Chain, Chain, Chain

Twas a lovely day in Washington town.  The temps were in the low 70s.  A light cloud cover kept it that way.  A pleasant breeze topped it off. You know what I did.  I got up at the crack of dawn for a 200 mile bike-a-thon.


I spent the start of my day on our new deck finishing The Hunger Games trilogy. I have been carrying around the saga of Katniss Everdeen for weeks and weeks and it was time to lighten the load.  For a series aimed at kids, these books are incredibly gory.  And fun. After I plow through the pile o’magazines on my nightstand, it’s back to grown up books – the latest from David Lodge and Michael Lewis.

Once the reading was done I headed out on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent.  Big Nellie has been lonely.  I have been riding The Mule (my Sequoia) ever since I had a new rear wheel built and had the rear hub overhauled.  The mechanic said that I should ride it for a couple of weeks and bring it back for re-tensioning.  It’s been an epic (for me, anyway) couple of weeks. I put over 400 miles on that baby.  I think the wheel is fine, but I’m going to bring it in soon for a look over.

Big Nellie and I headed north on the Mount Vernon Trail (MVT).  We made our first stop at the Morningside bald eagle nest where one of the two photographers I have been seeing was hanging out. He told me that there are three eaglets in the nest.  He showed me some pictures on the screen of his camera.  Dang, that zoom he has works very well. We chatted for 10 or 15 minutes and I rolled away. 

I stopped at Belle Haven Park to replace some broken zip ties that hold the mesh seat back to the seat frame. The correct size zip tie is no longer made so I use two smaller ties in each mounting point.  This works until it doesn’t and I start all over again.  Soon I will replace the entire seat.  The new seat will use parachute chord to secure the mesh.  Zip tie sales at my local hardware store will never be the same.

Northward I rode managing to not crash on the dirt and gravel at the new Wilson Bridge underpass detour.  I certainly hope the contractor does a better job on the park than he’s been doing on the MVT because he’s totally incompetent when it comes to bike trails.

I breezed by Saint Mary’s School where they were having their spring bazaar.  They had one of those rides that you spin around in, get off, and puke.  Kids love them. Not me. At St. Mary’s Church a few blocks later church was letting out. Catholics, being in a state of grace, were jaywalking like there was no tomorrow.  If I were a bus, there wouldn’t be.

I glided down King Street to people watch. Many folks were brunching al fresco. Others were window shopping,  La di dah.

Back on the trail the traffic was building. I was in no hurry so I took my time behind tourist after tourist on rental bikes.  I noticed that my head wind was becoming a side wind.  It wasn’t very strong but every so often a gust would grab the fairing on the bike and I’d get a little passive assist.  Sweet.

Across the 14th Street Bridge and into DC on 15th. I normally take the sidewalk to the cycletrack at 15th and Pennsylvania but not today.  First I was stuck behind walking tourist, then I was swallowed up by Segways, then CaBi bikes.  I bailed on Constitution Avenue and swam east with the big dogs.

I hung a left on 7th and rode up the Bus and Bike Only lane.  There were no buses. There were lots of cars. I don’t think this lane works very well.  Time for a do-over DDOT. Either that or you should give up and call Honda Accords buses.

After Mount Vernon Square I stopped at BicycleSpace.  Everybody I know is talking about this shop and I can see why.  They sell Brompton folding bikes (I watched a sales person demonstrate the fold.  It’s magic, I swear.)  They also sell what the British would call proper city bikes with lights and racks and fenders and chainguards.  I want one. And they sell Brooks leather saddles.  Finally, somebody sells them around here. They’re not lightweight or inexpensive. They are, however, a treat to the seat.  The Mule and Little Nellie both have Brooks saddles.  Finally, BicycleSpace has Paul the best mechanic in town. He fixed the Mule ten years ago when absolutely no one else could. And he did it with a 25 cent part.  If your bike is hopeless, take it to Paul.

My next stop was Ben Chili Bowl. This restaurant on U Street is legendary hereabouts.  I bought a half smoke with everything on it to go. I put it in my pannier and rode up the 13th Street hill next to Cardozo High School. Spin, spin, spin.

After a few turns I was at Meridian Hill Park, destination for the day. I was there to attend my friend Florencia’s goodbye party. She’s leaving DC.  I was early so I ate my half smoke. Ugh. Half smokes with chili, mustard and onions is not biking food.  It may not be non-biking food either.

Flor give her acroyoga partner a massage
Flor spinning.

Although the party was not starting until three I made my way through the park. I spotted some acroyoga and, sure enough, it was Flor doing her Cirque du Soleil thing.  From a distance it looks effortless. Up close, you can tell how athletic she and her partner (he’s on his back with legs and arms up supporting her) are. 

Around this time I checked Twitter and found out that K.C. was nearby and invited her over.  She’s a fellow bike blogger and we’ve been crossing paths for a couple of years without meeting. We had a nice chat about her riding, her bike Betty, renting lock houses on the C&O Canal, and her police work. (She’s rides a bike on patrol.)   She’s interested in doing some riding on the GAP trail west of Cumberland MD and riding back on the towpath. My advice: DO IT! 

