Frozen Delusions

I didn’t check the thermometer but at 7 a.m. it was 10 degrees at the airport. I think it is safe to assume that I was dealing with single digits when I left home. To add to the festivities I had a nice little headwind. 

You’d think I’d complain about freezing my noo-noos off. You’d think I’d bitch and moan. I won’t do either. It was actually a pretty nice ride in. Granted, I’d much prefer not wearing so much clothing but I was pretty comfortable.

I took a couple of short cuts to avoid ice in Old Town, but otherwise it was a normal ride to Friday Coffee Club. Even my back seemed to be holding up. Until I dismounted at the end, that is. Oil me, Scarecrow. I reached down to take a drink of water and both my bottles were solid ice. 

Inside Swings House of Joe, the joint was jumping. I didn’t really expect many people but there were ten or so. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. So take that winter!

Brian rolled in. He seemed to be bundled up but he looked like he’d ridden by way of Nome. Then Dave showed up. Ditto. Finally, just before I left Kirstin appeared. Except I didn’t recognize her at first for all the stuff she had on. She looked like a whole bunch of clothing with a smile near the top. As I left I gave her a hug and it was like holding a human-sized Popsicle. Lordy! 

I was expecting my back to be all sore when I got to work but it felt almost normal. 

I was out in the sub-freezing temperatures for about 90 minutes. My finger tips were cold at the start of the ride. I alternated putting my hands in my pockets for a few miles and the discomfort went away. My toes started to get cold for the last mile or two before Swings. The rest of me was toasty.

It was 30 degrees when I left the office. On the way home it dropped down to 26. Again I was pleasantly surprised that I was comfortable the entire way.

Now that I have mastered winter bike commuting for another year, we can begin springtime. 

Riding in the cold makes me delusional.


The Snowman and the Mule

My back bothered me all day yesterday.Nevertheless, I decided to give bike commuting a try this morning. Dressing wasn’t a whole lot of fun but I got out the door bundled up for the 22 degree start. Once I got on the Mule I was fine.

I was a little concerned about ice on the Mount Vernon Trail so I walked the first icy patch on the Dyke Marsh bridge. I could have ridden it as it turns out. Just before re-mounting I spotted a little snow man perched on one of the posts on the boardwalk.


Whenever I have to deal with extreme cold or rain or wind, I approach the ride with a sense of dread. Far more often than not the ride ends up being just as much fun as on a nice day. Today was no different. Once I was back underway, I fell into my usual morning bike commute trance.

I modified my route to avoid some icy spots. It wasn’t until I reached the 14th Street Bridge 12 miles from home that I encountered one that looked troublesome. I rode it without trouble, but just seeing the ice made me tense up. Just south of the Memorial Bridge I came upon about 50 yards of serious ice. I tried riding past it on the grass but my wheels sunk in. Dismounting was pretty painful.

There was quite a bit of ice on the TR Bridge boardwalk. I rode the entire thing trying not to tense up as I did.

I used a head pad on my back during the day. This seemed to loosen things up.

After work I went to the new Heavy Seas Ale House to have a drink with fellow bike blogger Tinlizzie. The beer was good and the conversation even better. She pointed out Bike Arlington’s Tim Kelley and I introduced myself. Later, I met Suzie, who works with TInLizzie. Suzie wants to start bike commuting from Alexandria to Rosslyn. Allow me to be of service!

We talked a lot about what bike she should buy. What route to take. What things to avoid (aggressive gearing). What she would need (lock, method of carrying stuff). I neglected to mention the Circle of Death. (Everything in its proper place.)

After two pints of beer on an empty stomach, I began the long journey home. As soon as I left the garage I was hit by a powerful wind. Dang. And I was in the middle of a traffic jam. Dang again. And the wind was swirling. Dang dang dang.

Once I cleared the high rises and made it to the Mount Vernon Trail the wind straightened out and gave me a nice, steady tailwind. Most of the ice from the morning was gone. I was a little wobbly for the first 7 or 8 miles but I steadied for the second half of the commute. And my back felt fine the entire way home. Go figure

My only regret about riding home was that I had my back to a meteor in the night sky.

15 Miles In

!5 miles in.

If I’m lucky I average 12 miles per hour. Each ride in takes 75 minutes.

There is no music. There is no news. There is no “Traffic and weather together on the eights.”

Just my bike and me and a ribbon of pavement from home to the office.

LIke this:

I breath. I shiver. I sweat. My legs spin. Pedal, pedal.

I turn. I huff and puff up a hill. I turn again. And again. And again.

I look for deer in the woods along the road.

I hear a dog bark.

I stop. I wait for traffic at a cross street.

The coast is clear. I go.


I swoosh down a steep hill. My face is cold. Tears well in my eyes. I am flying blind. Neil Young was wrong. Flying on the ground is right.

