Top Ten of 2016

As is so often the case, my top ten list goes to 11. Hey, it’s my blog and I make the rules.

Yooper for a Week
After 11 years I finally did another solo bike tour. I drove 13+ hours to Ludington Michigan. After a ferry ride across Lake Michigan, I rode The Mule fully loaded with gear into the north woods of Wisconsin. On July 4, I had breakfast in Freedom. After a few days I turned east and crossed the UP, the upper peninsula of Michigan. After the UP, I visited car-free Mackinac Island on a quiet Sunday morning. Other than a two-hour scary thunderstorm and three hilly days of headwinds near the end of the tour, the weather could not have been better. And I managed three ferry rides without getting sick. I rode 832 miles in 11 days. It was a wonderful combination of hard work and rolling meditation. I proved to myself that even at 60 years old I still got it. Okay, maybe not all of it but enough of it to get the job done. I can’t wait to do another.

An Eventful Spring
Prior to my tour I warmed up my legs by riding some bike events. I kicked the year off with the Vasa Ride, co-sponsored by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association and the Swedish embassy. It was a bit of a disappointment because this is normally a social ride but I rode it alone and didn’t do much socializing at the embassy reception afterwards. Next came the Five Boro ride in New York City. The Five Boro Ride has always been on my to do list but conflicted with work, parenting responsibilities, and personal lethargy. I convinced Paul to join me (with Amy along for moral support). Paul and I rode the 40+ mile ride in a cold rain at the start of May. It wasn’t all that much fun, but touring Manhattan the day before in splendid weather with the wonderful guidance of my BU friend Susan made up for riding the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in a driving rain.

At the end of May, I rode the new DC Bike Ride. Not to be outdone by NYC, we had cold rain for that one too.

Scary Night
In May, I woke up in the middle of the night with severe chest pains. After a few hours of increasing pain, Mrs. RC called for an ambulance. The ride to the hospital ½ mile away took 20 minutes but I was well taken care of. What I feared was a heart attack turned out to be a respiratory infection. Fortunately, a nebulizer treatment in the ER and antibiotics fixed me up over the next week. An earworm of the Neil Finn song Anytime played for days. “I could go at anytime. There’s nothing safe about this life.” Words to live by.

At the end of the week, I dragged myself out of bed and rode my bike on Bike to Work Day. I was still under the weather but I now know I can ride to work with one lung tied behind my back.

Pulling Beers Like a Boss
I have been lax in volunteering at local bike events, basically forever. This year, with my respiratory problems more or less behind me, I volunteered at the Tour de Fat in DC. This is a fundraiser for bike advocacy groups (WABA being one of many) and I was determined to help out. It rained. It was cold-ish. I pulled beers nonstop for two hours. Instead of hanging around for the rest of the day, I went home and went to bed. (Every party has a pooper that’s why we invited you.) Next year I hope to be around to volunteer again. And to socialize afterward.

Call Me Lars
Our daughter finished up her year abroad with a semester in Sweden. A few days after Tour de Fat, Mrs. Rootchopper and I flew over and toured parts of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. It was an exhausting two weeks and fun to re-visit Copenhagen after over 15 years. Although I was in bicycle heaven for most of the trip, I didn’t ride at all. If you ask me what my favorite place was my answer would be “Yes.”

Ain’t Baseball Great
I went to 19 Nats games this year. The last time I went to this many games was when I lived in Boston. I rode my bike to about 15 games. How convenient of them to locate the ballpark 16 miles from home. As a bonus, it was great seeing so many friends at the bike valet before and after the games. The rest of the games involved driving the kids, including my niece Irene for one game. One exhausting game lasted 16 innings and the good guys won on a walk-off home run. I even managed to see two playoff games. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the Nats lost their last game of the season, I can’t wait until April!

