Cartuning at the Rootchopper Institute

It’s been a pretty sad week here at the Rootchopper Institute. Actually, sad is a synonym for effing cold. I, for one, remain happy (because that’s what Argentinian malbeck does to me).  I’d still be riding to work but for the sheets of ice and packed snow on the Mount Vernon Trail. I can handle the cold itself but the idea of crashing several times coming and going puts me off for some reason. That and the fact that my speed would drop to the single digits, which just happens to match the temperature around the time I would leave home. (This summer I plan to ride at the speed of temperature just for kicks. 85 on the MVT! Woot.) Four hours of bike commuting per day is a bit much, don’t you think.

So the truth of it is that I missed Friday Coffee Club today. There wasn’t any cake but @BobbiShaftoe showed up after her triumphant bike ride at the South Pole a week ago. Perhaps we should save the debriefing until an oppressively hot and muggy day in July.

The one good thing about the weather is that the back yard has about 3 inches of snow. So I could finally test out the snowshoes I bought on cabin-fever-induce impulse during Snowmaggedon, a massive DC snowstorm a couple of years back. Getting them on was a bit awkward but stomping around the backyard was a real treat. I should have bought some years ago.

My next winter-related acquisition will be a wovel. It’s a huge snow shovel that is connected to a big wheel. It’s very clever. It uses physics almost as effectively as @BobbiShaftoe when she’s was leaving me in the dust riding the hills of the Backroads Century. My friend Rocky has one (a wovel, not a @BobbiShaftoe). I realize the name Rocky evokes images of a muscular Italian but “Rocky” is a corruption of Rakesh. And Rakesh has been known to eat quiche now and then. Like me, he’s an economist and he figured out how to use his wovel the other day without making a single assumption. (Inside econ humor there, sorry.) Actually Rocky is the kind of educated consumer Sy Sims would have loved. If he bought it, it’s worth buying.

Last night I did actually ride albeit on Big Nellie mounted on a trainer in the basement. Not much of a workout, I’m afraid. Big Nellie on a wind trainer with a novel in my hands doesn’t really make it compared to outdoors. Just to keep it interesting I ride ladders. After every page I shift up until I max out my gears then I work my way down. Those few minutes in top gear are actually pretty nasty.

So how did I get to work, you ask? I drove. It was a nice change of pace, especially considering that most of the federal workers stayed home. One of the few things I look forward to when I car commute is listening to music.

This week’s cartunes were a live double CD from the Crossroads guitar festival, Neil Young Live at the Cellar Door, and a set of five studio Beach Boys albums, including Pet Sounds. The Neil Young CD is by far the best of the lot. I could listen to the Cellar Door version of “Expecting to Fly” on a continuous loop. Crossroads is a whole lot of different guitarists performing live. It’s a mixed bag but probably a good CD for a long road trip. The Beach Boys helped me attitudinally adjust to the arctic air we have here this week. Most of the first four albums are filled with songs with idiotic lyrics, except for several space-taking instrumentals (played, no doubt, by the Wrecking Crew of studio musicians rather than the Beach Boys). Most of Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson’s response to Rubber Soul, is a distinct improvement. The Phil Spector wall of sound is all but gone and the lyrics aren’t as insipid as Surfer Girl.  Musically, it may be some of the Wrecking Crew’s best work. Pet Sounds inspired a lot of other bands, most notably the Beatles who used it as motivation when doing Sergeant Pepper. Truth be told, I liked only about half of it. The rest sounded like Brian Wilson was overreaching. 

As far as biking is concerned, I won’t be overreaching until the trails are clear. Which means another sad week at the Institute lies ahead.

Nobody Comes Here Anymore – It’s Too Crowded

For the second anniversary of Friday Coffee Club, King Espresso and Coffeenuer ordered a cake. (Thanks guys) Combine caffeine, cake, and bike commuters and what do you get: a mob!!! Parking was a bit tight.

Friday Coffee Club Anniversary Parking

As usual, it was great to see so many folks. A few regulars were AWOL but @bobbieshaftoe gets a pass since she was riding a bike in Antarctica. This kind of takes the whole complaining about the cold thing off the table for the rest of winter, don’t you think.

Friday Coffee Club is open to everyone. It runs from roughly 7:30 to 9:00 at M. E. Swing’s at 17th and G Streets, Northwest. The coffee is superb. They also have tea, of course. And pastries including sugar encrusted pastry bombs, which Rachel insists on calling fritters.

Caged Beast

Caged Beast

Snow is coming. And cold weather in its wake. The National Park Service refuses to treat the Mount Vernon Trail of snow and ice so I can assume that I won’t be bike commuting for the rest of this week.

What’s a bike rider to do? I bring Big Nellie into the basement and set her up on a wind trainer. I have a big box fan and an old television with a DVD player. I can hole up down there for a long time. It’s boring as sin but at least it’s warm and dry and I can’t fall.

