Thursday, May 31, 2012

May Daze

May is in the bag. It's semi-officially summer. I'm biking my ass off.

I rode 788 miles in May.  My longest ride was 70 miles.  I commuted 16 times. And rode on 9 other days.  I've ridden at least 5 miles every day for the last 20 days.

The Mule, my Sequoia, covered 416 miles and 8 commutes.  Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, bagged 355 miles and 7 commutes.  Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist, got one ride, a commute of 17 miles.

Year to date I've ridden 2,631 miles for a daily average of just over 17.3 miles. I've ridden to work 52 times.  I'm on a pace to ride over 6,300 miles for the year.

Just looking at these numbers makes me tired.  So, I'm going to bed so I can get up early and ride to the Friday Coffee Club tomorrow morning. If it rains, I'll probably go straight to work  Tomorrow evening's forecast calls for the possibility of small tornadoes. (Can Dan Quayle spell tornadoes?) I will ride my smallest bike just to be safe.

Mount Vernon Trail Detour Update

For the past month or so, this detour had a telephone pole right in the middle. It's finally gone. Hopefully, the construction project will be wrapping up soon and the trail will be better than ever. More likely, we will be left with an absurd obstacle course that will contribute to s spate of bicycle accidents until they decide to spend another chunk of money getting this right.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Car Repairs, Bike Repairs, Lock Repairs


Yesterday, my son came home from a week at the beach. Son: “Dad, there’s a problem with the car. Gas comes out the side when I fill the tank.“ Dad: Slaps own forehead. 

Today’s commute began by me stuffing Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist folding bike, into the trunk of the Millennium Falcon (a 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer).  This required some persuasion as the Falcon’s boot isn’t exactly capacious.  (Hey, that’s two obscure words in two days. I’m on a roll.)

I arrived at the car dealer which is high atop a hill in Alexandria city.  The dealer took the car and I took Little Nellie and started to ride.  The chain made a hellacious noise. (I've got chain cooties, I swear.)  I got off, fiddled, noise, got off, fiddled, noise. This just wouldn’t do. I could not figure out why the front derailer was not allowing the chain to move freely.  After about five minutes I finally got the chain moving freely in the middle chain ring and headed down the 1/2 mile hill to Four Mile Run and the bike trail.  Despite the mechanical problem and a chain that seemed to skip at random over the cogs in the rear, I made it to work early.

The dealer called at 10 a.m. to tell me they can’t see anything wrong so, after selling me more repairs (the battery was 5 years old and the air filters were, um, original equipment), I sent them on their telephonic way.

Someone at work needed a parking space.  I didn’t remember the number so I went to the garage to find out. The space was already filled by a trespassing SUV. I got the number for future reference. On my return, I walked by the bike rack and saw Little Nellie’s chain hanging oddly.  I bent over to unlock it and the lock wouldn’t work. Fiddle, diddle, fiddle.  Finally, after several minutes the lock released. 
 
I finally figured out that the trouble with the derailer was caused by my lousy Ortleib handlebar bag which had snagged the front shifter cable.  I took the bag off, freed the cable, problem solved. Now what to do with the lock. Well, I thought about my options and decided it was better to take a chance on not getting the lock off than on having the bike stolen. 

Tonight after some friendly persuasion and a couple of f bombs, I unlocked the bike.  The ride back to the dealer started with 5 miles along the banks of the Potomac River.  In the sun. With a nice breeze. I am so spoiled by my commute.  

At mile 8, I hit the 1/2 mile hill.  I was worrying about this all day. It was gradual with a steep section near the top.  I had no trouble at all with the hill. I normally suck at hill climbing so I was pretty pleased with myself. I briefly considered changing my name to Claudio. In reality I'm a hopeless Phred.

Little Nellie went in the trunk without complaint and we drove home.  

I brought my bike lock into the house intending to set it aside for shipment back to the manufacturer in hopes of a free replacement.  Then it occurred to me that there was a slight chance that the problem wasn't the lock but the key. I dug out the spare key that came with the lock. It worked like a charm.  I did the same thing with my other u-lock. Same result. I looked at the used keys and noticed significant wear that caused the teeth of the key to have rounded edges - not unlike a worn cog on a bike.

Looks like I am keeping the lock after all.  

Once I put my bike toys away, my son informed me that the radio in my daughters car died.  

Car repair isn't something you finish. It's like an iterative loop. Come to think of it, it's a lot like bike commuting. I've ridden nearly 1,500 miles and I haven't gone anywhere. Kind of frustrating when you think about it.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Baseball Cap Tuesday

Some cyclists around these parts have taken to wearing fancy bike caps on Tuesday. They cleverly call it Bicycle Cap Tuesday. I have only one bicycle cap. I picked it up at Bike Virginia in 1991. It is, how can I put this, scuzzy. I only wear it as a last resort in pouring rain to keep water out of my eyes.

If you see this man on a bike trail, don't laugh as you pass him.

Lately, I have eschewed wearing my bike helmet. (Do I get points for using the word "eschew" in a bike commuting blog? Indubitably.)  Instead I have been wearing a baseball cap. Most of my ball caps are pretty clean so I have been wearing my official 2004 Red Sox Championship cap.  It has a little holographic sticker to prove its authenticity. I'd never be caught dead in an unauthentic Red Sox cap. I have worn it so much that it is almost as scuzzy as my Bike Virginia cap.  Its best feature is the smug smile I get while wearing it and riding past people in Yankee caps (which I did on my way home tonight).
 
Click on picture. Grab magnifying glass. See the ducklings?

On the way in to work I stopped and took a picture of the ducklings near the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge. My siblings tend to be naturally gifted photographers and golfers.  My utter lack of talent in both areas raises the specter of me being the offspring of Mike the mailman.  I am also the only math geek in the family (or was until I passed my math mental peak at the age of 23). I understand our mailman was awesome with differential equations.

I felt pretty good this morning after yesterday's ride in the heat and humidity.  Except I had no oomph in my legs at all today.  Later in the day I felt a little woozy, so the ride home was a crawl.  It's pretty sad when you are riding a huge long wheel base recumbent and everybody and I mean EVERYBODY is passing you. Ah, but they did.

When I arrived at home my son, back from five days of vacationing at various posh homes of college buddies, announced that "his" car leaks gas whenever he fills it up. "His" car needs to go in to get this fixed. Tomorrow I do a modified utilitaire bike commute. I drive the car to the dealer in Alexandria and ride to work from there.  The dealer is on a big hill near Fairlington so the ride back to the garage is sure to be a workout.  The Mule will get the call because I don't want to muck about with Big Nellie on the back of a compact car at rush hour.

I'm not looking forward to tomorrow's commute.

Monday, May 28, 2012

I Need a Cabinet Bad

Today was what people from Pawtucket call a scorchah.  It was hot and humid and just generally unpleasant to be outside. It was the kind of weather my friend Flor loved to ride in. She however is freezing her rock climbing, biking, running, Thai massaging, acroyoga-ing butt off in Argentina, so I was left all alone to endure the inferno.

Actually, local bicycling superheroes @gypsybug and @dailyrandonneur asked me to come with them on a ride to the far reaches of the known universe (which ended up being Sugarloaf Mountain) somewhere beyond Poolesville. Poolesville is a 45 mile bike ride from my house - I know because I done rode it last year. Beyond Poolesville is what my body calls fantasy. By the time they left their place in the city (15 miles from the Rootchopper Institute of Bicyclist Slumber), I was just waking up.  So a gang of three just wasn't going to happen. I decided to head in that general direction and maybe see them on their return.

After an unsuccessful utilitaire ride to the dry cleaner (closed on a holiday, "Pshaw!" I say), I headed out.  The superheroes are no dummies. They were on the road during the relative cool of the morning. I, being a cyclist of very little brain, waited for the furnace to get good and hot. My delayed departure also meant that I'd be dealing with considerable traffic on the Mount Vernon Trail.  I made it 11 miles to Gravelley Point near National Airport in one piece and pulled over to check on the superheroes. They were apparently hammering the bejesus out of the roads of Monkey County Maryland because there were no traces of their progress in Twitterland.

After watching a plane land (it never gets tired), I headed out. I looked left, then right, saw nothing, and took off. Somehow nothing to my right was a speeding bicyclist. She yelled at me and I apologized. I do wish she'd ride without her invisibility cloak though.

As I came across the 14th Street Bridge, I did a switchback turn to get to Ohio Drive which runs along the river, Two Japanese (?) tourists had their cameras ready so I waved as Big Nellie and I swooped by.  They were very excited. They will probably post my stupid smile and wave on the Internet for all their relatives to laugh at. My work here is done.

