Little Devils Stairs – Not exactly a day off

After 14 days of bike riding in a row, I decided it was time to take a day off. What better way than to do a hike in Shenandoah National Park.

My friend Chelli and her daughter signed up to climb 19,000+ foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. To get in shape, Chelli assembled a team of grad school friends to do day hikes outside DC. Most of these hikes were done while I was on my bike tour but I joined the team when I came home.

We did two hikes on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. After that, Chelli and her daughter went to Africa and conquered the big one.

Chelli called us together again for a Columbus Day hike. I chose Little Devils Stairs in Shenandoah National Park. According to the website this hike is rated at the same level of difficulty as the Sugarloaf hike.

I’d done Little Devils Stairs once before and remember it as challenging and fun. Somehow in the intervening years the trail became much steeper. I blame plate tectonics.

A full moon and fog on the river were indications of a beautiful fall day emerging on the way to Chelli’s house in Arlington. Chelli took the wheel of her car and we drove to the park, After about 40 miles the highway leaves the ugly urban area and enters splendid Virginia countryside.

Dry weather meant that the unpaved road to the parking lot made for easy driving. We parked and headed up the trail. Basically, this trail goes straight up a gorge along Keyser Run. The trail is rocky, increasingly so as we ascended. There were perhaps 8 creek crossings but these were trivial because the drought in this area reduced the creek to a trickle.

At one point in a particularly rocky section we lost sight of the trail blazes. No worries. We forged ahead and soon found the trail again. At a few points the hike became a rock scramble. I was huffing and puffing. We took some stops to gather ourselves. Then moved on and up.

The gorge was beautiful. The creek with a trickle of water, trees just beginning to take on their fall color, and sheer rock walls. I stopped a few times to appreciate how steep the trail was.


After the rock scrambles there were some switchbacks. An Hispanic family of about eight people came down the hill toward us. One of them was carrying an unopened bag of tortilla chips. Somehow I refrained from assaulting him with my hiking poles.

Soon thereafter we reached Fourway, the intersection of four hiking trails. We stopped to eat lunch which Chelli had packed. Veggie burgers, crackers, and watermelon.

We were burning up on the way up the 2.2 mile climb, but now that we were sitting the cool breeze across out sweaty clothing brought a chill. Time to boogie.

We took a fire trail all the way back down the mountain. 3.8 miles. I was wearing new hiking shoes that were a half size bigger than usual. The extra room in the toes kept my feet happy.


Along the way we passed an old graveyard. Several of the headstones indicated deaths in 1918. I speculated that the Spanish flu was the cause. Imagine being sick with that horrible disease up this mountain far from medical help.

As we left the graveyard the Hispanic family came hiking by.  Hiking down that gorge must have been tough but they seemed like they were having a good time. Their ten-year old boy was running up the trail. Don’t you just hate youth?

Walking downhill for several miles can really deaden your legs. We managed without too much difficulty. My wonky left knee and hip did reasonably well. I felt a pain in the side of my hip most of the way down the hill but my knee tolerated the descent without much discomfort.

Normally, getting out of the car at the end of a hike makes me feel like I’m 90 but today I felt okay. New shoes, cortisone, and PT to the rescue.

Not a bad day off.


No Pizza. No Problem.

One of my favorite local rides is a 50-mile loop from my house to Bethesda, Maryland and back. The first 12 were on the Mount Vernon Trail on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. I then crossed over to DC on the 14th Street Bridge. I rode along the river to Georgetown.  (I passed the new extension of the Kennedy Center which will merit a return trip.)

In Georgetown I took the Water Street cycletrack. This was great except for the school bus that off loaded 30 high school girls on the cycletrack. Did you know that when you’re off loaded into the cycletrack you absolutely must chat for a minute with five of your BFFs before moving to the sidewalk?

At the end of Water Street I picked up the Capital Crescent Trail which took me sveral miles straight to Bethesda Row where every person in Montgomery County was ambling slowly about at a closed streets art festival.

I went to Bethesda Bagels to get a slice of pizza. Don’t ask me why a good bagel shop has good pizza. Sadly, I am not the only one who knows this as the line out the door and across the sidewalk.

I decided that spending 20 minutes waiting in line or a slice of pizza was a waste of  a beautiful fall day. I got back on my bike and rode north to pick up Jones Bridge Road. This was necessary because the Georgetown Branch Trail has been demolished while a new light rail line is being built.