Fall Bike Frenzy
In the fall I did the Indian Head, Backroads, and Seagull Centuries (100 miles each), the 44-mile Great Pumpkin Ride (with Paul, Amy, and Jody), the 53-mile Cider Ride and, for the eighth time, the 62-mile 50 States Ride. I was already on fumes near the end of this madness, when an old friend asked me to ride with her to Harpers Ferry and back over two days. Given the fact that I had a colonoscopy (with the associated fasting and anesthesia) two days before we would have left, I declined. One ambulance ride a year is plenty.

Deets Provides a Surly Surge
A year ago I bought a new bike, a Surly Cross Check. Mostly, it hung on a hook in my shed, used only for the occasional weekend ride. This summer I started commuting on it. What a great commuter bike it is. I also did all my fall events on it. I named it Deets after the scout in the miniseries Lonesome Dove. Deets was said to be “cheerful in all weathers, never shirked a task, splendid behavior.” My Deets served me well until his back tire exploded on the way to work. Aye god, Woodrow.

Hiking Light
Unlike last year, I didn’t get much hiking done this year. I did the Billy Goat B and C trails on New Years Day which is becoming something of a tradition. Realizing that I-66 cuts right across the Appalachian Trail, I hiked it north (Manassas Gap) and south (Trumbo Hollow) of the highway. I also headed out to Shenandoah National Park to hike the Hogback Mountain trail. In late November I hiked the Potomac Highlands Trail from Turkey Run Park to the American Legion Bridge and back. A surprisingly nice hike so close to DC. Just before the year ended I did a meandering hike in Great Falls Park in Maryland.

Living Small
We had our wood floors redone in the spring. We hired a couple of amazing movers to relocate all our belongings from the top two floors down to the family room and basement where we lived among the piles of stuff for two weeks. It was quite a project. The floors turned out great. I came to realize that most of the crap that I have accumulated over the course of 25+ years in a house, I can live without.

Going Long
Coincident with my 61st birthday, my four bikes gave me a big present. I’ve been keeping track of the mileage on my bikes for 25 years and with an empty nest surge in recent years I finally made it to 100,000 miles. I also set my one-year personal mileage record of 8,167 miles.

That’s it for 2016. No mas. Thanks for reading. I am taking 2017 one day at a time. Love this life. It’s the only one you get.

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Biking on Drugs

What a beautiful day. The weather that is. My back not so much.

After dawdling over the newspaper and eating some a muscle relaxant and an NSAID, I decided to go for a short, gentle bike ride on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent.

I loosely planned to check out some bald eagle nests along the Mount Vernon Trail, maybe grab some lunch in Old Town Alexandria and head back home.

Getting started hurt. A slight hill near home hurt. Then I loosened up and Big Nellie and I were cruising. My first stop was the nest in Fort Hunt Park. I spotted it from the MVT. In a few days as the trees leaf out, it will be very hard to find. There were no eagles about so I took a picture and then made a note of the landmarks nearby so that I can find the nest again. 

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Bald Eagle Nest in Fort Hunt Park

I started up again. Ow. Once underway the pain subsided. I took the trail with all its curves and bridges and ups and downs all the way to the Morningside nest. The new bridges on the trail along this stretch are a terrific improvement over the cheap ones they replaced. 

At the Morningside nest I struck up a conversation with a photographer. It turns out that she is the same photographer that told me where the Fort Hunt Park nest is last summer. She’s a real bald eagle addict. She told me that both the Fort Hunt and the Morningside nests have eaglets. Three other nests, one along Spout Run in North Arlington, one south of Mount Vernon on Ferry Landing Road and the one at the Belle Haven country club, have been abandoned by bald eagles. The Belle Haven nest has been taken over by ospreys. She was going to Alaska for a cruise this summer. I mentioned that she’d be seeing a ton of bald eagles on her trip. She mentioned that she will be stopping in Haines. I told her to stop at the museum and say high to Rachel, one of my #bikedc friends who will be working there this summer.

After our talk, I headed north to Old Town. The traffic on the trail was pretty busy. The usual asshat MAMILs (middle aged men in lycra) were indulging their athletic fantasies by riding way too fast. One woman walker yelled at a close passing cyclist to slow down. He had it coming.

