Just Another Boy on the MVT

After yesterday’s bout of miserable chest congestion, I popped an evening Benedryl and my symptoms disappeared in about one hour. I woke up in pretty decent shape and headed out on Big Nellie. I had  little congestion on the way to work but nothing that slowed me down. The weather was once again splendid so no complaints here.

At the office I asked for building maintenance to check my office for mold. They responded within an hour.  They took down ceiling panels and removed my white board from the wall where a leak had occurred,  No sign of mold anywhere. They decided to increase the size of the air return in my office while they were there,

The day went without any noticeable change in my breathing.  I decided not to call the doctor until I had some symptoms to display.

The ride home began with two commuter buses gumming up the traffic (and the bike lane) outside my office. That’s okay Loudonites, your cops can harass cyclists but you don’t respect the laws in Arlington.

I took the right onto the trail that connects the Custis Trail to the Mount Vernon Trail. Paramedics where blocking the trail, preparing to take a man, who appeared to be a runner, out on a stretcher. He apparently had some sort of seizure. A passing bicyclist had called 911 and stayed with him offering moral support.  This is the second time I’ve seen the Arlington paramedics on this section of the trail and I am very impressed with their calm and professionalism.Image

The rest of the ride featured the occasional sprinkle but the skies didn’t look too nasty. At Gravelly Park near National Airport a long line of Mennonites, of all ages, sat along the edge of the trail watching planes taking off and landing. They probably got the idea from Wayne’s World. I liked the look of wonder that I got from a little boy with his straw, wide brimmed hat as Big Nellie and I rolled by. His eyes said “WOW!”Image

The rest of the ride home was a little faster than yesterday. It’s amazing what a little oxygen in your lungs can do for your speed. South of Old Town, I took the Park Terrace and Ridgecrest hill instead of the Mount Vernon Trail. I hit 34 miles per hour on the Park Terrace section this morning. The ride up was about 30 miles per hour slower.

I arrived at home and decided not to water the gardens. Good choice. In 20 minutes the clouds darkened and a downpour commenced. I was inside breathing easy.

Wind, No Wind

Yesterday was a dream of a summer day. Low humidity and a nice breeze made it feel like late September rather than late July. Of course, I worked from home forgoing the bestest damn bike commuting weather of the year.

Fortunately, today was nearly as nice. I rode on Big Nellie into a respectable headwind.  My panniers contents included my work laptop which feels like its made out of lead when it’s in a pannier on my bike. So my pace was rather geriatric. Otherwise, I felt great. I even spotted Nancy “One Bag” “Crash Wave” “Bridge Troll” Duley spinning into Old Town from the north.

It was such a nice ride that I didn’t have the heart to exert myself so I put it on autopilot and did my 12 mile per hour thing. Suddenly, I was at the office. Boo.

During the day, congestion built in my lungs. I have been dealing with this on and off for months. My doctor said it’s allergies so a couple of weeks ago I stopped taking antihistamines to see if it got worse. No difference. Hmmm.

When I left work, my head was stuffy and I felt a little woozy. Big Nellie felt like the front wheel was wobbly. After a couple of miles of riding, my head returned to normal but my chest congestion remained. Riding with this congestion is misery as I found during a ride to Baltimore and back several weeks ago.

It occurred to me what might be causing my problem. About a year ago, a pipe started leaking in the wall in my office. The building maintenance people fixed the leak but I wonder if maybe there is some mold growing in the dry wall. That would explain why I had no symptoms after three days away from the office. I am going to ask the building manager to check it out tomorrow. And I am going to the doctor next week for a referral to an appropriate specialist.

Even my physical problems couldn’t take away from the joy of riding in this weather. 

South of Belle Haven Park I noticed that overgrowth along the side of the trail that had reduced the trail to one usable lane on a couple of curves had been cut back. The National Park Service was alerted to the problem earlier in the day by none other than Nancy Duley. My hats off to you One Bag.

