Be Careful Out There

Last week a cyclists from out of town took a bike ride through Old Town Alexandria. He was headed for the southern part of the Mount Vernon Trail. His ride ended in an ambulance. He is in a local hospital in critical condition.

When the Woodrow Wilson bridge was being replaced, I bitched up a storm about the detours and the design of the trails that went beneath it. Both reflected a complete lack of understanding of bicycling. I focused on bollards that were painted black. And I described treacherous detours that changed by the week. One week there was gravel. Then next asphalt that gave way under the weight of a bike. There were sharp 90 degree turns in the dark. And on and on.

The Washington Area Bicyclists Association and folks from the Alexandria Bike Pedestrian Advisory Committee gathered officials from a number of agencies who were responsible for various aspects of the project. These included Alexandria city, the National Park Service, VDOT, and DHS. They walked these officials through the project and pointed out safety concerns and discussed design changes. Many changes were made including painting the bollards bright yellow and putting reflective material on them.

The bollards are part of an extensive security perimeter that is designed to keep vehicle bombs from blowing up the bridge. The bridge carries I-95 and the Beltway across the Potomac River so this perimeter is obviously justified. (The old bridge had no such protection. ) Other features of the perimeter include huge boulders, stout fences, significantly, a movable gate across the southern end of South Royal Street.

The gate is a metal bar that spans the width of the street. When a driver wants access, he enters a code into a keypad at the gate. The metal bar then descends into a metal slot in the pavement. Both the top and bottom of the gate and the area along the slot are painted yellow. When the vehicle has crossed the gap, the metal bar rises to block further access.

That’s how it’s supposed to work. After they installed the gate, it was often out of commission. Crews worked on it on and off. Every so often I’d see the gate was open and I’d ride through it. The alternative is a 20-yard-long side path that has three bollards across it. Why got through a narrow path when you don’t have to?

The cyclist from out of town rode toward the bridge. He saw an open gate. He rode through it. Either the bar was sitting above the slot or it was rising as he reached it, perhaps visually obscured by the yellow paint of the bar and the slot. And potentially shaded by the bridge or two large trees to either side of the street.

He hit the bar and went flying. He broke two vertebrae in his neck. As of this morning, a week later, he was still in critical condition at a local hospital. His wife was following him. She also hit the bar and fell but her injuries were not as severe.

Note that there are no warnings to cyclists that the open gate is a road hazard. No paint on the road surface or signs direct cyclists to the side path. Long story short, you might want to use the side path.

I hope the cyclist recovers.

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The security gate as seen from a south bound cyclist on South Royal Street.

 

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The security gate looking north.
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How Do You say “Sandbagging” in Spanish

To recover from yesterday’s 55 mile meander I decided to do a 36 mile meander on Big Nellie. I mean why not meander while the meandering is good? Again, unbelievably, the weather was absolutely perfect for riding a bike.

Off I rode to do the Tour of Arlington, a loop around Arlington County Virginia entirely on bike trails.

I headed north on the Mount Vernon Trail. I stopped after a half mile to buy lemonade from a little boy and his mom. They were giving the proceeds to a  hurricane Harvey charity.

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Apparently the word got out that the trail is a nifty place to ride on a holiday with perfect weather because it was CROWDED!!!! Once I cleared Belle Haven Park I was enveloped with the scent of honeysuckle so I stopped to smell the flowers.

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I took my time and rode into Old Town Alexandria. The streets were CROWDED!!!! I made it through unscathed and approached the warehouses at the north end of Old Town. I spotted a woman riding up ahead and thought it might be Emilia. Sure enough it was. She didn’t recognize me apparently because I was on my unobtrusive long wheel base recumbent.

Once I said her name and waved she said “Hi John. Is that Nellie?” All was right once more. Big Nellie was flattered to be recognized. If a bike could blush, she would have.

