How Do You Say "Pass the Ho Ho’s" en Francais?

I have two cycling friends who do brevets.  These are something like a cross between and ultra-marathon foot race and an auto road rally, except that they are done on bicycles.  People who do brevets are call randonneurs, although for some reason I prefer randonistas.  The distances they ride are either appalling or inspiring and are typically measured in terms of hundreds of kilometers.  In a weekend. There is a brevet that goes from Boston to Montreal and back.  Most people wouldn’t be willing to drive that distance but randonistas do these sorts of things all the time.  For fun.  So they say.  My friend Gersemalina seems to do most of her brevets as the stoker (back seat) on a tandem captained (front seat) by her husband Felkerino. (We here at the Rootchopper Institute heart noms de guerre.)  Gersemalina does most of the work.  (She paid me to say that.)  These two stout-hearted wheelpersons are going to do Paris-Brest-Paris this summer.  This is the mother of all brevets.  The Super Roll, if you will.

For some reason I find her tales of riding these inspiring.  So inspiring that it dawned on me that I had never ridden a century (100 miles) on a conventional (non-recumbent) bike. Last Saturday, after reading the paper and downing a pot of coffee, I decided to rectify this situation.  I left the house at 10 am on a warm but pleasant day.  I decided to ride to White Ferry, Maryland on the C&O Canal towpath, cross the Potomac on the ferry and return on the W&OD Trail.

Just before I came to the canal, I encountered a bike rider loaded down with all kinds of stuff.  I asked him where he was headed and he responded abruptly with one word: “Maine”.  Then he rode off, heading toward Rock Creek Park.  He managed to make it about 200 yards before turning towards “Pittsburgh” which I am pretty sure is not in “Maine”.  I caught up to him and straightened him out.  By now he’s probably in North Carolina.

I made my way to the towpath and started the grind to White’s Ferry, about 35 miles away.  (As the crow flies it’s probably only 30 miles but the river goes whatever damn way it wants to, and straight it ain’t.)  Near Great Falls I came upon an all too familiar site, storm damage.  Every ten years or so, the Potomac River floods.  Waters, pinched between cliffs, can rise dozens of feet, especially in this area.  This Spring’s flood carried away a chunk of the hill side that the towpath passes over.  The Park Service was kind enough to put in a detour that was easily ridden. It will likely take years to fix this. Congress doesn’t like to appropriate money to such things.  Better to spend it on subsidies for rutabaga growers. 


After about 15 miles I stopped to chat with a young couple looking a little testy on the side of the trail.  They were coming from Pittsburgh, the entire way on unpaved trails.  I congratulated them on being so close to the end of their journey and continued on.  They managed a smile as I rode off.  Stiff upper lip, you two.

Another five miles into my travels I encountered two men of a certain age.  They were coming from the far end of the canal in Cumberland Maryland.  They had already ridden over 150 miles, much of it through mud.  If it bothered them, they sure weren’t showing it.  They were having a blast, even with bikes caked in dirt.  Their mud worries were a thing of the past, as I assured them it was dry all the way to DC.

On I cycled taking in the green all around, listening to the birds, enjoying the river views and listening to the constant crunch of tires on the path.  The C&O is a very pleasant place to ride but, if you ride it far enough, you’ll learn that it is a grind.  Rocks, tree routes, ruts from service vehicles all make for an honest day’s work.  Gliding is not allowed; you’ll slow to a stop in 30 yards if you do.

A canoe slid by at one point in the quiet waters of the canal.  A dog sat between the paddlers. It ignored its instincts to chase every little critter that moved.  Spoiled by Milk Bones.

Some parts of the canal are covered by pond scum.  In its way, pond scum has a beauty of its own.  This particular stretch reminded me of Dead Man’s Pond, a refuge of my Albanian childhood now filled in by evil adults who could not appreciate its importance to 10 year old kids bored beyond belief by too much summer vacation. 

 In another section of the canal, a gaggle of kayakers were paddling to and fro.  I like kayaks but this seemed a little confined. Kayaks are like bikes in that they are meant for exploration.  Penning them up in a canal defeats their central purpose. Free the kayaks!

On I rode. On I pedaled. Gliding I did not.  Bugs swam on my sunscreened arms. I wondered what SPF dead bugs were rated at.  I pondered the possibility that I was covered in deer ticks carrying Lyme Disease. Ah nature!

