Opera, Deer, and the Bat Shit Crazy

  • Last night on the way home from work I stopped to listen to the opera busker at the Torpedo Factory in Old Town.
  • This morning on the way to work I was riding along the underside of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge when a doe and two fawns came jaunting across the trail about 50 yards ahead of me.
  • A few days ago my friend Emilia (who is not bat shit crazy) took an Instagram video as she rode across the boardwalk at Dyke Marsh on the Mount Vernon Trail three miles from my house. I found the video mesmerizing, watching it over and over. So much of nature’s beauty captured in ten seconds. The funny thing is: I ride that same boardwalk every day.
  • Didn’t I tell you I have the best commute ever!?
  • To (sort of) thank Emilia I sent her a notice about a casting call for people to appear as a model in promotional material for Bike Arlington. It pays $200 for a few hours of work. In order to apply you need to submit photos of yourself. I found several pictures of  Emilia from the 50 States Ride we did together. Like so many others before her, she had no idea how hard the ride was going to be. Heat! Rain! Hills! 62 miles! Her triumphant victory photo at the post-ride party was one of my favorite pictures of the year. No automatic alt text available.
  • It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an in-line skater on the Mount Vernon Trail. They were all the rage about a decade ago. I even tried them, and I can’t skate worth beans. I would go to Fort Hunt Park and skate around in circles. I learned how not to fall too often. What eventually led me to give it up was not the falling so much as the fact that I have very wide feet. My feet would be all blisters and blood after I went skating.
  • The other night I saw a skater on the trail. He was heading north from Belle Haven Park. The trail is canted toward the river his right, my left as I was heading south on my ride home from work. I saw him drift toward the edge of the trail. His left arm started carwheeling, then his right, then his left, then he was off the trail and falling. He landed on his tailbone on the edge of the asphalt. Ow. He was more embarrassed than hurt. I gave him a 5.6 for style, but had to deduct points for going off the trail.
  • Yesterday I came to the conclusion that one of my Facebook friends is bat shit crazy. I mentioned this on twitter without naming names. Ricky tried to claim the honor. I then upped the count to two bat shit crazy people. To be honest, Ricky is not even close to as crazy as the other.
  • A couple of friends have tried to help me with my bike tour planning. “When you get to Miami, you can take a train.” Um, if I’m going to take a train, why ride there in the first place?
  • Larry McMurtry once wrote
    • A woman’s love is like the morning dew; it’s just as apt to settle on a horse turd as it is on a rose.
    • I think it’s a sickness to grieve too much for those who never cared a fig for you. [Particularly if they are bat shit crazy.]
  • The father of a former co-worker died of pancreatic cancer the other day. He was diagnosed only a few weeks ago. She went home to see him before he died but dang. Then I learned on Tuesday that an old grad school roommate of mine died of cancer Monday night. We knew that he had been dealing with cancer based on the note in his Christmas card but we had no idea he was as sick as he was. Mrs. Rootchopper summed it up, “He was the nicest guy in the world.” Word. Amen.
  • On Monday I threw my back out getting my Bike Friday into the trunk of my daughter’s subcompact car. I was taking her car to a mechanic for an oil change. A few days later I read a tweet that mentioned a 50% off deal for a year’s $85 membership in Capital Bikeshare. For $42.50 a year I can save big money on physical therapy!
  • In 49 days I am retiring. I am still relatively young and want to do a few things before my body completely rebels against my mega mileage shenanigans. I am noticably slower this year than last. i also weigh 10 pounds more.
  • I have been riding Big Nellie, my recumbent, for about a month now. A couple of years ago this would have caused my right foot to go completely numb. I almost sold the bike but this spring I took off the clipless pedals I was using and put on old school platform pedals with PowerGrips (leather straps that cross the pedals on a diagonal). I have been wearing Teva sandals and riding to work. No pain. No numbness.
  • I really like biking in sandals. I am thinking about putting the same kinds of pedals on my CrossCheck, at least until fall.
  • I have stopped wearing a helmet. Life is too short not to feel the wind in your hair. If I haven’t hit my head in 55+ years of bike riding, I like my odds.
  • Even when people are  bat shit crazy, you can still miss them. A lot.

