The Sartorial Perils of Bike Commuting

Like everything else in life, bike commuting involves risks. You just don’t know what’s around the corner. It could be a runaway garbage truck, a dog off its leash, a cop with a ticket book, or any number of other dangers. One risk does not present itself until after you arrive at work: the sartorial shortage.

Over the years I have forgotten my underwear, my shirt, my belt and my socks. Today I forgot my socks. Since my biking socks were mostly black and I didn’t have any meetings to look presentable for I just used them. I didn’t have to because I have a sartorial back up plan.

I have stashed a change of clothing in my office. Since I am only going to wear this stuff once or twice a year they are not my finest threads but they’ll do in a pinch. So think ahead. You don’t want to go to that big meeting with your client. She might frown upon your lycra business shorts.

Perils of bike commuting. #forgotmysox

25 Percent Is More than Half

I am told that 25 percent of cyclists in the DC area are women. I doubted this until I did a count on my rides home from work a while ago. Perhaps the reason I doubt it is that the women I know in Bike DC are badass. Here’s a sample from this weekend.

Megan went to Tampa to do a 70.3 mile triathlon. I watched her running her last tune up running race last weekend. Suffice it to say, that Megan kicked butt in Tampa. Congratulations.

A change of plans meant that Lisa would have to work later in the day on Saturday. Undaunted, she drove over an hour to get to the Great Pumpkin Ride in Warrenton Virginia and squeezed in the 30 mile route. Well played!

Last year husband Robert had a mess of trouble with cramps during the Great Pumpkin Ride. Undaunted Reba and Robert went at it again this year. They both finished the 48-mile route in fine fettle. Maybe the beer at the final rest stop had something to do with it. Cheers.

Training, schmaining. Rachel stayed up late, watched Goldfinger, and tweeted about it instead. Then she got up early and rode a cyclecross race. You don’t expect me to finish do you. No, we expect you to die. She finished!

Michele has been training her butt off for this weekend’s cyclecross races. She has become a cyclecross maniac. And her intensity and preparation paid off with two top-ten finishes. Dang!22457806292_f315becfb7_z

Linel was between jobs so she decided to hop on a train to Cumberland Maryland with her Surly Long Haul Trucker. She rode back to her home in Northern Virginia, a 200-mile excursion in four days. On the way she was passed by Nelle, riding outbound from DC on an overnight bike excursion. Linel was rewarded with perfect weather and peak foliage. Bravo.

Mary, Queen of Caffeine, had really gotten into running this year. As a retired marathoner, I can say that running two marathons in a season is really hard. Two marathons in a month is crazy. Today she finished the Marine Corps Marathon (her fifth MCM) just two weeks after running a marathon in Shepherdstown WV. Double Dang!

So by my math:

Megan + Lisa + Reba + Rachel + Michele + Linel + Nelle + Mary >>>>>> 25%

Solo, Surly, Cider

About eight years ago, I bought a Bike Friday New World Tourist after listening to my friend Charmaine talk about how much she loved her Bike Friday. It took me about four years before I could get comfortable on what I came to call Little Nellie.

My only complaint about Little Nellie these days is that her little wheels transmit enough road shock to my lower back to make it somewhat uncomfortable to ride day in and day out. Of course, that didn’t stop me from riding it for 150 miles worth of commuting this week. And, predictably, my back was not real happy Friday night.

Little Nellie was custom made to mimic the geometry on The Mule, my old touring bike. I like both these bikes a lot but they are rather tank like in their weight and their ride qualities. I really wanted a bike I could take for long rides that was nimbler without beating my back up.

I have been hearing about Surly bikes now from several people. After hanging out with Katie Lee earlier this year, I heard an earful about her beloved Arrow, a Surly Cross Check. Arrow and Katie are a match made in heaven. After weeks of procrastination and test riding, I bought one.

It took me about 450 miles to get it set up to my satisfaction. The final tweak was a new higher rise stem. I’d done 30 mile easy rides with the bike set up this way with no ill effects on my body. It was time to put it to a more rigorous test.

Bright and early Saturday morning, I mounted my Cross Check on my car and drove to Warrenton, a town in the Virginia Piedmont, for the annual Great Pumpkin Ride. As luck would have it, this year the weather turned out to be pretty good: overcast with temperatures rising from the high 40s into the low 60s, with mostly light winds.

It has been a long time since I rode fast for an extended period of time. With fingers in lobster gloves crossed I headed out about 45 minutes before the official start on the 67 mile route.

