Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hey, Hon, It's the Tour du Port

Last weekend I rode the 50 States Ride in DC for the 5th time. Today I took on it's cousin the Tour du Port in Baltimore. I first did this ride with my son many years ago when he was riding his 20-inch one-gear cyclecross bike. He worked his butt off on a cold day to finish 20 tough miles.

Since then the Tour du Port has grown and routes have changed.  The route today was supposed to be 63 miles. I managed to chop that down to 60 through distracted riding.

The tour starts in the Canton neighborhood southeast of downtown Baltimore.  We rode north on a ten mile loop that included the Jones Fall cycle track. This is a pretty nifty piece of bike infrastructure but needs some work. The storm drains were oriented in line with bike tires, which can make for a nasty fall if tire meets drain opening.  And there were ramps made of tar that stuck out from the curb.  These look like remnants from an earlier use.  They, too, would make for a nasty crash.

Along the way back to the Inner Harbor, a cyclists pulled up beside me and asked if I was from DC. I said I was and asked why they asked.  It turns out that my inquisitor knows Brian from whom I bought a Sharrows pin which Brian sells in support of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. My inquisitor was Alex Baca, an assistant editor of the Washington City Paper, whose tweets I have seen occasionally. She was riding with her friend Bec Rindler.

After taking a breather at the aquarium rest stop, we continued around the Inner Harbor.  On the far side of the Inner Harbor we were supposed to ride toward Fort McHenry. We missed the turn, probably because we were gabbing and generally having a good time. This chopped 3 miles from the route. I have already ridden to Fort McHenry several times. It's an interesting fort with great views of the water, but the ride to and from it is somewhat tedious.

We came into downtown and headed west and then south along the water.  We followed the Gwynns Falls Trail which is a curious route.  In parts it is over grown with trees and bushes, tree routes span the trail in other parts and bollards pop up at the strangest places. Let's just say it has potential.

After climbing up to Bay Brook Park we headed right back toward Federal Hill where our route was cut off by a block party.  We improvised and Alex, Bec and I became separated.  I got back on course on Baltimore Street which has an impressive array of strip joints.  After crossing downtown we headed down the eastern side of the Harbor through scenic Dundalk and other blue color neighborhoods. My thoughts turned to Henrietta Lacks, who lived and died in the harsher neighborhoods nearby and whose cancer cells are the subject of an excellent book about poverty, bioethics, and race.

Pre-ride sunrise over Balmer

Heading north into tree lined neighborhood

Bec has some chocolate covered espresso beans

Alex Baca

And I thought DC bollards are bad

Running zombies. Be afraid.

Cycle mural

Chimney sweep bike helmet

Road to North Point

View from Stansbury Park

Blue skies over Dundalk
Our trip south took us to North Point Park which overlooks the waters that lead to the Chesapeake Bay. Signs indicated that a significant battle of the War of 1812 took place here.  Shots were fired, people died, the Brits eventually went home to abuse my Irish ancestors and to inbreed. At the Park I ran into Alex and Bec as I was leaving and they were arriving.

The return trip was little more than a reverse of our outbound course but into a head wind.  I arrived at the after party to eat rather drab after party food. (There's something about eating food at these things that doesn't work.  No knock on the organizers.)  The three piece band played blues and R&B and was very entertaining. The bass player looked like he was all of 15 years old. (He reminded me of Liam Finn playing in his father Neil's band 15 years ago). He played like he was born to it. The guitarist/lead singer and drummer were also top notch. 

Random thoughts

Baltimore has cycle tracks, bike lanes, sharrows, and bike trails. Most of them need a lot of work. At one point we hit a series of tree roots that was bone jarring.

We joked that the ride should be called Tour du Parking Lot because we cut through several on the way. We also rode on some narrow sidewalks that were just not appropriate for a long ride such as this.

The cue sheet was screwed up but not half as much as the last 20 miles of the course. We were supposed to take a right on a bike path over a highway on our way to North Point Park. This bike bridge was closed so the organizers improvised another route.

Much of the second half of the ride was on highways with ramps getting on or off other highways.  Maneuvering through these intersections was not a lot of fun.

The course to North Point Park took us on a old road that had been closed to car traffic. Gates across the road at every intersection meant we had to ride a quick curve around the end of the gate.

The old road to North Point was strewn with glass for about a mile. I am shocked I didn't get a flat.  Speaking of flats, I have never seen so many bicyclists fixing flats in my life. This happened all along the route.