Under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge two little boys were showing off their bicycling skills for their moms. The rode their itty bitty two wheelers in tight circles, all the while having a blast. 

I rode through Old Town. Not yet hungry I decided to ride over to Del Ray to see if any food looked good. All the restaurants along Mount Vernon Boulevard had people eating outdoors. I was tempted by a couple of Mexican places but rode on.

I kept heading north through Arlandria, Crystal City, and Long Bridge Park, past the vast Pentagon parking lots and into DC across the Memorial Bridge. The tourists were out in droves. I resisted the urge to run them over. 

On a whim I made my way to Carpe Diem, the little used bookstore that Rachel had been working in.  I had a specific book in mind but,alas, it was too old and obscure. 

Next up was a side trip to Mount Vernon Square to check out the building that collapsed the other day. Only a few years ago, the streets of this neighborhood were lined with two and three story buildings. Now, most of them are gone, replaced by modern mixed use buildings. The streets were alive with young adults milling about. The collapsed building and the ones next to it looked utterly out of place among all the new buildings, one of which housed a “gentleman’s club.”

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Collapsed Building in DC

Having satisfied my curiosity I worked my way back to Virginia. During my time in DC I saw literally dozens of women walking the streets carry yoga mats. You could make a decent living selling yoga mats around here.

Once in Virginia I turned south on the MVT. Normally on such a nice day, the trail is packed with runners, bladers, cyclists, and walkers. Today it was crowded but not enough to slow me down. South of the airport I saw a women on skates heading toward me. These weren’t rollerblades or traditional roller skates. Instead they had big skateboard style wheels, four to a skate. Must be a new thing.

Many of the cyclists were riding CaBi bikeshare bikes. In Old Town and for the next couple of miles I got stuck behind three groups of Bike and Roll customers riding their rental bikes south. The first two clusters of renta-riders had about ten people in them. Under the Wilson Bridge I encountered a line of close to 20 bikes. They were going slowly and Big Nellie (and my back) were feeling fine so I passed them in one go. This never happens, by the way.

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Long Line of Rental Bikes under the WWB

The last three miles were a bit of a slog. I think my muscle relaxant was wearing off, but I made it home without any pain. The walk into the house reminded me of my back woes. I look like an 80-year old with osteoporosis.

So my little jaunt lasted 39 miles. Success through chemistry. 

 

Try to Catch a Deluge

April is going out with a bang, a two-day rainstorm that will make tomorrow’s bike commute a challenge. I can’t wait.

As for April, it was a tough month. I battled intestinal problems and a lingering back issue but still managed to ride 748 miles. I rode to work 14 times for 427 1/2 miles. With no ice on the roads, I pulled Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, out of mothballs and rode it to work 8 times. It made my back happy. On 4 occassions I rode The Mule, my 21 year-old Specialized Sequoia, to work. Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist, got the bike commute call twice.

I did three event rides. My friend Charmaine and I drove to Oriental, North Carolina for the Cycle North Carolina Coastal ride. We did two 51-ish mile rides. It was my first time riding in North Carolina. I’ve now ridden in 14 states. (Pathetic, I know.) A few weeks later I rode the Ocean to Bay metric century in Bethany Beach, Delaware with Lisa, another frequent riding partner, and her posse of friends.

Big Nellie won the most mileage award wth 338 miles. Little Nellie came in second at 291 1/2 miles. The Mule brought up the rear with 118 1/2 mile.

For the year I’ve ridden 2,041 1/2 miles. I’ve ridden to work 41 times. 

Now if only my back would get better and it would stop raining…

 

AMA Man of the Year

Every winter, I makea to-do list. Get the cars fixed. Get some stuff done around the house. Deal with medical and dental issues. I figured I could pick off one of these a week. I got new tires for my car. I got body work done on my son’s car. I took my wife’s car in for its inspection. I had a plumber install shut off valves for the outdoor faucets.