Back at the party things were going along swimmingly when Flor decided to ride Big Nellie. I warned her that her pants which had much loose fabric would get caught in the pulleys of the chain tensioner under the seat. Nothing stops Flor. She tied up her pants and started riding and rolling about. She was having a blast when all of a sudden the tensioner ate her pants. We spent the next 45 minutes trying to free her.  We tried breaking the chain but that only succeeded in damaging a link and making my hands black.  After much angst Jeff Dahloff, a bike commuter and ride partner on many a ride around these parts, noticed that we could disassemble the tensioner with a screwdriver and a nut driver – both of which were in my seat back bag. In two minutes Flor was free. I hope her pants aren’t ruined.

Flor insists that she did not get her pants caught so that she could attract every guy in the park to her aid.  If I had caught my pants leg, I’d still be in the park waddling around on the bike. For the record, Flor has nice legs.  So do I. Must be the hair.

We put the tensioner back together and, but for a skipping chain, Big Nellie was back in action. It was getting late so I said goodbye to Flor with a big hug.  As we came apart my arm hit her camera and it fell to the ground.  Ugh.  The gods are telling us something, Flor.

Once I realized the bike was operating okay, I had a pleasant ride home. The winds had changed direction and I had my second headwind of the day.  No problem. The MVT was jammed with people, many of whom simply wouldn’t move out of the way.  If it had been a hot and sticky day, I might have lost my temper and used Big Nellie’s death ray.  Instead I went with the flow. Once past the airport, the crowds ended and I was rolling free again.

I stopped at the Morningside nest. The photographer was still there 6 hours later.

I worked on the chain and I think it might be okay. Tomorrow will tell.

It was a nice ride. Good say hello to so many people. Very sad to say goodbye.


Bike to Work+ Day

I approach Bike to Work Day with some trepidation much like W. C. Fields approached New Years Eve. When asked why he doesn’t go out on New Years Eve, he said “I don’t like to drink with amateurs.”  And so I am not thrilled about the prospect of interacting with hundreds of newbie bike commuters.  At the same time, I am really thrilled to see so many people out and about, discovering how you can turn your commute from an expensive hassle into an inexpensive fun time.

On Bike to Work Day organizations set up pit stops for bike commuters where there is music, food, and free stuff.  I left my house at 6:15, 45 minutes early to allow time for hanging out at the Rosslyn pit stop which is only two blocks from my office.  The weather could not have been better.

I was expecting to see bad biking behavior, broken down bikes and other un-fun stuff and I was not disappointed.  At 3 miles, just before jumping on the Mount Vernon Trail (MVT) I saw a bike commuter with a thrown chain. I would have stopped to help but I figured he could get chain lube all over himself just as easily as I could so I rolled on.

Cyclist Approaches New Wilson Bridge Detour

At the Woodrow Wilson Bridge I encountered a work crew. They are working on the renovation of the adjacent Jones Point Park. They are constantly installing detours in the MVT. Not one of them has been safe for riding.  Guess what. These knuckleheads pick Bike to Work Day to install another detour. This one a sharp “S” curve at the base of a hill. To make things even more interesting they used stone and dirt for the surface. I wanted to hit them on the head with my frame pump but the workers are not at fault. The contractor and the City of Alexandria (a certified Bicycle Friendly City, no less) are to blame.

I made it through the detour and rode down South Royal Street..   I stopped at the Alexandria pit stop in front of City Hall. After chatting with some volunteers I rode on. Only hours later did I realize that I could have filled my panniers with free stuff (you can never have enough water bottles, you know).

Old Town Pit Stop

The MVT was busy but not too crazy. It was, after all, still before 7 a.m.  As I approached the airport, I saw a man walking his racing bike with a flat front tire. Dude, bring a tube and a pump. A couple of minutes later, for the second day in a row, I was passing someone when a bike rider came up behind me really fast and yelled “BIKE LEFT!!!”  To which I loudly responded, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!” with all the sarcasm I could muster.  Note to Lance Armstrong Jr.: it’s not a velodrome. I do not care if you kill yourself, but I’ll be damned if you are taking me with you. If you want to ride your bike recklessly at 20+ miles per hour get off the path and out on the road with the big dogs. If you ever do that again to me, I will do to you what the Cinzano team did to Dave Stoller. I have an extra frame pump so its no skin off my nose.

End of screed.

I arrived in Rosslyn and did a full sweep of the swag fest scoring a t-shirt (my umpteenth BTWD model), 2 water bottles, a bell, some sun screen, a bike pin, a super nice reflective vest, and a banana and half a bagel.  There was no coffee. (I did get a 3-ounce cup an hour later.)  Note to organizers: coffee is to bikes as money is to politicians.  We need lots and lots or we don’t run.

