A Ride in the Pine Barrens

Over 30 years ago John McPhee wrote about a place that was disappearing. The Pine Barrens are a vast area of southern New Jersey where, back in McPhee’s day,  not much happened. People lived without telephones or electricity. The Barrens were primitive, despite the fact that they are located about an hour east of Philadelphia and 90 minutes from New York City. McPhee wanted to see it before it became modern.

It’s still rather rustic in the Barrens but there are now two-lane highways criss-crossing the area. Vacation tourism was evident here and there. I saw jet skis on the waterways. I should go back and read McPhee to see what it was like back in the day.

I drove down from central New Jersey where I stayed the night. My day began with a visit to my maternal grandparents’ grave and their house, still standing. It was decorated tastefully and the porch was fixed up a bit, but it was still an old, old frame house. The side yard once had a garage and decrepit barn. Both are gone, replaced by a modern middle-class home. There is no arbor on the side of the house, no grape vines hanging from it. The big vegetable garden is gone too. My grandmother died when I was ten, during a summer that also took my paternal grandmother and godmother. My funeral suit got a lot of use that summer.  It was weird getting birthday presents at one of the wakes. I just wanted it to end and to go back to the routine of school. My grandfather lived for another 15 or so years. He died in his bed in the house.

The starting point of my ride was Batsto Village State Park. Batsto was once a thriving  a close knit community built around an iron furnace, mills, and such. People lived in orderly two-story, unpainted frame houses. The folks who lived here had to get along; there was nobody else around. The village is in the middle of hundreds of acres of sandy soil and trees, mostly pine trees.

On the drive to Batsto, I stopped for breakfast at a New Jersey diner. Diners are New Jersey. The food was starchy and hot and creamy and filling. The coffee gave me a jolt. After gorging, I drove on to Batsto passing a few miles from Lakehurst, the site of the Hindenberg disaster. My mom told me that when she was a little girl she waved at dirigible passengers as they passed overhead. She probably didn’t wave at the Hindenberg that night on account of a tragically violent thunderstorm.

The parking lot of the diner was filled with bicyclists getting ready for a ride. I overheard the diner owner saying he expected about ten of them to come in without a reservation disrupting his quiet Sunday morning. Oh the temerity.

As I drove I passed large groups of cyclists riding in and out of the dappled shade of the woods on either side of the road. Some miles further on, I passed cranberry bogs.

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After parking I began a 43 mile loop ride on Little Nellie through the Barrens. The roads were high speed but the traffic was light and the pavement smooth and free of debris. And flat. Pool table flat.

I rode past blueberry farms. Miles of them. Billions of sweet little blue berries. Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk! 

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Trees rather scrawny, the result of the never ending sandy soil. The road frequently crossed streams and inlets.  Some of the smaller roads had wooden deck bridges.

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I spotted an osprey nest on a pole next to the road. Two ospreys were clearly visible making a racket. One flew off as I approached. It had a critter of some sort in its talons. The remaining bird stayed at the nest squawking. The flying osprey circled the nest as I rode by as if to say “Look at me!” My guess is the nest had young ‘uns in it.

A few of the turns on my map were unsigned. So naturally I missed a turn. Fortunately, I discovered my mistake at a point where a brand new road doubled back toward the route.

I didn’t bring enough water so I was starting to flag after only 30 miles. With temperatures in the low 80s, low-ish humidity, and light winds, I felt a bit like a wimp.

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Pedal, pedal.

Did I mention it was flat.

More sand. More trees. A canoe with a man and woman came toward the road as I crossed a creek. They were framed by overhanging trees. It looked perfect.

Unpaved pathways intersected with the roads. Some were hiking trails. Some were more like sandy roads.

A mile later a doe and her fawn stood on the side of the road. They regarded me with caution then started to meander away. How many deer must there be in this place?

About a mile from Batsto, I looked down a sandy road to my left. Two wild turkeys were walking along. They looked like they might be talking to each other. Of course, when I tried to get a picture they turned and walked away from me. Don’t you just hate antisocial turkeys?

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My ride ended back at the car. I don’t recall ever riding a bike at my grandparents’ house when I was little so this was my first-ever ride in the state of New Jersey. It’s my 18th state. (The others: New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, California, Maryland, Virginia, Hawaii, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, Michigan, and Wisconsin. As well as the District of Columbia.)

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I placed a bunch of pictures on Flickr.