The Mayo Clinic website suggested that non-drowsy antihistamines are likely to be ineffective to a mold allergy, but the old fashioned drowsy kind may work. So I popped a couple of Benedryls a few minutes ago. Let’s see if they make me,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,.zzvvvvvv

Incrementally DIY

When I was in grad school, I couldn’t afford bike mechanics, so I did most of the work on my bike myself.  In the years after that, I simply didn’t have the time – or desire – to work on my bike, so the best tool in my bicycle repair toolbox was my Visa card.

As it turns out I live about 4 1/2 miles from the nearest bike shop. Even with a car, a trip to the bike shop takes about an hour. That’s an hour I can use working on the problem myself.

The list of things that I now know how to fix is growing. I can change a flat with either a patch kit or a new tube. I know how to replace and adjust brake pads. Since these are the two most common repairs, they are really good to know. This year I learned how to change the cassette on my Bike Friday. (It’s a special cassette with a special tool that my local bike shop didn’t have.) Today, I replaced a broken link on the chain of my Tour Easy.

I have some unconventional tools in my toolbox:

  • I use metal tire levers to get my tires off my wheels. (I never use them to get the tires back on. Try it. You’ll find out why. It will cost you a tube.)  Plastic levers break. Metal tire levers were hard to find like leather saddles. Thankfully, the industry has repented and bike shops now carry both.
  • I always keep a piece of cardboard handy (although a credit card is also useful). I use it to toe in my brake pads. When toed in, the front of the pad hits the rim before the back of the pad. This keeps the pads from squeaking. Squeaking is for mice, not bikes.
  • My favorite tool is a dollar bill. I use the dollar as a tire boot. I fold it twice and place it between the hole in the tire and the new tube or the tube patch. This keeps the hole in the tire from chewing a hole in the tube.  (I call these secondary flats mystery flats because you can search all day and never find a piece of glass or wire in the tire.)
  • A short piece of wire from a coat hanger. Today, I figured out how to replace a chain link in my chain. It helps a lot if your chain tool is not broken. (I just bought a new one.) You need a something to hold the chain taut while you work on the bad links. You gather the chain around the bad link so that the bad link and the ones around it sag below the rest of the chain. Then you use the wire to hold the main part of the chain taut while you conduct the operation.
  • I use zip ties or the straps from my toe clips when mounting tires on my Bike Friday. The rims are every so slightly bigger than spec and the Schwalbe tires I use are really stiff. Once I get the tire bead partially over the rim, I use the ties to keep it from slipping off while I am persuading the rest of the bead over the rim.

I have a few specialty tools:

  • I carry a Fiber Fix emergency spoke. This is a cleverly designed Kevlar cord that you can use as a substitute when one of your spokes breaks,
  • I have a Capreo cassette tool to remove the Capreo cassette on my Bike Friday.
  • I have  special wrench for tightening my Brooks saddles. Unfortunately the nut it turns is broken on The Mule.
  • I carry a nut driver to tighten the hose clamps on my Tour Easy. These are used to hold the seat back to the seat base and to the seat back stays. (It sounds dumb, but you can buy a hose clamp anywhere if it breaks.)

What strange tools and doodads do you keep around for working on your bikes?





The 2013 Bike Commuting Century

After yesterday’s chain problems, I switch over to The Mule, my much neglected Specialized Sequioa steel touring bike. The difference between riding it and Big Nellie, my Tour Easy long wheel base recumbent, was incredible.  I felt like I was somehow riding a big rock with handlebars. Initially, my legs were moving me along at a much faster than normal pace, probably the result of engaging leg muscles that have been in hibernation for months. After about five miles, my pace slowed as my pathetic legs started to wimp out. I was back to my normal 12 miles per hour, my trance speed. Once I lock into the 12 mph groove, I feel like I could ride to Kansas without stopping. I don’t breathe hard. I don’t remember the ride. I arrive and have one of those “how did I get here moments”.

Nothing much happened on the ride in. I saw the Three Step Runner and the Trash Walker, two of my regulars, but nobody else. This is the norm for days when I leave work early, like today when I was headed for Friday Coffee Club.

