Wednesday, October 31, 2012

One More for October

Based on the scary weather reports I didn't think I'd be biking to work today.  Superstorm Sandy wasn't all that bad except for lots of wind and rain.  We lucked out.  So here's today's tale:

My back hurt. I didn’t sleep a wink. I needed to get to work. 

So began my 130th bike commute of the year.  

It was supposed to be cold out so I broke out my long sleeve base layer that I haven’t worn since March.  I put a t-shirt over that, then my gray Marmot Precip jacket.  Then my Bike Arlington yellow reflective vest over that.  On my head I wore a thin synthetic cap and a thick neck gaiter.  I would have worn my Buff gaiter which is lighter weight but it has gone missing along with my cell phone.

Below the waste I had on mountain bike shorts and my Precip rain pants.  My feet had on wool socks and my normal biking shoes. Bike Arlington reflective ankle bands finished the look.  I had a red blinkie attached to a reflective strap on the back of my helmet and a Light and Motion Stella head light on the front. 

My hands wore Performance insulated gloves with reflective finger tips.  Putting all this crap on eats up ten minutes of my morning. I miss summer already. Despite my complaining, I was as warm and visible as was humanly possible.

About a quarter mile from my house I make a left turn, often with cars coming behind me.  The road widens to add a left turn lane. Sometimes bad, bad cars use it to pass me. Not today though. I was a good boy and signaled my intent. Cars let me move over. Good cars. I began my turn. As I was about to complete the turn, an old white car blew by me on the left  Bad, bad car. That’s right. I was turning left and was passed on the left. Those bikes are messing up traffic, aren’t they? 

A mile and a half later I was turning left onto Fort Hunt Road from a side street. At this time of day, Fort Hunt Road is a busy commuter route. I only need to use it for 200 feet or so. As I approached my turn I looked right. All clear. I looked left and a bad, bad car was coming straight at me. I hadn’t left the side street!  This bad, bad car decided to make a U-turn through me. He must have missed the yellow reflective vest, the yellow reflective leg bands, the white reflective stripe on my tires, the reflectors on my pedals, the reflective tab on the heel of my shoes, the reflectors on the front and back of my rear panniers, the reflector on my saddle bag, the reflector on my rear rack, the reflector on my handle bar bag, the reflective material on my gloves, the reflective band holding the blinking red light on the back of my helmet and the head light on my helmet.  That poor, poor driver must be blind. I do hope he gets to an eye doctor soon.

Oh, the good news is he missed me.

Heeding warnings from fellow bike commuters, I rode gingerly trying to avoid slipping on all the wet leaves.  The leaves weren’t the problem; the wet branches underneath the leaves were though. I slipped a bit here and there but never came close to falling. I slalomed around fallen branches when I could see them. When I didn’t they clattered on my fenders and frame.  At one point my foot seemed to become entangled in my toe clip. I had lost a bolt and nut on one of the pedals an the toe clip was rotating randomly.  Annoying but not life threatening.
I stopped to take pictures of the sunrise twice.  I could have stopped many more times but I’d still be out there. I spotted a bald eagle stirring on a high branch near the Belle Haven nest. 

Almost sunrise at Dyke Marsh
Just a few minutes later close to Old Town
I was expecting this to be a difficult commute after the storm, but it was actually pretty normal.  My only complaint came from my cold toes. My feet got wet when I walked through the grass to get my bike out of the shed.  Wet feet at 40 degrees are not good.

The ride home was uneventful. Except for the rescue activity at the river just north of the airport. Did somebody fall into the river?  I didn't stick around to find out.  I was expecting to see major flooding in Old Town Alexandria but there was none.  

On the way home I usually take the Mount Vernon Trail farther south than the point that I get on it in the morning.  This stretch of the trail was 1 1/4 of wet leaves.  I took my time and didn't slip. There were so many leaves that I couldn't see the edges of the trail. This wasn't a problem because I've ridden the trail a few thousand times.  

Rescue near the Airport

Once at home I started to search for my missing cell phone.  I looked in the seat back bag on Big Nellie. The phone wasn't there but my Buff was.  The Buff is the bestest piece of bike commuter clothing ever. It makes an excellent Christmas gift (hint!!!).

Later in the evening I found my black cell phone.On the drive to the Great Pumpkin Ride,  It had fallen out of my fanny pack and between the seats of the all black interior of the Millennium Falcon (my son's car). 

Despite the lack of sleep, I'd say it was a bike commuting success all the way around.  On to November!!! 

Monday, October 29, 2012

October Ends with a Whoosh

As I write this Hurricane Sandy is about to amp up in the DC area. So far the winds have been nothing to extreme but in an hour or so that's going to change in a big way.

