Death March Day 2

After yesterday’s shenanigans, I took to the roads to ride the Reston Century, an event that I have never done before. Once again the weather could not have been better. And the ride started with about 30 miles of relatively flat, traffic-free roads that were free of potholes and debris. As expected my legs were dead but this forgiving start gave them new life.

Until we turned onto Woodburn Road outside of Leesville VA. The Reston Bicycling Club has a witty sign maker. They posted a road warning side (black text inside a yellow diamond) that said “Trending Higher.” I cracked up. Then I died. The road trended higher forever. Constant effort. Control your breathing. Stay loose on the handlebars. Wish you had brought a bike with granny gears rather than the one missing its second easiest gear. Ugh.

I made it and within a minute of soft pedaling my heart and respiratory rates came down from the red zone.  More hills followed. Pretty farms. McMansions in the woods. Puffy clouds overhead. Gentle breezes. La di da. You’d never know my legs were toast.

The decision point came at 42 miles, wimp out and ride back to the start for a 60+ mile day or go for broke and ride the full 100 miles. Being a bear of very little brain, I went for it.

I knew where we were heading. The hilly area north west of Leesburg has several quaint colonial mill towns. Mill towns need fast moving water. Water moves fastest at the bottom of hills. Are you seeing where I am going with this?

We followed Hillsboro Road to Hillsboro, the first of the colonial era towns. Then afetr a brief and somewhat scary tenth of a mile on VA 9, a death trap for all travelers, we turned onto Mountain Road. I was expecting to die from climbing but instead Mountain Road turned out to be a road with a view of the mountain to the west.

We rode eastward. Good for us, no? Well, no. We descended at high speed into Taylorstown, one of those mill towns. What goes down must go up and damned if we didn’t. It was a truly brutal climb. I had nothing in my legs. People were walking. I refused. At one point I was going 3 mile per hour. My knees were on fire. My respiratory rate was waaay too high. I looked at the ground in front of me and persisted. Had I been able to get to it, I should have taken a hit of albuterol because nothing adds to the fun quite like asthma.

I made it to the top and recovered again within a minute. A very fit woman with long wavy gray hair was waiting for some walking friendsby the side of the road. She said “That’s the last hard one.”

Then we descended into Stumptown. Fast. I hit 42 miles per hour and I could easily have pushed it higher. For some silly reason I didn’t want to die so I feathered my brakes. The climb out of Stumptown made me curse my birth. As my mamma would say, Jesus Mary and Joseph. (I was thinking more along the lines of “Fuck me!”)

The gray haired woman was waiting near the top. “I thought you said there weren’t any more?” “Sorry. I forgot about this one.” Lady, I will go to my grave remembering “this one.”

On we road. My legs were burnt toast. Somehow they continued to push the pedals. Perhaps it was the knowledge that the last 20 miles of this ordeal were on the W&OD Trail, which is downhill for most of the way.

I stopped at the last rest stop. Ate some junk including a snow cone (shaved ice with sugary juice poured on it). We were right next to the trail but did we go on it? Noooo. First we had to do two more hills. Knowing these were the last two made them much easier. And truth be told, they were not in the same category of difficulty as earlier ones.

Finally. we hit  the trail. With fresh legs I can easily cruise the trail from here at 20 miles per hour. Today, I had to settle for 16. For ten miles. Then my legs basically started calling me vulgar names and refused to propel me. I threatened them with no post-ride pasta and they quit their protest. It was a pathetic slog to the finish though. Even the walkers from the hills of death passed me.

I think I may have been the lanterne rouge. (The last finisher.) I got my t-shirt. And sat down to eat some pasta and salad. People started folding up the chairs and tables in the outdoor space we were in. Fortunately, my mouth still function. I snarfed my food and began to leave. I met Steve O and Erin. I recognized Steve O because we was wearing a Nats cycling cap. I’ve met Erin twice before. She lives less than a mile from my house. And my brain could not make the connection. It was the second facial recognition failure of the day. At a rest stop, I parked my bike and a cyclists said hello, gave me his name, shook my hand, and told me how much he enjoys the blog. I know we’ve met before. But my fusiform gyrus locked up once again. Sorry.

I deliberately did not use my phone to Instagram pictures of the ride. I treated this as work and I wanted to be focused on the task. Also, you can’t take pictures when your lungs and knees are working beyond their rated capacity.

