My Ride in the Twilight Zone

After riding to the Nationals game on Saturday in the rain, I couldn’t pass up riding to the Sunday game when the forecast called for perfect baseball weather. So I hopped on the Cross Check at around 11 and headed to DC.

The ride in was just a little on the chilly side but the skies were blue and the trees had leaves. Spring rocks.

As I approached Jones Point Park, I noticed a cyclists standing next to a loaded bike. Seriously loaded. It was a cargo bike with six panniers, a handlebar bag, and a solar panel on the rear rack. The cyclist was looking at a map and seemed confused. I stopped and helped him by leading him through the streets of Old Town Alexandria. When we got to the Washington Sailing Marina between Old Town and National Airport we stopped to talk. Charles star26344076450_983dc79897_mted this ride in the Pacific Northwest. He rode down the west coast, hung a louie at San Diego and another at Saint Augustine. His tour had taken him over 5,000 miles so far. He spent last year riding coast to coast across the northern part of the US. He was planning on taking a break in DC. To buy a boat. And store it at the marina. Or some such thing. I couldn’t follow the logistics, probably because I couldn’t understand how he could afford to spend his life on a bike. And buy a boat.

I left Charles to his nautical aspirations and rode into DC. I absolutely love riding to the ballpark because I get to ride by the parking lots that get progressively more expensive as I get nearer to the park. The bike valet – really just a secure bike parking facility under the watchful eyes of two attendants – is inside the ballpark itself. It is free (except for the tip which you give to the attendants at check out).

I took my seat out in the stands beyond left field with the warm sun shining down on me. I had forgotten to bring sunscreen but I figured I would be okay for a couple of hours. I ate a sandwich that I brought instead of the expensive junk food at the park. Then I settled in for a nice game against a weak opponent, the Minnesota Twins.

As usually happens the people that I sat among became friends for the day. There was a mom and her ten-ish year old daughter in front of me. Daughter had a small baseball glove. (“You’re going to save me if a baseball comes our way, right?”) There were two dudes to my right manspreading and drinking beers. (I moved over a seat and got into the slouchy vibe.

The guy to my right scoffed at the Nats leadoff hitter, Matt den Dekker. “He can field but the Mets got rid of him because he can’t hit.” I retorted “He’s got some power for a little guy.” And so den Dekker homered to make me look like a baseball genius. Later, he made several brilliant catches in the outfield so my bro was also vindicated.

Our section had plenty of Minnesota fans. So there was good natured teasing going on throughout the game. Our fearless pitcher Stephen Strasburg pitched for seven innings after over 100 pitches he becomes mortal, but the bullpen was tired so the manager left him in. In a flash he gave up a three-run home run which landed about ten seats to my right. Down 4-1 it looked like the game was lost. People started to leave.

It was 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth. More people started to leave.

Our manager, Dusty Baker, had decided to rest the 2015 MVP, a fellow by the name of Bryce Harper, for the day. Baker actually told Harper before the game that he would only use him in a situation that would make him look like a hero. So Harper comes up to pinch hit and powers the second pitch he sees into the stand beyond center field. Tie game! The crowd goes nuts!

And so we went into extra innings. After four innings the Nationals have a comical race among six “presidents” who are men with giant heads. They run around the wa.rning track to a finish line tape near the Nats dugout. It is utterly stupid and funny as hell. Our game was running so long that they ran a second presidents race.

We were getting slap happy in the stands. The game dragged on. 10, 11, 12 innings.

The Nationals ran out of position players. They used a pitcher to pinch hit. He got a single. No lie.

Fans starting joking about being held hostage. All I could think of were the lyrics to “Band on the Run”:

If we ever get out of here

Thought of giving it all away

To registered charity

All I need is a pint a day

If we ever get out of here

If we ever get out of here

I moved down to the front row overlooking the left fielders. I yelled down to Werth, “Hey, Jason. Want some coffee?”

In the middle of the 14th inning we had a second seventh inning stretch. I kid you not.

The Twins left fielder, Eddie Rosario, had littered the grass with pieces of yellow paper. The Nats left fielder, Jason Werth, picked them up and

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My View of Werth


methodically arranged them in a neat row. A guy sitting behind me joked that Werth was trying to get enough paper to spell out SOS on the grass.  Another guy said, “Hey, we are literally trash talking.”