What better way to spend my last moments on earth than to run the numbers for October.

Blueberry bread during the Great Pumpkin Ride
I rolled 638.5 miles in the month (assuming I am not riding tomorrow.)  15 rides were commutes, 4 were weekend rides.  I rode 309 miles in 10 rides on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent.  Big Nellie has taken most of 2013 off so it was nice to get out on the big hoss. Seven of these rides were commutes. The Sequoia rumbled for 329.5 miles including 8 commutes and a 72.5 mile excursion on the Great Pumpkin Ride, my longest ride of the month.

I knocked out 4 coffeeneuring rides during the month hitting Buzz, Grape and Bean, the Hollin Hall Pastry Shop, and Red Truck Bakery. Red Truck was by far my favorite.

My year to date numbers are 6,045.5 miles with 129 bike commutes.  My long ride was 111 mile during the all day extravaganza known as the Hoppy 100.

Now it's time to sit back and ponder the wonders of climate change.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pumpkins and Pain and Coffeeneuring

Any sensible person would have skipped riding 72+ miles with a sore back. I am not your man.

I rode to work all five days on my recumbent, Big Nellie. I spent quite a bit of time getting the seat set up in the week or so before hand but by Friday my lower back was not a happy camper.  From experience I know that I need to lean the seat back back a bit to open up my hips and to take the impact of bumps from my butt to my back. This keeps my lower spine from taking all the abuse and spreads the force of impact across my entire back.

That operation is for another day, alas. I took The Mule, my Specializes Sequoia touring bike out to Warrenton on Saturday morning for the Great Pumpkin Ride.  We left the house at 6:40 so I could get in a coffeeneuring ride before the event.

With little traffic on the roads I arrived at the start before registration opened. So I jumped on The Mule and headed out to find Red Truck Bakery.  Red Truck is supposed to be amazing. Even though it's located almost an hour from DC the Washington Post went literally out of its way to give it a rave review.  I am difficulty to please, however.

I walk in the door and the first person I see is Veronique. Our kids went to grade school together. I knew she used to work there but was surprised to see her behind the counter. We had a great talk and took some pix, then she sent me off with a coffee and an orange and cranberry muffin that she said is "like crack."

By the time I had done the short ride back to the start of the Pumpkin Ride, I had spilled about a third of my coffee on my right hand. This is a shame because it was a fine cup of brew.  Then I pulled out the muffin. It was
Still Life with Java
Red Truck, Mule, and Coffeeneur (photo by Veronique)


No lie. Red Truck is the real deal.  I may have to retire and become a muffin head, which is like a crack head only with moistness and sweetness and yum.

Once the muffin was done, I spotted some coffee (Starbucks, not a match for Red Truck's brew) and some very tasty artisanal bread. Eat, drink. Nothing like three breakfasts (I had Cheerios before leaving home) to get your belly primed for biking.

I knew that some Friday Coffee Clubbers, Rachel and Kate, were coming to do the ride. Also, John, the Hoppy 100 major domo, had expressed interest. Rachel and Kate were doing the 48 miler but I wanted to do the 72 miler. I decided to leave early so I could intercept them during the last 15 miles when the two routes converged.

Beginning of Rail Trail and Route
Choo Choo
The ride started on a nice little rail trail but soon hit the beautiful country roads of the Virginia Piedmont. The 14 miles to the first rest stop were remarkably flat. I took my time since my back was sore and I had nearly 150 miles on my legs from the week's bike commutes.
Clouds over the Piedmont

Leaves, cows, dead deer. Ah, country living.

Yup, Country Roads Are Pretty
Sun Moving Higher
The first rest stop was at a winery. The food was AWESOME.  More of that amazing bread - this time with blueberries.  A woman was cooking hot soft pretzels on a grill. I asked for one. She gave it to me and tried to give me a piece of wax paper to hold it with. I pointed to my mouth and said, "It's going in here."

First Rest Stop - Feed Me Seymour
Back on the road, the 72 mile route took us into a somewhat hillier direction.  There were a couple of challenging short hills but neither my back nor my legs wanted anything to do with them.  There was nothing to do but grind it out and so I did. Every so often a vista or a blazing tree would appear to take my mind of my dead legs.  Occasionally the wind would pick up and the leaves would come fluttering down on the road. The sound of a bicycle wheel crunching through leaves brought back memories of riding when I was a little kid.
The Mule Stopped to Talk to These Two

Photographic Evidence of Me Actually Riding
The next rest stop at 33 miles was equally awesome. More blueberry bread please.  They were serving pumpkin soup. (I don't like the taste of pumpkin but I was told this soup was delicious.)

