Elizabeth and Brittany

Say It Ain’t So, Tin Lizzie

Today I was saddened to read Elizabeth’s blog post about the possibility of giving up bike commuting. Elizabeth lives and works in the busy Ballston to Rosslyn corridor of Arlington, Virginia. Many years ago Arlington planned this area out to be a place where you could do just fine without a car. As it turns out, Elizabeth could easily get to work by subway, bus, or bike. She’s been riding her bike on unprotected bike lanes and has had more than her share of close encounters with big metal things.

What’s doubly depressing about this is that Elizabeth mentioned my recent intimate get together with a red light running SUV as a factor in her thinking.  When I wrote that post it never occurred to me that it would put people off bike commuting. I should have put my event in context. I have had dozens of close encounters with motor vehicles over the years. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but in over 100,000 miles of riding, I’ve never been hit.  I have hit two cars. One right hooked me and I hit him in the back right fender. If I had been competent I would have missed him entirely. Another was parked and jumped out in front of me. (It was windy. I had my head down. It was really embarrassing.) I was doored a block from Elizabeth’s office a few months ago. I was going very slowly. The door hit my very full rear left pannier.  No harm, no foul. I gave the exiting passenger a dirty look.

Stuff happens. I could be in the hospital or a funeral parlor right now. But I’m not. I rode to work today – right past where I was hit. I did come close to a collision today though. A goose was hanging out in the center of the trail. An oncoming commuter scared it into my path. She laughed and so did I. I’m riding to work tomorrow.

If experienced commuters like Elizabeth quit, we are doing something seriously wrong as a community.

Snakes in the Trees

In completely unrelated news, I learned today that rat snakes grow up to six feet long and climb trees. They are known to inhabit Dyke Marsh where I take my sunrise photos for this blog. I can handle big black SUVs but I think if I had to deal with a six-foot black snake in a tree, I’d soil myself.  This picture was taken today, by the way.

Snakes
Photo from Friends of Dyke Marsh Facebook Page

The Bliss Comes Back

And now some good news. Blissful Britt came back to her blog today. I thought she was going to be gone for months. She lasted three weeks. Stamina is overrated.

And So Does Baseball

And speaking of bliss, baseball is back in DC. The Washington Nationals won their home opener, 4 -2. I couldn’t go, but Klarence did. She willed them to victory on my behalf. They’ve won the first game. The hope is they win the last one. Sometime in early November. Fingers crossed.

 

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Three Errands in One Day

Thannk god for the Errandonnee. I don’t have to think of ideas for blog posts for 12 days.

Today’s first errand, such as it is, was another ride to and from work. I wasoperating on 5 1/2 hours sleep this morning and switched my fuel to Eggos for a pre-launch sugar spike. The temperature was in the high 40s so I ditched the winter gear and went with shorts. SHORTS!!! I froze for the first five miles but it was so worth it.

Digression: I neglected to mention that on my ride home last night I heard my first spring peepers of the year at the southern edge of Old Town Alexandria.

Anyway. SPRING!!!

I stopped to look at a sign from the National Park Service. They run many parks in the DC area. Local cyclecross enthusiasts have been using an area alongside the Mount Vernon Trail for training. You know, having fun. Can’t have that, says the grumpy Park Service.

 

On the way home, I stopped by the bank to use the magic money machine. (I once heard a father tell his toddler that he was using the magic money machine. The poor kid was probably seriously disappointed when he found out the truth.)

A bit further along I stopped at the bike shop to have my shifter serviced. Taylor the Mechanic tried but the replacement part didn’t work so I had to order a new set of shifters.

Three errands in one day, lying in the depths of your Errandonnation. (A free pint to the reader who has a bloody clue what that line was about.)

Errand No. 6

Category: Work (2nd use of this category)

Miles: 29 1/2

Observation: Actually made by #bikedc’s Shawn: The Park Service is always saying it has no money, so where does it find the funds to buy signs prohibiting enjoyment of their parks?

Errand No. 725506598392_d8a41c323c_m

Category: Personal Business (Bank)

Miles: -1/4 (I short cut from my route through Jones Point Park)

Observation: ATMs would be more fun if they really were magic. Maybe they’d emit a cloud of smoke like a magic trick when they dispensed cash.

