I haven’t been on a bike since the Snowzilla storm. So today I went for a ride to see what my commute will be like next week. The day began with an impressive amount of black ice in my driveway. My solution was to do puzzles all morning. I managed to get all but the Scrabblegram which Mrs. RC and I have taken to doing. (Worst part is finding out that answers often include completely bogus words)
I used The Mule because it is my bad weather bike. I had to roll it through some snow in the back yard but that took all of three minutes.
Every street along my normal route to the Mount Vernon Trail was clear with the only problem areas where homeowners had shoveled snow into the street earlier in the day. Why people do this when they have a front lawn to throw the snow on is beyond me.
I arrived at the Mount Vernon Trail, took one look and gave up. It is a glacier. Just like it is every year. Thanks to the National Park Service, the only trail owner that doesn’t even try to plow or treat area trails. (They own significant real estate in the city. They don’t plow there either.)
I climbed up the hill to Fort Hunt Road, the only alternative to the trail. This took me to US 1. A trail connects US 1 to Washington Street in Old Town Alexandria. The first 100 yards of the trail were covered in plow residue. VDOT or Fairfax County couldn’t be bothered to clear the trail, I guess.
If you think that is too much to ask, you are wrong. Once the trail crosses into Alexandria city, it is totally clear. I tag on Alexandria a lot about being hostile to bicyclists but whoever is in charge of plowing did a great job here.
I took the streets through the western part of Old Town. I crossed over the rail line at Slaters Lane and US 1. The sidewalk here is also a bike lane. It was cleared quite adequately. Another round of applause for Alexandria.
I rode Monroe Street (kind of a melting mess) to Mount Vernon Avenue, the main drag through the Del Ray neighborhood. No problems. I made my way to the trail along Four Mile Run. The trail on the Alexandria side was impassible because of a creatively crappy plow job that ended in a snow bank.
I walked around this mess and hooked up with the Four Mile Run Trail on the Arlington side of Four Mile Run. Arlington done good.
Here I bailed out on the trails. I had gone 10 miles and I was tired. I spent the last week shoveling and eating. I feel like a whale and my shoulder muscles are still incredibly tight.
Connector Trail at US 1 in Fairfax County
Connector Trail in Alexandria
Four Mile Run Trail in Alexandria
Four Mile Run Trail in Arlington
I headed back to Old Town via Potomac Avenue and its new side trail. All was clear sailing. Alexandria. I retraced my path to Fort Hunt Road and slogged my way up two hills trying hard to stay out of the sand and salt that had accumulated on the edge of the asphalt. Most roads in Virginia lack a paved shoulder so you can pretty much count on wrecking your drive train if you bike around here in the winter.
I made it home, a total of 20 1/2 miles. Not bad for my first day back. Tomorrow is supposed to be a 60 degree day. That should take care of the problem areas I discovered today. It will take a week of warm temperatures or a responsive and responsible Park Service to clear the Mount Vernon Trail. Alas, the smart money is on the weatherman.
The party is over. I went to the office today. Before I left I got in one more short snow shoveling session. I needed 15 minutes to clear away the snow that an overnight plow had put in the way of Mrs. RC’s car. Overnight plows are sneaky. We should set traps for them. (Would it roar or squeal when the trap snapped shut? We may never know.)
The drive to and from work was a breeze. With every school shut and the rest of the federal government closed, the roads were all mine. Most of them were anyway. About 1/3rd of the usable road space was either unplowed or occupied by massive piles of plowed snow. It looked like most of the sidewalks in Old Town were unplowed. And nearly every crosswalk was obstructed by mass quantities of plowage. Smallish people were actually being given a hand up to get over the snowbank in front of my office building.
I grew up in Albany and lived in Boston and Providence. I am used to this sort of thing. It’s one of the many reasons I moved south. When you have to go to work, snowstorms in the city are a pain in the ass. They are a blast on snowdays though. Except when the snowdays last over a week. This happened when I lived in Boston in 1978. Cabin fever can drive you mad. My friends say this explains a lot about me.
Nowadays many people can telework but back in the days of computer punch cards this was not an option. A friend of mine recently moved to DC. She was scheduled to start a new job on Monday. I felt bad for her but she told me that her new employer let her telework. On her first day. Dang.
The weather has kept her from moving to her new apartment though. She freelances as a certified massage therapist. Too bad she can’t get around town. She could make a fortune giving massages to snow shovelers like me.
Just two days after the snow stopped falling, temperatures rose into the 50s. When I got home, the snow cover was about one foot lower than yesterday. It looked like someone had pulled the plug and let the air out of a big white air mattress.
