The Spice of Spring… Wait. It’s Still January!

Two years ago this week, we were enjoying something that we in DC call Snowmaggedon.  We had two feet on snow on the ground.  DC shut down. Normally, DC residents are weather weenies.  Snowmaggedon was the real deal.  Having lived through the New England Blizzard of ’78, I feel I am qualified to say that Snowmaggedon was definitely a major league storm. Unlike 1978, I was a homeowner in 2010 so Snowmaggedon was a much bigger pain in the ass.

But enough about snow.  When I left the house this morning there wasn’t even the suggestion of snow on the ground.  It was nearly 50 degrees outside. Crocuses are in a state of biological confusion.  People are running in shorts.  Yeah, baby!  Time for a bike ride.

My first stop was the site of a recent house fire about a mile from my home.  The emergency responders went ape with their sirens to get to this fire.  This was necessary because it was nearly one a.m. on a weeknight and the streets were deserted.  They must have been bored because they emptied the fire house. When I got to the house today, I was expecting to see a gutted structure.  Instead I saw an upstairs bathroom window covered with plywood and a tarp covering a small section of the roof above.  Fairfax’s finest beat that fire into submission big time.  It wasn’t even worth taking a picture.

So after my exciting plywood moment, I got on with the ride. I took the Mount Vernon Trail into Old Town Alexandria and bypassed the epicenter of touroids by riding Saint Asaph and Pitt Streets instead of Royal and Union.  I rejoined the MVT north of the soon-to-be-closed power plant.  I took the tunnel to Crystal City and made my way to Clark Street.  Clark Street is a beat up old road that once was the home of a cement plant.  That site has been turned into Long Bridge Park, which is pretty fab.  Clark Street, alas, is anything but.  Pot holes, patches, humongous puddles, one after another.  I watched a Jeep gun it through a pond in mid street.  It looked like Cecil B. Demille’s Red Sea crossing.  The water came way over the top of both sides of his Jeep. Impressive. Fortunately I was several hundred feet away so I didn’t get wet at all.

After Moses did his thing, I rode past the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery into Rosslyn.  Here I met up with some car traffic but they stayed out of the bike lane and I stayed in it.  On the DC side of Key Bridge I portaged down a few steps to the C&O Canal.  The towpath in this section has seen better days. The Sequoia was up to the task of bouncing over the stones and swerving around the mud puddles.  At Fletcher’s Boat house I switched over to the mercifully smooth pavement of the Capital Crescent Trail.  After a mile or two I spotted a paved trail to the right.  This was the Little Falls Trail, a quaint little path that meanders through a wooded park.  After my wooded interlude, I popped out on some quiet neighborhood streets. It seemed a little hilly but I was up for some work.  Then I came to Albemarle Street.  Albemarle means “steep son of a bitch” in French . (Vraiment, mes amis. I was president of my high school French club.  Would I make something like that up?)  And it was.

I didn’t have a clue where I was but the houses were nice and the streets were smooth and traffic-free.  So I climbed up Albemarle eventually coming to Massachusetts Avenue.  Mass Ave has the nicest stretch of down hill riding in town.  Unfortunately, the start of the down hill was a little higher up.  So past American University I climbed. Then around a couple of rather crazy traffic circles including Ward Circle, an always fun near death experience.  Finally, I reached Washington National Cathedral in the aptly named Cathedral Heights neighborhood.

And the fun began.  Down Mass Ave into a head wind went I.  I was barely pedaling and my odometer showed 25, 26, 27,…  I was thankful for the head wind when I hit a depressed man hole cover near the Observatory.  If I had hit it at 40 miles per hour that man hole cover would have launched me for sure.  Onward I rolled unscathed along Embassy Row.  It’s one damn impressive street.  I was going too fast to get the names of all the countries so you’ll just have to go there yourself.  Collect them all.

I blew through another traffic circle before reaching Dupont Circle,  Normally either one of these is so full of automotive mayhem that a cyclist will see God as he dances with certain death.  Today wasn’t bad at all.  I only saw two saints and an archangel.

