They Don’t Call It Killermonjaro for Nothing

While I was away, my friend Chelli decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro this summer. To get in climbing shape she’d been taking Mrs. Rootchopper and other friends on hikes in the Catoctin Mountains and on Sugarloaf Mountain. Yesterday, a day that will live in humidity, I joined the fun as the gang returned to Sugarloaf.

Sugarloaf has been the scene of two of my past misadventures. Five years ago I hiked the yellow trail with a ninja and a golden retriever. The experience left me cripple for days, and oddly marked the beginning of the end of an eight-year friendship. Another time I rode bikes around the base of the mountain with Science Mom. She somehow managed to end up falling ungracefully into a mud puddle. Our friendship survived even with her temporary loss of face.

Getting back to yesterday, Chelli parked strategically below the peak of the mountain. We started hiking upward on the blue trail, transitioned to the purple trail, and returned to the blue trail. After forty seven miles, we stopped at the white rock overlook to munch on pita sammies that Chelli had prepared. Paul chipped (sorry) in some Nacho Cheese Doritos. It was a lovely view and even lovelier breeze. 

Somehow the hike managed to seem all uphill. It took three hours and at least five gallons of sweat. Did I mention the humidity was off the charts?

 

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Hiking with sticks on Sugarloaf – photo by sneaky Chelli

A few years ago I did a hike in Shenandoah National Park with Kirstin. She used hiking poles and highly recommended them. On a whim, I bought a pair of poles on sale this spring. I have to say they are a big improvement over pole-less hiking. They kept me from turning my ankles and from putting excess impact stress on my knees and back. It only took about a mile for me to get used to them. When the hike was over, my wonky knee and hip didn’t have their usual crippling pain. I’d been wary of hiking in recent years but now I’m eager to get back out there.

I still can’t get over how hard hiking is. When I was younger I could run and jump and scramble and feel perfectly fine afterward. Yesterday, we were passed by a number of energetic young folk during the hike. I had to resist the urge to bludgeon them with my poles.

It turns out that hiking is deceptively hard work, made all the harder by aging. And it’s probably good for you. All the same, I’m glad Chelli is hiking Mt Kilimanjaro and not me.

 

It’s Not the Heat; It’s the Blossoms

People keep asking me what the best part of my bike tour was. I honestly don’t know. I’m still processing it. I did a quick review of my blog posts and was surprised at all the things I had forgotten. I’ll probably write a postmortem soon.

In the meantime, I am back on my bikes. While The Mule is in transit from San Francisco, I’m re-familiarizing myself with my other steeds. A few days ago I took my CrossCheck out for a twenty mile spin. It missed me.

Yesterday, the CrossCheck and I hit the road to check out the sunflowers at the McKees-Besher Wildlife Management Area in nearly exurban Montgomery County, Maryland.

The ride began with a trip to Friday Coffee Club. It was good to be back among my two-wheeled peeps. At about ten a.m. the last of the worker bees headed off to their respective offices and I made my way to Georgetown and the paved Capital Crescent Trail. After a few miles I cut over to the unpaved C & O Canal towpath. For several miles I dodged mud puddles. The surface was ridable but the CrossCheck was getting mighty grimy.

As I passed under the capital beltway, my sunglasses obscured the view of the towpath in the shadows. A chunk of the right side of the towpath had completely eroded by an epic rainstorm last week. Had I not slid my sunglasses to the tip of my nose, I could easily have crashed.

A few miles later I rode past a rather scary looking section of the towpath at Mather Gorge, where the river runs fast. In this section the towpath runs between the canal and a cliff above the raging boulder-strewn Potomac River. The Park Service had narrowed the path and banned cars (usually just maintenance vehicles). I duck walked part of this section not wanting to fall into a big mud puddle or over the side into the rocks far below.

From Great Falls Park the towpath alternated between perfectly passable to some of the nastiest washboard I’ve ever ridden. The washboard wasn’t like tractor tracks. The rains had carved erratic channels across the path. The CrossCheck became a bucking bronco when I hit them. I am a bit surprised I didn’t damage the bike in the process. I made it across but I may need to see a dentist soon.

