A Change of Steed

Spring bike events are coming. I do events on my Cross Check which has spent most of the last 5 months in dry dock. Today marked its bike commuting debut for the 2017. With no offense to my other three bikes, the Cross Check, which I named Deets, is the best commuting bike I’ve ever ridden. It even negotiated the mulch detour at TR Island with no trouble at all. Also, it doesn’t hurt at all that I go 2 miles per hour faster on it.

So this morning Deets posed for a picture. In the usual place.

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I plan on riding it to work all week then taking it to Skyline Drive on Sunday. This plan is contingent on me waking up super early Sunday morning. This will be difficult because (a) I am lazy and (b) I am going to an Orioles/Red Sox game in Baltimore at Saturday night. I should get to bed around 1 am.

Let’s just say that scheduling is not my strong suit.

Elizabeth and Brittany

Say It Ain’t So, Tin Lizzie

Today I was saddened to read Elizabeth’s blog post about the possibility of giving up bike commuting. Elizabeth lives and works in the busy Ballston to Rosslyn corridor of Arlington, Virginia. Many years ago Arlington planned this area out to be a place where you could do just fine without a car. As it turns out, Elizabeth could easily get to work by subway, bus, or bike. She’s been riding her bike on unprotected bike lanes and has had more than her share of close encounters with big metal things.

What’s doubly depressing about this is that Elizabeth mentioned my recent intimate get together with a red light running SUV as a factor in her thinking.  When I wrote that post it never occurred to me that it would put people off bike commuting. I should have put my event in context. I have had dozens of close encounters with motor vehicles over the years. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but in over 100,000 miles of riding, I’ve never been hit.  I have hit two cars. One right hooked me and I hit him in the back right fender. If I had been competent I would have missed him entirely. Another was parked and jumped out in front of me. (It was windy. I had my head down. It was really embarrassing.) I was doored a block from Elizabeth’s office a few months ago. I was going very slowly. The door hit my very full rear left pannier.  No harm, no foul. I gave the exiting passenger a dirty look.

Stuff happens. I could be in the hospital or a funeral parlor right now. But I’m not. I rode to work today – right past where I was hit. I did come close to a collision today though. A goose was hanging out in the center of the trail. An oncoming commuter scared it into my path. She laughed and so did I. I’m riding to work tomorrow.

If experienced commuters like Elizabeth quit, we are doing something seriously wrong as a community.

Snakes in the Trees

In completely unrelated news, I learned today that rat snakes grow up to six feet long and climb trees. They are known to inhabit Dyke Marsh where I take my sunrise photos for this blog. I can handle big black SUVs but I think if I had to deal with a six-foot black snake in a tree, I’d soil myself.  This picture was taken today, by the way.

Snakes
Photo from Friends of Dyke Marsh Facebook Page

The Bliss Comes Back

And now some good news. Blissful Britt came back to her blog today. I thought she was going to be gone for months. She lasted three weeks. Stamina is overrated.

And So Does Baseball

And speaking of bliss, baseball is back in DC. The Washington Nationals won their home opener, 4 -2. I couldn’t go, but Klarence did. She willed them to victory on my behalf. They’ve won the first game. The hope is they win the last one. Sometime in early November. Fingers crossed.

 

First Day of Spring: This Bird Doesn’t Get the Worm

I took the day off to go to the doctors office. The weather looked great but there was still a chill in the air, especially considering this is the first day of spring.

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I rode to the eye doctor’s office, picking up my first errand of the 2017 errandonnee in the process. I was expecting to be dilated which would have ruined my ability to read for the next several hours. Instead, the doctor checked my personal field. My right eye didn’t fare well. A closer examination of my eye revealed protein deposits on the membrane behind my lens. My lens is artificial having been replaced during cataract surgery. I had notice some difficulty seeing in low light and was planning on getting new glasses. Now the glasses will wait until I get the membrane cleared. This will be done with a simple laser procedure. It takes about three minutes. Still, to my mind it counts as eye surgery. It will be my 7th surgery and my 3rd of this type.

After the doctor’s visit, I rode to DC to check out the cherry blossoms. Basically, there were none. The cold temperatures knocked the trees for a loop. I rode to Hains Point and then up to the Tidal Basin. So disappointing. Next I  stopped to help some visitors from Minnesota. I took their picture under the non-blossoming trees with the Jefferson Memorial in the background. They have come to DC five times to see the blossoms and haven’t seen a peak bloom yet.

