Bike Commuting with Ralph

Every one in DC has allergies. I defy you to find someone who isn’t suffering for a significant portion of the year.  I lived allergy free for most of my young life. While living in Providence I noticed that I would get a headache every spring, but thought nothing of it.

Then I moved to DC. On a periodic basis my head would feel like a lead weight, I’d get nauseous, and I’d cough up bizarre looking gunk.  I had allergies. A few times I even thought I had the flu. As it turned out these episodes were sinus infections.

Why do we in DC get allergies? Because nobody in DC is from DC. If the eastern United States were a Venn diagram, DC would be at the cross over between northern allegens, southern allergens, and Allegheny allergens. Yes, folks we have them all. If you grew up in Vermont, you were never exposed to the plants of the south. Surprise! You are screwed. Same goes for you folks from Georgia who moved here. You will get sick. It’s only a matter of time.

My doctor, who has since left the practice to open up a boutique wellness practice (I am not making this up), advised me some time ago, after my umpteenth sinus infection visit, to go on a daily routine for allergies. This includes a 24-hour non-drowsy antihistamine and a nasal steroid spray. I was already on a daily baby aspirin, a statin, an asthma inhaler, and 24-hour asthma pill,  plus I a fish oil pill. This regimen was starting to get tedious. I stopped taking the statin a couple of years ago because the nerves in my feet went haywire. That still left 5 daily medications. 

At one point Doctor Wellness advised me that the asthma medications might be too much. He invited me to experiment. I found that the Singulair pill was unnecessary so I stopped taking it. My tolerance for nincompoops at work increased dramatically. (It turns out that Singulair makes some people impatient and grumpy.) The inhaler was stayed.

This week I decided to drop the allergy medicine to see how I’d do without them. Short answer: not well.

I went off the allergy medications on Tuesday, rode my bike to work in absolutely glorious weather, and, by Tuesday night, had a stuffy head and a headache.  I used a saline rinse to clear my head and took some ibuprofen and felt fine on Wednesday morning. I rode to work. It was another perfect day for a ride.  I felt fine until about 10 a.m. when I had the urge to throw up.  I walked to the bathroom and called Ralph on the big white phone.

That should make me feel better, I thought. I walked back to my office. In no time Ralph was calling me back. I trudged to the bathroom and Ralph and I had another brief but less productive conversation.

Back at the office the words on my monitor seemed to be saying: RALPH WANTS YOU! I made a valiant effort to keep working but Ralph was winning the battle. I sent an email to my boss and the office time keeper and left for home. The time keeper offered to drive me home but I declined. The last thing I needed was to ride shotgun in a car.  I could have called Mrs. Rootchopper who works a short distance away but she was going to have the first radiology appointment for cancer treatment later that day. My family knows how to party.

After changing into my biking clothes and stopping at the bathroom to check in with Ralph one more time, I took the elevator to the garage. I got off the elevator and bump into the number two person in our agency. Lovely, she probably thinks I am cutting out early to enjoy a ride in the beautiful weather. She got it half right.

I left the garage on Little Nellie only to hit a big traffic jam in front of my office. The electric company was doing some work underground and had closed off the bike lane.  I sat in traffic waiting for the upstream traffic light to turn green. When it did, I wobbled and took out one of the utility’s orange traffic cones with my pannier.  There was no where to stop to raise the cone and, if I did, who’s telling what Ralph would have said, so I pedalled on. I made the next three traffic lights and was soon coasting down the hill to the Mount Vernon Trail.

As I plodded along into a moderate headwind, the warmth of the sun felt like a full body hug. The rhythm of my pedaling kept Ralph at bay.  Every so often I’d feel a wave a nausea but it would quickly fade. As long as I kept my effort moderate I was doing okay, except for the fact that my head was hanging like a lead weight. I made it to Old Town Alexandria where two wide bodied women walking side by side took up 2/3rds of the path. I waited for an approaching cyclist to pass and started to pass the walkers myself. I looked up and saw another cyclist approaching. I figured I had loads of time to finish my pass but I was moving unusually slowly and he was moving much faster than I thought. I had to veer to get out of his way. “Sorry!” I said. I would have told him I was riding with a passenger named Ralph but he was long gone.

