November 2022 – Crawling through Fall

The leaves are all but gone, save for the dreary brown ones on our oak tree. The helpful trees on the farm next door dropped a blanket on our backyard only after I “finished” raking for the year. Raking leaves beats shoveling snow, I suppose. More to do.

It was a long foliage season around these parts. We now look forward to weeks of gray and dark, and cold winds. Of course, it’s not like Saskatchewan or anything, but the contrast to the oppressive heat and humidity of July and August makes it seem so.

Biking (and Walking)

This month’s miles: I only rode 747.5 miles this month, my first sub 1,000-mile month since April. I took six days off. A couple of days to attend an uncle-in-law’s 70th birthday party in southern West Virginia. This past Sunday and today were rainy and gloomy, good for sleeping in and napping. My mileage for the year broke 10,000 on November 2. A few weeks later I hit 10,000 outdoor miles, a pointless point of pride, riding another 500+ miles to account for my cellar recumbent rides last winter. I’m at 10,713 miles and counting. My Cross Check turned 25,000 miles and The Mule turned 69,000 miles this month. My longest ride, 62 miles, was the day of WABA’s Cider Ride.

The Mule, my 1991 Specialized Cross Check, turned 69.

Fender benders: Somehow during my rides I managed to destroy both fenders on The Mule. The back one went first when I ran over a small fallen tree limb. A week or two later I ran over an even small branch, the kind I’ve ridden over countless times. It got sucked up by my front wheel and that was that.

Medical mysteries: I did a follow-up trip to my doctor to see if my dietary changes since my August physical had produced any measurable benefits. To my utter surprise, my blood cholesterol dropped 50 points. My weight dropped eight pounds to 190. I had hoped the weight loss would help with my back problems so I experimented with long walks. For a while my progress seemed promising. I managed to go four miles without back pain. Then, after Thanksgiving dinner, the joined the other overstuffed diners for a post-prandial walk around the hilly neighborhood. I felt completely fine for about 1/3rd of a mile but the second half of the walk was pretty unpleasant. I’ve tried to get a hold of the back surgeon that Dr. Pain recommended back in May but the helpful communications infrastructure at his office has thwarted me. I even looked into a different surgeon, one who practices in the orthopedic clinic down the street from my house. It turns out he is out of network for my insurance. Maybe the gods are trying to tell me something.

Speaking of doctors, I made an appointment for a colonoscopy next month. I’ll post the video next month.

Just kidding.

Next year’s tour?: My mind is already turning to thoughts of a summer tour. I guess my brain has forgotten about all those crappy motels last summer. To add to my motivation, I recently found two long-forgotten poly shirts in my closet. Man, I wish I had them this past summer.

I had planned to ride 400+ miles to my 50th high school reunion in upstate New York in May. Last Spring, I bought tickets to a September 2022 Crowded House concert (probably their last tour). The drummer injured his back (karma, no?) and the concert was rescheduled to the Sunday after the reunion. Ack. Now, instead of riding to the reunion, I face the prospect of driving 800+ miles in two days and missing half the events. It’s all a mess. Regardless, next summer’s tour will start May 23 or thereabouts. DC to Bar Harbor and back. There are many interesting route options.

Plan B is to do New Orleans to DC. That can actually happen next fall as the weather between here and there is likely to be ideal.

Watching and Listening

The Crown: We watched the fifth season. Maybe it’s my familiarity with the events but it was my least favorite season so far. Flashback scenes of Claire Foy as the Queen back in the fifties only reminded me of how much I enjoyed the earlier seasons. Maybe it was the writing but Imelda Staunton’s Queen didn’t hold up to either Foy’s or Olivia Coleman’s. Also, the impending death of Diana made me dread each new episode. (They saved it for season six. Oh, joy.)

Andor: We watched the remaining episodes of Andor, a Star Wars prequel miniseries. I liked it a lot. Diego Luna, Stellan Skarsgard, and Andy Serkis are superb. The good guys are bad. The bad guys are evil. It lacks the cartoonish aspects of all the other Star Wars products. No Yodas, Grokus, light sabers, or wide eyed Jedis-to-be.

Ultra: I finished listening to this podcast. It’s the forgotten history of the politics of white supremacy in the United States in the 30s and 40s and how the Nazis infiltrated American politics. It is not American politicians’ finest hour. Well worth listening to.

Also, I finished watching the World Series. No more sports for me for a few months. Maybe I’ll watch the World Cup final and the Super Bowl.

Reading

The Young Terrorist by Nabil Khouri. This is a (I think) self-published memoir of how a Lebanese boy somewhat miraculously escaped the chaos of the middle east in the 1970s and realized the American dream. He was hardly a terrorist, just a misguided (and often terrified) 11-year-old boy who signed up with a Palestinian militia group in his hometown in Jordan. With a facility with mathematics, dogged persistence, and some lucky breaks, he made it to a college and a peaceful existence in the U. S.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I read this a long time ago and just couldn’t get into it. It’s depressing as hell. McCarthy description of a father and son making their way through a post-apocalyptic landscape (presumably American) is chilling. I couldn’t help but picture the barren areas of the U. S. West (particularly the forest burn zones and the high desert of Wyoming) that I’ve ridden through on my last three bike tours as I read McCarthy’s description of the landscape.

The Naked Mule

The Mule seems to be attracting a lot of road debris this year. On my bike tour in Oregon, the rear fender trapped a chunk of truck tire tread. The tread worked into my rear tire and caused my first flat in ages.