After several hours in my linear sanctuary, I made it to Whites Ferry.  The ferry was unloading cars on the far side of the Potomac so I had time to use the restroom.  As I was about to enter, three women came out and headed for their bikes parked nearby.  In short order I learned that they were headed for Pittsburgh.  They were clean and smiling. They had not yet faced the mudfest that awaits way out west.  Good luck, m’ladies. May the bugs leave you be, may the rains pass you by. Tailwinds.

 I’ve taken the cable ferry across the river a dozen times. It’s always a treat, despite the smell of diesel and the chug of the engines. The ride is so smooth it feels little different than standing still.  It’s hard to believe that this years’ floods carried the ferry boat far down river. A couple of times in the distant past, flood waters reached the second floor of the white building in the picture.
Once on the Virgina side, my unpaved grind came to an end. I was on asphalt for the second half of my trip. A few miles of roads led me to the W&OD trail in Leesburg. I took a left and started pumping. I had a tailwind now but the heat of the day was upon me and, unlike the towpath, the shade was more miss than hit.  I came upon a new highway project involving the placing of huge steel beams over the trail. Another highway to support the sprawl of metropolitan DC. What a shame. These used to be fields of crops when the trail was first built,

Twenty miles from home I came to the Beltway. It, too, was under construction.  This somehow seems to be its natural state.  The construction involved widening the Beltway which meant that the trail bridge across the highway had to be longer.  Out with the old (straight ahead in the photo), in with the new (on the left).

The second half of the ride featured many stops for fluids (in and out) and snacks.  The one thing I truly hate about cycling is bonking.  It’s the equivalent of hitting the wall in running.  Unlike running, your legs are not beaten to smithereens by the pavement so you often don’t see the bonk coming.  When it hits, you lose all energy in your legs.  You eyelids become heavy. You legs turn to lead,  You start to yawn. My Anatomy has had enough and is taking over for Mr. Brain.  Fortunately the bonk can be averted by frequent oral intake of high quality foods such as Klondike Bars, soft pretzels, hot dogs, cookies, Pepsi, and such.  Fueled by this nutritionists nightmare  (hey, I actually ate an apple so cut me some slack), I managed to plod through the last few miles, even going out of my way to climb a big hill near my house that I could easily have avoided.

When I got home I looked down and saw 101.00.  Mission Accomplished.  Did I feel all pumped up with an inspirational sense of accomplishment? Yes. Did every effing muscle in my body want to kill me in my sleep? Mais oui!. For the next several days, in fact. Luckily, they were all too tired to pull off the assault,  It’s now been three days and I feel recovered, more or less.  We’re out of Oreos and Ho Ho’s.  I don’t know if they helped my muscles but they felt pretty damned good going down.

A tip of my Ho Ho to Gersemalina and Felkerino. Bon chance en France.

Two Tailwind Day

For bike commute number 56, I ordered up a perfect biking day. The bike commuting gods were kind and delivered a beauty.  The morning had temperatures in the mid-70s with a light wind out of the southwest. I cruised along with a gentle hand on my back pushing me ever so gently toward the city. 

For the next 8 1/2 hours, my bosses tried desperately to make my day suck. As usual, they succeeded.  I have been working on a presentation for over a week. My boss who is a poster child for adult ADD kept adding extraneous slides.  He also neglected to get me on the agenda to the meeting next Monday. The damn thing isn’t happening for 2 weeks. I found this out at 4 pm. 

Having a crap day at the office has its upside: the ride home is an escape from madness.

And so I rode in 80 degree weather with a beautiful 10 mile per hour tailwind.  It’s Friday; I’m tired and frustrated and this ride is to die for.

After about 12 miles I stopped on a boardwalk at Dyke Marsh along the Potomac River to admire the intense green of the river grasses. The Sequoia read the interpretive sign while I took his picture.

Tomorrow, I don’t have to stop for 8 1/2 hours and deal with nincompoops. I can just keep on riding. 

Sounds like a plan to me.

Father’s Day Ride

I had intended to do a long ride somewhere away from the city but the sandman and some bike maintenance stole most of the morning hours. I spent about an hour adjusting the seat on my Tour Easy recumbent.  On a normal bike adjusting the seat position takes a couple of minutes. On the Tour Easy, it takes a half hour or more. On a normal bike, the saddle adjusts with 2 bolts; on a Tour Easy 8 bolts are involved, including 2 that are low to the ground that require lying down.  Long story short, it’s not a lot of fun.