I reached one more traffic circle and decided not to tempt fate.  I turned down 16th Street and headed straight for the White House.  It’s so cool living here. It’s the damn White House! There was a protest going on in Pennsylvania Avenue.  In front of the White House, Pennsylvania Avenue is a plaza that is closed to cars and truck bombs. I stopped and took a picture of the demonstration. The participants were calm but seemed very depressed.  I think they were Syrian.  If I were them, I’d be depressed, too, I suppose.

I cycled past the protest and around a street hockey game.  These guys were pretty good.  I weaved through the bollards at the end of the plaza and took a right onto the 15th Street cycle track. This is a two-way bike trail on the street separated from cars by flimsy plastic posts.  I spotted a sign that said “No Pedestrians in Bike Lane” as I followed a runner. She must be a local because everyone in DC is more important than you or me.

On my way back to the river I passed the Jefferson Memorial. Old Tom doesn’t get any respect.  The White House has bollards.  The Lincoln Memorial has bollards.  More than ten years after 9-11 the Jefferson Memorial still has jersey barriers.  All over the place. Apparently, some friend of W had the jersey barrier contract for the National Park Service.  Why can’t Obama get rid of them?  I bet bollard replacement will cause our national debt to be down graded to junk bond status, but it’s worth it, don’t you think? 

Now that I think about it maybe the jersey barriers are part of the memorial. Jefferson was an inventive guy.  Just tour Monticello and you’ll see how clever he was.  He probably invented the jersey barrier.  That must be the explanation.

Rant over.  I crossed the Potomac via the 14th Street Bridge where I fell in line with the slowest adult cyclists in the world. Clearly, they were physicists testing how slow a bicycle could be ridden before it fell over,  Passing was out of the question because the MVT was packed with runners, bladers, cyclists and dogs.  I jumped off the trail at Four Mile Run and made my way through the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria along Commonwealth Avenue, a tree lined boulevard with nice big bike lanes. It also has traffic calming brick speed tables with low spots for bikes.  These are way better than speed bumps.

I weaved my way past Old Town and popped out near the Beltway.  Here, I took a trail over to Fort Hunt Road in Fairfax County instead of jumping on the MVT again.  Fort Hunt Road has a shoulder that comes and goes. This apparently is VDOT’s idea of sound road design. After a couple more hills, it was down hill in traffic.  I was cruising along at 25 miles per hour and VDOT had decided that I didn’t need a shoulder and could use some asphalt patches.  Some asshat with diplomatic plates took time out of his day to scream at me out his window as he drove past.  I responded with my very best and most sincerely diplomatic F bomb.

Another mile and a half on side streets and my ride was in the bag.  41 1/2 miles of trails and traffic, hills and flats, pavement and towpath, street hockey and political protests, bollards and jersey barriers, 24 inches of snow and early spring.  Riding in DC has so much variety. You should try it.

I May Be Stupid, But I’m Dry

I see some pretty interesting things along the Mount Vernon Trail.  Today it was about 40 degrees out and a bit windy. I imagine it was colder in the Potomac River along the trail.  These two gentlemen were out doing their American Sportsman thing when they became mired in mud in the river.  They must not have been the sharpest knives in the drawer because just to the left of them outside this picture is about a quarter acre of mud.  Undaunted they guided their boat right into the quagmire.  There was just one thing to do. They got out and pushed. That’s when I came across them. Up until then, I was feeling a little chilly and a bit foolish for riding my bike in this weather. Not anymore

A Remembrance

Probably the most famous event to take place along the Mount Vernon Trail was the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 into the Potomac River 30 years ago today.  I pass the crash site every day amazed that anyone was pulled alive from the wreckage.  Only 5 people survived and one person, Arland D. Williams, gave away a lifeline several times before he drowned.  One of the three 14th Street Bridge spans is named after him.

I saw a small memorial between the trail and the river on my way home this evening.  A colorful wreath was propped up where the plane hit the ice-covered river.  In front of the wreath was a small, framed cartoonist rendering of the events of the day. 

I have a fascination with plane crashes because I saw a plane come down when I was in high school. It happened almost 40 years ago. My friend Owen and I were out for a walk, two bored teenagers with nothing else to do on an overcast, gloomy night. Just after I said, “Nothing ever happens around here,” something happened.