Fast forward to autumn. The winds are blowing and tree branches are falling. The smaller stuff seems to end up on the shoulders of roads. Last week I was riding along lost in my typical riding trance when I came upon a small tree branch on the pavement ahead. I had no pavement to my right and cars to my left so I rode over the branch. Just like the tire tread, the branch managed to clear my front wheel without a problem but it became caught up under my rear fender. The force of the impact tore the bottom off my rear fender. I managed to ride with it on for a while but the damage was so extensive I had to remove the fender.

The Mule had a bare bottom for the first time in its life. Eek.

Today I was riding through a park on the Mount Vernon Trail when I came upon what looked to be a small tree branch no more than a few inches long. Alas, it was just long enough to get sucked up under my front fender. Can you say instant replay? Well, I was going to have to buy a new fender set anyway so it’s not much of a loss. The Mule is now naked front and rear.

Second fender trashed in a week. The Mule is naked.
Front wheel of The Mule with removed broken front fender.

I suppose it could have been worse. Neither fender incident resulted in damage to the wheels or the tires. Speaking of tires, the Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour tire in the picture above has well over 5,000 miles on it. I suspect it will last at least another 3,000 miles.

Medical Mendoza

Mario Mendoza was baseball player about a generation ago. He embodied the description “Good field, no hit.” In nine seasons, the light-hitting shortstop failed to bat above .200 five times. The number 200 has been known ever since as the Mendoza line.

When I had my physical back in early August, I discovered that my weight had fallen below the Mendoza line. I weighed in at 198 pounds, a result of riding 3,500 hilly miles during my bike tour during the previous two months. Unfortunately there is another Mendoza line for total blood cholesterol. My cholesterol level came in at 277, far above any previous test result.

My doctor told me to come back in three months and he’d re-test me. In the meantime I was to eat certain foods known to lower cholesterol including salmon twice a week. I am no fan of salmon so that wasn’t going to happen but I did cut out lots of other bad stuff. I substituted nuts (especially almonds) for chips. I ate less red meat. I cut out cookies and ice cream. And had fewer than ten alcoholic drinks. I call this my SEC (Stop Eating Crap) diet. In the week before my re-test, I started eating Brazil nuts (just three or four a day) as they are supposedly the bees knees when it comes to lowering cholesterol.

When I went into the doctor’s office this week I had two expectations: higher weight and not much difference in cholesterol. Weight gain is all but inevitable after a tour ends. Cholesterol is notoriously difficult to reduce because 80 percent of your cholesterol level supposedly is determined by genetics.

I stepped on the scale in the examination room with trepidation. I fully expected to weight 205 or more. Was I ever shocked. 190! I haven’t weighed 190 since my son was born 31 years ago. I thought the scale was wrong. Today I tried on some clothing that had fit rather snugly recently. They fit with room to spare. My son bought me a cycling kit (jersey and matching shorts) for Christmas many years ago. The jersey and shorts were laughably far too small so I put them in a drawer and forgot about them. Today I tried them on. They are still rather snug but I got them on. I’d wear them to ride but I look like a balloon about to pop, such are the sartorial limitations of 67 year-olds.

The lower weight also helped with my lower back problems. I managed to do several walks around home last week without leg pain. My back isn’t close to 100 percent but at least I can walk a mile without crippling leg pain.

Today, I got the results of my blood test. I was surprised to see that my cholesterol level dropped to 229. a decline of 18 percent. (My LDL – the so-called bad cholesterol – also dropped 18 percent.) I wonder if the 277 result had been skewed by my bike tour diet which was heavily dependent on gas station food. Or maybe there was some sort of metabolic trauma from riding so much for two months.

My medical journey continues next month with my sixth or seventh colonoscopy. It’ll be like Fantastic Voyage, alas without Raquel Welch.

Cider Ride 2022 – Celery and Donuts

Last Saturday was the final event of my bicycling year, the 60-mile Cider Ride. This event is run annually by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA). I’ve ridden all six Cider Rides.. The first two were held on suburban roads in December. Riding in 40-degree weather on roads with impatient Maryland drivers did not make for a fun time. The second Cider Ride also featured rain. Woo boy. Thankfully my friend Reba’s chain broke about 13 miles into the event. We spent about a half hour in the cold rain trying in vain to fix it but we had neither the parts nor the expertise to get her rolling again. Cold and wet, we called for the WABA sag wagon and Gina picked us up in her blissfully warm van.

Ever since that lovely day, the event has been held in early November. This year’s event featured light breezes and 75 degree temperatures.

I rode in a group of ten riders. Michael, Kevin, and Chris and I have been doing WABA events together for several years. We rode the 50 States ride together in September. Chuck, Catherine, Jonah, and Sara who were also part of our 2022 50 States posse joined us for this ride as well. Our 50 States alums welcomed Jean and Domitille. It was a coincidence that they are both French. I seem to be making a habit of meeting French bicyclists after chatting with the French sisters in Boulder, Utah in 2018 and to two separate French riders in close succession this summer near the Oxbow, Oregon this summer.

Domitille only recently moved to DC so she was not at all familiar with where we were going. And she expressed uncertainty about her ability to make it beyond 30 miles. Little did she know that we at the Rootchopper Institute specialize in the care and support of newbies – such as Chris and Katie (Cider Ride), and Shane, Veronica, Richard, Tito, Jeremy, Emilia, Larraine, Jeannie, Elizabeth, Lisa, and Kristen (50 States Ride).

