A Nudge into the Calming Rain

This day had to come. Rain. All day. While working, I just resigned myself to getting wet as I rode to the office. (Trust me, biking to work around DC in the rain is infinitely preferable to driving.)

No office, no ride? No way.

Still I needed motivation. A bike commuting friend posted a picture from her ride to work on Instagram. It was of the tree-lined paved path along the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. For all the dreariness, it made me miss playing in the rain.I could see her in my mind’s eye, plodding along with little effort, enjoying every splash. I envied her.

On when the rain gear and out I went.  From inside the rain looked like it was falling hard, but once I was outside it somehow seemed less daunting, inviting even.

I took the Cross Check to see if the gears were working properly, (They were. Yay!)

Long ago, I identified routes around my neck of the suburbs that required very few left turns and no highway crossings. I took one today. The streets were virtually empty. I made my way to Fort Hunt Park which has a 1 1/4 mile circuit. I rode around and around and around paying no mind to speed or effort, just letting the rain wet my face as I listened to the sound of the water passing through my fenders. I must have done about 10 laps. If not for my odometer I’d never know.

I finished on some more suburban roads. Passing houses under construction, devoid of work crews on this soggy day.

That’s okay everyone. Stay inside. I like it out here alone.

A tip of the helmet to my friend for the photographic nudge.

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Swim to Work Day

Last Friday’s Bike to Work Day was such a success that we decided to hold Swim to Work Day today. It was difficult to dress for the rain. The temperature was 58F when I left home. So I decide to go with a water proof jacket with a hood. My bare legs got somewhat cold but no worries they were sore as hell from yesterday’s hike.

I am proud to say I did not run over any ducks or geese on my way to the office, but I cannot vouch for any earthworms.

Also, I want to that VDOT for aiming the storm drains from I-395 directly onto the Mount Vernon Trail. Nothing makes a rainy day wetter than riding through the waterfall from the highway above.

This is what my office looked like. (My jacket and shirt were hanging up across the room.)

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I didn’t bother with a shower. Seemed kind of redundant.

Quack.

 

Well at Least I Didn’t Get Run Over

A few weeks ago I, and 3 co-workers, had tickets to see the Red Sox play the Nationals in an exhibition game at Nationals Park in DC. It was raining. I worked from home. I rode to the game. On the way I was hit by an SUV. A few minutes afterwards I learned the game had been cancelled. So I rode home.

Today we tried again. I rode to work in the rain. It rained all day. When I left the office, it was still raining. This game was a regular season game and it was likely to be played if at all possible. The forecast called for rain, 50F temperatures, and a wind from the east – directly at our seats which were exposed to the rain.

The bike valet at the ball park was empty when I got there. The two valets were channeling the Maytag repairman.

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I locked Little Nellie up and headed into the park. I drank a beer and looked down on the drenched playing field. Fewer things are as sad as a wet infield tarp under dreary skies.

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I made my way around the park, stopping for french fries. One advantage of being in an empty ball park is the fries are hot. Perfect. Next up was an Italian sausage (not half bad as these things go) and a second beer. I strolled around the ballpark chatting with the employees and emailing my co-workers. They had delayed their departure from the office. Then, in a fit of optimism, they drove to the game but didn’t leave the car. They stalked the ballpark like thieves casing a bank.

Fans started filling the concourses. Most of them seemed to have driven down from Baltimore. Apparent bus loads of kids included. I turned to one of the ushers and said, “It looks like we’re going to get this game in.” Then she said, “I don’t think so.” She pointed to the big screen overlooking center field.

Rainout

I rode home in the dark. It didn’t rain a drop.

The game is rescheduled for June 8.

Well at Least It Didn’t Snow

It seems as if January 23 is Precipitation Day in the DMV. Last year we were pounded with snow. This year it rained. A lot. There were warnings of gale force winds. So I didn’t ride my bike to work.

Ha. Ha. Fooled you.

The Mule and I started out into a strong, gusting headwind and light rain. And that’s how it went for 15 miles. It was in the mid 40s so it wasn’t an entirely miserable experience. I wanted to take a picture of the sunrise at my usual spot in Dyke Marsh but the sun was taking the day off. Gloom. Gray. Ugh.