I made it through Old Town and passed the Wilson Bridge. I caught the green light at the two street crossings and was back on the MVT proper with little problem.  About  3 1/2 miles from home the MVT starts a slow climb for about a mile to the Stone Bridge. Ralph was not much help here. My head hung low. I plodded along and made it all the way to the traffic light one mile from my house. It was red. Hang down your head and cry. Ralph didn’t like the wait, but he kept quiet. A car approaching from the other side of the intersection tripped the sensor and the light turn green.

Sorry, Ralph. No time to dawdle.  Soon we were home. Ralph had kept quiet for the entire 15 mile trip. It took about an hour and a half but we made it. 

After putting Little Nellie away, I took a long hot shower, put on some shorts and a hoodie and went to sleep in a chair on my deck.

After several hours of misery I conceded defeat and took a benedryl-like antihistamine. It knocked me out. I woke up late feeling lousy but I could at least hold down some food.  I slept for 4 more hours.  I woke up with a craving for chicken soup. I took a 24-hour antihistamine and inhaled some Campbells Jewish Penicillin.

Sometime in the night, Ralph had departed.

I am still a little groggy but feeling much better.

Tomorrow, pills in hand, I should be good to go for 2012 bike commuter number 104, and a visit to the Friday Coffee Club. I hope Ralph doesn’t come.

Nice, Nice, Nice

No, this posting is not about a city in France.  It’s nice outside. Super nice.  We had a cold front move through last night.  Since it was hot and muggy all day, the front touched off some nasty thunderstorms.  Once the storms moved away, the temperature dropped and the air was clear. 

During the muggy part of the day, I installed a new computer mount on my handlebars. It went on pretty quickly and the computer is now working properly again.  I did a helmetless test ride to a bank on US 1.  About a half mile from the bank, I made eye contact with the driver of a new Corolla that was on the access road to the immediate right of the highway. The driver looked right at me then pulled out directly into my path. I came to a stop about a foot from her door and asked the rhetorical question, “What the f%% are you doooooo-inngggg?  Her window was down so she got the message.  I am guessing that she was preoccupied with learning the nuances of her new car and I didn’t register in her mind. Well, now I knew that both the computer and the brakes on The Mule work.
I woke up before dawn and made my way to Indian Head Maryland.  The drive took only 30 minutes or so.  I did walk up registration for the Southern Maryland Century. Actually, I did the metric century which was a little shy of 100 kilometers.  I am forever grateful to the science wonks who came up with the metric system.  I can say I did a century and not have to have endured the last 20 miles of a 100 mile ride.

Except today, I half wished I had done the full 100-mile ride. As I started riding I wished I had brought arm warmers. The route took us directly into the rising sun.  With the clear air, it made it hard to see more than a few feet in front of you.

It took me about a half hour to get the lead out of my legs.  Then I locked in to a 15 mile per hour pace, giver or take a mile per hour.  I’ve done this ride twice before but both times it rained so it was nice to not have to deal with wet roads.

The route took us through Charles County Maryland. Charles County was known for having legalized gambling many years ago.  Today it’s an exurb of Washington with miles and miles of tobacco fields that no longer grow the leaf. It’s also where John Wilkes Booth tried to escape from the law after shooting Lincoln. Booth was headed for Virginia via a crossing to the south.  He was cornered in a barn and turned into barbecue. 

For some reason, I think of this area as flat, but there are plenty of pretty challenging hills in the ride.  I rode The Mule, which has very forgiving gearing.  I suck at climbing so I was chuffed when I rode past two roadies walking on their clipless shoes up the biggest hill on the course, 48 miles in to the ride.  It’s bad enough to have succumbed to a hill but to have to walk like a duck all the way up is pretty sad.

The weather was so nice that I didn’t let the things that bother me get under my skin. At one point I was clipping along at 20 miles per hour when I heard a voice say, “Passing left.”  He blew by me in an aero tuck in the silliest helmet (it looked like a sperm – I kid you not). I could have stiff armed him; he was pretty close. Of course, the next 6 or 7 riders who were drafting him didn’t say a word. A couple of them came within inches of my left arm.  At over 20 miles per hour. With a car approaching from the front.  Maybe they were confident in what they were doing, but I thought they were being reckless and putting other riders (i.e. ME) at risk. Dudes, as a famous doctor once said, “It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how.”

End of speech.

For the remaining 59.9 miles, the riding was glorious. Puffy white clouds floating in a perfectly blue sky. Like summertime in upstate New York or Vermont. Along the way I did a half dozen descents at over 30 miles per hour. I couldn’t hear anything but the wind in my ears. 

