Solo in Charm City, Hon

Today was the annual Tour Dem Parks, Hon ride in Baltimore. Charm City has its, well, charms, and, as it turns out, so does this ride. I learned about this ride from my friend Paris who I ran into a couple of years ago when I was visiting Baltimore. Paris was in the middle of the ride and having a blast. So, it went on my to-do list.

Things didn’t start particularly well. I had hoped that my friend Linel, bike commuter and mama to Daphne the wonder dog, was hoping to join me. Sadly she bailed last night. So I did the ride solo.

The ride is a counterclockwise circuit of the city of Baltimore. The route passes through eight city parks. Along the way, the ride shows off the city’s extensive bike route system, including the Jones Falls, Gwynns Falls, and Herring Run Trails.

The trails and the city could use a lot of sprucing up. Some of the trails were riddled with tree routes. Some of them are signed routes on sidewalks.  The city is a strange mix of beautifully restored and maintained old buildings, hundreds of row houses, and a depressing number of dilapidated buildings, commercial, industrial, and residential. It struck me as sad that I was riding through slums with a view of a publicly funded football stadium in the distance.

Normally, I bring a point and shoot camera with me.  And I did today. I forgot to charge its battery so there would be no picture taking on the fly.

Enough depressing stuff. The ride itself began in very comfortable temperatures with pleasant breezes. Since it begins on a trail there is a long string of bicycles for the first five miles. You just have to be chill, and I was. Not having a working camera or anyone riding with me made for a very meditative mood. I’d get into my trance focusing on my legs spinning then snap out of it when another rider would do something unexpected (like veer in front of me, stop in the middle of the trail, etc.)

The scenery varied. Druid Hill Park, the Cylburn Arboretum, and Gwynns Falls and Leaking Park were all stellar. They provided dense shade and rippling streams. At one point we went through Dickeyville, a 19th century village. The road wound past stone walls and picket fences. Beautiful.

Long stretches of the ride were on city streets. Traffic was practically non existent. This let me get my speed fix. My Cross Check may weight a lot but it can roll nicely.

After Leaking Park we rode to the Inner Harbor, passing briefly through Carroll Park.  Near the inner harbor we climbed to Federal Hill Park with its views of the harbor.

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After the inner harbor we went to Patterson Park where we had a rest stop at a pagoda. This is such a beautiful structure and a stop you really need to make if you ever visit. It’s not always open. (It was today but I passed on taking in the view from the top. I’ve climbed the steps many times before.)

 

 

 

 

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Just behind the pagoda there was a yoga class wrapping up on the lawn. Shucks, I missed it.

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The ride headed on city streets into the northeastern section of the city.  Clifton Park seemed more about playing fields than most of the rest of the parks. This was followed by Herring Run Park, where there was a rest stop at 32 miles. My cue sheet had a big 35 on the front so I wondered why a rests top was needed three miles from the finish. The answer was that the ride was actually 37 miles long.

Once we entered the Inner Harbor area we were riding on shadeless streets and the temperature was in the low 90Fs, warmer still because of all the asphalt and the masonry row houses.

So what’s a couple more miles when your cookin’, right. As it turns out the last two miles were in shady Druid Hill Park. Ahh.

On the way up the next to last hill, I ran into John Roche pulling daughter Ellie in a trailer. John used to live in DC, but he and his wife Kate left town a couple of years ago. We chatted for a minute. Ellie was looking pretty wiped out. They headed home and I headed to the finish for a burger (excellent), a hot dog (meh), and a cold beer (might fine).

Before leaving for DC, I stopped by John’s house. I expected Ellie to be asleep but she was full of energy. The last time I saw John and Kate, Kate was past her due date, so this was my first time to hang out with Ellie. She’s a charmer. She speaks a form of English only day care teachers can translate. Talking to her was a bit like watching a French movie; I could understand a word here and there, but it was hard work. After an hour or so, I headed back to DC.

I think the drive home was harder than the ride. I was groggy from the heat.

Bottom line: this is a ride well worth doing. It is a good companion ride to the Tour du Port event that I’ve done four or five times.

 

Summer in the City – It’s Not All Bad News in Baltimore

From all the recent bad news coming out of Baltimore these days, you’d think the city was going to change its name to Baltiless. Days like today belie the news reports. Sure Baltimore still has plenty of problems, but it has so much going for it.

