Clanking along the Anacostia

Sunday was the sixth Cider Ride, an event put on annually by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. The first two Cider Rides were in December. This proved to be rather unpleasant, especially the second which was held in a cold (and I mean cold) rain. I’ve ridden all six rides but DNFed on the second. My friend Reba broke her chain. We stood in the cold rain for 20 minutes trying to fix it to no avail. I took the sag wagon back with her.

The Cider Ride has three lengths, the Candy Apple (10 miles), the McIntosh (30 miles) and the Honeycrisp (55 miles). Normally, these rides are held on the same day, but this year the shorter rides were held on Saturday to allow for social distancing. I rode the Honeycrisp.

I checked in at the Dew Drop Inn registration desk where I picked up a cue sheet and a Cider Ride tin cup. The cup has a carabiner built into its handle. I attached the cup to my saddle bag so that it could clank as I hit the bumps along the route.

Before setting off on The Mule, I made sure to partake in my favorite fall energy snack: warm apple cider and a doughnut. Having shocked my pancreas, I followed the route along neighborhood streets through Northeast DC and into Mount Rainier Maryland. Here, the route switched over to trails along the Anacostia River and its tributaries up into College Park Maryland.

Lake Artemesia

At about 13 miles, I hit the first pit stop at Proteus Bicycles in Hollywood. I had another cup of warm cider but, mindful of my health, I resisted the urge to snarf another doughnut and ate a banana instead.

Cider Ride 2020 pit stop in College Park

Back on the bike, the ride followed roads and entered the USDA’s agricultural research facility. The research area was nearly traffic-free through fields and woods along Beaver Dam Road. You know you’re in nerd heaven when you cross Soil Conservation Road.

After a mile on Springfield Road it’s on to Powder Mill Road. This road is a two-lane highway, but has wide, smooth, paved shoulders. The Mule and I were cruising along with robust celerity thanks to my amazing fitness and a strong tailwind. A turn into the Patuxent Research Refuge began a three-mile bit of wooded Zen on winding Scarlet Tanager Loop Road.

After the loop, my pace slackened as I backtracked into the wind on Powder Mill Road. So much for Zen. We continued past Springfield Road until we hung a looey onto Research Road.

Research Road climbs over a ridge into Greenbelt. The half-mile-long hill was manageable. The headwind was not a particularly welcome addition to the festivites, however.

In Greenbelt I passed a socially distanced outdoor church service before hitting pit stop number 2 staffed by WABA’s Colin Browne. Few riders had come through so there was an abundance of cider and doughnuts. I did my best to remedy the situation. Burp.

Cider Ride 2020 Pit Stop in Greenbelt

After another mile or so on the roads, I followed the route back onto a trail. Here I encountered a chain link fence with a big, open gateway through which the trail passes. Bounding along the side of the trail were two deer. They saw me and flinched at cutting in front of me to use the gateway. I slowed in case the deer bolted across my line of travel which could have made for a rather unpleasant collision.

Free of the deer, I made my way down the trail then onto some residential streets into beautiful downtown Hyattsville Maryland. This town is loaded with shops and restaurants and watering holes. Many of these are located on route along the Trolley Trail. I was sorely tempted to stop at a trailside open air eatery for a beer and a hot dog. With profound inner strength I pedaled onward.

I followed the route to return to the Anacostia River about a mile later. From here I crossed over the river to Bladensburg Waterfront Park, and pit stop number 3, staffed by WABA’s Jeff Wetzel. Jeff and his volunteers were sitting facing downriver into the wind. They too had abundant supplies of doughnuts and cider. Having survived the caloric temptations of the Trolley Trail, I succumbed to my dietary fate and washed a doughnut down with a cup of cider.

Back on The Mule, I put my 10-page cue sheet away. From here I rode the Anacostia River Trail downriver eight miles into a headwind before taking the 11th Street Bridge across to the west side of the river. Next, we followed the west bank ART upriver past RFK Stadium. A left turn took us around the stadium and through Capitol Hill to the First Street Cycletrack at Union Station. A mile later we picked the Metropolitan Branch Trail. A tailwind pushed The Mule and me all the way back to the start where more cider and doughnuts awaited us.

