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.

Arboretum eagles snowstorm

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.

 

 

Warm = More

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

 

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!

January Goes Out Like a Chocolate Bobcat

January was certainly an eventful month. Normally it involves snow and ice and days off the bike. Instead we got only one week of cold weather. The average temperature was 6 degrees above normal. This means of course that February is going to suck. Take it to the bank.

I rode 664 miles during January. Possibly my biggest January ever. 92 miles were actually on Big Nellie in the basement when the roads were too icy to ride on. (I calculate these miles based on 12 miles per hour not actual distance.) I did 184 miles on Deets on the weekends and holidays. The remaining 388 miles were from 13 bike commutes on The Mule.

Last January we had a big snow storm called Snowzilla. I didn’t have a bike in the basement so I missed out on an entire week of riding. Of course, I shoveled a shit ton of snow last year but that doesn’t show up on the odometer. I only rode 446 miles with 10 commutes totaling 301 miles. So I am 118 miles ahead of last year’s pace. 

So what does this have to do with chocolate and bobcats?

Today, slightly less than seven months before I retire, I learned that the soulless neighborhood in which I work is going to be headquarters of Nestles chocolate company. I wonder if you get free Crunch bars if you work there.

Also, at the end of January a bobcat escaped from the National Zoo in DC. On my ride home today I heard the strangest screech from across the parkway. Could it be a bobcat? Nope. They found the bobcat on the zoo grounds late today.

So if it wasn’t a bobcat, what was it?

February begins with a mystery….

Stressing My Way to Work

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

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

 

Brain Squirrels on the Trail

  • Since Monday I’ve ridden 150 miles. Just riding back and forth to work. The Cider Ride is tomorrow. They added a few miles to it. Now it’s over 50 miles. I think I’m gonna need a bigger doughnut.
  • I did my 150th bike commute of 2016 on Tuesday. One of my commutes was done on 4 hours of sleep thanks to the Cubs. I am now prepared for when the Nats win it all next November.
  • I have 300 days to go before I retire. Not that I am counting down the days or anything. When I became eligible to retire a few years ago, I took all the plaques and awards that I had received over my career and threw them away.
  • There are 15o days to go before opening day at Nats Park.
  • A numerologist would wet his pants reading this blog post.
  • The number of sightings of #bikedc commuters  I know is declining. This week only Lawyer Mike and Shawn. I saw Hoppy Runner this morning though.
  • The foliage is pretty awesome this week. I haven’t taken a single picture. Others are doing a much better job of it.
  • I am not riding to work at all next week. This is not a protest. I will be away on business travel.DC to Palo Alto is a little beyond my bike commuting comfort zone.
  • I forgot a password at work. I called our IT help desk. They said, “Just keep guessing.” After some research online, I ended up doing just that. Only when I gave up and guessed my very first computer password (on which most of my subsequent complex passwords are based) did I hit the jackpot. When I retire, I am going to become an IT desk professional.
  • My boss used to use the word “oublier” as a password. It’s French for “to forget.”
  • Nick Hornby is one of my favorite authors. He also reviews books. He once observed that there are well-written books that are not read well. You know the kind that everyone says is the greatest but it doesn’t do a thing for you. For me, The Great Gatsby falls into this not well read category.
  • A friend of mine is like a good book that I don’t read well anymore. The first 7 chapters were a great read. The last 2 not so much. No matter I how much I re-read them, they don’t work for me at all anymore. I was hoping chapter 10 would turn things around. No luck. It’s very discouraging.
  • Friendship is a one-way street in Providence. I am not making this up.
  • I watched a video that claims Donald Trump is illiterate. I disagree. Based on the video and personal experience, I am pretty sure that he is severely dyslexic. As it turns out, many executives are dyslexic. From an early age they learn how to manipulate people to do things on their behalf.

Milestone Number 1

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

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

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

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

May – Or a Reasonable Facsimile Thereof

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

It rained a lot.

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

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

 

Bike to Work Day 2016

I did not feel very good when I woke up but I decided to ride to work anyway. It was Bike to Work Day, after all. Slowly.