In early February, I had a an electrician come to do some work on some light switches. In the process I helped him test whether certain circuits were live. I went to pull the tester out of a socket and my back went out. So it began.

I figured my back would correct itself after two weeks. Not this time. I’ve tried everything I know. I’d already been doing daily physical therapy for my back for 20 years. Rest didn’t help. Light exercise didn’t help. I even tried icing my back for hours each day by putting an ice pack in under by belt all day at work for three or four days. No luck.

I was hoping that switching to my recumbent would help. It did but then a chain link got bent and I had to switch back to a conventional bike. 

I also went to the dermatologist to remove a cyst from my finger. The dermatologist ended up freezing a couple dozen lesions off my face, arms and legs. She gave me a cream to essentially strip the bad skin off my face. That was fun. After a second round of freeze offs, I was refered to a hand surgeon. It took a month to get the surgery done, and now my middle finger is on the mend but still oddly both sore and numb.

Last Monday, I took some Advil for my back and rode to work. At around 9 in the morning I started having cramps in my intestines. Six days later I am still having them. The upside is that I do not have diarrhea or vomiting. The bad news is I am bloated and constipated.

I am currently scheduled to go back to the hand surgeon in four weeks and the dermatologist in June or July. I hate going to doctors almost as much as I hate shopping for clothes.  On Monday, I am calling my doctor and requesting referals to a gastroenteroligist and a physiatrist (pain specialist for my back). I’m sick of this crap.

Funny thing is, the one thing I can do without pain, is ride my bike. Go figure.

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

As readers of this post well know, I am sick of winter. So I jumped at the chance to go to coastal North Carolina for a three-day biking event with my long-time biking buddy Charmaine.

I had planned to ride The Mule on the ride but on the way to work on Wednesday, The Mule’s left crank arm fell off. I’m not a mechanical genius but even I know this is not a good thing, so I folded Little Nellie and plopped her into the trunk of my car. Charmaine’s bike rode solo on a Saris bones bike rack.

The nearly 6 hour drive seemed interminable. We, of course, were stuck for about 30 minutes in construction-related tie-ups on I-95 south of Occoquan. This construction will add more lanes to the highway. Just beyond the end of the construction, wooded areas are being cleared for more sprawl proving without a doubt that when it comes to land use, the Commonwealth of Virginia has its head up its posterior.

We were destined for the tiny (population 600) town of Oriental NC on the banks of the Neuse River. Occassionally, Oriental is in the Neuse River. Eleven years ago this area of NC became inundated after a hurricane. Somebody came up with the idea of using bicycle tourism to give the are a shot in the arm, and thus was born Cycle North Carolina’s Coastal Ride.

After checking in, we pulled into a parking space on a lawn next to a town street  and unpacked. We were soon set up right along the rock wall on the river facing east. Life is good.

We took short spin around town and ended up at a local restaurant. It wasn’t fine dining (country fried steak isn’t exactly haute cuisine) but it sufficed. The diet coke I was served tasted nasty. I was later to learn that this was becasue the local water was pretty harsh. We rode back to camp and hit our sleeping bags soon thereafter letting sound of the river splashing against the rocks (along with a couple of NyQuil) lul me to sleep.

I awoke at sunrise and was happy I did. It was pretty pretty. We went back to the restaurant for breakfast and the place was packed. The wait staff was overwhelmed. We had a long wait. Charmaine had a ham and cheese sandwich that was supposed to be an omelet. She was lucky because the western omelet that I did have was cold. Oh, well. At least the coffee was weak.

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Soon we were headed south on our 51-mile bike ride. The weather was perfect. I rode in a t-shirt and arm warmers. We rode over a bridge just outside of town and, with the exception of a slight dip in the road to cross a creek about five miles later, our climbing for the day was done. Somebody said that the route had 400 feet of climbing, but he must have ridden up a tree or something because the terrain rivaled northern Indiana for flatness.  (Note to self: consider coming back with a faired recumbent!)