At about 9:15 we were off. The ride took us through middle-class, residential Northeast DC into Mt. Rainier, Maryland. There we jumped on a succession of bike trails along the Anacostia River and it’s northeastern tributary. Occasionally we’d ride under a canopy of trees with leaves floating down like giant puffy orange snowflakes. Near College Park we passed through a running event. Here I was surprised as I passed my old biking friend Lisa running in the opposite direction. Hi Lisa

Around the University of Maryland campus and the College Park airport we spun. Michael who knows these trails and the course by heart, led the way, keeping a steady 12 mile per hour pace. We arrived at the first pit stop at Proteus Bicycles in College Park. Warm cider and donuts! Yes!

Domitille pulled out a bag of personal healthful snacks and pulled out a stalk of celery. Domitille, you got some learnin’ to do. The truth is that the food table included healthful things like bananas and apples but they were right next to the icing-covered chocolate donuts. Mon Dieu!

In her defense, Domitille did explain to us how celery, in addition to being nutritionally beneficial, is every bit as good at cleaning your teeth as a toothbrush and toothpaste. Oh, give me some of that dental goodness! On my next event ride I’ll be sure to pack some Colgate.

All kidding aside, she was holding up quite well and having a good time so who am I to deny her such utterly healthy habits.

With full tummies and clean teeth, we headed off towards the Greenbelt USDA research farmlands. At the pit stop, I had assured Domitille that there was only one bad hill on the entire course. Sadly, I had forgotten about the four miles of rollers along Beaver Dam Road. It’s a wonder she didn’t whack me with a celery stalk.

Once clear of the farm land we rode into the Patuxent Research Refuge. It was a lovely three miles out and back through the woods. The turnaround had a pit stop of sorts: no food, just bathrooms. As we rode back toward the farm area we split off to the right, riding a big circle through a suburban neighborhood. I somehow caught my stride and sped clear of the group. They reeled me in after a mile or so. Back at the farmland we used Research Road to cross our outbound path. Now we had a noticeable headwind just in time for the day’s big climb. (At this point I was hoping that Domitille did not have a knife in her food bag.)

We all made it up the hill and around a couple of annoying gates designed to keep drivers from cutting through the Greenbelt neighborhood ahead. A mile of so later we arrived at Buddy Attucks Park and our second pit stop. There was more cider. More donuts. Snacks. And pie! Pumpkin or apple. Or, as Sara was to discover, BOTH! Also, there were lots of bees buzzing about. I made sure to check my cider cup before drinking.

By now we had gone about 35 miles. Domitille was holding up fine. Maybe there’s something to that celery thing after all. We headed back toward DC. Our route took us around Lake Artemsia which we had skirted a few hours earlier. Down the Northeast Branch of the Anacostia, the route took some streets through Hyattsville to ride the Trolley Trail. It was hard not to stop at the gastropubs along the trail but somehow we managed. (Did you know that IPA makes an excellent mouthwash?)

Back to the NE Branch Trail we crossed the Anacostia at Bladensburg and stopped for our last rest stop. I ate an apple. Domitille ate a donut. Will wonders never cease?

The next ten miles involved a ride down the river on the Anacostia River Trail (ART). We rode past an athletic field where a high school cross country race was underway. I must say some of the runners look quite unhappy with the heat and humidity. At Eleventh Street, we crossed back over the river and headed north to the RFK Stadium complex. We rode around the hulking decrepit concrete hulk, Joe and I reminisced about separately attending the Tibetan Freedom concert where lightning struck a young woman. (It was in my seating section. I was getting some liquid refreshment on the concourse above when I heard the BOOM.)

D to 14th to C Streets Northeast took us to and around Lincoln Park. After a brief spin along Massachusetts Avenue we rode around Columbus Circle and up the 1st Street cycle track to M Street. M took us to the Metropolitan Branch Trail which we rode a mile or so back to the finish at MetroBar.

We celebrated with a group picture and some snacks and liquids. We all made it in great shape. Celery and donuts for the win!

Kevin, Jean, and Domitille on the ART in DC during the 2022 Cider RIde
Kevin and Domitille following Jean on the Northeast Branch Trail
Me on Beaver Dam Road during the 2022 Cider Ride
Me, powered by donuts on Beaver Dam Road.
Catherine leading along the ART on the 2022 Cider Ride
Catherine leading Domatille on the ART
Jonah bringing up the rear on the ART during the 2022 Cider Ride
Kevin, Me, Michael, Jean, and Jacob on the ART
At the FInish: Our 2022 Cider Ride Crew minus Chuck plus Monica
Chris, Kevin, Jean, Michael, Monica (our finish line greeter), Me, Jonah. Domitille, Sara, Catherine and Joe. All smiles after nearly 60 miles of riding. Not pictured: Chuck (who finished as well, see below).
Chuck capturing us re-hydrating at the 2022 Cider Ride finish at Metro Bar
L-R: Chuck, Me, Micael, Domitlle, Joe, Sara, Kevin, and Jonah at Metrobar after the ride

Riding and Rutting

The weather around the mid-Atlantic has been unreal lately. Warm. Gently breezy. Not at all typical of early November. The good weather resulted in an extended fall foliage season, a real feast for the eyeballs.

With a forecasted high temperature in the high 70s I was planning on driving away from the city and doing a long-ish ride, maybe on the C&O Canal or on the eastern shore of Maryland. I turned on the TV to confirm the forecast. It was then I learned that the cable TV remote wasn’t working properly, which is to say at all. No bueno.