I cruise through an S curve, first right then left.

I survive the Parkway crossing. Cars rush by. Hurry, hurry. Can’t wait to get stuck in the Old Town traffic bottleneck.

On to the Mount Vernon Trail. The Dyke Marsh boardwalk. Sun rising over the PG County hills to my right. Red wing blackbirds making a racket. Mama and Papa goose waddle next to the culvert under the Parkway. Soon there will be babies. Fuzzy green goslings.

The serpentine trail guides me. Cars rushing to my left. Trees stilling to my right.

The Hoppy Guy runs with his improbable gait.

Past the Belle Haven bald eagle nest. No one home. Geese on the river. Ugly National Harbor scars the far river bank. Ugly Porto Vecchio scars the near one.

Down into Jones Point Park beneath the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Masses of concrete swooping somehow overhead. Making concrete attractive isn’t easy.

Around Fords Landing and down Union Street in Old Town. I ride past the coffee zombies at Starbucks. Beans! Beans!

Back on the trail past the construction site at the old Sheet Metal Association building. No longer covered in ugly army green metal. A brick façade is going on today. A forklift next to the trail raises a stack of dry wall panels high. Please don’t drop them on me.

Around the powerless power plant. Another boardwalk. And another. A mallard waddles across the trail and splashes into the beaver pond where the trail used to be. The umpire in my mind calls, “Safe!”

Snow is falling. Big puffy flakes attack my glasses. One, then another goes into my eye. Cold tears.

Even light snow muffles the sounds of the airport and the cars rushing by. Pedal, pedal.

The forecast has scared away most of the bike commuters. I am alone but not lonely. Along the river now. The city to my right is obscured by a fog of a billion swirling flakes.

Black ice ahead. Tense up. I ride across without touching the brakes or turning the wheel. No problem, thank god. Falling would suck.

Across one more boardwalk this one covered in the white dust.

Up the hill to Rosslyn. Like football, it builds character. Not really. They just tell you that so you won’t complain.

Down the sidewalk dodging the smartphone walkers. Tweet. Bing!

Into the garage. Around the cars waiting to be parked. Wave at the attendant.

15 miles in.

Driving Little Nellie

Yesterday, while doing day two of yoga, I felt my back pop. It felt like one of my vertebrae went back into place. It felt pretty good. After my back surgery and eight weeks of misery many years ago, I was lying on the floor and each one of my vertebrae clicked into place. It had never happened before and hasn’t happened since. It was a totally surreal and relaxing moment. So having just one pop was a nice reminder. 

Today was yoga day number three. My flexibility is still pretty sad. During one exercise my neck started making crunchy noises as I turned my head. A little oil, please Dorothy.

Instead of riding to work, I put Little Nellie, my Bike Friday, in the trunk of our 2004 Accord and drove it to a dealer in North Arlington for some TLC. I was a bit worried about lifting the bike and getting it in and out of the trunk but my back tolerated it just fine. The second test was riding the 3+ miles to my office on the Custis Trail. Bike Friday’s are tough on the back. My back didn’t mind at all. In fact, it felt pretty darn good.

My back did stiffen slightly during the afternoon but loosened up when I walked around a bit. The ride back to the dealer featured a nasty headwind and the big hill out of Rosslyn on the Custis but my back was okay.

When I got home, I pulled Little Nellie out of the trunk of the car. The chain got all discombobulated from folding the bike. I wrestled with the bike to free the chain from where it had gotten hung up between the chainrings and a folding joint. This all should have hurt my back but I didn’t even get a twinge. 

My back finally went on protest after dinner. Sitting in the hard chairs in the kitchen seem to really aggravate my lower spine. A little walking around loosened things up again.

I seem to be getting better at last. The question is the yoga helping or would I have gotten better anyway. 

Tomorrow is yet another test: a full 29+ mile commute in the cold. 

No guts, no glory.

Re-cycle Ride

The weather was too nice to do something prudent like rest my back. I needed an excuse to go somewhere that was easy. I had three dead batteries from my old Nite Rider lights so I decided to take them to a place in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood that recycles them.

Before leaving home I did yoga session number two. All the same stuff as yesterday with three additional exercises added. Yesterday’s back bends looked not unlike the Washington Monument. Not exactly limber. Today was better. The three new exercises included one that I do every morning. The other two made me feel like the Tin Man. It’s going to take a few days to get things working right. Even so, my back felt pretty wonderful and I felt like I was 2 inches taller. Funny how standing straight up can do that for you.

The idea was to do a flat ride which means the Mount Vernon Trail to and from home. I figured the trail would be a zoo on a nice weekend day so I headed up Fort Hunt Road. On a whim I decided to ride over to Telegraph Road and cross into Alexandria there. This added two or three short hills to the ride. Until I got to Del Ray and found out the store doesn’t exist anymore.