Once the seat, I rode off at what my bicycle computer said was 40 miles per hour. Damn, I’m in shape! Well, maybe not. I replaced the battery in the computer yesterday and it scrubbed the previous settings, one of which is the wheel diameter.  I looked up the setting online and, lo and behold, After 20 minutes I realized that the computer is metric. What is this world coming to! I multiplied the setting my 0.62 and I was good to go.  

I rode the Mount Vernon Trail to Fort Belvoir then along the scenic okay, not really) Fairfax County Parkway.   I made my way back home via the equally scenic Springfield Mall area and made my way all the way to South Arlington before returning home.  Most of the ride was through soulless suburbia. Someday Americans will wake up to the fact that they have turned their lives into driving to one big box store after another where the minimum wage workers could give a rats ass what the customers want to buy. 

I am pretty sure that suburban planning is what college students do when the fail freshman English.

The ride wasn’t a total loss. It was the longest ride on my Tour Easy in a year and it was infinitely easier than riding either of my upright bikes.  My foot problems continue (they are much worse when I ride this bike for some inexplicable reason).  And much of the ride was actually in some pretty bike friendly areas like the Mount Vernon Trail, Fort Hunt Park, and Fort Belvoir.  About 5 miles from home I came across this critter along the MVT.  I love turtles. They don’t smell. They leave you alone. And, as long as you don’t handle them, they won’t harm you.

I wished him a happy Father’s Day. No. I didn’t check to see if it was a male. If it was a she, she didn’t appear to be offended.

Why I Bike – Perfect Commuting Weather

All winter long I ride to work in the cold.  It’s still way better than sitting in a car, getting frustrated with delays.  I have to admit that by about mid-January I am ready for a warm day without snow or ice.  You know, the kind of day when you don’t have to struggle with boots over your bike shoes, with three or four layers of clothing on your top and two on your bottom.  The kind of day when you can put on your stuff in 3 minutes and be out the door and on the road. The last couple of days have been just those kinds of days.

As bike commuting weather goes, today was damn near perfect.  It was about 60 degrees with low humidity and a pleasant wind from the northwest.  The sun was shining and the puffy clouds were cruising across the sky.  I headed out on the Sequoia totally psyched about the ride ahead.

In the winter, I tend to ride slowly to keep the wind chill from freezing me.  On a day like today, I slowed my roll just to soak the glorious weather in.  About 4 miles into my commute, I came across a man painting a piece of heaven along the Potomac River at Dyke Marsh on the Mount Vernon Trail.  He said he loved the spot for the view and the fact that the trail bumped out, allowing him to paint without fear of being hit by a passing bike.  He seemed every bit as content with the day as I was.

The rest of the ride in was picture pretty. The cars in Old Town waved me along through intersections. Everyone I passed seemed to have a big smile on his face.  I thought about taking pictures but they wouldn’t come close to capturing the comfort and calm I was feeling as I cruised along.  About a half mile from work, I crossed the Washington Channel on the Case Bridge.  The boats bobbing in the water below made me envy those folks aboard (except for the fact that I get sea sick on even the calmest of waters),  So I stopped and took another picture, lingering a few minutes to let it all soak in and delaying my arrival at the ginormous government cubical farm where I would spent the next nine hours.

After doing my public servant thing, I hopped back on the Sequoia for the ride home. Some big clouds had rolled in but they were dropping only a few sprinkles here and there. The morning’s headwind was now a 15 mile per hour tailwind.  I found myself pushed along with little effort at around 20 miles per hour.  I rarely ride this fast during my commutes so this was a nice change of pace from my usual evening slog,

I was barely breaking a sweat. The humidity that makes Washington such a suffocating place in the summer had taken the day off.  As I rode through Gravelly Point, a 737 taking off from National Airport rose high over the trail. At this point the trail is several hundred yards from the end of the runway.  About 1/4 mile later, the trail passes within 50 yards of the end of a second runway.  As I approached this point, a commuter jet took off over the trail.  Right there.  Just a few feet over my head. Massively cool.

At the beaver pond south of Daingerfield Island the water seemed exceptionally low. I saw the duckings that I photographed last week paddling away in the trickle of water that remained. The ducklings were nearly twice as big as before.  I thought to stop and take a picture but my legs refused to give up the tailwind. On I rode. 

After leaving Belle Haven Park I heard the sound of emergency vehicles approaching from the rear.  This inevitably means there is an accident on the Parkway next to the bike trail. Sure enough a car had run off the road.  The airbags had deployed which usually means some part of the car hit something. The police blocked off a lane of traffic. The car commuters would have a long ride home.