 

Don’t Know Much about Pop Culture

Bike commuting and baseball have ruined me for pop culture. I have no idea what music is on the radio because I so rarely drive. When I do, I want something continuous – like a ballgame or NPR – because I don’t like having to change channels to avoid an annoying song. (One of the most annoying songs of my teenage days plays a prominent role in the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie. It’s all very tongue in cheek but it sucked then and it sucks worse with the passage of time.)

I have friends who “like” celebrities on social media. About a third of the time I catch myself thinking: I thought celebrity means fame. I’ve never heard of or seen this person before. Monica Bellucci? John Krasinski? Leah Dunham? Somehow life goes on without them.

The same thing goes for music. I know who Ed Sheeran and The Weeknd and Taylor Swift and Adele are but I can’t name any of their songs. Garth Brooks sold 100 million records but I would recognize not a single one. (Longtime readers know that I am a diehard Neil Finn fan, but his music is rarely on the radio.)

I am grateful for this. I know baseball. I know that when a fast runner is on first and a left handed batter is up, the runner should not steal. I know the three precepts of good pitching. I know that right field in Fenway Park is a bitch and why left handed pitchers are called southpaws and how this affects the shadows on the field late in the day. When I watch a game, the little things are way more interesting than the score.

I don’t know music because I spend hours everyday on a bike and I think riding (or running or hiking) with headphones is a crime against nature. If you are using these devices you are putting yourself and those around you at risk because you lack situational awareness. More importantly, as far as I am concerned, you miss the ENTIRE POINT of riding or walking or hiking.  It’s not about the bike and it’s not about the body. When you are climbing a hill or flying down one or going through a series of turns (point your inside knee toward the turn) or concentrating on pedaling without mashing the pedals , you can only focus on keeping the rubber side down, on keeping your respiration and heart rate from red lining. During the Ocean State Marathon in Newport Rhode Island, a high school track coach used to stand on the side of Ocean Drive with its rolling hills and wind off the water and repeat his mantra to struggling runners: Keep it smooth!

When you keep it smooth,  your breathing and heart rate calm. And you go on a sort of autopilot. Then the squirrels in your attic stop their chatter. You recognize random ideas and find that disparate ideas come together in interesting configurations and you gain insights. Some of my best ideas for work come to me during my bike commutes.

How people who drive to work get through the day without completely losing their minds is beyond me. Not only do they not get the benefit of the calming aspects of exercise but they expose themselves to tons of additional stress from traffic and the crap spewing out of the radio.

And they miss the sun shining through the trees or glistening off the river. They don’t hear the birds chattering. They don’t appreciate the smell of the steam coming off the asphalt after a rain or of the fresh mowed grass. They don’t see the goslings and duckings in spring. (Coming soon to my bike commute.)

They don’t see their friends riding past in the other direction (Chris, Shawn, Mike) or in yours (Kathy). Nor do they see the community of early morning trail users: Hoppy Runner, Golf Cart E-biker, Three-step Runner, Running Mom (now without the baby stroller because her son got too big), the Trash Walker, Cal, or the Overgrown Ewok.

I mean you don’t really think Katy Perry is more interesting than an overgrown Ewok, do you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warm = More

We’ve had an exceptionally warm start to the year. I have been able to ride outside a lot more than last year when biking was waylayed by a February snow storm. (My wovel sits unused this winter.)

In Februrary I rode The Mule, my Specialized Sequoia touring bike, to work 14 times for a total of 417 miles. My weekend ride was Deets, my Surly Cross Check. I rode 242 1/2 miles on weekends, 240  on the Cross Check and only 2 1/5 on The Mule. Little Nellie remains in dry dock and Big Nellie remains in the basement.  (Anyone want to buy a pre-owned long wheel base recumbent? Accepting offers in the Comments section below.)

So far this year I have commted by bike 27 times, 2 more than last year. My total miles stands at 1,323 1/2 (although 92 miles were on Big Nellie in the basement during an icy spell in January.) That’s 420 more miles than last year which had an extra day.

The Mule is eating up the pavement at 807 1/2 miles. Deets is way behind at 424 miles. In a couple of weeks, The Mule will hit a mileage milestone and be moved to the shed for some R&R. It has completed its winter service with nary a complaint.

Ironically, today I drove to work so I can attend the WABA annual meeting and awards event in the city. Riding home at 9 pm on a Tuesday no longer agrees with my old bones. I am already packed for tomorrow’s bike commute. March comes in like a  Mule around here.