The weather was splendid so it’s not at all surprising that attendance at Swings House of Java was high. I handed over my third bag of roma tomatoes to Kirstin, who will eat them tonight after killing a deer in Rock Creek Park to satisfy her paleo diet needs. (She uses humane methods: she runs them to death.)

I am the anti-Paleo person. I eat fritters or what I call sugar encrusted pastry bombs and wash them down with coffee. What better way to end the work week than a caffeine-buzzed insulin spike.

I asked Felkerino who does much of his own bike maintenance (in his dining room, no less) about my chain problem. He is usually pretty thrifty so I was expecting him to tell me some clever way to fix the chain and ride it forever, but he quickly advised me to replace the chain. So my plan is to spend some time tomorrow practicing chain link replacements on it which should get me another couple of weeks worth of use out of it. (And possibly a sheepish trip to my local bike store to have them fix my fruits of my mechanical ineptitude.)  Near the end of August, I will take it in to my not-so-local recumbent store for some major repairs (new chain, new chainrings, new cassette, new cables, etc.)

The ride home was a slog. My body and The Mule were not in general agreement as to proper propulsion mechanics. And my butt hurt.  I think it’s time to buy a new saddle. My Brooks Champion Flyer is starting to look like a sling. Normally, I’d tighten the leather up using the adjustment screw, but it’s been broken for a couple of years.

I arrived at Casa Rootchopper to throngs of cheering fans. They were celebrating my 100th bike commute of 2013.. A bike commuting century!  They ran alongside me as I made my way up the street to my house shouting “Allez! Allez!” and patting my back.

Okay, the part about the 100th bike commute is true, but I was greeted at home by the cat that eats the birds off my bird feeder. The cat was running fast around my house. He had been flushed out from under my daughter’s car by my neighbor’s dog Amy who was standing on my front lawn with what looked like a “Heh, heh, heh” snicker on her face. I don’t think she was aware of the neighborhood cycling history that was being made.

Chains Got a Hold on Me

I’ve been riding Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, pretty much exclusively since the second week in June.  All was going along swimmingly until tonight I started to feel my chain skipping ever so slightly. Unlike a conventional bike, this kind of skipping is not so obvious on Big Nellie because the chain is actually more than 2 chains long. Never the less, the skipping was there and that usually means that something is amiss with one of the links. The skipping occurs when the chain passes through the pulleys of the rear derailleur and the chain idler (this is a set of pulleys located about midway along the run of the chain to take up slack).

As I was spinning up the Park Terrace hill at a robust three miles per hour, I spotted an abnormality in the chain. The chain held together for another three miles until I got home. I then examined the chain and spotted one link that seemed wider than the others. I wiggled the link and a piece of one of the outer plates on the link fell off. Fug.

I didn’t have time to screw around with it so I decided that Big Nellie will get a rest until I can find two spare hours. (It would take a competent mechanic about ten minutes to fix a chain but I am not that kind of guy.) I have already watched two DIY chain repair videos and I must say that the people that make these things suck at instructional videos. I have, however, learned one thing that I didn’t know: you need to use something to hold the chain and give it some slack so you can work on the broken part. One video suggested an old spoke bent in appropriate places.

In the meantime, The Mule comes out of dry dock for a ride to Friday Coffee Club. It will be carrying an extra pound or two of tomatoes for friend of the blog Kirstin. I believe this may be the last of the tomato piles for the summer. The plant is starting to look weary.  A plant is only as strong as it’s weakest link.


“It’s a GPS!!”

I was riding home up South Union Street in Old Town when I came to a four way stop. An SUV on my left had rolled to a stop then moved forward a bit and stopped again. I came to a stop and looked at the driver to make eye contact before entering the intersection. I could see he had a Blackberry in his right hand and he was looking at it. As I rolled forward I motioned to him and mouthed the words “Hang up your phone.”  A few seconds later I was clear of the intersection to his left, I could hear him yell angrily at me as he drove on his way, “It’s a GPS!!!”

As I continued home, all I could think of his, “What a jerk. He’s distracted AND lost and he thinks that makes it legal.”  Just to satisfy myself, I looked up the law when I got home. I’ll be damned if he isn’t right. The law applies to texting but it clearly excludes operating a GPS. Brilliant.

