Why I Bike.- Flora and Fauna

It’s been 3 weeks since Mrs. Rootchopper was run over by a clueless wonder in an SUV. She is getting better by the day.  I no longer need to help her move about, but the crutches and leg immobilizer are visual reminders that all is not right. She still has one MRI to go to determine the extent of the damage to her right leg.  Hopefully, her recovery will not involve surgery.  

Since she can move about a bit, I can get back to doing some extended bike rides. On Saturday the weather was splendid so I decided to jump on my bike and get a bagel.  Fortunately for the mileage junkie in me, my favorite bagel place is Bethesda Bagels in Bethesda, Maryland, 25 miles from home.  So I jumped on Little Nelllie and headed out.  After buying my bagel – everything with veggie cream cheese – and a drink, I headed over to my favorite dining spot, Rock Creek Trestle.  In years past, the trestle carried the Georgetown Branch Railroad over Rock Creek Park between Chevy Chase and Silver Spring.  Several years ago, this abandoned rail trestle was rehabilitated for use as part of the Georgetown Branch Trail.

What makes the trestle special is the fact that it is level with the tops of the trees.  The view, of course, varies by the season.  This time of year it is a sea of green.  The trail bumps out at either side in mid-span so that leaf peepers like me don’t get mowed down by Lancelots.  After dining alfresco,  I headed home via Rock Creek Park, an urban canyon that runs right through the city. On weekends Beach Drive, the main road in the park, is closed to motor vehicles.  The ride through the park is blissfully downhill, crisscrossing the creek under a leafy green canopy.

Several miles into my return trip I ran into Claire Bangser, the daughter of some old friends on mine. Claire and I chatted up a storm She’s about to embark on a bicycle adventure of her own. Check it out at her website.

Today was another nice day.  So I did a wicked good ride in southeastern Fairfax County.  This ride began with a short spin on the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac River. I made my way by road to Fort Belvoir.  After 9/11 the fort (really a large military base the size of a small city) was closed to unauthorized personnel which was a shame because it has some great road riding.  A few years ago it was re-opened to all (not a bad thing considering we’re paying for it).  These days Fort Belvoir is preparing for its much expanded role, the result of the Base Realignment and Closing (or BRAC) that consolidated military facilities nationwide. New buildings, some nice new housing (the old stuff was pretty ratty), and many new roads are part of the BRAC changes.  Long story short, some of my favorite Belvoir roads were closed off.

So I left Fort Belvoir and made my way over to Telegraph Road which I took all the way back to Alexandria.  For about one-third of this ride, I had a nifty bike lane at my disposal. After that, I was left with the bumpy, crumbling, debris-filled edge of the road which, like so many other Virginia roads, has no paved shoulder. VDOT doesn’t believe in them.

Eventually I worked my way back to the Mount Vernon Trail near the airport and headed home.  On a boardwalk overlooking a marshy area south of the airport, a cluster of walkers was gawking at something in the mud.  Ducklings!  Finally.  Watching ducklings and goslings mature is one of my favorite parts of bike commuting. I’ve missed most of this year’s fuzzy developments because I have been driving my daughter to school instead of bike commuting thanks to Mr.Clueless SUV.

These little dudes were rooting around in the mud. If they hadn’t been moving, I doubt anyone would have noticed them. Their camouflage is pretty impressive.  See how many you can find.

And so there you have it. Riding in treetops and gawking at ducklings. Two good reasons to get out on your bike and see what you’re missing.

Of Urban Farms, Wax Beans, and Vultures

During a break in the exciting home health care activities here at the Rootchopper Institute, I managed to go for a nice urban bike ride this Saturday.  My intent was to meet up with a few friends near Fort Totten Metro station for a tour of DC’s urban “farms”.   They didn’t show up but I decided to hang out anyway and learn all about organic urban farming.

The first thing I learned is that east coast organic food folk apparently have a different concept of a farm from, say,  my in-laws in Indiana. In Indiana, a farm is basically soybeans or corn as far as you can see, and then some.  The first time I saw an honest-to-god midwest farm I was flabbergasted.  No wonder Americans are so fat.  Every farm in Indiana grows two trillion boxes of corn flakes. And across the street there are soybeans forever.  Having never intentionally eaten a soybean, the sight of acres and acres of them was stupefying.  I mean, people, who needs that much tofu?

In DC, organic food folk use the term urban farm to mean garden.  The farm near Fort Totten was about 10 times as big as Grandpa Kerwin’s backyard garden in Freehold NJ. Grandpa Kerwin didn’t need anybody to tell him how to farm.  He lived on a farm when he was a kid.  It’s probably now a shopping mall parking lot.  I venture to guess that even in his 80s Grandpa Kerwin could grow wax beans like nobody’s business.  There were certainly not my business because he tried to foist the damn things on me when I was a kid and I can’t stand wax beans to this day. 