Late in the ride I took a few pictures with my point and shoot camera. In Waterford, one of the colonial era mill towns, the road way had been milled. (Remarkably this was one of the only bad road surfaces for the entire ride. Many of the country roads we were on had recently been paved.) When I hit the bump at the end of the milling my camera bounced out on the road. A minivan came up behind me. I motioned for the driver to veer to the left and she drove so that her tires missed the camera. It’s supposed to be shock proof. And, thankfully, it is!

I have finished my weekend of torture.

Torture postscript: My family and I went out to dinner. During after dinner conversation, I had a massive muscle cramp in my right hamstring. I was splayed out in a booth going “Ow. Ow. Ow.” After about five minutes of pain (and laughter), I started sipping water and breathing rhythmically and the muscle relaxed.

 

 

 

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Ten Year Almond Anniversary

In a weird coincidence Pearls before Swine ran this strip yesterday.

So why is it a coincidence? Exactly ten years ago today, I had a similar conversation with a cyclist. (Somehow she has friends.)
Paul and I were riding the 50 States Ride in DC. For the uninitiated, this ride traverses the entire city so that participants can ride on streets named after the 50 States. It’s hard. It’s hilly and there are scores of stop signs and red lights. The route covers about 62 miles (depending on whether you get lost).
Nowadays the ride is held in September but back in 2007 it was held in August. August 24, 2007 was a hot and humid day in DC. Paul, his friend from Chicago Jane, and I were suffering. We had not yet hit a single hill and had ridden only about 15 miles. It was taking forever when one of us spotted an Asian woman a few hundred yards ahead. We decided to catch her.
Wimps that we are we only managed to catch her at the rest stop in Anacostia. There we met the not-Asian Florencia munching almonds from a bag. Paul pulled out his gorp and conversation ensued.
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Soon we were riding up the hills of Anacostia. Paul and Jane decided on an early lunch at an air conditioned restaurant at the highest point in Anacostia. (Showing an astounding amount of common sense they quit the ride.)  Florencia and I soldiered on, sort of. She rode ahead and I caught her at stop lights and stop signs.
After another ten miles or so, we stopped at a 7-11. Flor only bought water. I bought the entire snack aisle and gallons of sports drinks. When we came out Shane was lying on the grass in the shade next to our bikes. She did not look like a happy camper. Adam was standing nearby. He was not looking really please either.
We rode off, the four of us, into the hills of Northeast DC. It got hotter. And muggier. Time and again Flor pulled away, often with Adam in tow. (For some reason I thought they knew each other or were a couple, but it was just the way the group fell out.)
We descended into Rock Creek Park and stopped to rest under a big shade tree. Shane looked like she was dying. I thought she was getting heat exhaustion. Adam looked very unhappy.
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Flor munched more almonds. (I managed to take the worst picture ever of her as she ate.) She was bullet proof. She didn’t even seem to be sweating.
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Impatience got the best of her and Flor rode off alone. Adam, Shane and I continued for a few miles as a trio before Adam went home to eat some cold quiche.
Shane and I rolled on. We got to the rest area at American University. Shane went inside to get snacks. She came out with a handful of goodies. Only then did we realize that she had inadvertently stolen them from a seminar. Oops.
We continued on. I was aiding and abetting a snack thief’s getaway. The police didn’t pursue and we finished somewhere near Dupont Circle. Shane laid down on the sidewalk. Her problem wasn’t the heat, it was an ill-fitting bike.
She asked me to go to a bar nearby where survivors of the ride were celebrating. I took a pass to get home to daddy duties. At the bar Shane met Jeff (no relation to the guy in the comic strip, just another coincidence).
Jeff, Shane, and I did a ride in Baltimore a few weeks later.
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For a while I was doing rides with these characters on a semi-regular basis but then life intervened. Sad face.
Happy anniversary to the Paul, Shane, Jeff, and Flor. It was epic, wasn’t it?

Only 400 States – What a Slacker

My favorite bike event is the 50 States Ride here in DC. I’ve written about it many times. It’s hilly. It’s hot, except when it rains like a monsoon. It’s long. It has an impossibly complicated cue sheet. And I have met dozens of people doing it.

For some reason I have had it in my head that this September would be my 10th time riding it. Nope. Only number 9. Bless me father for I have sinned.

I did the ride in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016. I skipped 2008 and 2009 to attend my son’s high school football games. 2010 was so hard that I never wanted to do it again before being coerced by a friend who I met on the 2007 ride. By 2014, I had once again decided to retire but the same friend convinced me to do it again. In 2015 I was in Australia visiting my globe trotting kids. Last year was a solo effort.