The ride to the Capital Crescent Trail was uneventful, other than being slowed by the bike and pedestrian traffic and the gawdawful riding surface near the Kennedy Center.  At Fletcher's Boat House I stopped at the porta potties which were too disgusting to use.  Then I proceeded up the nasty hill to MacArthur Boulevard. Once on MacArthur and over the hill near the reservoir, I could finally let Big Nellie rumble. We took the downhill at 30 miles per hour and let the momentum carry us to the Cabin John Bridge.

Cars were pretty patient with Big Nellie and me. Thank you Monkey County folks. At the Old Anglers Inn,  the high speed fun ended and the 10 minute grind up a long hill began.  Recumbents don't climb hills very well, particularly when they are carrying a heavy, inefficient engine (that would be moi). This hill is mercifully shaded and windy and ideal for decending on a recumbent (see below).

At Potomac Village I stopped for lunch in the shade at Au Bon Pain.  After buying a water bottle I headed out, taking a little loop through Avenel, a golf course with a shitload of tasteful mansions sprinkled about. I worked my way back to the top of the hill I had climbed earlier. 

Time for some street luge.  Long wheel base recumbents are obscenely fun on down hills, especially curvy ones. For the next several minutes, Big Nellie and I kept pace with the cars and then some.  Swoosh! Unfortunately there are parking lots on both sides of the road at the bottom of the hill. A BMW driver in need of some situational awareness pulled out in front of me. I slowed to a crawl as he looked for parking along the road. I could have passed him on the right and was glad I didn't as he made an unsignalled turn into a parking space. Death to yuppies.

Once I got rolling again I  could tell that the heat was really building. About a mile after the Cabin John Bridge, I saw some parking that indicated access to the C&O Canal. I decided to ride back on the canal towpath in the shade along the river. I had to walk Big Nellie down a narrow dirt path and carry her over dozens of cross timbers. To get to the towpath I'd have to wrestle Big Nellie down a steep flight of about 20 stairs. They was a channel along the side to put the wheels of a bike on so I turned Nellie around (not easy) and carefully made my way down to the towpath.  Hill climbing is one draw back to long wheel base recumbents. Portaging is another.

Thankful that our little hiking adventure was behind us, we took off for DeeCee. The towpath was a muddy, rocky mess so it was slow going. I went through two groups of Canada geese.  Their goslings were much more mature than  the ones I've been seeing near my home.  They had tail feathers and were only a couple of weeks from fledging.

Somewhat desperate for a rest room, I stopped at Fletcher's Porta Potties. I was willing to deal with disgusting, but not with no TP. (There was no TP because this is a national park. National parks don't have money for TP because certain members of the Tea Party don't want to fund them. I invite the members of the Tea Party to come to Fletcher's Porta Potties with their kids. Enjoy. Especially the ride home. Use your imagination for this part. This is America. In America, we use toilet paper, you idiots. Fund the park service properly. A few bucks for some TP won't end the republic. End of rant.)

Miffed and uncomfortable, but undaunted I rolled out on the Capital Crescent Trail which runs parallel to the towpath.  At the end of the CCT I spotted some people with incredibly muddy mountain bikes taking their bikes apart for transport on a motor coach (a bus with nice seats, a porta potty, and TP). It was probably a group who rode the towpath from the other end in Cumberland Maryland, 185 miles west.  Judging from all the mud all I can say is "better you than me."

I slalomed through crowds of tourists all the way to Gravelley Point. Here, for some reason, nobody would move out of the way. Bell ringing didn't help. "Please" didn't either.  Next time I'm bring my bicycle death ray. Fair warning people.

By this point I was also out of water.  A cloud passed in front of the sun and the temperature dropped ten degrees or more. Wow, did that feel good! At Daingerfield Island I finally found a rest room. Wow, did that feel good, too!  And some water, too!. Ooh la la. Nine miles to go.

As I rode, I poured some of my now ample supply of water over my head.  Since my barber scalped me last weekend, I have been experimenting with ways to keep from getting sunburn on my now nearly barren head. Yesterday and today, I wore a baseball cap in stead of a helmet.  Taking my cap off now and then was refreshing. Spraying water on my head was doubly so. (I really hate bike helmets and wear one 95 percent of the time, mostly because that's where I mount my headlight and as an example to my kids. They don't ride bikes and don't listen to me anyway so it's kind of pointless setting an example.)

Despite the heat I had a good time.  Thanks to @gypsybug and @dailyrandonneur (they have real names, or so I am told) for giving me a nudge out the door.  

So what does this blog have to do with cabinets. In Pawtucket, Rhode Island, a cabinet is a milk shake. God only knows why.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Walk in Huntley Meadows Park

Trailside Flower

My aching back was telling me to get off the bike and do something else. One of my favorite places to go to relax is just a couple of miles from my house. It's a wetlands, what we called a swamp when I was a kid. Huntley Meadows Park looks different every time I go. The time of year, water level, time of day, and migration patterns of birds dictate the amount of greenery and animal life you'll see. Go visit. It's rarely crowded.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Get Back

Last night after getting home from work my back felt a little stiff. I took some ibuprofen and went to sleep. As I was getting out of bed this morning, I felt a stabbing pain in my lower back. Since Mrs. Rootchopper was neither awake nor armed with a knife, I could tell that this was the return of an old and unwelcome friend. 

I have had back issues since college. I came home from school one year for Columbus Day, sat down in an easy chair, and couldn't get up - even for dinner.  You know it's serious when a 20 year old can't get out of a chair for a free meal. I was young and the pain went away in short order without problem.

At the end of my first year of graduate school, I had one more exam to take when my back went into spasm.  I could barely move. I managed to use my bike as an improvised walker and made it to the college clinic for treatment.  I recovered in time to take the exam, but it was clear that the problem was getting progressively worse.

These episodes increased in frequency until one day I had the mother of all back spasms. I had ruptured a disk and I was unable to stand without mind blowing pain.  After four weeks of doctor visits and scans, I had surgery to remove a disk and make more room for the offended nerve. In  four weeks I was back at work and in six months I felt fine.

I went about ten years before my next back episode. I have been having them every year since.  So this morning is no surprise.

Long ago I concluded that no single thing causes my back problems. Rather, an accumulation of shocks and the daily grind build up tension until I have pain.  I think of it like a body quake; pressure builds along the fault line until SNAP!

I went back to bed after the stabbing and waited for my back to calm down. Then, ibuprofen in hand, I went downstairs.  I spent the morning on my deck reading.  After four hours of chilling, I pulled Big Nellie out of the shed and gently rode to Old Town to pick up my now repaired camera. 
Big Nellie on the Mount Vernon Trail at the Morningside Bald Eagle Nest

On the way there I stopped to chat with Adam known in the Twittersphere as @ajfroggie. He's a local bike commuter who does volunteer work for the Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling. He (and a woman from the National Park Service whose name escapes me) was taking traffic counts on the Mount Vernon Trail near the Washington Street deck. 

Away from King Street, the main drag, Old Town was empty. King Street was crawling with tourists wishing it were not 85 degrees.  I picked up my camera. It works like new (yay!). 

Sherwood Gourmet makes good sammiches
I gently pedaled back home stopping for a sammich at my favorite sammich shop.  I sat on the patio and ate my sammich and let the tropical air pull the sweat out of me.  Some people (my wife, for one) hate summer in DC. I love it.  I used to hate it when I was a runner, but it's really terrific for cycling.  The breeze from bike riding is the perfect cure for the muggies. I have also learned that it the perfect way to get head exhaustion.  That's an affliction for another day and another blog.


As for now, there's an ice cold Yuengling waiting for my personal attention. It's hot out. I need to keep hydrated.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Are You Official?

The Friday before Memorial Day I expected light car traffic and a low turnout at the Friday Coffee Club at Swing's coffee emporium near the White House.  The Club is a get together of area bike commuters many of whom are also bloggers and twitterers. Or is that tweeters? Tweeps? Twits?  Whatever...

The joint was jumpin'.  Despite the absence of a few regulars the place was filled with over 20 people for whom work is more important than the beach. Yes, these are the dedicated people who make the nation's capital what it is today, a hopeless pathetic mess. 

As usual people came and went. It was Adam's last time at coffee club as he is moving to Norfolk to take over a nuclear powered doppler radar station.  It was actually Adam's third last time (it's a long story) so if he shows up next Friday, folks, he's buying. (Would I lie to you?)