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I biked and walked around the Tidal Basin then headed for Virginia. I wanted to check out the sale of winter gear at the Spokes Etc. store on Quaker Lane in Alexandria. I rode the Mount Vernon Trail to the Four Mile Run Trail to Shirlington. This was about 6 or 7 miles without a traffic light and only two stop signs. Not bad. Once in Shirlington I backtracked and rode up the long hill to the Quaker Lane shop. They were all out of the jacket I wanted so I headed for home along the King Street bike lanes. The city did a pretty nice job with this. On the way home, I swung by the Belle View Spokes Etc. shop where I had tried on a jacket a few days ago. The jacket had been sold so he who hesitates doesn’t get the worm. Or something like that.

Some more pix from my excursion are on my Flickr page.

 

BCBD – Bike Commute Brain Dump

  • On the way to work a bicycle commuter riding behind me in Old Town yelled “Excuse me!” I though that maybe I had dropped something. Instead he asked me if he could borrow my pump. He had tried to use a pump located outside a bike store a few blocks back but it did nothing but let air out of his tire. We completed the task in short order but this reminds me to remind new bike commuters that you have a list of requirements
    • A bike (duh) – you can use bikeshare or buy your own
    • A good lock – make you bike less easy to steal than the ones next to it. (This is kind of like the old joke: Q: How fast do you have to be to outrun a bear? A: Faster that the slowest person you are with.) Go with (at least) a beefy U lock like a Kryptonite (I have 2).
    • Tire repair stuff
      • a pair of tire levers (I prefer steel but you can find plastic ones at any bike shop)
      • a spare tube or two (patches are time consuming)
      • a pump (preferably one with a hose like the Topeak Road Morph – the hose will keep you from tearing off the valve while you are in pumping frenzy)
      • A $1 bill – fold it over, cover the hole in your tire (this is called a tire boot) and then replace the tube. This keeps the tire hole from chewing a new puncture in your tube
      • A multitool – to tighten loose parts and adjust ill fitting things
      • a saddle bag to put this stuff in
    • Lights – it’s a terrific idea to see where you are going. It’s even terrificker that drivers can see you.
    • Clothing – do not bike naked. The police will ruin your whole day. Also, don’t wear old lycra bike shorts. They become translucent. And always cover your butt crack.
  • Further along on my morning ride, I saw a woman on a CaBi (the local bikeshare tank) come to a stop. She peered into the trees along the river bank. As I approached she turned to me and with a huge smile on her face said “That was a bald eagle. It flew right past!” and she gestured its flight path.
  • There is a man who walks on the trail each morning. He carries a big stick and wears a dark jacket with a fur lined hood. He looks like an Ewok. He hasn’t said “Yub, yub” to me yet though.
  • The Mule is going into dry dock. It has gotten me through a winter (sort-of) of bike commutes. It deserves a rest. I will switch over to the Nellies for commuting over the rest of March.

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The Mule at Sunset

  • I have felt terrible on the bike and arthritic off of it for the last two weeks. It’s kind of interesting how this goes away when I don’t wear over-boots and rain pants. I think they slightly alter my pedaling mechanics much like long pants messed up my running gait back in the day.
  • I am volunteering at the Vasa ride in DC on Sunday March 19. You should ride it. It is a rain or shine event. Since it is likely that I will be standing around a lot, I expect a tsunami on the Potomac River. It will be caused by WABA’s new secret fracking operation on Hains Point. Would I lie about a thing like that?

  • There are two bike-related happy hours in Alexandria in the next two weeks. They are both on my way home from work. I’ll probably go to at least one. Sadly, unlike the Kardashians I don’t get appearance money. You can buy me a beer if you’d like. I ain’t too proud to beg.
  • I rode past some work being done on the trail. A backhoe had turned some dirt up. The smell of overturned dirt made me happy. Sorry if that’s too woo woo for you but it is what it is.
  • My boss rides his kids to school on a cargo bike. It’s a big bike. It’s so big it needs a masthead. Teddy says “Hi.”

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Bicycle Listicle

  • Bald eagle sightings have increased hereabouts. Most mornings the Belle Haven nest about 5 miles from my house is overseen by a lone eagle. I’ve never figured out why.The nest is abandoned but for some reason eagles continue to hang out in the tree limbs above it.
  • Yesterday a bike commuter passed me north of the airport. As she did so, she pointed to the sky over the river and said, “Bald eagle!” When I looked I could see a bird about 100 yards away flying toward DC. The bird then banked to the left and I could see its white head. It continued its big turn and landed in a tree along the riverbank next to the trail. My eagle spotter pulled over to take a picture. I would have too but for my squeaky brakes. I didn’t want to scare the eagle. A minute later she came by me again, “That made my day!” Mine too.
  • This morning a bald eagle launched from the Belle Haven nest and flew RIGHT AT ME!!! Top of the food chain, ma! It veered off before tearing my head from my body. Otherwise, well, this blog would be kaput. As would I.
  • Just before the bald eagle attack, I spotted a brand new polyester throw on the trail near Belle Haven Park. I thought it might belong to Running Mom but decided to leave it in case it was someone else’s. A few minutes later here comes Running Mom pushing her son in a jogging stroller. She didn’t seemed to be the least bit upset so I assumed the blanket wasn’t hers. Glad I left it where I saw it. (It was hanging on a trailside sign this evening.)
  • I stopped for a sunrise picture and made it a selfie. I don’t do selfie’s very often, because I look pretty unremarkable and spoil the view. You can’t really see much of the sun. I suck at photography.  Also, I look like I’m 8 feet tall.