I had thought about driving up for the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race which my friend Charmiane has raved about. There was also a well regarded bike ride called the Tour Dem Parks. And an Orioles game. And a celebration of the Hampden neighborhood. Baltimore was feeling its oats today.

After doing my physical therapy and reading the paper I had dithered away too much time to do the Parks ride. My friend Linel had managed to dither less and made it to the ride. (I’m jealous.)  I still wanted to see the race so I hopped in the Millenium Falcon and drove north.

If I had my act together I would have tossed Little Nellie in the trunk of the car, but the prospect of walking aronud in bike shoes put me off. I regretted my decision. Parking in downtown Baltimore on a Sunday is a tad pricey, $30 for the day. I drove to Patterson Park and parked for free on the street. I was now more than a mile from the Race, Fells Point or anything else I wanted to see. Dumb. Bikes are good. Folding bikes are gooder.

I walked into the park and my favorite Baltimore building, the Patterson Park Pagoda was open. I climbed the stairs to the top and enjoyed the fantastic 360 degree view of the city and a cooling breeze. I stayed up there a good 20 minutes watching the Parks riders climb the hill to the 25-mile rest stop at the base of the Pagoda. I was using Instagram and I noticed that Paris, whom I had met at the Cookie Ride earlier this year, had just taken a selfie with the Pagoda in the background.

Me inside the Pagoda
Me inside the Pagoda

I climbed down and found her. We talked for a few minutes and she headed out for ten hot, muggy miles of bike riding. I hoofed it to the Canton neighborhood to check out the race. People were all headed east on Boston Street, the main drag in Canton. I didn’t see any race so I left the street for the much prettier waterfront promenade. I don’t do boats but it would be sweet to live along the water here.

After 10 minutes I spotted on of the race participants heading east on Boston so I went back to Boston to check it out. The “sculptures” came in ones and twos. They are really sculptures they are more like human powered parade floats. As I watched I was tweeting my friend John Roche who was coming to what he referred to as the splash zone. It turns out the sculptures also have to go into the water and sail (if that’s the word) around a buoy. Yes, they were parade floats in every sense of the word.

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Huge dogs (one with a sock monkey on its back), a black birthday cake, a dinosaur, a space shuttle, a giraffe. The designs were whimsical and creative. The crowds watching the floats floating were festive. It was hard to see the actual action because the crowds were several people deep. Everybody was in a good mood, including John and his wife Kate. Kate is pregnant and overdue. Despite the heat and being on her feet for what must have been over an hour, she looked fantastic and was in a great mood.

Kate wasn’t alone. I saw half a dozen pregnant women in attendance. And one mom with a brand new baby. What’s in the water, hon?

I left the splash zone with John and Kate. They headed home and I hoofed it back to my car through a neighborhood of row houses. Many of these row houses were three stories tall with roof top decks for views of the water. It just looks like the kind of place that would be a blast to live in. And these homes are only a short walk or bike ride from downtown.

I know it has its problems, but from what I can see, Baltimore is looking good.

Except for the Orioles, of course.

Paris’s account of the day is here. A few more pix of the race here.

A Monumental Idea

I am a sucker for a gimmick. Last year’s gimmicks included the Hoppy 100, a 100-mile bike ride that hit three microbreweries en route. Leave it to John, the father of the Hoppy 100, and a micro brew lover with a cycling habit, to come up with another gimmick that I couldn’t pass up.

John learned that a bicycle organization in Baltimore was staging a ride from Baltimore’s Washington Monument to DC’s Washington Monument. They call it the Monument to Monument ride. They should call it the Monument to Monument to Monument ride because you have to ride back to Baltimore. John asked for the directions and reversed them, so that we in DC could partake without traveling to Baltimore.

The Mule and the Monument - Start
The Mule and the Monument – Start

Using the power of Twitter and his blog, John organized the DC start. John, Tim, Justin, Alex, Kevin and I met at the DC monument around 8 am. It was a lovely day for a bike ride, assuming it was February. Sadly, it was Cinco de Mayo, a date that does not go hand in hand with the words “wind chill”. Undaunted, we headed out for points north, into a biting headwind.

I chose to ride The Mule for only the second time in months. This turned out to be a mistake of sorts. I was comfortable riding but could not find a riding rhythm for the life of me. I’ve ridden with John, Alex and Kevin before and had over 2000 miles in my legs since the start of 2013. It wasn’t that they weren’t riding fast or that I was undertrained.

