Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bike Commute 95: I Don't Wanna Climb

The fall event riding season fast approaches and despite logging a gajillion miles this year I am feeling woefully slow and old.  And that's before I get on my bike. A summer of too many Yeunglings, I'm afraid.

One of the fall events is the Hell of the Mid-Atlantic.  This ride is officially called the 50 States Ride  The route careens around the District of Columbia like a drunk with the whirlies.  It's a concept ride.  Roads bearing the names of all 50 states in all 8 wards of the city are included.  Only in DC is Rhode Island big and Texas tiny.  It's actually a very clever 63-mile route mapped out by the Chief Masochist at the Washington Area Bicyclists Association . As you do the ride you go to every nook and cranny in the city.  It really gives you an appreciation for the economic, social, ethnic, and topographical diversity of the city. 

Did I mention topography?  Let me put it this way.  DC is a lot hillier than you think.  And at the bottom of every hill is a red light.  So when you do this ride you pretty much start climbing hill after hill after hill from a dead stop.  I am once again doing this ride with my friends Jeff and Florencia. Jeff is a triathlete.  He is nice enough to go slow so that he can chat with me while I am gasping for air.  He drinks fruit smoothies during rides. Florencia is a rock climber who also does acroyoga. Basically she is unaware that gravity is a law of nature. She climbs hills on a bike like a spider on a wall. I climb hills on a bike like a bison with lumbago. I am thinking of bringing a lasso and throwing it around her on Kansas Avenue so that she can tow me to the top. She only eats almonds during rides.

This is all to say that I decided the other day that I should add a hill or two to my commute so that I can prepare for this joyful event.  I read somewhere that Beacon Hill is the biggest hill between DC and Richmond.  I doubt that this is true but it is a challenging climb.  And since it is a ridgeline you can climb it on a variety of streets. Today I chose the most direct route, Park Terrace Drive. I have no idea what the elevation gain is but it takes me 5 minutes to get up this bitch.  (There are a half dozen nearby streets that go even higher up and are steeper but I will leave them til next week.)

As I was coming home I enjoyed the flat, calm and scenic ride along the Potomac for 12 miles. 

Ah, the Mercifully Flat River
As if to get me revved up for the hill to come, I had to cross the George Washington Parkway at rush hour. The Park Service cleverly place a traffic island in the middle of the road so I could wait for 10 of 20 thousand speeding cars to rush by.  Without this island I'd either still be out there waiting or lying on the side of the road with the rest of the flattened critters.

I made it across thanks to an act of God. Then I hit the hill. I swear it's a big hill. See, can't you tell.

Hey, wait. That looks easy.  Damned camera. Try this picture instead.

Okay. So maybe it doesn't look like much of a hill, I can assure you that cameras can be deceiving.

I figure if I ride this every day for three weeks, I'll be in great shape to tackle Alabama Avenue SW.  Sadly there is another 50 miles of hills after that.  I may end up dead on the road in Anacostia but I'll be damned if I'm going to my grave with a fruit smoothie and a fistful of almonds in my belly.  If you put your ear next to my mouth, you'll no doubt hear me say, "Ice cold Yeungling" just before I die.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bike Commute 93: Hurricane Irene Is No Match for My Sequoia

Irene thought she was tough. She thought she could keep me from riding to work. She was wrong, so wrong. This tree is no match for the powers of the Sequoia. Bwa Ha Ha!

Actually, in the interest of truthiness, the Sequoia and I squeezed under the tree on the right side of this picture. I am might glad this big boy didn't come down when I was riding the trail. It is the second tree to fall in this area of the trail (just north of the Slater's Lane apartment tower) in the last couple of years. The other tree was even bigger. (I had to climb over that one.)

To their credit the National Park Service was out with their clean up crews today. They had this bad boy chopped down to size and cleared away for the evening commute.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene Aftermath

Irene Aftermath by Rootchopper
Irene Aftermath, a photo by Rootchopper on Flickr.
Irene was a massive storm and the winds during the overnight hours had us all worried, especially after we lost power at 2 am. I went out in the morning to assess the damage and this was it. A section of a crummy old fence had blown over. Hopefully the crew that demolishes my deck tomorrow will cart this off with that debris.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Just Another Bike Commute: Not!

It started out like any other day. I rode my bike along the Potomac River with a nice tailwind.  It being Friday and a day on which my calendar at work was empty, I didn't go very fast.,  When I arrived in DC I figured I could take a few minutes to check out the newest (although officially still unopened) monument.  The Martin Luther King Memorial is nicely designed.  The man himself is carved out of a giant block o'rock like some sort of Mount Rushmore in miniature.  He looks out over the Tidal Basin more or less toward the memorial to that noted slave owner Thomas Jefferson.