Cider Ride mugs

I hope this doesn’t cost me

I had my hair cut in February. Then the pandemic hit. I decided after a few months to let it grow until the election and then cut it off. Then I decided to wait a few more days. It’s the longest my hair has been since college. Maybe longer

It’s an obvious improvement, but it’s the closest I’ve been to people outside my bubble in months. I hope my mask (and that of the barber) did it’s job.

And just for historical reference a shot from when I was 19. The glasses were provided by the Massachusetts DMV.

Draining the Swamp

Well, it was time to get these big old creatures out of the swamp so they stuck them in an appropriate place, the parking lot at decrepit RFK Stadium.

Big Nellie posed with a few. There were dozens but the event was not yet open and the dinos were behind a long chain link fence.

Seeing a full sized T-Rex and other big dinos made Big Nellie feel like an hors d’oeuvre. My favorite was the baby dinos.

Liberation!

Four years ago, Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to Donald Trump. Nearly every woman I know was devastated. Hillary was the speaker at my daughter’s high school graduation. There’s a picture of the two of them shaking hands on stage. We kidded her during the campaign that she had a picture with the future president. Understandably, my daughter took the election results hard.

Fast forward a few years. My daughter was an intern at the Irish embassy in Washington. Joe Biden came to the embassy for an event. Lily was hanging out with Biden’s chauffeur. At the end of the night, the chauffeur let Biden know that someone wanted to meet him. After a bit of a wait Biden’s rather chatty), the former VP came over and posed for some pictures and chatted. You can imagine how she felt when the news broke that he’s going to be the next president.

As a parent all I can say is “THIS IS TOTALLY COOL.”

Big Nellie and I took advantage of awesome weather to ride to the White House to check out the celebration. The Mount Vernon Trail was packed. I was stuck in line after line of as many as ten bikes heading north.

Finally I made it across the river, around the Jefferson Memorial, and up to the Washington Monument. There were hundreds of people joyfully celebrating. Among them were a few Trump diehards. My advice to them, not actually given, would be “When in Boston, take off your Yankees cap.” (I once went to a Sox-Yankees game at Fenway. The idiot next to me wore a Yankees cap and was very vocal. Suffice it to say, I was covered in peanut shells, popcorn and beer by the time the game was over.)

Constitution Avenue was gridlocked. Cars were honking. I walked my bike through the wall of cars and rode up 17th Street. After a few empty blocks thanks to a police blockade, I came upon some more traffic. Nobody was moving. Kids were sticking out sun roofs. Horns were honking. People were waving banners out their car windows. Partay!

I managed to make my way over to Black Lives Matter Plaza (16th Street) It was absolutely jammed with people celebrating. I was wore a mask and a buff, doubled over. I could barely breathe. Just to be safe, I left to avoid too much contact. On my way out of the area, I could see hundreds of people walking toward the celebration.

There and back again

Today was perfect riding weather. I rode The Mule to the county recycling center in Lorton, Virginia to dispose of some old motor oil and insecticide. The recycling center is next to the old Lorton Federal Prison and the massive mountain of trash at the county landfill. The prison was closed a few decades ago. The landfill keeps growing.

Yesterday I rode to Fort Washingtonin Maryland, It was a ride that involved several tough hills. Not surprisingly, my legs were not amused by today’s climbs on the way to the recycling station. A couple of the hills reminded me of the long grinding climbs that I did last summer in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. Thankfully, I am near sea level hereabouts so I had no problem with oxygen debt.

I made it in one piece and did my civic duty, pouring about a half gallon of used lawn mower oil into the Vat of Grossness.

The recycling place is on an interesting road.

Maybe they should call the mountain of trash at the landfill Mount Doom.

For the record, Mordor has some of the biggest speed bumps you’ll ever see. They are more like tectonic bulges. You can really get a nice bounce out of them. The giant semis and garbage trucks practically moan when they go over them at 5 miles per hour.

For the record I didn’t call The Mule “My Precious” once.

