The Mule Turns 45

On the road to Key Largo, this happened. 

The Mule doing business since 1991.

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Come On Baby Ride South

After much gnashing of teeth over the last several days, I was fully intending to switch my bike tour plan to do a big loop up north. DC-Pittsburgh-Erie-Niagara Falls-Burlington (or Albany)-DC. I even bought maps for the Pittsburgh to Erie section.

And I checked the weather. Let’s just say it’s a tad brisker up yonder. And I noticed that the track of Irma is toward Saint Louis. I figured I’d have a better chance of meeting up with Irma’s remnants by riding to Erie than if I followed my original plan. And with hurricane Jose marking time near the Bahamas, it looks like I will get good weather for a least a week if I head south. So south it will be.

I spent the day packing and checking out my bike. My newly installed rear tire had a hop in it. I deflated it and re-seated it. Hopefully that will take care of things. There is a possibility that the rim is messed up. If so, I will literally hear about it when the tire blows off the rim.

Once I re-seated the tire, I loaded up the beast. It’s a lot of stuff. Tent. Sleeping pad. Sleeping sack (a thin sleeping bag), sleeping bag liner, clothes, rain gear. Tools and tubes and a spare tire. Food (granola bars out the wazoo), chargers and batteries and other electronic junk), toiletries and other assorting stuff. Somehow I neglected to find a proper paper journal for recording memorable events. I’ll pick one up tomorrow en route.

That’s right. I leave tomorrow as originally planned. I have no idea how far south I will get. Maybe in 3 weeks the east coast of Florida will be ridable. Maybe not. What’s a bike tour without a little adventure? The worst that could happen is I get to a point like Jacksonville or St. Augustine and have to turn around.

So today I test road the fully loaded Mule. It rides better with a load than without. Don’t ask me how this happens. Also, I installed lower gearing on the beast over a decade ago. I hope they are up to the challenge of the hills over the first four days.

TheMuleLoaded

As is usually the case, I have butterflies in my stomach. They seem to go away after a day.

My tour will be called the No Way So Hey Tour. This is because when my son was a toddler that’s how he said No Way Jose.

 

 

 

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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Warm = More

We’ve had an exceptionally warm start to the year. I have been able to ride outside a lot more than last year when biking was waylayed by a February snow storm. (My wovel sits unused this winter.)

In Februrary I rode The Mule, my Specialized Sequoia touring bike, to work 14 times for a total of 417 miles. My weekend ride was Deets, my Surly Cross Check. I rode 242 1/2 miles on weekends, 240  on the Cross Check and only 2 1/5 on The Mule. Little Nellie remains in dry dock and Big Nellie remains in the basement.  (Anyone want to buy a pre-owned long wheel base recumbent? Accepting offers in the Comments section below.)

So far this year I have commted by bike 27 times, 2 more than last year. My total miles stands at 1,323 1/2 (although 92 miles were on Big Nellie in the basement during an icy spell in January.) That’s 420 more miles than last year which had an extra day.

The Mule is eating up the pavement at 807 1/2 miles. Deets is way behind at 424 miles. In a couple of weeks, The Mule will hit a mileage milestone and be moved to the shed for some R&R. It has completed its winter service with nary a complaint.

Ironically, today I drove to work so I can attend the WABA annual meeting and awards event in the city. Riding home at 9 pm on a Tuesday no longer agrees with my old bones. I am already packed for tomorrow’s bike commute. March comes in like a  Mule around here.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

UP Bike Trip: What Hit Me?

It has been a few days since I finished my bike trip. The short version is I rode 833 miles in 11 days on my 25-year old Specialized Sequoia touring bike. I camped out five nights and moteled five nights. Here are a few random thoughts now that I have had time to reflect:

  • I often talk about what my friend Flogini calls my meditation, that is, when I zone out on my bike commutes. The middle part of this bike trip, roughly from Days 2 through 7, was a rolling meditation retreat. I felt none of the stress of daily life. I didn’t think about work, friends, not-so-friends, family, or any obligations. I only thought about my legs spinning, my lungs breathing, and where The Mule and I were on the Adventure Cycling map segment of the moment. I sang songs, sometimes out loud. I gazed at the lake or the trees or the ferns or the lichens or the critters. I felt at peace. I wish I could bottle the feeling.