So this year will be number 9. I am delaying my bike tour just so I can ride it. Registration isn’t yet open. I highly recommend doing this ride at least once, especially if you are new to DC.

Not to get ahead of myself, but if all goes according to plan, I’ll do the 2018 50 States Ride as a victory lap after a cross country bike tour.

Stay tuned.  xxx

 

 

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.

 

Cold Rain and Hot Blooberry Soop

Today was the Vasa ride, the kickoff to the #bikedc event season. This event is staged by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association in collaboration with the House of Sweden, the Swedish Embassy.

Instead of riding – I’ve done the ride at least four times, and ridden the course(s) many more – I decided to volunteer. I was assigned to work on the early morning shift. When I awoke at 5:17 am (digital alarm clock) I could hear rain pelting the windows. Not good. The weather report called for cold rain or snow until about the time of the ride(s) – there are four Vasa rides to choose from – start.

I drove to DC. My advanced meteorological training told me it was yucky. I parked a block from the start and walked over to find WABA’s Nick Russo and Jon Gonzales hard at work in a cold, light rain. They had already set out several temporary bike racks. A few volunteers were gathering and soon we were putting up canopies and bike racks and sign in tables and such. We had the whole thing set up in minutes.

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Nick

The ride was sold out but there were many no shows. Traffic at the check in tables was slow but steady. I had the good fortune of working with Lesly Jones. I met Leslie years ago on a 50 States Ride. She is all positive energy. I have ridden parts of 3 or 4 50 States Rides with her. She is the only bicyclist I have ever met who uses echolocation to navigate. She talks nonstop, except when she is laughing. She is one very serious bicyclist. Last year she rode cross country. Lesly is a force.

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Lesly

From time to time the wind would pick up. We were standing in one place for long periods of time and our fingers and toes were going numb. Lesly stayed positive. Me not so much. Then my finger started bleeding. (I took off a chunk of skin yesterday while closing a padlock.) Lesly found me a bandage. The only person who didn’t seem to be all that cold was Nick who seemed to be wearing less clothing than the rest of us. Nick’s motto is “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts.” He is impervious to cold weather. I hate him. (Just kidding.)

Despite the weather the riders seemed to be in a good mood. You might say they were rolling with it. Many dropped from longer rides to shorter ones. One woman decided not to ride but came down to the start saying, “I came for the blueberry soup.”

A few of my friends cancelled because of the weather. Paul stayed home to eat quiche. Ryan decided to binge watch the Gilmore Girls. Still, I saw several more people I knew. Scuba enthusiast Michael B showed up in a wet suit. (I thought the aqualung was overkill, to be honest.) Some people were a tad grumpy, but I think most were simply wanting to get moving to warm up.

The standing around was making my legs feel like concrete posts. At about this time, the last of the riders hit the road. This final group was doing the 8 mile family ride. It was led by a dad riding a long cargo bike. He had one kid in the box in front and another on a trailer bike in the back. Riding in the rear of the group was a pedicab. Not to be outdone, one of the longer routes was ridden by a man in a velomobile.

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Two kids – not a problem

After the riders were gone we made quick work of putting all the check-in stuff back in the rental truck. I went into the Swedish embassy to get some blooberry soop. It was hot and tasted awesome. I chatted with a few folks before my body decided it was time to go home and recover the sleep that I had lost.

Of course, it’s pretty nice outside.

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Seagulling

Everybody I know who rides bike events in the DC area raves about the Seagull Century. Seagull is held every October out of Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. With over 6,000 participants paying in-season hotel rates, this ride provides a big economic boost. I did not participate in the hotel part of the proceedings, however, choosing to forgo some sleep to save a few bucks.

I left home at 4:30 a.m.

I arrived at Salisbury just before 7. I put my cue sheet on my bike. Threw on my rain jacket because the skies were overcast, and headed to the start. I looked around for people I knew but, seeing no one, set out on my own.

Getting to the start involved riding through a tunnel. Weee!

The start was obstructed by people milling about and straddling their bikes. This was a good reminder that people would be lacking situational awareness during the ride.

After about a mile I struck up a conversation with another rider who told me that organizers had chopped off four miles of the 100-mile route due to flooding. It had rained 15 inches in the area during the previous weeks causing major flooding in some communities along the course. After discussing the flood, he asked me what time I was trying to reach. Time? Seriously? I usually try to reach a zen moment by mile 30 but that’s about the extent of my riding goals.