Vuvuzula and Paparazza

I ran into Ed and Mary who stopped in Rosslyn because they regard it as the best put stop. They live in Southwest DC and work downtown so it’s almost comically out of their way. They have a tendency to ride their bikes a lot.  Ed was wearing his Paris-Brest-Paris reflective vest which he earned by riding a tandem with Mary over 700 miles in 3 1/2 days.  This is what happens when they eliminate funding for nervous hospitals.  Seriously, they are very nice people; you’d never know they are cycling and coffee addicts.

Ed and Mary in Caps from Nervous Hospital

Speaking of politicians, they never let a gather of constituents go by without grabbing a microphone and making a speech. Jim Moran, my Congressman, rode to the pit stop and made a speech about how cool it would be if the MVT was widened and extended to Chain Bridge. Sadly, the Tea Party austerity fanatics are cutting all bicycle-related funding from the transportation bill.  Better MVT, not bloody likely,

Ed Getting His 1,000 Bicycling T-shirt

There were all kinds of people milling about. Photographers taking pictures of each other, a guy with a Penny Farthing, three guys dress up as superheroes riding unicycles and a miniature bike through the crowd.

Here Mary, bagel in hand, is stalked by paparazzas

Ed and Mary headed out to Swings coffee to top off their commute with caffeine and conversation, a bike commuter together that they started called Friday Coffee Club. I hung out for a while longer. Laura, another Coffee Club regular rolled into the pit stop and I chatted with her and her entourage of male cyclists. I was beginning to think that the Rosslyn thing was just a ruse for the official BTWD Laura Pit Stop.  I admired the mixte Raleigh that she designed and put together. It made the Mule look sadly mule-like and down trodden. As usual I forgot to take a picture of it. The Mule thanked me later.

BTWD Vuvuzula Wake Up Team

I waited a while longer because my friend Florencia had told me she was coming to hang out. She’s getting ready to leave the country and is very busy so – as I later learned – she overslept.I will see her tomorrow anyway.

Here Congressman Moran gets my autograph as my stalking paparazza looks on
Not content to stalk me with still cameras, this bloke put me in his video

After a super slow day at work I left for the second leg of my three legged commute. My daughter’s high school spring choral concert was at 7 so I rode up (and I do mean up) Wisconsin Avenue to Cathedral Heights.  I love, love, love the National Cathedral. It was extensively damage by an earthquake last August but is now open even as repairs take place. (You can donate to the repairs here.) I stopped there briefly before heading on for some food.  After riding another mile I realized that I really wasn’t hungry and doubled back for her concert at the Maret School just east of the cathedral..

The Mule and the Cathdral

The concert was excellent (as usual)  and the crowd was especially exuberant as this was the final concert of the director of the school’s  musical department, Jim Erwin. Jim is leaving after 25 years to start a music program at a school for underprivileged kids in New Orleans. What a gutsy thing to do. 

After the concert I grabbed a cookie and rode down into Rock Creek Park  in the dark. I haven’t ridden in the dark in a few months and I haven’t ridden the goofy Rock Creek trail in the dark in a long, long time. I took my time and made it through the curves and bumps in one piece.

As I approached the Lincoln Memorial two small lights appeared ahead, a fox hanging out on the trail. He walked off and turned to take another look at me.  I think he said, “Dude” but my fox-ese is a little rusty.

On Ohio Drive I had the southbound lane to myself. The northbound lane was filled with in-line skaters gliding along in the dark.  They stretched our for about a half-mile.  The ability to use all this park land at night is another part of DC that I love,  The skaters and I were dodging tourist buses left and right as we passed.  These buses are like lumbering prehistoric beasts.  I’d swear they were feeding off the trees along the road.

I started my day riding along a busy MVT but my day ended with the MVT nearly all to myself.  I passed a few people watching the planes at Gravelley Point.  Blinded by headlights as I approached the George Washington Parkway I heard a blast from a whistle. Out of the headlights came two kids on  small bikes. No lights but a whole lot of noise and enthusiasm.

I worked my way through the crowds in Old Town Alexandria.  It was a beautiful night and the streets were packed.

After making my way through the detour of death at the Wilson Bridge I was back on the MVT for the home stretch.  I nearly ran over a couple dressed in dark clothing walking on the trail near Dyke Marsh.  I saw another fox dart for the underbrush. Then I stopped to check out the Morningside bald eagle nest.  The eaglets were nestled all snug in their nest. I couldn’t see any movement so on I rode, spotting a rabbit bounding into the undergrowth along the trail.

A mile from home on the  treet I spotted my third fox of the night, this one a kit scampering into a drainage pipe on the side of the road.  We’ve noticed a decline in the local rabbit population; my wife thinks the foxes are eating bunnies.

I arrived home after 38 1/2 miles of commuting at 10:30 pm.

I walked in my door and started talking to my wife and daughter. My daughter was late for her 1st period chemistry test this morning.  It took her forever to get through the traffic in Rosslyn because of “all those damned bikers.”  I had warned her to leave early but did she listen. NO.

Fortunately for her, her chemistry teacher, Mr. Walker, is one of the many Maret teachers and staff who bikes to work.  Sometimes those damned bikers are pretty understanding.