I was disappointed that we didn't stop at the Paterson Park pagoda. This is truly one of the best parts of previous rides.

I only had a decent rhythm for about a tenth of the ride. I just couldn't get my legs spinning.

I think I am retired from the Tour du Port. I recommend it to anyone who likes this sort of riding. Baltimore's many neighborhoods make for an interesting ride. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Woodrow Wilson Bike Academy, or I Wanna Ride My Bike

I am a parent. I have two kids who are of the age where a bicycle simply can't compare to a car.  They both learned to ride on the street in front of our house. My daughter was almost swallowed up by a storm drain (her helmet kept her from going in), but teaching them was otherwise uneventful. I do remember the look on my wife's face when I told her that I let my son ride around the block by himself.  Ten long minutes later he arrived unharmed in front of our house with the biggest smile in the world.

Kids learning to ride a bike are trying to master several complex tasks simultaneously.  They are learning to balance, steer, pedal, and brake.  This requires lots of motor skills and the use of muscles that they've probably never used before.

I grew up on a dead end street.  There were no curbs. I learned to ride in the street with training wheels, because that's how it was done back in the day. I was terrified as I teetered back and forth and tried to pedal and steer and brake.  My first solo ride without training wheels ended up with me t-boning a 58 Chevy, but I digress.

There is a new train of thought that says training wheels are a waste of money and make learning much more difficult. I agree with it.

My sister Margaret is 2 1/2 years younger than me.While I was busy with second grade, my five year old sister taught herself to ride on my bike without training wheels. She pushed my bike down the driveway, jumped on it and glided onto the lawn across the street. She rode up the neighbor's grassy front lawn and when she lost momentum she crashed. Then she got up and did it again. She was having a blast.

She was mastering balance and steering. She did nothing with the brakes or the pedals. Once she had the first two skills figured out, she practiced the second two. 

Do a web search on "without training wheels". I got over 1 million hits.

Since I was known among the parents of my kids' friends as the dad who rides a bike, I was often asked where to take a kid to learn to ride.  The first words out of my mouth were always met with incredulity.


Or the Capital Crescent or Washington and Old Dominion or any other trail with significant trail traffic.

Taking a kid to a busy multiuse trail around DC is like teaching a kid to drive by taking him on the Beltway.  It's not going to end well.

Woodrow Wilson Bike Academy
I have discovered the perfect place to take your kid to practice bike riding (with or without training wheels).  It's the newly paved section of Jones Point Park under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Alexandria.  There's all kinds of new, smooth pavement.  It's deserted.  Your kid can ride in circles or up and down the big wide lanes under the bridge. If it rains, no problem. There's a huge bridge overhead remember?.  And it's a cool looking structure too.  The Mount Vernon Trail does cross the paved area near the bathrooms but there's so much room it shouldn't be a concern. (Don't even think about putting your kid on it.)

There is also a water fountain and bathrooms. When junior gets tired, take her/him over to the river to look at the boats or over to one of the play grounds.

Play ground and parking beyond the bridge

You gotta have a potty and a water fountain
Then take them to Old Town and get them an ice cream cone. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Where is Pentagon?

Where is Pentagon? by Rootchopper
Where is Pentagon?, a photo by Rootchopper on Flickr.
Whenever I see a bike tourist on the Mount Vernon Trail (or anywhere else) I stop and talk to them. They are always interesting. This man was from Russia. He was looking for the Pentagon. (It's directly behind him about a half mile away.)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Back to Back to Backroads

It's five o'clock on a Sunday. It's dark out. My legs are dead.  I know, I'll jump in a car and drive 90 minutes to a bike ride. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Cresting the Blue Ridge at Daybreak
And so I did. I loaded The Mule on the Millennium Falcon, grabbed some tunes (Crowded House, Wilco, Le Vent du Nord) and headed west to Berryville, Virginia and the Backroads Century.  The Backroads is the annual century of the Potomac Pedalers Bicycle Club, a DC area bike club for riders of all skill levels.
Berryville Sunrise

Jeff Heads Out for 100 Miles
Carbon Faired Gold Rush
Leslie, A Friday Coffee Clubber
The Start
I hoped to ride with one or more of my friends. Paul, Jody and I rode Bike Virginia together in 1991.  This was to be our 21st (and only) reunion.  Paul emailed me the day before saying he had a hockey championship game that morning so he was going to come much later, too late to do a long ride.  So he told me to contact Jody.  Not seeing her phone number at the bottom of the email, I sent her an email telling her to meet me at the high school in Berryville around 8-ish.
Another Faired Gold Rush
Kirsten (c) with the Hubz (r)
Looks like a splendid day for a ride
Bike Friday Tandem Traveller

I Could Ride This All Day, so I Did
I arrived in Berryville at 745 and was at the start 10 minutes later. I picked up the cure sheet for the 65 milers (called a metric century because it's about 100 kilometers) from Leslie, a Friday Coffee Clubber.
Hay, Sky, Trees, Field

It Was Sooooo Nice
I met up with Jeff who was armed with an Eddy Merckx road bike to do the century (100 miles).  Adios, mon ami. Too rich for my blood.