So I contacted tech support at the cable company. There is probably a way to get a knowledgeable human on the phone but I couldn’t find it on the Cox Communications website. So I used the company’s online chat feature. This involved two minute lags between questions and responses that dragged on for an hour, at which point the technical support person advised me that my remote was kaput. (This all could have been done in ten minutes on the phone but that’s so 1990s!)

The hour that I spent “chatting” would have been spent driving somewhere bucolic but, thanks to Cox Communications, that idea was dead and gone, kind of like my remote. So what’s a bicyclists to do? Ride to the cable store!

The closest retail store to my house is in a development called Kingstowne. This area was designed and built about 20 years ago. The roads have no shoulders and no bike lanes. There are paths meant for an evening spin around the townhouse developments but there are no wayfaring signs on them. On the way I had to ride on South Kings Highway, a car sewer with two steep hills. The county bicycling master plan had included a flat trail on the perimeter a wildlife preserve that would have allowed me to avoid this hellscape. Alas, the trail – which would have followed an existing utility easement – was removed from the plan at the last moment because it supposedly would have disrupted the wildlife. (If you want to go to this pristine environmental area you have to drive. Wildlife just love oil, gas, and other toxic fluids, Who knew? Welcome to Fairfax County, Virginia.)

So, I made it to the cable company office without being run over by a big metal thing and headed home. On the way I stopped at a big box hardware store to pick up some paper bags for leaf disposal. They were all out. It seems that our super nice fall weather caused a community-wide rake-o-rama.

Another mile or so later across the car rapids of U. S. 1, I arrived home. To my surprise the new remote worked so I wouldn’t have to go back through car hell to get another. Yay.

Noon time. I snarfed down a PB&J. Then I headed out on the CrossCheck for some more miles in my neck of the woods. After about eight more miles the CrossCheck turned 25. Woot!

My CrossCheck turned 25 today
Happy birthday to my CrossCheck

I headed for Fort Hunt Park. This park has a loop road lined with trees that, up until this weekend, were a riot of fall colors. There is a half-mile bulb out along the loop road on which cars are prohibited. It’s a favorite of walkers. I took the bulb out and came upon a few people walking their Fidos. One of them said “Look at that buck! He’s an eight pointer!” I stopped and after a while and with some help from the Deer Spotter I saw the buck about 50 yards into the woods off the pavement. Wow. “There’s another. And another. And another.” Deer Spotter had great eyes because these deer were seriously camouflaged. Only when they moved could I see them. The eight-pointer was the boss. He was shooing the other three buckaroos to the right. Deer Spotter said that there were some does lying in a swale to the left. Only their heads were visible but I couldn’t see them. This time of year is mating season, the rut, for deer around here. Eight Pointer was having himself an orgy.

If I had gone out into the boonies on my bike I’d might have missed quite a show close to home. As I write this I can hear through an open window a fox barking outside. It’s a jungle out there.

Ready for the Rut in Fort Hunt Park
Mr. Big.

Tomorrow promises more abnormally good weather. After I pick up the leaf bags (a new shipment arrives at the hardware store tonight) I’ll see about going somewhere with fewer cars and big horny critters.

October 2022 – In the Book

Another madcap month of riding, reading, listening, and watching has passed and I did my level best at three out of the four.

Riding

I managed to pull off my sixth straight month of 1,000 miles or more on my bikes. October clocked in at 1,041 miles. I took five days off for the sake of sanity. I did rides of 50 or more miles six times, which might sound impressive but that’s called loafing by bike touring standards. (It still strikes me as odd that I can do 55 miles a day carrying 40+ pounds of gear over mountains or into stiff headwinds and feel energized on a tour, but feel whipped after three days of unweighted local riding in the flat terrain around home. Let that be a lesson to you aspiring bike tourists.)

I rode my CrossCheck most often only because it was whining that I had neglected it for most of the summer. (My bikes can talk. If only the CrossCheck would tell me its proper name. Someday, I suppose.)

I rode one bike event, the Great Pumpkin Ride. It takes place in rural Fauquier (don’t ask how it’s pronounced) County, Virginia. It was one of many leaf peeping jaunts this month. I have to say the foliage has been pretty darned awesome around here this year. And there hasn’t been a truly nasty storm to put an end to the festivities so I expect I’ll get a few more days of reds and golds and browns yet.

I have less than 50 miles to go to reach 10,000 miles for the fifth year in a row. That is, assuming a calamity (pulmonary embolisms anyone?).

Reading

Cloud Cuckoo Land: Yes, this month is by the book (singular) because I only read one. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. This one was a bit of a challenge as the plot is split among multiple plot lines across centuries. The separate plot lines are linked by an ancient Greek text. (Doerr’s mind works in strange ways.) Doerr does manage to tie things together at the end but by page 400 I was getting whiplash from going from the distant future to the 16th Century and back to present day Idaho.

Listening

Ultra: A few years ago I got into podcasts in a big way. Over time I fell out of the habit but this month I found a whopper. Rachel Maddow Presents Ultra is the absolutely riveting tale of how white supremacists and the Nazis nearly took over American politics in the run up to World War II. The whole story starts with the deadliest plane crash to date in U. S. history. The crash took place near Lovettsville, Virginia. Lovettsville is separated from the upper Shenandoah Valley by a mountain ridge into which the plane, carrying a sitting U.S. senator, two FBI agents, and a federal prosecutor, collided. That’s episode one. It gets better and better.