Well, at Least It Was Dry

I set the alarm for 5:30, a half hour earlier than usual. I needed to be in the office by 8 for a seminar.  For some reason anytime I change the alarm I have trouble sleeping. I think I managed to get a solid 2 hours in last night – in 15 minute increments.  I staggered out of the house at 6:30 yawning all the way down the street on my mule. 

The ride was uneventful. My solitude on the Mount Vernon Trail was gone with the rain.  I noticed lots of Canada geese and mallards but have yet to see any goslings or ducklings. Baby birds are right behind spring peepers and lilacs as my favorite parts of spring. I love watching them develop morning after morning on my ride to work.

When I reached the intersection with the Slaters Lane off ramp on the trail I was passed by a young woman on a single speed orange bike. It had the colors of the French flag on the tip of the rear of the rear mudguard which was otherwise orange to match the bike.  The fender had the word “Public” printed on it. It looked like this:

It was a very cool bike and the rider was quite stylish in her smooth white helmet with brim.  It looked like this


 (As you can see I just discovered the Public Bikes website.)

The girl on the bike was going just about the same speed as I was so I couldn’t pass her without putting on an obnoxious burst of speed.  Once we passed the two flyover bridges at National Airport I managed to see daylight and I passed her, saying “I love your bike” as I went passed.

About 20 minutes later I arrived at work and rushed into the fitness center locker room. It was a sauna in there.  I took a shower and could not get dry. Lovely.

I arrived at my office at 7:50 and checked my Outlook calendar to see what room the seminar was in.  Then I discovered that it is two weeks from today.  At least I wasn’t late.

By the time 4:30 rolled around I was a zombie.  I could barely keep my eyes open.  Fortunately the weather was nice (if you don’t mind humidity). I puttered along into a light headwind the whole way home. As I have been doing for several days, I stopped near the Morningside nest to see if I could spot a bald eagle.  Bingo.  A big eagle flew into the nest just as I looked up. The leaves on the tree around the nest obscured the bird but there was no mistaking its massive wings flapping as it landed on the nest.

After arriving home, my son fetched an extension ladder for me and I climbed it to clear out a gutter.  Having a 20-year old boy around the house sure is convenient. I struggle to carry and orient that ladder but he was whipping it around like it was made of styrofoam.  Usually when I mess with the ladder my back hurts for days. 

Since last Friday I have logged just under 220 miles.  If I am going to put in a five-bike-commute week, I need to get some shut eye.


What a Saucy Fellow

One of my favorite concerts of all time was seeing Raffi when my kids were little. Raffi is most famous for the song “Baby Beluga”, but his real talent is toddler wrangling. He had 1,500 kids in the palm of his hand.  “We’ll sing another song when you guys go back to your seats.” And they all did. Immediately. Raffi is a god.

My youngest child is 17. And this is a bicycling blog. What the hell am I going on about Raffi for?

It rained today. The kind of rain that keeps sane people from moving to Seattle. Small drops by the bajillions. I was soaked before I left my driveway. Robins were bouncing around in the grass hunting for worms. And whenever I see robins in the rain I think of the Raffi song called – wait for it – “Robin in the Rain”:

Robin in the rain
What a saucy fellow
Robin in the rain
Mind you socks of yellow

And so I felt quite a saucy fellow today (except my socks were black and wool and smelled like a dead goat when I got to work).

Most of my ride in was alone.  This is Bike to Work Week amigos. Do I have to do this all by myself? Okay. That means more bagels and coffee for me at the Rosslyn rest stop for Friday’s Bike to Work Day. Go ahead. Drive your cars.  Bwahaha. Nom. Nom.

The water gets to you.

I was passed by only two bike riders on the way in today.  That could be a record. Normally, it’s in the dozens. Those young whippersnappers who get on the trail after Old Town Alexandria with their fresh legs must think they’re something leaving me in their wake.  Just wait. Time will catch up with you and you’ll be slogging along just like me. In 20 years or so.

 Riding in the rain is actually quite fun even with the mediocre brakes on the Sequoia. Even if it weren’t fun, riding in the rain when the temperatures are moderate is way better than riding in January bundled up like Charlie Brown.

I was expecting a ride home in the same rain but five minutes after I left the office the rain stopped. The Mount Vernon Trail was mine and it was 65 degrees. And I had I light tailwind, to boot. Not too shabby.

I saw the movie The Avengers (the one with Iron Man not Diana Rigg in leather) last night. I loved it.  I collected comics as a kid and had the very first Avengers comic. I was a little disappointed that Giant Man and the Wasp were not in the movie, but you can’t have everything.  Now that I think about it ScarJo in leather was a pretty good replacement.

Egad, another pointless tangent. Not so! In one scene in the movie, The Hulk (do you capitalize the “T”?) tries to pick up Thor’s hammer and can’t.  Thor’s hammer can only be lifted by Thor.  I am pretty sure The Hulk would have trouble picking up the Sequoia (or is it The Sequoia?).  So I had this idea that I would finally give the Sequoia a proper name. I’d name it after Thor’s hammer. So I looked it up on Wikipedia. Thor’s hammer’s name is Mjolnir with two dots over the “o”,  I think it rhymes with “mule deer”.   On second thought, I’ll just call it the Sequoia.  After 30,000+ miles it’s too late to change now.