I kept my head down and plowed along into the wind as hit me from 1 o’clock. When I rode under the Wilson Bridge the structure seemed to cause the wind to intensify. I struggled to stay upright and forged ahead.

In Old Town, the scofflaw parker at 420 North Union Street was blocking the bike lane again. I rode a half mile before finding sufficient shelter to call it in to the authorities. When I tried to get underway again, the wind was blowing straight at me. It took serious effort to launch The Mule.

I kept my head down to keep my glasses dry. I could only see a few feet ahead. Not enough to avoid a big tree limb that had fallen across the trail. So The Mule and I rode over it. The Mule abides.

I made it to work late but in one piece. Later in the day I learned that a large tree had fallen across the trail near the 14th Street Bridge. That is always my biggest concern. As comedian Ron White says, “It’s not that the wind is blowing; it’s what the wind is blowing.” When the ground gets saturated from heavy rain, tree roots lose their hold and the wind does the rest.

The ride home began in daylight. Sort of. Gloom. Gray.

I made it to the trail and had a nice strong tailwind. Yay, storms!

The Mule and I cruised down river toward the downed tree. No tree’s gonna stop us! And we were right. The National Park Service had come out and cleared it away.

The rest of the ride was pretty effortless. The streets of Old Town along the river showed some signs of flooding but Union Street was passable. We passed.

South of the Beltway, we cruised along, at one point going through deep water where the river had overflowed its banks. Along another, drier section of the trail I had fallen into my bike trance when we were joined by a rather fearless bunny. Instead of darting off the trail as we approached, the bunny bounded down the trail ahead of us. After a full minute, the bunny banged a right and disappeared into wet scrub brush.

We get more of this fun tomorrow morning.

Only 69 days until opening day.

 

First Bike Quack of the Year

There was rain. Persistent. Light. Rain. And a headwind. And it was only 46 degrees outside. I have a cold. I rode to work. I am an idjit.

The rain soon overwhelmed my Goretex hiking boots. So much for their waterproofiness. Somewhere along the line I tore a hole near the inseam of my rain pants. My mittens were sopping wet. So were my socks.

Are we having fun yet?

It took about 20 extra minutes to get to work in this slop. I just could not make any speed at all. I had fresh legs too having taken yesterday off.

Just before my office I nearly collided with a bike commuter. It was my fault. I was tired and wet and wasn’t looking up and he/she was RIGHT THERE. Sorry. My bad.

So 2017 starts with a discouraging, soggy bike commute.

 

My office was festooned with wet gear. It was as if some alien being had decided to put out decorations for the post-holidays.

Fortunately my stuff was mostly dry-ish when I left for home. There was still a lingering mist. It stopped after about 20 minutes. And I had a tailwind. And it was still 46 degrees outside. So the ride home was not at all unpleasant.

Until I came upon a Comcast service vehicle parked in the middle of the Mount Vernon Trail in Old Town Alexandria. After I nearly crashed getting around it, I found myself confronted with three cars aimed in different directions in the next cross walk. They were likely driven by parents picking up their kids at the crew facility down by the river. But they decided to park, u-turn, and such in the crosswalk where the Mount Vernon Trail passes through.

A couple blocks late at 426 N. Union the car with Maryland plates was parked perpendicular to the curb obstructing the bike lane. Again.

Alexandria is a bicycle friendly city. Really. The League of American Bicyclists seems to think so. Apparently you fill out a form or two and say “We like bikes” and the LAB gives you some sort of award. Sure glad I am a member. Not.

Do I sound cranky?

Quack.

Lemons and Cold, Wet Lemonade

“We’re definitely going to the Nationals game on Saturday and maybe on Sunday. Are you going? We could meet for a drink afterward.”

My friend sent me this invitation on Friday evening. I had already been thinking of going to a game this weekend and I have seen my friend only once since August. (How the hell did that happen? Life.)