This is the first time I’ve brought a bike indoors in two years. Sad face. Hurry spring.

Ninjas and the Golden Years

It’s been a while since I had a close encounter with a ninja so I suppose I was overdue. It was Friday night and well after sunset. I was riding south on the Mount Vernon Trail. As I approached the Dyke Marsh bridge, the headlights of the cars on the adjacent George Washington Memorial Parkway were shining directly into my eyes.  Since I was riding The Mule, I dipped my head so that the visor on my helmet would shade my eyes from the glare. Then I saw something move just ahead of me on the left side of the trail. It was a woman in a dark red sweat suit facing me. The only reason I saw her was the car lights reflecting off the white stripes on the side of her outfit. I started to brake and immediately in front of me was a man in a matching suit. His was black or dark blue. He was turning, doing a button hook in the lane only a few feet in front of me.  I saw the stripes on his suit.


That’s what he said. In addition to having situational and sartorial awareness he was loquacious! I snapped on my brakes and he pivoted and stepped to the other side of the path away from me. My left foot briefly touched ground as I slowed to a near stop. Alarmed, I said something to the effect of “What are you doing!” In retrospect, I am pretty impressed that I didn’t blurt out a stream of f-bombs. There just wasn’t time. He and Red Sweat Suit staggered off up the path.

Rather than confront the Sweat Suits I continued on home.

It was an annoying end to a pretty good day.

In the morning, I went to the second anniversary Friday Coffee Club. Even without many of the regulars, the joint was jumping. Word must have gotten out that there was going to be a cake. Bike commuters are a lot like graduate students; they’ll do anything for free food. Add coffee and you’ve got yourselves some vampires at a blood bank.

I went five for five this week, commuting on all five days. Okay, I cheated a bit. On Tuesday, I drove to a car dealership in Arlington. I rode from there to work, about 12 miles shorter than my normal commute each way. Still, I managed to get in 120 miles with my commuting.

Another significant off-the-bike event was the two-day retirement seminar I attended. I’ve been eligible to retire from the government for a few months so I need to get my ducks in a row.  For many reasons I will continue to work until the end of September. Sometime this summer I will re-assess my situation.  As it stands right now, I’m getting paid to do research and ride a bike along the Potomac River 30 miles per day. Not a bad gig, if you ask me.

The retirement seminar was pretty depressing. There’s a fairly decent chance that I will end up old, blind, toothless, demented, and alone. Longevity is way overrated, if you ask me.

My plan for my final year of life is simple. When I sense the end is near, I’ll buy an electric assist tadpole trike. I’ll hang two panniers off the rack on the back.  I’ll fill one with clothes and bike stuff and the other with cash, marijuana (it will be legal and it weighs very little), cigarettes, and fine scotch whiskey and head for the sun. I’ll probably need some sort of navigation aid, but I figure Google will have that figured out by 2020.

I’ll die in a collision with a ninja outside a retirement community near Pie Town, New Mexico.  

When it comes to retirement, you’ve got to have a plan.

Riding the Mendoza Line

Mario Mendoza was the classic good field/no hit baseball player. He became famous for his struggles to keep his batting average above .200. His name became synonymous with batting futility. .200 became known as the Mendoza line. Although I once batted 0 for August in a grad school softball league, I have a Mendoza line of my own and it has nothing to do with a bat and a ball.

My weight and I have been having a knock down, drag out battle since I was in fourth grade. By the time I entered my sophomore year of college I was 245 pounds of round. I had a BMI of OMG. And I smoked a pack and a half of cigarettes to boot. It wasn’t pretty. If I appeared in public without a shirt, I feared I would be arrested for indecent exposure. My skin was so white, a childhood friend called me Boo Radley.

Over the course of the next 10 years I quite smoking and started exercising.  I learned that running was a very effective way to lose weight because, no matter what I did, I couldn’t run a mile with food in my stomach. I lost nearly 90 pounds and managed to run a 3:04:29 marathon. By the time I was 29, I had re-invention fatigue. My weight started creeping up. Then my left knee went POP during a volleyball game and the running came to an end.

I started cycling with great reluctance. (I still long for a 15-mile run on a cool new England evening.) Then I became a father. Then I became a father again. Let’s just say that over time, the pounds slowly crept back on. I think I peaked several times, most recently last summer, at around 230, give or take a couple of pounds. Oof!

Given the fact that I’m riding a bike about 160 miles per week, you’d think I’d be skinny. Here’s some news for you: when it comes to bicycling and weight loss, it ain’t what you put out, it’s what you put in.

Last summer I launched my SEC diet. SEC stands for stop eating crap. And I did. No more “refueling” on chips and salsa and cookies and such. And to kick things off I stopped eating bread for a few weeks. After a couple of weeks, I started feeling better. I lost my appetite for crap. Riding my bike became a little easier. So did going up the stairs. The exercises I do for my back every morning became easier and easier. I noticed that my thighs didn’t touch when I did my shoulder stands. And I could do leg lifts for the first time since high school.