The canal itself was in decent shape. I saw dozens of sunbathing turtles including a huge snapper who was splayed across a log. Three great blue herons stood motionless in the canal right next to the towpath. I didn’t bother trying to take a picture because as soon as I stopped they were sure to fly off.

I left the canal at Rileys Lock and headed toward the Poole General Store in Seneca for food and water. It was closed. No bueno.

Since there was no alternative I headed west on hilly River Road toward the sunflower fields. The hills here normally wipe me out but all that climbing out west made them seem trivial. Running out of breath was not about to happen either. The warm, humid air felt almost liquid. The residual effects of being at altitude made deeps breathing unnecessary.

I walked around two of the three sunflower fields. The sunflowers seemed to be in a state of morning with their head bowed. Still, from the proper angle, they put on a decent show.

After about an hour I headed back home. This involved a ten mile roller coaster ride on River Road to avoid the towpath and find food. At Potomac Village I went into a grocery store and bought water, a sandwich, and a yoghurt parfait. It didn’t begin to dent my hunger but I decided to ride on and find something else later.

After descending the long, windy hill on MacArthur Boulevard at Great Falls Park I cruised along flat canal road all the way to DC where I stopped at a gas station for a Gatorade. (Gone in 60 seconds.)

All day I had noticed a clicking sound coming from my right pedal. At the gas station I noticed that the platform of the pedal and become disengaged from the pedal axle. I was holding the pedal together with pressure from my foot.

The remainder of the ride took me across Georgetown, down and across the Potomac, and into Crystal City where I attended an outdoor happy hour. Cold beer tasted pretty good at this point.

The ten mile ride home was a wobbly affair. My legs were done, but I was pleased with my day’s work. 86 miles in all.

Today, I rode to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in DC to check out the lotus blossoms and water lilies. Because of the pedal problem on the CrossCheck, I rode Big Nellie, my Tour Easy long wheel base recumbent.

My legs were pretty beat. I stopped after four miles to buy some new pedals. They sold pedals with toe clips and straps already installed for $3 more than naked pedals. Sold.

The ride along the Mount Vernon Trail featured oncoming weekend warriors and tourists who kept passing as I approached. Fortunately for them, I left my bicycle death ray at home.

Into DC, I made my way across Southwest and near Southeast until I crossed the Anacostia River at 11th Street.

I followed the river and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail upstream for several miles until I found the unpaved path to the Aquatic Gardens. The place was fairly crowded. Music was blaring from a stage. Both aspects didn’t appeal to me. I like quite with my lotus blossoms, thank you very much.

 

After walking around the ponds, I was drenched in sweat. I headed home, retracing my route along the bike trails. People kept tempting me into head on collisions all the way home. “Sorry.” “Oops.” “My bad.”

Head. Table.

I stopped for a quart of Gatorade and an chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich. At home, I fought the urge to go inside and collapse. I spent a half hour swapping out the pedals on the CrossCheck. I also cleaned the towpath dirt off the bike and lubed the chain. Ready for another ride.

Tomorrow I am going hiking. I am hoping that the hiking poles that I bought before my tour, help my wonky hip and knee make it through the day without pain.

 

 

No Name Tour: Feelin’ Like Clyde Barrow

Last night Jessie ordered in India food. It was delish. Today Mike, Jessie, and I decamped. Mike rode his bike to work. Instead of riding her bike to work, Jessie rode the Muni streetcar with me downtown.

She hopped off at her office. I continued on, missing my stop at the Embarcadero Center where I worked for a summer a lifetime ago.

I corrected my error without difficulty other than the fact that the huge duffle was digging into my shoulders.

Back at Embarcadero I switched to BART. I find it amusing that BART hasn’t solved the problem of onboard announcements. “Next stop $&@/;)&&@&& Station.”

I managed not to miss my stop but once I got on the streets, I took some wrong turns before finally setting off toward my hotel.

I’m pretty sure this is an unsafe neighborhood. There’s trash everywhere. Lots of homeless people. Every other vehicle is a heap. Businesses are all protected by tall metal fencing and locked gates. Fortunately the hotel has an airport shuttle. (BART connects to the airport via a spur line that has smaller, shuttle trains.)