Adam (center) in his 2012 Bike to Work Day t-shirt
Caffeine addicts get their fix
Parking was tight. Big Nellie's on the left
One of the cool things about this group of bike riders is the variety of bikes they ride. Several kinds of folders - Raleigh, Dahon, Bike Friday - were seen.  My recumbent. A big cruiser with pink bags and streamers coming out of the handle bars. Single sped bikes. Conventional touring bikes like the Surly Long Haul Trucker that Mary rode in on.  And more. The bikes stretched the length of the front of the coffee shop in some places two deep. There were also bikes locked to parking meters on both sides of the street.  

I had an extra large Americano during my stay at Swings. With a fierce case of the caffeine jitters I lit out on Big Nellie for my office. I took M Street to Georgetown and had a brief conversation with a fellow bike commuter in the West End.  In Georgetown, a couple about my age came rolling down from a side street.  They came up beside me at a stop light and asked, "Are you official?"  I said, "No" not having a clue why these obvious tourists thought a guy on a recumbent would be official anything. They asked if I could take them to the Mount Vernon Trail. I said I would for $20 and off we went toward Key Bridge which was where I was going anyway. (Okay, okay. I lied about the $20.)  I stopped to allow them to take pictures of the view from the bridge pointing out the Watergate complex and Kennedy Center. At the Rosslyn Circle of Doom, I pointed them to the MVT and sent them on their way.

In the locker room at the office I took of my shirt. It was my dark blue 2012 BikeDC shirt that had a white logo with the Capitol dome on the left side of my chest.  That's why they took me for "official".  I hope the DC tourism board appreciates my good deed of the day. Show me some love, dudes.

For me to get to Friday Coffee Club I need to get out of bed at 5:30. This makes for one tired commuter going home. And so I was. The Mount Vernon Trail was not crowded and people were being more civil than usual.  I saw some ospreys soaring overhead near Daingerfield Island. One of the benefits of riding a recumbent is the view. I can see much more riding Big Nellie than on my other, conventional bikes. About 10 miles into the ride, I rode through Belle Haven Park.  There were far more geese than people.  I rode gently through the gaggle so that the geese did not turn on me and poo me into oblivion. The geese on the trail waddled away.  They were probably so full of grass that they couldn't chase me.

I stopped at the Morningside bald eagle nest.  The foliage is now so dense that it's hard to see anything, but I did see some wings flapping over the top of the nest.


I just had a margarita (from a bottle).  It's the weekend. Enjoy and remember.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bolllards R Us

I hate bollards on bike trails. They are dangerous as hell. The creative team working on the renovation of Jones Point Park has decided that one downhill into two bumpy transitions and a 90 degree turn in to  a sahded area with oddly protruding curbs was not challenging enough for trail users. So they decided to add three bollards at bottom of the hill.  They have big red lights on them, probably to blind you at night.


Big Nellie and the Three Bollards

I understand that the modifications have been made to keep evil doers from attacking the underside of the Woodrow Wilson bridge.  This is laudable. The bridge's underside has been unprotected for the better part of 40 years. With 40 years of planning, you'd think the folks in charge could think of a way to protect the bridge that is not hazardous to cyclists. This apparently is asking too much.

 I am not opposed to bollards in general.  In fact, if Alexandria wants to tear these out I know of a great place for them, the Jefferson Memorial. This national treasure has been surrounded by Jersey barriers lined up in a haphazard fashion since shortly after 9/11.  It is a disgrace that the federal government has left them there for so long. Most other memorials and important buildings in DC have long since had their environs re-designed for protection, but Thomas Jefferson remains protected by a concrete highway wall. Mr. Obama, tear down this wall!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

They Call Me "Mr. Buzz"

Woke, up, fell out of bed.  Dragged a comb.. no. No need for a comb. I went to the barbershop on Saturday and told the barber I wanted my hair to be this long all the way around. I held my thumb and index finger about1 or 2 inches apart.  As he began cutting he started asking me baseball trivia.  He had no way of knowing that I am a Red Sox fan.  Not so much these days, but I went to BU and lived 3 blocks from the green monster of Fenway Park my sophomore year. Tony Conigliaro was beaned on my birthday.  I know Bucky Dent's middle name.  So he asks me who was the last major leaguer to win the triple crown and I said Carl Yastremski 1967. He couldn't believe I knew. So he asks some more. I missed one about Teddy Ballgame.  Long story short, he pretty much forgot about "this much."  I have a crew cut. The upside is that my big bald spot no longer feels lonely. And I can shower much faster after I commute by bike. One of my co-workers has taken to calling me "Buzz." He thinks it's funny. 

It had rained just before I left the house so I had to take care on the wet pavement.  At Belle Haven Park I spotted something I've been eagerly awaiting, goslings. One of the pure joys of bike commuting is watching goslings grow.  These were already pretty big, but still in that cute fuzzy stage. I tried to take a picture with my iPhone but it's pretty useless for these kinds of shots. (I broke the screen on my Nikon Coolpix camera over a month ago. I took it back to Ritz Camera under the warranty I bought. They sent it out to be repaired instead of just replacing it. Someday I may see it again. If I had known it would be gone for five weeks, I'd have skipped the warranty and bought replacement camera instead. Lesson learned.)

Pedal. Pedal.

I came upon the DCBD  (Detour of Certain Bloody Death) at the Wilson Bridge. This morning the crew was jackhammering near the gravel transition.  They had no clue when bicycles were passing. I can't believe that Bicycling Magazine calls Alexandria a Bicycling Friendly City.  Then again, Bicycling is the worst magazine about bicycling.   (I get it as part of my League of American Wheelmen - I'm old school - membership.)  I did my best Fred Flintstone imitation to get through in one piece.

Under the TR Bridge I spotted a small patch of mud in the river below.  There were duckings nearly invisible on the mud next to Mother Mallard. I stopped to take another iPhone picture. Useless. In the shallow water next to the mud patch I spotted a 3-foot catfish.  I was feeling like Marlin Perkins.

A few minutes before 5, some workers kicked me out of the office to repair a water leak in my wall.  I moved into this spanking new office about a month ago.  It's newness was nice while it lasted.

As I left the office I checked the #bikedc Twitter feed. There were a series of tweets about thunderstorms in the area.  I hit the street and was immediately buffeted by wind gusts. Dark clouds were churning above. In five minutes I was on the bike trail and some sprinkles were hitting my fairing. Two miles later as I approached the 14th Street Bridge rumbles of thunder gave way to huge rain drops coming down faster and faster.  They were cold raindrops, too.  I could barely see but, since I was already wet, I kept riding. And the cold rain kept cold raining.

Just past the airport, the rain gradually came to an end. I was soaked.  I passed by the bog north of Slaters Lane and spotted a gorgeous great blue heron.  After Old Town I saw a rabbit.  I figured with all this wild life I'd see a little bald eagle action. No such luck.

I diverted to the drug store to pick up some sinus medication (why don't they call it the Medication Store?) Flonase is to DC like quahogs are to Rhode Island.

From the looks of things the storm clouds were following me.  I hurried home to avoid a second soaking.

[Insert long piano chord]

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Let Sleeping Bras Lie

Another morning, another commute in the spitting rain.  It wasn't so bad really. The rain stopped after 20 minutes. I rode tense all the way expecting that my chain would break at any moment.  It didn't. In a way I was disappointed.  I am sure Woody Allen or Eeyore would have some words of wisdom about this.

The only notable thing that happened on the way to word was my second bra sighting of the year.  I was just past the Slater's Lane connector on the Mount Vernon Trail when I saw a beige (or do they call it biscuit these days?) bra lying on the trail. I'm no good at sizing but it was substantially smaller than the bra I saw near the airport during the winter. This new bra was dry and clean so it hadn't been there long. I didn't stop to pick it up. I'd have felt like a pervert. Let sleeping bras lie.

I made it up the Rosslyn connector in one piece for a change. A bike rider was walker her bike up the hill. I asked if she was okay and she replied, "Oh, I'm fine. Just resting my bum."  I don't know about you but when I want to rest my bum I find a nice easy chair. (This reads like Andy Rooney. We went to the same high school. He got paid to blog on TV. I get bupkiss.)  To each his or her own.

During the day, fellow bike blogger Gypsybug  sent out a call to the Friday Coffee Club  for teammates in the National Bike Challenge. This is some sort of friendly online competition in which teams log rides and miles and blow on vuvuzelas. Actually, I don't have a clue what it is so, true to form, I signed up. Bike shit happens.  Que sera sera. Obladi Oblada. Hakuna Matata.

The ride home felt odd. There was this glowing orange ball in the sky. It seemed to be generating heat. What is this strange orb? It didn't go away. It just stayed there. Looming.

I rode all tensed up, KNOWING that damn chain was going to pop at any second. It held just fine. I even shifted into my big chain ring and everything worked fine.


