Two Fort Ride

The weather here in DC could not have been better. 70 degrees. Light winds. Sunny skies. Low humidity. I could practically hear my bikes calling me. Ride me!!! Ride me!!!

Little Nellie won the draw, but that was probably not the best choice. I started by riding to the dry cleaning place on US 1, because nothing says bicycling fun like a few moments on the WORST cycling road in America. Actually, I cheated death by riding through the drive through at a Walgreens thus allowing me to stay on the side access road. One of the items I took to the dry cleaner was the holey sweater. I have to tell the lady behind the counter that I know it has holes in it but that’s okay. Taking the holey sweater to the dry cleaner is my humble way of saying that WINTER IS OFFICIALLY OVER!!!!

I headed back home because I forgot to take an antihistamine and the tree pollen count is off the charts. You know it’s bad when the cars are all yellow.

I took the Mount Vernon Trail to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The bridge was a bit of a climb and so was the mile long slog to the appropriately named Oxon Hill Road. I took a right on OHR which sucks for bicycling on a good day. Today, however, was not a good day. Today was a shitty day. OHR is being rebuilt or widened. The construction will hopefully make things better for cyclists but, in the mean time, I rode next to half mile of Jersey barriers with cars buzzing past me.The potholed and patched road surface would have made this a difficult ride without my motorized friends. To their credit most of the drivers who passed me gave me enough room to ride so I can’t complain.

I got off OHR and onto Fort Foote Road. Ahhhh!!!  I decided to check out Fort Foote, one of 60 forts built on the perimeter of the capital during the civil war. Fort Foote, was it turned out, saw the same amount of activity in the war as Augusta Maine. There’s not much to see. Most of the fort was dirt and timbers. It’s actually a nice place for a walk in the woods down to the river. I rode Little Nellie down one trail until it became a windy narrow corduroy-ed mess of tree routes.

As I continued on my little trek, I took every side street that looked like it didn’t come to a dead end. It was actually a nice little suburban neighborhood. There were the usual split levels, ranches and colonials but, every so often, I’d see as house of stunning architectural hideousness.

I eventually popped out back on OHR for another half mile of bumpy car dancing before I turned off toward Fort Washington. Soon after making the turn I spotted three bike tourists. Two were on a recumbent tandem pulling a Bob trailer. I swear the side of the trailer said Burlington Northern. The third tourist was on what looked like a Tour Easy, the same bike as Big Nellie.

Laid Back Touring

I turned into Tantallon, a residential development with a golf course. I didn’t realize this until I saw three golfers on a green next to the road. The course is strange in that the houses are practically in the rough along the fairways. If I played here I’d take out a couple of windows each round. (“Excuse me., ma’am. I believe that’s my Titleist in your spinach dip.”) I had an occasional mean slice. By occasional, I mean that I sliced the ball when I wasn’t hooking the crap out of it.

The last mile into Fort Washington is surprisingly hilly. I managed the climbs with a  huff and a puff and was rewarded by the fact that entry to the park was free. Thank you Congress for putting the fee collector out of a job. The park was beautiful. A runner was having a field day cruising up and down the park roads. I envied her.

I have previously toured the fort itself.. Unlike Fort Foote, this one is actually more or less intact. It’s sort of an unknown treasure in the DC area and well worth a visit.

After checking my map app, I decided to return on Old Fort Road. This road has some truly gorgeous stretches. I especially enjoyed two curving lanes of smooth asphalt alongside a long stretch of woods. You’d think you were miles and miles away from the hustle and bustle. Of course, crossing six lanes of Indian Head Highway snapped me out of that. All the climbing I did to get to Fort Washington was worth the effort because Old Fort Road has one hold-on-for-dear-life downhill that, sadly, ends at a traffic light back on Indian Head Highway where it becomes OHR.

And so it was time to head home. By the end of the ride, my windpipe was sore, from either the pollen or asthma, I can’t tell. I didn’t mind. I had just finished 50 miles of two wheeled discovery and a beautiful spring day. Next time, I will take either The Mule or Big Nellie. Little Nellie’s 20-inch wheels were not the best choice for the potholes and patches of PG County MD.