The Twins went ahead by a run in the top of the 15th. All hope was lost. Rosario made a mess of Werth’s paper pile. The fans in left field started yelling “Pick it up Eddie.” Rosario laughed. I yelled at him: “It’s karma, Eddie. You’ll pay for this.”

The Nationals got a man on first base. The Twins ignored him and he advanced to second. The next batter up was Oliver Perez, a pitcher who hadn’t batted since 2010. The Twins unbelievably brought in another reliever to face him.

All was lost. Until Perez dropped a bunt that the catcher fielded. Perez was out by a mile, except that the catcher threw the ball about six feet over the first baseman’s head. Tie game.

Karma, Eddie. Karma.

We moved to the 16th. Werth came out and repaired his pile of paper. The Twins didn’t score. The Nationals came to bat and their right fielder, Chris Heisey, launched a home run over the Twins bullpen. The place went completely nuts. Delirium.

Dusty Baker later called it a twilight zone game.

By this point, nearly six hours after the game started a chill was in the air. I was an odd combination of warm and cold. Six hours of sun on had given me a sunburn on the right side of my body. I wore a jacket to keep the left side of my body warm.

The by now thin crowd left with ear to ear grins. At the bike valet I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen since December. We celebrated our mini reunion and the exhausting victory with a huge hug.

And then I was off. As I crossed the Potomac into Virginia I stopped to admire an amazing sunset skyscape. Even with swarms of gnats (how appropriate) along the way, the ride home in the cool spring evening was perfect.

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Lemons and Cold, Wet Lemonade

“We’re definitely going to the Nationals game on Saturday and maybe on Sunday. Are you going? We could meet for a drink afterward.”

My friend sent me this invitation on Friday evening. I had already been thinking of going to a game this weekend and I have seen my friend only once since August. (How the hell did that happen? Life.)

So, thinking that “definitely going” and “we could meet…afterward” meant that they had already bought tickets, I bought a ticket of my own. Shortly after making my purchase my friend, who is on a tight budget, sent me a message:

“The upper gallery seats are sold out. We’ll have to stand in line for the $5 game day tickets tomorrow morning.”

What the hell happened to “definitely going?”

Given that the weather forecast called for morning rain followed by near perfect weather for the early afternoon game, it seemed that there was a good chance that my friend would not get tickets in the morning.  I decided to go with the flow and went to bed.

In the morning, the predicted rain was falling. My friend messaged me:

“We don’t feel like standing in the rain to get tickets so we aren’t going to the game.”

Definitely going, going, gone.

I was disappointed and more than a little upset. I felt like a dog who has been teased with food only to have it taken away. Rather than do my usual thing of sending back an angry repsonse, I turned off my phone, put on my rain gear, and hopped on my Cross Check for the 15 1/2 mile ride to the ballpark.

Did I mention rain gear? Yes, the forecast I saw last night said the rain would be over by 10 am. It was clear from a glance at the radar in the morning that the rain would be with us through noon at least.

The ride to DC along the Mount Vernon Trail was cold, wet, and solitary. Perfect for reflection and dissipating my harsh feelings toward how things had transpired.(No matter how hard I tried to deny it, I find it hard to dispel the notion that, for some reason, my social life has gone to hell since last summer. Life.)

When I arrived at the ball park it was still drizzling out. I parked my bike and headed into the park. By pure dumb luck my seats were covered by the third tier of the stadium. As the rain fitfully ended, the wind picked up. Straight into my face. I ate some food and drank some water and hoped for kindness from the weather gods. They were apparently busy with something else. I really needed some hot coffee but settle on a craft lager from the stand next to my seat. It tasted bitter and a bit nasty but it took my mind off my clammy discomfort.

Going to a baseball game alone is a roll of the social dice. You could sit next to nice people or drunken jackasses. (My father took us to a game at the old Yankee Stadium back in the post-Mantle era. The place was a wreck. To our right a spectator walked down the aisle, took a big swig of his beer and spit it in the face of a man seated on the aisle. A nasty, comically drunken brawl broke out. We thought it was far more entertaining than the game. My dad was not of the same opinion.)