 

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Full Moon Baseball

Twice this spring I have had tickets to baseball games that were rained out. The first one was called before I got to the ballpark, but I managed to make it an eventful day by being hit by an SUV. For the second game, I rode to the ballpark from work and stood around for an hour while the rain came down. The game was called and I rode home in what I expected to be steady rain. Once I was a few miles along, the rain stopped. Go figure.

So the makeup game to that second rainout was last night. I sat with two co-workers, Bob and Karen, and Richie, who retired after working with Bob for many years. I rode to the ballpark on Little Nellie in case I wanted to get a ride home from Bob by folding Little Nellie up and dropping her in the trunk of his car.

The Nationals arrived back from a west coast road trip at 1 am. This meant that many of the older star players would be getting the night off. The starting pitcher had been struggling all season. So I was expecting the Nationals to lose and for the fans rooting for the Orioles to be really obnoxious.

Instead the Nationals dominated from the outset. The good guys won 6-1 thanks to the performance of Dos Padres, speedy shortstop Trea Turner and pitcher Joe Ross. Turner and Ross are young players that the Nationals acquired in a trade with the San Diego Padres. What were the Padres thinking? These two guys are great.  Turner never hit the ball out of the infield but managed to get on base on three weak singles. Then he stole bases at will. He also made one of the best defensive plays I’ve seen. Ross pitched up a storm, striking out 12 and lasting into the 7th inning.

The haircut on the kid sitting in front of me was as good as the game. He got it for the last day of school.  Sister Irma would have had a heart attack if one of us showed up with a mohawk.

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During the game a full moon rose over the Anacostia River to the east of the park. This was a good omen for my ride home. The game was over by about 10 p.m. and I made my way to the bike valet. I usually run into Klarence there but not this night. (I miss you Klarence, but, no worries, my mouth’s still bleeding. Stay proud.)

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Once clear of the ballpark traffic I made my way around the Jefferson Memorial and over the 14th Street bridge to Virginia and the Mount Vernon Trail. The moonlight reflected off the river and made for a sweet transit.

The trail, of course, was empty. The air was cooling and I was rolling along in trance mode. The moonlight reflecting off the path was only occasionally disturbed by car headlights on the parkway.

I rolled through Old Town Alexandria and didn’t see a single car. There were no tourists. Only peaceful quiet soothing breezes, and the glow from the moon.

Back on the trail south of the beltway, I started down from the bridge over Cameron Run. I spotted a dark mass at the bottom of the brief decline in the shadows. It was a homeless person, dressed completely in dark clothing huddled along the left edge of the trail facing the bushes along the river. If he did not have white hair, I don’t know if I would have even seen him.

The rest of the ride on the trail was just me and the cooling evening air with Mr. Moonlight casting a glow on the proceedings. No bugs to annoy, only a breeze and the sound of my breathing.

Cutting through a neighborhood about a mile from home, there was movement. An animal darting across the road in front of me. A mature fox was crossing the street at a trot. The fox population has exploded near my home in recent years. They tend not to care a whole lot about humans being around, even humans on funny looking machines.

Little Nellie made quick work of the last half mile and we flew across the lawn into the back yard. I didn’t really need my bike light to open my shed; it was illuminated by the moon.

I honestly can’t say which was better, the game or the ride home. I’ll have to try again. Soon.

A Little Water Won’t Kill Ya

It rained last night. The passage to my backyard was a mud pit. It was drizzling as I, without a whole lot of thought, pulled Little Nellie out of the shed.

I wore rain gear fImage may contain: tree, plant, outdoor and natureor the ride to work. All was going well until I reached the Mount Vernon Trail. Normally, the river is to the right of the trail. Today, the trial was beneath the river. As I cleared the Dyke Marsh boardwalk, I hit about 40 yards of deep water. I’d guess it was 6 inches deep. The density of the water slowed me to a crawl and I pedaled through it getting my feet thoroughly soaked. I stopped to take a picture that doesn’t do it justice.

I hopped back on Little Nellie, pedaled 20 yards, and was deep in the soup again. Pedaling through this much water is hard work. I cleared that flood, had a 20-yard breather, then hit the next one. And the next one. And the next one. No lie. I was pedaling really hard as I hit the last one and the backwash from Little Nellie’s wee front wheel caused the water to splash up over my knees.

After another deep section north of Belle Haven Park,  I made it into Old Town without need for scuba gear.

