Fox Kits at Play

Lately, there have been frequent fox sightings at the Rootchopper Institute. This morning while I was reading the paper over coffee on my deck, I spotted a fox kit out of the corner of my eye. Then another. And another. And another. And another! Sorry if this breaks your cutometer but I had to post it.

The Great Alaskan Fritter Caper

Readers of this blog are well aware that one of my favorite peoples in all of #bikedc is Rachel “Don’t Call Me Bob” Cannon. First she was an anthropology grad student. As her frequent tweets clearly demonstrated that didn’t work out. (She really grew to hate spending hours reading academic bafflegab.) So she switched to Museum Studies. (If anybody wants to give her a massive grant for academic persistence, she’d happily accept, I am sure.)  In addition to these nerdly persuits, Rachel also does such things as giving bike and Seqway tours of DC, installing bike racks all over town, selling books at a terrific used book store, and interning as a snail classification expert at the Smithsonian. She also plays lute and bassoon in a Renaissance Emo band. (Actually, she does play an instrument but with all this activity I just can’t remember what it is.) And as if she wasn’t busy enough she also volunteered at cycling events around town. (She was rewarded for her good citizenship by being run over by a driver during last Decembers Cider Ride. She has recovered from her injuries.)

In addition to cycling and a warped sense of humor, Rachel and I have another thing in common: we both have a weakness for apple fritters. Apple fritters are pastries with a bazillion calories that people should never, ever eat.


A co-worker at my old job called them Sugar Encrusted Pastry Bombs. That pretty much sums it up.

Rachel recently took an internship at the Hammer Museum in tiny and remote Haines Alaska. Yes, it’s a museum dedicated to hammers. She started a blog about it an, in one entry, was bemoaning the high cost of food. It seems there is a limited supply of everything except  salmon. (You can probably get a good deal on moose or caribou meat but you won’t see me asking for a bite.)  I’m not a big fan o’salmon but even if I was I imagine there is only so much salmon that you can eat in one summer.

So I got to thinking. Why not send her a fritter? The fritters we both like are sold at M. E. Swing’s coffee house, home of Friday Coffee Club. Unfortunately, I got this idea at 11 a.m. on Friday, long after Swing’s had probably run out. I did a web search for bakeries near my office in Rosslyn, Virginia. I found one about a half mile away.

Over lunch I hoofed it up the hill and found BeanGood. And sure enough they had fritters. Big ass fritters. Nearly the size of a Frisbee.  Frisbee Fritters!!! These babies could send even the most hardened fritterholic into insulin shock. I bought two.

I wrapped them in a plastic bag, put them in a Priority Mail flat rate box cushioned within by some wadded up newspaper and mailed the box to the museum.

It was Memorial Day weekend. It was going to Alaska. I figured it would et there sometime in late June.

It got there (available for pick up at 10:45 a.m.) in two business days. Dang!

A day later Rachel got the box.

I’d have paid good money to see her expression when she opened it.

This will have to do.

Embedded image permalink

(I hope she doesn’t mind that I clipped this picture from her Twitter account.)

Best of all, they are edible! Woot!

Enjoy the feast, Rachel. I know I speak for a whole bunch of people back here in DC when I say “We miss you.”


Mystery Flat #2

I began my day with a flat. The Mule was in the shed when I spotted the squishy rear tire. Being an adaptable sort of guy, I quickly sized up the situation: fix the flat or take Little Nellie to work. Little Nellie won.

I haven’t ridden Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist, with its little wheels because I have been protecting my back. Little wheels and a stiff frame mean my back takes a beating on this bike. Little wheels also mean that it is quite a lot of fun to ride. Fun won over back concerns.

Except for a short ride on The Mule yesterday, I have been riding Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, exclusively for the last two weeks.  My arms, butt, and legs were not ready for riding Little Nellie so the ride in took about 10 minutes longer than expected.