Say Neigh, Somebody
White Folks Rockin'
Kirsten, another Friday Coffee Club regular and ultramarathon runner, appeared with husband and Friday Coffee Clubber Tom - a.k.a. the Hubz - and some friends to do the half century.  Adios, mes amis.

Lisa, another Coffee Clubber, showed up.  She was doing the metric century with her husband Robert and her friend Jane and her husband.  They waited for me. I waited for Jody. At 8:10 they left. I waited 20 more minutes and checked my email. At around 8:30 I noticed Jody's phone number at the bottom of the email. I called her.

Hellava Lot of Apples
"Where are you?"

"At home. I'm coming later with Paul."

I was feeling like Cool Hand Luke. (What we have is failure to communicate.)

They're Gaining on Me
I left.  I wasn't mad, but, boy, The Mule was. He left at an impressive gallop, determined to catch up to Lisa and her crew.

I rarely ride faster than 15 miles per hour.  My bike is heavy and old and so am I.  You'd think after riding the 50 States Ride the day before I'd have nothing in my legs. My legs, however, were ready to boogie. And so we did.  The first rest stop was 12 miles away. No problem.  You might say we hauled ass. (Sorry. It's the only mule joke I have.)

Robert and Lisa
Beautiful country side and a slightly chilly breeze were the order of the day. I didn't care. I was cruising.  I passed a heap of riders on this mad dash.  They weren't in any hurry.  I arrived at the first rest stop. It had all kinds of good food, a trio playing string music by a creek, an old mill,. and Lisa and her crew.

We Fanned Out a Bit
After a few minutes we headed out together for 53 miles.  The next 20 miles were hill and windy.  We stopped after about an hour at a second rest stop. Lisa who, like me has asthma, was having breathing problems. I gave her my albuterol inhaler and she was instantly feeling better. Feeling a bit like a '70s college student, I took a hit. Does albuterol count as a performance enhancing drug?
The Mule Pulled Them in

Just Like This for 65 Miles
Off we rode. For the most part the downs were followed by ups so we could do a decent amount of hill hopping.  That's when your downhill momentum carries you up to the top of the next hill.  Every few miles, though, there was a long uphill, the kind that keeps you humble but doesn't kill you.
Cool Rocks along the Road

For every one of these difficult uphills, there was a scary fast descent.  The scary part came mostly from the fact that the roads were chip seal, a surface just rough enough to put some fear in you.  If I had more bike handling confidence, I could have easily broken 40 miles per hour. Instead of bike handling confidence I have fear. Fear is a good speed governor.
Jane and Lisa at White Post

The five of us rode in ever changing formations. Sometimes Jane's husband took the lead with Jane and I several hundred yards back and Lisa and Robert pulling up the rear. Then we'd reform and break off in another arrangement.
You Pretty Much Can't Stop Taking Pix on a Day Like This

At the final rest stop, Jane and her husband took off.  We met up with Leslie, who was enjoying a ride she called Tour of the Rest Stops after volunteering at the start.  Lisa was taking a long time so Robert told me to head out.
Leslie at our Last Rest Stop

Off I rode solo.  10 miles left. Some challenging hills remained but I was familiar with the course and nothing surprised me. That's not to say I was bored. Even after 60 miles the countryside of the northern Shenandoah Valley never loses its appeal.

The last two miles are on Route 7, the main drag through the town of Berryville.  It's a big comedown from the previous 63 miles.  The houses and shops are quaint but the trucks leave a lot to be desired.

When I finished I felt fine.I met up with Jeff and told him I could have done the century. He had 100 miles behind him to add to well over 70 the day before. He was cooked. I felt fine except for an achy left foot.  I need to get stiffer shoes for these long rides.

