Yeah, It’s Winter

You can hold out hope for only so long until it becomes futile. Yesterday I finally pulled out some of my serious winter gear. The holey sweater is an old wool sweater with holes in it that I between my base layer and my jacket. My neoprene overboots go over my bicycling shoes. I rode over 20 miles yesterday (with a stop at the gym) and was pretty comfy the whole time.

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The tools of ignorance

Today, not so much. It’s snowing here in DC. We have had about an inch or two but most of it melted on contact with the ground. The roads were treated with brine so there is no slipping and sliding to deal with. So out I went. My backyard looked like this.

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I think we can put away the lawn mower now

Fug.

It’s bloody cold. (Whiner!) The snow coated my lobster gloves making them all but useless. With temps above freezing, the snow that landed on my boots melted and eventually gave me wet feet. As the ride wore on, the snow became crystallized. It was somewhere between sleet and fluffy snow. (Where’s an Inuit when I need one? They surely have a word for this.) I’d occasionally get a pellet down my wind pipe and gag. A few times one of the little beasts went into my eye.

Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty and fun but every time I turned into the wind my toes and fingertips said, “Hey moron, take us home.”

So I surrendered after getting 20 miles riding in.

While I was riding it occurred to me that I actually prefer riding in a gale force wind during a six-day tropical depression than to riding in winter. Pick your poison.

I spent the first 27 years of my life living in the frozen north of upstate New York and southern New England. Let’s just say I never quite embraced the whole frost bite thing. I moved to the DC area to get away from winter. Today’s DC “cold” would be chamois shirt weather in Boston. I still have one, but I long ago got rid of my Michelin Man winter parka.

I have hopes of reaching 10,000 miles this year. I am about 250-ish miles short with 22 days to go. But we are now getting into the holiday season. I have social and other events for the next five days. Then my kids come home. And who knows what the weatherman will bring. Time will tell.

 

 

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No Time for Old Bike Commuters

Last night and for much of the day today we were hit with a late winter storm. It dropped an inch and a half of slushy wet snow and rained and sleeted and such. It was pretty, especially seeing as how we hadn’t really had a snowstorm this winter.

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This was the view out the front door early this morning. This closed some schools and government offices (not mine) and made for some bumper car action on local roads. I worked from home and, to my surprise, was somewhat productive.

I cleaned off the cars and shoveled the pavement clean with my long-neglected wovel. It was not much fun. I spread de-icer so I don’t pull a Buster Keaton in the morning.

Migrating birds have been gathering in the area for a week or two. I have a bird feeder outside my kitchen window (next to the weeping cherry tree in the photo above). I keep it topped off. Birds are going to be stressed to the max over the next couple of nights so we need to top off their bellies. The two bald eagles at the National Arboretum had a rough night but their eggs were well protected. The eggs and the nest beneath the birds are dry.

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By the end of the day, my back yard was still covered with icy slushy mess.

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At least the screens in our new windows are in good shape.

The forecast calls for temperatures well below freezing overnight. This will turn the Mount Vernon Trail and some untreated side streets into a skating rink. No bike commute for me. We’ll see how things stand on Thursday.

The good news is that this will all be gone by this weekend’s Vasa ride. It will be windy and a little on the cool side but the ride should be fun. If you are in DC and ride a bike, you should do it. As Doctor Seuss said, “These things are fun and fun is good.”

Stay warm, y’all.

 

 

April Chores before February Storms

For yet another day it was April in February. My mind turned to thoughts of spring. Well, old fart thoughts of spring.

I rode Deets to the Hardware store to pick up my sharpened lawn mower blade. While waiting for my blade, I read the local free newspaper. An injured bald eagle had been found on the farm next to my house. It had a full head of white feathers so it was probably mature. This is egg laying season. One injured eagle means another may be without a mate. Not good. (This eagle is not one of the eagles that nests at the Arboretum in DC. Those eagles probably forage for food along the Anacostia River some 10 to 15 miles from my house.)  I bought some stuff at the drug store nearby then rode home.