During the day, Carl, the mechanic at my local bike shop, called. He said that the problem with the steering on Big Nellie was a cracked headset. This made me mad. I almost called the manufacturer. You’d think a headset would last longer than a mere 36,000 miles.

We discussed whether I wanted to spend a ton of money on a “better” headset. I thought about it and told him to put a headset of the same quality as the one on the bike. If it fails in 36,000 miles, I’ll consider an upgrade.

The ride home was a muggy slog. I beat a line of nasty thunderstorms home by about 45 minutes. All the way I was wishing that I had put Speedplay Frogs on Little Nellie. That will have to wait until they come in the mail.

Once home, I wiped off The Mule’s rear tire and took it off. I pulled the tube from the wheel and inflated it until it was supesized. No leak anywhere. This same thing happened to the rear wheel on Big Nellie a few weeks ago. Not finding anything sticking through the tire itself, I put everything back together and pumped up the tire. Maybe the valve is bad. I’ll know in the morning.


Bike Shop Monday

Big Nellie is cursed. About every other summer, Big Nellie ends up at the bike shop for repairs for weeks. During the last few rides, the steering on Big Nellie has been erratic. I can’t quite explain it but it is definitely not right. Sometimes it feels as if the front wheel is going to disconnect from the bike. Other times it seems like the front wheel is riding in a rut in the road. So I took the bike to my local bike shop. There was a long line for repairs, this being a holiday and good weather.

As happened yesterday, the mechanic could find nothing obviously wrong. So he took the bike for a test ride. I thought I would have to give him some tips because riding a long wheel base recumbent is entirely different from riding a regular bike. This mechanic however worked for several years in a bike shop in Portland Maine where he frequently worked on Tour Easy recumbents. I couldn’t believe my luck.

After his test ride he still wasn’t sure what I was finding wrong with the steering so we decided to do some exploratory surgery. (Frankly, I am scared to ride the thing at this point.)  It could be a problem with the headset, the bearings or the fork inside the tubing of the bike. Hopefully, he won’t find something fatal like a crack in the head tube. Fingers crossed.

I went home and decided to go for a ride on The Mule. The Mule has conventional pedals and straps and after five miles I missed the Speedplay Frogs on Big Nellie. So I decided to ride to REI and get anothe pair. It was in the 90s and my ride took me across Alexandria, a hilly ride. I used the new bicycle lane on King Street. It’s painted a bright green and looks pretty spiffy.

King Street Bike Lane

REI was pretty busy. I tried some Keen cycling sandals while waiting for a sales person. They looked really wide but felt horrible on my feet. Luckily a sales person appeared because I was in buy mode and lord knows what I would have found to haul home if I waited any longer. The clerk went looking for the Frogs and came back empty handed.


I rode home but stopped at The Dairy Godmother in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria. I consumed a root beer float. They didn’t have any more vanilla ice cream so they made my float with caramel heath bar ice cream. I am pretty sure this concoction is on the short list to be classified as a controled substance by the Food and Drug Administration.

Chocolate Chip Cookie and Rootbeer Float

When I got home, I ordered some Frogs online. (For some reason, REY doesn’t include them in its online catalogue. Their loss.)

Tomorrow it’s back to work. By bike, of course.


To the Park the Long Way

The idea was to go to Meridian Hill Park to hang out with my friend Florencia. Trouble was that we were meeting at 3 and I had a day to kill.

I decided to go for a bike ride. I’ll bet you saw that coming, didn’t you?

I took off aboard Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, heading north along the Mount Vernon Trail toward the city. The weather was perfect: warm, low humidity, a refreshing breeze, a puffy cloud interrupting the blue, blue sky. The trail was somewhat crowded but I made a reasonable pace. Now and then I came to a crawl waiting for a cluster of weekenders to step aside. Just north of Old Town Alexandria a car did a u-turn across the trail. (For some reason cars do this a lot when any point in the road would suffice.) At this point in the trail there are railroad tracks on the right. As I came to a near stop for the car, a cyclists came up behind me and passed me, crossing over the left rail in the process. The cyclists was a MAMIL, middle aged man in lycra. Actually, since he was clearly in his sixties, he probably qualified as an OMIL (the “O” being for “old”) but OMIL doesn’t quite roll of the tonque.