After about 4 1/2 hours my ride was over and I headed home.  I stopped twice. Once to get a drink at a gas station. As I waited in line a total stranger starts telling me about his dental problems. He didn’t have $250 to pay a dentist to pull his aching tooth. He was going to have his buddy yank it for him. Good luck with that.  The second stop was at my local bike shop. It is next to a fast food place. I’m waiting in line and a guy who is not quite all there starts telling me how he got kicked out of the fast food place. I started to wonder if I had worn my “Tell me your problems, odd people” shirt on.

I had planned on putting new brake pads on The Mule as a reward for a job well done, but it was so nice out I put my feet up and chilled on the deck instead.

Because Bike Commuting in a Sauna Is Not Enough Fun

Well, today was a big milestone for your humble bike commuter. Today was my 100th bike commute of 2012. Now if you think about it, people who commute by car or subway don’t bother to count the number of times they commute by each method. Basically, they are content to wallow in their daily misery. I, being a numbers wonk, prefer to quantify my daily habit.

Today’s bike commute was extraordinary because not once but twice I was actually warned loudly when I was passed by high speed bike commuters.  Normally, they just buzz me within inches of my left shoulder but apparently in celebration of my bike commuting century (It just dawned on me that I hit my bike commuting metric century some time in June and didn’t brag about it. Dang.) these two commuters actually gave me plenty of time to move to the right. 

Another odd ball aspect of my commute today was seeing a horse on the Mount Vernon Trail.  This normally only happens when a riot is about to break out or the former mayor and convicted racketeer of Providence Buddy Cianci is in town.  I was expecting to dodge some piles of processed hay but apparently this particular horse was not yet feeling his oats, as they say in equestrian circles.

My morning commute started out with a nice tail wind that inexplicably became a headwind within two miles of my office. I wanted to complain but there is really nobody to complain to. Curse you, weather gods! Just for good measure, the gods reversed the winds so that I had a nice stiff headwind all the way home.

I stopped on the way home to buy a bag of bird seed. I buy the kind that is coated in cayenne pepper. It’s very expensive. For many years it seemed like a good deal because gold finches love it and the 50 squirrels living in the massive maple tree next store wouldn’t touch the stuff.  Apparently we have some new TexMex squirrels next door (probably blown in on the derecho) because these little hombres love my bird seed. 

Last weekend I drove my lawn mower to college. After another couple of years of edjumacation, I expect he’ll be the world’s most learned Lawn Boy operator.  Of course, his departure means that I get to mow the lawn. This is complicated by the fact that I arrived home tonight totally soaked in sweat because the relative humidity was, as they say in Le Tour de France, hors categorie. I pulled out my Sears lawn mower which is literally held together with zip ties, and proceeded to bring in the crop.

I won’t need to water my lawn this week. I sweat gallons while I was mowing.

The weather gods owe me a tailwind in the morning. If I don’t get one, I’m putting EPO on my Cheerios. 

A Hoppy Month

In terms of weather, August is one of the best months for riding a bike, if you don’t mind the swampy air in DC.  Ironically, I usually have a mileage dip in August because of family obligations.  While it is true that I missed an entire week of riding on a college safari with my daughter, I still managed to rack up a mess o’miles.  For the month I rode 653 miles. 111 of it was from the Hoppy 100. Most of the rest was from 17 bike commutes. 

I rode The Mule 491.5 miles including 13 times to work. Little Nellie came in second with 100.5 miles and two commutes.  Big Nellie came out of the shed for another 61 miles and two commutes. 

My year to date totals are 4,582 miles and 98 commutes.  Soon I will buy a new seat for Big Nellie and she will start getting some serious use.

September is already in the hole because of a trip to Saratoga NY to drive my son back to college.  For all you folks looking for a place to go to escape the swampy DC weather, I highly recommend upstate New York.  I’m not talking about Westchester County which is upstate for people in New York City. What I mean is the Finger Lakes region, the Erie Canal, the Adirondacks, and a little further to the east the Champlain valley.  The weather is superb, the shoulders are wide and paved, and there’s any kind of terrain you could ask for. 

I Don’t Vote for Liars

This is not about politics. This is about a politician who pressed one of my buttons, big time.

In my younger days, after I lost 70 pounds and kicked a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, I went to grad school and started running. (I was cycling, but, once autumn arrived, it was too dark to do much riding in Providence).

