Pictures of 11

In the spirit of fellow blogger Gersemalina, I spent some time today combing through the pictures I took this past year.  Dang, I took a lot of pictures. And double dang, most of them stink. I managed to find 12 (one per month) that tell part of the story of my 2011.

January:  Every January a group of folks that I went to grad school with hold a Secret Santa party. Paulie, a die hard bike commuter who rode the 50 States Ride with me (see September below), had quite a bit of fun.  I think he needs to trim the eyebrows a bit more frequently though. He gets bonus points for the sweater.

February: I took a couple dozen pictures of the sunrise over the Potomac river during my morning commutes throughout the year.  I like the colors of this late February dawn best.

March: March is prom season. On my way home from work I came upon a series of signs along the Mount Vernon Trail. They were created and placed by this lovely young student from Georgetown Visitation. She was asking her boyfriend Charlie to the prom. He’d have been an idiot to say “no”. Burma Shave.

April: I volunteered to help with Earth Day festivities at work. I was the bicycle guy, handing out bike maps and informational brochures on Bike to Work Day and Capital Bikeshare. We gave away one one-year CaBi membership. The poster I am holding is of the Ride a Bike stamp that comes with the set of Earth Day stamps. (I don’t think you can purchase them separately though.) I shared a table with the walking lady. She told me she’d ride to work but she thought it was too dangerous.  My wife proved her wrong (see May).

May: The plan was for me to drive to Saratoga Springs NY, pack a car with my son’s stuff, and ride my bike back to DC. The week before my wife was run over by an SUV as she walked across a street near our home.  The tour was canceled.  I drove back with my son.  This was what the inside of our Mitsubishi Lancer (dubbed the Millenium Falcon) as we left his dorm.

June:  For the last couple of years, I have had to reduce the miles I ride on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, because of a condition called Morton’s Neuroma.  A nerve between my fourth and middle toes would get inflamed after about 1 hour of riding.  The pain felt like I had stepped on a nail. The solution (so far) has been to keep my toes from squeezing together. That has been accomplished using this toe separation thingie, looser shoes, and a donut-shaped device I wear while sleeping.  The combination of the three seems to have worked. I can now ride much longer than before.

July: Here I stand with my old friend Steve Fisher. We went to school together for ten years (8th grade through college at BU). You may recognize him from the film Hellboy in which he has his faced sucked off by a monster. He was also Dr. Jekyll in VanHelsing.  In that movie, he plunges from the top of a castle and dies. A couple of years ago Steve contracted a form of strep, the same kind that killed Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets.  Unlike Henson, Steve immediately sought medical treatment.  He spent months in a medically induced coma, but the good doctors of Prague, where he lives, pulled him through. Fortunately, the Czech Republic has national health care. If he had lived in the US, he’d be destitute from all his medical bills. Unfortunately, the ordeal resulted in amputations of fingers and both his legs.  His friend Tim Jones who took this picture outside restaurant in Loudonville, NY, rallied support for Steve via emails and a remarkable website called Caring Bridge.  Very long story short, Steve is happy as hell to be alive. Steve and Tim both write humor blogs which I highly recommend. 

August: My friend Charmaine (in foreground at left) told me about some velomobiles that were riding from Portland, Oregon to DC. We met them as they entered Georgetown and followed them to the finish line at Georgetown Hospital.  I expected these machines to be slow in the city, but they kept up with the cars on Wisconsin Avenue, even while climbing a long hill.  The riders were a motley crew (you’d be motley too if you were cooped up in one of these babies for a month) but they were sure happy when they rolled to a stop at the end of their epic journey.

September: My friend Florencia convinced me to come out of retirement and  ride the 50 States Ride in DC for the fourth time. The ride is 65 miles long and includes a segment on each of the streets named for a US state. It is not for the faint of lung.  The ride takes you to every corner of the city, and, boy, is it hilly.  Here, Veronica, a 50 States rookie, and Jeff, a veteran, raise their classes in a toast with Paulie and me at the after party at the Grill from Ipanema in Adams Morgan. As you can tell from the smiles, we had a blast.

