Powerless

For a week in December, last week was pretty hardcore. It started with a gentle 12-mile ride on Sunday. Then five days of bike commuting and a side trip to Friday Coffee Club added 152 miles. On Saturday, I rode the inaugural Cider Ride. I parked for free in East Potomac Park and rode 2 1/2 miles to and from the start. My total mileage for the day was 65. So my seven-day total was 229 miles, every bit of it on Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist.

Dang did I need some rest. Little Nellie’s 20-inch wheels can really beat me up. Thankfully, the weather gods gave us a nasty bit of wintry weather in the form of an ice storm on Sunday. All was going as planned. I was getting plenty of rest. Reading. Drinking tea. And feeling rather chipper. After a long day of idling, I went to bed. During the night, big chunks of ice landing on the deck and patio beneath our bedroom window kept waking Mrs. Rootchopper and me up. One of these landed around 2:55 a.m. We tried to spot its remnants outside but we couldn’t see them from the window and there was no way we were going out in the storm to check things out. So we went back to bed. Then at 3:00, BAM, an explosion, followed by quiet and dark.

Apparently an electrical transformer blew. It knocked out the power on our side of the street, and nowhere else nearby. We’d been through this before when the derecho hit in the summer of 2012. That time, our power was out for ten days. The temperature in our living room rose to 94 very muggy degrees. This time would difference.

We called the outage in to Dominion Electric Power, went back to bed, and hoped for the best. By morning, the temperature in the house was 63 and falling. I had planned to work from home on Monday. With ice on the roads and trails, I decided not to put my faith in Dominion or any of my bikes, hopped in the car, and headed for the office. If you think I’m riding 30 miles round trip on ice to arrive home to a freezing house, you’ve got another thing coming.

After a day of working with fingers crossed, I drove home and found my house to be DARK.

It was 55 inside. Mrs. Rootchopper showed up and we went to dinner. A big burrito and margarita later were back in the cold house. Rather than sit there and shiver, we went to the movies. We saw Philomena, which struck this Irish American, erstwhile altar boy, and long lapsed Catholic as all too close to the bone for a variety of reasons. In any event, it was a relief to see a movie without CGI monsters and superheroes.

We arrived home at 11:30. DARK and COLD. We pulled out the sleeping bags, put on our warmest sleeping duds and went to bed.

It was 51 when we woke up.

I drove to work again. During the day, an Associated Press reporter (oddly, from Pittsburgh) contacted me to ask about the outage. I told him my tale. Maybe I’ll be in the papers again. (This interview thing is getting kind of surreal.)

I spent the day refreshing the outage information from the Dominion website. Fewer than two percent of houses in Fairfax County where I live were without power. The number dropped to one percent over the day, then increased!  At 3 o’clock some 36 hours after the outage began the blue dot on the map near my house disappeared. I called home and my voice mail had a message from Dominion. It didn’t say my power was restored, it said something to the effect that if I was still having problems to call them.

I drove home to investigate and saw the porch light on. Yay. The temperature inside was 63 and rising.

While I appreciate the efforts of the people who got our power restored, I fail to understand why our spot on the electrical grid seems to be particularly prone to outages. You’d think Dominion would identify weak spots in its distribution network and fix them. You’d apparently think wrong.

I’m working from home tomorrow. I expect that ice will keep me off the bike (outdoors, at least) for another couple of days before riding to work and Coffee Club on Friday. It looks like this will be, at most, a 32 mile week.

I suppose I needed the rest.

Sixty Miles for Some Cider

Today was the inaugural Cider Ride put on by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA). In the tradition of the Vasa ride held in early March, this ride was all about riding in the cold in order to partake of a warm, sweet beverage. Despite the fact that December in DC is not exactly or even remotely warm, the event sold out. There were three rides named after apples. I rode on the Honeycrisp ride which was 60 miles long. Another ride was 47 miles. The third ride was 15 miles. (They didn’t get any cider on the 15-miler. They were first in line for quiche though.)

The ride departed from Canal Park in Near Southeast DC. This park which also has a tavern, site of the after-party and an outdoor ice rink, is on M Street near Nationals Park and the Navy Yard.  We headed out for a farm somewhere near Bowie MD to the east northeast of the start at 8:30. There was a fair contingent of people from Friday Coffee Club including new-ish Dad Justin, Ryan, and Ed and Mary on their scary big tandem (which does not yet appear to have a name. Dave, a veteran of this year’s version of the Hoppy 100, was working the registration desk. Nelle from WABA was also there working. (One of the ironic things about working for WABA is that you rarely get to do the rides!)