As the car left he began to cross back in front of me. I glanced to the left, saw his skinny front tire, and thought “He’s goin’ down in three, two, one…” BAM!  His tire caught along the rail and down he went directly in front of me. He didn’t roll or skid he just stick the landing on his shoulder, hip and knee.

MOAN. “Entirely my fault. My fault.” Must have been a RABIL (retired altar boy in lycra).

I came to a stop a couple of inches from his sad repose. Two sets of walkers came along. One guy said, “Don’t move, mate.” AMT! Aussie Medical Technician.

We waited for the OMIL to get himself together and watched as he sheepishly called the wife for transport home.

I rode on weaving in and out of the trail peeps. I stopped at Gravelley Park to use a green room and watch a plane take off then headed into the city on the 14th Street Bridge. I expected that the city streets would be congested with the Rolling Thunder Memorial Day event so I stayed along the river. Ohio Drive and Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway were both barricaded so I could ride in the street all the way to Georgetown.

After a brief dance with the cars underneath the Whitehurst Freeway I picked up the Capital Crescent Trail and headed to Bethesda. The trail was crowded as expected. Dodging the walkers, bladers, runners, and cyclists took my mind off the fact that the steering on Big Nellie was messed up. One second it felt like the front wheel was going to leave me behind, the next it felt like the wheel was tracking in a rut. I gave it a good looking over in Bethesda but I could see nothing wrong.

After eating a slice of pizza at Bethesda Bagels (their pizza is as good as their bagels and that’s saying something) I took the Georgetown Branch Trail to City Bikes in Chevy Chase.  There a mechanic (Travis, I think. I am awful with names) took Big Nellie for spin. He said the steering felt fine to him.

On I rode reaching the trestle over Rock Creek Park. I love the view from the treetops here.

Big Nellie on the Trestle

Since I had about two hours to kill at this point, I headed north on Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park. I hadn’t ridden this road in ages and it is a beautiful place to roll. I took a wrong turn but went with the flow and ended up climbing out of the park into Kensington MD. Once there I checked my map app and found my way back to Beach Drive. I took it north all the way to Garrett Park MD. There was method in my route. I figured that if my steering failed she could come and get me at our friends’ Rulon and Heather’s place in Garrett Park.

My steering didn’t fail so I did a uey and headed back toward DC.

Since I was now going slightly downhill my pace picked up. The sketchy steering made this a tense ride but I made it without problem. I stopped to refill my water bottles and headed out of the park up the gradual hill to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. I kept pace with a woman on a road bike and thought that the new Speedplay Frog pedals made climbing infinitely easier.

Once I was our of the park I proceeded to get lost. I think this may be my greatest cycling skill.

I knew that all I needed to do was find 16th Street and I could find Meridian Hill Park so I focused on that task. In short order I was at the park. An old man was playing chess. Groups of people where picnicing on the grass. Bench sitters were people watching. Frisbees were being tossed. Dogs were being watched. A woman in a bridal gown carried yellow flowers as her soon to be husband stood along side in his suit.  The drum circle beat out a cacophonous rhythm.

Not a Bad Place for Wedding Pictures

I was a half hour early so I hung out alone and relaxed. After a while I spotted a woman wearing what looked like dark pink-ish tight pants. Flor? No way. I’ve never seen her in colors. So I hung out some more.

A little after three, I duck walked my bike around the park and soon pink tights lady stood up and waved. It was Flor after all. She promptly jumped aboard Big Nellie. Flor is small and Nellie is big so her ride lasted only a few yards. I think Flor secretly wants a recumbent. It would probably just fit in her efficiency condo. (Not.)