So, thinking that “definitely going” and “we could meet…afterward” meant that they had already bought tickets, I bought a ticket of my own. Shortly after making my purchase my friend, who is on a tight budget, sent me a message:

“The upper gallery seats are sold out. We’ll have to stand in line for the $5 game day tickets tomorrow morning.”

What the hell happened to “definitely going?”

Given that the weather forecast called for morning rain followed by near perfect weather for the early afternoon game, it seemed that there was a good chance that my friend would not get tickets in the morning.  I decided to go with the flow and went to bed.

In the morning, the predicted rain was falling. My friend messaged me:

“We don’t feel like standing in the rain to get tickets so we aren’t going to the game.”

Definitely going, going, gone.

I was disappointed and more than a little upset. I felt like a dog who has been teased with food only to have it taken away. Rather than do my usual thing of sending back an angry repsonse, I turned off my phone, put on my rain gear, and hopped on my Cross Check for the 15 1/2 mile ride to the ballpark.

Did I mention rain gear? Yes, the forecast I saw last night said the rain would be over by 10 am. It was clear from a glance at the radar in the morning that the rain would be with us through noon at least.

The ride to DC along the Mount Vernon Trail was cold, wet, and solitary. Perfect for reflection and dissipating my harsh feelings toward how things had transpired.(No matter how hard I tried to deny it, I find it hard to dispel the notion that, for some reason, my social life has gone to hell since last summer. Life.)

When I arrived at the ball park it was still drizzling out. I parked my bike and headed into the park. By pure dumb luck my seats were covered by the third tier of the stadium. As the rain fitfully ended, the wind picked up. Straight into my face. I ate some food and drank some water and hoped for kindness from the weather gods. They were apparently busy with something else. I really needed some hot coffee but settle on a craft lager from the stand next to my seat. It tasted bitter and a bit nasty but it took my mind off my clammy discomfort.

Going to a baseball game alone is a roll of the social dice. You could sit next to nice people or drunken jackasses. (My father took us to a game at the old Yankee Stadium back in the post-Mantle era. The place was a wreck. To our right a spectator walked down the aisle, took a big swig of his beer and spit it in the face of a man seated on the aisle. A nasty, comically drunken brawl broke out. We thought it was far more entertaining than the game. My dad was not of the same opinion.)

To my right was a father and son. Dad was a total baseball nerd who yelled things at the players despite the futility of sitting so far from the field. His son, who was at least 21 judging by the beer he had, was ignorant of the rules or the strategy of the game. To my left a family sat. They were rather on the larger side of human. They appeared to have purchase one of every item in the food court. The teenage girl to my immediate left sat shivering in gym shorts. Her parents later bought her an official Washington Nationals unislipper (you put both feet in it to stay warm). What will they think of next. In front of me were three season ticket holders who seemed like quite pleasant adults. It was an interesting slice of humanity and I considered myself lucky to be seated where I was.

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Except for the wind. The Nationals sprung out to a 2-0 lead. Their pitcher, Tanner Roark, was having a stellar day. He struck out 15 Twins in 7 innings without giving up a run. The Twins looked absolutely hapless at the plate. The Nats threatened but never crossed the plate again. They didn’t need to. They won 2-0. I even got to boo Jonathan Papelbon, our social-pond-scum closer.

The winds died down after a few innings but the sun and the warmth didn’t materialize until the game was nearly over. I walked out of the ballpark and the sun hit me. It was ten degrees warmer in the sunlight. Dang.

I hopped on my bike and celebrated with a tail-wind assisted ride home. The only downside to the ride was the traffic mind field of Old Town Alexandria. Cars and bike and pedestrians (but, to be honest, mostly cars) were moving about at random. I actually feared for my safety and was glad to be through the half-mile stretch unscathed.

When I got home I reflected on the game, the social mess that precipitated it, and the bike ride. I was glad I didn’t respond to my friend’s message. I would have Papelboned our friendship for sure.

With sunny skies forecasted for Sunday, I decided to buy a ticket to today’s game. I’ll be sitting near left field. In the sun. Maybe I’ll even drink a lemonade.