I will continue to drive to work for the time being. The main reason is that the National Park Service refuses to plow and treat the Mount Vernon Trail. I don’t blame them. They are part of the Interior Department and starved for funds. It’s funny how the Park Service does an excellent job of clearing storm debris after big non-winter storms, but punts when it snows.
This shortcoming of the Park Service has enraged Lizbon Gravity, who is apparently new to commuting on the MVT. She recently started following me on Twitter. Good luck LG, whoever you are. Oh, and by the way, if you follow me, you’ll probably get lost. But, as Lewis Carroll once said, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.
The government agency where I work usually operates when the rest of the federal government does not so I rarely get a snow day. Today, I got one. Yay me!
There was a power outage at work and the computer system crashed and there was no way for most people to get there so they just said “Fuggit. We’re closed.”
Works for me.
I set my alarm during the day on Sunday and forgot to unset it.
BEEP BEEP. 6 am you are so cruel.
I went back to sleep.
After waking I did my daily morning routine of back exercises and meditation. During the last three days, Mrs. RC and I shoveled out our neighbor’s driveway so we could park three of our cars there. (Two belong to our kids who are overseas. My wife drives her 12 year old Accord to work. My car is a driveway ornament.) A humongous pick up truck came and parked in the driveway. Oops. Later it was joined by an SUV. The drivers were remodeling the house. So I needed to make curb space to get our cars out of their way.
The snow plows had made a hard bank of snow about the width of a car on my side of the street. The bank was well over two feet deep. One shovel at a time, I cleared enough space for my kids’s subcompact cars. This took two hours. How the hell did I, a sixty year old, do this on top of about 9 hours of shoveling over the last three days?
I attribute my shoveling survival to two things. My back didn’t go out. And my heart kept pumping without red lining.
My back benefited from three exercises that I added to to my morning routine. Two are versions of a side plank. In one version, I hold myself up with one stiff arm to the floor while the other arm reaches for the ceiling. My trunk is perpendicular to the floor. I am careful not to mess up my shoulder muscles when I am doing this. I just stay in that position until it starts to become uncomfortable then I switch sides.
For the other version, I am in the same position but supporting myself on my forearm. I then dip my hip to the floor and raise it. Over and over. As I do this. I move my free arm down to the floor with my hip and point it up to the ceiling as my hip moves up. I do one set of ten dips on each side.
These exercises have given my lower back lateral stability. I learned these from my physical therapy sessions last winter but I am certain that these, like most PT exercises, is a variation on a yoga asana.
The third exercise is a bird dog. Again this is a PT exercise that is stolen from yoga. On your hands and knees reach one arm out and the opposite leg back. Tighten your belly. Hold it. You can sense your lower back decompressing. It really feels great. I do ten of these on each side.
(Yes, I know. I have said I hate yoga many times in the past. What I don’t like about it is the dedicated time commitment and the routine. I do yoga asanas for very specific purposes. The thought of doing yoga continuously for an hour makes me want to run screaming down the street.)
In the past, I only did crunches and similar exercises for my abdominal muscles. This was great until I twisted my torso under load. Then my back would go out. Twisting under load is what you do when batting in baseball, bowling, golfing, and shoveling snow. It is bad news for someone like me who has had a disc removed from his lower back.
My other survival strategy is riding a bike. (Running does the same thing. Actually better but my knees won’t go there anymore.) Once I get warmed up, my heart rate stabilizes and I can ride for hours at a conversational pace. The same holds for shoveling. In all those hours of shoveling I never once felt my heart racing. I just kept chugging along like I was riding my bike to work. The snow will be moved eventually. Just keep shoveling. Wax on. Wax off. Go with the flow.
According to my friend Rachel, who only cusses during snow crises, I shoveled several fucktons of snow this weekend. (Yes, I know at least two area women with masters degrees who use the term “fuckton.” Reason number 2,120 why I love DC.) My shoulders, neck and upper arms are sore. My lower back is fine. My lower arms are in good enough shape to fill and empty several glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon. Three ounce curls are therapeutic.
After my shoveling session, I finally put on my snowshoes and set about playing in the snow. This lasted for all of a quarter mile. The snow was not compacted enough to support my weight even on snowshoes. I kept sinking nearly a foot into the snow. My heart was racing as I powered my way forward. I fell twice, once when my shoe caught on something. Another time a snowshoe came off leaving me wallowing around in a snowbank like Tian Tian. Tian Tian looks cute. Me. not so much.
So I headed for home. Time to have a glass of wine and call it a day.
The storm is over. Another several inches of snow fell overnight. And there was some drifting. So out I went into the powder. This time the snow was easy to move with a regular shovel. The only problem was that the snowbanks made over the last two days meant that each shovelful had to be heaved high and far. I resorted to the over the shoulder snow toss.