Suspiciously, my clothes started to grow.I keep a suit at the office for the occasional meeting. I don’t wear it very often. The last time I did, I used a book in the small of my back to shim my waistline. For Christmas I got a new belt. My first 38 inch belt in over decade. And speaking of holidays, I managed to get through them this year without adding ten pounds.

I don’t make it a habit of weighing myself. Today, on a whim, I stepped on the scale in the locker room at my office. The needle struggled and struggled and stopped…just a tad below 200.

Call me Mario.

Friday Coffee Club: Mary and Rhoda (and Lou, Too)

Today was Friday which normally means Friday Coffee Club for me. Friday Coffee Club (yes, it’s capitalized) is a gathering of D.C. area bicycle commuters at M.E.Swing’s House of Caffeine. For coffee drinkers, Swing’s is a more important landmark than that big white house located a block away. It is ground zero for my weekly case of caffeine jitters.

Alas, I didn’t go to Friday Coffee Club this week. It was raining and the rain was freezing as it does when temperatures fall below 32. So I didn’t ride to work. Normally this would piss me off but my family and I have tickets to see comedian Jim Gaffigan tonight so I wouldn’t have ridden anyway. The intersection of family event and bad biking weather is usually a null set so today was a sort of harmonic convergence for me. (Make a Venn diagram out of that mess!)

As you might imagine, I was pretty pleased by this turn of events until, that is, I started getting tweets from Friday Coffee Clubbers. Today was the return of the Mary and Rhoda show. No, Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper didn’t make a celebrity appearance but Rachel and Kate did. Rachel and Kate were once roommates until Kate went to grad school on the lone prairie. Whilst living under the same roof, they put forth a constant stream of conversation that fell somewhere between witty repartee and inane banter. Hence, the comparison to Mary and Rhoda. (Truth be told, we still can’t figure out who is Mary and who is Rhoda.) Regardless of what you call it, it always cracks me up and I miss their verbal goofiness.

As all viewers of the show know, Mary and Rhoda are often joined by Phyllis (played hereabouits by Katie Ann – under protest). Today, however, they were joined by Lou as played by Katie (upper left in the picture). Katie lacks the paunch, bald head, and other physical characteristics of Ed Asner but apparently has a bottle in her desk drawer and, despite the fact that she herself is infinitely spunky, hates spunk.

Tweets and pictures came over the interwebs making me sad I missed today’s assembly. One picture showed Kate and Katie eating biopsies off an apple fritter. Ladies, this is just not done. If you are going to eat of the fruit of the tree of carbness, you must go all in. Then at least you’ll have hips like Lou Grant.

In the past, I may have given readers the impression that I go to Friday Coffee Club for the coffee. While the coffee is indeed top notch, the real reason I go is my name is Ted Baxter.

(Pictures by Rachel.)

Your Own Personal Wind Chill

Yesterday the temperature was 8 degrees with a wind chill of minus fugetaboutit.  So I decided to work from home. It was a wise choice. I advised my friend Lisa not to ride but she did anyway and had a blast. This motivated me to get off my couch and ride to the office this morning.

It took an extra ten minutes to get dressed. I kept forgetting layers and losing track of things. When I left the house the temperature was a balmy 11. Since I have had prior experience with frostbite while exercising, I wanted to be extra careful not to ride too fast, lest I generate my own personal wind chill factor. As it turned out, with all the clothing I had on I couldn’t pedal fast if I wanted to.

There was roadside ice in the neighborhoods near my home, but the Mount Vernon Trail was all but ice-free. After three or four miles the tips of my fingers clad in glove liners and mittens started to hurt. Uh oh. I flexed them and hid them from the wind by sticking them behind my handlebar bag. As the temperature rose into the high teens, the pain subsided. The rest of the ride in was actually quite comfortable. 

I saw a guy riding south on the trail with nothing on his head. I wish I had taken a picture of him because he is a MORON. 

When I arrived at work my bike computer display stopped working. It’s just too cold for electronics.

After a fun day of editing papers (zzzzz), I began getting dressed for the ride home. 20 minutes later I was on the road. It was 29 and stayed there all the way home. There’s something about exercising in cold air that is both exhilarating and exhausting. 

So I’ll be back at it tomorrow.

Since there seems to be some interest in these things, here’s what I wore:

Head: Jacket hood over synthetic balaclava over a thin synthetic Buff neck gaiter

Hands: Glove liners under polartec (?) mittens

Torso: synthetic short sleeve base layer, cotton t-shirt, wool holey sweater, Marmot Precip jacket

Arms: Under the sweater and the jacket I wore synthetic arm warmers

Legs: Synthetic briefs, Smartwool socks that covered my calves, tights, Marmot Precip pants (to cut the wind)

Feet: S/W socks, Lake mountain biking shoes with chemical hand warmers on top, Performance fleece lined winter boots