Interesting Grave Stone along the Road
Kelly's Ford
Back on the road for the 28 mile hop to rest stop number three.  There seemed to be some payback from the climbing. The wind would occasionally gust to keep me honest.  Sandy, the hurricane that was supposed to end life as we know it (but appears, at this writing, to be heading toward the Big Apple) had cast a blanket of clouds across the skies and would send a probing finger of wind every half hour or so.

Windy Road Ahead
The last rest stop was at a beautiful stone mansion. The kind that is rented out for weddings, which, as it turned out, was happening this day.  More food. Clean rest rooms. The organizers truly outdid themselves. Nom. Nom.

The last 11 miles were a bit of a surprise. There were some significant climbs and one annoying false flat.  A false flat is an gradual uphill that looks like it is flat but drains your energy. I kept wondering why I was going so slowly then I'd look up an see that I was gaining on people. Dang, it's not just me.

This Guy Looked Real
Pedal. Trees. Farms. Pedal. Leaves. Pedal. Fake corpses. Pedal. Goats. Pedal. Sheep. Pedal. Cows. Pedal. Alpacas.

Dos Alpacas
Rural Virginia - Gotta Have a Church
Then it was over. Boo hoo. I tweeted the Coffee Clubbers and found that Rachel, Kate and their friend Katie Ann were at a Molly's Irish pub listed as the site of a post ride party.  It wasn't very festive. Rachel, who had never done a ride like this before, was a bit knackered but seriously chuffed.  She had borrowed a road bike after riding heavy urban mules.   Her experience could best be summed up with two words: Woo and Hoo.

MOTS - More of the Same
We had a fine time drinking beer and eating some pretty tasty pub food.

Katie Ann, Rachel, and Kate at Molly's
I had planned to ride to the Marine Corps Marathon but my legs are lead today. And my back is having nothing to do with a bike either.

The Mule in the Leaves
The ride totals were 72 1/2 miles.  Less than a mile of that was the Coffeeneuring trip to Red Truck.  This is technically below the coffeeneuring distance limit, but I am pleading to the Coffeeneuring Queen for a mileage waver since (1) I had to get up extra early to get the coffeeneuring ride in, (2) I found the BEST MUFFIN EVER, (3) I didn't realize Red Truck was so close to the ride start, (4) it would have been silly to ride around in circles to get my distance up, (5) I spilled half the coffee on my hand and had to reboot with (ugh) Starbucks, and (6) Mary, Queen of Java, is most beautiful and wise.
Note: John's ride report can be found here. He gets serious props for dealing with a rider who had a medical emergency during the ride.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Of Eagles, Blood, and Angels

It was just one heck of a nice day to be riding a bike even if I was going to work. Big Nellie was doing her laid back thing and I was cruising along with a nice gentle tailwind.  I cruised through Belle Haven Park and didn't slip a bit on the abundant colorful leaves covering the Mount Vernon Trail.  Each morning I glance up to a tree on the Belle Haven Country Club golf course on the opposite side of the Parkway from the MVT. Normally, the tree with the abandoned bald eagle nest, what I cleverly call the Belle Haven nest, sits like an avian sky box over the cars lined up to enter the Old Town Alexandria crawl.

This morning was different. In a branch a bit higher than the nest was what looked in the light of dawn like a ball of leaves or maybe a hornets nest. Then I saw a white ball pop out of the mass.  It was the head of a bald eagle. He or she was probably preening but I like to think that it had just awoken from a good night's rest.

The rest of the ride was rote, but a good rote with all kinds of trees ablaze in their autumn glory.  The rising sun had hidden behind a cloud placed just so to allow sunbeams to shine out from behind it in all directions.  Now and then I hit a bump in the trail. A few of them sent me momentarilly airborne from the plush seat of my recumbent. 

Just north of the Memorial Bridge, I came upon this sign:

What a nice gesture but I could have done without the blood loss bit.

My regulars seemed to be few and far between today. As I approached the Roosevelt Bridge a woman approach on her bike.  She wore a costume of some sort and had an angel's wing sticking straight out of her back like a dorsal fin.

Not 30 seconds later I saw a man ride toward me. As he passed I recognized him from a meeting I attended a week or so ago at a federal government agency. Of the six people in attendance at that meeting, four were everyday bike commuters, one was a fairweather bike commuter and one was a Capital Bikeshare member.  By golly, I do believe this bike thing is catching on.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Golf Cart Bike Trailer?