My reward for a good deed done was the mostly downhill ride back, partly along Old Colchester Road. For about a mile, the roadway, newly paved, descends in a series of curves through a wooded area. 30 miles per hour through a tunnel of fall foliage. Ahhh.

The weatherman is calling for more near perfect weather for the next several days. My legs are going to fall off.

Ford vs. Trump

I spent the summer of 1973 watching the Watergate hearings on TV so I know a skunk when I see one. Knowledge in hand, I have been perplexed why, after such a train wreck of a presidency, Donald Trump has received 67 million votes as of this writing. What are these people thinking?

Then it occurred to me. Trump voters are like my father and Fords.

Sometime in my very early life, my father started buying Ford station wagons. We’re talking about the late 1950s here. My father’s car buying philosophy was simple: keep the car until the warranty expires then trade it in. This was important for two reasons.

Ford Country Squire - Wikipedia

First, we lived in the snow belt. If you ditched the car after a couple of years, the inevitable rust was someone else’s problem. Second, American cars of that era were, to use a technical term, crap. Let me give you an example. Around the early to mid 1970s, my father had a Country Squire station wagon. Andy Rooney once ridiculed buyers of this car as idiots because they paid extra, big bucks for the optional wood grain finish. This was actually a big piece of contact paper surrounded by $5 worth of plastic trim. Another feature of the car was that it got something like 8 miles to the gallon in the city and 13 on the highway. I am not making this up. It had an enormous engine that took forever to warm up on cold days. It accelerated like a manatee on land. The kicker was the dashboard.

I grew up in Albany NY (coincidentally, Andy Rooney’s hometown. He also went to my high school, but I digress.) The record low in Albany is -28F in January 1971, my sophomore year in high school. It is not unusual to have a few weeks of sub-zero temperatures every winter. Been there. Done that. One morning my father went out to warm up the car. As the interior heated up, a jagged crack formed right down the middle of the dashboard. Quality is job one.

We had to have a big car because we had seven kids and my father was a gardener. When the “wayback” was not filled with blocks of peat moss and shovels and such, it had huge cushions and a kid or three. (Seatbelts? You must be joking. My mom used to let us stand on the front seat of the car when we were little. I am not making this up.)

Another feature of this piece of automotive dung was the fact that it was so bulky that it was nearly impossible to parallel park. Guess which car I took my driving test in? The night before my test, my father set garbage cans up on the street and I practiced parallel parking between them. Clang! Clang! During the test, I put the car in reverse, looked over my shoulder and prayed. Perfect! I couldn’t do it again in 100 tries.

Day after day for my entire childhood my father would bitch about his crappy Ford station wagon. Yet every two or three years when the warranty expired, he’d trade his car in for another Ford station wagon that was, incredibly, even crappier than the one he had. (In the mid-1960s he bought a two-door Mustang instead. He kept it for a few months. We kids loved it but you couldn’t get a block of peat moss in it to save yourself. So he traded it in on another wagon.)

So why did he keep buying these shitboxes? My theory is that he bought Fords one after the other because lord knows Chevrolets and Plymouths could actually be worse. Sometime after I left home, he threw caution to the wind and bought a Chevy wagon. It was a vast improvement.

Now he may have been onto something. My younger brother once bought a VW Golf. Its transmission died the day after the warranty expired. I am not making this up either. (To its credit, the dealer honored the warrantee anyway.)

If you are under 30, I promise you that you have no idea how lucky you are Even the worst shit box on the road today is infinitely better than Fords on the 1960s and 1970s.

Which brings me back to the Donald. Why would people vote for him even after nearly four years of demonstrating that he is indisputably the worst president in U. S. history? I mean, I bet his hair cracks in half at -10F. People vote for him because they are afraid that any alternative is likely to be worse. I mean a new president could have hair that cracks at +10F. We can’t have that, now can we? It’s a variation on what Milton Friedman called the tyranny of the status quo.

Aren’t you glad the election is almost behind us.

For the record, I am a Honda man.

Riding nowhere – October

Another month, another 913 miles of riding around in circles. Except for a single one-way 57-mile ride on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail that is. It’s inane to be doing this but it’s that kind of year, isn’t it.