For 45 minutes I listened to the DC organic food folk as we toured of the Fort Totten “farm”.  I learned that there is not much new to gardening that Grandpa Kerwin didn’t know back in his salad years (sorry). For you wannabees, here is the short course in urban gardening.  Find a sunny spot.  Dig out the clay and replace it with shitloads (sorry) of manure, compost, humus and peat moss – basically any dirt that is black and cannot be turned on a potters wheel.  If you’re planning on growing carrots, add some sand.  (My father had awesome gardens.  He had his house built in the remnants of a swamp. The soil was black as coal and always damp. It pays to think ahead.)  Plant stuff. Put up little signs identifying what you planted. Add water. Use a drip hose if you want to save the planet. If you’re feeling protective, hang out in the yard with a pellet gun or a sling shot and kill the rabbits that munch on your veggies.  Skin the buggers and roast them on the barbee. Wash ’em down with cheap beer.I think they are organic. Wait ten weeks. Food happens.

Word of warning, do not plant 10 tomato plants.  We did this one year. We had tomatoes out the wazoo all summer. Our friends ran away whenever we approached with them. “Want some tomatoes?…. Come back!” 

We toured the Fort Totten farm composting operation. The bins were made out of old pallets. I’ve done some work with pallets in my lifetime. I didn’t have the heart to tell the organic food folks that the pallets they were using were probably made out of wood with toxic preservatives. Oh well.
After the talk, the entire group of around 40 folks rode to the National Arboretum. The group got spread out because one person had a flat tire and 15 people or so decided to “help”.  I rode ahead and stopped at a critical turn in the route.  After 20 minutes the flat fixers caught up. I pointed them toward the Arboretum and headed for home. It was hot and I had learned enough about farming for one day. I decided to take the scenic route through Anacostia.  I saw lots of unmarked police cars flying up and down Martin Luther King Boulevard. I saw poverty. I saw Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital where John Hinckley lives. I made my way to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge bike trail over the Potomac.  As I approached the trail I saw a shadow pass on the ground.  I looked up and saw a big vulture with its red head flying just above me.  It was hot and I was out of water, but I wasn’t quite dead yet so he let me go. 

A few miles later I stopped in Belle Haven Park for some water.  A big dog was slurping up water from a dish under the park pump.  The dog’s owner pulled him away and said if he drank any more he’d throw up. He might need to come to the Rootchopper Institute for some home health care. We can cure what ails you organically.

Drive to Work Day

As most of you know, one of the things that brings a little joy to my life is the simple act of riding my bike to work on a regular basis.  As of about two weeks ago, I had racked up 46 bike commutes this year.  Then my wife was run over by an SUV and life changed.  You can only imagine what she’s been through the last two weeks. So I guess I shouldn’t complain.

One day a year I get to participate in Bike to Work Day.  I don’t volunteer or act as a guide. I’m just a face in the crowd who gets off on seeing so many folks enjoy the sounds and sights of riding to work along the Potomac River. Of course, it helps that I get snarf a bagel and drink some java at Freedom Plaza near work.  And I get my t-shirt. I have a rainbow of Bike to Work Day t-shirts (2 shades of green, yellow, red, white, and blue), but I won’t be at Freedom Plaza getting my purple one this year. I’ll be driving my daughter to school instead. Thanks to a careless idiot in an SUV.

So for those of you who are riding to work tomorrow, go ahead and eat an extra bagel or drink a second cuppa joe.  I will be watching you all from behind the wheel. Be nice. Have fun. I know you will.  Smile and wave as you pass.  At least one driver will be waving and smiling back.

Time and Attention

We finally received the police report on the crash that has left my wide bedridden for the last 10 days.  I must say it’s a disappointment.  These days police reports are mostly a form with little ovals darkened to indicate specifics about a collision.  Here’s a synopsis.: The driver was making a left hand turn in broad daylight on a dry road. There were no skid marks on the road. The right front corner of the vehicle made impact with my wife.  All these observations are apparently true.