I rode behind a friend of Emilia. They seemed intent on making good time. Emilia and I tried to talk but the one-behind-the-other thing didn’t work. I rushed ahead to get a decent photo of them but they flew by before I could get my phone ready. Then about 10 other bikes rolled by. Soon I was faced with the task of getting past all these people and dealing with heavy on-coming traffic. This is harder on Big Nellie for two reasons: (1) Big Nellie does not accelerate fast and (2) Big Nellie is low to the ground so I can’t see what is coming and what is coming can’t see me. I think I kind of pissed off some people but I managed to get around the crowd and caught up to Emilia and her friends. Her friends went north on the trail at the airport; I followed Emilia west on the Four Mile Run trail. Now when I tried to talk to her, Emilia was on her phone. Oh well.

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I sagged back a bit so as not to intrude on her conversation. That it was in Spanish meant that I had no idea what she was talking anyway, but I wanted to be polite. I kept pace and looked down. Emilia, riding a hybrid with wide tires and chatting on the phone, was cruising along effortlessly at 13 – 14 miles per hour.

I signed Emilia up for the 50 States Ride this year. Ever since she has been sending me messages that she is slow, that she is out of shape, and that I should be nice and wait for her during the ride. She repeated this today during our brief chat.  The reality will be rather different, I fear.

Last weekend Emilia and some friends rode to Harpers Ferry (and back) along the C&O Canal. The distance including the ride from her house to the start was about 65 miles each way. Nearly all of it on unpaved surfaces, some of it muddy. When I saw a picture of her in Harpers Ferry on Saturday I thought “Wow, they must have left early.” I thought this because Emilia looked like she had showered and changed clothes. I was wrong. She had just finished the ride. She looked completely relaxed and composed.

The same was true today. She just cruises along. No effort. Today she told me she no longer drinks alcohol or eats sugar. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

Como se dice “sandbagging” en Espanol?

Anyway, when she got to the end of the Four Mile Run Trail she turned left to go home and I turned right to continue on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail.

After a few more miles I turned right onto the Custis Trail that heads back to the river. The trail has a series of rolling hills. Big Nellie started hill hopping, flying down one hill and up the next. This was why god invented bicycles. Fortunately, this trail was not at all crowded. Wheee!

Back at the river the trail was once again CROWDED!!!! I took my time and pedaled onward. I stopped at Gravelly Point to take some pictures.

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I arrived in Old Town to find it even more CROWDED than before. I think it had reached peak tourist. The intersection of King and Union was absolutely gridlocked with cars and walkers. I rolled to the front of a long line of cars waiting at the stop sign at King Street. A huge pick up truck was stuck in the middle of the intersection unable to move because of all the pedestrians. When a gap in the pedestrians opened up, I slowly rolled past the rear of the pickup, waited for a gap in the pedestrians crossing in the next cross walk and rolled free. Alexandria really needs to ban cars in Old Town on days like today. They serve no reasonable purpose.

A few blocks further on, I spotted  a massive line of people winding along the sidewalk from the left and turning down the sidewalk along Union Street. The line was 3 or 4 people wide. It turned out that all these people were there to see a tall ship that had docked this morning.

I cleared the mass of humanity and headed for home amid the breezes and the warm sun and the smell of the honeysuckle.

 

 

 

Goodbye in the Sky

It would hard to come up with a nicer day to ride a bike than today. So off I went aboard the Cross Check for Chevy Chase. Not the comedian but the neighborhood on the top side of DC.

Just before leaving I put a message on social media about my plans and Ricky responded. He said he’d meet me at the trestle.

Riding the Mount Vernon Trail on a nice weekend day is an exercise in patience. When I wasn’t dawdling behind some tourists I was going uncharacteristically fast, thanks to a day completely off the bike. My lower back/hip issue was still in evidence but it clearly wasn’t slowing me down.

I stopped just north of Old Town Alexandria when I saw a big snowy egret right next to the trail. I hope you like the picture because I nearly was run over by a half dozen cyclists while I took it.

Snowy Egret

I rode along the river on the Virginia side until the 14th Street bridge then switched to the DC side. I slalomed through the crowds all the way to Water Street in Georgetown. Water runs upstream to the Capital Crescent Trail and so I flowed. I wore my bell out passing trail users of all types of humanity.

The Capital Crescent connects to the Georgetown Branch Trail in downtown Bethesda. The GBT is scheduled to be shut down on Tuesday for 4 – 5 years as a light rail line is constructed along the right of way.