With Mrs. Rootchopper focusing on freeing the cars (this is NOT what I normally mean by “carfree”, by the way). I went to work on busting through the mess that the snow plows made at the end of the driveways.
Our neighbor Jay once again brought his snowplow into the fray, clearing our sidewalk and blasting through a chunk of the obstruction at the driveway across the street where most of our automotive fleet was entombed in the snow.
Three hours of this and I was done. Finished. My arms and shoulders are in a world of hurt. I have to admit it was fun in a masochistic sort of way. My only complaint is that I am too tired to go snowshoeing.
So I will settle for watching freakishly huge men concuss each other over a vaguely ovoid ball. Go Pats!
I woke up late, around 8:00. It was still snowing outside just as it did when I went to sleep. Icicles hung from the eaves all around the house. A look outside and it was clear that a foot of snow had fallen since I shoveled yesterday.
After breakfast I headed out into the storm. There was so much snow and the snow banks were so high that my wovel became useless. I had to resort to a conventional snow shovel. My neighbor came by with his snow blower and cleared a path through the sidewalk and out to the street. Thanks, Jay.
Dig. Heave. Dig. Heave. On and on. Occasionally, I could use the wovel and did. But the snow was heavy and my triceps were tired from yesterday.
After clearing our driveway with some help from expert car excavator Mrs. RC, I headed across the street to liberate the other three cars in our fleet. The street hadn’t been plowed in hours. To make matters worse, the plow only did 2/3rds of the street. This meant I had to shovel snow to get to the neighbors driveway. How much snow? My friend Rachel said it was many fucktons. She is quantitatively astute.
Mrs. RC worked on clearing the snow off the cars. I went to work with the wovel on the obstructed driveway.
Dig. Heave. Dig. Heave.
Four hours later we were done.
All I wanted was baked goods and a massage. Alas, my baking friend and my massage friend are 20 miles and several thousand fucktons of snow away.
18 Inches on the Deck
Of course, over the four hours, another inch of snow had fallen. We clear that, fed the birds, and headed indoors.
Everybody part hurts. Somehow.
I am spent.
Outside the storm has intensified again. White outs are happening. Winds are howling.
Several inches of snow had already fallen. Darkness came. So did more snow. We ate dinner. Then I went out into the storm.
The wind was calm. Then gusting. Then calm. Over and over.
The wovel went to work. We moved our cars to a vacant driveway across the street before the start of the storm. This allowed the road crew to plow the street almost to the curb on our side of the street. All I had to do was move 6 inches of the stuff packed against the curb. Not easy. A neighbor had helpfully used his snow blower to clear the sidewalk. He blew the snow onto the strip between the sidewalk and the curb. There was nowhere to put the snow packed against the curb. The wovel made it easy to wheel it across the street.
The wovel is a giant shovel pan on a long stem. The stem runs over an axle attached to a huge wheel. This arrangement allows you to use leverage to lift the snow. The pivot point on the wheel means you push down on the handle instead of lifting up. This makes it easy to move tons of snow. It is a pretty damned good triceps workout but your back is spared stress.
But it looks dorky. So does my recumbent. I can tell you from past experience that nothing looks dorkier than a man holding on to a streetlamp because his back gave out after surgery. Been there. Done that. Science!
I excavated the cars, three across the street and one in our driveway. By the time I was done another couple of inches had fallen where I had started. Jane, stop this crazy thing!!!
I surrendered to the storm. I check out my Chia Werth. He was positioned next to the downspout. Unfortunately he was under an eave so he didn’t get the full effect of the storm. Still, it looks like the hole in his head (just like the real ballplayer!) was almost under the snow.
After about 90 minutes, I declared the wovel the victor and headed inside for a shower beer. I had hoped for a Fat Shovel beer but settled for a Fat Tire.
Tomorrow: MOTS (More of the Same). I’d like to do some snowshoeing but I’ll be whipped from another woveling session. Snowshoeing might have to wait until Sunday,
Last night was Mrs. RC’s yoga night. She has a class in Virginia about five miles from her office in DC. The snow squall that I rode through on the way home turned DC area roads into a hockey rink. Mrs. RC was a half hour late to her yoga class mostly because the cars on 14th Street bridge over the Potomac River were behaving like those little plastic football players on the vibrating metal football field.
After class she jumped in her car for the ten mile drive home. It took six hours. Yes, you read that right. Six hours. At the top of every hill she encountered a bank of buses and trucks. The drivers refused to go down because they were sure they would lose control and kill someone. Mrs. RC watched as cars made descents and slid off the road. She described planning on going down after them like she was lining up a putt of an undulating green. “I need to start farther to the left.” Not a good time for a case of the yips.