It Happens Every Year

I probably ride on the Mount Vernon Trail over 200 times per year. It’s incredible how much variety I see.  There are so many different kinds of wild animals: bald eagles, ospreys, beavers, egrets, snapping turtles, cormorants, herons, red winged blackbirds, ducks, geese, raccoons, bunnies, possums, crows, robins, cardinals, woodpeckers, deer, and on and on. I see planes taking off and landing, sailboats, crew teams in their shells, kayaks, cruise ships, dinner ships, fishing boats, canoes, folders, fixies, recumbents, trikes, racing bikes, touring bikes, rollerbladers, walkers and runners. I see old row houses, restaurants, apartment buildings, a coal fired power plant, trees, underbrush, office buildings, bridges, tunnels, monuments, river and streams. And even though motor vehicles are not allowed on the trail, I see this in the same place every year:

Um, I think she's gonna need a tow
Um, I think she’s gonna need a tow

Now, you may be wondering how this happened. Here’s my guess.

About 3 miles south of Alexandria, the Mount Vernon Trail merges with a narrow suburban street called Northdown Road. It crosses over the GW Parkway on the stone bridge then the trail begins again on the other side.

This driver came down Northdown Road and saw the trail and, despite the posted signs warning that no motor vehicles are allowed, she kept right on going down the narrow winding hill. After a couple hundred yards she realized that maybe, just maybe, she should be driving here so she stopped. Then she puts it in reverse and starts backing up. Maybe she swerves to avoid a cyclists speeding down the hill behind her or maybe the task of driving a big ass truck in reverse up a winding hill is beyond her abilities or maybe she tries to do a three-point turn in reverse. Regardless, she ended up backing off the edge of the trail down an embankment. I once helped an ambulance back out of this section of the trail. It took him a good 20 minutes and lots of stops and starts.

I think the only way to get her truck out is to attach a cable to it and pull it back up to the trail. Once she’s back on pavement somebody can help her back up.  I hope she doesn’t drive forward though, because she would have to cross a wooden bridge that is not designed to support the weight of a motor vehicle.

The Return of the Mule

It’s been hanging there in the shed for weeks and weeks. New chain, new cassette, new brake pads. 32,300 miles on the odometer. Waiting to make the long march to 33,000. Today it began.

I rolled the Mule out of the shed and headed to work on yet another unseasonably cold morning. It was 46 degrees when I left the house. Everything about the Mule felt unusual. The saddle, a Brooks Champion, seems to be more like a sling. I should probably replace it, but it fits my butt like the pocket of a outfielder’s glove fits a baseball. The brake hoods felt too far away. The brakes, despite new pads, are mushy. Despite all this, it seemed to take off with little effort on my part.

A mile from the house, in a quiet suburban neighborhood, the Mule and I were buzzed by a minivan. There was no reason for the driver to come so close (not that there ever is a legitimate one). There was no one else on the road, no parked cars either. Still the van came within a foot of my left side. I doubt the driver even saw me.

The Mule made its way down to the Mount Vernon Trail. The Potomac River was running high and spilled across the trail near Dyke Marsh. I picked my feet up and glided through like a little kid. Whee.

No goslings yet. Lots and lots of mallards and Canada geese, though. We’ll have mallards and ducklings soon enough. I didn’t see any raptors or egrets either. I suppose they move with the shallow water.

In Old Town, the base of King Street near the river was flooded. This must happen a dozen times per year. You’d think they’d build a levee or something.  I wonder if you could sit outside the Starbucks on the corner and fish. I’ll have a Grande Frankenfish and a Venti Americano.

Old Town Flooding

By the time I made it to work, I was feeling cramped on the Mule. My hands had gradually moved forward onto  the brake hoods as my back loosened up. My left knee was complaining. (This always happens when I go from one bike to another. My feet don’t like Big Nellie. My right knee and my back don’t like Little Nellie. My left knee doesn’t like the Mule.) The pain will subside after I ride the Mule for a few more days.

I made it through the Rosslyn Circle of Death without incident. I learned later in the day that another cyclists wasn’t so fortunate. How many medivacs does it take before something changes?