 

 

What to Wear When You’re Done Expecting

My co-worker Kelly was just getting into bike commuting when she became pregnant with her first child. Charlie (It’s short for Charlotte) was born and a new way of life came with her. Now that Charlie has settled in at day car, Kelly is looking to get back to bike commuting. She plans to start on Wednesday.

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Today she took her new hybrid bike out with disc brakes (a major upgrade) for a trial ride. Despite temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s, she froze. So she wants to know what to wear.

It depends. Here’s some advice. YMMV.

Kelly rides about 7 or 8 miles to and from work and has only one hill (the abrupt climb to the intersection of doom).  The last five miles are along the river, exposed to the wind.

Here are the rules. There will be a test.

Fashion is optional. If you are rocking the fashion world and freezing your ass off, you have more vanity than common sense. You are pathetic. You deserve your suffering. Quit bike commuting and take up Buddhism. Unless you are Coffeeneur or Ultrarunnergirl. They manage to pull off style and comfort with aplomb.

Wear layers. Your first layer is a shirt made of a fabric that wicks sweat away from your skin. No cotton against the skin. Next you need an insulating layer. For temperatures below 45 degrees I wear an old wool sweater over a short sleeve base layer. Above 45 degrees I wear a long sleeve base layer with an oversized t-shirt on top. On top of that I wear a waterproof shell. Pit vents are good. (They are zippered openings under your arms to adjust you core temperature. A zippered front is good too. My shell has a flap over the zipper to reduce air penetration. When it’s a little warmer and dry, I switch to a vest. Some of my #bikedc friends have wool cycling jerseys. They have more money than you.

Break wind. Except when there are cyclists or runners behind you. I kid. Cyclists generate their own wind. To add to the problem winter means higher winds. Your ride from the airport to Rosslyn along the river can be brutal. You’ve already got your torso covered. When it’s under 60 degrees, cover your legs with a wind proof layer. (Water proof is even more better.) You don’t have to wear much underneath. A pair of bike shorts or just wicking underwear will do most days. When it’s cold, layer. Frozen noo noos are no fun fun.

Prepare for two commutes. Become obsessed with the weather. Choose you clothes for the weather in the morning and in the evening. For me that means, I might swap my wool sweater (morning) for my undershirt (evening).

Cover your head. This is very personal. I have a hood on my jacket, a winter skating cap (without the goofy ball on top) and a buff. Buffs are the best. They can be used for all kinds of head covering. If it’s below freezing consider wearing a balaclava. Do not wear a balalaika or a baklava. Just don’t. I have a balaclava but I don’t wear it very often. I think my system of three layers works better for our DC-area climate, because it’s flexible.

Extremities are hard. I think bike-specific winter gloves are worthless. Except for lobster gloves. These are the spork of bicycle clothing. They have three finger slots: thumb, index and tall man, ring and pinkie. Think skiing! Better yet, think mittens. I have a pair of mittens made of Thermalite. They are comfortable below freezing and block the wind well. On super cold mornings, I throw chemical hand warmers in them. For your feet, wool socks are a must. On super cold mornings I wear a pair that covers my calves. Don’t wear two pair. You want air circulating around your toes. For cold wet mornings I wear Gore Tex hiking boots. (I don’t have clipless pedals.)  For cold dry days, I put cycling boots over my mountain bike shoes. (Buy the boots one size too big.) If it’s going to be super cold, throw some hand warmers in your shoes. After twenty years of winter bike commuting, I still don’t have foot comfort figured out. So…

Experiment.  These are things that work for me. You should try wearing some of your hiking and skiing technical gear.

Some other advice. Become a weather watcher. Note which way the wind is blowing for both your morning and evening commutes. Remember that DC weatherpeople are really into hyping bad weather. Most of the bad weather misses DC. Except for the occasional flood. Kelly already has flood experience. Consider a compact inflatable kayak for those nasty monsoon days. Don’t wear a scarf, It can come loose and get stuck in your front wheel. This does not end well.

Finally, if you are comfortable walking out the door, you are over dressed. Bank on it. Don’t wear what’s in the picture.

There you have it. Now get riding!

How Does Bri Do It?

Bri writes a blog about winter bike commuting in rural upstate New York. It’s the snow belt and it gets fiercely cold. She looks forward to winter. Bri is a few spokes shy of a wheel.

Bri makes me feel like a wimp.

On Saturday afternoon a cold front came through. The wind howled and howled on Sunday. I was not looking forward to riding into that gale this morning.