On the way home I pulled into Spokes Etc. at Belle Haven. I had found a mess of chain in the Rootchopper Institute's vast Bike Parts Warehouse.  Chris the mechanic dove into putting four chain links back onto the Tour Easy's chain.  Neither he nor I had a clue how to thread the new chain through the tensioner. We consulted photos on the Internet.  We thought we had it right but a test ride resulted in the tensioner being upside down.

Another mechanic stepped in to help. During my recent chain escapades, a spring that provided resistance to the tensioner had become dislodged, probably when I disassembled it to free Flor's pant leg.   The mechanics figured out how to reset the spring, then they pulled down another photo of the tensioner from the Internet.  In just a couple of minutes, Big Nellie was back in action.

The whole repair thing took at least a half an hour and cost me less than $10.  Time and money well spent. Having a local bike shop that will do simple (and sometimes not simple) bike repairs while you wait is invaluable to a bike commuter. Spokes at Belle Haven has bailed me out more times than I can remember. My helmet is off to them.

I rode Big Nellie home, grinding all the way up the biggish hill on Fort Hunt Road without the slightest chain problem.  Everything seems to be working fine. (Of course, the remaining spare links are staying in my seat bag forever.)

I entered my miles for the month of May: 525 miles over 16 days of riding so far.  That's over 800 points. I could win a prize. Maybe some Gojo to get the chain gunk off my hands.

Monday, May 21, 2012

I Don't Like Mondays

It was a Geldofian day.  Rain was coming down with just enough purpose that nothing I could do would keep my face dry. It was like having someone standing in front of me with a spray bottle of water. 

My plan today was to ride Big Nellie to work and then stop at my local bike shop to take the kink in my chain that I had installed after yesterday's pants affair.  The chain was skipping in the small sprockets but seemed to be operating fine otherwise. Before I left for work, I searched the Rootchopper Institute of Spare Bicycle Parts for some chain links. I knew I had some, but I couldn't find any. Hopefully, my local bike shop would have some when I stopped on the way home.

The ride in was rather moist and all those annoying people were gone so that I could ride on the Mount Vernon Trail in peace.  Before I get to the trail I ride down a short steep hill on Park Terrace Drive. Normally this is a 35 mile per hour descent but this morning the recycling truck was doing its thing smack dab in the middle of the street at the bottom of the hill.  No jollies for me.

I managed to survive the detour of death near the Wilson Bridge and the dance of the SUVs lining up to take Muffy and Wilfred to Saint Mary's School at the southern edge of Old Town. I managed not to hit any SUVs or fledgling Catholics and should be awarded two gold stars for my efforts.

On the north end of Old Town I rode across the long boardwalk through what had been a drained stretch of wet land. Two workers were in waders mucking about. They looked somewhat unhappy.

I was riding carefully taking care not to put too much pressure on the chain which was skipping every now and then to remind me what an incompetent bike mechanic I am.  At the airport I lost another opportunity for high speed riding when a skinny girl passed me on the uphill side of the second flyover bridge. She was no match for Big Nellie's downhill abilities but I wasn't about to pass her on a blind curve on wet pavement.  So I rode my brakes and watched her pedal out of the saddle on flat land. She needs to work on her spinning technique.

As I approached the 14th Street Bridge one of my regulars, a middle-aged Asian man wearing a yellow jacket and carry lots of stuff on his bike, came my way. Normally, I see him near the Roosevelt Bridge about a mile closer to my destination in Rosslyn.  Babying the chain was really slowing me down.

My last challenge was to climb the connecting bridge up to Rosslyn. I shifted to my middle chain ring and began shifting to my big sprockets to ease the pressure on the chain when the chain snapped.

Not good.

I walked the bike up to a landing and started inspecting the damage. The broken link would have to be removed.  As I worked away at taking the link out, commuter after commuter came by asking if I needed help. When they saw it was a broken chain, they owned up to mechanical ineptitude and rode on.

I continued to work on the link, actually two since they are oriented in male/female pairs. For the uninitiated, a chain tool holds a chain link in place while you turn a handle that screws a pin pusher into the pin on the chain link. The idea is that you push the pin through enough to take out the bad chain link. You should never push the pin all the way through, because it is next to impossible to get back into the hole in the chain. Never.

Then Jason stopped to help. He had a sort of British accent (could be from Auckland for all I could tell) and was riding a single speed bike. As it turns out he has some familiarity with using a chain tool. As I turned to say hello, I took my mind off the chain tool for a second and the pin popped out. [Insert F-bomb here].

Jason and I worked for several minutes on getting the pin back in to no avail. He was getting a sore back from squatting and my shorts were soaked through from sitting on the ground.  We were not having fun. We dropped the pin and it disappeared somehow. We now had only one choice take two more links out and re-assemble a significantly shorter chain. Jason pulled this off with surgeons precision.  The link was a little stiff but he had done a terrific job. Thank you, Jason.


I arrived at work about 1/2 hour late and spent about 20 minutes getting chain lube and assorted black gunk off my hands and legs.  Fortunately, my boss is a bike commuter and understands these things.


For the ride home, I decided to leave the chain in the granny gear and ride ever so gently.  Pedal, pedal, pedal, repeat.  I had no problems and could detect no chain skipping. Jason done good.  I registered each passing mile - 10 to go, 9 to go - as I rode.

I approached the boardwalk north of Old Town. The wader guys were gone. I think they may have been damming up the stream because the former wet land was now pretty wet.  Better still, several of the small trees in the water were topped with downy egrets.  When I see an egret or heron in a tree I think of  Dr. Seuss.  Then my bird watching was interrupted by a passing cyclist. It was Jason, proud to see that his handiwork was successful. 

After once again surviving the detour of death and a walking crossing of the George Washington Parkway, I rolled into my local bike shop. One of the best things about Spokes Etc. is that they will do on the spot minor repairs while you wait.  They have saved many a bike commute for me over the years. Unfortunately they didn't have any SRAM 9-speed chain links lying around so I was out of luck on a repair. In the process of looking my bike over they determined that Jason's repair was sound and that the chain was still long enough for me to use all my gears. 

I rode up a big hill to test their theory and the chain performed fine. It skipped a couple of times but that may have been the result of my gear shifter being one click off.  I got home in good shape and immediately cleaned my chain. It was a mess.  Then I looked around for spare chain links. I have a translucent plastic box with spare parts in it. I held it over my head and looked in the bottom. There it was:  a red box with the word SRAM on it. I put the box down, reached in and pulled out the box which contained about 2/3rds of a 9-speed chain.

Tomorrow I'll ride Big Nellie again, this time armed with my chain links.

Tuesday's child is full of grace. Let's hope.







Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chain, Chain, Chain

Twas a lovely day in Washington town.  The temps were in the low 70s.  A light cloud cover kept it that way.  A pleasant breeze topped it off. You know what I did.  I got up at the crack of dawn for a 200 mile bike-a-thon.

NOT.

I spent the start of my day on our new deck finishing The Hunger Games trilogy. I have been carrying around the saga of Katniss Everdeen for weeks and weeks and it was time to lighten the load.  For a series aimed at kids, these books are incredibly gory.  And fun. After I plow through the pile o'magazines on my nightstand, it's back to grown up books - the latest from David Lodge and Michael Lewis.

Once the reading was done I headed out on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent.  Big Nellie has been lonely.  I have been riding The Mule (my Sequoia) ever since I had a new rear wheel built and had the rear hub overhauled.  The mechanic said that I should ride it for a couple of weeks and bring it back for re-tensioning.  It's been an epic (for me, anyway) couple of weeks. I put over 400 miles on that baby.  I think the wheel is fine, but I'm going to bring it in soon for a look over.

Big Nellie and I headed north on the Mount Vernon Trail (MVT).  We made our first stop at the Morningside bald eagle nest where one of the two photographers I have been seeing was hanging out. He told me that there are three eaglets in the nest.  He showed me some pictures on the screen of his camera.  Dang, that zoom he has works very well. We chatted for 10 or 15 minutes and I rolled away. 

I stopped at Belle Haven Park to replace some broken zip ties that hold the mesh seat back to the seat frame. The correct size zip tie is no longer made so I use two smaller ties in each mounting point.  This works until it doesn't and I start all over again.  Soon I will replace the entire seat.  The new seat will use parachute chord to secure the mesh.  Zip tie sales at my local hardware store will never be the same.

Northward I rode managing to not crash on the dirt and gravel at the new Wilson Bridge underpass detour.  I certainly hope the contractor does a better job on the park than he's been doing on the MVT because he's totally incompetent when it comes to bike trails.

