OOGA CHAKA

About ten months ago, my kids were coming home from overseas, Christmas was approaching, and I was about to hit 10,000 miles of bicycle riding for the year. I was really looking forward to a big finish to 2017.

Then I got my ass kicked by some invisible friends. Unbeknownst to me, I had been harboring a deep vein thrombosis, a big blood clot, in my left calf. On the night my kids came home, a week before Christmas, my DVT sent tiny bits of blood clots to my heart and my heart pumped them into my lungs. I’ll take pulmonary embolisms for 1,000, Alex.

Fug.

There I was in the ER hearing the diagnosis from a gaggle of doctors. It was literally unbelievable, and inane.

Me: You’re putting me on!

Doctor: No. We’re serious.

Me: I just rode a bicycle to Key West.

Doctor: Ever hear of a plane?

At some point that evening my right lung collapsed.

Fug.

And so it became clear that my mileage for 2017 would fall 88 miles short of 10,000 miles. Which, at the time, wasn’t exactly at the top of my worry list.

I’ll take Please don’t let me die for $2,000, Alex.

About a week later, Katie B. and Rachel surprised me. Rachel sent the fritters. Katie sent the t-shirt..

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And I decided that I wasn’t done with 10,000 miles.

After a week or two, I gently began riding Big Nellie in the basement. Then, I ventured outside. Mile after mile. Day after day. I got a little bit stronger.

By February I was feeling pretty much like my old self. My lung had long since re-inflated and my pulmonary embolisms were gone. Still, I had to be careful; I was on Xarelto, a powerful blood thinner with no antidote. One blow to the head would cause me to bleed out in my skull. Can I have Dead as a door nail for $800, Alex?

And still I rode. And rode. And by the end of April my DVT was gone. My hematologist took me off Xarelto. And he and my pulmonologist gave me the green light to ride to the Pacific northwest. Their words of warning: stay hydrated and, if your symptoms return, get to a hospital.

All was well until my left calf became enlarged near Fargo. I felt fine. but by the time I got to Bismarck, I knew I had to go to an ER and get my leg checked out. A doppler ultrasound confirmed that I was fine and could continue to my tour. As it turned out, my December DVT made my left calf rather elastic, prone to swelling. Now all I had to do was wear a compression sleeve on my calf.

And I rode on. Through the plains, past the Painted Canyon, over the Judith Mountains, around Square Butte, to the Missouri Breaks, over Rogers Pass and Waconda Pass and Sherman Pass and Loup Loup Pass and Washington Pass and Rainy Pass, down to Anacortes, and, eventually, to the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, Oregon.

Dang.

But I wasn’t done.

For the next three months, day after day, I rode. And rode.

And today, just riding along the Mount Vernon Trail, I reached 10,000 miles.

In the immortal words of Blue Swede:

OOGA CHAKA, OOGA OOGA, OOGA CHAKA.

I think it’s time for some pizza and beer.

I’ll drive.

My car misses me.

 

 

Coffeenuering with Susana

I met Susana several years ago at a get together in Meridian Hill Park. Although I’ve talked to her only a few times, it quickly became apparent me that she’s about as kind a human being as you could find. Earlier this year she didn’t hesitate to meet with my friend Jessica who was moving to Chile, Susana’s home country, this summer to teach English.

Susana’s athletic thing is rock climbing, not a bicycling. (I said she was kind, not sane!) I was a bit surprised when she contacted me over the summer to hear about my bike tour. After a long delay, we sat down this afternoon to chat at Firehook Coffeehouse and Bakery in Cleveland Park.

Of course, I took this as an opportunity to get a ride in. I chose The Mule so that Susana could see the bike I rode during my tour.

I rode my baby into a headwind up the Mount Vernon Trail, across the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge, up Rock Creek Park to Cathedral Avenue then up the long hill to Cleveland Park. The entire way, The Mule felt like it was an extension of my body. Sweet.

We sat in the sunny window and much talk ensued. Mostly I recounted my decade of foibles in learning how to bike tour by failing. Along the way, we covered hostels, Warmshowers, Crazyguyonabike.com, and Adventure Cycling Association maps. Time and again the conversation returned to familiar themes. No hill is too high, no tour too long that you can’t reduce it to a series of manageable efforts. People are just plain nice. Solitude is wonderful. Montana, North Dakota, Iowa,….are beautiful, each in its own way. Blood clots and collapsed lungs suck. Random conversations with plant nerds, elevator technicians, and rolfing artists are gold.