October:  I am guaranteed to see something odd during my bike commute around Halloween time. This year was no exception.  I have no idea how this poodle was dyed orange, but it certainly stopped me in my tracks.

November: My friend Florencia has many talents besides cycling.  One of them is acroyoga. I rode into DC to see her do her thing in Meridian Hill Park.  She makes it look so easy, but you have to be in some kind of good shape to do this. In addition to acroyogis, the park had slack liners (tight rope walkers), hula hoopers, and musicians.  I felt like I had fallen in with a bunch of runaways from Cirque du Soleil.   

December: I rode to DC to meet up with Charmaine and spent a day hanging out with a bunch of festive folks dressed up in various Christmas costumes. The event, called Santarchy, is held annually in many cities across the US. One group of DC revelers were dressed in Star Wars costumes, including this woman who I call Darth on the Mall.

So that’s the 12 pix of 2011. Happy New Year.

It’s Not About the Book

When I am not goofing around with this blog or other blogs, or riding my bike, you can often find me with my nose in a book. My mother was a avid reader and she filled our house with books.  At one point we had so many that she gave a bunch of my books away to help establish the library at our neighborhood Catholic school.  She didn’t ask me and I was stunned when I found out.  What really floored me was that she gave away my favorite book, Captured by the Mohawks by Sterling North (of Rascal fame).  Over 35 years later my sister was sweeping out my mother’s garage, when a car pulled into the driveway. Out popped a woman who asked my sister if she’d be interested in buying a book she had picked up at a yard sale.  The woman had seen my name scrawled in the book and thought it would be nice to offer it to the family. My sister told her “No, thanks.”  When I heard of this, all I could think of was TRY NOT TO KILL!

All of this goes to show that I like books a lot.  My house is full of them and I ain’t buying an e-reader. Call me a Luddite but books are meant to be read on the printed page.  I have one bookcase devoted to books about sports.  Many of these books date back to my marathoning days.  I have fond memories of these books and the knee cartilage that I lost during those glory years. My best time was 3:04:29, completed with massive blisters on my feet. 

I also have several books about biking adventures, mostly epic tours. These have gone out of style because of blogs and touring related websites like Crazyguyonabike,com, on which I have several journals and articles.  Every once in a while, a bike book comes along that catches my eye.  This year there were two that I read.

It’s All About the Bike by Robert Penn is the story of one British cyclist as he constructs his dream bike. The creation of each part of the bike is described in loving and enthusiastic detail.  I am not much of a bicycle parts geek so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Since I am particularly fond of Brooks leather saddles, I really enjoyed reading about their factory and craftsman.  The book also describes the invention and evolution of the bicycle, including its connection to an early 19th century volcano in Indonesia.  (No spoilers here; go buy the book.)

I received the book Bike Snob from my wife’s brother’s family for Christmas. I had occasionally read the author’s Bike Snob NYC and found it to be overly involved in cycling in New York City.  I’ve never ridden in the Big Apple so the blog has limited appeal to me. The book is another story.  The Bike Snob, as it turns out, is very much attuned to my way of thinking about bicycling. He’s what I would call an everyday cyclist.  His description of how he recreated an epic late 19th century bike tour in the countryside near New York City is especially interesting.  It pretty much sums up how we spent the better part of the 20th century uglifying our world so that we could drive our cars to the mall.  The book also includes a taxonomy of cyclists which everyone I know who rides around DC will be able to identify.  I give him extra bonus points for his open mind regarding those of us who ride recumbents. 

So there you have it, two books that will help you while away a wet, cold January afternoon – on your trainer in the basement, of course.

Books Out the Wazoo

I woke up early on Christmas morning. The rest of the Rootchoppers remained snug in their beds. After reading the paper, I wrapped myself in a Snuggie and fell fast asleep. In the late morning, my impish 16-year-old daughter ordered me to wake up so that the festivities could begin.  Santa put a nice pair of Smartwool cycling socks in my stocking.  I also dug out two little disks which are synthetic towels, each compressed into the size of a silver dollar. Ingenious. These should come in handy someday. To add to the cycling theme there were two small squeeze packs of Chamois Butt’r.  My posterior thanks you Mr. Claus. The rest of the stocking contained essential cycling food (chocolate!!!).