I had heard bad things about Jones Bridge Road but I’ve ridden on much worse. And traffic was very light.

Jones Bridge Road led me to Beach Drive. Here I turned south to head home. Beach Drive runs straight through Rock Creek Park. Whoever decided to put a linear park in a canyon in the middle of a city was a genius. Even better is the fact that the National Park Service which owns the park shuts down large sections of Beach Drive to cars on weekends and holidays. Better still is the fact that the road has been reconstructed and the pavement is smooth. (A couple of roller bladers looked super happy.)

I about a week these trees will be bursting with colors.

After several miles of pothole-free bliss, I had to take a paved trail that the Park Service apparently overlooked when working on the roadway. Essentially this is a goat trail that ducks under two roads with barely adequate head room for bicycle riders.

I survived the low clearances and two 90-degree right-hand turns onto narrow bridges. At one point I had to come to a stop because untrimmed shrubs had overtaken my side of the trail. Your tax dollars at work. Or not.

Once out of the park I was back along the Potomac where I rode to the Memorial Bridge. There I crossed over to Virginia. Near Arlington Cemetery I came to a stop behind three tourists one of whom was in a motorized wheel chair. I called out to them to see if they were lost. They were. They were headed to the cemetery but were turning the wrong way. I set them straight but wondered why there aren’t wayfaring signs.

As I approached Old Town Alexandria a very strange thing happened. Water started falling from the sky. Lots of it. I was getting actually wet. And cold. It was the first time I’d been rained on while riding since early June in Kansas. Dang.

About five miles from home I came upon a man riding with his daughter. She was on a little beginners bike. One speed. Pink. She was pedaling hard and barely making 8 miles per hour. When Dad, on his hybrid beside her, noticed I was coming up behind them he gently put his hand on the center of her back and started accelerating. I thought she or both of them would crash for sure. After a couple of wobbles she got the hang of the higher speed and cruised.

After about 1/4 of a mile, I passed them with a thumbs up.

I continued on. Wet and chilled but unworried. It was actually kind of nice not to be baking in the sun for a change.

50 miles. 0 pizza.

We had pizza for dinner.


Coffeeneuring 2019 – Cup the First

For the eight straight year, the Coffeeneuring Challenge is back. This is a friendly event in which people ride, run, walk, scoot, or somehow otherwise propel themselves to a coffee establishment for a cuppa joe. Or tea. Or mate. Or cider. Or hot chocolate.  The rules are pretty flexible but it’s one cup per week at least two miles from wherever you start for seven weeks. You have to document your activity and say something insightful about the experience.

Just be forewarned. I always fail at coffeeneuring. Basically, I go out to coffee once per week to the same place, Friday Coffee Club at Swings at 17th and G Streets Northwest in DC. The rules state that you have to go to seven different coffee places. I have been to four in the last three months. So unless I get super creative, I’m going to have a big L on my forehead when this is over. (Okay, no comments about how the L was there all along.)

So here is my first stop.

Place: Friday Coffee Club at Swings at 17th and G in DC.

Miles: 30 (Kinda crushed that, didn’t I?)

Date: October 11 (duh)

Random Semi-insightful Observation: Friday Coffee Club has parking for all kinds of mega bikes. (That’s Big Nellie in the foreground below.) Oh, and we let people on normal bikes come too. Some of these people aren’t really normal, but that’s okay.

What I drank: Swings High Mountain drip coffee.

Begging and Rehabbing

Today I began the road to recovery. My wonky left knee and hip have been giving me fits all year so I rode Big Nellie to the physical therapist in Old Town, Alexandria. I’ve been there before for back and shoulder problems.

On the way I saw something I have never seen before. Just south of Old Town there is a large condominium building on the Potomac River. The access to the river cuts across the Mount Vernon Trail. It is at this intersection that I was hit by a driver too impatient to stop before making a right turn on red.

After complaining about it last year, the city changed the sign at the intersection to a No Turn on Red.  Based on my observations since returning from this year’s bike tour, I’d say that about half of the drivers leaving the complex comply with the new sign. (I saw one ignore it yesterday.)