It was much warmer for the ride home but I had a strong, gusting headwind and incredible amounts of pollen to contend with. After the Memorial Bridge, I came upon a photoshoot of some sort. There were reflecting umbrellas on stands, one on each side of the trail. Some young women were holding on to bikes. One of the bikes looked like a little like a bikeshare bike. There was so much activity on the trail I don’t know how they were going to get any pictures taken. I didn’t stick around to find out. A minute later I saw Bob (Don’t Call Me Rachel) Cannon riding in a short line of cyclists. He was my only regular of the day.

Photo Shoot

The rest of the ride home was a slog. As soon as I’d get any speed at all, a gust of wind would take it away. There was no sign of flooding in Old Town but the river was still very high. The water came right up to the underside of the Dyke Marsh boardwalk. Once past that, I had some tree cover and the headwinds were lessened. It’s incredible how much some foliage does to slow the wind down. I stopped at the drug store to pick up a prescription and bought some eye drops to get the pollen out of my eyes.

I was planning on driving to work tomorrow so that I could attend my daughter’s lacrosse game. Over dinner she told me that the game is canceled. Many of the players on her team are sick, I would imagine from allergies. So I ride again tomorrow.

Ospreys and Scaffolds

To Whom It May Concern:

It’s mid-April. In Washington DC. I froze on the ride to work this morning. Can we have our spriing back?



I wouldn’t have froze if I broke out my jacket and holey sweater but I didn’t. It’s the principle of the thing.

The ride in aboard Big Nellie was tearful. The cold on my eyes made me tear up like the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. Zuzu’s pedals!

I saw four regulars on the way in: Three-Step Runner, Hoppy Guy, Nancy One-Bag Duley, and French Braid Girl. They are always going the opposite way. I wonder if they don’t get together for coffee at my house after I pass them. There are others I see nearly every day, but they aren’t distinctive. Nancy may get renamed Wave Crash because she waves so enthusiastically I am afraid she’s going to crash.

Along the way I heard a peep-like sound over head.  Riding a recumbent makes it much easier to see things high up. The peep came from a hawk of some sort, perched on a branch of the tree I was passing under.

When I came off the second flyover bridge at National Airport, I spotted three big birds circling over Roaches Run, a little inlet on the opposite side of the GW Parkway.  It looks like a big pond. It was hard to get a good visual fix on the birds, then, suddenly, one took an awkward dive to the water. Dang, that’s a hard way to get breakfast. I think they were ospreys.

I came to the Gravelly Point parking lot and some military folks were doing some sort of timed run. I came to their finish line just as two runners were finishing. They were so focussed on their time that they blocked the entire path. I slowed to a crawl until everyone realized that what my bell was for and they stepped aside.

It was considerably warmer for the ride home. Another osprey was stalking the fish in the Potomac near the 14th Street Bridge. I stopped to take a picture of the scaffold on the Washington Monument.  Several years ago a scaffold was erected on the monument to allow workers to do maintenance. We had an earthquake a couple of years ago so more work is needed. Up goes the scaffold.

Washington Scaffold

I spotted a man on a bike with big fat tires. I wondered if he could ride at a decent pace. I looked away for a minute and he was long gone. Later I saw him crossing the GW Parkway south of Alexandria. It looked to me as if he had an electric motor in the rear wheel. Cheater.

Put one of those bad boys on the back wheel of Big Nellie and we’ll see who’s boss, punk.

Monkey Off My Back

It was in the low 50s. I thought we were done with this. Out came the tights and the vest. And off I went.

I have been riding Little Nellie pretty much constantly for the last several weeks. I know the bike needs a lot of work. It needs a new cassette, chain, two new chainrings, new cables, and housings, and new handlebar tape. An annoying clicking sound happens whenever I pedal with even moderate force. I suspect the bottom bracket needs to be overhauled. So I figured, why not ride it until the parts are completely shot.

I rode to DC avoiding the Mount Vernon Trail except for the last four miles. Once in the city I did a couple of laps around Hains Point, looking for a bald eagle nest that I keep hearing about. Then I rode up into Rock Creek Park. I decided to climb up the Calvert Street hill. Most people don’t ride up this hill. Most people have common sense. Not me.