To my right was a father and son. Dad was a total baseball nerd who yelled things at the players despite the futility of sitting so far from the field. His son, who was at least 21 judging by the beer he had, was ignorant of the rules or the strategy of the game. To my left a family sat. They were rather on the larger side of human. They appeared to have purchase one of every item in the food court. The teenage girl to my immediate left sat shivering in gym shorts. Her parents later bought her an official Washington Nationals unislipper (you put both feet in it to stay warm). What will they think of next. In front of me were three season ticket holders who seemed like quite pleasant adults. It was an interesting slice of humanity and I considered myself lucky to be seated where I was.


Except for the wind. The Nationals sprung out to a 2-0 lead. Their pitcher, Tanner Roark, was having a stellar day. He struck out 15 Twins in 7 innings without giving up a run. The Twins looked absolutely hapless at the plate. The Nats threatened but never crossed the plate again. They didn’t need to. They won 2-0. I even got to boo Jonathan Papelbon, our social-pond-scum closer.

The winds died down after a few innings but the sun and the warmth didn’t materialize until the game was nearly over. I walked out of the ballpark and the sun hit me. It was ten degrees warmer in the sunlight. Dang.

I hopped on my bike and celebrated with a tail-wind assisted ride home. The only downside to the ride was the traffic mind field of Old Town Alexandria. Cars and bike and pedestrians (but, to be honest, mostly cars) were moving about at random. I actually feared for my safety and was glad to be through the half-mile stretch unscathed.

When I got home I reflected on the game, the social mess that precipitated it, and the bike ride. I was glad I didn’t respond to my friend’s message. I would have Papelboned our friendship for sure.

With sunny skies forecasted for Sunday, I decided to buy a ticket to today’s game. I’ll be sitting near left field. In the sun. Maybe I’ll even drink a lemonade.


Missing in Action – Wood Floor Refinishing Edition

I kinda bailed on the blog for the last few days. I’ve been busy dealing with non-bike life. We had the wood floors refinished in two of the four levels of our house. It had been awhile. Like 51 years. Surprisingly they only replaced three boards. We spend many nights and weekends boxing up books (we read a LOT) and other stuff (we have a LOT of stuff). I think we filled something like 40 xerox paper boxes and at least 15 30 gallon trash backs with stuff. Moving all these boxes and the lightweight furniture to the bottom two levels of our house was a ton of work. We hired movers to take on the big stuff. Even if I were 20 years younger, there is no way I could handle the stuff they moved. Full size mattresses, a two-tier wood cabinet that weighs over 400 pounds, sofas, dressers filled with clothing, and more.

The flooring crew finished last Friday. Today the movers came and moved all the stuff back. In a half hour they moved the boxes that took us hours to move. (Pro trick: stack the boxes, pick them up behind you and lean them oDSCN4723.JPGn your back.)

The movers were done in under two hours total. Then I rode my bike to get a haircut because I was starting to look like Professor Irwin Corey and the neighborhood kids were afraid of me.After a quick lunch I started unpacking. After an hour of that I watched the Nationals lose to the Marlins. Then more unpacking (15 boxes down, 35 to go!). Then I mowed the lawn.

Now I am drinking a beer and contemplating higher consciousness. Actually, I don’t know about the consciousness part but I am rocking the higher aspect.

After maybe another beer, I will unload my music collection.

I’d ride my bike to the office tomorrow but that would be stupid since I am working from home. My next bike ride will probably be to Nationals Park this weekend, if I ever get around to buying a ticket that is.



Nice Day for a Spring Ride

I waited for the temperature to rise. I didn’t want to ruin a good spring ride by freezing my toes off. At 11:00 I leaped into action. Sort of. I kept misplacing things. After 45 frustrating minutes I head out on the Cross Check for a bagel. In Bethesda. Over 25 miles from home.

The Cross Check still doesn’t feel right but rather than mess with the set up I decided to ride it a ways. After six miles I stopped and slid the saddle back. I was feeling cramped and too upright. Afterwards I felt more comfortable. I breezed through Old Town with its abundance of well dressed church goers. (My church has two wheels, by god.)

North of Old Town the Mount Vernon Trail started getting crowded. The crowds didn’t bother me but the impatient riders passing with bike oncoming did. Some of these were Lance Mamilstrongs. Others were new to riding on busy, narrow trails. Thankfully, I managed not to get hit. I crossed over to DC and rode Ohio Drive and its pathetically designed side paths up to Rock Creek Park. The side path in Rock Creek Park improves somewhat. After a couple of miles of mediocre, it becomes downright horrible. Tree roots, 90 degree turns, pinch points, blind, low descents under overpasses. People with dogs obstructing the entire path as they admired each others pooches. Must not kill.