Today, on the way to physical therapy, I rolled toward the intersection. A car was waiting at the light. Then I saw something I’ve never seen before. Anywhere. The driver got out of her car and walked over to the pedestrian beg button and pressed it. “I do this all the time,” she said with a big smile on her face.

Needless to say, I cracked up.

The physical therapy session went well. Logan is my therapist. For twenty minutes she had me talk about my hip and knee and took extensive notes. Then she examined me nine different ways to Sunday, taking various measurements as she went.

She found:

  • I have a leg length discrepancy.  My left leg is shorter than my right.
  • My back is slightly curved. (The result of hefting an extension ladder a few days ago, no doubt.)
  • My quadricep muscles are about as flexible as your average cinder block.
  • My hamstrings are too.
  • Most of the muscles in my upper left leg and left hip are significantly weaker than my upper right leg. (I suspected this going in but to see her isolate each muscle in her examination was quite eye opening to me.)
  • My upper body is also inflexible.

How the heck I managed to ride a bike across the country with my left leg this messed up is beyond me.

She recommended a set of exercises that a trainer walked me through. Sadly, one of them involves taking a foam roller to my upper legs. Foam rollers are the WORST! When I used it on the outside of my left leg, it was not fun.

During the bike tour, I rode across Kansas with Mark and Corey. Mark used a massage stick every night on his leg muscles. His legs were more better than mine.

The entire set of exercises probably takes 20 minutes to do. I’ll do them daily and start adding elements of my old stretching routine.

I am hoping for a reasonably fast recovery.  I’d cross my fingers but they aren’t all that flexible either.

Open Wide

Yesterday, I rode 19 miles to the first Open Streets DC event. Three miles of Georgia Avenue, a major north/south road, were completely closed to motor vehicles from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The weather was as perfect as fall weather in DC can be. The Potomac Runners club all but took over the Mount Vernon Trail with scores of people out doing long runs. We’ve had a string of mid-summer weather making training for a marathon this fall a brutal exercise, no pun intended.

I navigated my way through the runners who were pretty decent about giving other trail users plenty of space. Had they not been there to slow me and Big Nellie down, I am sure the headwind would have.

Once in DC I headed straight for 7th Street Northwest which becomes Georgia Avenue about a mile north of the National Mall.  At Howard University I encountered police blockades that I rolled around and  then made my way all the way to the northern end of the road closure. As I headed north I noticed that every side street was blocked by dump trucks with snow plows on the front or police cars. Normally some sawhorses would do the trick but these are not normal times.

I arrived in time for the bike parade. It was a lazy bike amble. The street was still mostly unoccupied and we rolled unimpeded until encountering a couple of trucks that were moving a mobile stage into place. (Suggestion to the city: do this before the road closure or not at all). We waited about 15 minutes. An event organizer told passers by to use the sidewalk.  Irony lives.

The bike parade included several of my friends and we ran into more as we slowly cruised down the road. We made it all 3 miles before turning around. Some of us grabbed some coffee at Colony Club, others stopped in Sonny’s Pizza for beer and pie.

A Jewish deli, Call Your Mother, had a line three people wide. It ran out the door and across the street. All day. Dang.

I noticed on social media that the nearly empty streets we had ridden were now filling up with people.

My friend Joe Flood, who knows DC much better than I do, remarked how removing the cars allowed people to notice shops that they had previously been unaware of because they were focused on traffic.

There was a bike wheelie competition, people writing on a car, a giant inflatable slide, a bike lane protected by bales of straw, a booth offering beer samples, a spin class, a yoga session, a city bus for kids to explore and “drive”, and many more activities along either the side of the road.

Mostly, though, this was about people of all ages getting outside in the fresh air and enjoying the city for a few hours. Dogs were walked. Kids rode bikes. Babies rode in strollers. I didn’t hear a cross word all day. It makes you wish the city did this on a regular basis.

At 2, a couple of friends made their way to Rachel M.’s in the Petworth neighborhood for beer and snacks in the alley behind her house. I had dismounted Big Nellie to get around a truck at the mouth of the alley, As I went to get back on to ride the last 100 yards up the alley, my toe caught the cross bar, and the ungainly bike fell away from me. In a feeble attempt to stop it from falling over, I toppled over the bike and landed more or less on my right temple. It really hurt. I also managed to scrape my knee and mess up the thumb of my left hand.