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  • Speaking of breathing, I have mild persistent asthma that, when left unattended, can bloom into some serious breathing problems. The air in the north woods of Wisconsin and on the UP of Michigan was incredibly clean. I had no asthma symptoms at all for most of the trip.
  • I entered this ride with worries about whether my 60-year old body could take the stress of so many miles (and three ferry rides) in so few days on a conventional (non-recumbent) bike. I even padded my schedule with a 12th day to be sure. Unlike tours in my younger years, I didn’t become noticeably stronger during this tour. This may be because the last three days were the hilliest and had the most consistent headwinds. I am now confident that I can ride 60-mile days on end, which is to say, as far as my bike will take me.
  • Last year I told Mike, a.k.a Rattlingfender on Twitter, that I needed a new touring bike because mine was 24-years old. He scoffed and said that the fact that I am still riding The Mule means that it is a reliable machine. Mike was right. Even after 25 years and over 41,000 miles, The Mule abides.
  •  I had relatively few physical problems.
    • My left tricep started hurting after about a week. This is because I am right handed. I would take pictures or eat with my right hand leaving my left hand to steer The Mule. The stress took a toll on my upper arm.
    • My bottom was not happy at all. Despite my trusty Brooks Champion saddle with its cushioning springs, the flesh where my inner right leg met my pelvic area was super sore most of the last week. It’s a guy thing. It has to do with how my personal parts interact with the nose of the saddle. I had to consciously twist my seating position to the right on the last three days. I don’t quite know how to fix this in the future but I will need to figure it out. It’s a bit like a swimmer needing to learn to breath from both sides.
    • I can’t sleep worth a damn in a tent. Sleep is incredibly important when you are riding so many miles.
  • It took me a full day to stop thinking about my speed once I turned south into the headwinds on the lower peninsula. When touring on Big Nellie, I used to cover the speedometer with my map. Unless you are adhering to a strict schedule (which I do not recommend), forget about speed and miles. Just ride with the flow of the day. A good example was Day 9 when I ate dinner in Traverse City. After dinner I had renewed energy and the weather was absolutely perfect for riding, so I reeled off another 18 miles.
  • As much as I hate sleeping in a tent, I love the flexibility that having camping gear along for the ride affords me. Without camping gear, I probably would not have added the 18 after-dinner miles, but I knew there was a campground a mile beyond Suttons Bay so I went for it.
  • Trail angels are the best.
    • The folks in the bar in Wrightsville, Wisconsin who served me three ice cold beers in frosted mugs. For $1 each.
    • The  man at the gas station in Freedom who pointed me to Rico’s diner where I had mass quantities of food for breakfast on the Fourth of July.
    • The retired truck driver and his friend who helped me out at the campground in Tilleda Falls, Wisconsin. And the other camper who gave me a huge bag of shrink wrapped trail mix.
    • The Little Pine Motel owner in Hiles, Wisconsin who handed me a bottle of ice cold water, then a can of ice cold beer when I checked in.
    • The westbound tourist who told me about the campground at Lake Pentoga, Michigan.
    • The three bike shop people who fixed my rear hub at Mr. Bike  in Escanaba, Michigan while I waited.
    • The two gas station clerks who practically pulled me out of the pouring rain in Manistique, Michigan.
    • The pizza shop workers and customers who gave me so much encouragement in Naubinway, Michigan.
    • Toby, the man who explained the Bliss Festival to me, over lunch at a gas station picnic table near Bliss, Michigan.
    • The folks at the Bahnhof Sport Shop in Petosky who stayed open on a Sunday evening and replaced my broken pedal.
    • The campground manager at the Wild Cherry Resort near Suttons Bay, Michigan who also stayed open to get me situated in a campsite.
    • Holly and Kristen who gave me much info about the biking and moteling in and around Arcadia, Michigan.
  • I am still flabbergasted by the size of food portions in Northern Wisconsin. Cheeseheads can pack it away!
  • Accents were a pleasant surprise. I went from “Da Beahs” to “Fargo” to “Hosers” in the course of the first week. Eh.
  • I had read an account of a bike tourists who rode across the UP on US 2. He really felt uncomfortable with the logging trucks blowing by him. Now that I have ridden to work twice since returning and I’ll take logging trucks over the drivers of DC any day.

Errands and Bunnies

I don’t feel good. I think the emergence of pollen has caused major bodily malfunction. I will feel fine in a week. Until then I will be moving around in a daze and my tummy will hurt.

All of which is no excuse to skip running errands on my bike.

I began the day driving to the bike store (not a qualifying errand) to pick up The Mule after its 40,000 mile maintenance. It feels like a new bike. The wheels and pedals turn freely. The brakes make it stop. Bring The Mule home gave me a happy face. Thanks to the folks at Spokes Etc. in Belle Haven, my local bike shop, for taking care of my baby.

Once I got home and put all the bags and doodads back on The Mule, I took off on Little Nellie to buy some drugs. I bought some awesome windowpane and som25234599180_7aca9ab239_me truly righteous weed from my local dealer named Cosmo.

Actually, that’s a lie. I rode Little Nellie 1 1/2 miles to the Rite Aid to buy my asthma medicine. So much for my exciting life. Lungs gotta breathe. I nearly had a heart attack when the pharmacist charged me $200. All last year, inexplicably, the same medicine had been free. I honestly don’t mind paying but the inconsistency adds yet another layer to my bewilderment with the health care and health insurance industries in this country.

After riding 25235709060_4e25063c91_mhome, I changed into my hiking boots and rode Little Nellie to Spokes for some TLC. I was expecting to walk home, but Chris, the mechanic at Spokes had other ideas. Little Nellie’s rear shifting sucks. It has sucked for a couple of years. I replaced the cable and housing a few months ago to no avail. So I was all set to buy a new derailleur and shifters. Chris said that my derailleur worked fine but my shifter was toast. He looked up shifters on their on-line catalogue and could only find expensive Shimano Dura-Ace shifters to work with my 9 speed cassette. Then he found a part that cost $10 that might solve the problem. We agreed that I would swing by on my way home from work and they’d swap the part out.

Instead of hiking home I rode. I was not feeling well at all. My belly feels like its going to explode and my head felt like I was stoned. I made the ride home in o24912322314_c12863a9d5_mne piece.

Then I took a two hour nap.

I woke up just before nightfall. Mrs. Rootchopper and I drove into DC to check out the giant inflatable bunny rabbits in Yards Park. All I can say is artists sure have strange minds. Judging from the smiles of all the people milling about I’d say we could use some more of this whimsicality in our lives. Here are some bunny pictures.

Errandonnee Control Card Entries

Errand No. 2

Category: Personal Care

Miles: 3

Observation: Why is health care such a confusing mess in this country?

Errand No.3

Category: Bike Shop

Miles: 8 1/2

Observation: I am so grateful to have a good bike shop (Spokes Etc.) near my home, There are many more (Papillon, Bicycle Space, Wheel Nuts, CityBikes to name a few) within a 20 mile radius). If you want to have nice things like a good local bike shop, you need to give them your patronage.