We rode straight stetches of flat road through stands of pine trees alternating with farmers’ fields in various stages of spring readiness. The full range of economic circumstances were in view. Some houses would have looked at home in the DC suburbs, many were mobile homes up on blocks, some were dilapidated shacks.

We took our time riding and hanging out at the well stocked rest stops. The nasty water I put in my water bottle was hard to get down so it was nice to see bottled water at the rest stops.

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As we rode back into town we had a brief chat with a couple of riders. They wanted to know if there was “more stuff” in town. We pointed out them that they were standing in the heart of the central business district. You can’t expect stuff in a town without a traffic light. A few minutes later we found The Bean, a coffee shop with ice cream. Coffee and ice cream being two sides of the official Rootchopper food pyramid we could not deny ourselves a treat. The Bean serves pretty decent coffee so my central nervous system was pleased.

We partook of the post-ride shower trucks. As I exited the shower, I was congratulated by a woman for keeping the dressing on my right hand dry. (I had elective surgery on my middle finger on Monday.)

We ate at a different restaurant and my grilled tuna sammich was quite tasty, as were the two bottles of Fat Tire beer. After dinner we hung out at the marina for a bit before heading back to the tents. There were rumors of rain so we made sure our rain flies were staked down properly. This was a good thing. It didn’t rain but the winds howled all night.

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Saturday was a bit grayer but warmish. We headed back to The Bean for bagels, brews and bananas (and a chocolate chip cookie) for breakfast. Saturday’s ride went north. About two miles outside of town a truck passed me uncomfortably close. It was pulling a house which I am happy to say missed me by a couple of feet. For the next half mile my mind kept seeing my obituary: “Husband, father of two, was killed by a passing house outside Oriental North Carolina.

We spent several miles looping through some relatively fancy riverside neighborhoods. The roads were flat and straight, perfect for the two velomobiles we saw coming our way.

We rode a little faster than Friday, perhaps realizing subconsciously that 51 miles here was about as challenging as my 30-mile bike commute. A couple of times we jumped onto a passing pack of cyclists to make the rolling even easier.

When we finished for the day, I felt like I could have ridden 20 or 30 more miles with ease. I am glad I didn’t because the winds really started to blow hard. Flags were sticking straight out. There was just one thing to do. Eat.

The main campground had free pork barbeque. I normally don’t like this sort of food but this was pretty darn tasty. After dinner we went back to The Bean and then sought shelter in skem Adirondack chairs next to some slips at the marina. We had a nice chat with some folks and I had the chance to replensh some fluids (Corona and Bass Ale).

Back at the campground I spotted the beer truck with a couple of guys standing next to it. It turns out that the beer was free. Sad face. But that there was one cup of beer left. So I did my civic duty. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste. Happy face.

After the sun set, a dragon came down the street. The dragon is something normally used for Chinese New Year (the town is called Oriental afterall) and Mardi Gras. It was a spirited end to a long fun day.

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That night the wind blew and blew and the temperatures dropped. I barely slept. My left hip and knee were aching and the guy in the next tent over was sawing logs all night.

In the morning we realized that riding in shorts in 50 degree weather with strong winds was not going to be a whole lotta fun, so we had breakfast and packed up for the long ride home.

I’d say my first ride in the state of North Carolina was a success. Nice people. A well organized event,especially since we nearly tripled the size of the town. Good riding.  Lots of good bike porn including several tandems (a Calfee with belt drive, a DaVinci, a Burley, and purple Santana), a Soma rando bike that I wanted to steal, several well appointed tadpole trikes, and the two velomobiles. Little Nellie may have been the only Bike Friday. She was given so many compliments that she will be impossible to be around or the next several weeks.

One word of warning: there was an epic amount of tree pollen in the air. If you pan on doing this ride, medicate accordingly.

I’ve only done one other event ride like this (Bike Virginia in 1991). I really should do more. They are quite a lot of fun.

Check put my pix of the ride on Flickr over here.