Rene Magritte Phone Home
Jane and her husband and I milled about. I tried a pulled pork sammich but I'm not much of a barbecue fan. I took off for home, and stopped at a pie place near Round Hill called Hill High Orchards.  Their pies, I am told, come from a Sara Lee factory.  The blueberry slice I had was heated up and had a big scoop of vamilla ice cream on top.

I filled my pie hole with it.

Blurry Reward at Hill High Orchards
So ended a long weekend of riding. 132 miles, all of it on The Mule.

Click on Lisa's and Kirsten's names above to read their accounts of the day. My full set of pix (yeah, I know about the smudge on my lens) is over on my Flickr site.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

249 States and Counting

I met my friend Charmaine one year on the 50 States Ride.  This is an event put on by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. The ride is 65 miles, 500 cyclists, 7 pages of directions, innumerable stop signs and stop lights, car traffic, 4 rest stops, and many, many, many hills. The idea is to cover all 8 wards of the city and ride on every road named after a state. (Please don't make Puerto Rico a state. Please!)

Crossing Calvert Street at Sunrise
Charmaine has a rule: she only does an event once. I have no rules, and far less common sense. This year was my fifth 50 States Ride.  (One year, I missed Vermont Avenue somehow, hence the 249 States in the title.)

Lisa (R) is all smiles
This year I teamed up with members of the Friday Coffee Club, a group of caffeinated, two-wheeled, bi-pedal,  bike commuters whom I have come to know over the past year. Many of these desperadoes also blog. (DC bike commuters are blogaholics.) Our cast of characters began with Lisa, Ed, Mary, John, Kevin, and my non-blogging friend Jeff. Jeff and I have done several rides together. (Which may mean that Jeff has less common sense than I.)  Just a minute before we left, Justin and his wife Katherine showed up. 
Pre-ride Yoga
Mary and Ed before the Start

This May Take a While
While waiting for the festivities to begin, we chatted and took pictures. Lisa even participated in a group yoga session. These folks were all kinds of flexible, but the ride would soon fix that.

At 9 a.m. we were led en masse down a long windy path to the side of Calvert Street where we waited patiently for the walk signal to cross the street and begin our journey to Wyoming. Once underway, in no time (about 3 blocks) I became separated from my peeps and was assimilated into a borg-like cluster of cyclists led by Dolores, a volunteer course marshall. Dolores, a blonde haired black woman had been trained by WABA in the mysterious art of following the cue sheet from hell.  She had the perfect attitude to lead a group through spirals of city streets to pick off state after state, which is to say, she is a hot ticket. We had a great time riding through downtown DC, laughing all the way.  Somewhere behind me my peeps were assimilated into their own rolling borg. Ed and Mary, who routinely skip the streets they ride every week, went hunting for coffee.  They would re-appear between cups.
My Peeps Are Back There Somewhere

Ed and Mary (across intersection) Seeking Espresso
At one point on Capitol Hill I lost track of Dolores. My new bike borg was led by two rather serious, silver haired, white male marshalls who promptly managed to screw up Washington Avenue at the base of Capitol Hill.(Note to WABA: clone Dolores!)  Back on track the two old dudes guided us down the left lane of Independence Avenue for a half mile with buses passing us on our right. I ride in the city all the time and found this to be - let me use a technical term - INSANE!

A Little Crowded at the Intersections
We turned up toward L'Enfant Plaza and I split off from the group to use a rest room.  After returning to the course, I rode down the side path on the Case Bridge. This runs above the Washington Channel alongside I 395.  At the base of the bridge was another cluster of literacy challenged cyclists. They were executing a switchback turn instead of going straight. NOT ON THE CUE SHEET!!!!  I reached Buckeye Drive, our next turn, and there was Dolores. "They turned, didn't they?" she said with a laugh.  (They figured out their error without too much trouble.)
On Case Bridge over Washington Channel

Justin and Kevin on Ohio Drive
A couple of turns later I was on Ohio Drive along the Potomac and joined up with Justin, Katherine and Kevin. We got to talking and missed a turn but recovered without much trouble. We soony crossed the Anacostia River where we made it to the Anacostia Park rest stop. Ed and Mary, by now sufficiently fortified with caffeine, were there to greet us.

Kevin at Anacostia Park Rest Stop
Our reassembled team headed out to conquer the hills of Anacostia. Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Massachusetts and Minnesota were going to be painful.  As we climbed the bumpy hill on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, a Metro bus driver pulled up behind us and started honking his horn at us. This went on for several blocks, and it made us all wonder how this idiot has managed not to get fired.