I was rolling along without too much effort when I noticed I was going an unheard of (for me at least) 18 miles per hour. Hmmm.

I settled in to a groove mindful of the possibility that at any moment my legs would wake up and turn into stone. Thankfully the foliage was at its peak giving me something to take my mind off the burning sensation in my knees.

After a while faster people on faster bikes started to pass me. No worries. I let them go. I had no hope of keeping up with the carbon fiber crowd. I just settled into my little meditative trance and cruised along among the oranges and yellows and reds.

At 18 miles I had some hot apple cider and a scone with sweet icing on top. Off came my long wind pants and the t-shirt over my base layer. I tucked them in my Carradice saddlebag and hit the road.

I normally hate drinking cider but hot apple cider tastes wonderful in the middle of a bike ride on a cool fall day.

More miles went by. Every so often a decent sized hill would present itself. I stayed in the saddle. I shocked myself by actually passing some folks on the uphill. If I pass you on a hill, you suck at hill climbing. At one point I rolled past an alpaca farm. Somebody forgot to cue the Peruvian flute music so I rode on.

The second rest stop came about three miles later than I recalled. I kept at the pace. I had slowed since the first ten miles but I was still mostly riding over 15 miles per hour, about four miles per hour above my commuting speed. And the Cross Check and my Brooks Champion saddle (with springs) were eating up the bumps.

At the second stop, I had the same food as at the first. It works. I said hello to Steve, whom I met at Friday Coffee Clubs and Third Thursday Happy Hours, as I rolled out.

For the next 15 or so miles, the bike traffic was much heavier. The 67 mile route had merged with the 48 mile route. I figured I’d soon start to see some other friends.

No dice.

Roll on,

I started thinking that i could go leaf blind from all the foliage. At times the road went through a tunnel of oranges and yellows and reds.

After another 15 or so miles I rolled into the final rest stop at Old Bust Head brewery. I had some more cider and some potato chips for the salt. I met up with Paul, Amy, and Jody. They were doing the 30 mile route. We went into the brewery for a glass of the Octoberfest Marzen. I’m not saying it tasted good but I am looking to buy a home in the neighborhood.

Knowing my pace would be faster, I took off for the finish. The next ten miles are the hilliest part of the ride. There were several long false flats. These are roads that look level but go gradually uphill. These can be very discouraging: you pedal hard but your speed keeps dropping.

I kept on keeping on and soon I rolled into the finish. My knees were a little sore (not unusual) but my back felt fine. The Cross Check passed the test with flying colors.

My thanks go out to the volunteers and police who helped make this such an enjoyable ride. I’m already looking forward to next year.

First Freeze for a Buff-less Wonder

I knew the cold was coming. A few days ago I foraged around the house for my cold weather gear. My favorite piece of cold weather clothing is a tube of light-weight fabric called a Buff. The damned things are remarkably versatile and they are perfect for late fall and early spring weather. They also have one annoying characteristic. They disappear like odd socks in the laundry. And so my remaining black buff was nowhere to be found.

So I ordered three of them from Buff world headquarters in ironically warm Santa Rosa, California and hoped the package gods would smile down upon me and get them here before temperatures dipped into the freezing territory.

Hope, as they say, is not a plan.

Today, buffless, I did battle with the first frost of the season. I am happy to report that I emerged victorious. No noo-noos were frozen. The only discomfort came during the first three miles from home as by body heat became trapped in the three layers I wore on my upper body. In fact, the only parts of me that remained at all uncomfortable were the lower half of my face and my neck. This is where the Buff normally does its magic.

Despite my cold face and neck, I fell into a comfortable trance on the way to work, my legs fresh from having not ridden yesterday.

Temperatures rose about 25 degrees during the day making for a more comfortable ride home. There must be something about cool dry air that allows my brain to shut down into a meditative state. Or maybe it’s just the fact that the summer nimrods (who make long stretches of my summer commutes on the Mount Vernon Trail a sort of slow-speed bike slalom) were nestled all snug in their Metrobuses.

Somewhere near the airport someone headed for DC said hello. Being in my trance the voice didn’t register in my brain for several seconds making responding politely futile.

The rest of the ride home happened. I know because when I ca22326715851_78b3e50773_zme to I was putting my bike away. Somewhere in there I lost about 45 minutes of my life. There must be a wormhole just south of the airport.

At my front door was a big envelope. Inside were my three new Buffs. This time I bought them in an array of colors so they won’t blend in with all my other black outerwear (like tights and arm warmers and gloves).