When I fetched the newspaper from the driveway the winds were light-ish and the residual warmth from my PJs kept me comfortable. An hour or so later I stepped outside to ride the Mule to work.

Dang. It was cold. And it was colder still once I got underway and rode with a wind out of ten o’clock for the first 11 miles. I knew it was blowing hard when I took the Park Terrace downhill. I normally reach 32 miles per hour. Today I could only make 27.

There were no photos today. Just put your head down and pedal at a depressingly slow speed.

At Gravelly Point the trail turns to the east for 100 yards. Relief! Then when it takes a 90 degree turn to the north the crosswind nearly blew me off the path.

I managed to make it to work in about 90 minutes. About 15 minutes slower than normal.

The ride home was revenge. I had a strong tailwind the whole way. I saw a friend (I think) who hates cold weather riding toward me on a bikeshare bike near the Humpback Bridge across from the Jefferson Memorial. She had on a black parka with a hood drawn tight around her head.  It framed her face. Her jaw was set and her normally joyful demeanor was locked somewhere between determined and miserable.

The rest of the ride home was not half bad. It made up for the craptastic morning commute.

More of the same tomorrow, minus about 5 or 10 degrees.

 

 

Stressing My Way to Work

  • Yesterday I drove to work for the first time in weeks. I honestly don’t know why anyone would want to use driving a car as a way to get to work. (I understand that many people have no viable option in the short term.) I was STRESSED OUT!!!!
  • On the way in, the waiting and merging and sudden stopping were an assault on my central nervous system. I played relaxing music (Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins) and this helped some but not nearly enough. They should have meditation rooms in the parking garages around here. Seriously. So you can come down before you go into the office and start throwing coffee cups around.
  • The ride home had its joys too. Driving in the dark is no fun at all. And the 15 minute back up on I-395 felt like it would never ever end. No wonder this country has a depression and anxiety epidemic. I seriously thought about opening a bottle of wine when I got home. Instead I started my evening with 20 minutes of breathing meditation. I followed this up with my daily physical therapy. Instead of rushing through the exercises (most of which are based on yoga asanas) as I too often do, I slowed them way down. I took care paying attention to each stretch, making sure the muscles relaxed. I monitored my breathing. The whole wind down took about 45 minutes.
  • One thing I notice when I do breathing meditation is that I can get my heart and respiratory rates very low. My doctors are constantly freaked when they take my pulse. The last couple of times it was checked it was 44. “Do you exercise?” A couple of years ago my resting pulse was around 60. That’s considered on the low side for most people.  My low pulse is also a little odd when you consider I drink three cups of coffee every day.
  • This morning I jumped on The Mule with fresh legs (and a disturbingly bigger belly from last week’s Mexican food binge). The cold air felt so refreshing. And riding past the stalled traffic back up on the GW Parkway made me feel liberated. I truly felt sorry for all those people grinding their teeth and white knucking their steering wheels.
  • Of course, I also had the opportunity to stop and admire the early morning sun over the Potomac River. Most drivers don’t get to see this. Sucks for them.

  • If you look closely you can see that my pedals don’t match. This is a hold over from my bike tour this summer when my left pedal disintegrated. What you can’t see is that the chain is stretched beyond hope. So I am getting a new chain and cassette this weekend.
  • I mentioned the cold. As you can see from the picture, the bridges on the Mount Vernon Trail are decked with wood. They frost over. Shaded areas are icy. As I was approaching the beaver bridge (between Old Town and National Airport), an approaching jogger yelled a warning to me, “The bridge is really slippery.” It was slippery on the left hand side (where she had run) but not along the right edge. The left side was still in the shade. Just a couple of degrees makes all the difference. There were fresh gashes in the wood from where bicyclists’ pedals had made a mark during falls.
  • In a few days a cold front comes through with honest to god wintery weather. The battle begins. The holey sweater awaits. The mittens are ready. The chemical foot warmers are beside my shoes. My hair (what little there is) will stand on end as the head coverings draw all the oil out of it. My skin will dry up where the base layers and Buff and wool socks contact it.

 

Milestone Number 1

August will prove to be a month of milestones for biking and me. Today is the first of what I hope to be four milestones this month.

Today marks my 100th bike commute of 2016. I have reached 100 faster a few years ago but given the amount of time off from work I took this June and July, I am a bit surprised to get to 1oo in the first week of August.