I’ve been in so many sketchy motels since I left home that I feel like a bank robber hiding out from the heat. No worries. They’ll never take me alive.

I’m not very far from where the interstate pancaked on itself during the World Series earthquake. And just a half mile from the ugliest stadium in Major League Baseball. I’d go to a game anyway but it’s the All Star break.

Walking around has re-awakened my wonky left knee and hip. During the tour, I pushed The Mule up some mighty big hills and my hip and leg never complained. I just walked a half mile and it feels like my left side has become unhinged. This will make for an interesting hike next Saturday.

Speaking of when I get home, I have a fairly busy schedule: refill my asthma prescription, repair my laptop, have diner breakfast with my wife, deal with 7 1/2 weeks of mail, try to go to two happy hours at the same time, go to Friday Coffee Club, do the hike, ride to the botanical garden to see the lotus blossoms, ride to the sunflowers fields in Montgomery County, Maryland, put The Mule back together, and take The Mule to the bike shop to replace worn out parts.

That’s too much. Maybe I should just stay here and rob a few banks.


Very big thanks to Jessie and Mike for being such terrific hosts these past few days.

No Name Tour: Aftermath In SF

Friday night Jessie and Mike took me to the neighborhood Puerto Rican restaurant In Haight Ashbury and we stuffed ourselves. How do you say gut bomb in Spanish?

Yesterday we took The Mule to Bespoke, a bike shop across town. The owner used to work at my local bike shop in Mt. Vernon. He’ll ship my baby home later this week.

I rode a Jump bike back from the bike shop. It was my first time on an electric assist bike. It’s two-wheeled crack.

We had breakfast al fresco at a restaurant on the Wiggle, a bike route that weaves through the streets of this section of the city, avoiding big hills. It’s painted green and includes a counterflow section.

I bought a massive duffle bag Friday. It had straps on it so I can wear it like a backpack. I could wipe out every passenger on a BART train with this baby. Bwa ha ha.

Last night we had phenomenal tacos at a Mexican place before imbibing a huge bowl of punch at a bar. Not much of an improvement on my bike touring diet I must say but it felt considerably less painful.

I’m staying with Jessie and Mike until Monday morning when the duffle and I will relocate to a hotel near the Oakland airport for Tuesday’s flight home. I’ve already scheduled two happy hours for next week. Unfortunately they are for the same evening.

I looked up some descriptive statistics on the Western Express yesterday. Between Pueblo CO and San Francisco I did more than 98,000 feet of climbing.

And today to prove that this tour has traumatized me, I signed up for my 11th 50 States Ride on Sept 7. Nigel Tufnel would be pleased.

Team Rootchopper assemble!

No Name Tour: Day 51 – You Have to Earn It

I hand washed my clothes in the hotel last night. It must not be as dry here because it was all slightly damp this morning.

After breakfast I improvised a route back to the Western Express at Rockville. The wind was howling in my face. The American flags still flying from Independence Day we’re flying horizontally. Don’t go back to Rockville and waste another gear.

Then it got seriously hilly. I couldn’t believe I was using my granny gear. The map said I had a bike trail ahead. When I got there I saw that it had an 8% grade.

It’s a good thing I threw some stuff out at the hotel.

I arrived at the ferry terminal just as the 10:30 boat was leaving for San Francisco. Killing time I had Friday Coffee Club solo with a pretty awesome chocolate chip cookie.

I sat in the sun with my back to the pier. When I turned around after 20 minutes I saw that a line had formed with well over 100 people in it. No worries; it’s a big boat. The Mule went in a bike rack in the rear and I took a seat inside. The ride was as smooth as a bus until we approached San Francisco. Thankfully the swells were short lived.

Jessie and Mike were waiting for me. After a short chat we followed a trolley bus up Market Street, dodged a dozen misbehaving pedestrians, rode the Wiggle to The Panhandle, and ended at their place in the Haight.

After Mike moved The Mule and all my stuff upstairs to the apartment, we walked around the block so I could buy a duffle bag for the trip home.