Off we went to the east, over the new 11 Street bridge into Anacostia where we took the first left and started climbing away from the Anacostia River. The Coffeeneurs were in a pack until gravity grabbed Little Nellie and me. Bye, everybody. I was fell in with a back of young women who were kind enough to suppress their snickers at the sight of a big guy on a clown bike. After about a mile we were on roads that I’ve never ridden on before. We were soon in Prince Georges County MD. Inside the beltway PG County is not exactly Shangrila, but it does have paved roads which were useful for this sort of ride.

We rode by the federal complex in Suitland MD. I pity the weather service and Census workers that work in that place. It looks like a maximum security prison.

On we rode, turning this way and that. I became separated from the ladies and fell in with a couple of ride marshals (volunteers who help the riders fix flats, find their way, etc.). My ride marshals soon missed a turn. I think we all thought someone else was paying attention to the directions. We got sorted out and back on course. The course itself had lots of rolling hills which kept us honest. Not having a map with me, I was utterly lost.

We crossed over the beltway and suddenly some of the roads started to look familiar. I think I rode on these on the way to Annapolis about ten years ago. We popped into subdivisions then back out onto mostly two-lane roads. Then we crossed the busy Crane Highway (US 301) and, as if by a snap of the fingers, we were are two-lane country roads. We passed fallow farmers’ fields, creeks, woods, and the occasional misplaced McMansion  and soon found ourselves at the rest stop at the halfway point. Here I enjoyed some warm cider, some junky snacks (tasted great), and a brief conversation with Megan from WABA. I think the last time I saw her at an event like this was at the halfway rest stop at the Vasa ride in March. Megan is from Florida so cold is not her thing but she had four layers on today. As for me, the only part of my body that was cold was my toes. Before leaving, I slipped some toe warmers into my shoes. Ahhh.

We took a mostly different route back. It seemed to have few turns so the navigation was a lot easier. One road was a rutted mess. My back, already beaten up by the morning’s ride not to mention 150 miles of bike commuting this week was really unhappy. I survived. Somehow I was now in a group with three course marshals. How nice of WABA to provide such personal service. After a while a couple of the marshals peeled off to assist other rides and Chris one of the marshals that had been with me for the last 40 miles and I soldiered on. We made pretty respectable time too. Chris knows how to ride in traffic so we really didn’t have to worry about each other.

Somewhere around 45 miles we saw a lone rider about 1/4 mile ahead of us. We caught up to Katie, an American University student, and rode the rest of the way in. The return route included a ride-by of FedEx field (what a monstrosity!) and an unexpected climb up Southern Avenue on DC’s border. When we got to the top, we were treated with a long downhill back toward the Anacostia on Massachusetts Avenue. This downhill is part of the 50 States Ride so I knew it was coming but Katie and Chris didn’t. I’m sure they had a gas flying down the hill.

We made our way back over the 11th Street bridge and went to the after party at the Park Tavern in Canal Park. Pizza and hot spiked cider. Perfecto.

For a brand new ride, I thought this one went pretty well. It’s always fun to explore new territory on a bike, even if it is right next store. The downsides to the ride were few. It was cold and a bit windy but not nearly as cold as the Vasa ride or most of my winter commutes. A few drivers came very close to Chris and me. I think these close passes were intentional. PG County probably doesn’t see this many cyclists in one day very often. A couple of the roads could have used some re-paving some time ago, like maybe, 1974. These nasty parts were only about a mile in total length.

My thanks to Chris for riding most of the ride with me. And with Katie who lifted our spirits for the last ten miles. And special thanks to all the WABA people and volunteers who helped out.

I only took a few pix. They’re on my Flickr page. And some from others are on the WABA Flickr page, too.

 

November by the Numbers

Somewhere along the way, November confused itself with February. Despite the cold weather, the Rootchopper express rolled on. I managed to roll 530 miles during the month, mostly on the back of 16 commutes and a short trip to the doctor’s office. The Mule did most of the work, taking me to work 8 times and racking up 297 1/2  miles. Big Nellie took me to work 6 times and covered 187 1/2 miles. Little Nellie took me to work twice and we covered 45 miles. The highlights of the month were seeing 35,000 miles come up on Big Nellie’s odometer and 34,000 miles appear on The Mule’s.  Little Nellie is way behind but should reach a mileage milestone in a week or so.

Oh and I coffeeneured, too (which explains my lingering jitters).

