February Bikabout

I expected to wake up sore and tired after yesterday’s combo of long bike ride, weight lifting, and physical therapy. Nope. I felt fine. So after breakfast I dropped off the car at a mechanic and walked two miles back home. I still felt fine so I filled up my tank with calories galore and headed out on the Cross Check. I wore shorts and a t-shirt because it’s February. And the temperature was already in the mid-60s at 10 a.m.

Crazy.

I rode bike trails 23 miles to Bethesda where I checked out Modern Market, a shop for which I have three gift cards. The place looked pretty good but my tummy was still holding the calories from back home so I headed back home the way I came.

The ride from Bethesda to Georgetown is a gentle downhill. This pretty much negated the effect of the stiff headwind. Once back to the river I had to fight the wind for about 12 miles. I I would have complained but it was well over 70 degrees.

I tacked on a few miles in the neighborhoods near home for an even 50 miles. The 98.5 miles over the last two days is by far the most I’ve ridden since the end of my bike tour in Florida back in October. Take that blood clots!

Oh, and, speaking of my medical misadventures, I just received a call from my endocrinologist. The lab tests say that the adenoma on my adrenal gland is innocuous. That’s one medical specialist I don’t have to see again.

And the foam roller arrived so that I can do my physical therapy exercises properly at home. The therapy is for rehabbing my shoulder but lying on this foam roller makes my back feel amazing.

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The Potomac River at the Kennedy Center with Theodore Roosevelt Island on the right.
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A depressing sign on the Capital Crescent Trail near the Potomac River.
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In the center rear of this picture was once a building with a tunnel through which the Georgetown Branch Trail passed.
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Dyke Marsh on the Mount Vernon Trail.
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It’s Wednesday so I had to wear my WABA socks. These legs haven’t seen sunlight in months.

 

 

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Winter Weather or Not

Nine years ago today, a 32-year-old bike commuting friend of mine posted these words on my Facebook page:

“I just could not feel my body in the cold. So I damaged it without noticing it!”

What a difference nine years makes! Today was almost summer-like in DC. I saw a roadside sign that indicated it was 78F degrees at 3:30.

Of course, I saw this sign while out on my bike.

I didn’t get started until just before midday. I had spent the morning eating diner food and going to the library with Mrs. Rootchopper.  With my belly and brain satisfied, I was off on my Cross Check for a jaunt up the Anacostia River.

I began my ride on the Mount Vernon Trail. I crossed the Potomac River on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Trail. Once in Maryland, I made the long slog up to Oxon Hill Road. The climb goes right past a massive MGM casino. The ginormous electronic sign indicated that Cher was performing there this month. I don’t gamble and I don’t Cher so let’s just say the whole casino thing is lost on me. I think the complex looks like the Imperial Star Destroyer from Star Wars. I prefer Mos Eisley bars to casinos.

Having reached Oxon Hill Road I made my way to Oxon Hill Farm and proceeded to ride right back down the hill to the river. Somebody’s got some explaining to do.

The Oxon Cove Trail winds its way to a enclave of public buildings including a police training facility, a city bus maintenance yard, some Smithsonian greenhouses and a vocational training complex. After perusing all these fine public sector facilities, I rode right back up the hill to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.

MLK Jr. Ave is not exactly where it’s at. I think maybe it’s were it might have been at about 80 years ago. It’s actually kind of depressing. My ride north took me past the grounds of St. Elizabeth’s nervous hospital. The complex is being taken over by the Department of Homeland Security which probably says something snarky about DHS.

The ride through Congress Heights and Anacostia was interesting. Drivers in this part of DC use the freestyle method of motoring. Random u-turns, lane changes, horn honking are the rule. I waved a thank you to a driver for not cutting me off and he laid on his horn. De nada, dude.

Suffice it to say, my rather precarious medical condition made me apprehensive for this part of the ride. I was happy to see the Anacostia River Trail which runs rather appropriately along the Anacostia River. And so, like a Yogi Berra malapropism, I took it. North. The scenery was still the grays and browns of winter but the temperature told me it was late spring.

I rolled along the trail past the garbage consolidation facility (helps with the sinuses don’t you know), past the Aquatic Gardens (the flower show happens much later in the year), through assorted fields, both natural and athletic, and around a cement plant to Bladensburg. As I crossed over the Anacostia, I passed about five priests (or, more likely, seminarians as they all looked pretty young). We waved at each other. I said “Mea Culpa” three times for good measure. (I was a altar boy who had to learn the Latin Mass and the English Mass, a biographical fact that dates the crap out of me. )

I am kidding about the Mea Culpas, by the way.