Flor on Big Nellie

More friends arrived. Food came out. Conversation ensued. Sun shine. Breezes blew. The slack liners did their thing a few feet away. Flor’s rock climbing friend Jonna showed up with a surprise. She was on the nest as they used to say in the moving picture shows. I guessed she was six months along but she is due in three weeks. Go girl!

We hung out for three hours and then it was time to hit the road so that I’d get home before night fall.

The ride down 16th Street was surprisingly devoid of motorcycle traffic. That didn’t make it any less interesting because Big Nellie’s steering was turning my downhill glide into an adventure.

I made it home without incident, 64 miles for the day. Along the way, Big Nellie’s odometer turned 36,000 miles. Maybe the steering is dying of old age.

So I declare the day a success. Perfect weather. Windy roads in Rock Creek Park. Friends and breezes in the park.

Now it’s time to take Big Nellie to the bike doctor for exploratory surgery.

Pix of the day are here.

Very Interesting but…

I have now logged about 90 miles using Speedplay Frog pedals on Big Nellie my Tour Easy recumbent. This is a progress report on my frogitude.

Frogs on Big Nellie

Frogs are a kind of clipless pedal system. A cleat on the sole of your shoe clicks into a fitting on the pedal. This supposedly gives you more pedalling efficiency. Frogs are reputed to be the kindest pedals for your knees. Since I have knees of glass this is an important consideration. Frogs are knee friendly because they have free float. This means you foot can swivel a whole lot without detaching your shoe from the pedal.

Years ago I tried a Look pedal system on my old Trek 1200 road bike. The Look cleats allowed lots of float. I used them for an entire summer and never much liked them. The float felt like I was pedalling on ice.

Most recumbent riders says that clipless cleats should be put as far back on your shoe as possible. (Some recumbent riders even expand the holes in the sole with a Dremel tool so that the cleat can go even farther back.) I positioned the cleats all the way back and went for a 20-mile ride.

For some reason this cleat position aggravated a nerve condition in my left foot. For my second 15-mile ride, I moved the left cleat forward a bit. This felt better. So I rode the bike to work on Wednesday and Thursday.

Bottom line: I like Frogs. They feel like they aren’t there. This is great until you need to get a foot on the ground and your brain says, “Oh, yeah, I gotta unclip.” I haven’t pulled an Arte Johnson side flop yet but I’ve come close three or four times.

(Side flops are not that big a deal on a recumbent because you have much less farther to fall.)

Another aspect of Frogs that I like is the fact that I don’t have to expend any energy keeping my feet on the pedals. This is not much of an issue on a conventional bike when the pedals are directly beneath you but on a recumbent your feet are out in front of you. With my old platform pedals, I was unconsciously curling my toes to maintain pressure on the pedals. No need to do that with Frogs. My feet are attached.

The forward position of my feet on Big Nellie means that my feet are not bearing much weight, unlike a conventional bike. This means that I don’t get that ice feeling that I disliked with the Look pedals.

My pedalling is a little more efficient making me about a mile per hour faster. This is a nice little bonus.

One thing I wasn’t expecting was the fact that being bound to the pedals makes the bike feel different. Big Nellie already felt like a street luge when going downhill but the Frogs extend that feeling to the flats. Going around curves is a gas.

It looks like the Frogs are a keeper. I need to do a long ride to see if the nerve problem is gone but for now I am pretty happy. I’ll probably try them on Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist next.

So as Arte Johnson said, “Very interesting…”

Bike to Work Day T-Shirt.

Bike to Work Day T-Shirt.