Plan B was to ride to the Bradlee Shopping Center in the western part of Alexandria. I rode up King Street, up being the operative word here. Traffic was light but King Street is not much fun to bike on. The area around the shopping center is traffic hell and no place to be on a bike. 

As you have probably already figured out I survived. 

My back behaved the entire way until I dismounted. Ouch.  

I rode back through Park Fairfax, a development of apartments and town homes built over 50 years ago. I love this neighborhood but every single inch of curb space was taken up by cars. People had fewer cars back then. 

I had more strength in my legs and back today but after 20 miles I was sucking wind. Fighting your body is exhausting. I took the Mount Vernon Trail home to avoid any unnecessary hills. 

My dismount at home was most unpleasant. I was no longer standing straight but after a few minutes of rest and a hot shower I came back to vertical. 

Tomorrow I’ll only ride about 6 or 7 miles. I have to take one of our cars to the dealer which is only 3 1/2 miles from the office. Little Nellie will get the call. We’ll see if her normally back-unfriendly ride does any damage to my back.

You might think that all these posts about my bad back was getting me down. Pshaw, I say. This evening my friend Charmaine and I made arrangements to go to North Carolina for 3 days of riding near the coast during the first weekend of April. 

Spring, bring it ON!!!!



Time to Stop Messing Around

I am really, really, really getting sick of this back thing. It is definitely better than a week ago but I still can’t stand up straight after sitting in a chair. 

This morning I broke out the big gun. 



I’ve done this program in the past with Mrs. Rootchopper. It’s not easy. The first day is just a short warm up with three exercises. Each one of the first day’s exercises involves a back bend. Dang, am I stiff. Even with my limited range of motion, I could feel my back loosening up. About an hour later. I was standing tall and straight and my back felt fine.

Sadly, this lasted only about 20 minutes.

I spent the rest of the morning dealing with some small tasks around the house, killing time as the temperature outside rose. When it broke 60, I hit the road. 

I didn’t have anywhere to go so I rode around the Fort Hunt neighborhood near my home. I took the Mount Vernon Trail down to Mount Vernon then rode the streets of Woodlawn. During the ride I came upon this cool house with two giant windmills on the roof. A few years ago, a man in a Tesla waved me down while I was riding Big Nellie, my long wheel base recumbent. He was an engineer who was interested in energy saving machines, designs and devices. When we parted, he told me he was building a house near Mount Vernon that would produce more energy than it consumed. Perhaps the windmill house was his.


I rode to the west side of US 1. A new road is under construction that will connect US 1 to Telegraph Road. This will be a welcome addition to the street network. I hope it has bicycle lanes on it.

The ride home was very flat and boring. Just what my back needed. I managed to ride a little over 30 miles. It felt like 50 thanks to my gimpy back. The dismount at home was not a pretty sight. 

Tomorrow is day 2 of the yoga program and the last warm day of February. I’m riding whether my back likes it or not. 

One Step Back

I woke up with very little stiffness. I hopped on The Mule and headed for Friday Coffee Club. When I dismounted outside Swings House of Caffeine, my back was really stiff. Ow.

I straightened up after a few seconds. Inside Swings, the joint was jumpin’, I got to tell my tale of back woe several times. Sympathy is good medicine. @ultrarunnergirl urged me to try Bikram yoga. She says it saved her back. Lawyer Mike told us about visiting a senator with a client while he (Mike) had a ruptured disc. (“Help my client for god’s sake so I can get the hell out of here!!!)

Jacques held Hugo, who is now an inquisitive toddler, as he talked with @bobbieshaftoe looking very stylish in her waterproof Gore jacket. Good thing she was properly attired. With no warning, Hugo let rip an impressive sneeze. He nailed her. She laughed it off because she is Ubermom. I’m sure she’s encountered worse with her kids. I sure have with mine.

I enjoyed riding part way to my office along side Jacques and Hugo. Hugo’s not nearly as talkative as his dad. This probably has something to do with the fact that he is just now learning to talk. He got a rise out of a school bus parked on the side of the street. “SkooBus” was my son’s first word. (He said it over and over and over again. Good thing he was impossibly cute.)

The ride to work was uneventful but the dismount in the garage hurt quite a bit. I gingerly made it to the locker room and eventually to my office. 

A co-worker had spilled something on his shirt and needed an emergency replacement. Fortunately, he’s about the same size as me and I, like all experienced bike commuters and boy scouts, keep a spare change of clothes in a filing cabinet in my office. Yet another reason why employees should be encouraged to ride to work. 

The ride home was a bit of a slog despite the warm (50!) temperature. Between staying up until midnight to watch the Olympics and fighting back pain for days on end, I was pooped. I could barely maintain an 11 mile per hour pace. I made it home in one piece but the dismount at home was bad news. Owie. Once I went inside, I looked at myself in the mirror. I was listing to starboard. My spasm was back. 