So I suppose you can say my next bike commute will be in the Buff.

No Spokes Just Laces – A Hike in Prince William Forest Park

I know it’s a blog about bicycling. What can I say? It was 40 something degrees outside when I finished breakfast. I didn’t want to freeze my noo-noos off riding a bike so I decided to go for a hike.

Prince William Forest Park is located right next to Quantico and just off busy I-95. Sounds like a crappy place to hike doesn’t it? Well it’s not.

The park is owned by the National Park Service. Since they are not a charity and since our government is run by a bunch of fiscally incompetent cheap bastards you have to pay a fee. Fortunately for me, I bought and annual National Parks Pass. (Thanks again, Ultrarunnergirl, for telling me about this.) I got in free.

I drove to the park on US 1 because I-95 was, as usual, a parking lot. US 1 is some kind of ugly. For some reason I have lived near it for most of my adult life. South of DC it is an urban planners nightmare.

Having endured nearly an hour of suburban and exurban ugly, I was ready to commune with the forest. Prince William did not disappoint.

I am somewhat notorious for my inability to navigate trails. I always screw up. I found that the trail markings in this park defied comprehension. At one point a mountain biker (I think he was riding illegally but he knew where he was and I didn’t so more power to him) gave me directions. I hiked the Laurel Trail to the South Valley Trail which foll22278796395_595eed0555_zows the south fork of the Quantico Creek. The best part about these trials was the fact that they were smooth. Some of the trails I’ve hiked in Shenandoah National Park and Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland are so rocky that my feet are killing me after a mile or two. Not here. Sure there are a few rocks now and then and some tree roots but sure footing was the rule of the day.

Quantico Creek sure is pretty this time of year. Leaves were changing from green to yellow, brown and red. T22281844875_69700a106f_zhe leaves on the ground made a perfect swishing sound as I walked through them. Sunlight cast spotty shadows all through the surrounding forest.

Now and then I passed small waterfalls. Pretty for the eyes and the ears.

After a few miles along the creek I turned north, headed for the Turkey Run educational Center. I wasn’t looking for learnin’ I was looking for the Turkey Run Ridge Trail. This trail took me back to where the bike rider had given me directions. Along the way, I spooked a deer who was getting a drink in the creek next to the trail. It was a young buck with rather short antlers.

For quite a while I thought I was lost. I passed a couple coming my way. I had seen them on the South Valley Trail earlier so I knew they were hiking my loop in the opposite direction.

The finish was uphill back to the Visitors Center. The wind picked up. Trees started groaning as they swayed and rubbed trunks together. It made a spooky sound. Halloween’s coming, isn’t it.

Despite my proximity to one of the busiest interstate highways in the eastern US, I couldn’t hear any of the traffic. Just the sound of the forest.

The temperature was just right. Mid 50s with very little humidity. I barely broke a sweat. I wore a base layer under an old sweatshirt and shorts.

Tomorrow it’s back to bike commuting. It should be near freezing and dark when I leave home. I’m breaking out the winter gear and my new bicycle death ray. During the day tomorrow I’ll see if I can telecommute for the next five months from Buenos Aires, Christchurch or Melbourne. Maybe if I brought my boss a pumpkin spice latte (better him than me).

Beautiful Ride – Ugly Reality

The day began with crisp fall air. I was ready for it as I pit on my vest, arm warmers, and head band. Dressed perfectly, I headed north on the Mount Vernon Trail bound for DC and Friday Coffee Club. The ride in went so smoothly that as I rode onto the 14th Street Bridge over the Potomac River I had that strange how-did-I-get-here sensation. A tailwind and fresh legs (I drove to work yesterday) probably helped.

Coffee Club was crowded. It was good to see some faces that I haven’t seen in over a month. This definitely eased my recent feeling of social ennui.

I rode to work on the narrow side path on the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge. I stop for DC-bound cyclists because there just isn’t enough room to pass on the fly. One of them asked me if the bridge was one-way. He was new to DC and he couldn’t believe the trail was so narrow. I assured him it wasn’t. Welcome to the land of improving bicycling infrastructure.

I left work and head for home, once again assisted by a trail wind. It was a similar vibe to the morning. No discernible effort involved. I barely broke a sweat. My delight in this wonderful autumn commute came to an end. I stopped to take a picture of this sign posted next to the trail north of Old Town Alexandria just after the Slaters Lane turn off.


It’s a sad reality to the women of this area that enjoying area trails comes with this risk.