I pulled out The Mule to see what I could do about it’s screeching front brakes. Well, the short answer was not much given the fact that the brake pads were almost completely worn out. So I hopped back on Deets to ride four miles with a tailwind to the local bike store for some replacements. Alas, they were out of stock so I rode a couple more miles into Old Town where my not-so-local bike store had one pair of the kind of brake pads I prefer.

The ride home was into a strong headwind, a sign of an approaching storm front due to reach us in early afternoon. Along the way I passed a woman running. She stumbled as I passed and fell flat on her face. I stopped to see if she was okay (she was). Of course, my concern only made her feel embarrassed. Onward.

Pedal pedal.

Back at the ranch, I put the brake pads on with a surprisingly limited number of f-bombs. When I am working on a bike, I use a lot of lube and a lot of f-bombs. They just make things work better. I don’t know why.

Next, I drained the oil from the lawn mower and replaced the blade, the air filter, and the spark plug. When I went to put new oil in the engine, I found that the oil I had in my shed was last winter’s dirty oil that I had yet to dispose of. Derp.

Clouds loomed.

I jumped on The Mule and headed for the hardware store so I could get some oil and test the brakes.

Pedal pedal.

Raindrops fell. Then the sky cleared. I bought some oil and made it home warm and dry. The brakes worked and didn’t squeal.

The oil went into the mower. I put some gas in. And started it up. It went clank. Then it ran normally. I repeated this. It went clank each time I started it. Clanky sounds aren’t good but the thing worked. I will unclank it another day.

My final task of the day was to polish my shoes. Do people still do this? I learned it from my father who wore the same shoes for 35 years. Good shoes last forever. I bought this pair over 20 years ago. Good shoes are kind of like bikes. Trust me. Someday you’re gonna need a quality shoe.

Having finished my chores, I sat down with a bagel and a newspaper to enjoy a sunny day on the deck. Ten minutes later the front came through.

It’s February now.

 

The Fat Lady Isn’t Singing Yet

As the saying goes, the opera isn’t over until the fat lady sings. Folks, it’s mid-February. The fat lady of winter isn’t doing her number for many weeks. I know because it was in the 20s on the way to work this morning. The edge of the river had frozen.

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For the next week or so we’ll have some April weather. Don’t get complacent. The fat lady is warming up, so to speak, in the wings.

I am hoping on banking out some serious mileage in celebration of our temporary spring. What’s on your President’s Day weekend to do list?

Chatting, Squalling, Passing

My bike commutes are mostly solo affairs in which I go into a trance and re-emerge at the Intersection of Doom. Nothing takes you out of a deep meditative state quite like near certain death.

This morning, however, I rode about 8 miles of my commute with Big Ed, a caffeine addict with a biking problem. I call him Big Ed because, well, he’s big, but it also distinquishes him from Felkerino, who drinks espresso like tap water.

Big Ed sure is loquacious. Normally I’d rather ride along but he was splendid company and didn’t take out a single oncoming ride. He rides a Surly Ogre which is a rather intimidating steed. On coming riders moved off the trail, dismounted, and bowed.

Ed veered off at the Crystal City connector trail next to National Airport. He was in search of his morning fix. I later learned he achieved caffeine satisfaction.

While Ed was amping up, I found myself riding into a headwind which suddenly turned into a snow squall. I tried to take pictures but I lack patience and photographic skill. Here’s a couple of my failures.

Sadly, the dried geese poop on the trail can be confused with the few snowflakes. At least the Washington Monument is in a snowy haze.

The rest of the ride in was a bit of a struggle into the wind but I managed.

The wind maintained during the day allowing me to ride home effortlessly with a cold tailwind. Near the Memorial Bridge I passed Flogini, the erstwhile spiritual adviser to the Rootchopper Institute, as she rode toward me. It was only the second time our paths have crossed in a year and a half. (I don’t think she recognized me because she had no eye protection and was taking a cold wind to the face.) It’s sad to think that in all that time we’ve seen each other for about 3 seconds.

The rest of the ride home was, forgive the expression, a breeze. My pedaling mechanics seem suddenly to be quite good, especially for this time of year. I am also getting out of the saddle much more than I have in years.

Tomorrow will be another cold commute, then the next seven days should be in the 60s and 70s. In February. In DC. Wow.