It’s going to be 70 degrees outside tomorrow. Normally I’d go for a long ride but I think I will do the smart thing and take it easy. There will be plenty more nice days soon.


The Mule’s Not a Fool

The Mule's Not a Fool by Rootchopper
The Mule’s Not a Fool, a photo by Rootchopper on Flickr.

Today was my first bike commute since I threw out my back about 2 1/2 weeks ago. I had a big, stupid smile on my face the whole way in and the whole way home. Even encountering four icy sections of the Mount Vernon Trail didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. It helped a lot that I was riding in daylight all the way to work and most of the way home. Commuting with sunshine, what a concept!

Another surprise was how noisy my commute was. Migratory birds are back in force and they are chirping up a storm. I was serenaded by redwing blackbirds, cardinals,and blue jays all the way to work.

Admittedly I was taking a gamble this morning. My back is not 100 percent. It still feels like somebody whacked it with a baseball bat. And it stiffened whenever I sat during the morning. The four dismounts during the morning commute were rather unpleasant. (Please don’t go out! Please don’t go out!)

I tweeted about the stiffness and was offered a suggestion by Kirstin (@ultyrarunnergirl) my friend in bikes and coffee. She suggested doing yoga back bends. I googled it and saw some impossible limber skinny people doing contortions that demonstrate that aliens walk among us. But I gave it a try.

Damned it it didn’t offer relief! So every now and then throughout the day, I gave my back a bend. In my office. In an elevator. In the bathroom. Ahhh!

This evening, Mrs. Rootchopper, who has been doing yoga since college, showed me how to extend the stretch. She’s a bit of a yoga freak. She did head stands when she was 6 months pregnant. She started with a back bend. She went back pretty far. She bent forward as if to re-load. Then she went waaaay back. Dang. I married a space alien.

So I now have a new exercise to add to my morning routine. Once I get this down, I’ll be integrating some twisting yoga moves.

For now, I am just absolutely slap happy that I can ride to work again.

See you at Friday Coffee Club #bikedc!

Back Out, Day 17: Id Iz Nod a Toomah

With temperatures rising into the 50s today, I cursed my stupid back. And my dermatologist. I drove to the doctor’s office to have the suture that was used to close the biopsy removed. No need. It had fallen out. So I asked about my biopsy. It was negative. I suppose finding out you don’t have skin cancer is worth passing up a bike commute in 50 degree weather, even if my back wasn’t up to it.

Driving around Alexandria and Arlington is truly insane. I was in the car for well over an hour to go less than 20 miles. I must say that I-395 is one impressive parking lot. Hey America, aren’t you glad you’re throwing billions down the interstate highway hole every year?  What a great idea! Not exactly the wonderful idyllic driving experience that the car companies’ television commercials depict, is it?

I drove home at 4 with one thing on my mind: ride my damned bike. It was 62 degrees out and The Mule was kicking to get out of the shed. So I went for a ride. My first on-the-road ride in over two weeks.

I didn’t set the world on fire, but I made it through 13 miles of neighborhood streets. My back didn’t mind the ride at all. I was expecting bumps to hurt but The Mule ate them up. Getting off the bike was a little iffy. And painful. I had to walk the bike to the shed. I felt like an old man with a walker.

About an hour later, I got up from eating dinner and I felt pretty much the same as I did last night. Stiff and bent over. Until it my back gradually loosened. It’s possible that I will be a wreck in the morning.

So you know what I did.

I packed for my first bike commute in nearly three weeks.

Knock wood. Cross fingers. Throw some salt over my shoulder.

Back Out, Day 16: Nearly There

I kept to my new program. Morning stretching. Short walks every hour. An unintentionally long walk (where the heck is that bank?) at lunch. Fifty-six minutes of easy pedaling on Big Nellie in the basement.

I am nearly there. The bad: My left calf is really tight. My back stiffens up whenever I sit. Reaching high is not a lot of fun. The good: I can feel my legs getting stronger, probably the result of getting normal range of motion and mechanics back. 

During the day, my friend Charmaine suggested that we do a series of rides down in coastal North Carolina in early April. I do believe I’m going to give it a go. I’ll wait a couple of days so as not to jinx my back.

Since I have a dermatology appointment tomorrow, I will drive to work, passing up what is sure to be a 60-degree bike commute. My fingers are crossed that my skin biopsy is clear. Otherwise they’ll have to cut the little bastard off my head. Which raises the question, if it might be cancer, why not cut it off at the start, then do the tests? 

Speaking of cancer, I just finished reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It’ a teen novel about kids with cancer. It’s pretty heavy for a kid’s book and pretty damned brilliant. 

It’s hard to get down about 2+ weeks of back spasms after reading it.