The law provides an exception for:

“The use of factory-installed or aftermarket global positioning systems (GPS) or wireless communications devices used to transmit or receive data as part of a digital dispatch system…” (§ 46.2-1078.1.B.3)

The wording implies that the GPS is installed in the vehicle,e but it leaves ambiguous hand held devices operating as GPS devices. The law explicitly excludes typing for the purposes of communicating with another person but not with a computer application.

So, if you get pulled over for texting in Virginia, just say “It’s a GPS!” 

In unrelated news, about 2 miles from home I rode by a house with a nice big lawn. I heard a buzzing sound. It was a robotic lawn mower cutting the grass.

Can we go back to maps and push mowers please? This modern world is too damned complicated.


Bugs, Bikes, and ‘Toes

I spent the weekend feeding bugs in West Virginia. It was Mrs. Rootchopper’s family reunion and ten bazillion bugs showed up to keep us all company. I had to take several blood breaks. That’s what you call going indoors to clean the blood off your legs from all the bug bites.

Monday was yet another swampy day. The ride isn’t bad but once you stop you sweat uncontrollably. When I arrived back home, I harvested three days worth of tomatoes from my runaway roma tomato plant.  Prodigious, prolific, preposterous. I must have picked 30 tomatoes. My frequent riding buddy and Friday Coffee Clubber, Lisa, claimed this week’s crop so I agreed to meet her this morning to hand over the goods.

Tomato Fever!!!

I headed off for DC hoping to stay upright lest my pannier become filled with marinara sauce. The ride in was pretty normal until I passed Old Town Alexandria. Then traffic picked up and up and up. By the time I had cleared National Airport, the bikes were stretched out all the way to the 14th Street bridge. If this keeps up, there going to have to widen the Mount Vernon Trail to four lanes. (Wouldn’t that be cool!!)

I rode over the bridge to DC and stopped at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and Official Tomato Rendezvous Point. Lisa showed up a few minutes later. I handed her the big bag o’ toes and she stashed them in her pannier. I felt like a smuggler.

I rode back over the bridge. The crosswind on the bridge made for honest work but, boy, was it refreshing. It masked the humidity until I arrived at the office.

The winds increased during the day and I had a strong breeze blowing from the northwest pushing me all the way home in the evening. It was one of those days that I wish I had the fairing on Big Nellie. I could have sailed home – not that I am complaining about a tailwind.

The two little detours on the Mount Vernon Trail south of Dyke Marsh have given me an excuse to leave the trail early and climb a big hill on Park Terrace Drive. Riding up hill on a recumbent requires big lungs, a super fast pedaling cadence, and patience. I managed to avoid dropping below three miles per hour tonight. I really should take Big Nellie out to Mount Weather or Sugarloaf for a real uphill spin fest some day.

When I arrived home I was greeted by several thousand tiger mosquitos. They feasted on my legs as I picked yet another dozen roma tomatoes. Friend of the blog, Kirstin is getting the next shipment.

Fried Surly Tomatoes

Our heat wave continues. Of course, that’s no reason not to ride my bike to work. And so I did. It’s Friday which means I got up early for Friday Coffee Club at Swings House of Fritters near the White House.

I left at 6:25, way too early, especially considering my attendance at Bike Arlington’s Happy Hour yesterday evening. There’s not a whole lot going on at 6:30 in the morning, so it was just me, Big Nellie, and gallons of sweat. Pedal, pedal.

I saw the Trash Walker near the airport, but he was my only regular du jour. I looked for Nancy Duley under the 14th Street bridge, but she was back in her sumptuous estate in tony Hollin Hall running her AC at 11.

Despite the weather and the fact that we sat outside, Friday Coffee Club was hopping. Ed and Mary had returned from bike touring the high mountains of Colorado. They were still in vacation withdrawal looking just a tad thinner than usual and sporting the kind of smiles only an awesome vacation can paint on your face. Good to have them back.

