurred to me that this would be a pretty awesome experience on hallucinogens. (Not that I’ve ever done any. Seriously. It’s on my bucket list.)

 

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I also couldn’t help but wonder what kind of a mind thinks of things like this. Not mine, that’s for sure.

To see a bunch of pictures I took (it’s hard to stop) you can check out the “The Hive” album on my Flickr page.

The Hive will be removed after next week so go if you can. I went when the museum opened and managed to avoid most of the 10:30 influx of toddlers with their moms.

An Accidental Return to Ashby Hollow

The weather was perfect. I haven’t gone for a day hike in months so I grabbed a print out for Ashby Hollow – Mt. Weathers from a backpack I use for hiking and took off.

I had this weird feeling of deja vu. For good reason. This was my first solo hike on the Appalachian Trail a few years ago.

The drive up a dirt road to the start was an adventure. The road was all ruts and washboard. The car’s autotraction was going nuts. My wheels were spinning but I made it in one piece.

I immediately recognized the start. Oh well, no sense in going looking for another trail. Off I went down the rock trail.

I remember this hike as very difficult footing. And it was but not nearly as bad as others I have done since. The low humidity and comfortable temperatures combined with persistent shade to make this just a glorious day to be in the woods.

Once I warmed up, I could just truck along. Unfortunately I had to look mostly at the trail because of all the rocks and tree roots. While doing this it’s really hard to think about anything but the task at hand which ends up being kind of meditative.

This section of the AT is called the roller coaster. On weekends it’s crowded but today I only saw four hikers in three hours, two of them passed me withing 200 yards of the finish. This time of year there aren’t much in the way of flowers so I basked in the green. There were no vistas on this hike at this time of year. The foliage is just too dense. No worries.

Despite having hiked this before, I missed two turns. I haven’t seen a blaze in a while, have I? Nope. When you wander off, just return to the trail and begin again. Sounds like a Joseph Goldstein meditation video.

It took me about 3 hours to do the entire 6 1/2 miles.

The ride back took me past vineyards and horse farms and through tony Virginia towns like Upperville and Middleburg. With windows down and the sun shining through puffy clouds it was a lovely end to another day of slacking.

 

Ten Year Almond Anniversary

In a weird coincidence Pearls before Swine ran this strip yesterday.

So why is it a coincidence? Exactly ten years ago today, I had a similar conversation with a cyclist. (Somehow she has friends.)
Paul and I were riding the 50 States Ride in DC. For the uninitiated, this ride traverses the entire city so that participants can ride on streets named after the 50 States. It’s hard. It’s hilly and there are scores of stop signs and red lights. The route covers about 62 miles (depending on whether you get lost).
Nowadays the ride is held in September but back in 2007 it was held in August. August 24, 2007 was a hot and humid day in DC. Paul, his friend from Chicago Jane, and I were suffering. We had not yet hit a single hill and had ridden only about 15 miles. It was taking forever when one of us spotted an Asian woman a few hundred yards ahead. We decided to catch her.
Wimps that we are we only managed to catch her at the rest stop in Anacostia. There we met the not-Asian Florencia munching almonds from a bag. Paul pulled out his gorp and conversation ensued.
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Soon we were riding up the hills of Anacostia. Paul and Jane decided on an early lunch at an air conditioned restaurant at the highest point in Anacostia. (Showing an astounding amount of common sense they quit the ride.)  Florencia and I soldiered on, sort of. She rode ahead and I caught her at stop lights and stop signs.
After another ten miles or so, we stopped at a 7-11. Flor only bought water. I bought the entire snack aisle and gallons of sports drinks. When we came out Shane was lying on the grass in the shade next to our bikes. She did not look like a happy camper. Adam was standing nearby. He was not looking really please either.
We rode off, the four of us, into the hills of Northeast DC. It got hotter. And muggier. Time and again Flor pulled away, often with Adam in tow. (For some reason I thought they knew each other or were a couple, but it was just the way the group fell out.)
We descended into Rock Creek Park and stopped to rest under a big shade tree. Shane looked like she was dying. I thought she was getting heat exhaustion. Adam looked very unhappy.
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Flor munched more almonds. (I managed to take the worst picture ever of her as she ate.) She was bullet proof. She didn’t even seem to be sweating.
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Impatience got the best of her and Flor rode off alone. Adam, Shane and I continued for a few miles as a trio before Adam went home to eat some cold quiche.
Shane and I rolled on. We got to the rest area at American University. Shane went inside to get snacks. She came out with a handful of goodies. Only then did we realize that she had inadvertently stolen them from a seminar. Oops.
We continued on. I was aiding and abetting a snack thief’s getaway. The police didn’t pursue and we finished somewhere near Dupont Circle. Shane laid down on the sidewalk. Her problem wasn’t the heat, it was an ill-fitting bike.
She asked me to go to a bar nearby where survivors of the ride were celebrating. I took a pass to get home to daddy duties. At the bar Shane met Jeff (no relation to the guy in the comic strip, just another coincidence).
Jeff, Shane, and I did a ride in Baltimore a few weeks later.
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For a while I was doing rides with these characters on a semi-regular basis but then life intervened. Sad face.
Happy anniversary to the Paul, Shane, Jeff, and Flor. It was epic, wasn’t it?

Work Somehow Seemed Easier than Retirement

My quest to do myself in by retiring marched forward yesterday. I started the day painting my shed in stifling humidity. I was drenched in sweat after two hours. I changed shirts and went to the home despot for some landscape edging. I then installed this along the bottom of the shed in the  hopes of impeding water flowing under it and somehow making the raised floor wet. Plan B involves regrading which I seriously want to avoid.

Next up I rode my Cross Check to see if an adjustment I made to the rear derailler’s shifting had fixed an annoying problem with the chain bouncing around. No dice. So I rode to Spokes Etc. my local bike store. They took a crack at it (again). Then I rode home. 11 miles in more stifling heat and humidity.

Next I sat indoors and cooled off for a couple of hours before riding the Cross Check to DC. Yeah, the chain started skipping again but at least I had a nice tailwind.

I attended a volunteer night at WABA world headquarters. I helped assemble first aid kits for ride marshals in preparation for the 50 States Ride. (Registration is still open.) They were short on defibrillators.  (Just kidding.) They had pizza and beer, which works for me as first and second aid.

It was still pretty gross out for the ride home. The headwind slowed me down but it cooled me off. The swarms of bugs along the river didn’t float my boat. Another 33 miles in the can.

I made it home and took a long cold shower. Then I sat down to watch the Nats on TV. I made it to the top of the 9th inning. Then I fell fast asleep. Ain’t baseball great. I woke up at 12:30 and staggered to bed.

Today I took it really easy. I put new brake pads on The Mule in preparation for the tour and then took Big Nellie out for a slow-ish 20-mile ride in the park. The rest of the day was spent sitting on the deck reading an actual book.

The next four days look like this:

  • Thursday: 6.5 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail
  • Friday
    • Ride 32 miles to and from Friday Coffee Club in DC
    • Ride 22 miles to and from Crystal City Happy Hour
  • Saturday: Ride 47 miles with Colin and company in Maryland. Ride ends at a brewery. That Colin is a genius.
  • Sunday: Ride 100 miles at the Reston Century

I wonder if I can get out of the ICU early enough on Monday to go the Nats game.