sunrise-selfie

  • The morning light was fantastic. I could have taken a dozen pictures. I stopped for this one of the Washington Monument reflected in the Potomac River. (The quality of this picture is proof that even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then.)  I was going to take a picture of the reflections and shadows of the multiple arches of the Memorial Bridge but decided to continue on to work instead. #bikedc friends Jacques and Mary had the same idea and shot the bridge from both sides of the river.

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  • Yesterday I didn’t get enough sleep and was riding in a mental fog. There is one bike traffic light on the Mount Vernon Trail for cars coming into and out of Porto Vecchio, an upscale condo on the river, just beyond the Belle Haven nest. I always stop for this light when it’s red and take extreme care when it is yellow (it is never green) to avoid being hit by turning cars. In my haze yesterday morning I rolled the red light. There were cars about to cross the trail. I am lucky I didn’t get hit. It’s the second time this month that I have escaped getting t-boned because I was in a trance. I really have to start paying more attention.
  • Today was supposed to be my co-worker Kelly’s first bike commute of the year. When I got to work her bike wasn’t in the bike parking room. Last night she laid all her bike clothes out. This morning she woke up, got dressed, went out and caught the bus. Only then did she realized that she had forgotten to ride her bike! Apparently Kelly’s early morning trance puts mine to shame.

 

If the Answer Is Blowing in the Wind…

…then what the heck is the question?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feel

This morning’s bike commute, my fifth this week, began with a sense of dread..Last night, for the third night this week, I woke up at 3:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep. My circadian rhythms are not amusing me.

I pulled on my overboots and layers and hat and whatnot. Ugh. I left early and was plodding away on The Mule. About two miles into the ride, my friend Reba blew by me like I was standing still. She made a friendly mocking remark about my utter lack of celerity. I mumbled profanities.dyke-marsh-and-mule

At three miles I stopped to sit on a bench and take a slightly pre-sunrise picture.

Do I have to get back on that bike? Can’t I just sit here and freeze to death?

The merry prankster in me said “Further!” and I mounted my two-wheeled steed. It’s so hard to turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream when you’re on a bike, groggy, and struggling upstream.

My head hung low but I slogged along. Then out of the top of my peripheral vision I saw something. I looked up. A woman was walking her large dog. She was on the right edge of the trail and the dog, on a leash, was on the left edge of the trail. I hit my brakes and the squealed. “Oh!” I shook my head as I passed. “Duh!”

Once I was at work and had switched out of my overboots and layers and hats and whatnot the muscles in my upper back went into spasm. Off and on. All day.

Then my head cold returned.

The first one of you who says “You should try yoga” is gonna get it.

Strangely, once I was back on my bike for the ride home, my back felt fine. The ride home had a tailwind-ish feel. A passing rider even said “sort of a tailwind.”

Riding down from a short bridge just south of Alexandria, my hanging head almost did me in again. The headlights of the oncoming cars on the adjacent parkway were blinding me. Then I saw them: two ninja walkers, dressed in dark clothing, backlit by the headlights. As I was about to go around them, two bike commuters came speeding past. The first one calling out his pass almost too late. The second one didn’t bother.

The rest of the ride was actually pleasant. When I got home I did the back exercises (that Mrs. Rootchopper calls the “Y” word). While in a shoulder stand, my upper back went into spasm. I rolled out of the position, sat, and breathed calmly. Go away spasm. And it did.

And so ends six days of riding 179 miles in January. At age 61. Feeling every year.

 

 

Let There Be Light

The last time I commuted by bike was last Wednesday. Moving just 5 days along the calendar this time of year brings a sweet benefit: daylight. I noticed that I can now see the combination lock to access my bikes without a headlight in the morning. It’s still before sunrise but there is enough emerging light that I can make do.

I start my ride with “be seen” lights. A blinking front and two blinking rear lights allow drivers to see me (if they are looking, more on this below). I arrived at my sunrise spot today just a tad early. The Mule posed for a picture.

mule-before-sunrise

You may notice one peculiarity about The Mule. It’s pedals don’t match. I replaced the left pedal when it disintegrated on my bike tour last summer. I haven’t gotten around to replacing the right one.

After I put my phone away, the sun broke over the horizon. I appreciated it’s brightness all the more because of a string of dreary, gray days.