Once across the river I consulted the Google for advice on how to ride home without retracing my steps. I rode up the river until the trail split into the Northeast and Northwest Branch Trails. I took the latter and spotted a cupcake shop, a landmark from the Cider Ride last November. I didn’t stop. (I know, what a fool.) But I did find a trail that would take me back toward DC.

After a few miles I bailed on the trail It would have taken me to Queens Chapel Road which I am familiar with. Basically, it’s a bicycle death trap. So I started riding neighborhood streets and following the sun. I found myself back in DC riding a straight street to the west. In these parts “straight” almost always translates into “hilly”. As I slogged up one long hill, I passed an old man doddering around his front yard. He looked at me and remarked, “Better you than me.”

I love it when I’m mocked.

Soon I was in familiar territory. Monroe Street leads to 8th Street which leads to the Metropolitan Branch Trail. How nice of someone to put a trail with very few cross streets right in the middle of a city. The trail took me back southward and after a wiggle and waggle I was on a cycletrack that took me right past the incomparably boring Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I rode past a scrum of photographers at a courthouse. They were waiting to take a picture of a Trump associate who was being charged with treason or money laundering or some such offense. (I can’t keep it all straight, to be honest.)

Soon thereafter I was riding along the National Mall pretending I was in the Olympic tourist dodge event. I was pretty proud that I didn’t hit a single one.

After the podium ceremony, I rode around the tidal basin and over the 14th Street Bridge to the Mount Vernon Trail. The 12-mile ride from the bridge to my house was interrupted by a stop at the gym, because nothing improves a 48 1/2 mile bike ride quite like lifting weights.

Fug.

I arrived home exhausted but still had some physical therapy exercises to do. I am doing these because my left shoulder is on the blink.

Despite trying really hard, I did not damage my body. I guess you need cold weather to do that.

 

 

Productive Failure

Today I got up early, left the newspaper on the kitchen table, and rode to a bike advocacy event. When I got to the venue, no one was there. I checked my e-mail. The event is next Saturday.

Doh.

I felt stupid but I didn’t much mind. With snow and rain in the afternoon weather forecast, I might not have ridden outside today but for my calendar screw up.

It was my first time on Little Nellie in many weeks so I took it easy riding to the venue. The bike  seemed to be resisting me the whole way. After realizing my mistake, I took a round about route back toward home.

Since the chain was moving sloppily over the sprockets on the cassette I decided to swing by my local bike shop on the way home to have it checked out. The mechanic put the bike on a repair stand facing away from me. As he checked the chain, the rear wheel turned. It wobbled from side to side. The rim was probably contacting the brake pad with every revolution. Aha!

The mechanic said my chain was long gone. My bike needs a new chain, a new cassette, a new large chain ring, and a rear hub overhaul.

The cassette and rear hub on this bike are of an unusual design that allows for a higher top gear. I don’t recall why I ordered this special hub and gear combination as I rarely use such high gears on this or any other bike. The special design also means that, in order to remover or install a cassette, a special tool is needed. And many bike shops don’t have one. Now that the wheel has 19,000 miles on it, I figure it would be a good time to replace the wheel with a conventional hub and cassette. This will give me a lower low gear and a lower top gear. Since the conventional cassette costs about $50 less, I will finance, in a sense, part of the new wheel’s cost by saving money on the new cassette and forgoing the overhaul on the rear hub.

So despite my scheduling snafu, I managed to beat the storm and diagnose some bike problems. Today’s ride goes in the books as a productive failure.

 

 

Swinging Back the Joy

One of my favorite things about bicycling in DC is the weekly get together called Friday Coffee Club. Bike commuters would congregate Swings Coffee Roasters at 17th and G Streets NW, across from the Old Executive Office Building, to vent about their workweek, dream of weekend bike adventures, and ponder the magnificence of coffee and fritters. Many friendships were made. Remarkably, even by me.

Then tragedy struck. The building that housed our coffee house was renovated down to the studs. Swings closed. Panic! The coffee club relocated across town near K and 4th Streets NW at A Baked Joint. Despite its fine coffee and yummy breakfast sandwiches, A Baked Joint lacked the three most important things about coffee clubs: location, location, location. (Admit it, you thought I was going to say fritters, fritters, fritters, didn’t you?) Many of the original club participants, including me, stopped going.

This week Swings re-opened. Felkerino, one of the founding members, put out the call via social media. And the old gang re-assembled.  Ricky, true to form, arrived first. Mary and Brian, two of the other founding members, were there as were many unfounding folks. Kristen gets bonus points for making a special telework-day trip to the gathering to represent the K (Kristin, Katie, Kate, etc.) sisters. Bob (Don’t Call Me Rachel) Cannon bemoaned the absence of Rachel (Don’t Call Me Bob) Cannon. This brought to mind how truly amazing it is how much they look alike.