Some think it is odd that the King Monument is carved from white stone instead of black.  I think it is a good choice because otherwise it would look like Boba Fett had frozen King in carbonite a la Han Solo at the end of the Empire Strikes Back (by far the best of the Star Wars movies, by the way.) 

The memorial includes some stone walls that showcase some of Dr. King's inspiring words.  I couldn't see much of them because the Park Service had erected an attractive chain link fence to keep me from enjoying the memorial too much.  I am sure there is some deep meaning in the fence keeping me from fully appreciating the memorial.  I trust they will remove it soon.

Having escaped the imaginary clutches of Jobba the Hutt using my frame pump as a light saber, I made it to work with 15 minutes to spare. Tailwinds are grand.

The ride home took on a quite different flavor.  It was super muggy and  a steady wind was in my face.  Preparations for the arrival of hurricane Irene were visible here and there.  The tennis bubble in East Potomac Park had been deflated.  I think this is a shame because I've always wanted to see what one of those suckers looks like when it is airborne. Oh well, another time.  As it is, it looks like a giant came along and was preparing to fold his bed linens.

In Old Town Alexandria, the shop keepers on Union Street had spent the day preparing for the usual flood.  Union Street is one block from the Potomac and it sits at the base of a hill down which storm water cascades. Basically it's a mess every time we have a big storm or a snow melt.  The first floor of the Virginia Store, which sells stuff made in and about Virginia, is several steps below the sidewalk. These folks were nearly wiped out when hurricane Isabel came through a few years ago.  This time they moved all their wares to the second floor BEFORE the storm arrived.  .  
Across the street the Firehook Bakery took advantage of the sandbags provided by the city.  This is pretty typical for shops along this street.  I hope it does some good.

For many years one of my favorite book and music stores, Ollson's, occupied two stories at the corner of Union Street and Wales Alley. killed them and the property was recently renovated into a spiffy looking saloon.  Having spent several hundred thousand dollars on the endeavor, the owners (who own several other Old Town establishments well away from the river) faced Irene with tongue firmly in cheek.  Their plastic, sandbag and plywood barricades posted signs of wit and whimsy. (Okay, that's the last time I use "whimsy" in this blog.)

If you're facing an utterly miserable couple of days, you might was well go with the flow, so to speak, and have fun. This saloon is throwing a hurricane watch party. Let's hope the revelers have dry feet when the party ends.

I arrived home to find this interesting looking gizmo in my backyard. We are having our deck replaced and the work was supposed to start tomorrow.  That's been postponed until next week in deference to the wrath of Irene, which augers well for the project. (Sorry,  I couldn't help myself.)

Good luck all you East Coasters.  Let's hope Irene is as interesting and innocuous as the Mineral Virginia earthquake earlier this week.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bike Commute 91: Earthquake Detour

Gadsby's Tavern, a colonial era building is at the far end of this block on the left. Alexandria City Hall is on the end of this block on the right. Both were reported to have been damaged by the recent 5.8 earthquake and strong aftershock in the early morning hours today.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rise of the Velomobiles

Charmaine and the Normal Bikes
Most people don't know what a velomobile. And most of those who do think they are big, heavy little Fred Flinstone-mobiles that you pedal if you live in the Netherlands - which apparently means Pool Table Land in English.

To dispel these ignorant notions, an event showcasing velomobiles came to Portland Oregon in July.  Roll over America was a coast-to-coast velocade.  Basically, a whole mess of velomobiles lit out from Portland with the grand ambition of arriving in Washington DC in about a month's time.  And they did it.

My friend Charmaine persuaded me to join her in greeting the velomobiles as they entered DC. After waiting around for an hour at the finish line at the Georgetown University Hotel, we rolled downhill to the intersection of the Key Bridge and M Street NW in Georgetown.  We waited another 20 minutes and were about to give up when, one by one,  a steady stream of velomobiles of all colors and designs came in to view.

We rode over to Wisconsin Avenue to get a closer look and were delighted to see one velomobile after another cruise up from M Street.  The riders were clearly punped up as they rode the final mile of their cross country trek. After taking several pictures, Charmaine and I mounted our trusty steeds and gave chase.  I was expecting the velomobiles to crawl up the hill to Reservoir Road.  If the riders were laboring from their efforts they showed no signs of it.

The velocade turned on to Reservoir and finished by riding straight into the Georgetown University Hotel parking garage.  Then down several levels they went until they arrived at four nondescript parking spaces.  Here they came to rest with riders hoping out of their machines.  A couple of young women stood with us and the riders taking pictures.  They had ridden down to Georgetown from Bethesda on the Capital Crescent Trail to catch a glimpse of the show. They arrived at Key Bridge just as the first velos came of the Key Bridge.