We lived in the flight path about five miles south east of Albany Airport and were accustomed to seeing planes on their final approach.  That dark night a plane came in overhead.  It sounded strange and the configuration of its lights made no sense to us.  We couldn’t tell what size of plane it was, but we sensed it was in serious trouble. We ran in the direction of the plane and, after sprinting a short ways, heard a dull “THUD” in the distance.  No explosion.  Owen said, “That plane crashed.”  I said, “No way. We would have heard an explosion.”  We ran to the nearest pay phone which happened to be directly across the street from a hospital.  We called a friend who lived further along the flight path.  He hadn’t heard a thing.

As he told us this, we heard sirens from all directions. Every emergency vehicle in town was racing to the crash.  So did we.  We hitched a ride (the only time in my life I ever hitched a ride) in a white Mustang.  We went about a half mile and jumped out at a red light. I remember that the car door wouldn’t close. “Sorry, man!” We ran in the direction of the flight path and overran the crash site by a couple of blocks. By the time we arrived there were several hundred people in a semicircle facing a passenger plane, lodged in a house. It , looked as if the pilot had tried to drive it into the garage.  The telephone lines and a big deciduous tree directly across the street were both somehow completely intact.

The left wing of the plane clipped the brick house to the left causing the corner of the house to buckle.  The garage to the right was untouched and was being used as a staging area for the bodies of the victims. We all watched in silence. A whisper here and there.  Light snow was falling on the proceedings.

After it was all over, something was bugging me.  There was no music. There’s supposed to be Max Steiner music when something dramatic happens. Like in King Kong or Casablanca. Real life has no sound track. Just the music in our heads. Along side the creepy memories of a gloomy night in March 1972.

A Papa Hobo Commute

Depending on which weather forecaster you listened to, today’s weather called for seasonable temperatures with the slight possibility of light rain in the afternoon. In the morning the weatherman was spot on. I bundled up with a base layer under my holey sweater and Marmot Precip outerwear, slapped on my balaclava, and I was good to go. 

At lunch time, I was slurping my hot and salty vegetable beef soup when I overheard another diner say, “It’s snowing.”  As Paul Simon said in his song Papa Hobo, “The weatherman lied.”

About an hour after returning to my office I received an e-mail from Mrs. Rootchopper who was using-not-losing her annual leave back at the Rootchopper Homestead.  “It’s snowing like mad here!” Oh, joy.  I called her for more details, she said, “Be careful of the bridges.”  She knows from past experience that the bridges, especially the wooden ones, on the Mount Vernon Trail can be incredibly slippery when wet.  One past experience totalled my bike and left me in a full leg brace for two weeks.  (Thank you, Hurricane Hugo.)

A few hours later I left the cosy confines of my office high atop scenic Rosslyn, Virginia. It was snowing moderately but the roads were too warm for any accumulation.  Pretty, pretty.

Two blocks later I turned onto the Mount Vernon Trail.  Apparently, car tires have something to do with this accumulation thing because there was a thin layer of snow across the trail.  There was just one thing to do. Ride on, cowboy.

And so I did.

It really was quite pleasant.  The snow started falling more heavily.  Pretty, pretty.  It was hard to see.  Too many headlights bouncing off the Parkway.

I made it passed the icy patch south of the Memorial Bridge.  Except it wasn’t icy, it was slushy. 

I rode through curves cutting the corners and reminding myself, sometimes audibly, to relax my arms. Stay loose.

Bridge after bridge passed.  No worries. 

As I approached the notoriously twisty and slick wooden bridge north of Slaters Lane, another commuter sped passed me. I called out, “You first!”  He made it across unscathed as did I.  A quarter mile further, on the wooden bridge that winds around the Slaters Lane apartment building, I saw a big smear in the snow on the trail. Somebody hit the deck here.  After the turn, another one.  Not pretty. Stay loose.

On I rode without the slightest slip.  I made sure to cross the railroad tracks near Old Town at a 90 degree angle. No problem. Stay loose.

By Old Town the snow had stopped. Only a bit of drizzle remained. I hoped it didn’t freeze. My cycle computer has a thermometer in it. Above freezing.  Good to go.

I made it into Belle Haven Park where I saw two cyclists standing next to their bikes just off the trail. “Are you okay?” The girl turned an smiled, “Yeah! Just taking pictures.”  She was right. Pretty, pretty.  The snow was clinging to branches.  Enjoy this, said I to myself..

