The Streak Is Over

Today was the first day since June that I drove to work. I needed to pick up my son at 2 at his friend’s house northwest of Baltimore. The experience of driving to work was almost surreal. The novelty of it was kind of fun. Of course, it helped that the traffic was unusually light so there were no I HATE THIS moments like I would experience on a normal car commute.

I arrived at my desk 40 minutes earlier than normal. Eek. This won’t do.

Back to the bike next week.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The Weatherman Loses

The weatherman was in full panic mode last night. Send, lawyers, guns, and money mode. I planned on driving to work for the first time since June. When I woke up at 5:30, I could see I had been duped. The temperature was 38. The ground was dry. I packed up all my cares and woes, including my anvil of a laptop, and headed out on The Mule.

I was dressed perfectly. It might as well have been a morning in June. Except for an occasional sprinkle my waterproof gear went untested.

I started to worry a bit at lunchtime. The temperature had dropped. Would their be icing on the trail at night?

I left work at 5:15 into a steady rain. I avoided all the metal grates on Lynn Street and carefully made my way to the Mount Vernon Trail. It looked slick so I took my time. It soon became apparent that ice would not be a problem. Rain drops on my glasses were. Humongous puddles were. But no ice. And lucky for me, no wind either. I cruised home seeing only a handful of other people on the trail. The rain and the quiet made for a very calm, meditative ride.

A man was walking his dog in the rain next to the stone bridge a couple of miles from home. He yelled out, “Biking in the rain is hardcore!” I responded, “Yeah!” Loquacious, aren’t I?

The fallen leaves must have been clogging up the storm drains. I slalomed big, deep puddles the rest of the way home. I pulled into home with a smile on my face. Panic? Moi? Surely you jest.

Final score: Rootchopper 1, Weatherman 0.

Big Nellie Turns 35

Big Nellie Turns 35 by Rootchopper
Big Nellie Turns 35, a photo by Rootchopper on Flickr.

It was just another ride to the office. About two and a half miles in, I pulled to the curb to mark a milestone. After about 11 years, I crossed the 35,000 mile mark on Big Nellie, my Easy Racers Tour Easy recumbent bicycle. People came out of their houses and cheered. A sexy lady in a skimpy negligee gave me a magnum of champagne and her house key. Dignitaries handed me a check for $35,000.Or maybe not.

Who needs all that crazy stuff when you’ve got a bike like this anyway?

Old Saddle Made New

If you look at the picture at the top of my blog, you’ll see The Mule, my Specialized Sequoia bicycle. The saddle is a Brooks Flyer, a leather saddle that costs over $100.  Look at how the saddle sags in the middle. It’s not supposed to do that. Underneath the nose of the saddle is a tensioning bolt that you can use to tighten the leather and remove the sag. You can use it, if it isn’t broken. Mine was.

I finally decided to replace the saddle. My new saddle is another Flyer and it works fine. On a whim I search the Interwebs to see if I could get my old saddle repaired. I found this place in Seattle and decided to give them a try. I mailed them my saddle and in a couple of days I received an email from them saying it was done. I sent them the money for the repair and return shipping and a few days later it arrived.

Old saddle with sag removed. Looks like new except for the matte finish to the leather
Underside of saddle with new bolt installed
Underside of saddle with new tensioning bolt installed

Other than the fact that the leather is no longer shiny like a new saddle, I can hardly tell the difference between the two. The leather on the old saddle is softer to the touch and since comfort is king, it went back on the bike. I’ll ride the bike and see how the repaired saddle holds up.

The repair shop does other repairs to Brooks saddles. Sadly if the leather is torn you’re out of luck. Also, there is the possibility that the leather will tear during the repair. Caveat sella.

By the way, I now have two extra Brooks saddles. It would be a shame for them to go to waste. There is only one thing to do….buy two new bikes. 🙂

Return from Kawledge

I spent the long weekend plus a day visiting my daughter who is a freshman at Butler University in Indianapolis. She seems to be a pretty happy camper, especially for a first semester freshman. She took us on a walk through the gardens and the canal next to campus. They were beautiful. The canal reminded me of the Erie Canal near Rochester that I rode during my 2004 tour.