After a few minutes being one with the pain and stupidity of the thing, I applied tortilla chips and ice cold beer. It still hurt but I didn’t much care.

To end the day, I followed my friends’ directions and made my way down 11th Street NW. This worked out great. No traffic to speak of all the way to the Potomac River and the Mount Vernon Trail. And eventually home. After a shower I met my wife and daughter for dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

Open wide.

I blame the sun

The sun has turned the DC area into a desert. Trees are dropping leaves without changing colors. The soil in my yard is rock hard. The crabgrass in my lawn was over a foot tall, the rest of the yard was dust. Mowing the lawn stirred up big clouds of the stuff. During my ride today, there was so much dust in the air that it didn’t smell like the same place. I rode through Nevada in late June and it wasn’t as dry as this. It was 97 degrees today. In October. Dang.

Yesterday,  I spent five or six hours outside doing physical stuff, including digging a trench for a downspout extension, mowing the lawn, and riding 25 miles on Big Nellie.

I was tired and hot so I knew I was going to crash early last night but the Nationals were playing a do-or-die playoff game against the Brewers. I did my best to watch the game on TV. To be honest, it was boring. Sometime around the sixth inning, the sun won and I fell asleep.

I was awakened from my slumber by insane cheering on the TV. The Nationals had pulled out an amazing, improbable, lucky comeback in the eighth inning. I watched the last half inning in a semi-coherent state. They won.

For those of you who know what an avid baseball fan I am, you’re probably thinking, “You idiot! How could you of all people miss the greatest comeback ever!!”

Get a grip, children. Pull up a chair.

I did miss the comeback but, except for the do-or-die aspect, this wasn’t even the biggest comeback of this year. The Nationals scored seven runs in the bottom of the ninth to walk off the Mets a month ago.

As sweet as that was, it didn’t come close to the biggest comeback of my lifetime.

In 1967, as the Red Sox contended for the American League pennant, Tony Conigliaro was beaned. On my birthday. Hello, karma.

I went to college in Boston in the 1970s and, for a semester, lived a five-minute walk from the Green Monster of Fenway Park. Of course, the Sox lost in the World Series to the Reds, but surely they’d win it next year.


Twenty eight years later, I watched from my home in DC as the Sox were walked off by Aaron Boone and the Yankees in the eleventh inning of the seventh game of the American League playoffs in 2003. The next year, the Yankees annihilated the Sox for three games in the playoffs. I was fed up.

Then, the Sox came back. For four nights I sat on my sofa and went totally sportsball insane. The Red Sox eliminated the Yankees in Yankee Stadium and went on, in beautifully anticlimactic fashion, to win the World Series and reverse the curse of the Bambino.

Last night’s game was pretty great but, for me, nothing will top those four games in 2004. In fact, I even stopped watching baseball for a few years because I’d been to the mountain top.

All that said, I have only two words, inspired by the basketball fans of Boston, left to say.




September Dud

I really have no excuse. September was a bike riding dud. I only did 773 1/2 miles. That’s my lowest monthly mileage since March. I managed to ride the 50 States Ride for the 11th time. And I did two 60 mile days, which involved Friday Coffee Club in the morning and a baseball game later in the day.

My only other accomplishment was to re-acquaint myself with Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent. I would have ridden it today but for the rain.

And I found out that I don’t need a joint replacement for either my knee or my hip. I had cortisone shots instead. They help a lot but I am hoping physical therapy puts me right.

I took seven days off this month which is weird because the weather was good. We’re in a drought here in DC. Today’s rain didn’t put a dent in it.

For the year I’ve managed to ride 8,324 1/2 miles. Half of that was on The Mule and 3,000 miles of that was from my tour. My Cross Check picked up 30 percent of the miles. The rest were split between Big Nellie and Little Nellie, my Bike Friday.

I’d say that I will make it to 10,000 miles this year but I don’t want to jinx it.

Bearing Witness

On Friday dozens of people showed up in a DC courthouse for the sentencing of the man who killed our friend Dave Salovesh. We were there to console each other one more time, to support Dave’s family, and to bear witness to the inadequacy of the court to right a horrible wrong.

During the proceeding we learned that the killer was driving a stolen van at 78 miles per hour five seconds before he ran a red light, hit a car, and careened into Dave who was waiting at a stop light astride his bike. He was driving more than three times the speed limit.