Later they treated me to dinner at a Puerto Rican restaurant, beers at home, and ice cream at a shop up the street.

Tomorrow I’ll ship The Mule home.

Miles today: 28

Tour miles: 2,976

No Name Tour: Day 50 – Gems in the Breakdown Lane

Way back in Missouri I met Rob and Fay on their way from Santa Monica to Chicago on Route 66z we hit it off and they invited me to stay at their place if I’d decided to finish my ride in Sacramento or San Francisco.

As things worked out, I ended up riding through Sacramento. Despite the fact that I arrived a day early and that they had plans for the night, they opened their home to me. Before they left for a night out at the football (soccer) pitch, they left me with a warm pasta casserole, instructions to eat or drink anything else to my liking, a huge TV, and a swimming pool.

I never made it to the pool because one of their comfy chairs knocked me out. I woke up 90 minutes later totally disoriented. Before and after my slumber I drank about six pints of cold, cold water from the fridge. (94 miles of riding makes for a powerful thirst.

We chatted a bit after they came home and again over the breakfast they made me. Then thru gave me a rolling escort back up to the Western Express Route. We then rode the fantastic bike trail along the American River into Old Town Sacramento, and ultimately over the Tower Bridge into West Sacramento. It was about 27 miles in all. What terrific hosts!

I continued heading west on the causeway over farm fields along I-80.

Then after a few miles of suburban roads I entered Davis. I remember coming to Davis in 1979 and marveling at how the community embraced cycling. Today, as I was taking a left turn a white SUV pulled up along my right hand side. I had missed the fact that the left turn had two lanes. The driver Roth window open started yammering at me to learn the rules of the road. She could have said something constructive like “You need to be in the right lane”, but she chose to be an asshole.

So I chose to tell her to fuck off.

This happened as we were moving in traffic.

After she passed me, I signaled and moved over. Oddly the driver behind Miss Bossypants had no trouble comprehending my maneuver.

There was a criterium going on in town. I saw it as an impediment between me and lunch.

A couple of passers by chatted with me, apologized for the driver’s rudeness, and explained how to get to a good restaurant along the race course. This being a holiday the placed was packed. Many of the tables had whiny kids. The line go order food was out the door. I left.

After another five miles I spotted a Subway and hoovered a foot long.

The trail west of Davis was designed for me; it was riddled with bumps from tree roots. Where’s my axe when I need it?

Soon I was back on two lane country roads they actually went up and down a bit. Show me what you got, Yolo County.

Not much.

I rolled through orchards if fruit trees, past farm fields, and along a Putah Creek.

Near Winters the creek was filled with families having fun with tubes and other water toys.

I stopped in Winters for GatorAde and an Its It, which is the closest food you can get to Meth.

From Winters I did more easy climbing and rode past Vacaville, known mostly for its hospital for the criminally insane. I didn’t have to deal with any loonies running loose but I did see a wild turkey run across the road in front of me.

Could it be that the turkey was a human escapee and that something in god water is making me go mad?

From Vacaville it was a short spin to Fairfield. The afternoon heat and 75 miles of riding convinced me to find a motel. And do I did.

I pulled a Joe Walsh and washed everything I own except my shoes in the bathroom sink. Tomorrow’s 2-hour ride to the ferry terminal in Vallejo could be a tad moist.

Total miles: 75.5

Tour miles: 2,948

Top speed: 26.1 mph

More pix on Instagram

No Name Tour: Day 49 – 8,000 Feet, 94 Miles, 40 MPH, and a Ton of Hemoglobin

Last night’s improvised lodging worked out great. Dan, Spencer, and I went our for burgers and beers then I hit the hay. I awoke at 1:30 and looked out the window. Not a cloud in the sky just so many stars that Carl Sagan would be pleased.

The early morning view of the lake was nearly as amazing.

The lodge unexpectedly provided motel breakfast. The lodge owner told me to expect a few more climbs before the road tips toward California’s Central Valley.

He was right, of course. The first hill was rudely a mile into the ride. How dare they?