I breezed by Saint Mary's School where they were having their spring bazaar.  They had one of those rides that you spin around in, get off, and puke.  Kids love them. Not me. At St. Mary's Church a few blocks later church was letting out. Catholics, being in a state of grace, were jaywalking like there was no tomorrow.  If I were a bus, there wouldn't be.

I glided down King Street to people watch. Many folks were brunching al fresco. Others were window shopping,  La di dah.

Back on the trail the traffic was building. I was in no hurry so I took my time behind tourist after tourist on rental bikes.  I noticed that my head wind was becoming a side wind.  It wasn't very strong but every so often a gust would grab the fairing on the bike and I'd get a little passive assist.  Sweet.

Across the 14th Street Bridge and into DC on 15th. I normally take the sidewalk to the cycletrack at 15th and Pennsylvania but not today.  First I was stuck behind walking tourist, then I was swallowed up by Segways, then CaBi bikes.  I bailed on Constitution Avenue and swam east with the big dogs.

I hung a left on 7th and rode up the Bus and Bike Only lane.  There were no buses. There were lots of cars. I don't think this lane works very well.  Time for a do-over DDOT. Either that or you should give up and call Honda Accords buses.

After Mount Vernon Square I stopped at BicycleSpace.  Everybody I know is talking about this shop and I can see why.  They sell Brompton folding bikes (I watched a sales person demonstrate the fold.  It's magic, I swear.)  They also sell what the British would call proper city bikes with lights and racks and fenders and chainguards.  I want one. And they sell Brooks leather saddles.  Finally, somebody sells them around here. They're not lightweight or inexpensive. They are, however, a treat to the seat.  The Mule and Little Nellie both have Brooks saddles.  Finally, BicycleSpace has Paul the best mechanic in town. He fixed the Mule ten years ago when absolutely no one else could. And he did it with a 25 cent part.  If your bike is hopeless, take it to Paul.

My next stop was Ben Chili Bowl. This restaurant on U Street is legendary hereabouts.  I bought a half smoke with everything on it to go. I put it in my pannier and rode up the 13th Street hill next to Cardozo High School. Spin, spin, spin.

After a few turns I was at Meridian Hill Park, destination for the day. I was there to attend my friend Florencia's goodbye party. She's leaving DC.  I was early so I ate my half smoke. Ugh. Half smokes with chili, mustard and onions is not biking food.  It may not be non-biking food either.

Flor give her acroyoga partner a massage
Flor spinning.
Although the party was not starting until three I made my way through the park. I spotted some acroyoga and, sure enough, it was Flor doing her Cirque du Soleil thing.  From a distance it looks effortless. Up close, you can tell how athletic she and her partner (he's on his back with legs and arms up supporting her) are. 


Around this time I checked Twitter and found out that K.C. was nearby and invited her over.  She's a fellow bike blogger and we've been crossing paths for a couple of years without meeting. We had a nice chat about her riding, her bike Betty, renting lock houses on the C&O Canal, and her police work. (She's rides a bike on patrol.)   She's interested in doing some riding on the GAP trail west of Cumberland MD and riding back on the towpath. My advice: DO IT! 

Back at the party things were going along swimmingly when Flor decided to ride Big Nellie. I warned her that her pants which had much loose fabric would get caught in the pulleys of the chain tensioner under the seat. Nothing stops Flor. She tied up her pants and started riding and rolling about. She was having a blast when all of a sudden the tensioner ate her pants. We spent the next 45 minutes trying to free her.  We tried breaking the chain but that only succeeded in damaging a link and making my hands black.  After much angst Jeff Dahloff, a bike commuter and ride partner on many a ride around these parts, noticed that we could disassemble the tensioner with a screwdriver and a nut driver - both of which were in my seat back bag. In two minutes Flor was free. I hope her pants aren't ruined.

Flor insists that she did not get her pants caught so that she could attract every guy in the park to her aid.  If I had caught my pants leg, I'd still be in the park waddling around on the bike. For the record, Flor has nice legs.  So do I. Must be the hair.

We put the tensioner back together and, but for a skipping chain, Big Nellie was back in action. It was getting late so I said goodbye to Flor with a big hug.  As we came apart my arm hit her camera and it fell to the ground.  Ugh.  The gods are telling us something, Flor.

Once I realized the bike was operating okay, I had a pleasant ride home. The winds had changed direction and I had my second headwind of the day.  No problem. The MVT was jammed with people, many of whom simply wouldn't move out of the way.  If it had been a hot and sticky day, I might have lost my temper and used Big Nellie's death ray.  Instead I went with the flow. Once past the airport, the crowds ended and I was rolling free again.

I stopped at the Morningside nest. The photographer was still there 6 hours later.

I worked on the chain and I think it might be okay. Tomorrow will tell.

It was a nice ride. Good say hello to so many people. Very sad to say goodbye.

 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bike to Work+ Day

I approach Bike to Work Day with some trepidation much like W. C. Fields approached New Years Eve. When asked why he doesn't go out on New Years Eve, he said "I don't like to drink with amateurs."  And so I am not thrilled about the prospect of interacting with hundreds of newbie bike commuters.  At the same time, I am really thrilled to see so many people out and about, discovering how you can turn your commute from an expensive hassle into an inexpensive fun time.

On Bike to Work Day organizations set up pit stops for bike commuters where there is music, food, and free stuff.  I left my house at 6:15, 45 minutes early to allow time for hanging out at the Rosslyn pit stop which is only two blocks from my office.  The weather could not have been better.

I was expecting to see bad biking behavior, broken down bikes and other un-fun stuff and I was not disappointed.  At 3 miles, just before jumping on the Mount Vernon Trail (MVT) I saw a bike commuter with a thrown chain. I would have stopped to help but I figured he could get chain lube all over himself just as easily as I could so I rolled on.
Cyclist Approaches New Wilson Bridge Detour

At the Woodrow Wilson Bridge I encountered a work crew. They are working on the renovation of the adjacent Jones Point Park. They are constantly installing detours in the MVT. Not one of them has been safe for riding.  Guess what. These knuckleheads pick Bike to Work Day to install another detour. This one a sharp "S" curve at the base of a hill. To make things even more interesting they used stone and dirt for the surface. I wanted to hit them on the head with my frame pump but the workers are not at fault. The contractor and the City of Alexandria (a certified Bicycle Friendly City, no less) are to blame.

I made it through the detour and rode down South Royal Street..   I stopped at the Alexandria pit stop in front of City Hall. After chatting with some volunteers I rode on. Only hours later did I realize that I could have filled my panniers with free stuff (you can never have enough water bottles, you know).
Old Town Pit Stop

The MVT was busy but not too crazy. It was, after all, still before 7 a.m.  As I approached the airport, I saw a man walking his racing bike with a flat front tire. Dude, bring a tube and a pump. A couple of minutes later, for the second day in a row, I was passing someone when a bike rider came up behind me really fast and yelled "BIKE LEFT!!!"  To which I loudly responded, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!" with all the sarcasm I could muster.  Note to Lance Armstrong Jr.: it's not a velodrome. I do not care if you kill yourself, but I'll be damned if you are taking me with you. If you want to ride your bike recklessly at 20+ miles per hour get off the path and out on the road with the big dogs. If you ever do that again to me, I will do to you what the Cinzano team did to Dave Stoller. I have an extra frame pump so its no skin off my nose.

End of screed.

I arrived in Rosslyn and did a full sweep of the swag fest scoring a t-shirt (my umpteenth BTWD model), 2 water bottles, a bell, some sun screen, a bike pin, a super nice reflective vest, and a banana and half a bagel.  There was no coffee. (I did get a 3-ounce cup an hour later.)  Note to organizers: coffee is to bikes as money is to politicians.  We need lots and lots or we don't run.
Vuvuzula and Paparazza

I ran into Ed and Mary who stopped in Rosslyn because they regard it as the best put stop. They live in Southwest DC and work downtown so it's almost comically out of their way. They have a tendency to ride their bikes a lot.  Ed was wearing his Paris-Brest-Paris reflective vest which he earned by riding a tandem with Mary over 700 miles in 3 1/2 days.  This is what happens when they eliminate funding for nervous hospitals.  Seriously, they are very nice people; you'd never know they are cycling and coffee addicts.
Ed and Mary in Caps from Nervous Hospital

Speaking of politicians, they never let a gather of constituents go by without grabbing a microphone and making a speech. Jim Moran, my Congressman, rode to the pit stop and made a speech about how cool it would be if the MVT was widened and extended to Chain Bridge. Sadly, the Tea Party austerity fanatics are cutting all bicycle-related funding from the transportation bill.  Better MVT, not bloody likely,
Ed Getting His 1,000 Bicycling T-shirt