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This was the crowd when I showed up at about 7:50. It nearly doubled in size before work called people away.

Unfortunately, Swings does not yet have fritters for sale. (Oh, the humanity!) Andrea and I improvised by buying over-sized chocolate chip cookies. We touched our cookies together in a celebratory toast of sorts.

The place looks almost exactly as before the renovation. Why mess with a good thing, right? It was actually warm enough to sit outside but the outdoor furniture is not yet in place. So we gathered indoors and conversation flowed around the tall tables. There were so many people that I didn’t get a chance to talk to half of them. Even so, I learned about federal budget injustices and self-administering injections of blood thinner and notice-and-comment proceedings and bike swaps and optimal application of man-made snow, among other things.

After the gang dispersed to make their fortunes in the land of the paper pushers, I rode back to the retirement home. I stopped at the gym and lifted some weights. After that I swung by the local bike shop to have the chain on my Cross Check evaluated for wear. It’s only my second chain on this bike. I thought it would be a good idea to check it since the odometer crossed 8,000 miles on the way home.

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It was a fitting coda to a joyful morning.

 

 

 

Wetlands Never Disappoint

Wetlands never disappoint. Dyke Marsh along the Potomac looks different every day.  Sometimes it is a field of tall grass with great blue herons and snowy egrets among the reeds. Red winged blackbirds sing their distinctive song as they cling to the stalks. Other times it is a mud flat with no animals at all to be seen. In winter ice adds to the scene on the coldest days. These changes can happen over the course of a single day.

Huntley Meadows Park is a nature preserve about two or three miles from Dyke Marsh in Hybla Valley. It acts as a massive filter for all the homes and motor vehicles that climb the hills around it. Unlike Dyke Marsh this wetlands changes over longer periods. A few years ago, park managers decided to let the park go, to let nature do its thing unimpeded. Beavers began constructing dams and now the water level which used to come and go with the rain and snow.

After a day of appointments, I was not in the mood for a bike ride so I took a three mile walk in Huntley Meadows. There was no foliage on the trees. The park was all grays and browns amid overcast skies. The path into the park leads to a boardwalk over the swamp. The water level was as high as I have even seen it thanks to the beavers. Canada Geese were holding a get together next to the boardwalk. Dozens of them sticking their beaks in the mud to get the roots of the swamp grass.

As I proceeded along the boardwalk it became clear what “like grass through a goose” means. Footing was rather messy as the geese had gone for a stroll along the boards.

A few mallards and what looked like a pair of hooded mergansers darted away as I walked along. It is too cold to see turtles and amphibians yet. Better that the sights were the sounds. Mostly there were none. The faint rumble of a passenger jet or motorcycle gave way to quiet.

The dams had allowed water to build and build into the woods where the boardwalk gives way to a groomed path. If you want to use the dirt service road you’ll need a pontoon.

After a second loop through the swamp I head back to the car.

I thought about being a kid running through the swampy woods near home. All that remained of our local wetland was Dead Man’s Pond where we made rafts out of felled tree trunks on summer days.

Wetlands never disappoint.

Getting Off the Hamster Wheel

Today was my second trip to my lung doctor. After a scheduling snafu, I managed to get in to see her. She confirmed that my lungs are clear and sound great, as does my heart. There is some residual damage to my right lung but it’s nothing to worry about.

We discussed my outlook. She thinks that my complaints about breathing problems while bike riding last year may be indicative of blood clots in my lungs long before my December ER visit. I recall complaining during rides back in August. I told her I had no strength in my legs.

She’s inclined to keep me on thinners for at least a year. No news there. She also said that while I am on anti-coagulants we can try lowering the dose of my asthma medication. And if that works, lowering it further still.

I told her about my plans for a big bike tour to the Pacific and she moved up our follow-up appointment to make sure we had my medication situation squared away.

After tomorrow’s lab tests and a trip to the pharmacy I am off the medical hamster wheel until mid-March. Finally!

Grocery List: Coffee, Cucumbers, Lab Tests,…

On we go with the never ending parade of doctors and tests. During my hospital stay, a CT scan showed an abnormality on my adrenal gland. About six weeks later I had a slightly different, but more focused CT scan done of the area. This scan showed an adenoma, a small growth almost certainly benign. I know this because the interwebs told me so. But the interwebs are not enough and today I went to the endocrinologist.