 

Errand No. 825330101180_e98ec2d8d4_m

Category: Store (Bike Shop) 2nd use of this category.

Miles:  3/4 (A diversion from the MVT to Belle View Shopping Center via the US 1 connector trail.)

Observation: It was in the 70s today so I was shocked when there was no line at the service desk at the bike shop. Also, you have to love a bike shop that will do minor service on your bike while you wait. Spokes Etc. is terrific for this.

 

 

Bike, Wash, and Drink, Oh My!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woot!

Pedal, pedal!!!!

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

After 15 miles, I pulled into the yard.

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

We should have tornado watches more often.

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

Triple Play for Punxatawney Phil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A triple play on a sunny day.

Thanks Phil. See you in about three weeks.

 

Advocating and Zoning Out

Advocating

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

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

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

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

Zoning Out

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

The No Squish Bike Commute

It’s astonishing how much more comfortable bike commuting can be when your boots are not filled wit24309316603_3da4d74d9c_mh ice cold Potomac River water.

And so today’s bike commute into a cold headwind was rather nice. I stopped for a sunrise picture made less risey by the fact that I left late and the sun is coming up earlier.

The wooden bridges on the Mount Vernon Trail had a slight coating of ice, which is to be expected when it is near freezing. It turns out those road signs are right: bridges do freeze before roadways. Who knew?

I know of one person who knows. The worst of the ice was on the Trollheim, the boardwalk beneath the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge about 1/2 mile from my office. Legend has it that a troll lives beneath the boardwalk and, on cold or wet days, the troll reaches up and grabs bike commuters causing them to crash. I was making my way gingerly across the icy boards when I spotted a big smush mark in the ever so thin dusting of snow on top of the boards to my left. This is a sure sign that a bike went down.

The ride home was a blustery affair. I had a tailwind most of the way. Every so often the wind would abruptly change direction and slap me upside the face. Wake up, dude! I even caught a 20 mile per hour gust broadside that nearly knock me off the trail.

Tomorrow I work from home so I will miss out on one of the COLDEST DAYS OF THE YEAR!!! Actually by the standards of where I lived for the first 28 years of my life, these “brutally cold” days are pretty much the winter norm. Everything is relative. Except ice cold river water in your shoes, of course. That absolutely sucks.

 

Super Monday

The day after Easter is called Easter Monday. Don’t ask me why. As far as I know not much happened on Easter Monday. Maybe Jesus bit the ears off some chocolate bunnies. But I digress.

Not really, I haven’t even started yet.

Stop arguing with yourself.

I rode to work on 6 hours of post Super Bowl sleep. Who won? Sydney, our Super Bowl party hosts’ Australian Labradoodle. Sydney is the most well behaved puppy I have ever seen. I think Sydney is actually some sort of animatronic muppet. Sydney was infinitely more interesting than the game. And not nearly as bizarre as the numerous LSD-influenced commercials.

So I rode to work on The Mule, back on the Mount Vernon Trail for the nonce. (24266061624_4058a63836_mDid he just say “nonce?” I’ll bet he drinks Dew and eats Doritos.)

I left just a few minutes before dawn. By the time I got to Dyke Marsh the sunrise got the jump on me but I took its picture anyway. My camera was not up to the task though.

The squirrels in my head have been especially busy lately. So I tried to concentrate on nothing during the ride. If that seems contradictory, it kinda is. Which is why it didn’t work very well. So the squirrels won.

I looked for signs of spring on the wispy branches of the willow trees along the trail opposite the Washington Monument. No luck. No buds. We’ll have to wait a few more weeks.

I turned left at the Intersection of Doom and fell in behind a lycra clad cyclist with a spiffy racing bike. He was going suspiciously slowly. Then I noticed that he was holding his left crank arm in his hand. Dude, that’s not how it works!

I’ll put up with squirrels in my head any day over pedaling with only one leg. (This is actually really hard to do but is supposed to smooth out your pedal stroke.)

The ride home was a bit of a slog. The 6-hours of sleep was not enough. The squirrels had gone to bed so I fell into my commute trance. This ended when I nearly ran over a walker who was coming toward me on my side of the trail. (Walk on the right people!!)

She was not a ninja because it was light outside. It stayed light for the first 7 or 8 miles of my ride home. I could get used to this.