There were all kinds of people milling about. Photographers taking pictures of each other, a guy with a Penny Farthing, three guys dress up as superheroes riding unicycles and a miniature bike through the crowd.
Here Mary, bagel in hand, is stalked by paparazzas

Ed and Mary headed out to Swings coffee to top off their commute with caffeine and conversation, a bike commuter together that they started called Friday Coffee Club. I hung out for a while longer. Laura, another Coffee Club regular rolled into the pit stop and I chatted with her and her entourage of male cyclists. I was beginning to think that the Rosslyn thing was just a ruse for the official BTWD Laura Pit Stop.  I admired the mixte Raleigh that she designed and put together. It made the Mule look sadly mule-like and down trodden. As usual I forgot to take a picture of it. The Mule thanked me later.
BTWD Vuvuzula Wake Up Team

I waited a while longer because my friend Florencia had told me she was coming to hang out. She's getting ready to leave the country and is very busy so - as I later learned - she overslept.I will see her tomorrow anyway.
Here Congressman Moran gets my autograph as my stalking paparazza looks on
Not content to stalk me with still cameras, this bloke put me in his video

After a super slow day at work I left for the second leg of my three legged commute. My daughter's high school spring choral concert was at 7 so I rode up (and I do mean up) Wisconsin Avenue to Cathedral Heights.  I love, love, love the National Cathedral. It was extensively damage by an earthquake last August but is now open even as repairs take place. (You can donate to the repairs here.) I stopped there briefly before heading on for some food.  After riding another mile I realized that I really wasn't hungry and doubled back for her concert at the Maret School just east of the cathedral..
The Mule and the Cathdral

The concert was excellent (as usual)  and the crowd was especially exuberant as this was the final concert of the director of the school's  musical department, Jim Erwin. Jim is leaving after 25 years to start a music program at a school for underprivileged kids in New Orleans. What a gutsy thing to do. 

After the concert I grabbed a cookie and rode down into Rock Creek Park  in the dark. I haven't ridden in the dark in a few months and I haven't ridden the goofy Rock Creek trail in the dark in a long, long time. I took my time and made it through the curves and bumps in one piece.

As I approached the Lincoln Memorial two small lights appeared ahead, a fox hanging out on the trail. He walked off and turned to take another look at me.  I think he said, "Dude" but my fox-ese is a little rusty.

On Ohio Drive I had the southbound lane to myself. The northbound lane was filled with in-line skaters gliding along in the dark.  They stretched our for about a half-mile.  The ability to use all this park land at night is another part of DC that I love,  The skaters and I were dodging tourist buses left and right as we passed.  These buses are like lumbering prehistoric beasts.  I'd swear they were feeding off the trees along the road.

I started my day riding along a busy MVT but my day ended with the MVT nearly all to myself.  I passed a few people watching the planes at Gravelley Point.  Blinded by headlights as I approached the George Washington Parkway I heard a blast from a whistle. Out of the headlights came two kids on  small bikes. No lights but a whole lot of noise and enthusiasm.

I worked my way through the crowds in Old Town Alexandria.  It was a beautiful night and the streets were packed.

After making my way through the detour of death at the Wilson Bridge I was back on the MVT for the home stretch.  I nearly ran over a couple dressed in dark clothing walking on the trail near Dyke Marsh.  I saw another fox dart for the underbrush. Then I stopped to check out the Morningside bald eagle nest.  The eaglets were nestled all snug in their nest. I couldn't see any movement so on I rode, spotting a rabbit bounding into the undergrowth along the trail.

A mile from home on the  treet I spotted my third fox of the night, this one a kit scampering into a drainage pipe on the side of the road.  We've noticed a decline in the local rabbit population; my wife thinks the foxes are eating bunnies.

I arrived home after 38 1/2 miles of commuting at 10:30 pm.

I walked in my door and started talking to my wife and daughter. My daughter was late for her 1st period chemistry test this morning.  It took her forever to get through the traffic in Rosslyn because of "all those damned bikers."  I had warned her to leave early but did she listen. NO.

Fortunately for her, her chemistry teacher, Mr. Walker, is one of the many Maret teachers and staff who bikes to work.  Sometimes those damned bikers are pretty understanding.





Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Well, at Least It Was Dry

I set the alarm for 5:30, a half hour earlier than usual. I needed to be in the office by 8 for a seminar.  For some reason anytime I change the alarm I have trouble sleeping. I think I managed to get a solid 2 hours in last night - in 15 minute increments.  I staggered out of the house at 6:30 yawning all the way down the street on my mule. 

The ride was uneventful. My solitude on the Mount Vernon Trail was gone with the rain.  I noticed lots of Canada geese and mallards but have yet to see any goslings or ducklings. Baby birds are right behind spring peepers and lilacs as my favorite parts of spring. I love watching them develop morning after morning on my ride to work.

When I reached the intersection with the Slaters Lane off ramp on the trail I was passed by a young woman on a single speed orange bike. It had the colors of the French flag on the tip of the rear of the rear mudguard which was otherwise orange to match the bike.  The fender had the word "Public" printed on it. It looked like this:


It was a very cool bike and the rider was quite stylish in her smooth white helmet with brim.  It looked like this

 


 (As you can see I just discovered the Public Bikes website.)

The girl on the bike was going just about the same speed as I was so I couldn't pass her without putting on an obnoxious burst of speed.  Once we passed the two flyover bridges at National Airport I managed to see daylight and I passed her, saying "I love your bike" as I went passed.

About 20 minutes later I arrived at work and rushed into the fitness center locker room. It was a sauna in there.  I took a shower and could not get dry. Lovely.

I arrived at my office at 7:50 and checked my Outlook calendar to see what room the seminar was in.  Then I discovered that it is two weeks from today.  At least I wasn't late.

By the time 4:30 rolled around I was a zombie.  I could barely keep my eyes open.  Fortunately the weather was nice (if you don't mind humidity). I puttered along into a light headwind the whole way home. As I have been doing for several days, I stopped near the Morningside nest to see if I could spot a bald eagle.  Bingo.  A big eagle flew into the nest just as I looked up. The leaves on the tree around the nest obscured the bird but there was no mistaking its massive wings flapping as it landed on the nest.

After arriving home, my son fetched an extension ladder for me and I climbed it to clear out a gutter.  Having a 20-year old boy around the house sure is convenient. I struggle to carry and orient that ladder but he was whipping it around like it was made of styrofoam.  Usually when I mess with the ladder my back hurts for days. 

Since last Friday I have logged just under 220 miles.  If I am going to put in a five-bike-commute week, I need to get some shut eye.

Zzzzzzzzz.....


Monday, May 14, 2012

What a Saucy Fellow

One of my favorite concerts of all time was seeing Raffi when my kids were little. Raffi is most famous for the song "Baby Beluga", but his real talent is toddler wrangling. He had 1,500 kids in the palm of his hand.  "We'll sing another song when you guys go back to your seats." And they all did. Immediately. Raffi is a god.

My youngest child is 17. And this is a bicycling blog. What the hell am I going on about Raffi for?

It rained today. The kind of rain that keeps sane people from moving to Seattle. Small drops by the bajillions. I was soaked before I left my driveway. Robins were bouncing around in the grass hunting for worms. And whenever I see robins in the rain I think of the Raffi song called - wait for it - "Robin in the Rain":

Robin in the rain
What a saucy fellow
Robin in the rain
Mind you socks of yellow

And so I felt quite a saucy fellow today (except my socks were black and wool and smelled like a dead goat when I got to work).

Most of my ride in was alone.  This is Bike to Work Week amigos. Do I have to do this all by myself? Okay. That means more bagels and coffee for me at the Rosslyn rest stop for Friday's Bike to Work Day. Go ahead. Drive your cars.  Bwahaha. Nom. Nom.

The water gets to you.

I was passed by only two bike riders on the way in today.  That could be a record. Normally, it's in the dozens. Those young whippersnappers who get on the trail after Old Town Alexandria with their fresh legs must think they're something leaving me in their wake.  Just wait. Time will catch up with you and you'll be slogging along just like me. In 20 years or so.

 Riding in the rain is actually quite fun even with the mediocre brakes on the Sequoia. Even if it weren't fun, riding in the rain when the temperatures are moderate is way better than riding in January bundled up like Charlie Brown.

I was expecting a ride home in the same rain but five minutes after I left the office the rain stopped. The Mount Vernon Trail was mine and it was 65 degrees. And I had I light tailwind, to boot. Not too shabby.