Old Town, of course, is notorious for flooding and today it did not disappoint. Union Street (which includes the Mount Vernon Trail) Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting, motorcycle and outdoorwas closed at King. Little Nellie posed for a picture. I watched a pick up drive through the water but decided not to press my luck especially with a police car in the distance.

I turned up one alley and over another and found myself on King just to the left of the water in the picture.

Free and clear, right? Wrong. I managed to avoid submersion for a couple of miles before hitting deep water twice near Daingerfield Island. The force of my bike through the flood again kicked water up over my knees.

Dang.

I really should have chosen a bike with bigger diameter wheels. I hope Little Nellie’s hubs are not completely messed up.

In the afternoon Doppler radar was showing a really nasty storm approaching. I ran into the No. 2 person at my agency who was carrying his motorcycle helmet. Good luck! Our admin assistant and I both told my boss to hit the road on his cargo bike. He rides into DC and he probably made it unscathed.

I, on the other hand, was scathed. I made it about 9 miles in decent shape. The good news was the flooding had receded. The bad news was I was heading into dark, dark clouds with wind and rain and thunder and lightning.

Oh my.

I rode through Belle Haven Park aware that at any time a limb could fall from one of the giant old trees along the trail. It had happened before but not today. South of the park I had to deal with the fact that my glasses were covered with rain drops and condensation. I could barely see to make my way.

There was nothing to do but pedal, so I did. A bicyclist zipped past me. How he could see was beyond my ken. As I went through the slalom south of Dyke Marsh branches with wet leaves slapped me in the face.

Pedal. Pedal.

All the while, lightning was flashing across the sky.

I followed a curve in the trail up and to the right. Out from behind an overhanging branch came a bicyclists. A woman on what looked like a beach cruiser. She was riding in a frenzy without rain gear and nearly collided with me. I veered off to my right and she flew by.

Sections of the trail now had run off from the adjacent parkway. Some of these were fairly high speed and gave me cause for concern. Would they sweep my wheels out from under me?

Nope. It’s good to be lucky.

Once I left the trail the rain subsided. There was still some thunder and lightning but it was not all that intense.

I rode across the front lawn, around the muddy side of the house, and down the small grassy decline to the shed. After opening the shed and getting the bike inside I started to wipe everything down with an old t-shirt. Then

BOOM!

A clap of thunder erupted directly overhead. The walls and the floor of the shed shook. I felt the vibration in my torso.

Double dang.

A little water won’t kill ya, but the thunder’s a bitch.

Riding to Eagles and Beatles

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The weather was perfect for a bike ride. Yay, April. So off I went on Little Nellie to DC. As I passed beneath the Morningside eagle nest I spotted a white head sticking up from the nest. I couldn’t tell if it was an eagle or an opportunistic osprey but it gave me an idea for a destination: the National Arboretum and its bald eagle nest.

I took the Woodrow Wilson Bridge across the Potomac River. The climb away from the river passes the enormous new MGM casino complex. It’s a whole lot of ugly, but you can eat at posh restaurants and see a show and throw away your hard earned dollars there. Go get ’em. I’ll pass.

At the top of the hill, I took a sidewalk (because MDOT hasn’t figured out how to accommodate bicyclist for beans in this area) to Oxon Hill Farm and descended back to the river. You see this climb and descent is required because MDOT couldn’t figure out how to add a trail along the river as there has been in Virginia for over 45 years.

The descent was a little scary because my left hand is messed up from getting jammed in flood debris on my hike yesterday. I think a small piece of wood may be lodged in my left middle finger. So braking is rather difficult.

I rode through Anacostia and made my way to Anacostia Park where there was a big festival. I ran into Nelle and Ursula from WABA. They were busy getting set up for the event.  At an adjacent booth I talked with Carlos (I think that’s his name) who used to work in my local bike shop. He immediately recognized Little Nellie and asked how many miles she had on her (17,500+). Carlos did good work.

After being social for a few minutes I went back into introverted rider bliss mode along the Anacostia River.  Puffy clouds and blue skies were reflected in its calm waters. I crossed over the river on the Benning Road overpass and took busy Benning northeast. Not a lot of fun but it got the job done. No way I would ride this street on a weekday. Two more busy, bike-hostile roads (17th Street and Blandensburg Road) and I was into the Arboretum. I walked by bike past a road block allowing only pedestrians to enter. Alas, further up the road a more restrictive sign appeared. No entry. Period. So I turned around.

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You can check out the bald eagle nest on dceaglecam.org.  There are two very cute eaglets in the nest right now. They seem to be thriving for all I know.