We attended a football game and a basketball game. The football team scored 72 points (they won by 60).. The visiting basketball team scored 58 (they lost by 31).  It’s not everyday you see a football team outscore a basketball team. The basketball game was held in Hinckle Fieldhouse where the movie Hoosiers was filmed. It’s a beautiful old building with surprisingly good sight lines. Our seats many rows up on the corner of the court were angled in.

We also ate way too much food and saw two movies (Thor II and About Time), both of which were okay.

On the 9+ hour drive each way we saw scores of dead deer on the highways. It was one gory carcass after another.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I got about three hours of sleep last night. The ride to work into a cold 20-mile-per-hour wind  was a crude reminder of last March when the wind seemed to be in my face constantly. At the end of my less than stellar day at the office I was feeling lousy. I dreaded the ride home but the robust tailwind was just what I needed. I managed to avoid six ninjas along the trail. When I got south of Old Town I put it on autopilot, following the white circle formed by my headlight. I was in such a daze that I momentarily couldn’t figure out where I was on the trail. As it turned out I was a good half mile farther south than I thought.

All of which is to say, I need to get to bed. Once this is posted, I am popping a couple of Nyquil and riding to the land of Nod.

The Mule Votes

5:30 in big red numbers. It was taunting me. My body still thinks its Daylight Savings Time. Leave me alone. 5:31. Dammit.

Suffice it to say, I left early. The Mule and I went a half mile to the middle school down the street. I parked right in front of the door to the polls. My delegate, a democrat, was standing there in a Republican cloth coat that would make Pat Nixon proud. After he finished school he rode his bike across the country. Based on his comments on an interview I gave to the Alexandria Patch online newspaper, he doesn’t quite get cycling as a means of transportation. I will endeavor to edjumacate him over the next few years.  He got my vote because he was running against someone who strikes me as a raving religious lunatic.

The line was 3 people long. I was third. Like George Halas.

I voted and collected my sticker. Do they put a gold star on my ballot or a pony sticker?

Vote by bike!

I was off to greet the rising sun. On Park Terrace a big silver SUV pulled along side me. I heard a familiar voice. It was Reba, normally a bike commuter (and Friday Coffee Club regular).  She had rolled down her passenger side window so we could have a rolling chat. More motorists should chat with cyclists. It would defuse the war on cars. After a few minutes, Reba drove away to mingle with the not-so-chatty cars on the George Washington Memorial Highway.

When I got to the highway the sun was peeking over the horizon. It stopped me in my tracks on the Dyke Marsh boardwalk.

Dyke Marsh Sunrise 11/5/2013

A mile or so further along I looked over at the tree with the Belle Haven nest. Two bald eagles was taking in the sunrise. It’s been quite a long while since I’ve seen two in that tree.

I reached down to get a drink of water. No bottle. Oops. Thirst ensued.

I buzzed along the Mount Vernon Trail seeing my regulars much farther to the north than usual, because of my early departure. Nancy “Two Sheds” Duley was startled to see me and gave me her patented wave. (Inside occupational humor.)

The rest of the ride was blissfully devoid of nasty, cold headwinds. A block from my office a Mercedes ran a red light to take a right through the crosswalk that was occupied by about 20 pedestrians, The Mule and I. (It’s legal to ride on the sidewalks in Rosslyn. I checked.)

After a day of magnificent bureaucracy, I headed out. There was still a good 15 minutes of daylight. The trees along the trail are hanging on to their fall foliage for yet another day. It’s been a good show. I tried not to think of the depressing gray and wind and cold that will become the norm for the next three months.

Then it was dark, And the business at hand was following the big white spot in the trail ahead of me. Yes, my master. It’s like riding through a virtual tunnel. Then suddenly, my house appears. Home, warm and dry.

The Return of the Ninjas

Ah, the end of daylight savings time. It was so great to ride to work in the daylight with the warm sun and a steady tailwind.  Wait! Let’s start over. It was flippin’ cold out there this morning. The relentless headwind was not so great either. It took me an entire 15 seconds to shake the fog of sleep out of my head. Sheesh.

The Mule was put back in action today thanks to a new seatpost binder bolt from Bicycle Space. Mechanic to the stars Paul was concerned that it might be too short but that’s probably because the bolt I broke and showed him might have been too long. Everything’s relative, in it’s own way, because Ray Stevens said so. Or maybe not.

It was cold on the river. A gaggle of geese was making a racket near Belle Haven Park just to stay warm. A lone cormorant swam silently out into the river looking like a sub at periscope depth. Ducks were quacking their fool heads off in the marsh north of Old Town.  It made me wonder why cormorants don’t get with the program.