I saw the movie The Avengers (the one with Iron Man not Diana Rigg in leather) last night. I loved it.  I collected comics as a kid and had the very first Avengers comic. I was a little disappointed that Giant Man and the Wasp were not in the movie, but you can't have everything.  Now that I think about it ScarJo in leather was a pretty good replacement.

Egad, another pointless tangent. Not so! In one scene in the movie, The Hulk (do you capitalize the "T"?) tries to pick up Thor's hammer and can't.  Thor's hammer can only be lifted by Thor.  I am pretty sure The Hulk would have trouble picking up the Sequoia (or is it The Sequoia?).  So I had this idea that I would finally give the Sequoia a proper name. I'd name it after Thor's hammer. So I looked it up on Wikipedia. Thor's hammer's name is Mjolnir with two dots over the "o",  I think it rhymes with "mule deer".   On second thought, I'll just call it the Sequoia.  After 30,000+ miles it's too late to change now.

Obviously I have water on the brain. The forecast calls for more rain tomorrow.  I may have to switch tunes to "Rubber Ducky" if it doesn't stop soon.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

BIke DC on Fumes

Yesterday's 50 mile jaunt took a lot out of me. I spent the night dealing with leg cramps and barely getting any sleep. I got up at 5:30, snarfed a small bowl of Frosted Flakes, grabbed a banana and headed for DC aboard the Sequioa.  I stopped briefly at the Morningside bald eagle nest but didn't see any birds.  I took my time getting to Old Town and rode with the minimal car traffic up Washington Street. I saw many bikes either on the road ahead of me or on the backs of cars.  After picking up the Mount Vernon Trail a cyclists passed me. "Riding Bike DC?" he asked. I said, "Yes" and he let out a yelp and sped ahead.

Near the airport a couple of roadies passed me by so I picked up the rear wheel of the second guy and off we went at 18-19 miles per hour.  They dropped me at the 14th Street Bridge but I appreciated the tow. In the city there was hardly any car traffic so making it to the start was a breeze. 

The start was chaotic.  Nobody was directing people to the registration tables so we all fended for ourselves. I was given a t-shirt ticket (for after the ride), a BikeDC sign to stick to the front of my bike, and a map of the short course even though I asked for a different one. Oh, well. I'll just follow the crowd.

I quickly hooked up with a woman of a certain age who's husband was out of town. I wished her a happy Mothers Day and we chatted our way for the next five miles.

The start began without an announcement and we were off. On Pennsylvania Avenue I spotted fellow blogger K. C. who rode the Police Unity Tour from Richmond to DC the last three days.  I yelled "BETTY!" which is the name of her cruiser bike and she waved.

We rode up into Rock Creek Park. It was cooler in the canyon.  What a shame the road is not closed to traffic more often.  It was a beautiful ride.

Back out of RCP we wound our way through Foggy Bottom to a rest stop. Rest stop? We've only gone a few miles!  A volunteer handed me a banana as I rolled by and I left the stop without stopping. Into the E Street tunnel and out onto the Roosevelt Bridge which was a bit of a surprise since I thought we'd be riding over Key Bridge as we had the last time I did this ride.

On the Virginia side of the river we rode north on the GW Parkway. This uphill stretch was quite fun as we climbed to and above the treetops.  I stopped at an overlook and enjoyed the view of the river and the DC Palisades.  Back on the bike, I noticed that the view over the guardrail was spectacular.  Too bad we blast by this in our cars.

We turned around and sped back the way we came.  I kept looking for people I knew but saw no one.  I was riding alone at this point so I was missing the vibe of chatter that I am used to from these kinds of rides. 

We passed Rosslyn and then doubled back on US 50 to take the exit near the Iwo Jima Memorial.  A left hand turn took us to the road along side Arlington Memorial Cemetery where we (and I mean at least 200 cyclists) were stopped and turned around. I was told there had been a nasty accident, two cyclists collided head on near the bottom of the hill.  So hundreds of cyclists found themselves riding into hundreds of cyclists. Brilliant!

We ended up somehow back on the Roosevelt Bridge salmoning the throngs who had started long after us. On the DC side there were no course marshals to guide us so I followed the lost souls in front of me and we meandered through Foggy Bottom to that first rest stop which turned out to be the finish. (We should have gone into the E Street tunnel instead),

I've done Bike DC several times and I can't remember when it went off without a major snag,  It was a beautiful day. The event got me out of bed and on the bike.  The Parkway was nice.  As was Rock Creek Park.  I think I'm done with Bike DC though.  I prefer the anarchy of the 50 States Ride or just a long ride in the country. 

The ride home was on impulse power.  Since it is my commute I was on auto pilot. I ate an early lunch and some ice cream, laid down on the couch, pulled on a snuggie, turned on a basketball game, and fell into a deep sleep.

Off to see The Avengers with my wife and kids. All my wife wants for Mothers Day is Robert Downey, Jr.
We aim to please.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

To the Playoffs and other meanderings

The day started with no milk, a sure sign that my son is home.  So I did a quick ride to Walgreens to get some moo juice and a Mother's Day card. Walgreens, alas, was closed.  So on to the US 1 Safeway.  At most times of the day, riding on US 1 in Fairfax County VA is insane but at 7:20 on a Saturday morning all the SUVs are still tucked in their garages. 

I made it to the Safeway unscathed and purchased my goods.  The ride home was uneventful except for the garbage truck that tried to back over me.  He missed.

I decided to ride to my daughter's high school lacrosse game at the Madeira School in Great Falls, but first I had to take her car to fill it up with dead dinos.  On the way, about 1/3 of a mile from my house I came upon the final staging stop for the Police Unity Tour. This is an annual event that raises awareness and memorializes police officers killed in the line of duty. Fellow blogger and DC police officer on a bike KC is riding this year. I haven't met her and don't know what she looks like but I stopped and walked into the throng of police tour cyclists. It was hopeless. I was about to yell, "Hey, KC!" when they announced the start of the final leg. It was no time for chit chat; these folks have been riding for 3 days and wanted to get a move on.

I drove off to get the gas, delayed by the traffic delays that the throng of cyclist caused.

Once home, I grabbed some water and a couple of PopTarts and hit the road on the Sequoia bound for Great Falls. I took the Mount Vernon Trail - which was not jammed with people despite the beautiful weather - to the 4 Mile Run Trail. The 4 Mile Run Trail connects with the Washington and Old Dominion Trail near Shirlington.  I took that all the way into Falls Church where I hung a right on the aptly named Great Falls Road.  That turns into Lewinsburg Road.   There was very little car traffic except at some construction pinch points. I was expecting a really hilly ride for some reason but I didn't mind the terrain at all.  I hung a right on Spring Hill Road which was a little narrow in spots. I stopped for some French food at Sept Onze in McLean then headed on to Old Georgetown Pike.  A left on OGP and up a hill with some thankfully patient drivers and after a quarter mile I was at my destination.

Last week the Frogs of Maret were blown off the field by Madeira but this week was different. The Frog coach made some tactical adjustments and the Frog goalie made save after save. The score was close all the way to the end.  Both teams played well. Unfortunately dubious officiating cost the Frogs the ball twice with less than 6 minutes to play. (Alas, stuff happens. The refs did the best they could, but two refs can't possibly cover 100 yards and 22 players.) Both events gave Madeira the ball and they scored. Madeira won by 2. The many fans on hand gave their teams a long standing ovation for playing a brilliant game.  I've seen dozens of girls lacrosse games in the last three years. Most of them are sleep inducing. This one was a blast to watch. You don't often walk away from a loss with a smile on your face but today I did.

And the smile continued on the ride home. It was mostly downhill all the way to the W&OD.  Except for a Texan in a rusty diesel pick up truck and a Fairfax County police cruiser that both passed me with little room to spare, my ride back was uneventful.  Until I reached Columbia Pike. At that point it was clear that my tank was empty.  Or maybe the pollen and bugs and sun had worn me out. I slogged the last 10 miles home. 

About 3 miles from home, I spotted two photographers at the Morningside bald eagle nest. One was the guy I talked to yesterday. He had modified his camera with an odd looking box that he said extended the range of his flash. He showed me some of his pictures on his camera screen. Very impressive,  The other photographer who had a camera that looked pretty darned impressive by my humble standards was envious.  Unfortunately for me, Mom and Pop eagle were out on the river and the eaglets were calm so I didn't see any raptor action today.

I arrived home with a hunger and a thirst and a headache. Tomorrow I get up super early for Bike DC.  Then it's home for Mother's Day which will involve naps, I am sure.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Coffee and Eagles

Well, it hasn't been much of a week for bike commuting. I spent Wednesday and Thursday driving to Saratoga Springs NY and back to extract my son from his sophomore year of college. He seems much smarter now than before all this post secondary education. He's a business major. So if you want a really smart, good looking, and charming person for your business, I have just the young man for you.