After putting 676 miles on my Cross Check (which passed the 18,000-mile mark) and another 51 miles on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, I switched rather cautiously to Little Nellie, my folding travel bike with little wheels. Little Nellie has been known to beat my lower back to a pulp so I have been avoiding riding it. I was considering selling it until, on a whim, I tweaked the saddle height and found a sweet spot. I can now ride it pain free. So it’s been my ride of choice for final 186 miles of the month.

So far this year I’ve ridden 8,655 miles. Getting to 10,000 is going to require some determination and a whole lot of help from the weatherman.

I also bought some new bike junk. I have a set of rechargeable blinky lights that are reasonably useful. They are be-seen lights, meaning they improve my visibility to others. The headlight will keep me from rear ending a parked car but I will use one of my more powerful Light and Motion headlights for nighttime navigation.

I also picked up a wind vest. It is bright yellow and has a big dorky reflective arrow on the back. The arrow points to the left. (The manufacturer makes a version for left side driving countries too.)

I also bought an Arkel Tailrider bag. This probably will replace my Carradice LongFlap , a huge saddlebag. The LongFlap uses leather straps that are a pain to open and close and it weighs a ton. The Tailrider is lighter and has zippers. I will give up some carrying capacity but I rarely maxed out the LongFlap. The rack on my CrossCheck has two levels which means I can use the Tailrider on the top of the rack and still attach panniers if I need to.

On to November. Brrr.

Liking Ike

The new Eisenhower Memorial is now open for visitors. It is wedged rather creatively between the US Department of Education and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on Maryland Avenue SW in Washington DC.

The back of the memorial is a screen with a sort of camouflage netting. There are benches all around and large displays with statues. The displays are inscribed with Ike’s words, including a small excerpt from his remarks to the troops before D-Day and a piece of his farewell speech in which he warns of the military industrial complex.

His words are eloquent and his attitude humble. Whenever I see film of him reminiscing about the Second World War, I am struck by how truly saddened he is by all the deaths and suffering. This comes through in the words etched into the marble walls. Off to the side is a wall commemorating his postwar homecoming. He was just a kid from Abilene Kansas who aspired to a modest life as a policeman or a train conductor who ended up freeing millions from tyranny.

“We had to do something.”

The ongoing tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic is overwhelming. We hear statistics day after day. Over 200,000 dead. Millions infected. They numb our conscience. So Bethesda, Maryland artists Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg acted. I asked her why and she said “We had to do something.”

So she designed an art project called In America. In a swath of grass 20 blocks east of the Capitol, she is planting row after row of white flags, one for each covid-19 death in the United States. She expects there to be about 240,000 of them from today until November 6.

A volunteer uses a template to place flags.

The orderly flags remind me of the white headstones in military cemeteries like Arlington and Colleville-sur-Mer. So clean. So white. So much death. How could this happen in America?

To drive home the point, on the western front of the installation is a set of over 300 white flags. To the side are 26 more. The 26 flags represent the total covid-19 deaths in New Zealand. The 300+ flags show the covid-19 deaths that New Zealand would have had if it had followed the haphazard response that occurred in the United States.

If only we had responded as New Zealand did

There is something about this particular part of DC that draws the sad and the bizzarre. The last time I had ridden a bike to this space was to participate in a BikeDC event shortly after the attacks of September 2001. A massive crowd of bicyclists stood somberly. We were there to show that no matter what we would carry on. We sang God Bless America then rolled off en masse.

Three years before that I attended the Tibetan Freedom concert in RFK Stadium across the street to the east of the flags. In the middle of the concert I went to the concession stand. I heard a loud BANG. Lightning had struck a person some 20 rows or so below my seat. (She survived.) The concert was stopped and the massive crowd was told to leave the stadium in the middle of a raging thunderstorm.

And so here I was again observing another sad and bizzare moment in history.

Volunteers are welcome to come and install flags. Sadly, there will be about 1,000 new flags every day for the duration of the display. Wear a mask and observe social distancing, of course. Or just come and bear witness.