Obviously I have water on the brain. The forecast calls for more rain tomorrow.  I may have to switch tunes to “Rubber Ducky” if it doesn’t stop soon.

BIke DC on Fumes

Yesterday’s 50 mile jaunt took a lot out of me. I spent the night dealing with leg cramps and barely getting any sleep. I got up at 5:30, snarfed a small bowl of Frosted Flakes, grabbed a banana and headed for DC aboard the Sequioa.  I stopped briefly at the Morningside bald eagle nest but didn’t see any birds.  I took my time getting to Old Town and rode with the minimal car traffic up Washington Street. I saw many bikes either on the road ahead of me or on the backs of cars.  After picking up the Mount Vernon Trail a cyclists passed me. “Riding Bike DC?” he asked. I said, “Yes” and he let out a yelp and sped ahead.

Near the airport a couple of roadies passed me by so I picked up the rear wheel of the second guy and off we went at 18-19 miles per hour.  They dropped me at the 14th Street Bridge but I appreciated the tow. In the city there was hardly any car traffic so making it to the start was a breeze. 

The start was chaotic.  Nobody was directing people to the registration tables so we all fended for ourselves. I was given a t-shirt ticket (for after the ride), a BikeDC sign to stick to the front of my bike, and a map of the short course even though I asked for a different one. Oh, well. I’ll just follow the crowd.

I quickly hooked up with a woman of a certain age who’s husband was out of town. I wished her a happy Mothers Day and we chatted our way for the next five miles.

The start began without an announcement and we were off. On Pennsylvania Avenue I spotted fellow blogger K. C. who rode the Police Unity Tour from Richmond to DC the last three days.  I yelled “BETTY!” which is the name of her cruiser bike and she waved.

We rode up into Rock Creek Park. It was cooler in the canyon.  What a shame the road is not closed to traffic more often.  It was a beautiful ride.

Back out of RCP we wound our way through Foggy Bottom to a rest stop. Rest stop? We’ve only gone a few miles!  A volunteer handed me a banana as I rolled by and I left the stop without stopping. Into the E Street tunnel and out onto the Roosevelt Bridge which was a bit of a surprise since I thought we’d be riding over Key Bridge as we had the last time I did this ride.

On the Virginia side of the river we rode north on the GW Parkway. This uphill stretch was quite fun as we climbed to and above the treetops.  I stopped at an overlook and enjoyed the view of the river and the DC Palisades.  Back on the bike, I noticed that the view over the guardrail was spectacular.  Too bad we blast by this in our cars.

We turned around and sped back the way we came.  I kept looking for people I knew but saw no one.  I was riding alone at this point so I was missing the vibe of chatter that I am used to from these kinds of rides. 

We passed Rosslyn and then doubled back on US 50 to take the exit near the Iwo Jima Memorial.  A left hand turn took us to the road along side Arlington Memorial Cemetery where we (and I mean at least 200 cyclists) were stopped and turned around. I was told there had been a nasty accident, two cyclists collided head on near the bottom of the hill.  So hundreds of cyclists found themselves riding into hundreds of cyclists. Brilliant!

We ended up somehow back on the Roosevelt Bridge salmoning the throngs who had started long after us. On the DC side there were no course marshals to guide us so I followed the lost souls in front of me and we meandered through Foggy Bottom to that first rest stop which turned out to be the finish. (We should have gone into the E Street tunnel instead),

I’ve done Bike DC several times and I can’t remember when it went off without a major snag,  It was a beautiful day. The event got me out of bed and on the bike.  The Parkway was nice.  As was Rock Creek Park.  I think I’m done with Bike DC though.  I prefer the anarchy of the 50 States Ride or just a long ride in the country. 

The ride home was on impulse power.  Since it is my commute I was on auto pilot. I ate an early lunch and some ice cream, laid down on the couch, pulled on a snuggie, turned on a basketball game, and fell into a deep sleep.

Off to see The Avengers with my wife and kids. All my wife wants for Mothers Day is Robert Downey, Jr.
We aim to please.

To the Playoffs and other meanderings

The day started with no milk, a sure sign that my son is home.  So I did a quick ride to Walgreens to get some moo juice and a Mother’s Day card. Walgreens, alas, was closed.  So on to the US 1 Safeway.  At most times of the day, riding on US 1 in Fairfax County VA is insane but at 7:20 on a Saturday morning all the SUVs are still tucked in their garages. 

I made it to the Safeway unscathed and purchased my goods.  The ride home was uneventful except for the garbage truck that tried to back over me.  He missed.