He also packs a mean car. 

While in the greater Albany area (three words which should never be used together, I might add) I did some driving on back roads.  There is some mighty nice biking to be had up thataways.

We arrived back at the Rootchopper Institute a little after 8 p.m. and I discovered that sitting in a car for 17 hours and sleeping on a forty year old mattress at the family homestead is no way to treat a back, let alone a middle aged one. I could barely stand up when I got out of the car.  After getting all my son's junk into the house, I ate dinner and two Advils and climbed into my Thermarest bed. ZZZZZZZzzzzzzz.......

8 hours later I was stepping into the surprisingly cool morning air which apparently had followed us down from the north country.  I almost had to break out the holey sweater for this commute but instead used a wicking t-shirt under a cotton t-shirt under a vest and added arm warmers.  I was going to wear tights but I was stopping at the Friday Coffee Club get together at Swings Javarama in DC on the way to work and didn't want to look like a wimp.

Sadly, even in shorts I looked like a wimp anyway, maybe because of the lame purple head band I wore.

The Friday Coffee Club is always enjoyable. Attendees are cyclists of various stripes, most of whom seem to be fellow bloggers, friends of fellow bloggers, and/or random ne'er do wells. The line up of bikes outside is pretty impressive. Lots of Brooks saddles (a personal fave) and every kind of bike bag known to civilization.  

It seems weird that whenever I park my Honda Accord in a big parking lot I can always find another that looks just like it.  And sometimes more than one. Unless you're in a bike shop looking at brand new bikes, you'll never find two bikes that look alike. Cyclists always tinker with their bikes. Saddles, pedals, bags, racks, and on and on. Endless customization.

Lauren is a coffee clubber who commutes from DC to Rosslyn. She told me that her preferred route was to take M Street across downtown. I tried it this morning. I flew all the way to Georgetown, catching light after light with very little traffic. Thanks, Lauren. Once in Georgetown, M merges with Pennsylvania Avenue and the fun begins. I felt a little like a ramora among the sharks but I made it through to Key Bridge without damage to life or limb.

The ride home was pretty sweet.  The cool of the morning had given way to a 75 degree evening with a friendly tailwind. It was an effortless ride home, much appreciated by my still tender back.

As I approached the Morningside bald eagle nest along the Mount Vernon Trail, I spotted a man on the side of the trail with a camera with a big white telephoto lens. I stopped and chatted with him. He said the nest has a mating couple with two eaglets. It is incredibly hard to find the nest now that the trees have leaves.   If you want to find the nest, the easiest way is too look for a photographer. They are big, and are not hiding behind leaves and branches and such.

Tomorrow's bike ride is cancelled on account of lacrosse (my daughter's high school team) and other family obligations, but I will be up and out of the house before 6 on Sunday so that I may ride into the city for Bike DC.  I expect to be back home by noon to celebrate Mother's Day with Mrs. Rootchopper and our two fabulous children.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Fat Toad 70 Miler - Map

I've been asked for a map of the ride I did yesterday. I've never used Bikely before so my apologies for the crudeness of the recreation.  Unfortunately, I can't get the cue sheet thing to work.  In any case, you can at least see how I got in and out of Fort Belvoir and where I was in Lorton. The rest is neighborhood meanderings in the last 15 miles to get the thing to total to 70.  (An alternative would have been to ride on Hampton Road near Lorton for a few miles and turn around.)

The software says it was 77 miles but I doubt it. Another 10 percent would have done me in for sure.

Anyway, here's the Fat Toad 70 miler


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Take That, You Fat Toad

My recent downtime combined with eating way too many bagels and too much pizza as well as drinking beer and ale has given my stomach an unwelcome enhanced profile. Once I got back to DC I decided to do something about it.

Last weekend I peeled off a 64 mile day.  I have to say that the last five of those miles was a bit of a slog but I got the job done.  Once my leg muscles had forgotten the trauma I made up my mind to do a 70 mile ride this weekend.  I intended to go yesterday but was foiled by father time. So today was make-up day.

After reading the paper and snarfing a carbo rich breakfast, I rolled down the street on the Sequoia.  I headed straight to Riverside Park where I picked up the Mount Vernon Trail.  The next mile was an uphill grind but when I reached Mount Vernon ten percent of my ride was behind me.  The weather was cooperating. It was overcast and in the low to mid 70s. I was dressed in my yellow Valpo hoodie and was comfortable.  If it rained I'd be a cold wet mess so I kept my fingers crossed.

The Woodlawn area just beyond Mount Vernon is a pretty nice place to ride.  The only problem is there is not enough of it.  I split the area in half on the Mount Vernon Highway and entered Fort Belvoir at Walker Gate.  The Fort is another great place to ride. Many of the roads have been re-built with bike lanes and sharrows.  I climbed the long hill on Mount Vernon Road savoring the return trip when I would fly down it.

I worked my way across the base and popped out on the Fairfax County Parkway between US 1 and Telegraph Road. At Telegraph I took a left and headed for Old Colchester Road.  This is a surprisingly rural road that descends to a creek before - ugh - climbing back up.  The climb is windy and steep in parts but at least its shaded.

I took a left on Gunston Road which is a two-lane, 50-mile per hour, no paved shoulder road to nowhere. It takes a bit of gumption to ride this road but, as my wife likes to remind me, I am full of it.  After a few miles on nail biting I turned into Mason Neck State Park.  This is a little known and underused gem of a park that has hiking trails and lots of opportunities to see bald eagles.

I took a rest a the visitor center on Pohick Bay and ate a Klondike bar as I watched the boats and the birds go by. No bald eagle sightings were had though.

After 15 minutes the Sequoia was lonely so I hopped aboard and headed back. I had completed a little over 1/3 of the ride and felt pretty darn good.  Back on Gunston Road I took a short diversion to the right.  At the end of the road is a fine enclave of houses, many with superb views of the river. Kids were playing in the streets like they did when I was young.  They had bikes and skateboards and Razor scooters and were making load conversation. 

My return to childhood over, I made my way back out Gunston Road all the way to Old Colchester. I hung a left and road some pretty impressive rollers through the countryside - much of it a land fill.. Garbage made pretty.


One lane takes the road under the east coast railroad tracks. The sign said, "Toot Horn First". I felt woefully inadequate but gave my bell a hearty "DING" and rode through.

Across US 1 and up the hill and I was soon in land-o-garbage. There are landfills and garbage processing stations all along this hilly route.  At the top of the hill I came upon the old Lorton Prison complex, which at one time was one of the most depressing sights in the DC area. I zigged and zagged through the area, a mixture of new houses and modest little frame houses from back in the day when location, location, location meant don't live here.

I took the curvy Lorton Road down to I 95 and pulled into a gas station convenience store for some calories. After a chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich and a cup of Joe I was ready for the last 23 miles of my adventure in suburbia.

The roads in Lorton have change quite a bit over the last 10 years.  Once the prison was closed, there was a land swap between Mason Neck - which does not have a mainline sewer conduit - and Lorton - which does.  Mason Neck now has empty fields of grass and Lorton has housing developments.  No  matter how you cut it, Lorton is a polished turd of suburbia.  There are remnants of its downtrodden prison days everywhere, including a sign noting the location ("just north of here") of a Nike missile site. Apparently this missile site kept them Ruskies from invading our prison. Money well spent.

I worked my way back to US 1 at Gunston Road. I retraced my path all the way to the Fairfax County Parkway. A remnant of the old Braddock Road that was obliterated by the Parkway remains near Fort Belvoir. I took that 1/2 mile road and watched as folks came out of a Buddhist (I think) temple. A little girl dressed in a silk dress walked with her mother on the side of the road. She had her hair in pigtails and each pigtail was adorned with an orange ball the size of a softball. She was so cute. Sadly my camera is still being rehabilitated so there is no picture.

I climbed back up into Fort Belvoir via the Tully Gate.  The road up this long hill has been greatly improved recently with a bike lane on either side. Nicely done, Pentagon.

After some meandering on the Fort I road back down Mount Vernon Road.  Smooth as glass and wide with little traffic, Mount Vernon Road is one of my favorite places to let it rip. And so I did.

Back in Woodlawn I ate up some extra miles diverting into the Yacht Haven neighborhood. I popped back out near Mount Vernon and retraced my route, tacking on a few miles near home to see the odometer click 70 miles as I turned into my neighborhood.

With mission accomplished I grabbed a cold Gatorade and a bowl of nuts, dry cereal and pretzels and sat on the deck in triumph. In minutes, of course, I was sound asleep. Father time had caught me at the finish line.