I worked 131 days so far this year. 10 of those were telework. I drove 21 times, mostly because of ice and snow. The rest of the time I biked.  The commutes were split among three bikes: 28 commutes for Little Nellie, my Bike Friday; 36 times each for The Mule, my 25 year old Specialized Sequoia, and Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent.

I expect the next milestone to occur on Monday. Stay tuned.

May – Or a Reasonable Facsimile Thereof

May is normally a big mileage month. This year my most interesting ride was in the back of an ambulance. This combined with my trip abroad put a real damper on my riding.  Still I managed to bike to work 10 times – including Bike to Work Day, ride the Five Boro Ride in New York City, did a 59 mile day around the DMV, rode in the inaugural DC Bike Ride, rode to a Nats game, and volunteered at the Tour de Fat.

It rained a lot.

Total miles for the month were 485.5. Little Nellie got all the commuting action and the event rides. The Cross Check picked up 96 miles. My other two bikes took the month off.

For the year, I have 2777.5 miles with 69 commutes.

 

Yet Another Reason Why I Bike to Work

I love spring around here. This was taken about a mile from work on the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac River. This little guy was the only gosling. Yesterday, we saw seven in one gaggle. Mom and Dad were staying very close by. I was surprised that they let me get close enough for a smartphone picture. On the way home one of the adult geese was trying to scare passing bicyclists away by waddling to the edge of the trail and opening its mouth in a threatening manner. No noise came out. It was rather pathetic. A few seconds after I survived this fierce “attack” a young woman rode by and turned to me laughing and said: “That mama goose came after me!!!” Wanna bet she keeps bike commuting?

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Just Another Fed Up Boy on the MVT

I rode my inland route to work today. I was going to work from home but the lack of rain in the morning suckered me in. I took this route because the National Park Service refuses to plow my regular route, the Mount Vernon Trail. The inland route makes us of 3 bike trails in Alexandria City as well as a a trail that runs along the edge of Arlington National Cemetery. All of these trails were plowed and are in good shape.

As usual the ride in was fun. I especially like passing the big back ups of cars at traffic lights and stop signs. (I am careful to keep an eye out for opening car doors and abrupt lane changes when I do so.)

A funny thing happened as I waited for a red light at West and Duke Streets in Alexandria. I was on West street facing north. A bike commuter rode to the west on Duke Street through the green light. This exact same bike commuter rode through the light as I was waiting on Monday and Tuesday. What are the odds of that happening?

I made it to work with a smile on my face. I didn’t even mind climbing that last annoying hill near the Netherlands Carillon.

In the evening it was raining. I didn’t feel like fighting traffic in Rosslyn to get to my inland route so I headed to the Mount Vernon Trail. It was finally cl

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The MVT in the Rain

ear all the way home. This is not because the National Park Service, which maintains the trail, shoveled it. It is because nearly all the 20 odd inches of snow melted. This took over a week. Furthermore, one short section of the trail was still clogged with snow except for a narrow path shoveled by a couple of bike commuters.

I made it home without incident but decided that waiting eight days for snow to melt is unacceptable. The Mount Vernon Trail is a major commuter route for hundreds of people. So I wrote to my three members of Congress:

“The Mount Vernon Trail is used by hundreds of bicyclists as a commuter route in the DC area. I have been using it to get to work for over a decade. The National Park Service maintains the trail, but, unlike other local jurisdictions, refuses to plow the trail after snow events. The bicycling community has complained for as long as I can remember and still the Park Service has not lifted a shovel. This past week some bike commuters actually took shovels to the trail to clear spots with particularly large piles of snow. I would like you to please contact the Park Service and tell them to stop making excuses and start maintaining the trail during the winter.

I greatly appreciate the fact that the Park Service does an outstanding job of clearing downed trees and fixing damaged bridges on the trail after non-winter weather events. So it is especially troubling to see the Park Service neglect the trail after snowfalls. Your intervention in this matter would be greatly appreciated.”

Today the Park Service announced that it is willing to sit down with stakeholders and begin discussions on how to clear the trail next winter. I have a better idea: National Park Service get off your asses and clear the trail this winter. Just as you clear the GW Parkway that runs right alongside it. No more excuses. No more delays. The status quo is simply unacceptable.

If you are a bike commuter in DC, especially if you use the Mount Vernon Trail, please write your members of Congress.