Ghost Stories: Ultra uses some audio from the 30s and 40s which brought to mind a repressed memory from my childhood. For some reason during a bike ride my brain coughed up a story about a squirrel. (It’s a bit ironic. One friend once called my bike rides my meditation practice. Another friend refers to having squirrels running around in her head when she meditates.) A few miles later the name Clarence came to the surface. Then I recalled that the squirrel could talk. When I got home I did some searching of the interwebs to find that these memories were fragments of a story contained on a 1962 spoken word LP called Alfred Hitchcock Presents Ghost Stories for Young People. I listened to the entire record and only recalled the squirrel story, for good reason. It’s about a ten-year-old boy named Johnny who is playing in a house that is under construction, something that I (same first name) used to do when I was about the same age. On a dare, the boy decides to stay in the house overnight. A squirrel comes into the house. Then another bigger than the first. And they start talking. They have names, one of which is Clarence. Then another still bigger squirrel comes in. And, well, go listen to it for yourself.

Revolver: At the end of the month, reconstructed recordings of the Beatles album Revolver came out. These new recordings use an advanced audio technique developed for the Get Back documentary. On Revolver, the Beatles used one track for the band playing live: guitar, bass, drums, piano, and such. The other three tracks were for vocals, instrumental add ons, and sound effects. Applying the new audio techniques allowed the live track to be deconstructed as if each instrument and vocal and sound effect had been separately recorded. The fruits of this show most clearly in the new mix of Taxman. The rhythm guitar and drums practically jump into your ears. The mix of Eleanor Rigby actually sounds worse to me as you can hear the scratchiness of McCartney’s voice. It sounds as if he just woke up. In contrast, his vocals for Here, There and Everywhere and For No One are smooth as glass.

There are a few treats such as a Yellow Submarine outtake that shows that this bouncy children’s song grew out of a somber germ of a song idea from Lennon. Paperback Writer and Rain, without all the technical slight of hand, are straightforward rockers. Rain was played at much faster speed then slowed down in the final version. Paperback Writer without the dominating heavy jazzy bass, reveals a tight band playing their brains out. Getting a peek at the creative process is always fascinating to me.

Watching

I didn’t go to any baseball games because the weather at the beginning of the month was cold and rainy. The Nats were the worst team in baseball so nothing lost. Wait til next year. Nowhere to go but up.

The playoffs have been quite entertaining. It’s nice to see major league baseball played well, something that’s been missing hereabouts for a few years. One painful aspect though is seeing so many former Washington Nationals playing for other teams. Harper, Scherzer, Turner, Schwarzer, Soto, Bell, and Hand. Oof. Two certain future Hall of Famers and perhaps two more.

Away from the ballgames, I watched Andor, the latest Star Wars miniseries. It’s so well done. Much better than anything else from Star Wars since, well, Rogue One, to which Andor is a prequel. Diego Luna is great as are Stellan Skarsgard and Fiona Shaw.

I finished watching SheHulk, Attorney at Law. It was dreadful. I kept hoping each new episode would get better. Nope.

Finally, I watched Anxious People, a Swedish miniseries based on the book of the same name by Fredrik Bachman. It took a few episodes to get into but I enjoyed it as much as I did the book. Mrs. Rootchopper did too and shed a few tears at the end. I am looking forward to the release later this year of A Man Called Otto, based on Bachman’s book A Man Called Ove. (It was already made into a movie in Swedish which I recommend.) In this American version, Otto is played by Tom Hanks.

Colorful riding

It’s crazy pretty around here this fall. The dominant colors are browns and yellows, not the blazing reds of the northeast. I’m not complaining. I’ll pass on a few red maples just to avoid that one or two week period in the dead of winter when the thermometer dips below zero and the inside of my nose freezes.

The colors are made more vivid by the angle of the sun this time of year. The twinkling water of the river and the glow of the leaves makes for happy riding. I’ve been cruising around the DC area on all three bikes savoring the fading days of warmth. In the last seven days I’ve ridden over 280 miles just peeping my fool head off.

Dawn on the Mount Vernon Trail

When I ride to Friday Coffee Club this time of year, the sun is just rising when I reach the Dyke Marsh bump-out on a bridge on the Mount Vernon Trail. Sometimes the sun is peeking through the tree line across the way in Maryland. Other times its radiance is muted in the pre-dawn minutes but the river is steaming its way into the morning.

The Mule at Dyke Marsh at sunrise. #specializedsequoia #potomacriver #mtvernontrail
The Mule at daybreak in Dyke Marsh

Autumn in DC
One week later from the same spot just before sunrise

Rock Creek Park

Going to Friday Coffee Club gets me out of bed and into the city some 15 miles up river. After the working stiffs head off to make the donuts, I ride up into Rock Creek Park, an urban canyon with a bike trail and, for now, restricted car access on Beach Drive, the main road. It’s pretty splendid scenery.

Autumn in Rock Creek Park
This is the brand new path near the National Zoo in Rock Creek Park.

Autumn in Rock Creek Park
Heading down hill on Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park

Fort Hunt Park

Closer to home, Fort Hunt Park puts on quite a show. Sadly, two old large maples have died in recent years but there’s still some arboreal fireworks on display.

Fort Hunt Park in the fall
Big Nellie takes in the colors in Fort Hunt Park

The C&O Canal

Last Sunday I drove up to Maryland to make for an easier 50 mile out and back ride on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath. The C&O is a terrific place for a day ride, made all the better by recent improvements to the trail upriver from Riley’s Lock in Montgomery County, Maryland. The towpath in is area used to be filled with ruts and mud and now it’s a sweet roll for miles and miles.