I rolled onto the trestle and Ricky was there talking with some other cyclists. I posed for pictures among the tree tops and high above the creek.

Then we rode off to Ryan’s house to take care of his cat. And drink some of his beer.

Ryan has a pretty terrific man cave. Basically it’s a bike mechanic shop. I want one.

After the beer, we rolled back to the GBT and went our separate ways. I headed down into Rock Creek Park and headed for home.  Road work has a section of Beach Drive, the main drag through the park, closed. Ryan told me to take a right at the detour and a left onto Ross Dr. I missed the turn onto Ross and ended up climbing a big hill on Military Road. I knew I had screwed up but there was no easy way to fix what I done broke so I kept spinning. It was a long way up but the road back down was a breeze, literally and figuratively.

The rest of the ride was the usual cruise along the river. With puffy white clouds above. And a steady breeze from the south.

As I rode south of the airport I noticed some trees beginning to change to red and yellow.

I may not have the trestle to ride to but fall days offer plenty of terrific riding in the weeks ahead.

Five Buck Bikeabout

Yesterday’ weather was fantastic.  Good weather for goofing off is also good weather for getting stuff done around the house. Sorry to disappoint you, my friends, but I chose responsibility over slacking.

I mowed the lawn and painted the shed. Most of the painting had already been done by Mrs. Rootchopper during the week but I took on the tedious chore of painting the trim. Four plus hours of pure fun. Not. When I was done I reloaded the shed with all the stuff. It’s good to be back to normal, but my efforts were rewarded with lower back pains.

So I started the today with my usual noga (My wife says it’s yoga, I say it’s back exercises so let’s just call it noga, okay?). After that I languished on my deck reading the Sunday paper. Had I stuck around it would have been tea and buttered scones but I decided to go on a recon ride to DC. I am riding my ninth 50 States Ride in a month and need to find a parking spot near the start. (It’s not too late to sign up. You have to be a WABA member, or come as the guest of one. )

So off I rode to DC on the Mount Vernon Trail. It was busy, mostly with tourists on rental bikes. You can tell because they gape at all the stuff I see every day. On the Dyke Marsh bridge I caught up to a bike tourist. We had a ten second chat from which I learned that he is riding around the perimeter of the 48 contiguous states. He started in Minnesota and is riding counterclockwise. So he’s already been from midnight to three o’clock. The ride will take him 14 months. Go dude! (I found his journal when I got home over on Crazyguyonabike.com. The journal notes say that he also took a side trip to Hawaii and dropped down into Mexico for a few days.)

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After ten miles of weaving around the rent-a-bikers, I made it into DC and headed for Rock Creek Park. Along the way, I spotted a cricket match because this is DC and DC is eclectic as fuck.

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The weather was nearly as good as yesterday. The park side trail is being refurbished and looks great for most of the way from Georgetown to Military Road. At one point, people were gathering along the trail to look into the creek. Five bucks were making their way across the creek. The road crossing had all us bystanders holding our breath. I think they made it across without incident. (The picture shows only the southbound half of the road just after a merge to the left out of frame. The grassy median is wooded and wide. They had to make it across another two lanes of northbound traffic after that.)

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I made it to the new Klingle Valley trail which I had ridden downhill recently. Today, I slogged up the hill. I kept my breathing and effort constant and had no trouble making the climb. Of course, neither would you at 7 miles per hour.

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Once i reached the top, I check out some of the local streets for parking. As long as you are willing to ride a mile (or less) to the start of the ride, you’ll have no trouble finding a place for your metal fart barge (Colin made me say that.)

After the recon was over, I rode to Meridian Hill Park for no other reason than it’s one of my favorite places in DC. The water cascade was dry earlier this summer but it is now flowing in all its glory. The park is built into a hill. Looking down from the top (near the swordless statue of Joan of Arc) the cascade is pretty. Looking up from the base of the park, it is just WOW! And it sounds so soothing you could sit beside it all day canoodling with your canoodle-ee.

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Mon Dieu! Ou est mon epee?
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Cascade from the top of the park
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Cascade from the bottom of the park

I thought it would spoil the vibe if I started canoodling with myself so I made my way home down the 15 Street cycletrack. This was a mistake. It took a really long time. I could have been bombing down 16th Street instead. Riding in a cycletrack in DC feels like you’re in a video game. People, ubers, delivery vans, dogs, and other random stuff seem to appear. You’ll never score enough points if you don’t pay attention.