On the Mount Vernon Trail, I came upon this interesting looking bike and trailer combo. The bike seemed to be a Dahon. The trailer apparently was a Burley of some sort.  It seemed odd that the load was oriented vertically instead of horizontally. I would have expected it to wobble but it didn't and he was going pretty fast-ish (well, faster than me) for most of the time I was behind him.

The picture was taken on the way up to the stone bridge. I was going fast because I had stopped to get my camera out of its frame bag and Mr. Bike Trailer left me in the dust. I caught him on the little, bumpy climb to the stone bridge. .

As I look at this now, I can see a pretty decent alternative to a golf cart in the making here. Bike golf, could catch on. Note the rider isn't wearing a helmet because golfers are risk taking maniacs.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Coffeeneuring #4: Leaves and Beans

I wasn't planning on going far. I slept in and read the paper. No matter how hard I tried, the crossword puzzle was just not happening.  I decided to take Big Nellie for a ride for a cup of coffee and do some leaf peeping.

The mandatory first leaf peeping stop around my house is Fort Hunt Park. Fort Hunt was once one of the perimeter defenses for our capital city but those days are long gone. Only a few ruins remain of the nineteenth century fort.  During the Second World War, German prisoners from U-boats were secretly held here and interrogated.

Now, Fort Hunt Park is a place for high school cross country meets and group picnics. It's empty parking lots and 1 1/4 circular drive are an ideal place to learn how to drive.  The maples lining the entrance to the park are old and majestic. At this time of year they explode in color. As I took these pix, a cyclist stopped and pulled out his camera. He said, "It looks like Vermont!"  Indeed.  Check it out:

Fort Hunt Park circuit road
They call me "Big Red"
It just doesn't get any better than this
Oh, yes it does!
"It looks like Vermont."

Fort Hunt Park is located just off the Mount Vernon Trail about 4 1/2 miles south of Old Town

Drunk on foliage, I rode the Mount Vernon Trail to Old Town. I had tweeted that I was out and about doing my coffeeneuring run for the weekend. The response would have been underwhelming but there wasn't any. I stopped at Grape and Bean for a cuppa French Roast. The place had a vibe that didn't appeal to me. Very laid back but stodgy at the same time. They didn't have any quick eats like muffins or cookies to go with my coffee. And I didn't much go for the coffee either. Way too strong for my taste.  I drank it none the less and got a pretty good buzz.
French Roast

Big Nellie tied to a hitchin' post
I decided not to waste a good speed rush and headed north toward the city.  As I rode, I spotted more beautiful trees than I could count. I rolled past a spirited game of flag football near Daingerfield Island. A receiver was hit on the numbers by a pass right next to the trail. He dropped the ball. Good D or steel hands? It was hard to tell.

Transpotomac Canal Park on the Mount Vernon Trail
As I headed north, my legs started to feel their oats and I was soon cruising along effortlessly.  I crossed the Potomac River on the 14th Street Bridge, ever grateful for the people who added this sidepath.

Ramp to the 14th Street Bridge
14th Street Bridge Side Path
I rode the east bank of the river past the Lincoln Memorial, some beach volleyball courts, and the Kennedy Center. The walkers along the path near the Kennedy Center slowed me way down. I know it's a nice day out and you may be new to town but you all need to get some situational awareness, folks. Walking four and five abreast is really obnoxious. And what's with walking on the left when everyone else is obviously walking on the right? Must not kill....

Trees and Beach Volleyball near Lincoln Memorial
I banged a left (where the heck did this expression come from?) on K Street and made it lickety split to the Capital Crescent Trail.  Once on that sucker, Big Nellie let it all hang out. We were cruising along nicely at around 15 miles per hour going up hill.  The sun had ducked behind a cloud and the temperature dropped quickly. In fall and spring, you can never be sure about the onset of cold and/or rain.  I hoped for the best and spun my way to Bethesda Row, the bustling downtown section of Bethesda. I spotted some funny plaques on the wall of the Barnes and Noble as I locked up my bike. Since it was around 2 in the afternoon, Bethesda Bagels was not crowded. I bought a decidedly unhealthy lunch and Big Nellie and I headed for our sky box.

I do believe the good doctor was right
Smart ass.
Heading north out of Bethesda, the Georgetown Branch Trail is the Capital Crescent's unpaved extension into Chevy Chase (the town, not the actor) and Silver Spring (birthplace of Goldie Hawn).  It crosses over Rock Creek Park on a restored railroad trestle, cleverly named the Rock Creek Trestle. (I wonder how many consultants were hired to come up with that name.)

Georgetown Branch Trail
On the trestle, I ate lunch in the tree tops. I gazed down at the creek below and all around at the trees changing colors. If you ride a bike in DC, you really owe it to yourself to ride up here.  Way down there are little people running and riding wee little bikes. Hi, little people.