I wore a holey wool sweater under my wind breaker shell in the morning. The bright sun warmed things up considerably on the ride in.

I left work before sunset with March-like temperatures just below 60 degrees. The wool sweater was in the bottom of one of my panniers. I know this warmth was only for one day but did it ever feel good.

The ride homeward went off without a hitch until I had an all too close encounter in Old Town. I stopped at a stop sign. (No lie.) A big black SUV had its turn signal on and turned left across my path. I started pedaling. A red SUV was behind the black one. It did not have its turn signal on. It did not stop at its stop sign. Instead it started turning right at me! For a split second my brain didn’t process what was about to happen, then I yelled WHOA! WHOA! I veered to my right and looked left so that my helmet-mounted headlight would shine in the driver’s eyes. As far as I can tell the red SUV never slowed. The driver never saw me. He just missed taking me out.

After something like this happens, the adrenaline feeds the squirrels in my brain. The next couple of miles were rather un-trance-like. Once I cleared Old Town and its dance with death I fell back into a trance for about a mile. Then I noticed cars backed up heading in my direction on the GW Parkway to my right. This could mean only one thing: a big crash. Sure enough, at the sweeping turn near the fishing hole (really just a popular river bank fishing spot) I could see one small car all bashed in with no windshield. Friend of the blog Nancy who lives down my way said the accident also involved a motorcycle. Ugh. I didn’t stop to gawk because this was obviously a serious situation and the emergency responders didn’t need me getting in the way.

I put The Mule away. Inside my house I started walking down the stairs when my left leg gave way. I somehow managed to strain my  left iliotibial band, the thin muscle that runs from the outside of the hip to the outside of my knee. Lucky for me I bought some vitamin I today with an added sedative. Zzzzzz.

 

 

Winter Moments

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

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

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

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

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

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Dang.

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

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

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

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

And it stayed light out for 15 minutes.

Bike commuting in winter does have its moments.

Intentionally Outdoors

I have been sick on and off for the last three weeks. Nothing major, just a cold that seems to be wandering around my body disrupting things. Mostly, it makes me tired. So I thought I would use this weekend to just lie around in my jammies and rest.

I did pretty well. I watched some football, something I don’t usually do without my son’s insightful and amusing play by play. He is 12 hours away so I went solo.

Knowing I was going full coach potato during the games, I intentionally hopped on Deets yesterday for an easy bike jaunt. I decided to ride the tour of Arlington (a bike trail circuit around the county) in a counter clockwise direction. I also planned to throw in a quick ride to Hains Point in DC because it’s what #bikedc people do.

On my way past the airport I ran into Ryan, master planner of our No Wrong Plan bike tour in 2015. He was riding from Bethesda to buy a used seat post for the Frankenroadbike he is building. During our discussion he gave me the idea to switch my route to a ride up Rock Creek Park. Once I left, I reconsidered. I was already tired and a clothing experiment I was trying was not working out leaving me chilled.

So it was down to Hains Point then back across the Memorial Bridge. The city is teeming with tourists who think it’s perfectly okay to walk four and five abreast on sidewalks. I refrained from giving them a good talking to hoping they’d scurry back to Peoria in due time.

Around the foot of Arlington Memorial Cemetery where the white gravestones are still adorned with a Christmas wreath. I could tell my body was not having fun when I climbed the hill near the Netherlands Carillon. The fun lessened as I rode the hilly Custis Trail, all the while thinking, “What crackpot thought this route up?” (Er, that would be me.)

I reached the turnaround at the W&OD and its gradual downward decline toward home. I arrived at home super tired after my 40 mile rest ride and realized I had a splitting sinus headache. I went to use my sinus irrigation gizmo but it was broken. I took drugs, watched the Steelers win, and went to sleep.

Today I slept in. (The drugs were good.)  I needed to get a new sinus gizmo and a book to read since I was nearly through with The Arm. Mindful of my intention to rest, I rode to the Barnes and Noble in Potomac Yard, because that is the only bookstore anywhere near my hours. Ten miles away. On the way I noticed a stalker in Dyke Marsh. A great blue heron that was sticking around for winter.

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I bought Michael Lewis’s Flash Boys at the bookstore and turned around for home. It was surprisingly nice out, especially for mid January. (We will pay for this in a week or two.)

Just before I reached home, I stopped at a drug store and bought a neti pot. It was time to go old school. I used it when I got home and felt quite a bit better.

In two days of rest, I rode 60 miles. It was good to be outdoors again. I only work Wednesday and Thursday this week. I am hoping the weather is good for inauguration day so that I can ignore the festivities hiking somewhere. For those of you who want to save time, here’s what will happen. The big wigs assemble at the Capitol. They swear the new guy in. He makes a lame speech. There’s a parade.

Go outside. It’ll be huge.