Bethesda Velo Groupies

I Felt Like I Was Part of the Velo Borg at This Light

Roll over America Finalists

We all enjoyed congratulating the velo riders and taking copious pictures of the finale.  Fantastic job to all the participants and their support crew.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

What a beautiful day.  As a bike commuting day this was an eleven.  This time of year is prime commuting weather.  In retrospect it was quite similar to the weather ten years ago when a perfect day turned into madness.

I left home a little late and thought I had a 9 am meeting so I put the hammer down.  I NEVER do this but I needed to get to work fast.  I was really feeling my oats, despite a 10 mph headwind.  For about four miles I followed this guy in a red shirt.  Here he is on the right with a rider passing both of us about six miles from my office.  Just look at that sky! It was heaven out there.

Just before 2 pm, the day took a very unexpected change. I was sitting at my desk on the eighth floor of my office at L'Enfant Plaza when my desk started undulating.  Since the desk weighs a good 300 pounds one of two thing could explain this. Either somebody had set off a very quiet bomb in the building or we were having an earthquake.  This is my second big earthquake.  The first one was the Gilroy quake of 1979. I was working in San Francisco then so it was not unexpected. But a 5.8 quake in DC is unheard of. Few events make you feel more helpless than an earthquake. Unless you are in a plane, you basically have nowhere you can go to satisfy your flight instinct.  Of course, our building - and every other building around - was evacuated. I learned this by looking out the window.  No announcement was made inside.  (I do believe somebody is going to be in hot water for that.)

L'Enfant Plaza is not the ideal place to be when an earthquake hits. For starters it is built on mud flats. To add to the fun, the roadway in front of our building is actually a bridge and it is not in very good shape. After about 30 minutes we were allowed back inside to get our belongings and leave for the day.  I lucked out and rode the elevator to my office before they were shut down for the day.

The ride home was nothing short of splendid.  Puffy little clouds drifting by, a nice cooling breeze, and a tailwind all the way home.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bike Commute 87: Morning and Evening

I ride to work every day on the Mount Vernon Trail. I normally see a dozen or so people that I call my regulars. The 40 something runner with the odd hop in his stride, the smiling woman cyclists always headed in the opposite direction, the guy with a single speed bike who commutes miles and miles in his street clothes all year long. Lately I have been seeing a homeless man in the morning. I imaging he sleeps overnight in Dyke Marsh, far from the eyes of the authorities.  His clothing is little more than rags. Last week he wore cutoff trousers for shorts. They had long tears in them through which you could see the white of his behind. He's always heading north.  Alone.

 On the way home I was fighting a strong head wind. After 6 miles or so, I rode over a long boardwalk. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted something along the edge of the marsh grass.  It was a heron with a tiny fish in its beak.  The fish was slightly larger than a poker chip.  He seemed to have trouble ingesting it. I left him to his repast and headed off for home.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bike Commute 85: Little Nellie and the Mystery Post

Did you ever get the feeling that someone is watching you? Little Nellie does. Especially when she spots a monitoring device along the trail. I've never seen this gizmo emit a light. And I have never seen anyone go near it. It just sits there observing. Taking count. Probably making us safe from bike trail terrorists. Don't you feel better now? Just wait until I show you the mystery building in East Potomac Park. Sitting there behind a tall fence. Why? Don't ask. Never ask. It's for your own good.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bike Commute 83: Jamey Turner Plays Mozart

Every so often I stop on my way home from work and check out the street performers in Old Town Alexandria. Jamey Turner has been playing his glass harp now for as long as I can recall. If you haven't heard him, check him out on YouTube. He's an original.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bike Commute 81: Bonanza NPS

Last night as I was passing by the Jefferson Memorial, three park police officers came clip clopping up the street on their steeds. Can you tell which one is Hoss? Mounted police around these parts is pretty commonplace. I think they add a nice touch to daily grind here in DC.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bike Commute 80: Trash on the Trail

Pet peeve number 632: using the bike trail as a trash can. This usually happens on the Case Bridge near my office but tonight somebody decided to throw a bunch of junk onto the 14th Street Bridge bike path. Let's see how long it takes for this mess to get cleaned up.

Bike Commute 80: Bike and Rinse

On a muggy morning the last thing you want is to arrive at work all sweaty. That's why the National Park Service offers its new Potomac River rinse for cyclists using Ohio Drive in East Potomac Park. Be careful, signs warn passersby not to drink the water.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A New Way North

The last several years have seen an amazing number of road construction projects around these parts.  Today I cobbled together a new route from Mount Vernon to DC that barely used the Mount Vernon Trail.  This is welcome news to those of us who hate the trail on summer weekends when it becomes incredibly congested with volksmarchers, rollerbladers, runners, little kids on bikes, etc. 