I decided to ride to my daughter’s high school lacrosse game at the Madeira School in Great Falls, but first I had to take her car to fill it up with dead dinos.  On the way, about 1/3 of a mile from my house I came upon the final staging stop for the Police Unity Tour. This is an annual event that raises awareness and memorializes police officers killed in the line of duty. Fellow blogger and DC police officer on a bike KC is riding this year. I haven’t met her and don’t know what she looks like but I stopped and walked into the throng of police tour cyclists. It was hopeless. I was about to yell, “Hey, KC!” when they announced the start of the final leg. It was no time for chit chat; these folks have been riding for 3 days and wanted to get a move on.

I drove off to get the gas, delayed by the traffic delays that the throng of cyclist caused.

Once home, I grabbed some water and a couple of PopTarts and hit the road on the Sequoia bound for Great Falls. I took the Mount Vernon Trail – which was not jammed with people despite the beautiful weather – to the 4 Mile Run Trail. The 4 Mile Run Trail connects with the Washington and Old Dominion Trail near Shirlington.  I took that all the way into Falls Church where I hung a right on the aptly named Great Falls Road.  That turns into Lewinsburg Road.   There was very little car traffic except at some construction pinch points. I was expecting a really hilly ride for some reason but I didn’t mind the terrain at all.  I hung a right on Spring Hill Road which was a little narrow in spots. I stopped for some French food at Sept Onze in McLean then headed on to Old Georgetown Pike.  A left on OGP and up a hill with some thankfully patient drivers and after a quarter mile I was at my destination.

Last week the Frogs of Maret were blown off the field by Madeira but this week was different. The Frog coach made some tactical adjustments and the Frog goalie made save after save. The score was close all the way to the end.  Both teams played well. Unfortunately dubious officiating cost the Frogs the ball twice with less than 6 minutes to play. (Alas, stuff happens. The refs did the best they could, but two refs can’t possibly cover 100 yards and 22 players.) Both events gave Madeira the ball and they scored. Madeira won by 2. The many fans on hand gave their teams a long standing ovation for playing a brilliant game.  I’ve seen dozens of girls lacrosse games in the last three years. Most of them are sleep inducing. This one was a blast to watch. You don’t often walk away from a loss with a smile on your face but today I did.

And the smile continued on the ride home. It was mostly downhill all the way to the W&OD.  Except for a Texan in a rusty diesel pick up truck and a Fairfax County police cruiser that both passed me with little room to spare, my ride back was uneventful.  Until I reached Columbia Pike. At that point it was clear that my tank was empty.  Or maybe the pollen and bugs and sun had worn me out. I slogged the last 10 miles home. 

About 3 miles from home, I spotted two photographers at the Morningside bald eagle nest. One was the guy I talked to yesterday. He had modified his camera with an odd looking box that he said extended the range of his flash. He showed me some of his pictures on his camera screen. Very impressive,  The other photographer who had a camera that looked pretty darned impressive by my humble standards was envious.  Unfortunately for me, Mom and Pop eagle were out on the river and the eaglets were calm so I didn’t see any raptor action today.

I arrived home with a hunger and a thirst and a headache. Tomorrow I get up super early for Bike DC.  Then it’s home for Mother’s Day which will involve naps, I am sure.

Coffee and Eagles

Well, it hasn’t been much of a week for bike commuting. I spent Wednesday and Thursday driving to Saratoga Springs NY and back to extract my son from his sophomore year of college. He seems much smarter now than before all this post secondary education. He’s a business major. So if you want a really smart, good looking, and charming person for your business, I have just the young man for you.

He also packs a mean car. 

While in the greater Albany area (three words which should never be used together, I might add) I did some driving on back roads.  There is some mighty nice biking to be had up thataways.

We arrived back at the Rootchopper Institute a little after 8 p.m. and I discovered that sitting in a car for 17 hours and sleeping on a forty year old mattress at the family homestead is no way to treat a back, let alone a middle aged one. I could barely stand up when I got out of the car.  After getting all my son’s junk into the house, I ate dinner and two Advils and climbed into my Thermarest bed. ZZZZZZZzzzzzzz…….

8 hours later I was stepping into the surprisingly cool morning air which apparently had followed us down from the north country.  I almost had to break out the holey sweater for this commute but instead used a wicking t-shirt under a cotton t-shirt under a vest and added arm warmers.  I was going to wear tights but I was stopping at the Friday Coffee Club get together at Swings Javarama in DC on the way to work and didn’t want to look like a wimp.

Sadly, even in shorts I looked like a wimp anyway, maybe because of the lame purple head band I wore.

The Friday Coffee Club is always enjoyable. Attendees are cyclists of various stripes, most of whom seem to be fellow bloggers, friends of fellow bloggers, and/or random ne’er do wells. The line up of bikes outside is pretty impressive. Lots of Brooks saddles (a personal fave) and every kind of bike bag known to civilization.  

It seems weird that whenever I park my Honda Accord in a big parking lot I can always find another that looks just like it.  And sometimes more than one. Unless you’re in a bike shop looking at brand new bikes, you’ll never find two bikes that look alike. Cyclists always tinker with their bikes. Saddles, pedals, bags, racks, and on and on. Endless customization.