 

Time to Stop Messing Around

I am really, really, really getting sick of this back thing. It is definitely better than a week ago but I still can’t stand up straight after sitting in a chair. 

This morning I broke out the big gun. 

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I’ve done this program in the past with Mrs. Rootchopper. It’s not easy. The first day is just a short warm up with three exercises. Each one of the first day’s exercises involves a back bend. Dang, am I stiff. Even with my limited range of motion, I could feel my back loosening up. About an hour later. I was standing tall and straight and my back felt fine.

Sadly, this lasted only about 20 minutes.

I spent the rest of the morning dealing with some small tasks around the house, killing time as the temperature outside rose. When it broke 60, I hit the road. 

I didn’t have anywhere to go so I rode around the Fort Hunt neighborhood near my home. I took the Mount Vernon Trail down to Mount Vernon then rode the streets of Woodlawn. During the ride I came upon this cool house with two giant windmills on the roof. A few years ago, a man in a Tesla waved me down while I was riding Big Nellie, my long wheel base recumbent. He was an engineer who was interested in energy saving machines, designs and devices. When we parted, he told me he was building a house near Mount Vernon that would produce more energy than it consumed. Perhaps the windmill house was his.

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I rode to the west side of US 1. A new road is under construction that will connect US 1 to Telegraph Road. This will be a welcome addition to the street network. I hope it has bicycle lanes on it.

The ride home was very flat and boring. Just what my back needed. I managed to ride a little over 30 miles. It felt like 50 thanks to my gimpy back. The dismount at home was not a pretty sight. 

Tomorrow is day 2 of the yoga program and the last warm day of February. I’m riding whether my back likes it or not. 

Bridge to Somewhere Someday

Those of us to lived near the site spent ten years of our lives dealing with the delays and headaches associated with the replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. For those of you who don’t live in Washington, the Wilson Bridge carries I-95, the main north-south interstate on the east coast, across the Potomac river. It is also part of the famous Washington Beltway. The old bridge was built in the early 1960s and was literally falling apart. You could see holes in the concrete decking, erosion of the support pillars, and rust on the steel structure.

The new bridge is about twice as wide and is visually quite appealing. And as a bonus it has a multi-use path on its north side affording views of Alexandria city and DC. The path isn’t perfect (expansion joins make for a jarring ride) but it is a terrific addition to the bicycle route network in the area. There is one problem with the path: it doesn’t connect to much on the Maryland side. You ride across the river, take a switchback to a deck over the highway, spin down a spiral descent on the south side of the road and follow a long curving path to and dirt path paved in a manner of speaking with shells. FAIL.

You can ride this sketchy path directly to National Harbor which looks for all the world like Sodom on the Potomac. It is a development dominated by a massive hotel and convention center with a faux village at its glass and brick feet. The village has many of the usual cookie cutter eateries and shops that I do my level best to ignore. The development also has the statue of the Awakening, Prometheus emerging from the ground. For many years it made the desolation of Hains Point in DC a destination for tourists. Now it is crammed into a narrow riverfront looking for all the world like it was dropped there by a passing aircraft.

National Harbor is growing. Massive townhouses are sprouting from the hill above this off little downtown. It is all fenced in, to set it apart from the run of the mill adjacent suburb known as Oxon Hill. If you want to ride to Oxon Hill, you take a left at start of the shell path, pass through a tunnel made from a corregated steel tube and climb a long steady half-mile hill to Oxon Hill Road.. OHR is not much to write home about but, for the last few months, it has been torn up by construction. About 1/2 mile of the road is now open for use. It features bike lanes on either side. I decided to check the new road out yesterday.

The completed section of road leads to a new outlet mall that attracts an appalling amount of car traffic. Cars are parked all over the place and herds of shoppers need assistance from a dozen police and rent a cops at the intersections. Lovely.