Not 100 feet after starting up again I was passed by an on-coming woman running. She had earbuds in her ears.

Every safety expert I know warns against doing this. I know it sucks and it’s unfair but you are responsible for your own safety. Whether you are trying to avoid a potential human assailant or a garbage truck you need to hear what’s going on around you.

Speech over.

The rest of the ride was thankfully peaceful. For me at least.

Be careful out there.

Hiking the Gold Mine

The thought of riding my bike just didn’t work for me today. So I decided to drive up to Great Falls and revisit the Gold Mine trail. I put the windows down and drove up the river with the windows down. As much as I hate saying adios to summer, I find driving with the windows down on a 65 degree day one of life’s pleasures. The fall foliage near DC is not quite ready for prime time. There are some yellows here and there and the occasional red tree but green continues to dominate. The GW and Clara Barton Parkways made for a lovely ride nevertheless.

Last fall I hiked the Gold Mine Trail in Great Falls Park in Maryland twice. The first hike was my way of coping with a tragedy. The second was my way of coping with the end of autumn. Both times the Gold Mine Trail did the trick.

I drove past the free parking lot near Old Anglers in. I had no need for it since my friend Kirstin convinced me to by an annual National Parks pass which gives me free admission to the park which otherwise costs $10. (Counting today, I have already used it four times.)  The parking lot was full. I was expecting to see lots of people on the trails. As it turned out, they must have been on the C&O Canal towpath or taking in the views of the falls.


I began my hike along the River Trail. This trial is about one mile long and completely flat. It goes along the river bank north of the falls. It is the perfect place to get into the hiking vibe. After a mile, you hike back to the start on the towpath.

Warmed up, I headed uphill on the Gold Mine Spur Trail. For all those cars in the parking lot, the trial was surprisingly empty. During the course of my hike I encountered about ten other groups of hikers. The less said about the two groups of  LOUD talkers who don’t get the concept of a contemplative walk in the woods the better.

The spur trail leads to the Gold Mine Loop Trail. This trail rolls up and down over a modest ridge line. The footing is mostly smooth with only few hundred yards of small rocks to slow the pace. This means that you can enjoy the woods, listen to yourself breathe, and zone out. Which is what I did.

After completing the circuit, I hiked back down the spur trail. Mission accomplished. During my hike the temperature never broke 75 degrees and the humidity was low. I arrived back having barely broken a sweat.

Runner Blind

The plan was to ride my bike to the Army Ten Miler up in Arlington and DC and see three friends who were running. Megan was doing her last run before a triathlon in a couple of weeks. Kelly is my co-worker who underwent hip surgery earlier this year. It’s incredible to me that she’s well enough to run ten miles. I met Chris during the Cider Ride in 2013. He passes me occasionally on our rides to work. I rarely recognize him.

When I left the house the temperature was in the forties. Eeep! I broke out my long wind pants and some winter gloves. Who’s idea was this? The first five miles were shrouded in fog.

Not wanting to run afoul of Alexandria’s finest, I rode down Washington Street and endured the traffic lights. At the north end, an impatient driver coming from the north turned across my path. I yelled at him and he held his hands up as if to say, “It was the car’s idea.”

I decided not to ride to Long Bridge Park at the northern edge of Crystal City. This would mean that I could bypass the two mulch detours on the Mount Vernon Trail. Unfortunately, Crystal Drive was milled for paving. I managed to make it to the race course without losing any fillings.

I took up a position on the west side of Long Bridge Drive so that I could be in the sun. The runners were being directed to the left lane of the divided four lane road so I was right next to them. I watched as the wheel chair athletes came through. Then a pack of runners blew by. Then the mob came. Waves of runners. I looked for Megan who I expected to come through first. Since the start is staggered there was no way to tell when she’d arrive but I guessed that she would be the fastest of the three.

I watched as many Megan lookalikes came by. My friend Veronica is super fit with long curly red hair. Even woman with long curly red hair distracted me. Then came the occasional blade runner, amputees with a carbon fiber prosthetic. Dang. Just dang.

I started to think that I missed Megan then on the far side of the two lanes next to the center island I saw a woman in a lime green shirt. She looked at me and wave. Ay!!! GO MEGAN!!!

And then she was gone.

I waited and looked and looked and waited. Thousands of runners went by. After a while they my vision blurred. In winter you can go snow blind. At big road races you go runner blind.

The opposite side of the road was open to runners. Now I had four lanes of people to sort through. I realized that this was getting futile but I couldn’t leave because there were no breaks in the flow of runners.