The report says that the vehicle was traveling at 10 miles per hour at time of impact. This is balderdash. There is no way the SUV was going only 10 miles per hour.  If so, my wife could have side-stepped it with ease.  So where did the police officer get this tidbit of information?  I suspect he asked the driver who had every reason to understate the speed. Of course, the officer could have simply made it up to get on with the rest of the form.  What the officer neglected to do – obviously because he is busy fighting crime and scraping other people’s spouses off the pavement – was to ask my wife in the days after the crash.  (Digression: this is a chronic problem with pedestrian and bicycle crashes. The victims injuries are often so severe that the only person at the scene who can explain what happened was the vehicle operator.)  In any case, asking the victim to verify the information would have been easy. we’re in the phone book.. My wide would have told the police officer that not only was the SUV going faster than 10 miles per hour, but also that it was accelerating.  It was the sound of the revving engine that told my wife the SUV wasn’t stopping.  (I have heard her explain the particulars of the accident to several doctors and nurses; she is certain of this detail.)

The report also fails to mention that the driver drive his SUV around a car that was waiting at the stop sign.  Rather than waiting his turn, the driver accelerated into the intersection in a straight, diagonal line.  I have driven, walked, and ridden my bike through this intersection hundreds of times over the past 20-odd years.  The view to the left at this intersection is obstructed by a fence. So the driver accelerated into the intersection without a clear view of what was to his left.  He was either looking elsewhere or was otherwise distracted.  His behavior by any reasonable use of the term was reckless. One possible cause of the driver’s inattentiveness was not investigated. The officer apparently neglected to check the driver’s cell phone to see if it had been used during the collision. (There is no mention of cell phone use in the report.)

The brief narrative in the report says the driver failed “to pay full time and attention” to the pedestrian.  I realize this is police jargon but it truly understates the driver’s negligence. I don’t know what kind of fine one gets for failing to pay attention but I bet will be it is a lot less than we (and our insurance companies) have already spent.  My wife and I have missed 6 days of work so far. We’ve had three doctor visits and two ER visits.  And we are just getting started.  My wife’s orthopedist said that healing from this, if she’s lucky, could take 2-3 months.   

At some point, I’ll get this blog back to bicycling.  Maybe in a couple of months.

"I Feel Liquid"

If you ever wonder what happens to you after you get hit by an SUV, read on.

First you get to ride to a trauma center in an ambulance while in excruciating pain.  Once there, among many other things, you are scanned from head to toe.  X-rays and CT scans.

Your initial pain is alleviated somewhat by a medicine that is seven times more powerful than morphine.  And you still hurt everywhere.

After five hours, it is determined that, despite a broken bone in your leg, you don’t seem to be in mortal danger so you are fitted for a leg immobilizer and released to your spouse and daughter who get you loaded into the backseat of the family car.  This alone is blindingly painful. Once at home it takes about 45 minutes to get you in the house.

You spend the next 36 hours or so moaning from pain.  Your head, neck, back, legs and hips hurt beyond description. You are unable to move your legs without assistance.  Your arms go numb and your hands cramp up from any exertion.  The worst is the bolts of pain down the back of the right leg at even the slightest touch,

Two days later you go see your doctor.  It takes about an hour to go from your bed to the backseat of the family car.  At the doctor’s office, the description of the accident makes it happen all over again and brings a torrent of tears and anguish.  The doctor refers you to an orthopedist and sets you up for an MRI.

The next day brings bed rest, which isn’t really rest at all as pain shoots down your legs at the slightest movement.  Your left leg begins to bend at the knee. Progress. Nevertheless, you dread leaving bed, even to go to the bathroom because you know it will bring on an onslaught of searing pain.

On the fourth day you get cleaned up for your orthopedist.  The process of getting in and out of the shower is so painful, you become utterly exhausted;.  You return to bed.  Three hours later it’s time for the orthopedist visit.  The good news is that the trip from bed to car takes only one-half hour.  The bad news is the pain is nauseating.

The orthopedist takes off the leg immobilizer and begins her exam with you in a wheel chair.  Your moans and wails at each gentle touch by your doctor’s hands makes it nearly impossible for the doctor to do her examination.  So she calls for a humongous aid who helps lift you onto an examination table.  Despite efforts to do so gently, you howl in pain.  The examination begins anew and is no less painful or productive. The doctor decides to send you back to the emergency room for tests to rule out potentially lethal causes for your pain.

At the ER you wait an hour in a wheelchair for a room to open up.  You have not had a pain pill in four hours.  Once a room opens up, you are given injections of pain medicine.  The nurse asks how your pain in expecting a response on a scale of one to ten.  You say, “I feel liquid.”  An ER doctor orders CT scans to get a better idea of the bone injuries in your right leg. He also orders ultrasound tests to rule out blood clots.

After the CT scan results come back, an orthopedic surgeon by the name of Dulce comes calling.  He is good looking and kind.  His examination makes the pain medicine re-appear.  This new onslaught of pain is worth something as the orthopedist rules out compartment syndrome as the cause of your pain.  He says that is good because compartment syndrome is a surgical emergency.