The ride home was a breeze. Literally. I took a side trip through Del Ray for a change of pace. After 40 miles, I didn’t feel the slightest bit tired. I’m ready for my tour, Mr. DeMille.

Some more pix of my ride are on my Flickr page.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

There are many massive old trees along the Mount Vernon Trail in Belle Haven Park south of Alexandria.  A few years ago a true behemoth started falling apart and was taken down. Over the weekend storms claimed another tree, much smaller but still a welcome producer of shade along the trail. This is what the tree looked like this morning.

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Ten hours later this is what remained.

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Sad face.

There were several other much smaller trees and limbs that had fallen across the trail. These were cleared before this morning’s rush hour.

The credit here goes to the National Park Service that maintains the trail and the nearby George Washington Memorial Parkway.

No good deed goes unpunished around here, however. If the Park Service can provide such excellent storm debris clean up, it can do other things that trail users have wanted for years. Here are a few:

  • Plowing and treating the trail after winter storms
  • Grinding down the bumps from tree roots
  • Repositioning stop signs so that they force cars to stop not trail users.
  • Finding an alternative bridge material to the wood that is currently used. Wood bridges become skating rinks and cause many bike crashes. I don’t know if she fell on a bridge but I saw a young cyclist tending to a very bloody wound below her elbow this morning.

Tonight on my ride home I was flagged down by Adam Schildge. He and his wife Amy are new homeowners down my way in the Fort Hunt neighborhood. They were signing people up for a new bike advocacy Facebook group called MVT South. If you are a user of the southern part of the Mount Vernon Trail (south of Old Town Alexandria) check it out.

Rooftop Turbines and Free Range Peaches

What better way to celebrate a hot muggy July 1 Saturday then to do my winter neighborhood ride in reverse.

Big Nellie and I rode toward US 1 and took the lane at a traffic light. We turned left onto the 3 lane concrete mess and a driver a couple of cars back laid on her horn. As she rolled by she yelled “Get on the sidewalk!” through her open passenger window. Not having time to explain that her inadequacies are her own business I responded with a mindfully deliberate F bomb.

I could easily have caught up to her at the next traffic light but escalation is not my cup of Kona.

Within a minute I was off US 1 and riding flat, nearly car free side streets. At Fort Belvoir I turned left and headed for the Woodlawn neighborhoods on the north side of US 1. There are lots of new bike trails under construction along US 1 in this area so three cheers for my county for finally getting with the program. (Too bad US 1 is still a hideous monstrosity, though.)

A few years ago while riding Big Nellie when it had a fairing (a big Lexan windshield) a man in a Tesla rolled silently by. He stopped and waved me over. He said he was an engineer and wanted to inquire about the provenance of my bike. Ultimately he told me that he was working on a zero energy house near Mount Vernon. (It may have been a negative energy house, one that uses less energy than it produces, but my memory fails me.) I never asked him where his house was specifically but I think I found it today.

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Check out those two big wind turbines on the roof. I could see that the one on the left was moving but it was silent. This is a south facing exposure. The eaves cast shade on the windows to avoid heat gain in the house. There is no lawn, just rather elaborate and tasteful landscaping.

I meandered around at about 12 miles per hour. I was getting hotter and I was in no hurry to get anywhere. Near the Mount Vernon Country Club, I passed a house with a ready to market peach tree. You see they put bags over the produce on the tree so you don’t have to put the peaches in a bag later. Or something like that. There are a few peaches that are outside the bags. I think these may be free range peaches. Clearly I need to do more research.

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The remainder of my ride involved avoiding collisions with tourists on rental bikes on the Mount Vernon Trail. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning.

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.

 

Full Moon Baseball

Twice this spring I have had tickets to baseball games that were rained out. The first one was called before I got to the ballpark, but I managed to make it an eventful day by being hit by an SUV. For the second game, I rode to the ballpark from work and stood around for an hour while the rain came down. The game was called and I rode home in what I expected to be steady rain. Once I was a few miles along, the rain stopped. Go figure.