After the preliminaries were over, we moved to the presents under the tree. One of my presents was a nice new pair of cycling tights.  These are necessary since I own only 2 pair and they are so old, they are becoming translucent.  Not a whole lot of help on a cold winter morning, I’m afraid.  My second cycling gift was a pair of lobster gloves.  Instead of regular gloves which have four fingers and a thumb, lobster gloves have two fingers.  Pairing the pinkie and ring finger and the index and middle fingers keeps your hands much warmer. They are especially useful when temperatures fall below 30 degrees F.  I had one pair that were made of soft fabric and I wore them, literally, to pieces. The other pair of lobster gloves I already have are warm but they are made of rough fabric than can feel like sandpaper when I touch my face. 

Amazon.Com Must Love Me

When I’m not biking and blogging, I like to read in my spare time.  This has not been a big year for reading (too much blogging, biking, high school sports, and home health care) so I asked for a few books for Christmas. Of course, I only received one that I asked for. The rest were creative improvisations from Mrs. Rootchopper (and quite good ones at that).  In keeping with the cycling theme, Mrs. Rootchopper’s brother and his family gave me the Bike Snob book.  Brilliant move guys!  The remaining books are tomes!  They should keep me busy for weeks and weeks.

Now all I need is a nasty snow storm so I can read all these books on Big Nellie (on a new resistance trainer in the basement).  Meanwhile Little Nellie continues her march toward 7,000 miles – a goal she should reach in two or three weeks.

With all the excitement of the day, I never got around to riding.  I did manage to squeeze in some aerobic Christmas cookie munching though.  


A Suitable Ending

Today was it. The finale. My last bike commute of 2011.  It’s number 145 which, as it turns out, is exactly how many I did last year.  I nearly blew the whole day by almost sleeping through the alarm this morning.  That’s what the winter solstice will do to your body clock.

I was groggy when the ride started and the weak pre-dawn light wasn’t helping any.  The weatherman said it would be in the 40s with a stiff, steady headwind in excess of 20 miles per hour.  I don’t think the weatherman bothered to step outside however. It was nearly 50 and the wind was intermittent gusting occasionally to 15.  Since I listened to the weatherman, I was overdressed.  Of course, any reasonable person would have stopped and shed a layer, but not me. I was already late getting to what was certain to be an unproductive workday. 

Belle and Alex Salute My Last Commute of 2011

I passed up a chance at my 20th sunrise photo of the year and cranked away. Then I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. Alex and Belle, the two bald eagles that nest along the Parkway on the Belle Haven golf course, were back.  They were perched high up in their tree, busily fluffing up their feathers. I haven’t seen the two of them since early spring so this was a real treat.  Unfortunately, my little camera isn’t really up to the task of wildlife photography but I gave it a go anyway.

I left work a few hours early and rode home in bright sunshine for the first time in a long while. The forecast from this morning finally came true and I had a very helpful 20 mile per hour tailwind for nearly the entire ride. Along the way, I spotted several great blue herons and a kingfisher (I think) along the Potomac. Of course, my camera totally failed me with these smaller birds.  (I think I’ve dropped it a few too many times.) Since I normally ride home in the dark, the water fowl were a welcome sight.

Outdoor Art Gallery at the Christmas Attic

Old Town had a couple of fun surprises. The Christmas Attic is a store that sells Christmas stuff year round. This time of year, of course, is their time to shine. For some reason, they had artwork arranged up and down the outside of their old brick building on South Union Street. Each work was numbered so I think they were for sale.  By the way, if you are into model trains, the Christmas Attic has one inside that runs just above the top of your head.  It’s a fun place to shop.

Carrying on past the shopping district, my brain had shifted to let’s get home and get warm mode. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted something moving and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature man on a bicycle.  Who needs reindeer anyway?

Santa on a Bike

And so ends my year of bike commuting. 3 bikes. 2 destinations (L’Enfant Plaza in DC and Rosslyn in VA). 145 days.  Over 4,000 miles. No wonder I’m tired….