The crowd of supporters was so big a separate, overflow courtroom was needed.

The hearing was a formality, but it gave Dave’s family an opportunity to express their feelings to the judge, to the community, and to Dave’s killer. Their statements were articulate and extremely moving. Boxes of tissues were passed up and down the aisles as we heard about every aspect of this tragedy.

The killer pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and received an 8 1/2 year sentence  for breaking every bone in a Dave’s body and snuffing his life out in a few, horrifying seconds.  On Good Friday.

The killer didn’t get sentenced for devastating Dave’s family or for inflicting bewildering sadness on the vast community of Dave’s friends.

As I left the courthouse it occurred to me that it was five years ago nearly to the day that the best friend of a friend of mine was killed by a transit bus as she made her way home from the Metro. The randomness and finality of it all was incomprehensible to me.

Some things never change.




A Shot in the Arm. Well, Two. And Not in the Arm

Today was doctor day.


For the last couple of years I’ve been having trouble hearing in crowded situations like restaurants, parties, and such. In the morning, I went to an ear specialist to find out why. They gave me a hearing test. It took 15 minutes.  I have hearing loss in certain high frequencies and in one mid-range frequency. The high frequency result is classic age-related hearing loss. (I highly recommend not aging.) The mid-range result isn’t as bad but it’s still well below normal.  No need for hearing aids or any other intervention at this time. The doctor recommended coming back in a year to be re-tested.

Knee and Hip

In the afternoon I went to the orthopedist. He looked at my MRI pictures. His office had software that animated the scans. He explained the damage he could see. There was some fluid build up in the knee. And a couple of minor irregularities in the meniscus. But he agreed with the MRI report that I have worn down the underside of my knee cap. Pretty much classic runner’s knee. He examined my knee and could feel the crunchiness. Ewww.

Then we discussed my hip. It was tender all day, probably the result of doing some work using an extension ladder yesterday. He examined it and found tenderness in a few spots. It was tender enough that I flinched from his probing.

My knee case is interesting because I ride a bike and cycling is a classic treatment for my knee problem.

His diagnosis is that I have bursitis in my hip that is messing up my mechanics. He says he’s seen my symptoms in soccer players. The good news is that he thinks this is easy to fix. He never once mentioned surgery.

It seems like there are risks involved when amping up your annual mileage to 10,000 miles per year, riding a ton of mountains, stopping your stretching routine, and getting old. Who knew?

He gave me a cortisone shot in my hip. And another in my knee. Yes, they hurt but I didn’t cry or yell or anything like that. I did punch a whole in the office’s drywall but that sort of thing is okay, right?

I have to rest my leg for 24 hours then I can ride again. The man cave TV is now hooked up so I can watch baseball tonight. Tomorrow’s game is at 4 pm. The doctor said it is okay to ride to the game. Life is good.

(Digression: Yesterday, the Nats played a double header. I listened to the day game on the radio then went to the store to buy cables for the TV. I watched the night game. So I was able to watch the Nats clinch a playoff spot.)

The doctor sent me to physical therapy. I have a therapist that I like but she can’t see me for 10 days. (I guess I’m not the only one that likes her.) She’ll do an evaluation, recommend exercises, and have me work with a trainer to learn how to do the exercises correctly.

If my doctor is right, my hip and knee should be back to normal in a couple of months.

If he’s not, I am going to have my head examined.

I’m going to sign up for a couple more rides, one in late October, the other in early November.

And I have to decide whether to sign up for the hike in Peru next September.

Then there is the matter of next summer’s rides. I still haven’t ridden in 16 states. What a slacker.

Cranky Question

I just read the MRI report on my right knee. I find it hard to believe but nothing is torn. I do have some chondromalacia (deterioration of the cartilage under my left knee cap). I ride a bike but I have runner’s knee. Frankly, given my symptoms, I find this a bit hard to believe.

I did some research and found that one way to fix chronic knee pain is to use shorter crank arms on your bike. (This is pretty common in the recumbent world.) The reason is that you have less flex in your leg at the top of the pedal stroke when you push down. (This is exactly when my knee aches.)

All of my bikes use 175mm length cranks which come stock on bikes for people my height.

So I have a question.

Do you use cranks shorter than 175mm?