As for OHR, it leads to Fort Washington and other sites rarely explored by most DC-area bicyclists. To really enjoy checking out this area, cyclists are going to have to wait a while. As I found out yesterday, road construction continues past the outlet mall for at least a half mile. I gave up when I had to cede the narrow road to fire trucks and police cars.  From the looks of things (sorry no pictures, I was busy trying to stay alive) the renovated OHR will be a pretty nice ride. For now, you should probably avoid the area. Unless you’re in the market for cheap clothes.

75,000 Miles, 3 Bikes

I keep track of things. I have been recording my running and cycling miles for 30 odd years. It started with running. I would log my daily miles. Then I added a note to indicate which shoes I was wearing. I did this because running shoes wear out from the midsoles first. It’s the midsoles that cushion your feet.

For some reason I didn’t do this sort of thing with my rides. For a long time I didn’t have a car so I used my trusty old Raleigh Grand Prix. It was a faithful steed, until the front right fork blade fell off on hill on the Custis Trail near Rosslyn, Va. It had shifters that were no longer manufactured and eventually I had to part ways with it. I did get 13 years out of that bike, abusing the heck out of it riding around Providence in the winter time.

I bought a Trek 1200 and used it more for running. I had hurt my knees and I needed to find a replacement for running between 50 and 70 miles per week. I’d get home and ride my ass off or, in the winter, put it on a wind trainer indoors and ride until pools of sweat accumulated. A few years after I bought it, I ruptured a disk in my back. After my surgery, I could feel every bump in the road when I rode the Trek. It was also pretty useless for commuting.

Between the two bikes, I guess I put on 15,-000 miles. I have no way of telling though. Back then I probably ran more than I rode.

So I bought a Specialized Sequoia around 20 years ago. It’s had many names but lately I am calling it The Mule. It’s original odometer died. I didn’t know you could re-enter the old mileage, but I had over 6,000 miles on it. Since then The Mule had carried me over 34,450 miles.

I was beating The Mule up by riding it in all kinds of weather so I needed a back up. Eleven years ago I bought my Easy Racers Tour Easy recumbent. I rode Big Nellie almost exclusively for 6 or 7 years, including many winter nights on my wind trainer. As of today, it has 34,350 miles on it.

About six years ago, I bought Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist. It’s a folding travel bike. Although I spec’ed it to have the same geometry as The Mule, it’s little wheels make it hard on my back. Pain be damned it now has 10,200 miles on it.

Add them up. Sometime on Saturday or Sunday, I broke 75,000 miles on my three bikes. I really wish now that I had kept track of the miles on the Trek and the Raleigh. I sound a little like Mickey Mantle in his dying days when he said, “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”

Bikes don’t last forever. Pretty soon I will have to figure out what to replace my fleet with. Buying cars is pretty easy. I’ve been buying cars since 1978. VW Golf, Saturn Wagon, Mazda MPV, Mitsubishi Lancer, and three Honda Accords. What I’ve learned is that when I need a new car, I’ll buy an Accord. Repeat every 10-13 years. (I’m good until 2010.)

Buying bikes is hard. I’ve never owned a mountain bike. Or a touring bike with 26 inch wheels. Or a short wheel base recumbent. Or a tadpole trike. Which one do I want? The answer, of course, is “Yes.”

If I’m going to ride another 75,000 miles, I’d better get to the bike shop and start test riding. Something tells me my three steeds will die from exhaustion before I do.

 

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.

February by the Numbers

I biked 494 miles in February. All but 48 miles of that was bike commuting. I rode to and from work 15 times, 8 times on Little Nellie and 7 on Big Nellie.

For the year I have ridden 1,084 miles with 34 bike commutes. I don’t think I’ve ridden more than 32 miles in a day.

As the weather improves, my bike commuting pace will slow down a bit. I have another college safari to do at the end of the month, plus a full slate of high school girl’s lacrosse games, a business trip, three nights of a high school musical, a college student move out, and various and sundry high school graduation events. I hope to average at least ten bike commutes per month.

Oh, and I forgot, as I was writing this, a weather forecast appeared on the TV. We are supposed to get snow next week. I may get to try out those snowshoes I bought after Snowmaggedon after all.