Bike Commute 144: Winter Solstice Sunrise

At around 5:30 this morning, the winter solstice occurred. As you can tell from this picture taken only about 90 minutes later, the sun hung a huey and started it march north. You can see skid marks in the sky if you look closely. Little Nellie, barely visible in the foreground, has already had her full of commuting in the dark so she is happy. In the weeks ahead, we’ll be dealing with cold and snow and ice. We do cold. We don’t do snow and ice. Snow and ice are pretty, but falling isn’t. The commute takes 65 minutes on a good day, and ice and snow can add 20 minutes or more. At that point, it is no longer a commute; it’s an ordeal. For now, we’ll just be thankful for unseasonably warm days.

Winter Shortstice

After spending 2 days in a car driving 900 miles to retrieve Son-of-Rootchopper from college, I hopped back on Little Nellie for bike commute number 143 of 2011.  The weather was nearly warm this morning so I put away the holey sweater for the day.  Rain was showing on radar but it didn’t seem to be reaching the ground.  With fresh legs and a tail wind even the switchback hill into Rosslyn didn’t bother me much.

Start of the Rosslyn switchback. 

The evening commute was a little tough to dress for. It was raining and the temperature was in the low 60s.  This being the winter solstice, I had to put away the wind pants I wore this morning and ride home in shorts. The rain stopped about half way into the ride and the remaining 7 or 8 miles were a gift.  Maybe this is payback for that cold week back in October.  In any event, it was a superb way to end the fall. 

A Ride into Santarchy

My friend Charmaine is a cycling road warrior. I know this because she actually has studded snow tires for her commuting bike. That’s where I draw the line. I can do cold. I can do wet. I can’t do Nordic. 

I love the kid and the lawn mower.

Today’s forecast was for temperatures in the low 40s with a cold north wind. So, naturally, Charmaine sent me an email invite to go to something called Santarchy. on the national mall.  I was going to get the car fixed and go Christmas shopping.  Practical things both. I decided to opt for surreal and took off on my bike to meet her at the carousel on the mall.

DDOT’s Maine Avenue miracle.

On the way I wandered through a neighborhood near my home. I passed a house with an honest-to-god sculpture garden in its front yard. What a great idea. Put sculptures up and you’ll never have to mow the lawn again. Isn’t art wonderful?

After my cultural diversion I headed toward DC. There was a 10 mile per hour headwind the whole way but I was dressed for it and felt reasonably comfortable. Layers and layers, from my head to my toes.  Once in the city, I decided to check out the new Maine Avenue trail.  Basically, it’s an extra-wide sidewalk but it is godsend for the folks who live in far southwest DC and want to cross the great wall of Eisenhower otherwise known as I-395.  Good on you, DDOT..

I stopped at a Starbucks for a hot coffee and a blueberry scone. I like my scones dry so that the coffee has something to work with.  Alas, this scone was moist like cake. Starbucks, scones are Brit food. They aren’t supposed to taste good. They are supposed to dry your mouth out like a dessert wind. They should build character.

Early arrivals
Darth Santa
Santa Cause x 2

Onward I rode to the mall and found Charmaine with no trouble. There were a few Santas milling about.  Nothing too unusual. I started to think this was a waste of time. Six or seven Santas were not worth riding 15 miles on a cold Saturday. I donned a Santa hat that Mrs. Rootchopper had provided me so that I would not look too out of place. Then, they started to arrive. From all directions. Santas. Father Christmases. Mother Christmases. Snowmen. “Kids” in jammies. Star Wars Christmas people. People dressed as Christmas trees.  And presents. One guy was a candy cane with an enormous candy cane handle coming out of the top of his head. Naughty people. Nice people. The one thing they had in common was they were all wearing ear to ear smiles. Laughter abounded. I saw a woman take a swig from a bottle. She insisted it was ginger ale. Yeah, sure.

Snow man and Nutcracker
A wave of reinforcements coming from Metro

A tree person

Three women dressed in PJs were handing out candy.  A shy little kid in a Santa suit wore a Darth Vader.  mask.  Two young ladies from PETA came dressed in skimpy Christmas outfits.  They must have been freezing, I didn’t mind.