The ER doctor tells you that the ultrasound is going to hurt.  Just before it starts you are given another dose of pain medication in your arm.  As it turns out, the examine is tolerable and allows the doctors to rule out blood clots.

At 12:30 in the morning you are released.  You arrive home just after 1 a.m., more than 12 hours after leaving the house.

The simplest doctor’s visit ends up lasting half a day.  Pain like your never felt before was your constant visitor.

Back home in bed you sleep and have horrible nightmares about banging your broken leg against things.

After 3 hours your spouse gets up to drive your daughter to school.  He is a zombie.  On the way back he swings by the office to take care of your plants.  Then he goes to the drug store for more pain medicine.  Then the supermarket.  He buys a large coffee that does nothing to ward off his wooziness.

He does laundry while you ice the hideous welts and bruises on your legs. Then he blogs.  He finds something boring on the tube and fades to black.

I Hope He Got to The Home Depot on Time

It was a beautiful spring morning here at the Rootchopper Institute. A great day to go for a walk or a bike ride. Mrs. Rootchopper decided to spend her Saturday morning multitasking. Instead of doing errands by car and, then, going for a walk, she decided to walk the 1 1/2 miles to the post office and dry cleaner. About 1/2 mile into her walk, she crossed Sherwood Hall Lane, a busy two-lane suburban road. She encountered a car that was waiting to make a turn. Seeing that this car was stopped she continued walking across the street in front of the stopped car. Seconds later, she watched with dread as an SUV accelerated around the stopped car and came straight for her.  “He’s not going to stop,” she thought. She was right. He ran right over her. Well, maybe not, since it appears she went airborne immediately after impact and landed in a heap on the street.

Within seconds a woman came to her side and started asking her what hurt. She was a nurse. It’s always good to know that medical professionals are standing by in case you get run over by an SUV.. As luck would have it (okay, luck is a relative thing), my wife was lying in the street about 100 yards from a fire station.  In no time, an ambulance arrived.
While all this was going on, yours truly was riding around the neighborhood with a fully loaded bike. I was testing the handling of my bike with all the stuff I planned to carry for my tour next week. I decided to go ride around the block to see if I could spot Mrs. Rootchopper. Well, no such luck.  All I saw was a bunch of fire trucks and police cars tending to the aftermath of an accident. “Just another day in suburbia,” thought I.

Meanwhile. the ambulance whisked her away to Fairfax Hospital, some 20 miles away.  This apparently is the nearest trauma center.  Now I had always thought that any emergency room worth its salt would be good enough for this sort of thing.  And seeing as how Mount Vernon Hospital’s emergency room was 300 yards away, I thought it odd that they would take her somewhere else. Be that as it may, Fairfax Hospital’s trauma center is apparently the place to be.  It is massive. It is clam, It is clean. It has a heliport. It is the major leagues of trauma care.  I am getting to know a lot about such things since, just last month on her birthday, Mrs. Rootchopper spent nearly 10 hours at the George Washington University Hospital emergency room.  That’s where they treated Ronald Reagan when he was shot.  It’s got an urban vibe.  It’s crowded. It’s loud. It’s swarming with cops and perps,  So I was pretty happy to be at Fairfax.

Mrs Rootchopper spent the day with doctors, nurses, radiology technicians.  Twenty years ago they would have kept her overnight for observation, but they released her after about 6 hours.  So far her injuries are contusions, gashes and pain from head to toe.  Her fibula is broken just below the knee.  She will be on the mend for several weeks.  We came home and got her to bed.  Had it not been for my daughter’s recent experience with crutches, I have no idea how we would have gotten her from the car to the house,

As for the SUV driver.  I hope you got to The Home Depot for your weedwhacker. Or maybe you were in a rush to get some Krispy Kremes. Could it be you were late for your kid’s baseball game?  Was it worth it? You might want to think about whether saving a couple of minutes is worth killing somebody’s mother the day before Mother’s Day. You very nearly did.  In any case, do the rest of us a favor and slow the fuck down.

Bike Commute 46: Tunnel of Green

At long last the trees are leafing and the Mount Vernon Trail south of the Beltway has become a tunnel of green.  This is so relaxing to ride through after a day in the concrete city. One drawback to all this flora is the fact that the Morningside bald eagle nest is nearly invisible.  You really have to know exactly where to stand to see it.  Small price to pay for this gorgeous sign of Spring.

Soon we’ll be seeing goslings and ducklings along the trail.  I love watching them grow through the Spring and Summer.