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.

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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.

 

 

Some Things You Can’t Miss

  • I was one sick unit this morning. I have a cold that has morphed into a sinus problem. It’s been going away and coming back. I might have to go for some scotch if this doesn’t get better soon. I broke out the neti pot thingie (not an actual neti pot but does the same thing) and flushed my brains. I felt better. Probably all in my head though. (Oooh, did he pun again? Sorry.)
  • Of course, the sickness didn’t keep me from bike commuting in 26 degree weather. Hey, I had a tailwind. No way I’d pass that up. So I made it to Dyke Marsh at sunrise. Never gets old. Note the frozen river. Image may contain: outdoor
  • The rest of the ride to work was an ice free slog except for a treacherous patch on the street at the north end of Old Town. It was just there in the middle of the lane for no reason. I rode over it rather than try to maneuver around it. No slippage.
  • I am happy to report that the scofflaw car parker who blocked the bike lane at 420 North Union Street is no longer scoffing the law. I’m watching for any backsliding.
  • I made it to work in one piece, did my thing for 8-ish hours, and headed for home. While I was in transit I was invited to my third happy hour this week. So on Thursday we take a departing co-worker out for a drink. Then I go do a volunteer thing at my kids’ high school, then I swing by the WABA happy hour in Adams Morgan. Then Friday night there’s a birthday happy hour for a friend downtown. If this doesn’t cure my cold nothing will.
  • When I got home, I checked my Twitter feed to find all this stuff about Russia and the president elect and golden showers and kompromat and such. Somebody put acid in my Dayquil. Come on, fess up.
  • So sick or not, I’m riding to work tomorrow. I may be barely making 10 miles per hour but it’s going up to the 50s and I’ll have a tailwind and I won’t be exposed to any more of Trumpster fires for about four hours. Bike commuting has its benefits.

Sun Does a Huey

This morning at 5:44 the sun did a huey. I caught it in action. Sort of. It wasn’t moving particularly fast. It was obviously further downriver, south, that it was a month ago. I know colder days lie ahead. I know, somewhat counter intuitively, later sunrises do too. (Something about the tilt of the earth, the sun greed of the Maoris, and voodoo. Trust me, I know science.) Looking on the bright (pun intended) side, opening day is 103 days away.

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So The Mule posed for a picture with the sun just a couple of hours after it changed course.

Facebook sent me the perfect reminder of the winter solstice: a picture of two friends hanging out at a rest stop during my second 50 States Ride in August 2007. Huh? They look pretty good in the picture but the heat soon did Paul in. Flor, who seemed immune to the elements, rode like she had wings. It was one of the hardest bike rides I can remember. It got hotter and more humid as the ride progressed. A rider I met afterward cooled off by jumping in Rock Creek.

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It was good that I looked at the picture before I left for work. It took the edge off a cold December morning.

Latest Sunrise, No – Rise of the Ninjas, Yes

I thought today was the latest sunrise of the year but I got it wrong. We’ve reached the earliest sunset. Sunrises get later until the end of the year. Yeah well. Here’s the picture I took of The Mule at Dyke Marsh on the Mount Vernon Trail.

On the ride home, I nearly hit 5 ninjas – walkers and runners wearing absolutely no reflective or light colored clothing. In addition to it being too dark to see them, they are also backlit by car headlights.Good luck you clueless ninjas. I hope I don’t hurt myself when I clobber one of you.

 

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.

 

Weekend Wrap Up

I spent my weekend going to sporting events. Of course, I rode my bike to them because cars are bad and the weather was exceptionally good.

Frogs Win – At Long Last

Before our son went to high school at the Maret School, Mrs. Rootchopper and I vowed never to let him play football. This was long before concussions were such a big concern. We changed our minds because the new football coach was the antithesis of raging lunatic coaches. Soft-spoken Mike Engelberg told us before freshman year began, “I will never yell at your son.” He kept his word. (He whined a hell of a lot, though.) He didn’t so much coach football as he taught it.

For years under Mike, Maret came oh so close to winning its conference. In my son’s senior year, the team nearly pulled it off but lost in a monsoon to Flint Hill School in overtime. That was 7 years ago. On Saturday, I rode to St. Albans School (Maret is so small it does not have its own field) on the grounds of the National Cathedral to watch the undefeated Maret Frogs play Flint Hill. Maret led 14-7 at half time then stepped on the gas and left Flint Hill in the dust, winning 43-14. The Washington Post called it “a thumping.” I swore I could hear Al Michels in my head.