 

 

Spring, Kindness, and Shackelton’s Great Grand Daughter

Robin Rides to Work

As it gets warmer and lighter, we begin to see signs of spring. Today I saw my first new bike commuter. I’ll call her “Robin.”

There is a short connector trail that links the Custis Trail along I-66 with the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac River. The connector trail starts/ends at the Intersection of Doom. Along side the trail is a little used service road that goes basically nowhere. It is often confused with the connector trail.

As I reached the IoD traffic light on the connector trail, I spotted Robin coming from the Key Bridge toward the IoD. She looked confused and started to turn down the service road. We made eye contact and I shook my head “no.”  Then I motioned with my head “this way.” (My hands were busy braking.) She immediately got the point and veered off the service road. As she rode past me she said, “Thanks. It’s my first bike commute.” Based on her gear – bike with rack and panniers – she was not an inexperienced rider; she was just new to commuting in DC. She would have figured out her mistake so I saved her all of 20 seconds. Nevertheless it felt good to help a fellow traveler.

So here’s a reminder to all #bikedc commuter. Spring is almost here and, with it, many Robins. It doesn’t take much to help them out. Maybe just a nod or a shake of the head. Give them directions or offer to lead the way. Invite them to one of the scads of bike commuter coffee get-togethers. Tell them about upcoming local events like the Vasa Ride.

Be Kind to Clueless Touroids

And while I am on the subject of being kind, we are just a few weeks away from the massive influx of tourists. Tourists in DC think they know where they are and what they are doing because they see DC on TV every night. The truth is most of them are clueless. Be kind to them. (Yes, I admit I lose my cool with five abreast cherry blossom tourists on the trails. I will try to be more patient this year.) Be especially kind to the ones from far away lands, particularly those who do not speak English. If you’ve ever been disoriented in a place far away, you know how frustrating and scary it can be. The people you help will long remember what you did for them.

Enduring Rosslyn

Later in the morning I had to go to CVS for some things. I decided not to bother with a sweater or jacket since it’s only a block away and 45 degrees is tolerable in shirt sleeves. I was totally comfortable. I spotted a woman walking toward me in a cross walk. She had on a heavy winter coat, oversized sunglasses, and big ear muffs. I stifled a laugh and wondered if her last name was Shackleton. Then I realized she was a friend of a friend, the kind you know of but don’t actually know. Derp. I guess it’s not spring for everyone yet.

 

If the Answer Is Blowing in the Wind…

…then what the heck is the question?

It was a mighty good thing I took it easy this weekend because this morning’s bike commute was epic. I rode 20 miles on Saturday and 30 miles yesterday. All relatively flat.

This morning I rode into a dead headwind. My first few miles have trees and houses so I was somewhat protected. I stopped for my morning sunrise picture which worked out okay. My bike didn’t blow over, but the sun was well up in the sky. The Mule cast long shadows.

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At the north end of Old Town Alexandria the road goes through two warehouses. They formed a wind tunnel. I could barely make headway. Heading northwest, time after time gusts would knock me down to single digit speeds or nearly blown me clean off the trail. Going even 10 miles per hour took serious effort.

As I made the turn into the wind at Gravelly Point, I passed a runner heading my way. He let out an f-bomb in frustration. It was around this time that the weather station at the airport recorded a 46 mile per hour gust. I believe it. I made it to the Humpback Bridge and stopped to take a picture of the white caps in the river and the monuments in the sunshine.

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The last two miles were extremely difficult, but I was very grateful that I didn’t have to cross the Potomac River. The crosswinds would have been brutal if I had to ride across the river. My friends who did so are badass. Or crazy. Or both.

In Rosslyn, the power was out so police were directing traffic through the Intersection of Doom. Traffic seemed to flow better than normal. Crossing an on-ramp to I-66 from Lynn Street I was hit with a blast of wind. I nearly fell over but managed to continue forward through the curb cut. The last 100 yards featured an intense tailwind. Too bad there were pedestrians in the way.

The high wind warning that had been posted since late last night was cancelled but I still had a pretty decent tailwind for the ride home.  And lots of daylight. I turned my headlight on low to be seen in Old Town. I didn’t bother turning it on high until I was less than two miles from home.