One more big boardwalk to go. This one at Dyke Marsh.  There, in the middle of the trail was another smear.  Another unlucky rider. Not pretty. Stay loose.

I slogged on in a deliberately high gear.  All the way home. I pushed my bike over the lawn into my backyard where it would roll no more.  As we used to say when I was a kid, it was good packin’.  The snow was clinging to my tires and filled the entire space between my tires and my fenders.  I picked my bike up and walked the final 30 yards to the door of my shed.

My Sequoia doesn’t need a weatherman to know which way the shed is.

Stay loose.

Biking in the New Year

The new year started out with a gift from the weatherman.  Temperatures on New Years Day hit 60 degrees F in Washington. I celebrated by taking an easy 30 mile ride in shorts.

New Years Day Attire

Fast forward to my first bike commute, today, and things were a little different.  When I rolled down the driveway the temperature was 18 degrees F. And I do mean F.  I was prepared to do battle with Jack Frost.  I wore an absurd amount of clothing which turned out to be nearly enough.  Dressing for this kind of weather is guesswork so I was pretty pleased with my choices. It was nice that I got to wear my new balaclava and my new lobster gloves.  Both performed admirably. 

First Commute Attire

My commute is 14 1/2 miles and, except for the first mile, I was comfortable the entire way.  That first mile was, how can I put this, BRISK!  I warmed up pretty quickly except for the tips of my fingers and the exposed area around my eyes.  Once the sun rose a bit, temperatures broke through the 20 degree barrier and I was ready to drink a mint julep.  Of course, all I had was the water I had in my two water bottles. The water was warm when I filled them but by three miles it was icy cold. About 12 miles into the ride, I came upon ice on the Mount Vernon Trail just south of the Memorial Bridge. I veered onto the grass which was also frozen and so I came to a crunchy stop.

To this point I had been passed by only three riders.  As I approached the Rosslyn connector that carries to trail from the riverside to the southern end of the Key Bridge, I was surprised to see bike after bike come zipping down the hill.

While waiting for a traffic light in Rosslyn, I went to take a drink from my water bottles. Nothing doing. They were both frozen solid.  I, however, was not. Or so I thought. When I took a shower in the fitness center at work, I found my toes, fingertips, upper legs, lap area, and parts of my torso were beat red.  The hot water stung.  If I had to do it over, I’d have added one pair of shorts to my ensemble.

On the ride home, temperatures were near freezing. It felt positively spring-like.  I stupidly decided to ride through the icy patch on the trail. My back wheel slid right and then left. I made it but I won’t try that again any time soon. 

In Old Town Alexandra I stopped to celebrate a milestone. The odometer on Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist,  turned 7,000 miles.  Well done, Nellie. 

7 Grand for Little Nellie

And so the first bike commute of 2012 is in the books.  Spring will be here before you know it.

2011 by the Numbers

I keep track of all sort of data related to my bike riding.  Here’s some summary statistics for 2011.

Days Riding: 241 (66%)
Indoor days: 14 (6% of total)

Total Miles: 6,904
Indoor mileage: 270 (4%)

Miles by Month:
Longest Ride: 101
Second longest ride: 97
Average per day: 18.9 miles
Average per riding day: 28.6
Bike Commutes: 145 (same as last year)
Miles commuting: 4,200, 61 % of total mileage.
I lost over a week of riding in May taking care of my wife after her encounter with an SUV.  
I am surprised that I took 1/3 of the days off the bike. Mostly these were related to family obligations.  Some of the off days were planned to avoid getting dead legs, or burned out.  
Most of the indoor miles were caused by icy roads.  (I don’t do ice.)
I did only three event rides: one in Prince Georges County MD, the Backroads Metric Century in the Shenandoah Valley, and the 50 States Ride in DC.
I had planned a week long tour from Saratoga Springs NY to DC but I had to cancel it.
I had one crash caused by uneven pavement on Constitution Avenue in DC.
My bike commuting saved me about $588 in gas which is about what I spent on bike parts and other biking goodies.

So good bye to 2011.  Hello to 2012. I rode 30 miles in shorts today. Not too shabby.