A few miles later was a 1,000 foot climb back up to 7,900 feet. Sleeping at 8,000 feet seemed to help me get over this hump. There was a third climb of a few hundred feet after they then The Mule could take off.

I stopped a few times to admire the view.

At Hams Station I considered eating second breakfast. The restaurant has both open and closed signs displayed. If they couldn’t decide I wasn’t going to give them my business. I rode past Cooks Station a few miles later but by then I was looking to break 60 miles by noon, so no dice.

After about ten miles of descending the route at 25 to 40 mph, I turned off the main highway. No more rumble strips. No more direct sunlight. The narrow, two-lane, shaded country road now had patches and small potholes all over the place. The shade made it hard to tell where they were. I had to slow my roll down into the teens. So not fair!

Every so often I’d get rambunctious and let The Mule loose… until I hit a rough section. My back took the worst of the bumps.

At Omo Ranch I started seeing farms. Soon thereafter I saw miles and miles of vineyards, each with a tasting room. I didn’t give into temptation.

At Ono Ranch an elevation sign said I was at 3,612 feet. This was the first time since Kansas that I’d been below 4,000 feet.

In Mt Aukum I stopped for lunch at noon at a cafe. It was just shy of 50 miles for the day. Still not a bad morning’s work.

Back on the bike I was passed through a few gigantic vineyards then found myself passing fields of tall, golden grass. The occasional field had some cattle in it but they wanted nothing to do with entertaining me. Instead they looked up, momentarily stopped chewing, then returned to their mastication.

I stopped again at tony Rancho Murieta where I saw a text from my Warmshowers hosts. It suggested a route to their house that completely bypassed Folsom to the north, saving me at least 15 miles.

They were leaving the house at four do I decided to see if I could get there before they left. It was then that I realized that i was now about 60 feet above sea level and my legs seemed supercharged. Hemoglobin is a wonderful thing.

I arrived at Fay and Robs place just as they were leaving. They left me food, beer, and a swimming pool. So far I’ve taken what was behind door number 1.

Tomorrow will be my approach to San Francisco. I plan on riding through Sacramento, Davis, Vacaville, and Fairfield. If my legs will agree I’ll ride all the way to Vallejo, the point of departure for the ferry to the City. Then, on Friday morning I’ll set sail for the Ferry Terminal and a reunion with my bikeDC friends Jessie and Mike.

Today’s miles: 94.5

Tour miles: 2,875.3

Top speed: 40.1 mph

No Name Tour: Day 48 – Over the Top

My stay with Warmshowers hosts Joan and Greg could not have been more relaxing or not enjoyable.

Greg, Joan,and Ellie

They both assured me that the big climb from Carson City to Lake Tahoe was something I could handle easily. Thx fully they were right.

I kept plugging along, thinking this climb is going to get tougher but it never did. I came over the top and, at Greg’s suggestion, stopped before getting to close to the lake for an amazing view. Seeing the snow covered mountains reflected in the deep blue water was a Wow moment.

Once I arrived at the lakeshore things got much busier. Car traffic was terrible and a real shock to me. Also the road undulated up and down so much that I had a hard time finding a pedaling rhythm.

There was no sign indicating I had left Nevada and entered California. I could tell by the fact that the big casino hotels were replaced by casual eateries.

I had second breakfast at IHOP, a mediocre meal but necessary to gurl my engine over the mountain.

After leaving the lake the route followed the Upper Truckee River. It left the highway and followed a windy, bumpy parallel road that became very steep. I walked the steepest bits then got on the bike and powered my way back to the highway. Climbing over my second summit was hard but I got it done.

A fun descent took me to an intersection where I had considered camping but I was feeling strong so I decided to tackle 8,500+ foot Carson Pass.

This went fine for about six miles then the shoulder of the road disappeared. It was about this time that I started feeling lightheaded. It was unsafe to wobble all over the road so I walked the last half mile.

At the summit I talked with a woman who had passed me on the way up in her Trek Domane. Then a father and son came walking out of the woods carrying skiing gear. They confirmed for me that people ski year round on this mountain. At the summit, the road crossed the Pacific Coast Trail. A through hiker was lying on a bench. His tales of hiking the trail blew me away. I thought my trip was hard but his included using an ice axe to get over Mt. Whitney!