That’s a pretty good sign of spring. So is the fact that Nationals pitchers and catchers report to spring training tomorrow.

Winter Bike to Work Day

Apparently today is International Winter Bike to Work Day. It’s that day of the year when the wheelpeople of the southern hemisphere ride around in shorts to mock us in the frozen north. Yesterday was a planned day off and it was a good thing because it was cold and very windy. Today was colder still but the winds were light, my legs were fresh, and the antibiotics were still kicking in.

I rarely climb out of the saddle but I did it three times on the way to work today. I am feeling my oats. Nothing like having two functioning lungs to get my ya-yas out.

About 100 yards from my driveway I was stopped in my tracks by the most amazing blazing sunrise I’d seen in ages. I pulled over to admire it. As I was pulling out my camera for a picture a motorcade of school buses and cars came by and obscured my view. So you’ll have to take my word on it.

I banged a left and climbed a short hill out of the saddle. A car came up behind me and honked loudly. It’s a residential neighborhood with narrow streets but Mr. BMW was bound and determined to demonstrate is automotive superiority complex. Do people who drive like this realize what incredible asses they are?

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I pedaled on into the cold winter air. It was in the 20s but I had dressed nearly flawlessly for the occasion. I had extra high socks on under my rain pants. I had chemical hand warmers between my shoes and my overboots. I had three layers on my head: skating cap, Buff, and jacket hood. The only part of me that got cold was my thumbs which never seemed to recover from taking this picture of The Mule at its usual sunrise posing place in Dyke Marsh.

There was a dusting of snow on the boards of this bridge but I didn’t slip. I just chugged away to the office arriving surprisingly comfortable.

The ride home feature gray skies, a headwind, and ten degrees less cold. I enjoyed the grind except for two close passes by cars whose drivers were in a big rush to get home. One, of course, was a BMW. Ask any bike commuter what cars have the most obnoxious drivers and you’ll hear “BMW” more often than not.

I made it home in one piece with a smile on my face. Not a bad way to end a workweek.

I hope you fine readers have a splendid weekend.  I plan on doing as much..

 

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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!

Winter Moments

Many years ago I taught at a college in Newport Rhode Island. The academic building was located on the cliff walk next to the famous summer “cottage” of the Vanderbilts known as The Breakers. Many times I would arrive just after sunrise and the entire school and all the mansions would be completely socked in by fog. A fog horn moaned in the distance.

This morning as I rolled out of my driveway I had a flashback to my Newport days. I can’t remember it ever being so foggy here in DC. I could not make out the main road that is only 50 yards from my driveway. I stopped to take a picture.

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The pickup truck is parked at the corner. The illuminated street light is on the opposite side of the main road.

I forged onward totally paranoid that the car drivers would not be able to see me. To add to the peril, the fog condensed on my glasses making it even more difficult for me to see. Fortunately, they were being careful and my route for the most part is on quiet side streets.

I figured by the time I reached the river the fog would have lifted. I figured wrong. Readers of this blog will know that I take sunrise pictures from a bump out in the wooden bridge that carries the Mount Vernon Trail over Dyke Marsh. Here’s today’s sunrise.

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Dang.

The ride to work along the trail was safe but spooky. The regulars were out. The hoppy runner. The mom pushing what must now be a 1 1/2 year old in a jogging stroller. If she keeps this up, she’ll be She Hulk in a few years.

I looked to see if there were bald eagles in the tree at the Belle Haven nest. I couldn’t see the tree.

Once I made it through Old Town the fog began to lift, only to be replaced by a persistent, annoying headwind. It was the kind of headwind that made me check my brakes to see if they were sticking against the rim. I stopped briefly to report the scofflaw parker blocking the bike lane at 420 N. Union Street. Again. (Apparently last night’s call didn’t result in a ticket. We should all be treated with such forbearance by the police.)

I was really looking forward to the ride home because the temperature was in the high 50s. That’s pretty sweet for January in DC. Then I rolled out of the garage and was treated to a nice surprise. Sunlight. It was still light out. Are you kidding me? Yes!

And it stayed light out for 15 minutes.

Bike commuting in winter does have its moments.