Lauren is a coffee clubber who commutes from DC to Rosslyn. She told me that her preferred route was to take M Street across downtown. I tried it this morning. I flew all the way to Georgetown, catching light after light with very little traffic. Thanks, Lauren. Once in Georgetown, M merges with Pennsylvania Avenue and the fun begins. I felt a little like a ramora among the sharks but I made it through to Key Bridge without damage to life or limb.

The ride home was pretty sweet.  The cool of the morning had given way to a 75 degree evening with a friendly tailwind. It was an effortless ride home, much appreciated by my still tender back.

As I approached the Morningside bald eagle nest along the Mount Vernon Trail, I spotted a man on the side of the trail with a camera with a big white telephoto lens. I stopped and chatted with him. He said the nest has a mating couple with two eaglets. It is incredibly hard to find the nest now that the trees have leaves.   If you want to find the nest, the easiest way is too look for a photographer. They are big, and are not hiding behind leaves and branches and such.

Tomorrow’s bike ride is cancelled on account of lacrosse (my daughter’s high school team) and other family obligations, but I will be up and out of the house before 6 on Sunday so that I may ride into the city for Bike DC.  I expect to be back home by noon to celebrate Mother’s Day with Mrs. Rootchopper and our two fabulous children.

The Fat Toad 70 Miler – Map

I’ve been asked for a map of the ride I did yesterday. I’ve never used Bikely before so my apologies for the crudeness of the recreation.  Unfortunately, I can’t get the cue sheet thing to work.  In any case, you can at least see how I got in and out of Fort Belvoir and where I was in Lorton. The rest is neighborhood meanderings in the last 15 miles to get the thing to total to 70.  (An alternative would have been to ride on Hampton Road near Lorton for a few miles and turn around.)

The software says it was 77 miles but I doubt it. Another 10 percent would have done me in for sure.

Anyway, here’s the Fat Toad 70 miler

Take That, You Fat Toad

My recent downtime combined with eating way too many bagels and too much pizza as well as drinking beer and ale has given my stomach an unwelcome enhanced profile. Once I got back to DC I decided to do something about it.

Last weekend I peeled off a 64 mile day.  I have to say that the last five of those miles was a bit of a slog but I got the job done.  Once my leg muscles had forgotten the trauma I made up my mind to do a 70 mile ride this weekend.  I intended to go yesterday but was foiled by father time. So today was make-up day.

After reading the paper and snarfing a carbo rich breakfast, I rolled down the street on the Sequoia.  I headed straight to Riverside Park where I picked up the Mount Vernon Trail.  The next mile was an uphill grind but when I reached Mount Vernon ten percent of my ride was behind me.  The weather was cooperating. It was overcast and in the low to mid 70s. I was dressed in my yellow Valpo hoodie and was comfortable.  If it rained I’d be a cold wet mess so I kept my fingers crossed.

The Woodlawn area just beyond Mount Vernon is a pretty nice place to ride.  The only problem is there is not enough of it.  I split the area in half on the Mount Vernon Highway and entered Fort Belvoir at Walker Gate.  The Fort is another great place to ride. Many of the roads have been re-built with bike lanes and sharrows.  I climbed the long hill on Mount Vernon Road savoring the return trip when I would fly down it.

I worked my way across the base and popped out on the Fairfax County Parkway between US 1 and Telegraph Road. At Telegraph I took a left and headed for Old Colchester Road.  This is a surprisingly rural road that descends to a creek before – ugh – climbing back up.  The climb is windy and steep in parts but at least its shaded.

I took a left on Gunston Road which is a two-lane, 50-mile per hour, no paved shoulder road to nowhere. It takes a bit of gumption to ride this road but, as my wife likes to remind me, I am full of it.  After a few miles on nail biting I turned into Mason Neck State Park.  This is a little known and underused gem of a park that has hiking trails and lots of opportunities to see bald eagles.

I took a rest a the visitor center on Pohick Bay and ate a Klondike bar as I watched the boats and the birds go by. No bald eagle sightings were had though.

After 15 minutes the Sequoia was lonely so I hopped aboard and headed back. I had completed a little over 1/3 of the ride and felt pretty darn good.  Back on Gunston Road I took a short diversion to the right.  At the end of the road is a fine enclave of houses, many with superb views of the river. Kids were playing in the streets like they did when I was young.  They had bikes and skateboards and Razor scooters and were making load conversation. 

My return to childhood over, I made my way back out Gunston Road all the way to Old Colchester. I hung a left and road some pretty impressive rollers through the countryside – much of it a land fill.. Garbage made pretty.

One lane takes the road under the east coast railroad tracks. The sign said, “Toot Horn First”. I felt woefully inadequate but gave my bell a hearty “DING” and rode through.

Across US 1 and up the hill and I was soon in land-o-garbage. There are landfills and garbage processing stations all along this hilly route.  At the top of the hill I came upon the old Lorton Prison complex, which at one time was one of the most depressing sights in the DC area. I zigged and zagged through the area, a mixture of new houses and modest little frame houses from back in the day when location, location, location meant don’t live here.