 It seems weird that the car ended up perpendicular to the highway.   I decided to let the police figure it out and headed back down the trail.

Just before the trail crosses over the Parkway it connects with Northdown Road, a small lane along the edge of a very pricey neighborhood of houses along the river.  Someone was having a party with a sizable guest list.There is no on-street parking on Northdown Road, probably to discourage trail users from cluttering up the neighborhood.  The party crowd didn’t seem to care. They parked on both sides of the road. Since signs prohibited parking on the street, a few drivers parked their cars on the Mount Vernon Trail. Lovely.  I wonder if these are the same folks who bitch up a storm when cyclists use their roads.

On a hot and muggy day, this sort of thing would probably piss me off. Today, I’ll give these folks a pass. None of the road users seemed to care. We all slowed down and shared the narrowed pavement.  Maybe tomorrow if it’s hot and muggy I can all get indignant about something like this. Not today. Let’s hope it was a good party.  As for me, I still had two and a half miles to go. And it was perfect outside. June beats January any day. Today, it wasn’t even close.

Bike Commute 50: Ohio Drive under the 14th Street Bridge

After about a week of oppressive heat and humidity, this morning was a welcome change. The cool temperatures and strong breeze out of the northwest reminded me of early summer mornings in the northeast.

This was the kind of bike commute that you wish wouldn’t end. Dry, cool, and sunny. I could pedal for hours. Sadly, work was just a mile away,

There but for the Grace of God Go I

Every once in a while I come across a bike tourist, usually heading up or down the east coast. This is Grace. I ran into her along a bike trail that connects the Mount Vernon Trail to the very bike un-friendly US 1. Until I stopped her she didn’t know she had missed a turn. It was her second accidental foray off route of the day. Despite these frustrations and some unpleasant heat and humidity, Grace was in a great mood. She’s been riding since Bar Harbor, Maine. She’s headed for Florida.

She was hoping to make it to Fredericksburg, Virginia today.

Following the Fish

You know you like bike riding when you are willing to give up the comfort of your bed early on a Saturday morning to go for a hot, muggy spin. And so I did.  I drove to Croom Maryland for the 64-mile Rural Legacy Ride put on by the Oxon Hill Bicycle Club.  Having already done one of their rides, I knew it would be well organized with a reasonably challenging and pretty route. I was not disappointed.

The ride meandered along the Patuxent River which separates Price Georges County from Calvert County in Maryland.  We were about 20 miles from the Capitol but the concerns of policy wonks were 1,000 miles away. The backroads had little auto traffic – other than cyclists driving to and from the start. When we weren’t riding under a green canopy of leaves we were cruising past farm fields. I took several shots with my little camera but, frankly, I was too busy spinning my legs and enjoying the sounds of birds chirping, leaves rustling and creeks warbling.  At one point the route took us past an alpaca ranch. I’d have stopped and taken a picture but it was on a downhill and, well, when you’ve seen one alpaca you’ve seen them all.

A nice bonus to this ride is the fact that the troublesome nerves in my left knee and foot decided to take the day off.  I thought about this as I rode. I noticed that instead of pedaling in smooth cycles with my foot flat at the bottom of the pedal stroke – like so many of the rides who passed me – I was pointing my foot down and stabbing at the pedals.  Last year I nudged my saddles forward to keep from stressing the saddle rails (which I have a habit of breaking).  I think this puts my hips a little too far forward.  So today I’m sliding them back.  Saddles are much cheaper than orthopedic surgeons.

Air Conditioned Bike Commute

The last couple of days has been nasty hot here in the DC area.  About half way into my ride home, I get the chance to cool off by riding through an old tunnel in Old Town Alexandria.  The Wilkes Street tunnel is only about 100 yards long but it is easily 10 degrees cooler inside. It’s just enough to take the edge off. As I rode through tonight, I heard a voice talking all around me.  It was an approaching cyclists taking on his cell phone.  The acoustics reminded me of the sound tricks at the Maparium at the Christian Science Mother Church in Boston.  You really should seek it out.  I walked in one side of the glass globe and my friend Steve walked in the other.  As he talked, facing me from 30 feet away, I heard his voice clear as a bell coming from behind me.

The best part about today’s bike commute is that it was on a Friday. Tomorrow I get to do some real riding out in the country.  That should be cool.