I was lagging behind everyone from the get go. We headed up the Metropolitan Brach Trail, then zig zagged through Northeast DC and Mount Rainier before jumping on the Anacostia River Trail system. I have always found this particular trail system to be confusing. I lost contact with the group and then got off track completely. At this point, I figured that even if I couldn’t find the group, I could still get a fun ride in.

Somehow I righted my wrongs and found the group hanging alongside the trail near Lake Artemesia somewhere near Greenbelt. We chatted for a few minutes and then set off again. By this point, I had another problem. My allergies were going berserk. I couldn’t stop coughing up mucus, my eyes were watery, my nose was running, and increasingly my windpipe seemed inflamed and sore.

On to Baltimore!  The group dropped me again near the Agriculture Department farm near Greenbelt. We started seeing riders from Baltimore passing our way on the opposite side of the road. We would see dozens more as the day progressed. Out of the blue, Rod appeared and joined us on our northward trek. I became his project du jour. Each uphill was as struggle. He advised me to go easy on the uphills and bomb down the downhills. My only problem was that I was having trouble going easy on the flats!

We took a shortcut and joined the group at the top of a hill. From this point on, we were more or less together. At some point, Mike showed up. Mike is a randonneur. He has more energy than most thermonuclear reactors. In MikeWorld, hills do not seem to exist. Conversation has no end. He smiles so much that I’d swear he gets paid by the tooth. He brought the group energy. His constant chatter kept my mind off my struggles. And he had the good sense to laugh at my jokes. He found it particularly amusing when, as we spotted Baltimore in the distance, I called it Shangri La.

Before we set eyes on Baltimore we pedaled our way up Brock Bridge Road and Race Road. These roads are excellent for cycling and had surprisingly little car traffic. There are also horse stables and prisons. Let me tell you, if you want to have a kick ass time on a bike you need to get your own self to Laurel Maryland.

Mike took us off route onto the BWI airport bike trail.  We stopped with a view of one of the runways. High on a hill. With the wind in our faces. And Baltimore nowhere in sight. I started to wonder if we’d ever get there. Then, it appeared. Nothing says paradise quite like a smokestack from a sewage burning facility and a spaghetti bowl of elevated highway ramps.

Once we arrived at the monument, Baltimore showed us its charm. The monument is on top a small hill in the middle of a cobblestoned circle. A beautiful old church stood to one side. And a neighborhood that looked reminded me of Lewisburg Square on Beacon Hill in Boston extended a block to the west.

The Mule and the Monument - Baltimore
The Mule and the Monument – Baltimore

After some picture taking, we made our way to the Alewife brew pub and restaurant for lunch. Tim took off for home. He missed some fine vittles.

We headed back with an intermittent tailwind. Once we cleared the city, I got my legs working. Unfortunately, my nose was running like a faucet. And my wind pipe was so sore I could not get a deep breath.  For the second time during the ride I tried some albuterol. It had little effect. Despite these problems, I found myself occasionally in the lead of the group. There is no truth to the scurrilous rumor that I put Vicodan in everyone’s drinks at lunch.

We stopped for Rod to repair a flat. It seems pretty amazing that with about 800 miles of biking among us, we had only one flat. Alex had some problems with her shifting (she was riding a brand new bike) but it seemed to resolve itself.

The next 20 miles were actually quite easy, especially considering my allergy and asthma woes. Mike peeled off near Greenbelt. Once we jumped back on the Anacostia River trails, the group speeded up considerably.This was odd because the trail was swarming with people. Nevertheless there were no close calls and smiles all around. Somewhere along this stretch Rod veered off and headed for home. We were now five. Kevin, Justin, and Alex apparently could taste their end-of-ride shower beers (it’s an Alex thing). John and I lost them somewhere near Catholic University. John had a trip to Meridian Pint on his mind. I lost contact with him somewhere along the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

My last four miles were done on impulse power. The warp engines were toast. So was my wind pipe. I rolled up to the Washington Monument and celebrated with a photo op.

The Mule and the Monument - Finish
The Mule and the Monument – Finish

I drove home, stopping along the way for a Fat Tire Amber Ale. I bought six, drank two. They tasted monumental.

Check out the rest of my pix on my Flickr page. And some more on Justin’s.

Here’s John’s ride summary.