So congratulations to Coach Engelberg and his Maret Frogs. It’s been a long time coming. It was a great way to spend a splendid fall afternoon too.

Trail Sightings

Some sightings on the Mount Vernon Trail are inspiring. Others not so much. On my ride to Maret, I spotted a huge bald eagle in the branches above the Belle Haven nest. Maybe its feathers were fluffed up but it looked bigger than any other eagle I’ve seen this year.

As I approached the Dyke Marsh bridge on the Mount Vernon Trail this morning, I saw an ambulance and fire truck pull off the adjacent parkway and park. At the middle of the bridge there was a cluster of people. As I rode by, I could see at their feet a man, probably in his 60s or 70s, lying on the bridge deck on his side. He had a hat on his head and his head was turned to one side. He appeared to be unconscious. Given the abundance of help already there, I rode on. I hope he is okay but I am not optimistic.

About a mile later I was passed by an approaching runner. It was Running Mom, one of the regular people I see on my commute. This morning she was not pushing her son in his stroller. (He’s over a year old. How she runs so fast pushing him, I’ll never know.) We don’t wave to each other. Usually one or both gives and awkward smile. That’s what we did today. I was a little disappointed that she wasn’t running in the marathon.

Security Nonsense

I got a dose of stupid security theater today. I rode to the 14th Street Bridge. I rode up the grassy slope so I could stand on the guardrail of the closed I-395 and watch the runners at the 19 mile mark as they headed into Virginia. Except today, two police officers told me I couldn’t stand there. Closed to spectators. “You have to leave.” I said, “I’ve been coming here for over 20 years, what are you talking about?” No use. So I left.

I rode to the 14th Street Bridge trail that goes across the Potomac River to the Jefferson Memorial in DC. A group of spectators were standing on the ramp shaking their heads. They told me the trail was closed. So I rode up onto the bridge and spotted the police officer. He was standing on the trail as hundreds of cars rushed by on the roadway a few feet to his left. “Trail is closed.” “Why?” “I don’t decide these things. It’s closed.” He told me the nearest bridge that was open was Key Bridge two miles away.

I understand the Tsarnaev Brothers. I understand terrorism. But there is really only about 100 feet of the bridge that poses a security concern. Why not ban people from standing on that part of the bridge? And if you are going to ban pedestrians and bikes, why allow cars and trucks? And if you are going to have police stationed to close these places why not have them just provide actual security (like bag checks) to the spectators instead?

I unloaded on the cop. We’ve come to this? There are probably a half million people lining the marathon course and you pick these two isolated spots to shut down. Really?

I back tracked two miles to Crystal City. There were Marines and the occasional police officer but nobody was checking bags or barring people from standing on the side of the road. I saw one bomb sniffing dog. Once. In about two and a half hours.

Porous security isn’t security. It’s security theater. It makes nervous people feel better. It pisses everybody else off. If you live in DC, you really get tired of this nonsense.

Spectating

I parked myself at the 20.9 and 22.8 mile mark on Crystal Drive.The runners were headed south on the opposite side of the road toward the 21 mile banner. Then they turned a corner and disappeared from view before heading north on Crystal Drive on my side of the road.

It was getting quite warm. In marathon running, 65 degrees is warm. It was already in the 70s. A misting machine was turned on at the corner. Many runners were cramping up. It did not look like much fun, to be honest.

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Misting Machine
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Cramping – Are We Having Fun Yet?

I had planned to cheer on my friend Heather and twitter peep Teresa. Teresa posted a picture of her clothing and a selfie at the 9 mile mark. Red shirt. White baseball cap with blonde hair. Camelback. Purple running shoes. So I knew what to look for. Strangely enough I saw three people running at a similar pace to her planned pace wearing the same thing. What are the odds? So I may have seen or or not. If not, there are three women wondering who the heck was that guy yelling “Teresa!”?

Heather is a petite Chinese woman. Unlike Teresa who I only know from her pictures on line, I’be known Heather for 20 or 30 years. I spotted her on the far side of Crystal Drive headed south. I yelled and she turned and waved. Then about 10 minutes later she came running down the edge of the road in full view. I took her picture. With pain all around her, she was smiling. She apologized for being sweaty and gave me a hug then continued on.

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Heather in Purple in the Bike Lane

After that, I rode home. In a t-shirt and shorts. On the 30th of October. I am writing this on the deck. It is 80 degrees. Good thing the race ended when it did.