Candy cane. Or maybe, industrial accident. Hard to tell which.
Christmas doggies

The crowd soon commandeered the carousel. Somebody blared the fanfare for the start of a horse race on his trumpet (no lie) and the carousel started up.  The riders started chanting “HO”. Not Ho-Ho-Ho. Just HO.  Over and over. Another pack of revelers replaced them and off they went around and around.

We’re jammin’!  They looked soooo warmmmm!

Then one of the Santas ordered the crowed to walk to the holiday outdoor market near the Portrait Gallery.  Hundreds of revelers plodded off across the mall and through Penn Quarter. At one point they stopped at the Navy Memorial and started performing Christmas carols. On to the marketplace where they sang more songs, and brought cheer and chaos to the street scene.  Candy flew threw the air. 


That’s Nice on the right. Looks Naughty to me.

Your basic ambulatory Christmas Tree

Darth On the Mall?

Somebody ordered the crowd to the Rockit Bar and they crowd obeyed. They overhelmed the place! So somebody called out the name of the back up bar. (These folks plan for all contingencies!)  At this point, Charmaine and I had begun to crave hot liquids so we took off. Just before leaving I joked with a reveler who was carrying a prop cookie box. “Show me your cookies,”  It wasn’t a prop! She opened the box and gave me one. Thanks.

After a huge mug of Assam tea and some Salt Oatmeal Raisin Cookies at Teaism, we took off for the National Christmas tree. There our outing ended with a thud. The yule log which normally is a raging fire was barely going. And the tree looked like an overgrown shrub. It was asymmetrical and small, overwhelmed by the netting of Christmas lights meant for a properly tall and stout tree. Austerity in DC.  Sad to see.

So we parted ways. Thanks to Charmaine for yet another adventure in DC. My reward for being nice was a 10 mile and hour tailwind all the way home aboard my reindeer of choice, Little Nellie.  HO!

Ice, Ice, Baby

There is a short list of things that will keep me off my bike:

  1. Sickness
  2. Family conflicts
  3. Mechanical problems (rare since I own 3 bikes)
  4. Tornado warnings (I’ve actually ridden through several without knowing)
  5. Lightning (ditto)
  6. Snow
  7. Ice

So far this year, I’ve missed commuting for numbers 1, 2, and 6. Today, I encountered 7. 

It was plenty cold when I left home. I had broken out my holey sweater and my booties to keep me comfortable. I was dressed perfectly. No discomfort whatsoever.

The holey sweater has lots of holes but they are hard to see.  It’s at least 10 years old and made of soft wool.

I wasn’t the least bit surprised when I encountered my first wooden bridge on the Mount Vernon Trail. This is a long boardwalk across a section of Dyke Marsh on the Potomac River.  You can clearly see the frost on the boards. This is pretty easy to ride on as long as I lay off my brakes and ride in a straight line.  There are several more wooden bridges that were in the same condition. I took my time and made it across them unscathed.  One bridge had several skid marks and a few gouges from pedals.  It has curves and swales in it. It eats bikes with skinny tires for breakfast.

Little Nellie and the icy boardwalk at Dyke Marsh

About 13 miles into my ride, a bike commuter coming toward me hollered, “Ice!”.  A hundred yards further on I saw what she was talking about. Water had drained from a grassy slope and frozen across about fifty yards of the trail.  Riding over this stuff would be bad news because the trail is tilted a bit toward the river. So I stopped and walked.  Good move. I warned a few bike commuters as they approached. One guy dismounted and said, “New World Tourist?” I said, “Yes” and noticed that he was on one too, except his was shiny red and clean. Little Nellie was jealous.

Bike riders who encountered this icy stretch of trail ride around it on the grass.  This has already started to create quite a mess. Soon mud will be added to the icy mix.  Too bad the Park Service doesn’t sand and salt the trail as it does the Parkway just up the hill to the right. Little Nellie gets no respect, no respect at all. 

Another Bike Friday commuter admires Little Nellie.

Winter. Soon the trail will be covered in ice and snow and I’ll be riding in my basement. So it goes.