By the end of November I’d ridden 6,821 1/2 miles in 2012 including a personal record of 163 bike commutes.

It’s all downhill from here.

 

Two Decades of Riding to Work

Last week I rode my 163rd bike commute of the year, surpassing my previous high total of 162 commutes in 2012. This all got me to thinking: just how long have I been at this bike commuting thing and how many times have I done it. As it turns out, back in my 20s I was an avid distance runner. I started keeping a diary of my runs. I am pretty sure these diaries date back to the early 1980s. The first few years are filled with scribbles about running, how many miles I put on each pair of running shoes (It matters. Old shoes are nasty bad for your legs.), where and how fast I ran. One year I actually knocked out 3,000 miles of running. Looking back on that I am stunned at what kind of shape I was in.

About 30 years ago I moved to DC from Rhode Island. Rhode Island is a runner’s paradise. DC is a sweatbox. Needless to say, my running suffered. Then in 1985, I was playing volleyball after work on a business trip in Austin Texas. I went up for a spike and when I came down my left knee popped. That was pretty much all she wrote for my running days. Oh, I kept at it for a few more years but all I succeeded in doing was wrecking my right knee as I compensated for my left.

I started running when the short autumn days made riding a bike without a light after my grad school classes too dangerous. Looking back, I was bike commuting often to the economics department in Providence. I didn’t think of it that way. I was just getting around the most efficient way I could without a car. So I didn’t keep track. When I moved to DC, I worked in an office without showers so no bike commuting for me. That all changed when they put in a fitness center at work. I loved the treadmills and the stairmasters and the weights. And in 1990 I rode my bike to work a whopping 6 times. Whoa, Nellie. I even rode my trusty 1978 Raleigh Grand Prix. (It literally fell apart on the Custis Trail at the top of a hill near Rosslyn Virginia.)  For whatever reason, I didn’t commute at all in 1991, but in 1992, as a new dad, I rode my bike to work 6 more times! What a stud!

In 1992, I rode to work 32 times, apparently a few times on my new Sequoia. In 1993, I dropped back to 27 commutes, most likely because of back surgery in the fall and dozens of rides pulling my boy and his toys in our Burley trailer. I rebounded in 1994 to 38 and backslid to 18 in 1995 when my daughter was born. 1996 and 1997 were fallow bike commuting years, with only 4 commutes each year.

Then I started climbing the ladder. 55 in 1998 and  62 1/2 (apparently a one-way commute was in there) in 1999.Then came a seven-year run of over 100 commutes per year peaking at 146 commutes in 2002. Along the way I learned that my bike was the best choice for getting to work during dark times like the 911 attacks and the DC sniper shootings.

I back slid in 2007 to 57 commutes and started to climb the ladder again: 66 in 2008 then 86 in 2009. I haven’t been below 100 since. In 2010 my commutes popped back up to 146, then 134 1/2 in 2011.

In those early years I refused to ride in the cold. Instead I’d prop a bike on an indoor trainer and watch movies. Two hours on a wind trainer can kill you. Many of the low numbers reflect the hectic schedule of a bike commuter in a two-wager earner, two-kid family. It kind of blows me away how busy our daily lives were. For a few years, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge construction fiasco made it possible for me to commute and pick the kids up at school. We couldn’t drive to my kids’ school and get to and from work. Traffic was awful. So I improvised. Mrs. Rootchopper drove the kids to school. I left early and drove to a point just outside the beltway, pulled my bike off the back of the car, rode to and from work, and fetched the kids in the evening. No more construction delays for me. (Yes, there were several days when my 10 mile evening ride to the car was fast and furious. But I was never late for the kids. Go ahead VDOT, make my day!

So what does it all add up to? In the last ten years, I’ve ridden my bike to work 1,117 times. Since 1990, I’ve done 1,937 commutes.  Through back surgery, raising two kids, six eye surgeries, and lord knows how many other debacles and disasters, I have soldiered on. Of course, when it comes to snow and ice, I am a wimp. We all have our shortcomings.

My early commutes were often over 40 miles because I rode way out of my way on the way home to get some extra exercise. My shortest commutes these days are 6 or 7 miles between car dealerships and my office. So for the sake of simplicity, I’ll assume that my average commute distance has been 30 miles. Doing the math, that’s 58,110 miles.

Dang.

Sometime in 2014 I’ll hit 2,000 commutes. When that happens, I’ll give some thought to retiring. Biking to work is starting to get old.