I missed Bike to Work Day (BTWD) this year. Instead I drove 8 hours in a rainstorm to go to my son’s college graduation. (The graduation was great. The rain not so much.) I signed up for BTWD anyway because I bike to work most other days (like today). Lucky for me I could still pick up the 2014 BTWD t-shirt at the Arlington County Commuter Store across the street from work. I now have red, light blue, dark blue, white, orange, light green, dark green and white BTWD t-shirts in addition to this coral one. (I missed out on the year with the purple shirt.)

Most of my BTWD t-shirts are stretched beyond wearability. I still wear them though because I need to maintain my reputation as a fashion disaster. My red one is currently doing service as a shop rag.

Back to Clipless

Today I returned to my back doctor. For the last five days my back has felt pretty normal. My back doctor checked out my MRI. I have a moderate bulging disc that is the likely cause of my recent problems.

We don’t know if my back is getting better or the medications are keeping me out of pain. There is only one way to find out. I am gradually tapering my medications for the next week or so. If my back problems return, I’ll go back to the doctor for a cortisone shot. If they don’t return, I’ll call the doctor and tell him thanks.

Among my recurring symptoms are a burning sensation in my left hip and an aching sensation in my left knee. They hurt enough that they wake me up at anout 5 every morning. So I decided to give clipless pedals a try. I know three people who use Speedplay Frog pedals and they all swear by them.

Frogs on Big Nellie

Yesterday I got the left pedal off my bike and installed a Frog pedal in its place. The right pedal simply would no t budge. After my doctor appointment, I took Big Nellie to Spokes Etc. at Belle Haven. Fred, one of the mechanics there, has been working on my bikes for over 25 years. He pulled out a long pedal wrench and had the old pedal off in less than 20 seconds.

When I got the bike home, I took the bike out for a trial ride. I did 20 miles and didn’t fall over once. I think I need to tweak the left pedal cleat because my foot was a little achy after the ride.

I liked the feel of these pedals after only ten miles. My hope is the foot ache will go away when I move the cleat forward a bit.


Driving Me Mad

The last two weekends have been packed with driving. Mrs. Rootchopper and I drove to Indianapolis to fetch our daughter after her freshman year at Butler. It takes about 10 hours each way so it is quite a slog. This weekend we drove 8-ish hours to Saratoga Springs New York to see our son graduate from Skidmore College. It was a cool, breezy day. The ceremony was held in the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The last time I was there was 41 years ago to see the Beach Boys and their opening act, Jackson Browne. It was my first concert.

The graduation dragged on, as they always seem to. We took pictures like crazy and yelled when our boy’s name was announced. Each graduate writes their name on a card. An announcer then reads their name as they move to get their diplomas. (Actually, they already received their diplomas beforehand. The ceremony was for show.) My son has an Irish first name that is often butchered so he wrote his name phonetically for the announcer. He’s clever.

The man sitting next to me asked if my grandson was graduating. OUCH!

We are all very proud of him. My son that is, not the dude who thought I was a grandpa.

If anybody needs a newly minted market researcher, drop me a line and I will hook you up with a talented young man.


During the drive back to campus, I spotted one the faculty members riding her bike in full academic robes. I so wish I had a camera but I was busy trying not to run anybody over. I am pretty sure the Skidmore community appreciates that.

After a day of hanging out, my daughter and I drove back to DC. We arrived just before midnight. Less than 18 hours later she was on a plane to Paris.

In two weekends, I covered over 2,000 miles in a car. I can hear my bikes calling my name,

It’s driving me mad.


On the way home from work I saw a two geese waddling across the trail underneath the railroad bridge. Between them were some fuzzy green goslings. In front of them two mallards were waddling with a bunch of ducklings stumbling along behind them. These are the first goslings and ducklings of 2014 on the Mount Vernon Trail.

Later a big black snake slithered across the trail.

Near the Belle Haven nest, an osprey fought to maintain his perch in the face of a gusting wind.

Next up, in Belle Haven park, I spotted a big dead fish on the side of the trail. 

Another half mile later, a pair of migrating touring cyclists were heading north.

What did you see on your car commute?