 

Tell Tale Signs

The tell tale sign of Christmas is the arrival of Christmas decorations. There’s a house down the street from me that lit up, albeit in purple, one of its trees in October. I’ve seen outdoor trees on display elsewhere. Then there was that Corona Beer Christmas ad on TV last night. Nothing says Christmas like beer that tastes like skunk pee.

The tell tale sign that the good weather days are behind us is a cold, rainy day. I grew up in upstate New York when cold rainy days were the norm in October and November. There’s no way to sugar coat it, cold rainy days suck. Unless you have the right clothing.

I have the right clothing. (You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?)

So out I went at 7:10 on Little Nellie. I was quite comfortable under my Marmot Precip rain gear. Over the weekend I bought some neoprene covers for the front of my shoes. Somewhat unexpectedly they kept my shoes dry. I dug out my old Novara (the REI house brand) rain gloves. These suckers are long, they go well up my forearm and have a cinching cord in the wrist. The rain was even kind enough not to turn into a deluge for the commute. My only problem was seeing. Water on my glasses made navigation a bit of an annoyance. Lucky for me, there was hardly anybody else on the Mount Vernon Trail.

Tonight I expected less of the same, the rain having supposedly moved through the area. A brisk tailwind made the ride a, forgive the expression, breeze. It wasn’t a breeze for a bike commuter on the boardwalk at the TR Bridge. He was coming down from the bridge when he hit his brakes to avoid a turning cyclist. Thud. He was down on his side in a split second. He popped up and started walking his bike. He said he was okay so I pedaled homeward. It was seriously dark the whole way. In Belle Haven Park I saw two lights in the leaves next to the trail. Next thing I knew a racoon was running across the trail in front of me. He bounded up onto a tree trunk and scurried up the tree. The rest of the ride home involved not falling on the wet leaves. I succeeded.

Tomorrow is a whole ‘nother story. The forecast is calling for temperatures in the low to mid 20s with strong headwinds. This is the kind of weather we get in late January. I am prepared to wear everything I’ve got for the ride. I’m going all Charlie Brown. If I fall off my bike, I’ll just lie there on the ground like a felled tree.

Or I’ll drive.

The Weatherman Loses

The weatherman was in full panic mode last night. Send, lawyers, guns, and money mode. I planned on driving to work for the first time since June. When I woke up at 5:30, I could see I had been duped. The temperature was 38. The ground was dry. I packed up all my cares and woes, including my anvil of a laptop, and headed out on The Mule.

I was dressed perfectly. It might as well have been a morning in June. Except for an occasional sprinkle my waterproof gear went untested.

I started to worry a bit at lunchtime. The temperature had dropped. Would their be icing on the trail at night?

I left work at 5:15 into a steady rain. I avoided all the metal grates on Lynn Street and carefully made my way to the Mount Vernon Trail. It looked slick so I took my time. It soon became apparent that ice would not be a problem. Rain drops on my glasses were. Humongous puddles were. But no ice. And lucky for me, no wind either. I cruised home seeing only a handful of other people on the trail. The rain and the quiet made for a very calm, meditative ride.

A man was walking his dog in the rain next to the stone bridge a couple of miles from home. He yelled out, “Biking in the rain is hardcore!” I responded, “Yeah!” Loquacious, aren’t I?

The fallen leaves must have been clogging up the storm drains. I slalomed big, deep puddles the rest of the way home. I pulled into home with a smile on my face. Panic? Moi? Surely you jest.

Final score: Rootchopper 1, Weatherman 0.

Radar Love

Bike tourists love maps. They pour over them before their trips and imagine lovely country roads with barns and cows and Mail Pouch tobacco signs. They don’t give much thought to steep hills and dogs while doing this because it’s all about imaging the perfect tour. On my 2003 tour from Indiana to DC, I carried an absurd number of maps, most of which I mailed home after a few days.

Bike commuters are radar junkies. Today, the forecast was for afternoon storms. If you’re going to slog through puddles and mud, you ought to be riding a mule. So, The Mule got the call. The morning ride was enjoyable with a nice tailwind and warm temperatures.