When I started I couldn’t run more than a half a mile in my Chuck Taylors. That first run is seared in my memory and my lungs.  Gradually I built my endurance and ditched the Chuck Taylors for some honest-to-god running shoes. Over the course of the school year I managed to get my daily runs up to 5 miles, sometimes a couple more. 

I moved to Berkeley for the summer and ramped up the running. I challenged myself to run to the top of the Strawberry Canyon fire trail in the Berkeley hills near the university.  It took me many tries but I finally made it, a very hilly ten-mile round trip. I kept running for the next year or so, until I quietly decided to run a marathon.  26.2 miles.

In early November 1981, I ran and finished the Ocean State Marathon in a time of 3 hours, 10 minutes, and 18 seconds.  Note that I remember the exact time like it was yesterday. I remember the hills of Ocean Drive in Newport, the incredibly unforgiving concrete made out of a substance not found anywhere else on earth of Bellevue Avenue, the cold winds coming off Rhode Island Sound and the old man, a local cross country coach, imploring us to relax and “keep it smooth.”  I remember the tunnel of cheers at 20 miles as I turned off Bellevue and headed for the last 10 kilometers.  I remember the bear jumping on my back at mile 23. I couldn’t move my damn thighs. They wouldn’t go. I persevered. It HURT, dammit!!!   I turned to run the last half mile to the finish line at the high school and there it was, the biggest damned hill on the course. I was so  pissed that the resulting adrenaline rush allowed me to sprint up over the hill and straight into the finishing area, where I promptly cramped up like nobody’s business. My girlfriend and my roommate each put a shoulder under my armpits and helped me inside the school.  

A couple of years later, I ran my fastest race ever, what runners call their personal record or PR.  I was running in my usual grad school rags. The liner in my fancy running pants had worn out so I cut it out and wore a jock strap.  The race began along the Hudson River in Troy New York. One hundred yards into the race something went SNAP in my pants.  All I could think of was “I hope that’s my jock strap and not a part of my anatomy.”  (Stopping to check was not an option. As it turned out, it was a wardrobe malfunction.)  After a flat mile we turned up a steep hill toward RPI, then right back down to the river and north toward Waterford.  It was flat and the future Mrs. Rootchopper was riding with my father and sister along side yelling encouragement and embarrassing things like “Look at those sexy legs.” (I am not making this up.) We crossed the river and ran up a steep hill following the lift locks of the adjacent Erie canal.  Then we headed south along a ridge line.

As we descended back down to the river, I could feel blisters all along the balls of both feet.  I knew if they tore open I was a goner so I slowed down and tried to land on my heels. This easily cost me a couple of minutes.  Once on the flats we ran south until we reached the Watervliet arsenal. It was heating up and he sunshine made the corregated metal of the arsenal buildings radiate heat. After running through the oven. I stopped at a water station and drank some water calmly, then headed off for the finish, gingerly running to protect the balls of my feet. I crossed a bridge back into Troy then turned right, down to the finish line. I finished in 3:04:29. After we got back to my parents house, I spent a good half hour lancing blisters all over the bottoms of my feet. 

So, even though these events took place about 30 years ago, I remember the details of the race and the times down to the second. Which brings me to Paul Ryan.

In an interview Paul Ryan bragged that he ran a marathon well under 3 hours.  Fact checkers found that he was stretching the truth. In fact, Paul Ryan has never broken 4 hours in a marathon. When he was called out on this discrepancy, Ryan claimed that it was along time ago, that he forgot, or was confused.


Excuse my language. 

Forgetting your best marathon time, especially one under 3 hours does not happen.  It’s like forgetting your birthday or your kid’s name. 

I didn’t have to look up my times to write this blog. If I forget my first marathon time or my PR, you can assume that I have had a stroke or some other serious neurological problem.

People who lie about their marathon times are pond scum. Remember Rosie Ruiz. She crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon before any other women. Bill Rodgers then men’s winner took one look at her and shook his head. “No way.” It turned out that Rosie took the trolley then jumped onto the course just to see what it felt like to cross the finish line. She probably didn’t expect to be the first woman. Oops. Her name is synonymous with “Cheater”.

Should we believe Ryan?

Of course, there is the possibility that he can’t tell time.

Or that he’s had a major neurological problem.

Or maybe he’s so arrogant that he thinks you don’t much care what he says. 

Doesn’t matter to me. I ran literally thousands of miles to get to 3:04:29. My advice to Paul Ryan:. drop the P90X and hit the roads.  When you break my PR, call me. Then we can talk about my vote.