After chatting I rolled down the western side of the pass thinking of food and lodging. I passed up a lodge at Caples Lake and continued down hill to Kirkwood. There I met Dan and Spencer, two guys who install road signs all over California. The lodge was closed so Spencer called a number on the front door. They wanted $180 for a room in a town that was practically deserted. No thanks.

In short order we found out that Caples Lake was the only place around at a moderate price. Dan and Spencer hoisted The Mule into the bed of their big pick up truck and gave me a lift back up to Caples.

After getting cleaned up we headed out for dinner and beers at the Kirkwood Inn. Everything seemed overpriced but the portions turned out to be huge.

We ate and drank until sated then headed back to the lodge where Spenser started a fire in a pit next to the lake. I went to bed tired but satisfied with having completed the last big climbs of the trip.

Lots more pix on Instagram

Miles today: 64.5

Tour miles: 2,779

Top speed: 35.1 mph

No Name Tour: Day 47 – A Capital Day

After a late motel breakfast I was back on US 50 heading west. Where have I heard that before?

From Fallon to Carson City the road has increasing traffic. For the first third of the day it had paved shoulders that were entirely consumed by rather deep rumble strips. I’d me riding along and hear or see in my mirror a large vehicle about to turn me into road kill. I’d bail onto the rumble strips hoping not to dislodge and dental work. I suppose if you had kidney stones this kind of road sledding could be useful but for me it was literally a headache.

During this portion of the ride the headwind gods were still asleep. And the road trended slightly downhill. I missed a blatantly obvious turn and had to backtrack a mile. But I didn’t care.

I had emptied my two water bladders so The Mule was just cruising along. It was noticeably easier to handle too.

Another wonderful feature of the day was the existence of gas station convenience stores and restaurants along the way. I stopped at 28 miles for Gatorade and a Klondike bar. And to use the rest room. Gas station convenience stores make America great.

Sadly, my late morning snack must have woken the headwind gods and the rest of day featured an invisible hand on my chest.

A few more miles after the break I met Anna, an eastbound rider bound for Virginia. She’s from New Zealand. She’s going about 40 miles per day and didn’t seem the least bit fazed by the first tenth of her journey. We agreed on one thing: Nevada has mastered the mushroom cheeseburger.

I had to climb three hills, all gradual and well under 5,000 feet. No worries.

A casino had a deal on a cheeseburger basket. This made for a convenient lunch stop, my first lunch not on the shoulder of the road in ages. Be thankful for the little things, people!

Into busy Carson City, the state capital. Excitement! Thrills! Not! Just more commercial sprawl.

Anna told me where to find a bike shop. The Bike Smith folks replaced my brake pads and only charged me for parts. It’s their way of supporting bike tourists. Sadly the brake pads cost $95 per pair.

Just kidding.

Now that my bike can stop like a champ, I went to the grocery store where I didn’t hit a single parked car or shopping cart. I did manage to buy food for tomorrow and wine for my Warmshowers hosts tonight.

I am staying with Joan and Greg in their guest cottage. Their house and cottage are cute beyond compare. They love hosting bike tourists.

I am off to help with dinner. Help meaning I drink some wine while Joan cooks.

Tomorrow I climb over a rather intimidating 7,000 foot mountain to South Lake Tahoe. How far I go depends on my legs and the availability of camping. It’s also my last day in Nevada.

And before I forget, there’s big news. Last night I decided not to continue to Portland. I am climbed out. Instead I will go over Carson Pass to Sacramento and finish this crazy tour in San Francisco. Many thanks to Jessie and Mike for offering to put me up in The City and to Marie who suggested flying home out of Oakland next week.

Miles today: 66.5

Tour miles: 2,714.5

Top speed: 25.1 mph

June by the Numbers

I rode 1,625.5 miles this month for an average of 54.2 miles per day. This is much less than last year (2,260.5 miles).

I don’t keep track of elevation gain but I’m sure that I climbed much, much more than any other month in my life.

For the year I’ve ridden 5,556.5 miles.

The Mule is tired. So am I.