My sense is that Susana wants to bike tour. We talked about buying a bike, what to avoid (big box stores) and what to insist on (a bike that fits). One of these days , we just may see her riding from Pittsburgh to DC along the Gap and C&O Canal trails. (Hey, Susana, want to do a tour in Chile?)

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Coffeeneuring notes: I rode 38 miles round trip for my second coffeeneuring adventure. Susana had chai tea. I had the house coffee and a chocolate chip cookie. Observation: We talked for 3 hours. During that time the temperature dropped about 15 degrees. Even with a tailwind and an additional layer of clothing, I froze on my ride home. Weren’t we complaining about the heat and humidity just a few days ago?

The Incompetent Coffeeneur Rides Again

The Coffeeneuring event is up an running again thanks to Mary’s tireless dedication to destroying my central nervous system with gallons of caffeine.

Of course, I wasn’t really paying attention so I accidentally coffeeneured (is it a verb?) today by riding 30 round trip miles to Swing’s House of Jitters in DC to see my peeps at Friday Coffee Club.

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Did I mention we went from 80s and muggy to windy and 55 overnight here in DC? I had on tights and two shirts (one with long sleeves) and I still froze. I have to admit it felt pretty terrific.

I rode into town in the pitch dark and slalomed around scores of limbs downed by the overnight passing of the remnants of hurricane Michael. In Jones Point Park I dismounted to try to remove a small tree that had landed across the trail. I didn’t bring my axe so rootchopping wasn’t in the cars so I snapped the top off to clear half the trail.

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At Swing’s I celebrated with an apple fritter along side my Nicaraguan brew. (Actually, as far as I know this coffee could have come from Dubuque. But it said “Nicaragua” on the urn so I’ll go with that.)

The brew and the fritter put my heart and pancreas into overdrive. On the way home I stopped at the gym to lift weights. You wouldn’t like me when I’m mangry.

So ends my first day of coffeeneuring. I am coffeeneuring again tomorrow because my friend Susana wants me to tell her all the things about my Any Road bike tour.

The Coffeeneuring rules say that I can’t count Friday Coffee Club again. And, despite tomorrow’s coffee meet up, I don’t normally drink coffee anywhere else but home. Therefore, I’ll probably fail to successfully complete the challenge and qualify for the Golden Coffee Urn or other fabulous prizes.

Now if I could only get to sleep….

Let’s Help Julie’s Dad

One thing I have grown to appreciate as I age (and, boy, am I old) is a terrific conversation. A few over the last twenty years come back to my mind over and over again. Until this summer, the most recent one lasted four hours.  I downplayed it in my blog post the next day but I think about it all the time. The more we talked the more there was to talk about. We were each peeling the others’ onion.

The day after I dipped my wheel in the Pacific Ocean in July, I happened to find myself sitting next to Julie Counseller Crabtree at a pub in Astoria Oregon. We didn’t know each other, but a conversation broke out that lasted two hours. Onions were peeled. She told me about her jewelry making and painting, bragged rather subtly about her kids, described how she, a certified rolfer, would deal with the nerve issues in my legs, and told me about staying at an Air B&B on a goat farm. I told her about my bicycle touring adventures. I didn’t want the conversation to end. Since she lives in Juneau, Alaska, it’s unlikely we’ll cross path again, but Facebook keeps us in touch. Last night, she posted something on Facebook about her father.

On October 3, Julie’s father had a stroke. He has a long row to hoe to recovery. The rest of the Counceller family will be doing what they can, but clearly the stress on them will be difficult. One way to help would be to take some of the financial burden off their backs. If you can, please make a contribution on her Go Fund Me page.

Thanks.

 

 

Borrowed Time

You know you are old when you only see your friends at wakes and funerals. Somebody older than me said that once.

Today I went to a memorial ride in DC for Tom Hollowell. Tom was an avid, year-round bike commuter. About a week ago, not far from his work at the Smithsonian, he was run over by a driver of a car. He died. It was a hit and run. The driver has yet to be apprehended.

I didn’t know Tom. But as I looked around at the gathering, perhaps two or three hundred strong, I saw so many people I did know. Rachel M., Rachel C., Adam, Leslie, Lesly, Ted, Jean, Jeff, Joe, Peter, Jesse, Jeanne, and Rudi among them.

During the moment of silence, I spotted Laura and Cyrus. I met them a month ago at a similar event for Laura’s son and Cyrus’s brother Malik was run over and killed a few miles away while riding his bike.