She told me essentially what the interwebs told me. When CT scans are done, anomalies are often found. Most of them are utterly innocuous. This adenoma has all the signs of being a nothing burger. However, just to be sure, in case I am the unluckiest man on the planet, I need to have blood and saliva tests.

The tests will be done at a blood lab in the local Safeway. Right next to the condiments section, no doubt.

The doctor said the adenoma had nothing to do with my blood clots.

I really need to get off this hamster wheel soon or they’ll be sending me to McDonalds for x-rays.

Tomorrow I go to the pulmonologist. I’m going to see if I can order a shake while I’m there.

Right now I am going for a bike ride. I need one.

Desultory Bicycling

Here we are on a raining February weekend and I am contemplating something that is lacking from my bike riding. Purpose. Over the years I became accustomed to having reasons to bike.

  • My bike commute was the anchor of my riding life. For an average of four times a week, I would pedal the 29-mile round trip along the Potomac River on the Mount Vernon Trail to work. I was acutely aware of how fortunate I was to see the sun rise over Dyke Marsh, the planes taking and landing over the the trail, the boats bobbing in their slips at the marina at Daingerfield Island, birds and other wildlife going about their day, the sunlight falling on the monuments across the river in DC, and the occasional wave of fellow bike commuters as they passed going the other way.
  • Errandonneuring is a term and a friendly competition invented by Mary over at Chasing Mailboxes. I run errands all the time on my bike. Some of my favorites are
    • The 12-mile round trip to the eye doctor in Old Town Alexandria
    • The 2  1/2-mile round trip to the pharmacy, hardware store, and grocery store
    • The improvised commutes involving taking one of our cars to mechanics in North Arlington. I’d drive to the garage and ride the six miles to and from the office.
  • Picnics in the Park: A friend of mine used to invite me to hang out in Meridian Hill Park in DC. At about 16 miles from my house, it was the perfect place to go to and sit on a blanket and watch the improvised amateur circus of slack liners and hula hoopers and acroyoga-ists. My friend would always invite a mix of eclectic and eccentric people to keep conversation going. The rides home at sunset made the day complete.
  • Rides to baseball games at Nationals Park. What could be better than to ride 16 miles to the ballpark, take in a game while sitting in the sun, then riding home either in the cool of the evening or late at night as the moon reflects off the river? Parking at the bike valet often means surprise encounters with friends.
  • Friday Coffee Club was always a go-to for me when I was working. Getting up 15 minutes earlier wasn’t much of a sacrifice for socializing. Construction caused the location to move to the eastern side of downtown, a location that never did float my boat.
  • Happy hours are always a good excuse for a bike ride. Third Thursday happy hour would involved a diversion of only a few miles from my commute.

With the exception of errandonneuring, I have lost many of the reasons to ride every day. I don’t work so I think riding to the office would be regarded as rather pathetic by my former employer. It’s not baseball season so riding to the ballpark would be fruitless. Being on blood thinners means I can’t drink so riding to a happy hours is sad. My friend who used to invite me to picnics moved out of Meridian Hill Park’s neighborhood.

Some of these losses are temporary, of course. And I suppose my desultory biking life will be at an end when warm air returns. For one thing, I haven’t done any bike overnights, out-and-back rides to a nearby destination such as Harpers Ferry. Or perhaps The Mule and I will travel further afield for an additional day or two. And weekday trips to museums will involve two wheels rather than Metro. There is hope.

Hurry spring.

 

Recovery – Seven Weeks In

Here’s an update on my recovery.

It’s been seven weeks since my pulmonary embolisms came for a visit. I feel perfectly fine. Normal. No pain. No breathing problems. No swelling in my leg. Just the usual insufferable me.

On Monday I had an echocardiogram – an ultrasound examination of my heart – and a computed tomography (CT of CAT) scan of my lungs. Both came back normal. No heart damage. No clots in my lungs. My lungs have some residual tissue damage from the clotting episode. Despite the damage, my lungs seem to be functioning normally.

I went for my first visit to the hematologist today. His job is to determine the status of my blood, my blood’s clotting function, and whatever clots remain. He had already seen my recent medical history. He was very upbeat. Unless we find something seriously wrong with my clotting mechanics or my deep vein thrombosis doesn’t resolve itself, he’s inclined to take me off blood thinners in six to twelve months. If things don’t pan out, he’ll recommend I stay on them indefinitely.

The plan of attack is pretty straightforward. First, we do what we can to find out why this happened to an otherwise healthy person who does all the right things. I exercise regularly. I am not obese. I don’t smoke. I am handsome. (Okay, that last one’s both irrelevant and dubious).

