Electric Socks and Blueberry Soup

Today was the last Vasa ride ever. Vasa is the first bike event on my #bikedc ride calendar each year. It was begun as a collaboration between the Washington Area Bicyclists Association and the Swedish Embassy. This year the Swedes decided to discontinue their participation so WABA teamed with REI to do one last ride.

The Vasa Ride is inspired by the Vasaloppet 90 kilometer cross country ski event in Sweden. The event is testimony to the fact that, by the end of winter, Swedes go mad.

The full Vasa ride is 100 km, about 62 miles. For mere mortals there are shorter distances. As usual, I did the Halvasan (the Half Vasa).

The Vasa ride is not to be confused with the Vasa ship, named after a Swedish king. The Vasa ship was an ancient wooden warship that sunk on its first trip out of Stockholm. It was the king’s dream ship. Alas, it was dangerously top heavy as it was designed with two levels of cannons high above the waterline. During the short maiden trip, crosswinds tipped it over and it sank. Derp.

The Vasa warship was recovered and reconstructed in 1961. It is on display in a museum in Stockholm. This was one big, ornate boat. If you ever go to Stockholm it’s worth the trip.

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Because the rides today began at the REI store in northeast DC instead of the Swedish embassy, the routes were redesigned. I have done the old half Vasa route probably 15 times so I needed a change.

Like the old route, the new Half Vasa route headed out toward Great Falls. Instead of continuing past the Washington Beltway to Potomac, Maryland, it turned north to Bethesda. After a pit stop in downtown Bethesda, the route continued through Chevy Chase to get to Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park. The ride through the park lead back to the city and included a detour. The detour required a climb away from Beach Drive at the bottom of the park. The windy (in both senses of the word) descent back to Beach Drive was the highlight of the ride. The route left the park and climbed through Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights. (Note the references to high ground.) It continued due east, around a  massive medical complex, past the Basilica, and ultimately back to REI by way of the mercifully flat Metropolitan Branch Trail.

I rode 16 miles into a sometimes rainy, cold headwind to get to the start. I decided to try the electric socks that Mrs. Rootchopper gave me for Christmas. They might have worked okay but I had turned on the power to only my right leg. Derp again. (Later I corrected this. They kept my calves warm but my toes would have been better off with chemical warmers and decent wool socks.)

I rode with Michael B., Friday Coffee Club’s scuba expert. Michael and I have done a couple of Fifty States Rides together. He’s a very powerful rider which is to say, I have a hard time keeping up with him. Peter and Todd (I’m guessing at this name) rounded out our quartet. Unfortunately, plans to include my 50 States Ride partner Emilia in the festivities fell through. Te extranamos, amiga. Hasta pronto.

As the ride progressed the temperature dropped. We had some conversational sleet followed by some conversational snow. The former was a little painful. The latter was just plain pretty.

At the rest stop at the halfway point we ran into Joe. I don’t know when I met him but he always has to remind me of his name. Maybe cold bike rides cause brain malfunctions. I’ll ask Klarence the next time she psychoanalyzes me.

Joe and his friend more or less joined our quartet. We stayed together until Beach Drive where the light car traffic induced Peter and Todd to zoom off the front. Michael patiently waited for me as I slogged up the hills.

Medical Note: Although I slogged up the hills, my lungs were functioning just fine, unlike last summer. It just happens that I truly suck at hill climbing.

As mentioned above, a detour resulted in a climb leading to a twisting, bumpy down hill that woke my ass right up. Actually, I carried way too much speed into the first couple of turns and had to bear down so as not to catch a crack in the pavement or go careening off into the trees. Michael seemed born to descend.

Once we left the park, the ride became more urban. Michael nearly mated with a city bus in Columbia Heights. (The distance between the bus and Michael could have been measured in inches.)

The ride back on the Met Branch Trail felt like we were sailing. All the hard work had been done. On to the soup!

The blueberry soup was plenty hot and hit the spot.

This ride was the fact that it was like old home week. During the day I ran into Steve, Erin, Kevin W., Dan, Jeff and Sam, Judd and Josephine, Cyrus, Kristin, two Elizabeths, and one Grace. (And I’m probably leaving someone out.)

At REI I ran into Lisa with whom I’ve done countless rides. Lisa is the official Taiko drummer and flutist of Friday Coffee Club.

Before leaving the store, I ended up talking camping and running and cycling with Grace for probably 30 minutes. The long talk allowed me to stiffen up for my re-emergence into the cold outside,

I rode home 17 miles, taking an indirect course to avoid the tourist throngs at the Tidal Basin and the cherry blossom festival. Once in Virginia, a tailwind took over. I fell into a trance, and allowed my mind to think of nothing but food. Near Gravelly Point Park I passed two women walking. One said “Hi John” as I went by. I have no idea who it was. I could have hallucinated this.

Once in the door at home, I ate all the things. 63 cold miles in the books.

Thanks to WABA, REI, and all the volunteers that made this a resounding success.

Adjo, Vasa.

 

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Shopping for My Bike Tour

I am in pretty good shape in terms of gear for my bike tour. I don’t plan on cooking so I don’t have to bring a stove or a pot and that sort of stuff. There are a few things I know I need and one that I might experiment with.

  • Panniers: I have been using Ortlieb roll top panniers for over ten years. I have big ones for the rear and small ones for the front. They are fantastic. Basically they are a big waterproof bag. I am on my second set of rear panniers and they are starting to leak. I think I bought them less than 5 years ago and am trying to get them replaced under warranty. Not many people use the same panniers day in day out for 200+ days a year like I do. So we’ll see if I can get them for free regardless. Otherwise, I need to buy new ones.

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  • Sleeping pad: I bought a 3/4ths length Thermarest self inflating sleeping pad about 12 years ago. It might be useful for a ten year old but I have never been able to sleep on it. This caused a bit of a problem when you’ve just ridden a tank for 90 miles and you’re body needs rest. My friend Michelle recently did some backpacking in Shenandoah National Park and raved about her REI sleeping pad so I bought one.  It’s more than twice as thick as the Thermarest and it’s 6 feet long. It is a little narrow. I am optimistic. Thanks, Michelle.

  • Mirror: I use a mirror on my recumbent. I really like it. In fact, for a while, I used two but this makes my wingspan a bit too wide for riding on trails as I do around home. The mirror on my recumbent attaches to the end of the handlebar. I can’t do that on The Mule, my touring bike, because it has bar end shifters. So I either have to use a mirror attached to my helmet or some other type. I don’t much like either but the Adventure Cycling Association sells a couple that I might give a tryout to this summer.
  • Tires: I might buy new tires. I usually use Schwalbe Marathons because they are very puncture resistant. They also last a really long time. The front one on The Mule is a Marathon Plus which is more resistant. It probably has 3,000 miles on it. Just to be safe., I will take a folding spare along just in case. (I had a tour ruined by a tire failure.)

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