Within five miles, Chris M. (@manymodecommute on the Twitter) pulled up along side me. We met on the inaugural Cider Ride a few years ago. Ever since I have struggled to remember his face. Another victim of my defective fusiform gyrus. Also, Chris is chatty so the zen thing kind of went out the window. (Except for about a minute late in the ride when my brain went on vacation and Deets decided to ride some rumble strips. How I managed to keep all my filling is a mystery.)

Chris was riding about 1 – 2 miles per hour faster than I normally do but I decided to ride with him anyway. We zipped along in an every changing pack of bcycles.A while ago someone told me that it was wise to skip the first rest stop. They were right. It was a madhouse.

Chris and I made our way through all the people lingering on the road and headed forth looking for Rest Stop No. 2.

Meanwhile we noticed that the road was utterly flat. For those of you wishing to do a very fast 100 mile bike ride, this is your dream ride. I wasn’t looking to prove anything but it was hard not to ride fast. Despite my efforts to make Deets gallop, we were getting passed by scores of bicyclists, sometimes gather in groups. Velomobiles also clipped by us. These are little bike cars.

At the second rest stop 40 miles into the proceedings we had some water and some rather disappointing snacks. A participant while refined interwebs taste said “Hi Rootchopper. I like your blog.” Once again my fusiform gyrus failed me. (If you read this, please identify yourself.)

Trees. Sodden farmers’ fields. Chicken farms. I kept saying we were getting a headwind but Chris was pretty sure we weren’t. It was just the fact that I rarely ride 17 -20 miles per hour.

Just before 60 miles we approached Assateague Island. The bridge to the island looked ominous. It was a trick of the eye. We flew over it.

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Chris gets his climbing in

The rest stop at Assateague was a bit better than the previous one. It had packaged, crustless PB&J sammichers. They looked like sponge bread raviolis. The texture was strange but the calories were welcome.

As we left the island we stopped for a photo op with some ponies. Chris is a better wild pony model than I am.

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Once we came off the bridge we encountered a bona fide headwind. You mean we have to work at this? Well I never! It was short-lived. In fact, the overcast skies and light winds made for a perfect day to ride hard. We obliged.

Another ludicrously flat 20 miles went by in a flash. The final rest stop loomed. After I parked Deets, I picked up another rider’s bike after it had fallen over. It was made of carbon fiber. It was about half as light as Deets. No wonder so many riders were passing us. (Note to self: never admit you are fat, old, and slow. Find excuses wherever you can. K? Thks.)

I had heard a rumor about pie on this ride but the first rest stops had left me feeling short changed. But no! There was pie at the last rest stop. Cherry pie with vanilla ice cream too.

Major YUM. Chris has so much will power. He made me leave after one piece of pie. I cried.

The last 20 miles featured a climb over a highway. The overpass actually was a little difficult. Not much. Well, not at all actually. There was even a surprise pit stop that featured, I am not making this up, free beer. Dang. (We did not partake, however.)

We rode to the finish line through a tunnel and past throngs of our adoring fans. Okay, maybe one or two said “Hi” but still..

The after ride festivities were pretty nice too. Music, beer, food that didn’t taste like it was made last week.I even ran into Dave (@darsal) and Jean (@oskarchat) who told me about the amazing exploits of Ricky (@bikeeveryday) and Ryan (@ryansigworth) who scorched the course in under five hours. And a special surprise came from seeing Phil F. who I worked with for about 20 years.

The post ride activity was a fun game of Find the Car. When you get up at 4 a.m. and river over two hours you don’t think to make a note of where you park. I had plenty of company. I think I won the game though. I found a campus map. Then made my way to the route I drove in on. That led me to my car. Ta da. Only took me 30 minutes.

Another bonus was the fact that the Nats game got rained out. Now I can recover watching the game tomorrow.

Special thanks to the organizers and volunteers at this very well run event. You did yourselves proud. Also thanks to the many police officers (including Maryland State Troopers) who protected us at busy intersections. And to the EMTs who carted a handful of riders from the course after they crashed.

Bottom line: If you want to do a first century ride, this is your event. The flat course made 100 miles much easier than most metric (62 mile rides I’ve done). If you want to ride your fastest 100 mile ride, this is also the event for you.

I posted a bunch of pictures on my Flickr page.