After my eagle fail,  I headed across town to the new REI store where a free beer event was to be held later in the day.  I arrived way too early so instead of drinking beer I went gawked at all the merchandise. It’s a outdoorsy wet dream. Kayaks and bikes and clothing, oh my.

The store is in the renovated Uline Arena, the site of the first Beatles concert in the US. (The place was called the Washington Sports Arena back in 1964.) The store gives a nod to this history (and other events that happened there) by putting replicas of concert posters on the concrete support posts in the store. The Beatles concert occurred a few days before their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show that I watched in my jammies. (I found it utterly incomprehensible. I had three older brothers who, like every other kid in the country, became big fans. As, eventually, did I.)

After being overwhelmed with retail madness I headed home. The traffic on the streets and the trails was quite heavy. Tourists were stopping without warning on their bike share bikes. A couple of Lance Mamilots tried to impress the word with their speedy and agile bike riding on the narrow Mount Vernon Trail. The annoyances were minor.

I made it home to watch the end of the baseball game and to re-lube my chain. Yesterday I removed the clipless pedals from Big Nellie. Today I remove the matching cleats from my biking shoes. I am an old school toe clip dude. Sue me.

Postscript: the piece of wood in my finger popped out while doing dishes tonight. All in one piece. That’s never happened to me before. It looked like a dark brown rice kernel. Ewww

Making Nelle’s Hit List (Errandonnee No.12)

It had already rained over an inch. Skies were gray, but the Washington Nationals had not yet canceled their exhibition game with the Boston Red Sox. Three co-workers and I had a block of tickets. They were driving from the office. I left the house at 1:15 on Little Nellie, my Bike Friday with wee wheels.

Speaking of Nelle, my friend Nelle, the Deputy Director of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (of which I am a member), posted a note on social media the other day saying she knew over 20 people, mostly bicyclists, who had been hit by a motor vehicle. After a day or two her other friends spoke up and the number rose to 65.

An intermittent light rain was falling. I made it to the Mount Vernon Trail with little difficulty. Traffic was light on the GW Parkway which runs parallel to the trail. After nearly five miles, I came to the only place on the trail that has a traffic light for trail users. It is at the entrance to Porto Vecchio, an upscale condominium on the Potomac River. There is also a traffic signal to control traffic on the Parkway.

A decorative wall, perhaps eight feet tall, blocks the view of the trail from the condominium parking lot as the trail approaches the crossing. I could see that the trail light was amber (it never turns green) indicating that I had the right of way and that cross traffic had a red light. I looked across the Parkway. There were two cars waiting for a green light. I thought “They’ll trip the light.” I looked back at my light. Still amber. I was already going only about 10 miles per hour and started to make my way across the entrance to the condo.

What happened next took only two seconds.

A black SUV came flying out from behind the wall.

Oh no.

My hands were on the cross bar. I didn’t have time to reach the brakes.

It’s going to hit me.

I turned my little front wheel. I just missed t-boning the SUV, but I could not avoid its front right fender. I hit it with my right thigh. My right hand somehow had come off the handlebar and stiff armed the top of the fender.

My momentum was carrying me in front of the SUV.

This is going to hurt. Big time. At the same second I thought of my wife’s description of the split second when she was hit by an SUV. And I thought of my friend’s friend who was hit by a bus.

I saw the grill of the SUV. I was falling in front of the SUV.

It stopped.

Somehow.

But I was still on my way down. My right arm, still extended, was pointing straight down. My eyes spotted the pavement.

And with some kind of calm I thought

“No.”

I consciously shifted the weight of my torso over the left front brake hood. The shift and the wonders of physics caused the bike to right itself. Then I pulled my right arm back up. And came to a controlled, upright stop.

I calmly looked over my left shoulder to verify that the SUV had run a red light. Then I turned around. The driver had opened her car door and was standing between it and the driver’s seat.

“I’m so sorry.” Over and over again.

“The light was red. You could have put me in an ambulance. What the hell is wrong with you? SLOW DOWN!” (Mostly this was not in anger. I simply wanted to get it into her head that this could have been a really, really bad crash.)

“I’m so sorry.”

And I rode off for a cold beer at the ballpark.

A couple of miles later I stopped to check my messages. The game had been cancelled.

I turned around and rode home.

Number 66 on Nelle’s list.