The New Road to Crystal City
From home I took Fort Hunt Road (not the most bike friendly road, I'll admit) to US 1.  Then I took the new bike path from US 1 to South Washington Street.  Instead of crossing the street and picking up the Mount Vernon Trail to DC, I turned left and picked up South Columbus Street. I rode this and South Alfred Street all the way to the north end of Old Town Alexandria where I picked up US 1 again for a half mile.  After using the a new side path to cross over the railroad tracks that Amtrak uses, I picked up a bike trail along a new road that goes straight north all the way to Crystal City.  I picked up Clark Street beyond Crystal City which took me to Boundary Channel Drive.

Then I crossed over into Lady Bird Johnson Park and picked up the Mount Vernon Trail at the Humpback Bridge. 

Big Nellie on the Bridge to LBJ Park
After visiting LBJ's memorial, I followed some signs to get back to the Mount Vernon Trail.

LBJ Rock. Note the Resemblance to the Man Himself

They Even Put Up Signs
The trail under the bridge emerges directly across from the monuments in DC.  Pretty nifty how that all worked out.

The Jefferson Memorial Is Directly across the River
All in all a pretty cool new route into town.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Zach and Nick on Tour

Zach and Nick on Tour by Rootchopper
Zach and Nick on Tour, a photo by Rootchopper on Flickr.
I always try to stop and chat with the bike tourists I encounter around DC. Like many of these tourists Zach and Nick are riding the East Coast bike route. (You can get maps that guide you from Bar Harbor ME to Key West FL.) A few years back I happened on Nancy Wright, a teacher from Vermont who was riding the perimeter of the lower 48 US states!

From personal experience I know that encounters such as this one are very reassuring and helpful. And if you happen to be near and ice cream shop, buy them a cone. You can get a good miles to the scoop.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Better Late than Never

The DC area sees more than its share of violent storms.  Unfortunately, the bad weather takes its toll on the beautiful old trees along the Mount Vernon Trail.  Three years ago a storm took out a tree that stood directly alongside the trail just south of Dyke Marsh.  The tree was uprooted and fell away from the trail but its root ball ripped up a big chunk of the trail.  This sort of thing isn't the end of the world. Most trail users could get around the wreckage without too much trouble most of the time. Little Nellie had no trouble posing for this picture. 

Usually the National Park Service gets this kind of damage cleaned up and repaired in a matter of days. This area of the trail is especially scenic.  (One of the two bald eagle nests is located about a quarter mile south of this point.  It is all but impossible to see in the summer when the trees are full of leaves.)  For some reason the Park Service didn't bother fixing this.  They put up and orange traffic cone and forgot about it.  Until last week when Big Nellie and I came through the area and were surprised to see the trail repaired.

If you look closely you can see the patch in the trail just in front of Nellie. 

Better late than never, I suppose. Thanks to the folks at the National Park Service for maintaining the trail. Without it, my ride to work wouldn't be nearly as fun.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Go Speed Racer Go

I am getting old. Summer is passing me by. Life is for living. And all that stuff...

I took the day off from work because any day on a bike is better than a day at work.  Any day, even that sucky day when my bike self destructed in the rain on the GAP trail near Rockwood PA in 2003.  On top of that I was sick as a dog.  Still beats work.

Now if only I could figure out how to get paid to ride instead of doing economics.  Okay, right there may be the problem. There are very, very few days when doing economics qualifies as exciting.  In fact, if you meet someone who finds economics exciting, you should back away slowly.  Then when he or she is not looking, make your escape. Don't look back.

The only thing worse than an intellectually stimulated economist is an accountant pondering contingent liabilities. You can only imagine the dread I feel when I encounter this phenomenon at work.  Yes, it is that kind of workplace that drove me to take today off.

So I rode from my house down to Occoquan Va on the aptly named Occoquan River.  The local folk down there are mighty clever, aren't they.  The town is only a few blocks long and qualifies as quaint.  Not seeing any food or drink to my liking I decided to follow US Bike Route 1 south in search of food.  The hill out of Occoquan is a real beast.  I was riding Nellie, my recumbent, and spinning my fanny off just to stay upright and maintain my speed which was wavering between 3 and 4 miles per hour. 

Well, I didn't find any decent food.  The Mickey Ds I stopped out did have air conditioning and free refills on drinks. (They definitely lost money on me.)

Did I mention the ride was hilly. Yessir, I think I broke 30 miles per hour a dozen times.  And on one rather terrifying decent near the Lorton landfill I looked down and saw my odometer passing through 40 miles per hour. It was fascinating and I would have kept watching it except I didn't much want to die today.  When  I got home I checked the maximum speed recorded on the bike computer. Here it is:
This is the third time in two days that I've broken the 40 mile per hour barrier.  Even on my long wheel base recumbent, 40 miles per hour is pushing the limits of sanity.  Lord knows, if I ever get Nellie over 50 I may shave to wear Depends.  Like I said, I'm getting old.