In the dark the curvy last two miles of the trail to the stone bridge confuse me. I lose track of where I am in the sequence of turns. Did I cross the long bridge yet or just the two short ones? Did I pass the fishing hole?

All was revealed when I spotted the mansion with the Spanish roof tiles near the top of the gradual climb to Northdown Road. A VDOT plower whimsically left a pile of plowed snow in the middle of the street. Fortunately I was out of my trance by then.

At the intersection of Fort Hunt and Shenandoah Roads a rather ominous cluster of snowplows stood in wait for the approaching Dusting to 3 Inch storm of the century.

All this means is I will probably drive to work tomorrow.

The squirrels in my head don’t like ice.

 

 

It’s Sunday in ‘Merica

Yes, today is a patriotic American Sunday. I bought my tax software yesterday and in about 2 hours finished the first cut at our returns this morning. It looks like we’ll be getting back a little over $300. I think that cuts the withholding to the quick.

After doing taxes, I decided to go for a short bike ride around the Fort Hunt neighborhood. This was a fairly uneventful lolly gag until I worked my way over the the Mount Vernon Trail and started heading north toward Fort Hunt Park. Then I heard a loud screech in the air to my left. I pulled off the trail and looked up and over and saw a bald eagle swooping down into the trees toward the massive Fort Hunt nest. I know of at least four bald eagle nests between Mount Vernon and Old Town and this is by far the biggest. Like all the MVT nests this one is nearly impossible to spot after the trees get their leaves.

My eyes were distracted from the swooping bird by another bald eagle soaring in a tight circle above. I looked back to the nest and spotted the other eagle perched on a large branch in the tree directly behind and above the nest.

The birds were too far away for me to get a picture with my camera phone. So my apologies for not capturing the moment.

The eagles behavior was consistent with this description of mating. So maybe we’ll have some eaglets in a couple of months.

I hopped back on my bike and rode around the Fort Hunt area until my toes became too cold.

I am back home preparing for the Super Bowl. This means taking a shower and carting the beer out to the car for our annual Super Bowl/Paulie’s birthday extravaganza. What better way to celebrate America and the onset of senility than by watching 300 pound men clad in plastic armor smashing into each other.

In concussions we trust.

 

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

24434432159_89f1f8ae08_m
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.

 

Inlandia

Another day, another icy mess on the Mount Vernon Trail. Thanks National Park Service. You’re swell.

I left a few minutes late. It was light out. We’re SAVED!!!!

The first 30 minutes of my ride home were also in daylight. Thank you Copernicus.

The trail is actually getting clearer by the day but since I fell on one of the wooden bridges last winter, there’s no way I am going to use it until someone I trust says they are clear. This does not include Big Ed who I am convinced will ride on a skating rink if you give him the opportunity.

So today I took the inland route again. Two things became apparent. Yesterday’s commute benefited from an uncanny ability to hit green lights. Today’s not so much. And, riding in the grit on the side of the road will turn your chain into a crunchy mess.

Every time I tried to put some effort into pedaling I heard this awful crunchy sound. I was expecting my chain to break. Of course, the reason all this crap is on the edge of the road is because cars are equipped with grit repellent.  It’s true. You could look it up.

When I got home I cleaned my chain. I was surprised at how quickly the grit came off. Still I think a few more weeks of this stuff will grind my drivetrain to bits. The Mule was due for a new chain and cassette anyway.

I do miss my river views but I am enjoying the Potomac Yard Trail. The cars on the adjacent road have stop signs and traffic lights. The trail doesn’t. Sucks for you drivers.

Also, I get to bypass all those cars lined up at red lights and stop signs. Excuse me. Sorry. Pardon me. Coming through.

I haven’t seen many bike commuters on this route. There was a guy tonight on a Trek 1200 (I think). He was faster than me so I only got a glimpse of him. I saw a woman commuter coming and going. She was the real deal. Could have robbed a bank on her way home. I have no idea what she looks like.

On my way to work I have to climb the hill going to Fort Myer. This is not nice. It goes up, then down, then up again. On the way home I get to do the two hills on Fort Hunt Road. By the time I crest the second one, my legs are not happy.

Tomorrow is a toss up. It’s supposed to rain all day. I could work from home if it’s too unpleasant. My legs could use the rest. I don’t like working from home. I miss my commute.