C&O canal between Riley’s Lock and Edwards Ferry. Super nice new surface.
Morning light on the C&O towpath. Love that smooth surface.
C&O canal between Riley’s Lock and Edwards Ferry. Super nice new surface.
Autumn sunlight makes the Potomac River sparkle along the C&O towpath.

The Great Pumpkin Ride

After Friday’s ride through Rock Creek Park, I drove west to Warrenton for the annual Great Pumpkin Ride. The early morning state made for some cold rolling for an hour or so, but the scenery made up for any discomfort.

Fall foliage on the roads of Fauquier County VA during the Great Pumpkin Ride
On the Great Pumpkin Ride, you have to stop and take in the autumn vibe, babee.

Fall foliage on the roads of Fauquier County VA during the Great Pumpkin Ride
If you sneak out early, before the 9 a.m. start or the Great Pumpkin Ride, you avoid the scrum on the bike path and get the roads all to yourself for a while.

Fall foliage on the roads of Fauquier County VA during the Great Pumpkin Ride
A couple of Great Pumpkin riders cruising down a country lane.

The Great Pumpkin Ride, like most open road bike events, has one feature that I don’t like: packs of riders going fast and passing uncomfortably close to me. After several packs blew by me, I rolled up to one such pack that had ended up in a crash. Some of the riders were sitting dazed in the grass next to the road while someone was picking up their fallen steeds and moving them off the pavement.

After about 50 miles, attention spans start to lapse. A lone rider on a matte black road bike just ahead of me drifted off the pavement into the short grass on the shoulder. My brain said “No. Don’t!’ I’d seen this happen so many times, but there was nothing I could do but watch. He tried to steer back onto the asphalt, caught the edge of his front rim on the transition, and fell hard on his side. He lay on his back until the pain subsided then got up and road to the finish 14 miles ahead.

I may be old, but I’m slow. And al this autumn riding means I’m still in one peace.

FOMO-itis

My friends seem to be travelling like there’s no tomorrow. Sweden was the destination of choice for Brittany. Katie and her husband went to the Baltics and Sweden. Chris went to Italian wine country. Alan and his wife are spending a month in Italy. Gina and her husband are toottling around Naples. Susana and her husband did Greece and Italy. Rulon and Heather did Peru. Not to be outdone, Tim and Michelle are done with Peru and heading for Ecuador as we speak. Rachel and Kate went to Crater Lake (which I missed after I cut short my 2019 bike tour).

I went to the doctor.

Yep. Aren’t you jealous?

I started with a fine case of Covid-19. My symptoms were mild but I was put on Paxlovid and told to keep away from people for 10 days. I fully recovered in a matter of days.

My doctor noticed that I hadn’t had a physical in several years. So I did that. My blood work came back with problems. Going for a physical is like getting your oil changed. Once the mechanic gets a look under the hood, you’re screwed. Well, in my case, my blood work showed elevated glucose levels, borderline pre-diabetic, in fact. The doctor told me to lay off drinking sugary sodas and fruit juices and eating carbs (of the non-whole-grain sort). I have complied pretty faithfully.

Alas, my blood work also showed elevated and rising cholesterol, and my LDL – the especially worrisome component – was way high. He told me to try changes to my diet, including eating salmon twice a week. Ok, just shoot me now.

So I’ve been doing some research, which is to say I’ve been watching two funny Canadian doctors on YouTube. I no longer drink OJ at breakfast. I have had about six cookies since early August. I feel really guilty whenever I eat red meat. Or oil. Or butter. Or eggs. (None of which I eat to excess anyway, but still.). The Canadian docs mentioned an odd study of ten people that found that Brazil nuts are almost as good as statins for lowering cholesterol. Damned if I can find any. Almonds will have to do. Also, eating lots of fruits and veggies is supposedly helpful but too many fruits can spike my blood sugar. I am doomed.

According to the Canadian docs, your cholesterol level is 80 percent genetics. So even if I ate salmon and Brazil nuts and oatmeal for every meal, I’d still have crappy blood cholesterol. Long story short, I go back for follow up blood tests in November. After the sure-to-be disappointing results, I’ll finally go on a statin and celebrate my genetic misfortune with a pepperoni pizza and some egg nog.

(On the plus side, my hemoglobin levels were still somewhat high, a benefit of riding at altitude for a month. Also, my weight – even now – remains well below my pre-tour porkitude.)

If you think my insides are bad, you should take a look at my outsides. My doctor did and referred me to a dermatologist. I booked an appointment for early October.

Since I was at the doctor anyway, I had my pandemic-delayed second pneumonia shot and my first shingles vaccine shot. I felt a bit like the family dog. Woof.

After the physical and the vaccines, I needed some good medical news so I went to my ophthalmologist. (If your insurance will pay for an ophthalmologist you should go to one instead of an optometrist. That way, you won’t have to find an eye surgeon when your retina detaches or your lenses fog over. Ask me how I know.) My intraocular pressure is under control thanks to my daily eye drops. And my optic nerve is in tip top shape.

Confident of not going blind, I decided to go to the dentist. I love my dentist but this visit he took a panaromic x-ray of my teeth. Surely he’d find all kinds of nasty dental disasters, right? Nope! Perfection! Okay, when you have as much hardware in your mouth as I do, perfection is a term of art. But not one tooth, crown, or cavity is on the verge of falling out.

On the way home I took a trip to the pharmacy and had a flu shot. It’s a good thing that vaccines don’t make you smell bad because otherwise I’d be reeking.