I stayed up until 1 am when I saw an email indicating that she was alright and that traffic was horrid. At 2:22 am I heard the front door open. She made it without an accident.
This morning I opted to drive. The National Park Service does not plow or de-ice the Mount Vernon Trail so I am pretty much out of luck for a while. (I could use studded tires but they would slow me down below 10 miles per hour, making my commute more than 90 minutes each way.)
Tomorrow the snow bomb comes. I am blaming a friend from Argentina. She came back to DC in January 2015 and we were hit with two weeks of incredibly cold air called a polar vortex. Just a few weeks ago she was hanging out on the beach in Patagonia. Then she came back here in the last week or two. And we get this monster snow storm. I think that maybe she’s one of the X-Men. I am taking up a collection to rent her a house on the beach in Patagonia until March next year.
Since I have no choice but to deal with the snow, I attached a new blade to my wovel and I am ready for action. If you think this thing looks silly, you should try it. It works great at clearing snow.
I hadn’t ridden to work since Friday. So today’s bike commute, four days later, had a nice surprise: daylight! We had 6 minutes more daylight today than Friday. On a bike you are more in touch with your surroundings so you notice these sorts of things. I stopped on the Dyke Marsh boardwalk just before sunrise for a picture. I wonder if it is coincidence that the Spanish word for smile is sonrisa? Sunrise is the first smile of the day.
I used chemical hand warmers in my shoes today. The left one must have slipped to the rear because the toes on my left foot were frozen when I arrived at the office. When I jumped in the shower, the toes screamed with pain. Yet another reason why I don’t miss living up north.
People think I am crazy for riding to work on a day like today. Maybe I am but I consider these kinds of bike commutes an adventure. Is it crazy to start the day with an adventure or with a frustrating drive in bumper to bumper traffic? If you live in the moment, choose the moment that gives you a few minutes of happiness. Even if your toes freeze.
It felt like it was 10 degrees warmer for the ride home. I certainly appreciated the daylight for the first few miles. I was greeted by a snow squall for the last 6 miles of the commute. The snow was reflecting my headlight back into my eyes. I was riding blind. At one point my rear tire skidded after hitting a gum ball (not the candy, the seed ball from a gum tree). I remembered Bri’s advice to keep my upper body loose and go with it. The snow started sticking. It was getting slippery. Stay loose. I made it home without any more skidding. I had fun but I suspect this thin layer of snow will turn to ice overnight. This will mean no biking to work for me.
The current weather forecast calls for up to two feet of snow for Friday and Saturday. With any kind of luck it will be melted in a few days. I will probably be off the bike for a week afterwards because the National Park Service doesn’t plow the Mount Vernon Trail.
Winter is messing with us again. The wind chill was in the single digits when I fetched the morning newspaper. (Younger readers: it’s a pile of paper in a bag. There are words on it. It tells you what happened yesterday. It has comics and puzzles too.)
Last night’s wait-and-see weather reports about a big snow storm later in the week have turned ominous. There is a high likelihood of a major snowstorm, followed by no toilet paper or milk, and death from boredom.
So I left the warmth of my home on this federal holiday (see note below) and headed out into the cold. I used some hand warmers in my boots and hopped on The Mule and hoped for the best.
I rode around my neck of the woods for 12 1/2 miles. I was totally comfortable. Wadda ya know about that! Here is what I wore:
Goretex hiking boots
Hand warmers in the boots under my feet
Old bike tights
Mountain bike shorts
Rain pants (to reflect the wind)
Cheapo base layer from Target
Holey wool sweater
Marmot Precip rain jacket (wind again) with hood up
Thick neck gaiter
Wool winter cap
Of course, with all this on, I could barely move but I wasn’t in a hurry. I discovered I’ve been doing the hand warmer thing all wrong. You put them under your feet not on top of your feet. (They go between your socks and your shoes, never against your skin.) For more tips on hand warmers check this out.
I can handle the cold. I can handle the slow pace from wearing all this stuff. What drives me up the wall is the ten minutes it takes to put this stuff on, and the ten minutes to take it off.
Today was the first day I wore my trusty old holey sweater. Until now I was using my blue backup sweater. (I have two back up holey sweaters. I am holeyer than thou.) My old holey sweater is the perfect weight for winter around here.
I rode around the Fort Hunt neighborhood. I was surprised to see the Potomac River had no ice on it. It could be that the choppy waves kept the ice from forming. Or maybe it has a higher salt content down near Mount Vernon.
Underdressed kids were out on scooters and bikes. They didn’t seem the least bit cold. Kids are like that.
If it stays cold, we will all get used to it. That’s what I told my daughter who is spending the semester near Stockholm in Sweden.
I think Buddhists call this lying in the present moment.