Little Bike Leads the Way
While our bus affair was going on, Lisa was making like Claudio Chiapucci. She flew up the hill. Um, Lisa, I meant to tell you that this is the first of three. About a mile later, Ed and Mary led us up Alabama Avenue, or, as it's know to local cyclists, the Hillary Step. Ed and Mary climb like goats. I climb like a manatee. Somehow we all came together at the top. Ed was breathing normally. I could have used supplemental oxygen. A woman in a parked car gave us enthusiastic high fives as we rode past. While I was suffering on the incline, I did make note of all the new houses and a spiffy new library we were passing. Nice to see that Anacostia is growing. 
Lisa just before the Hills Begin
I took over at the summit to lead us through the tricky Texas Street section. Texas is a short side street in a dead end neighborhood. Here, new construction of another sort reared its head. Speed humps! Every 100 yards a speed hump spanned the road.  Pedal. Wham. Pedal Wham. All I could think of was why would anyone speed on these dinky side streets. They don't go anywhere!!!!  Later in the ride we were treated to brand new rumble strips. What joy. 

Somewhere on Alabama Ave (Dolores on Far Right)
After we got humped, we cruised through the silken roads of Fort Dupont Park and were soon zooming down Mass Ave toward the Anacostia River.  What bliss after all that climbing.
The New Anacostia Trail Bridge Looks Spiffy

Soon we were back on Capitol Hill and eating burritos at the lunch stop, where we met up with Rachel and Laura, two Coffee Clubbers. Rachel was working the event for WABA and Laura was casually riding around town and decided to pat us on the sweaty back for moral support.

Rachel Doing Her Paparazza Thing at Lunch
The burrito was tasty but not exactly what you want slogging around in your stomach during a bike ride.  After lunch I headed out with Jeff, Jeff's friend Erica, and Lisa to conquer the second half. The constant tweaking of riding partners is normal for the 50 States Ride.  After twisting and turning we hit Montana and Hawaii Avenues. Steep, bumpy and hard were they. There is no try, only climb.

The northeast and central northwest parts of the city is where the ride opens up a bit. The streets are less inviting (particularly South Dakota Avenue). The turns seem less frequent; speeds increase. Idaho stops become the rule. Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas, Georgia all fall by the wayside. We picked up Ann, a young woman rider on a Trek 520 touring bike. As we were riding, the temperature gauge on my bike computer passed 90 degrees. My water bottles were emptying. This ride was getting serious.

Somewhere in this blur of heat and hills, we found a rest stop at a house owned by friends of Mary and Ed. I seriously needed some water and they had it in abundance. Perfect. At this point Lisa headed for home. She (and Jeff and I) were doing a ride the next morning so she wanted to leave something in her tank for that ride.
After resuming, Jeff and I nearly missed a turn. We were distracted by a tall woman with legs up to there walking down the side walk. This was decidedly not a glamorous part of town. She stuck our like Manute Bol at a Munchkin reunion. A rider behind us called to us and we made the turn to stay on course.

Soon after that I nearly missed a turn up near Silver Spring. No Manute, just fatigue. Dolores reappeared. Just what I needed.  I followed her up a long hill. Down Alaska we sped toward 16th Street. We flew into Rock Creek Park which was shady and much cooler.  What goes down definitely goes up, however, and we were out the other side of the park and climbing again.

A little boy ran up Beech Street and said "LEMONADE! NAME YOUR PRICE!"  We couldn't refuse his offer.  Cold. Wet. Sweet. Chug. Ahhh!

Fortified we wound our way through Chevy Chase, Tenleytown and AU Park. When we reached the AU rest stop, we could see clouds building. We made our stop a short one.  Nebraska sloped down to a left on Arizona.  The downhill route continued, but in short order we took an abrupt left and began a steep, bumpy climb back to AU.  With legs of lead, we sucked it up and carried on.  About 20 minutes later we had mastered our last three states, New Mexico, Idaho and Connecticut.

Ann and Jeff at Calvert and Connecticut
We returned to the park which had been long abandoned in favor of an after party at the Mellow Mushroom pizza place in Adams Morgan. We pedalled over to the party where  we met up with Ryan, whom I had met a few days before at a Bike Arlington happy hour. Rachel was there still working. Laura showed up. Ed. Mary. Justin. Katherine. John. And many, many others.
Calvert Street 1/2 Mile from the Finish

We had made an honest effort. We had earned our refreshment and our t-shirts.

Cheers, mates. On to the next ride. Up before the sun at 5 for the drive to Berryville.

Additional pix can be found on my Flickr page here.