After the top, I wound my way higher and higher until I came to 34th Street when I turned for home. I made my way back using the Massachusetts Avenue downhill. This would be a really great ride except for the manhole covers. I managed to hit about five of them. Somehow my filling stayed in. I took the L Street cycle track across downtown to the 15 Street cycle track. I’d have taken it all the way to Virginia but it dies so that street vendors can live. We all know that it’s more important for visitors to have stale pretzels and crappy t-shirts than it is to have save cycle routes. I rode through traffic, past an amphibious tour bus and behind a bicycle rickshaw.

Back in Virginia I took empty streets through Arlington and Alexandria until meeting up with the Mount Vernon Trail at the beltway. When I finally arrived home after 46 miles, I looked down at my odometer and saw this:

10,000 Miles for Little Nellie

The monkey jumped off my back.

Springtime Meander in A Bicycling Friendly City

After three days off the bike, I took a short ride in the wind to get my legs back.  Before heading out I stopped to check out the flowers and blossoms in my yard. Mrs. Rootchoppers flower garden is going great guns and my lilac bush is blooming. I have to walk past the lilac bushes to get to my bikes. I walk through an invisible wall of lilac fragrance. Love it.

I rode to the Mount Vernon Trail and stopped at the Morningside bald eagle nest. An eagle was perched on a branch in the tree. About a half mile of wind later, I stopped to check out a big nest that seems to be getting bigger on a tiny island in Dyke Marsh about 100 yards from the trail. This area is getting crazy crowded with bald eagles.

I made my way to South Royal Street in Old Town. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge underpass was clear but the part of the trail that swerves around the security barrier on Royal was obstructed by a fallen tree. The League of American Bicyclists designated Alexandria a bicycling friendly city a few years ago. They must not have high standards.

I made my way to a park off the Holmes Run Trail in Alexandria. The trail is an old one, and could use a lot of work. That’s okay, because Alexandria is a bicycling friendly city. The park was the site of Alexandria’s earth day activities. They were over by the time I got there. I headed back home. At one point the bike route was blocked by some construction equipment. Instead of using back streets I was forced to ride on busy Duke Street.  That’s okay because Alexandria is a bicycling friendly city.

Dead End

After getting back on course, I decided to check out the southern end of Payne Street. It dead ends at the underbelly of the US 1/I 95 concrete circus. There’s a paved trail at the end of the street. A sign warns that the trail dead ends in 1/4 mile. It occurred to me that only an idiot would build a trail to nowhere so I had to verify that it did, indeed, go nowhere. Sure enough it does. But that’s okay because Alexandria is a bicycling friendly city.

I rode home slowly with a nice strong bicycle friendly tailwind.

Check out my pix on my Flickr page.

A Regular Day

Another lovely day for a ride to work. The Mount Vernon Trail was very busy with bike commuters and others. On the way to work I saw five regulars: Hoppy Guy, Three Step Runner, Nancy Duley, French Braid Girl ( though her hair wasn’t braided), and GraffixNerd Clone.

I was passed by at least a dozen bike commuters. Everybody was on their best behavior. I arrived at the Rosslyn Circle of Death without incident. For the last several days, I have watch cars blow the red light at the intersection of the MVT and North Lynn Street to make a right turn. Why bother stopping on a right turn on red?

I left work a few minutes early. Ed, a co-worker who commutes on a fixie from Old Town Alexandria, rode next to me. We chatted side by side most of the way. I got some ugly looks from on-coming riders. I was taking up too much space on the trail. My bad. I won’t do it again.

Near the TR bridge boardwalk, Chris B. came rolling by. He’s a semi-regular. We also past Broken Ankle Guy. This is a bike rider with one foot that is askew; it enters the toe clip at an angle, which obviously slows him down quite a bit. I see him a lot.

Ed put me through my paces. He was toying with me. He’s much young and is actually in shape. I am old and my shape is a pear.

I arrived home in plenty of time to shower and change and head out to the Birchmere. Mrs. Rootchopper saw the Proclaimers perform.

After yesterday’s events, it was refreshing to hear them sing the words, “I’m on my way from misery to happiness today.”