I could see and hear people crying. I didn’t take pictures. I wanted to feel this. It felt dreadful.

Many, perhaps even most, of the people I know who ride bikes or walk around this city have been hit by the driver of a motor vehicle. Some more than once. It’s hard for me to say which is more miraculous: the fact that of all these victims only only one died or the fact that I was hit – while on the Mount Vernon Trail, no less – and walked away without a scratch.

Days like today remind me that I am living on borrowed time.

We all are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Nellie Goes Outside

Big Nellie, my long wheelbase recumbent, has been gathering dust the last few years. It mostly gets ridden in the basement during winter days when ice and snow increase the chances for crashing. And, as I found out last winter, it’s a pretty good bike for rehabbing from the occasional life threatening illness. Until this past week, I’d ridden it only 300 miles outside since last fall.

So it was long overdue for some fresh air. And, thankfully, the weather hereabouts decided to cooperate.

The last few days I’ve been taking it on little excursions around DC and its environs.

The other day we took a jaunt over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to Prince Georges County Maryland. The ride features some rather jarring expansion joints on the bridge and a corkscrew descent on the Maryland side. Next comes the long grind up Oxon Hill next to the new MGM casino, a glitzy monument to American vacuousness.

Once at the top I headed downriver to Fort Washington which guards the Potomac River across from Fort Hunt. Fort Washington is essentially intact while Fort Hunt exists only as ruins among the trees.

I rode into DC on the Maryland side via Oxon Cove Park. The paved road into the park is in need of paving and the path through the park has become utterly derelict from neglect. The neglect extends to the unmowed grass that stands at knee level. Neglected parkland is depressing.

I rode through Anacostia, taking a brief side trip on South Capitol Street. This street is a highway that goes straight to the Capitol but construction forced me back into downtown Anacostia, a place bustling with construction.

Anacostia is the highest crime neighborhood of DC. To see new housing being built tells you a lot about how DC’s real estate market has exploded in the last decade.

I made my way into Anacostia Park and rode along the Anacostia River to the Benning Road Bridge that took me back to Capitol Hill East, just north of the RFK Stadium, an ancient hulk that once hosted the Super Bowl era Redskins and the woeful Washington Senators.

From the edge of acres of empty parking lots I rode west across DC to Georgetown. Traffic along M Street was a mess, nothing unusual. Two cyclists rode in front of me as we edged our way through the big metal boxes. The driver’s side door of a parked car swung open and the leading bicyclist in our trio stopped just before making contact. In a calm voice, he explained to the driver how dangerous what she had just done was. Her face was all “Oops.”

I crossed back over the Potomac River to Virginia and made my way home via the Mount Vernon Trail, a ride that was my commute for six years. Six miles from home, I stopped for a drink under the Wilson Bridge. It’s an impressive and artful mess of concrete.

Today I rode to 17 miles to the Westover neighborhood of Arlington Va to buy some pie from my friend Amy. She wasn’t there and they didn’t have any pie flavors that I liked so I settled for a jumbo chocolate chip cookie and a cup of coffee.

I took Arlington streets to the Marine Corps Memorial. I wonder what Dwight Eisenhower would have thought of the statue with a defense contractors sign in the background.

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Immediately afterward, I rode past Arlington National Cemetery. This place is solemn and beautiful but it also evokes in me a sense of futility. Too many gravestones.

I crossed over to DC and rode back across town to Audi Field, the shiny new soccer stadium. I wanted to check out the bike valet. Unlike Nationals Park, the nearby baseball venue, Audi Field’s indoor bike valet does not allow bikes with large bags, which pretty much includes all my bikes. The valet company told me that there is an outdoor valet that allows bags so I may eventually take in a game on the pitch.

 

September 2018 – By the Numbers

September my bike riding dropped like rain. Because rain.

For the first time in five months, I rode less than 1,000 miles. What a slacker.

In 24 days of riding, I managed to plod through 788 miles. Most of my rides were about 30 miles in length, coincidentally the distance from my home to the office and back. My longest ride (61 miles) was the 50 States Ride, my tenth – and last – time. (Yes, I know, I’ve said that before.)

The weather really sucked this month. It rained or was hot and muggy. One way or another, you were drenched the second you walked outside. Thankfully, the misery ended with two perfect fall days yesterday and today when it was perfect outside and I rode 94 1/2 miles.

My Crosscheck reached 10,000 miles a couple of days ago.