I poked along, coughing fits one mile, calm breathing the next. I rolled into the Alexandria Pir Stop at City Hall Plaza in Old Town. I saw Reba, Ed #1, and Kathy chatting and took their picture. Jonathan was reading off raffle winners. And Reba won something, something

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Ed, Reba, and Kathy
Monaco. Holy cow! Then we heard him repeat the prize:  one night at the Hotel Monaco in Old Town. So Reba’s dreams of being a Bond girl went up in smoke. Truth be told, it’s a pretty darn nice prize.

Onward to Rosslyn. I was a bit surprised that the bike commuter traffic was so normal. Then at the north end of Old Town, I convoy of women on bikes, suspiciously without panniers or backpacks made a turn across my path. I followed them. In the course of a short conversation with one of the riders, I learned it was a tour group of ten women, aged 50 and above, who started riding in St. Augustine, Florida. They were taking a couple of rest days to see the DC sights before continuing on: destination Bar Harbor, Maine. They were traveling with a company called Women Tours.

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Bike Train to Maine
Soon they left me behind and I continued northward. On one of the flyover bridges at National Airport an on coming cyclists caught my eye. Short blazing red hair and distinctive panniers with a pattern on them and pronounced handles sticking straight up. It was Ultrarunnergirl, who never seems to come to Virginia on her bike. I started waving like and idiot and she went to give me a high five but, me having absolutely no cool, didn’t even make a decent attempt.

Fail.

On I rode to Rosslyn as the volume of bike commuters picked up (i.e. blew by me). Two Lance Mamilots came roaring down the trail swerving among the bike commuters, many of whom may have been first timers. My only words to the Lances is that you are self absorb asses and it’s riders like you that put off people who want to ride to work safely.

I somehow made it up the Rosslyn hill into the Rosslyn pit stop. There I ran I

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Nelle
nto WABA‘s Nelle (she’s the awesome Deputy Director) and ever jovial Dana who gave me my BTWD shirt. I won a water bottle then grabbed another from a couple of other tables. One was from Bruce Deming who specializes in personal injury cases involving bicyclists. I talked about two cases involving contributory negligence, one that allowed the victim to make a claim, the other (a fatality) that left the victim’s survivors with nothing but memories.

I had three cups of Java Shack coffee, the first coffee I had had since Sunday. They made me feel euphoric. I rode the sidewalk to the office and in my hyper attentive state avoided being hit by a red light runner at 19th and Lynn. I yelled at him to no avail.

The bike room at work had 2 bikes when I arrived. Lame. Two co-workers came in a few minutes later, but didn’t sign up for Bike to Work Day. Seriously. If free and convenient is not enough, I don’t know what is.

At 11 am the coffee wore off and I powered down like the robot on Lost in Space. Thud. Another cup had little effect. Lunch revived me somewhat and, after work, I headed to NE DC to pick up my packet for Sunday’s DC Bike Ride. I met Ed #1 again. He gets around. Then Nelle, again. We’ve run into each other four times in the last two weeks. People are starting to talk. (“Nelle, who is that creepy old dude?” People can be mean.)

I ran into Charmaine who I haven’t seen since our North Carolina bike adventure two years ago. We sat and chatted for over a half hour allowing me to recover from the 18 or so miles I had already ridden.

I also briefly ran into Ed #2, and Ted and Jean, who are Friday Coffee Clubbers.

I had a token for a free beer but nobody wanted it, even a stranger I approached. All my beer drinking #bikedc friends were probably at BTWD happy hours.

I left at 6:30 headed for home, deliberately going so slow I was annoying myself. I made it home after 8 pm through dozens of clouds of midges. I was covered with the darn things.

Tomorrow I get up and work the East Beer booth at the Tour de Fat event. Unfortunately the weather forecast calls for rain. I will do my best to present a cheery face. Instead of riding to the event, I’ll be driving to my wife’s office a mile away and ride from there.

Super big thanks to all the people who got up early and worked on behalf of #bikedc. You done good. Special thanks to Nelle who put in a monster day, working two events.