The Bear Explodes

I rode to work in a light drizzle, a little underdressed but too stubborn to pull my layers out. No goslings yet. I did see Three Step Runner and Hardware Store Man, two of my regulars on the way in. About a mile from work, Bob (Don’t Call Me Rachel) Cannon from the two FCCs rode by on his way to Southwest DC. Under the TR Bridge I spotted a Tricolored Heron next to the trail. It’s the first time I’ve seen one. I didn’t bother stopping to take a picture because he would have flown off as soon as I did. Herons don’t much like paparazzi.

I left work just after lunch to go to an eye appointment in Old Town Alexandria. On the way I passed Katie (@itsnotlucky). I don’t normally see her in motion; she’s usually helping out at some event or other, dressed very colorfully. She wasn’t dressed colorfully, but, as always, she was smiling. The world needs more smilers.

My eye doctor is a bike commuter which I think is pretty neat. He checked out my retinas, my corneas and my eye pressure. Three thumbs up. I rode home with dilated pupils, making a cloudy day appear bright even with sunglasses on.

When I got home I checked my email, which was not very easy to read with the dilated pupils and all. Not much going on at work. Then I checked my Twitter feed and my heart broke.

I lived in Boston for five years. I went to the Boston Marathon, usually down near Kenmore Square, whenever I could. When I had to work, I listened to the race on the radio. I remember the year Bill Rodgers won for the first time. On the radio, the announcers and the crowds were going crazy. I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would run a marathon, which probably had something to do with my two-pack a day cigarette habit.

Before I moved to Providence, I quit smoking and bought a bike. New England autumn days are short so I parked the bike and started to run. Three years later I ran the Ocean State Marathon in Newport RI in 3:10:18. The last three miles were pure hell. My running friends said that the bear jumped on my back.

I always wanted to run Boston, but, back then the qualifying time was 2:40, which is wicked fast. I’d go up to see the race when I could. I was there when a Boston motorcycle cop unintentionally caused Dick Beardsley to make a wide turn and gave Alberto Salazar just enough separation to win one of the greatest races in marathon history.

Today, history was made again in Boston. Tragic history. I know how it feels to be in the crowd cheering on your friends. The whole city stops to celebrate. Today, some sick person or persons used this beautiful event to kill and maim. I feel for the victims. 

I remember riding in Bike DC just a few days after September 11. The riders sang God Bless America before the start near RFK Stadium. The ride itself, shortened by an understandable lack of police support, sucked, but it was important for everyone to do the ride. To keep on. So tomorrow, if you can, go for a run.  Or a ride. To keep on. This time for Boston.

Lost in Suburbia

Nice day, no?

I fiddled and diddled. Messed around with some crossword puzzles. Then I launched. I intended to ride for a couple of hours but the good weather got the best of me.

I headed south toward Mount Vernon. On the way I got a good look at the Fort Hunt bald eagle nest. The thing is massive. I didn’t have my good camera with me so I didn’t try to take a picture of it. I’ll bet it’s twice the size of the Belle Haven or the Morningside nest.

Little Nellie must have been feeling frisky because we blew right by Mount Vernon and kept going. We hung a left into Fort Belvoir, riding through the base and eventually ending up on Telegraph Road.

The ride was a roller festival. Up and down every mile or two. Every third or fourth hill was a challenge but my legs were fresh. My normal bike commuting week, when I ride all five days, is 150 miles. This week I rode only 109 miles over three days. Fresh legs are good. The weather was splendid, around 70 degrees, light winds and low humidity.

After riding the ups and downs of Old Colchester Road in southern Fairfax County, I reached US 1 just north of the Occoquan River. Southbound traffic was backed up for about a mile. I guessed (correctly as it turns out) that I95 was a parking lot. Traffic was spilling over to all the side streets and soon I was in it.  Near the old Lorton prison complex, I found myself on a narrow road in a long line of cars. I bailed.

A block later a cyclist flagged me down. He was from Pittsburgh. He was riding across country in stages. He was totally, utterly lost. Welcome to Fairfax County! I set him straight. Shortly after sending him on his way, I stopped to check out a roadside historical marker. Did you know that a series of Nike missile sites were arrayed around DC and Baltimore during the Cold War? Did you know that Lorton Virginia had nuclear warheads on its Nikes? This may explain why Lorton’s official motto is Just Nuke It.