Errandonnee Stuff:

Miles: 15.5

Category: Arts and Entertainment (seriously)

Observations: I managed to get through the crash thanks to several things. First, the driver stopped. Second, I didn’t hit my brakes, but bounced off the car and stayed upright. Third, the little wheels on Little Nellie kept my front wheel from contacting the SUV.  Fourth, I managed to stay calm. You can say what you want about meditation but there is not doubt in my mind that it helped me stay focused and not panic. It was almost as if I was observing it as a bystander. Fifth: The amount of information your brain processes in a situation like this is flabbergasting. Sixth: I am one fucking lucky son of a bitch. Seventh: I need a beer.

Ticket Edited

Some Mondays Ain’t Half Bad

I was zonked all day Sunday. No energy at all. I was a sloth. Today I woke up and jumped on Little Nellie for the ride to work. My legs had pop for the first time in weeks. Off we went into dense fog. We stopped at Dyke Marsh where I take my pictures of the sunset over the river. Today, not so much.

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There’s a river out there. I just know it.

The ride to work was terrific. The temperature was about 50 degrees and I was underdressed and the fog was condensing on everything I had on. Except for the fact that I couldn’t see through the condensation on my glasses I didn’t much care.

Opposite the Washington Monument I looked east to see what my kids called The Pencil. Um, it wasn’t there. Mostly nothing was.

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I swear the fog had gotten even denser.

I heard some noise out on the river. Voices. Loud voices. Then from the left I saw them. The crew teams were out practicing. The eights. Coaches were on small motor boats shouting instructions. Coxswains were yelling whatever it is they yell. One after another they emerged then plunged back into the pea soup. It reminded me of the dense fog off Newport RI where I once taught. All that was missing was the ominous outline of The Breakers and the lonesome fog horn in the distance.

On the way home I passed an old friend just before I hit the TRUMP (Teddy Roosevelt Uber Mulch Pit). We disengaged a couple of years ago. There have been some awkward failed attempts to reboot. As she rolled past she scowled. Was it at me? No matter. Life goes on.

And so did I. I crossed over the river to take in the famous cherry blossoms which reached peak bloom on Saturday. I had already tried twice to take in the show but both times only a few blooms could be seen. I had few hopes for today but was pleasantly surprised by how many blossoms survived the cold snap last week. In years past the blooms were just other worldly. This year they were merely excellent. No complaints from this blossom lover. I walked Little Nellie around the Tidal Basin. Everyone, including me, was smiling.

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After a 3-mile spin down to Hains Point and back to view more cherry trees, I headed for home. The 10 -15 mile per hour headwind didn’t phase me in the least. The air was warm and the trail was mostly empty.

As Monday’s go, this one could not be beat.

Errandonnee No. 6: Little Nellie Robs a Bank

On the way home, I diverted a bit to try out my new, no-fee, bank anywhere debit card. It didn’t work at this magic money machine. Boo. So I used my Suntrust Card. I have no idea who the dude in the picture is.

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Category: Personal Business

Miles: 1/2

Observation: I remember when ATMs were a new thing. Now I rarely use them. You gotta have some cash to go to the ballgame. And I am going next Friday. It had better not rain.

Errandonnee No. 4 – Humpday Headwinds

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So Little Nellie and I rode to work again. Big surprise, no?

We rode into a strong headwind the entire way. The winds got even worse north of the airport. Maybe it was the psychological effect of seeing white caps on the river. At least I won the battle of the TRUMP, the Teddy Roosevelt Uber Mulch Pit.

There is a pretty nice bike parking room in my office building. I park Little Nellie on the floor but soon the spring peepers will be here to steal my floor space. Little Nellie will go up on one of the 18 hanging racks we have.

My hard ride to work will be rewarded with a stop at the WABA happy hour tonight in Del Ray. One should never pass up a beer and a tailwind.

Category: Work

Miles: 29 1/2

Observation: Headwinds make you think about nothing but the task at hand. They may be physically exhausting but they bring on a sort of riding meditation: this is the present moment and the present moment sucks.

 

 

Errandonnee No. 3: Mulching to Work

I chose Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist with little wheels, to ride to work. Everything was going along just fine until we hit the mulch pit of death near Teddy Roosevelt Island. Wee wheels won’t work here. So I dismounted. And took a picture.

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Category: Work

Miles: 29 1/2 (round trip). So I’ve already hit the Errandonnee limit.

Observation: Spring bike commuters are starting to appear. They were generally well behaved today. This evening will almost certainly bring out the Lance Mamilots, who ride like asshats only to demonstrate their frail male egos and small man parts.