For the year, I’ve ridden 9,555 miles. (Yes, I am tired.) Barring a medical catastrophe (been there, done that) I should break 10,000 miles for the year next month. My next goal is 10,444 miles, which would mean I’ve ridden 10,000 miles outdoors. (I did 444 miles in my basement, last winter.)

 

 

Any Road Tour – Riding with La Mariposa

During my bike tour to the Pacific northwest, I tried to put out of my mind that I had several mountains to climb to get from central Montana to the Pacific. With each climb I’d find myself grinding away, sometimes at speeds as slow as 4 or 5 miles per hour. On several occasions as the effort became difficult and my speed fell, I would pick up a companion.

As it turns out, butterflies fly at about 6 miles per hour. I’d find myself totally focused, giving it everything I had, and there, flitting around me would be a butterfly. Each time it seemed as if the butterfly was telling me, “See how easy it is?” These encounters would go on for as long as five minutes, welcome diversions from the arduous task at hand.

And my flying companions would remind me of someone.

Four years ago, a friend of a friend died. She was hit by a bus while walking home from a Metro station. It was 2 hours before her 42nd birthday. A Facebook memorial page was started. Many of the postings in her native Spanish referred to la mariposa, the butterfly. Perhaps this was just an obvious reference to rebirth or maybe it was a childhood nickname. Regardless, the upshot of these posts is that whenever I see a butterfly I think of Lorena.

Lorena was going to American University. Younger students and friends would look up to her and ask for advice. Her advice was often couched in three sentences:

Are you happy?

What would make you happy?

Do that with everything you’ve got.

Time and again this summer, mile after mile, I pedaled onward and upward, fulfilling my dream of a lifetime. And when the hills steepened, una mariposa would remind me to give it everything I got.

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Fomo and amnesia

I have serious envy these days. My friends and relatives are doing all sorts of exciting things and posting pictures of their fab lives on social media. My nephew Conor is cavorting in Bali. Friend Linel is finishing up two weeks in Portugal by hanging out in the Azores. Amanda, fresh off her first bike commuting crash, has flown to Lisbon to recover. Charmaine just participated in the Bicycle Ride Across Tennessee. Blogger Brittany is working at Yellowstone Park. Jessica is living in the Altacama desert in Chile. Brian is in Bologna. Juneau Julie chartered a seaplane to take her family members to a bay in Alaska.

Oh how I hate them all.

Several times in the last week I have said “I wish I were doing something like that.” Then the person listening to me whine says, “Dude, you just rode your bicycle across the United States.”

I forgot.

Already.

Then I think about the tour and the afterglow returns. Square Butte, Rogers Pass, 136 miles in one day, excellent pizza and beer in Wibaux (and Minneapolis), the Painted Canyon, the turquoise lake on the descent from Rainy Pass, ASL bike racks in Fargo, Big Ole. And on and on.

I woke up this morning and, for a moment, I felt like I should get packed up and head on down the road.

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above. Don’t fence me in.

It’s not like I’m doing nothing. I rode the 50 States Ride. I went to see Hamilton last week. Last night we went to see Portugal. The Man. (I actually liked the opening act, Lucius, better.) Today I am taking my daughter to see the Washington Nationals. I think this may be her first game of the year, having spent most of the year in London. And it’s her first chance to use the scorebook I gave her for her birthday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One year later

Last year at this time I was riding my bike in eastern North Carolina on my way to Key West. The country lies low and there are many rivers to cross. Except right now the whole thing is a river of sorts. I passed through Plymouth, New Bern, Jacksonville, North Topsail Beach, Wilmington, Fishers Island and Southport. I had lovely sunny pre-fall weather. This year not so much. Most of what I rode through either has been, is now, or soon will be flooded.

When you ride a bike you get a different sense of the terrain. You have to work your way over the hills. You feel the cool air pooled in the bottoms. You have a physical sense of how high the river banks are. It’s part of the appeal of bike touring. What is boring at 60 miles per hour is full of sensations at 60 miles per day.

The sensations I felt last year at this time make me acutely aware of how vulnerable eastern Carolina is right now.

Riding through the area will be impossible for at least a week. Rains keep falling and the storm will move into the mountains, only to cause a second wave of river flooding in the week or two to come.

I hope Ken and Dani my Warmshowers hosts are okay. Their community outside Jacksonville has many ponds and creeks. Ditto for my college friend Wendy and her husband Brian who are in Southport near the South Carolina border.

It looks like DC will be hit with the echo of the storm in the days ahead. We should be fine but the rivers will rise and probably damage the C&O Canal again, as it has several times this summer.