I took the curvy Lorton Road down to I 95 and pulled into a gas station convenience store for some calories. After a chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich and a cup of Joe I was ready for the last 23 miles of my adventure in suburbia.

The roads in Lorton have change quite a bit over the last 10 years.  Once the prison was closed, there was a land swap between Mason Neck – which does not have a mainline sewer conduit – and Lorton – which does.  Mason Neck now has empty fields of grass and Lorton has housing developments.  No  matter how you cut it, Lorton is a polished turd of suburbia.  There are remnants of its downtrodden prison days everywhere, including a sign noting the location (“just north of here”) of a Nike missile site. Apparently this missile site kept them Ruskies from invading our prison. Money well spent.

I worked my way back to US 1 at Gunston Road. I retraced my path all the way to the Fairfax County Parkway. A remnant of the old Braddock Road that was obliterated by the Parkway remains near Fort Belvoir. I took that 1/2 mile road and watched as folks came out of a Buddhist (I think) temple. A little girl dressed in a silk dress walked with her mother on the side of the road. She had her hair in pigtails and each pigtail was adorned with an orange ball the size of a softball. She was so cute. Sadly my camera is still being rehabilitated so there is no picture.

I climbed back up into Fort Belvoir via the Tully Gate.  The road up this long hill has been greatly improved recently with a bike lane on either side. Nicely done, Pentagon.

After some meandering on the Fort I road back down Mount Vernon Road.  Smooth as glass and wide with little traffic, Mount Vernon Road is one of my favorite places to let it rip. And so I did.

Back in Woodlawn I ate up some extra miles diverting into the Yacht Haven neighborhood. I popped back out near Mount Vernon and retraced my route, tacking on a few miles near home to see the odometer click 70 miles as I turned into my neighborhood.

With mission accomplished I grabbed a cold Gatorade and a bowl of nuts, dry cereal and pretzels and sat on the deck in triumph. In minutes, of course, I was sound asleep. Father time had caught me at the finish line.

An Open Letter to the US Olympic Committee


As we prepare for the Olympic Games this summer in London, I wish to offer my services for your consideration. I have a talent that will surely benefit the US team.  Let me explain.

Last night my family and I took a visitor out to dinner at Bus Boys and Poets.  We had good conversation, some meatloaf, and a couple of pints of Sam Adams. It was a fine repast.  I crashed a little after midnight.  This alone put my plans for a 70 mile Saturday ride in jeopardy.

I woke up about 6 hours later, determined not to go back to sleep because my daughter had to get up early to take her SAT tests.  I needn’t have worried as my wife was up at 7 anyway.  I spent the early morning hours reading the paper and doing crossword puzzles. At 9:30 I took the filters out of the furnace and washed them on the back patio.

Then I cleaned and lubed the chain on the Sequoia in reward for its splendid service this past week.

On to the lawn. I mowed the lawn as the temperature and humidity rose.  I was soaked in sweat by the time the twine ran out in my trimmer.  This necessitated a trip to the hardware store.

Middle Aged Man from SNL

So I pulled out the Sequoia and took off for my LHS (local hardware store).  They didn’t have the twine cartridge for my trimmer so, after a stop at the pharmacy, to re-order some eye drops, I took off for The Home Depot. (I hate how they use the definite article in the title, as if there would be some ambiguity without it.) Riding a bike to a suburban home depot is an exercise in insanity.  It’s like riding through a herd of elephants. SUVs everywhere, all trying to get to that parking space nearest the door.  I pulled up next to the entrance and locked my bike. I was in and out of the place in a flash.

The ride home was like being in a sick video game where all the players were trying to get more points by running over the bicyclist and his spool of twine.  I managed to extricate myself from the land of the strip mall and stopped at Sherwood Hall Gourmet for my favorite sammich, a Gary’s Lunchbox.  In minutes I was at home enjoying a lunch that, like Alice’s Thanksgiving dinner, couldn’t be beat and thankful that I didn’t have to go pick up the garbage.

During my foray, the thermometer on my bike topped out at 104 degrees.  That’s what paving suburbia does.  The air temperature was around 85 in my yard but out in Car Nation it was 20 degrees hotter. 

I finished lunch and then did the trimming.

Ta Da. Chores done.

Now I know there are no Olympic events for lawn mowing or spool shopping or sammich eating; so, why am I writing?

After the finals of the heavyweight singles male weed whacking event, I sat down to take in the radar on my TV in anticipation of that 70 mile ride. My ADD gene kicked in and I was soon flipping between the Nationals’ and the Capitals’ games.  They were great games. I was really getting into it. Then, suddenly it was two hours later.  I had fallen fast asleep.  The good news is that both the Nationals and the Capitals won.

USOC, if you want to win the Olympics this summer. you should fly me to London. I’ll happily nap through all the important events like the 5,000 meter steeplechase and the little girls with the twirling thingies gymnastics events. And the Americans will win. (USA! USA!)

My fee is negotiable.

I’ll ride tomorrow.

Very truly yours,