Big Nellie on the Trestle
Trestle and Trees

Rock Creek and Trail Way Down There

Clearly, I was needing calories. And my everything bagel with veggie cream cheese and massive chocolate chip cookie had them in abundance. Sadly, my feed bag had taken a couple of falls on the bumpy ride north and the cookie was more like cookie bits. The bagel had opened and smeared its contents all over. It wasn't pretty but it sure was tasty. I washed it down with an iced tea.
Lunch before it was smashed up

Replenishment complete, I back tracked to Beach Drive and took a left down into the park, breaking the speed limit on the downhill. (I have never failed a drug test, I'll have you know.) Sections of Beach Drive are closed to cars on the weekends. Although some car traffic is allowed to drive across the park, none can drive the length of the park to downtown DC.  In essence most of Beach Drive is a paradise for cyclists, runners, walkers and roller bladers. And it's mostly downhill all the way to the Potomac.

If you give a bent a cookie, it will go very fast.  And so Big Nellie did. Down we went curving left and right. Rock Creek bubbled along the canyon floor and the trees put on a show on all sides. Riding a recumbent on a long downhill is more like street luge or tobogganing than cycling.

Recumbent panda - note soft sided helmet
Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park
Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park - Part Deux
Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park Strikes Back
Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park - Curve-y part
Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park - Blur Means Fast
Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park - Follow the Arrows
In one particularly pretty part of the park, the road slaloms, left then right then left. Eventually a right takes the road onto a little stone arch bridge over the creek. As I came off the bridge and accelerated I saw three people walking toward me.  One of them was Kate, a former colleague, whom I last saw on my last day of work at my old job. We were on the office Earth Day team. I was Bike Man; Kate was Walking Woman. (No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get her to try bike commuting. Fail.)

Kate with her Mom and Dad
I rode past Kate yelling "Hi!!" then, feeling bad for not stopping to chat, I doubled back. As it turns out, the other two people were her parents. Awwww. Such a nice girl.

Trail in Rock Creek Park
After our talk, I realized that I was still over 20 miles from home. Time to boogie. Big Nellie kicked up her heels and we made short work of the rest of the park. If you ride a bike in DC or run or walk or hike or ride a horse or rollerblade, you must take advantage of Rock Creek Park, especially on the weekends. If you don't, I'm kicking you out of my blog.
Beach Volleyball and Trees, Again

We retraced our route to the 14th Street Bridge and the Mount Vernon Trail. Just south of the airport as I slowed for a street crossing I saw a young woman mounting her bike. As I passed she looked up. She looked like Kate's twin. Maybe my Earth Day pitch worked after all, on her long lost identical twin sister.  Or maybe, there's some secret cloning experiments going on at my old office. Hmmmm.....

Instead of talking the Mount Vernon Trail south of Old Town I switched to Fort Hunt Road. This road is pretty typical of the haphazard road designs in Fairfax County. Four lanes narrow to two with a side path on the other side and a parking lane on the right. At the big hill the road drops the path and the parking lane and, eventually, the shoulder becomes a two foot deep ditch. At the very top of the hill a second lane on the right side re-appears for a couple of blocks then the whole thing narrows again. And it gets bumpy.

I was riding along on this bumpy, narrow stretch and a line of cars started to pass me. I was going 20 miles per hour and I could see the cars in my side view mirror. No problem. One car goes by. Another. Another. Then, a white Mercedes came up nearly even with my rear wheel. The driver honks his horn at me. It wasn't an "I'm passing" honk; it was a "Get our of my way" honk. I guess he was trying to teach me a lesson or something. As he pulled along side me, I gave him the finger. I know I should kept my cool, but what he had just done was extremely dangerous. I wanted him to know that despite our philosophical differences, he was my number one douche bag of the day.

His response to my gesture was to swerve at me as he passed.  Brilliant dude. I delay you for two seconds and your respond with attempted vehicular homicide. He ended up at a traffic light. I thought about stopping and knocking on his window, but that would have been pointless. As he passed me again (without trying to kill me), I turned to him and made a "I took your picture" gesture with my hand.  He sped off.

About a quarter mile later I spotted his car in a parking lot. I took its picture. Check out the license plate. Don't you just love religious people. So giving. So tolerant. So peaceful. God is amazing; he loves you even if you are a douche bag.

Car owned by Jesus of Benz
I rode home at peace with myself. Even Jesus of Benz couldn't mess with my day: 54 1/2 miles, another coffeeneuring success, unbelievable fall foliage, and a nice surprise meeting in Rock Creek Park. 

Now for another go at that crossword puzzle.