I managed to get to work only ten minutes late, which was about the amount of time it took to put on and take off all the damned layers of clothing I wore. I wasn’t particularly aerodynamic but I felt like it when a guy rode by me with his bike jacket flapping in the wind like a flag in a hurricane.

The bike rack at the office was nearly full. I was shocked. I have no idea what happened. Maybe I work in a building with lots of Aussies who think it’s early summer.  Nobody said G’Day to me so maybe I’m wrong.

I left the office just as the sun was setting. Within two blocks I was shoaled. Shoaling is not allowed in Rosslyn (because I said so).  If you get to the circle of death first, I will ride on your cold, lifeless, shoaling, loathsome body.  And then The Mule will kick you in the head for good measure.

The Mount Vernon Trail was much busier in the evening. Nothing says “Lets go for a walk in our dark clothes, honey” like a cold dark night on a narrow trail with headlights backlighting everything. It was like a ninja convention. Adding to the fun, about a quarter of the cyclists coming toward me had no lights. Tonight, I will have nightmares that I am going to end up in a heap with my front wheel lodged up some ninja’s ass like its a bikeshare docking station.

South of Old Town I encountered my first deer of the rut. It was a young deer, perhaps a year or two old. Probably a doe. She stood on the left side of the trail, facing the trail, seemingly preparing to bolt across my path as I approached. I turned on my high beam. She didn’t even flinch. Until I was 15 yards away. Then she bolted. Thankfully, she turned as she did because she ran up the trail in the direction I was coming from. Deer ninjas are creepy.

Tomorrow, I get to ride to the polls. I love standing in line with my helmet on. Makes my neighbors think they are in line with a weirdo. They’d be right.

The Introverted Summiteer

Yesterday I attended the Fairfax Bike Summit, an event sponsored by the Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB). The focus of the summit was to explain the role of bicycling in the plans for growth in the Tysons Corner area. The underling purpose of the summit was to get the Fairfax cycling community talking to each other and to government officials. The summit was held at George Mason University (GMU). I decided to drive for a number of reasons.

First, I tweaked my left knee while dodging traffic in DC on Friday night. I’m sure it will be fine in time to do battle with the elements on Monday morning.

Second, I rode over 220 miles since last Saturday. I am TIRED! An extra two hours of sleep was definitely needed.

Third, there are no direct, bicycle friendly routes from Mount Vernon where I live to GMU. This irony is perhaps the reason why Fairfax bicyclists need to organize against the status quo. It’s only about 23 miles door-to-door but it would take me near three nerve-racking hours to get there.

Fourth, GMU is located in the middle of some of the least bike friendly environs I have ever seen. My wife and I looked at houses out near GMU in the late 1980s. We found a house we liked in a subdivision off Braddock Road, The only way to leave the subdivision was to drive. As a runner and cyclists, this was utterly unacceptable to me, 25 years ago. Today, that same subdivision is about a mile from the new commuter rail station. From what I could tell you’d still need a car to get there.

After parking my car, I walked through the GMU campus with Kristin Haldeman from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (a.k.a. Metro). She came to give a short presentation about the soon-to-open Silver Line of the Metrorail system. The new line will eventually go to Dulles Airport. I bought my first car in 1985. It had a manual transmission. To get used to driving the stick, I drove out to Dulles, because there was no traffic out there! Times have changed.

There were five sessions with speakers and panels of speakers. I was pleased that every one of the speakers kept my interest.

The first speaker was an urban designer who championed the smart streets philosophy: build streetscapes with people, not just cars, in mind. He also told us how local activists are persuading a middle school in upstate New York to allow its students to ride to school. (Although he didn’t say, it’s in Saratoga Springs. I’ve seen the school. The school administrators should be ashamed of themselves for banning bike commuting.)