At noon, I checked the radar. I kept checking it throughout the afternoon. I was stuck in a meeting in my boss’s office but he has a nice few to the north and west. The skies looked pretty ominous. From 3:30 on I kept refreshing the radar on my computer. I wasn’t getting a whole lot of work done, so I packed up my bags at 4:30, a little earlier than usual, and headed out. My last radar check showed that the heavy rain was a couple miles west and north.

I didn’t factor in the delay in posting the radar. I hit the street with a reflective vest and my head and tail lights shining. The rain had just begun. I managed to catch a red light and the rain intensified while I waited. By the time I turned onto the Mount Vernon Trail for the ride to the southeast, it was pouring. The raindrops were big and long. They caught the light of my headlight and looked like silvery fish. I was riding through bait.

Within a mile I was completely soaked. Once you’re wet, you’re wet. You might as well keep riding, that way you’ll at least stay warm.

It was raining so hard that I was actually getting a drink from the water pouring down my face as a I rode. It was a nice bonus, but the nicer bonus was the strong tailwind pushing me down the trail. In fact the only downside to riding in the downpour was the stinging in my eyes. It’s a good idea to wear a cycling cap in rainstorms to keep the water out of your eyes. My cap was back home. One of these days I’ll get around to buying few more.

Riding blind in a down pour isn’t all that dangerous when you know the path ahead. I’ve ridden the Mount Vernon Trail a couple thousand times at least so I wasn’t about to veer off the pavement.

Under the 14th Street bridge, their are three huge downspouts that carry the rain from the roadway above straight down onto the trail. (Proving once again that trail users get no respect.) There was so much water gushing down that the flow of water looked like waterfalls.

As usual, there were several people under the bridge waiting out the storm. Judging from the radar they were in for a long wait.

About 100 yards south of the bridge, the rainfall slowed. The farther south I went, the lighter the rain. In fact, it didn’t pick up again until I was about 1/2 mile from home.

I pulled in to my yard soaked to the bone. My saddle and pants and shoes were all making squishing sounds. Rather than feeling miserable I was chuffed. Sometime after your tenth birthday, you lose track of the fact that playing in the rain is a lot of fun.

No rain tomorrow. My liquid refreshment will be a jumbo coffee at Swings near the White House.

Dedicated

The radar looked favorable. If I timed it right, I could ride to work without getting wet. As Bill Cosby’s Noah once said, “RIGHT!”

It started out as a sprinkle. Since traffic was light I took Fort Hunt Road and the US 1 connector to the Mount Vernon Trail at the beltway. What cars there were gave me plenty of room. Drivers must be in a good mood.

Then the rain started. A little at first, then some more, then still more. Like Noah, I wanted to know “What’s a cubit?”

By the time I reached the airport ten miles into this little adventure, I was sopping wet. Animals were lining up in twos to get on Big Nellie. Voompah, voompah, voompah!

I saw Bob Cannon riding toward the 14th Street Bridge. He was not looking real happy. It’s hard to look happy when your beard is a sponge, I suppose.

I pulled into the garage at work and rolled past the big boss. He’s not actually big, he’s just the top dog. He’s not actually a canine…

He walked past me at the bike rack and, pointing to the puddle of water beneath me and my bike, I said, “Now this is dedication!” He replied, “in some countries, this is grounds for institutionalization.”

Since I was riding in clothes still wet from this morning, the ride home into a humid headwind wasn’t unpleasant. A few miles into the ride, I clicked my odometer. During the morning deluge Big Nellie turned 33.

At the beltway, I caught the light to cross Washington Street so I followed the US 1 connector and rode on Fort Hunt Road. I caught a light at Belle View Boulevard so I took a right and rode up brutal Beacon Hill. For months I have been having trouble with congestion in my lungs, but not today. I huffed and puffed all the way up the hill but there was no wheezing or coughing.  I hope my lung problems are finally gone.

Once I reached the top of the hill, the rest of my ride home was a piece of cake. I even added another short hill for good measure.

So what does a dedicated bike commuter do on a four day weekend?

I ain’t building an ark.