I checked my phone. Chris had finished 30 minutes ago. I later learned that Kelly finished too. She was wearing long bright green socks. How I missed her is beyond me.

After waiting another 30 minutes the field thinned. I headed for home. It was no longer cold. In fact it was downright perfect.

I took my time enjoying the weather and the ride of my new Cross Check.

Once I got home, I took a book out on the deck and read in the warm sun, the air devoid of humidity. It is perfect sweatshirt and shorts weather. It is also perfect weather for a nap. I took full advantage.

Am I Back?

It’s been nearly two weeks since returning from my trip around the world. I still feel out of it. Going to Australia I was expecting to be destroyed by jet lag but it turned out to be pretty easy on my body and mind. I was a little groggy for the first couple of days but after that I was more or less adjusted.

We bounced across times zones like skiers on moguls. Here to LA was 5 hours. LA to Sydney was another 16 hours away but across the international date line. Ayers Rock is a half hour behind Sydney. Auckland is 2 hours ahead of Sydney. Phuket is three hours behind Syndey. As Paul Simon once sang, “It’s a wonder I can think at all.”

Coming back from Phuket was a killer. We continued westward through Abu Dhabi. Then on to JFK and then to Washington. We arrived at home at mid afternoon and we were zonked. Twelve time zones in about 28 hours of travel. And we repeated a day in the process.

For the next several days I was in a fog.

For days after returning my sense of smell was screwed up. It’s as if the gas exhaust smells of Phuket and the sulphur smell of Rotorua were stuck in my nose. I saw a picture of someone I know at Machu Pichu and I rather than thinking “How cool is that?” I actually thought, “I wonder what Peru smells like?”  A co-worker just returned from India. He mentioned the smells there too. (India is the smell capital of planet earth.)

After about a week, my mental fog lifted and my body fully adjusted. One thing that hasn’t adjusted is my social clock. I just have no social energy at all. I went to a birthday party for several people. We were partly celebrating my birthday. It was a lovely event. I received many thoughtful gifts. And the food was delicious. Never the less, my brain couldn’t stop focusing on the fact that my birthday was nearly two months ago and  I really, really, really didn’t want to think about it again. I’m old. I get it. I can’t do a damned thing about it. Yippee? Fug me.

On the bright side, I now qualify for the senior discount at most eateries.

The customs official in Thailand remarked to a colleague that I don’t look my age. The colleague laughed and translated for me. (For what it’s worth, she didn’t look a day over 40.) I could grow to like Thailand.

I went to Friday Coffee Club yesterday and just could not get into the conversation. I left about a half hour earlier than usual. I’ve been going to work but I have very little interest in interacting with my co-workers. I eat lunch alone. I close my door. The funny thing is I am not at all depressed. I just feel like curling up with a book. For days. My social tv is on a test pattern, what we used to call the maggot fights in high school.

Meanwhile, I am trying to get my new Cross Check set up so that it doesn’t kill my neck and lower back. I bought a new stem that brings the handlebars up, nearly even with the saddle. I changed the tilt of the saddle too. My 20-mile test ride included a bunch of hills, which I normally avoid. (Those familiar with the ride up to Oxon Hill Road and up Beacon Hill know why.) The new, more upright position definitely slows me down, but at least I am not all sore afterward. I will probably ride the Cross Check for the Great Pumpkin ride in a couple of weeks. That will be my last event ride until spring.

So if I seem a little off it’s just the 24 time zones, 60+ hours of flying, and old age talking.

If you see me riding on the left side of the road, don’t mind me. My mind is just on the other side of the world.

Pardon My Karass

I was reading an article this morning about a young married couple: one a conservative pundit, the other an Obama White House staffer. The latter was killed by a car while he rode in a bicycling charity event outside DC.

It’s a sad story that you can read about here.

The two were the unlikeliest of couples. The story ended with a reference to Kurt Vonnegut who came up with the concept of a karass. According to the Urban Dictionary, a karass is

A group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial linkages are not evident.

Time and again I have met people who are part of my karass. I find myself hanging out with them even though there is no logical reason for them being important to me. Somehow they become incredibly meaningful to me and have a great influence on how I think about…everything.

I won’t name any names. (Long time readers can almost certainly guess who some of the members of my karass are anyway.) As someone who read Vonnegut back in the day, I am surprised that I don’t remember this concept. It was lost in all the cynicism and twistedness of his writings, I suppose. I am grateful to finally have a word to put to something that has been puzzling me for years.

So, who’s in your karass?