In the first panel discussion we heard from a concerned mother who organized a Vienna Virginia neighborhood to get a network of trails built and connected. The crown jewel of this effort was a bicycle and pedestrian bridge across the Dulles Toll Road to Wolf Trap Farm Park. Her trail system will be a feeder system for the Tysons of the future. Doctor Gridlock talked about how “car may not be king, but it sits next to the throne.” He’s the self-described Dear Abby of Washington area commuters. For a guy who listens to stress for a living he’s remarkably calm. We heard from the bicycle coordinator of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. He described how Vienna Virginia has begun to embrace everyday cycling. (They have little choice; the town’s main streets are a parking lot on weekends.) Kristin showed off the new Sliver line: five new stations, four in Tysons itself, and a fifth in Reston. The Reston station has a parking garage that will contain an awesome secure bicycle facility for over 150 bikes! They even thought about room for trailers and unconventional bikes. (Yay recumbents!)

During lunch I had a chance to check out the displays in the lobby. Lots of bike bling and interesting people milling about. I talked with Friday Coffee Club regular Pete Beers, who led a ride from Tysons to GMU earlier in the day. He is either fearless or insane. (I think he’d say “both.”) I met Greg Billing and Nelle Pearson of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. I’ve heard of them and seen them at events but never had a chance to introduce myself. And I finally got to meet fellow blogger Elizabeth (and her fiancé Micah) . She works across the street from me in Rosslyn. We plan on being the first bike bloggers to sample the wares at the new alehouse in her office building when it opens. She had a tote bag with her that she designed and sewed herself. She is one talented person.

We had a choice for our afternoon sessions. I wanted to attend the safety session but I also wanted to hear the presentation that Nelle was so diligently pouring over at lunch. Nelle won. She didn’t disappoint. She told us about her efforts to expand the cycling community to include women, minorities and the poor. Another panelist talked about how planners need to take into account the aging population. Simple things like extra benches, more bathrooms, and curb cuts mean a lot to the elderly. Another speaker talked about how the Herndon day labor gathering place has helped its workers, mostly Hispanic and often undocumented, use bikes for daily transportation.

The second session I attended focused on how bikes are good for business. We heard from the owner of Green Lizard, an uber bike shop on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail in Herndon. I have to stop there someday and get a cuppa joe. The head of the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) (of which I am a member) discussed how its Bike Friendly Business program is getting employers to see bikes as a source of revenue and employee retention. And an official from Arlington County showed how trail sensors collect data that County officials use to influence all aspects of planning.

The summit closed with some “take aways” from the head of the LAB.

Here are my take aways:

Fairfax County is about 25 years behind the times. The number one thing it needs is re-education. Bicycles are not toys. If they are included in the transportation mix, they can reduce the need for parking and road capacity, make the citizenry healthier, improve the environment, and make the county a better place to live and work. Most of the planning involved accommodating big concentrated development. This is fine as long as we remember that people have to live in these places. People have been talking about Tysons as a successful “edge city” but they don’t realize how many people like me refuse to go there. Or Fair Oaks. These places are islands of stress that suck the life out of you. In much the same way, the US 1 corridor where I live is a traffic snarled mess. I went there on my bike today to go to a bank. The half mile stretch I rode shows very little in the way of thoughtful street design. This corridor has the oldest and poorest citizens in Fairfax. If we don’t get it right in Tysons, there is not much hope for my part of the county.

In a couple of weeks, I hope to attend a meeting on the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) US Bike Route 1 study. VDOT is considering revision to the routing of this signed north/south bike route. Judging from the materials I picked up at the Summit, this should be of interest to touring .

October by the Numbers

Thanks to the government shutdown, I did much less bike commuting than usual in October. I rode to work only 11 times for a total of 338 miles. I rode The Mule on one commute and Little and Big Nellie on five commutes each. I did 581 miles of non-commute riding, mostly meanders that involved a stop for coffee. In the process, I finished the Coffeeneuring Challenge. (I am  looking forward to this winter’s Eggnoggneuring event.) My longest ride was a 64 mile ride on Big Nellie. So for those of you who are additively challenged, I rode 919 miles during the month.

The biggest difference this month was that I rode Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist, 266 miles, more than I have in several months. She came out of the bullpen when The Mule came down with an acute case of broken seat post binder bolt blues. Big Nellie carried me 443 miles. Before its seat post bolt snapped under the weight of its engine, The Mule took me 210 miles. And  I finally replaced the saddle on The Mule. It had a broken adjuster bolt and was sagging  like an ass hammock. I am sending it out for repair, which means that sometime in December I should have four Brooks leather saddles (three Flyers and a B67) for two bikes.  One can never have too many leather saddles.

I have ridden 6,296 miles so far this year, including 148 bike commutes.

I took today off. My bikes are tired.