I carried some extra cargo to Swings today. We have a tomato plant that is producing an insane amount of fruit. Katie beat Lisa to claiming my surplus inventory so I presented her with a bag of ‘toes. This is only fair since Katie stood in the cold of early March to staff a rest stop in Potomac during the Vasa ride. Thanks, Katie.

Katie and Her Stash O’Toes

Kirsten showed up on her new Surly Long Haul Trucker. Talk about a happy camper. She LOVES her new bike. It fits her like a glove. I must say that I have serious new bike envy.  I’d go out an buy one myself, but that might start a chain reaction that would cause my bank account and my shed to explode. You see, I have bent lust too. And trike lust. It’s a disease, I tell you.

Lisa, Surly, and Kirsten

At happy hour last night, Shawn was talking about bringing shears to trim back the overgrown vegetation on the TR bridge. He and another cyclist (who’s name shouldn’t escape me but does) were out on the bridge in the heat and humidity working away.  Nice going, guys.

For the ride home, I had a surprisingly strong headwind. Normally, this is refreshing, but tonight it was just more hot sticky air over my skin. I am taking the weekend off from cycling. When I get back to it on Monday, the heat wave should be over. Ahhh!!!

Give It a Rest

When your bike commute is 29 1/2 miles round trip, you rack up the miles pretty fast. Add a side trip to the Friday Coffee Club and you’re looking at a 150 mile week. This makes it kind of hard to get all enthusiastic about doing a lot of bike riding on the weekend. Oh, I still do a long ride now and then, but some weekends I just need to recharge my legs and my head.

This weekend and next are set aside for family doings. Saturday, despite the threat of rain, we got up early and drove for 2 1/2 hours to Hershey Park. My wife and daughter are roller coaster addicts and the sky above Hershey Park is a spaghetti bowl of roller coasters. It’s crazy. You’re having a conversation and ROAR/EEEEKKKK!!! a roller coaster goes screaming by overhead.

We met my son, his girlfriend, and her family at the gates. Her father works for one of the many organizations associated with the Hershey Chocolate company so as we went along he told us all sorts of information about Milton Hershey and his business philosophy.  For example, he endowed a school for needy kids that is still very much in operation.  During the depression, he had his employees build a resort to tide them over during the slump in sales. Hershey Park sprung out of and evolved from land set aside for employee recreation. One wonders where the Milton Hersheys of today have gone.

Other than a few very gentle rides I kept my feet and my tender stomach on solid ground. The others in our group were fearless. And since it was threatening to rain, the park was not crowded, so waits for the rides were short. We went on the Ferris wheel (they pitied me) and could see some old buildings in the town of Hershey being torn down. It was the original factory. So much for preserving history. We could also see an old roller coaster with a set of cars stuck near the top of one of its big climbs. (They got it going in about five minutes.)

It was hot. The park is kind of hilly and we walked all over the place. After about six hours, we were all pretty pooped and called it a day.

My wife, daughter, and I drove back home. After arriving, we realized that the city of Alexandria was having firewIMG_0318orks. So back in the car we went. We parked on the street in Old Town and hoofed it to the center of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge where we were joined by dozens of big spiders that have taken up residence on the bridge railings and sound walls. EEK! During our walk we enjoyed some pretty spectacular skyscapes, too.

The main event was Alexandria’s fireworks with the monuments of DC in the back ground. Occasionally, we could see fireworks on the western and northern horizon. And for the fiIMG_0327rst 10 minutes or so, National Harbor on the opposite side of the bridge was shooting off their Saturday night barrage.

It was a pretty cool topper to a long day. I must say that I am surprised we didn’t see fireworks of a different sort: cars were parked on the shoulders of the bridge. This was INSANE! Once the fireworks ended these cars were pulling out willy nilly into high speed traffic. I do hope that the police take steps to avoid a tragedy in the future.

After we arrived home I got to see the Nationals lose to the Marlins in the tenth inning. Boo.

Today, I woke up with really sore calves. This is what happens when you use leg muscles you’re not used to using. I took it easy, watched the Nats beat the Fish (Yay) and then went for an easy 20 mile ride down to Mount Vernon. I think they are ready for another week of bike commuting.