I ended up on Ox Road. There were no oxen on Ox Road. Just a herd of unyoked SUVs. I tried the side path for a few miles but it was bumpy and the pristine pavement of the paved shoulder called to me. This may be the only road in all of Northern Virginia with a paved shoulder. So I rode with the big dogs. Other than having SUVs buzz past me at 50 miles per hour for an hour, I was having a great time. Whoosh.

North of Burke Virginia (I have been to Burke ten times in 30 years. I live seven miles away. You figure it out.) I stopped at a Burke eatery called Tiger Mart. I dined on a fine Snickers bar and some cheese crackers. The guy behind me in line bought a quart of oil. He must have been thirsty.

The roadway narrowed. I entered Fairfax City which has a road network designed for peak traffic, in 1956. At one point we were down to two narrow lanes, a curving descent and a recommended speed of 20 miles per hour. I went 23. Take that Fairfax City.

North of the charms of Ffx City, I entered cycling hell. In a half mile, I had to negotiate six interstate on/off ramps. Thank God the drivers were kind to me. There are no accommodations for cyclists along this stretch of road. I believe the traffic engineers who designed this mess  should be required to ride a bike through it  in the rain at night without lights.

Having survived the I66 hellhole, I cruised down Maple Avenue into Vienna. Ooh, more traffic. What fun.

I stopped twice to buy some real food but long lines turned me off so I hopped on Little Nellie and headed for home on the W&OD trail. The W&OD is predominantly downhill and refreshingly free of motor vehicles. Zoom.

I took a right on the Mount Vernon Trail near the airport and headed into the wind for the last ten miles. Happily, the trail was not congested with weekend wanderers. I arrived home after 69 miles. The Snickers and crackers had worn off.

Off to Chevy’s for some Dos Equis and a burrito.


Today was [Trumpet fanfare!!!] my 50th bike commute of the year. I knew it was supposed to rain this morning so I watched the radar on TV very closely and set out for work when there was a clear gap in the storms. About 1/4 of a mile into the ride, I saw a flash and heard a boom. It then occurred to me that the guy at the TV station  who lines up the doppler radar echos with a map needs to find a new job.

I wore shorts and a shirt under a rain jacket. It worked okay. There was a whole lot of standing water along my route so my feet got soaked.

I lucked out in that there wasn’t any more lightning and thunder. Just rain. Lots and lots or rain.

The upside to this nasty weather was that the Mount Vernon Trail was empty. No tourists. No people with dogs on 15 foot leashes. No five year olds careening all over the place on training wheels. No Lancelots blowing by me without warning inches from my left elbow. Just me, Little Nellie, and a few bazillion gallons of cold rain.

As I rounded the bend at Gravelly Point, the rain was joined by a gale force crosswind. I had to lean into the wind to avoid being blown into the Potomac River, where white caps were dancing.

The westerly wind came in handy when I turned onto the 14th Street bridge. It blew me across the Potomac. As I reached the Tidal Basin, I could see that the cherry blossoms had succumbed to the storm. Thousands of little blossom petals littered the sidewalk and street. I’m sad to see them go, placed along the trail by eastern redbuds’ purple blossoms.  And soon we’ll soon be dealing with the 17-year cicadas. Eek!

I walked into Swings for Friday Coffee Club and the six cyclists who were there laughed at me. I probably looked like a wet rag. We stood around a couple of tables, drinking coffee and letting the morning’s rain run off our clothes onto the floor. Normally, on Friday mornings I take my coffee with a heaping spoonful of estrogen. Not today. For the first time ever, it was all guys. Was it something we said?


The ride to Rosslyn across the narrow path on the TR Bridge featured a first: not one stop for DC-bound cyclists.  I did have to slow to squeeze by a runner but she gave me plenty of room.

When I arrived at work, I was greeted with this:Image

The bike parking had been taken over by movers. I pushed some of their moving stuff out of the way and tied Little Nellie to the hitching post. Then it was off to the fitness center where I used an abundance of towels to dry off my stuff.

By the end of the day, my office reeked of wet wool. It’s amazing what an odor just two wet wool socks can put out.

The ride home was dry and warm. The MVT was clear sailing all the way home. My pair of geese is back where they belong in Dyke Marsh but there were no gosslings. Yet.