He had beaucoup vials of blood drawn to for tests. Some of these are genetic tests. Unfortunately, the tests are not covered by insurance so I will be out well over $1,000. I wasn’t thrilled with that aspect but I really want to know as much as I can about what happened to me so I can make informed decisions.

Next month, I go back for the results. The following month, assuming all is going well, I go for a sonogram of my calf to find out if my DVT is cleared up and if there is any related damage to the vein in my leg that we need to worry about. And if everything is fine, I go back in May to get his recommendations for on-going treatment.

My pulmonologists warned me that hematologists tend to be more optimistic about on-going treatment. She predicted he’ll want to take me off blood thinners in six months or a year. She was right. I go back to her next week to see what she has to say about my lung function.

I also go to the endocrinologist next week, likely to have more blood drawn for tests on the little abnormality on my adrenal gland. As I understand it, we are trying to rule out cancer. According to what I read on the interwebs, the probability of my abnormality being cancer is very, very small.

Seven weeks ago I was scared to death. Today, I am wishing it were warmer out so I could go for wicked long bike ride.

Fingers crossed. Knock wood. Hope the creek don’t rise.

A Winter Retirement Day by the Book

My schedule for a winter retirement day is pretty simple. In no particular order: eat breakfast, read the paper, ride my bike (or go for a hike), do either physical therapy (a.k.a. yoga) or go to the gym to lift weights, read a book or magazine, meditate, and do one adult thing.

So today I began with a half mile walk to the hospital where I had a CT scan on my lungs and an echocardiogram. I’ll count these as one adult thing. After an administrative snafu I got signed in and escorted to the CT scan room. There I was passed under the machine once. Then I was injected with a dye and passed through again as the dye sent eerie warmth through my chest and head. (I really should do this stoned at least once.) Done. It only took five minutes.

The CT tech took me to ultrasound where I was given my echocardiogram. I was positioned on my left side allowing me to watch the screen as the exam took place. The tech told me my blood pressure which was well within the normal range (as usual). She also told me my resting heart rate was 45. This is the first time since my DVT/pulmonary embolism crisis that it has been below 65. To me this is great news because my pulse is normally in the 40s. As I watched I could see the line for my heart going boing…thud……..boing…thud and so on. At one point there was audio. My heart sounds pretty cool. DOO…duh…..DOO…duh. I am pretty sure that my former co-worker Kelly would confirm that this is the only part of my body that has good rhythm.

The tech cheated a bit and told me that  my heart looked and functioned normally during my December echocardiogram. She was not surprised that it still did. That’s one organ less to worry about as far as I am concerned.

I walked home in a cold wind and ate breakfast and read the paper. There was ample coverage of the Super Bowl which I thought was great even though my team lost. We can now move on to the winter Olympics and make a smooth seque into Spring Training. Yes, yes, yesyesyes.

After my repast, I headed back out into the cold wind for a bike ride. I had on my normal winter bike commuting stuff: skating cap, heavy-weight neck gaiter, base layer, holey sweater, rain pants, and neoprene overboots. I was comfortable within a mile.

I headed south past Mount Vernon and Fort Belvoir. I used the bike lane on US 1, a busy four-lane highway. I wanted to see how my mirror would work. It did fine. There were literally no surprises in that I saw every car, truck, and bus well before it was close to me. I turned north on Telegraph Road, the kind of totally inane roadway that Fairfax County is known for. Lanes come and go seemingly without rhyme or reason. Bike lanes also come and go. I came flying down a hill at 35 miles per hour in a bike lane. It was a good thing I came to a red light because 100 yards beyond the light, the bike lane disappeared.

I rode all the way to the Beltway, took a right to go east on Huntington Avenue, and headed south on Fort Hunt Road where I stopped after 25 miles to go to the gym. For some reason my left arm is unhappy. It shoots sharp pains whenever I lift a weight above my head or push one away from me. Even though I use very light weight on two machines that move in this manner, my arm still hurts. I’ll bring this up with my doctor during my physical later this week.

Finally, I rode 4 miles home into the cold wind. It was nearing 4 p.m. but the sun was still well above the horizon. We are now getting about the same amount of daylight as in early November. Works for me.

When I arrived home, I had a snack and a shower. Then I sat down to meditate. And the phone rang again and again. It was Verizon calling with an offer for its mindfulness long distance plan. (I made that up.)

All that’s left is some filing of medical stuff including beaucoup CDs and DVDs of my scans. Then I can read and eat dinner and call it a successful retirement day.

And one more thing. My wife told me about this really cool National Geographic travel package. It takes you all around the world to Machu Pichu and the Holy Land and Burma and Paris and everywhere in between. On a private jet. Just $99,000 per person.

Spit take.