So the makeup game to that second rainout was last night. I sat with two co-workers, Bob and Karen, and Richie, who retired after working with Bob for many years. I rode to the ballpark on Little Nellie in case I wanted to get a ride home from Bob by folding Little Nellie up and dropping her in the trunk of his car.

The Nationals arrived back from a west coast road trip at 1 am. This meant that many of the older star players would be getting the night off. The starting pitcher had been struggling all season. So I was expecting the Nationals to lose and for the fans rooting for the Orioles to be really obnoxious.

Instead the Nationals dominated from the outset. The good guys won 6-1 thanks to the performance of Dos Padres, speedy shortstop Trea Turner and pitcher Joe Ross. Turner and Ross are young players that the Nationals acquired in a trade with the San Diego Padres. What were the Padres thinking? These two guys are great.  Turner never hit the ball out of the infield but managed to get on base on three weak singles. Then he stole bases at will. He also made one of the best defensive plays I’ve seen. Ross pitched up a storm, striking out 12 and lasting into the 7th inning.

The haircut on the kid sitting in front of me was as good as the game. He got it for the last day of school.  Sister Irma would have had a heart attack if one of us showed up with a mohawk.

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During the game a full moon rose over the Anacostia River to the east of the park. This was a good omen for my ride home. The game was over by about 10 p.m. and I made my way to the bike valet. I usually run into Klarence there but not this night. (I miss you Klarence, but, no worries, my mouth’s still bleeding. Stay proud.)

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Once clear of the ballpark traffic I made my way around the Jefferson Memorial and over the 14th Street bridge to Virginia and the Mount Vernon Trail. The moonlight reflected off the river and made for a sweet transit.

The trail, of course, was empty. The air was cooling and I was rolling along in trance mode. The moonlight reflecting off the path was only occasionally disturbed by car headlights on the parkway.

I rolled through Old Town Alexandria and didn’t see a single car. There were no tourists. Only peaceful quiet soothing breezes, and the glow from the moon.

Back on the trail south of the beltway, I started down from the bridge over Cameron Run. I spotted a dark mass at the bottom of the brief decline in the shadows. It was a homeless person, dressed completely in dark clothing huddled along the left edge of the trail facing the bushes along the river. If he did not have white hair, I don’t know if I would have even seen him.

The rest of the ride on the trail was just me and the cooling evening air with Mr. Moonlight casting a glow on the proceedings. No bugs to annoy, only a breeze and the sound of my breathing.

Cutting through a neighborhood about a mile from home, there was movement. An animal darting across the road in front of me. A mature fox was crossing the street at a trot. The fox population has exploded near my home in recent years. They tend not to care a whole lot about humans being around, even humans on funny looking machines.

Little Nellie made quick work of the last half mile and we flew across the lawn into the back yard. I didn’t really need my bike light to open my shed; it was illuminated by the moon.

I honestly can’t say which was better, the game or the ride home. I’ll have to try again. Soon.

Death and Life on the Mount Vernon Trail

Seeing wildlife up close on my bike ride to work is such an interesting part of the whole bike commuting thing. It’s not all sunshine and lollypops though. Sometimes I get a grim reminder that our animal friends live in a heartless world. Today, near Gravelley Point park I saw a male mallard in the grass near the trail. It was facing the trail and not moving. As I passed I saw lying in the dirt along the edge of the trail a female mallard. Her dusky colored feathers camoflaged her a bit. She was on her side, inert. I circled back and the male waddled a few feet further away. Alas, the female had waddled off her mortal coil. Some of her feathers were strewn across the trail. I am certain she was hit by a passing bicycle.

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I have to say that it was both heart breaking and heart warming to see the male duck standing guard over his mate.

I rode on. Two miles later I came upon some Canada geese. Amongs the adults were a bunch of fuzzy gosslings. They were wandering through the grass at random, a bit like the plastic football players on the old electric football game we used to have (and break) at Christmas. (They were animated by the vibration of the field.)

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The gosling made me feel better. They always do.

Almost as if on order, Klarence posted a selfie. The literal picture of one of my favorite people. Kind. Compassionate. Rowdy. Prideful. It made my day.