After a few weeks of relative medical calm, I went to the dermatologist. He apparently was having a sale on liquid nitrogen because he froze 21 lesions off my face and ears. Are we having fun yet? I thought I should get a prize or something but all he did was send me home with another prescription, for anti-dandruff shampoo, to be used on my face. My face has dandruff. Will wonders never cease?

In a couple of weeks, I’m going to get my bivalent Covid booster which has been delayed because I had Covid in late July. After that, it’s time for my blood to be re-tested and for my second shingles shot. Then comes the real fun.

In early December I’ll be having a colonoscopy. Don’t you wish you were me? I’m pretty sure NASA could learn a thing or two about propulsion from the folks that make the colonoscopy cleansing medication. I’m not looking forward to this procedure but it’s not my first rotorooter rodeo. (Come to think of it, the effect of the cleansing medication kind of looks like riding the mechanical bull in Urban Cowboy. Just try not to get thrown. Eww.) I think it’s my seventh or eighth time taking the fantastic voyage.

Once I get the colonoscopy scheduled, I will be setting up an appointment with a back surgeon. My spinal stenosis has steadily worsened since I came home from my tour. I suspect the epidural I had in April has worn off. I’m not in constant pain but, unless I am bent forward, I can’t do anything on my feet without discomfort. If the surgery and post-op rehab goes well, I’ll be all set to jump on my bike and do a tour in the spring.

Maybe I should have my head examined.

700 States in a Fortnight

A couple of weeks ago I participated in my 14th 50 States Ride.

14? Yes, I may have a problem.

For the uninitiated, the 50 States Ride is the main event in the Washington Area Bicyclists Association ride calendar. Participants follow a course that winds all over DC as they ride on every street named for a state. The route is about 60 miles long with minor variations from year to year. Like last year, this year’s ride started at Yards Park, a small green space along the Anacostia River in the Near Southeast neighborhood.

After parking my car in East Potomac Park, I rode about three miles to the start where a posse of hardcore fools met up for the ride. Michael B., Kevin W., and Chris M. returned from last year’s group. Keith A. who I met on my very first 50 States Ride in 2006 and who I ran into on my bike tour this summer joined us. Jeff D. with whom I’ve ridden two 50-States and countless other event rides also met us at the start. Alas, Jeff and his friend Mike seemed always to be just behind our group so we only saw him at pit stops during the ride.

The returning posse members were joined by a bunch of youngsters whose names I, of course, can’t remember for the life of me. Okay, I managed to remember Sara, Julie, Catherine (sp?), and Chuck but there were two other guys whose names fell out of my head. Along the way we were joined by Claire. For much of the ride we were shadowed by Steve O., a volunteer course marshal who knows a fund group when he sees one.

That’s a pretty big pack of riders. I believe some of the new people work with Chris at a federal government agency while others are known to Kevin from the Thursday night PubRoll. The PubRoll was started by posse expat Peter K., who moved to Barcelona this summer. (We miss you Peter!)

I would post a picture of the group but Kevin has it and is not giving it up. Maybe he’s got Big Nate class picture issues. I didn’t take any pictures except those below so you’ll have to believe me when I say this was one good looking group.

The route goes up and down and all around. Through neighborhood streets and on main roads, into traffic circles, and on bike paths. There are countless stops at stop signs, traffic lights, and pit stops. Usually this causes a group to splinter but this year’s posse was as cohesive as any I’ve ever ridden with.

Usually we are treated to a cloud burst or horrible humidity but not this year. The weather was splendid.

The pit stops – staffed rest areas with snacks, water, and restrooms – were fewer this year. There was no stop until the halfway point in Eastern Market on Capitol Hill where I managed to fall when dismounting and got a boo boo on my elbow. Michael got me a bandaid from the WABA first aid kit that caused an earnest WABA person to fill out an incident report. This took longer than the incident but this is DC and whenever we have a chance to fill out some paperwork we get rather excited.

We also stopped at Mike and LIsa’s house, the Tacoma pit stop near the northern most part of DC. Mike and Lisa open their home, well, their bathrooms and front lawn, to the pedaling horde every year. They are super nice and ride a mean bike when not handing out snacks. They are also serious Washington Nationals fans.

After Mike and Lisa’s we continued on and had our pictures taken as we turned onto Alaska Avenue by Patti Heck. She stands there, rain or shine, all day taking photos of the riders. Follow the link and you can find scads of pictures of this year’s riders (and, for that matter, riders from previous years).

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Me with Keith in hot pursuit. Photo by Patti Heck. Used with permission.
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Steve O. – photo by Patti Heck
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Jeff D. photo by Patti Heck
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Chris M. – photo by Patti Heck
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Posse newbies – photo by Patti Heck

After descending to MacArthur Boulevard we climbed back up Cathedral Heights. This involves two challenging hills, one on Garfield Street, the other on Cathedral Avenue.

The 2022 50 States Ride posse at the Cathedral Heights pit stop. Everyone finished.
The posse at Cathedral Heights. They’re smiling because they realize the hills are finished!

The rest of the route was a meander through the flat core of the city, then on to Hains Point along the Potomac River and the big finish back at Yards Park. We tried to join the official afterparty at a bar near Nats Park The bar is located between the Metro and the ballpark. It was no surprise that with a Nats game about to start the bar was packed. So we rode to Solace, a bar located on the opposite side of the ballpark where we had a celebratory beer and finger food.

From the sound of things the posse will re-assemble for WABA’s Cider Ride in early November. Stay tuned.

Sunrise on the Anacostia. Haze courtesy of wildfires out west.

While I was at the Tacoma rest stop I talked with Lisa for quite a while. She has a collection of Nats bobbleheads and is missing only one, Sean Doolittle. I just happened to have one so I rode back up to her house a couple of days later. On the way home I coincidentally ran into Mike. We chatted for long enough for me to take a picture of him in his summer bike cap.

Mike in his summer cap
Mike in his summer bike cap

Just before the event we were handed an addendum to the cue sheet. There was a street festival on H Street NE that the ride organizers wanted us to avoid. The route normally passes by the ghost bike that stands as a memorial to Dave Salovesh a friend who was killed by a driver on Good Friday of 2019. A few days later I went back to see the bike and take a moment to remember him.

Dave’s ghost bike.

And so another 50 States Ride is in the books. Will I do it again? As Rachel Maddow says, watch this space.

September 2022 by the Numbers

Plugging away. That’s all I do. Just keep riding and riding. I managed to pull off my fifth straight 1,000 mile month. And probably my last for the year. I’ve got less than 1,100 to go to reach 10,000 for the fifth straight year. Pedal on.

This month I rode 1,014.5 miles, split among my three main bikes. As I;ve been riding, I’ve tried to identify all the repairs that will be needed over the winter. Already, I know that The Mule needs new brakes (again!) and a new front rim. The Cross Check has a strange shuddering of the front brake. I think the rim is defective but I’ll let the bike shop folks sort it out. Big Nellie doesn’t need much; because it uses 2 1/5 chains, the chains and cassettes tend to last a bit longer than my conventional bikes. (Little Nellie doesn’t need any work except for a good dusting. I really need to sell it.)

The Rides

I did two rides over 60 miles. One was in Dorchester County, Maryland on the Eastern Shore. It was an out and back route that I found online. There were several side roads that went down necks to views of the Choptank and Little Choptank Rivers. These little excursions doubled the length of the route. My other long ride – which I keep meaning to blog about – was my 14th 50 States Ride. We had a posse of ten or so. I fell down as I was dismounting at the pit stop at the half way point. Otherwise it was a pretty nice ride through DC.

Social Stuff

I started attending Friday Coffee Club again. It gets me rolling by 7 in the morning and after I get to DC and hang out I’m good for another 40 miles or so. Also, riding along the river at daybreak is a mighty way to wake up.

I met up with Keith and Charmaine to talk bike touring and bikes. We met on the 50 States Ride in 2006 (I think). Keith cooked brats which I don’t normally eat. They were bueno. Keith is buying a new custom touring bike so we measured him for it.

Watching

Aside from watching the Nats lose a lot on TV, I watched three Marvel stories. Thor – Love and Thunder was a disappointment. It wasn’t nearly as witty as Ragnarok and relied way too much on one of my least favorite actresses, Natalie Portman. Ms. Marvel was not a whole lot better. The lead actress was a novice and did very well. To some extent it’s the Spider-Man story moved from a white male teenager in Queens to a Pakistani-American female teenager in Jersey City. I also watched the first several episodes of She-Hulk. I keep thinking it has to get better. So far, nope. In addition to these less than super hero stories, I watched Andor, a new Star Wars series. It’s a prequel to Rogue One, an overlooked gem among the Star Wars movies. Andor benefits from a coherent story and great acting from Diego Luna and Stellan Skarsgard, who has yet to turn in a performance I didn’t like. (Alas, even he couldn’t save Thor – Love and Thunder.)

Reading

I dug into the pile o’books that built up after my birthday and bike tour.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley was an entertaining beach read that was an Agatha Christie novel set on an island off the coast of Ireland. I enjoyed it mostly because of all the scoundrels in the cast of characters.

How the Post Office Created America by Winnifred Gallagher describes how the post office was used to bind the new nation together and help it extend out west. In some ways it dovetailed nicely with what I’ve been learning about the western U.S. on my bike tours. When I used to write for a living, I struggled with what to do with all the interesting tangential facts that I came across while doing my research. They often were edited out. Gallagher tosses hers in parenthetically to interesting and amusing effect. (Full disclosure, I read and commented on the last chapters of this book while she was writing it. A friend of my wife bought it at a used book shop and thought I’d be interested in it. She was floored when she found out I was mentioned in the Acknowledgements.)

86 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is a collection of correspondence between and American writer based in New York City and a rare book shop in London. It’s surprisingly interesting. I wished it was longer,

The Post Roads Act of 1866 by Bob Cannon, an expert on Internet law, is a self published monograph of Bob’s research into the regulatory law that intended to make the U. S. telegraph industry more competitive. Suffice it to say, it backfired big time and all but allowed Western Union to monopolize the industry. The fact that Western Union could buy up its competitors, consumers be damned, ultimately to the enactment of the Sherman Antitrust Act, the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission, the expansion of the federal judiciary, and the Federal Communications Act. Dang. (Personal disclosure again: Bob’s a personal friend who rides and often crashes bikes. He should not be confused with Rachel Cannon who is no relation to either of us.)

The Maid by Nita Price is a whodunit set mostly in a boutique hotel. The story is told from the perspective of the peculiar and naive titular character. Her odd and engaging voice made me recall Amor Towles’s first two novels. That’s high praise. Unfortunately the resolution of the mystery read like a screenplay. Also, after the big reveal the book carries on for far too long, as if the author couldn’t bear to part with her characters.