I finally made it to Beach Drive which is closed to cars. It was apparently open to every grade school kid in a 100 miles radius today. They were swarming like gnats. It took a while to get clear of them. Once I did, I found myself cruising up the  gradual incline at 14 1/2 miles per hour. I wasn’t straining at all. The Cross Check was just getting it done.

I took the Georgetown Branch Trail to the Rock Creek Trestle. I love hanging out in the treetops over Rock Creek. A woman was sitting in the bumpout on the opposite side of the trail. She was speaking on her phone in a Spanish accent. Next to her was a copy of Nick Hornby’s latest book. I love Nick Hornby. I passed up the opportunity to strike up a conversation with her because my tummy was having a conversation with my head. FEED ME!

I backtracked on the GBT to Bethesda Row where I bought a drink and a bage19217984431_878c8b2188_m.jpgl. I sat and ate and watched the people stroll by. This street is really good for people watching. And dog watching too. A golden retriever with waves of flowing red hair was laid out on the sidewalk next to my bench. What a beautiful creature. (Full disclosure: I grew up with a golden retriever. They are the best dogs. Dumb as dirt but they will let you use them as a pillow when you watch TV. And they will defend you to the death.) I want to be a golden retriever in my next life.

After my snack, I headed over to Bradley Boulevard. I rode through Bethesda amid azaleas and dogwoods in bloom. The temperature was perfect for riding. The traffic was light. Yay spring!

Bradley to Kentsdale to Newbridge to Democracy to Falls. I was cruising among the megamansions of Potomac. I hear they have real housewives here.

A left  onto Falls took me through Potomac Village and all the way to Great Falls Park. Cars were parked illegally everywhere. I took a right to ride down to the C&O Canal on the access road. After a fun half mile glide, I came upon a half mile line of cars waiting to get parking in the parking lot.  I rode past the cars and made it to the admissions booth. I was waved in. It was National Parks Day. Admission was free. “Free” sounds like a good idea. Sometimes it’s not. I rode very slowly through the throngs for at least 15 minutes. It was like riding on the sidewalk in Manhattan. Nothing ruins nature quite like tens of thousands of well meaning people.

After the falls the crowds thinned a bit and I could get up to about 10 miles per hour. Carefully, I avoided spooking the strollers near Widewater, easily one of the best parts of the entire 185 mile long park.

I finally cleared the swarm and brought my bike up to a 13.6 mile per hour cruising speed. Why 13.6? I don’t know. I just locked into that speed.

I am happy to report that the Cross Check loves the towpath. I can see many gravel rides in the future. (North Central Rail Trail? Anybody? Bueller?)

I was on autopilot all the way back to Georgetown. I switched over the paved Capital Crescent Trail at Fletchers Boat House. It has way too many tree roots until you get to the last mile which has been recently paved. Zoom.

K Street under the Whitehurst Freeway was a parking lot. I think we need to just ban cars in certain places on Sundays. They are just too big and clumsy. We could pile them up and burn them. We could invite all kinds of latter day hippies, techies, and spiritual whack jobs. Maybe we could do this in the desert. Rosslyn on a Sunday would work. We could call it “Burning Car”.  Maybe we could get the drum circle from Meridian Hill Park to come and not keep a beat.

The ride home retraced my northbound journey. The trails were not as busy as before. Behind the power plant near Old Town, the MVT goes through some blind curves. As I approached I rode my brakes. Sure enough a rider came around the curve on my side of the path. I avoided a head on collision for sure. The rider seemed shocked that passing two pedestrians on a blind curve might not work out so well. I do hope she doesn’t drive a school bus for a living.

I rolled south on Union Street in Old Town. A police cruiser pulled out in front of me. I followed it to the intersection with Gibbon Street. This is where Alexandria police ticket cyclists for rolling through the stop sign. So I watched as patrol car 1414 rolled through the very same stop sign. It was the third such incident this week. The League of American Cyclists will soon designate Alexandria as a Bicycle Hypocritical City at the Silver level.

I rolled home with my lungs burning. The pollen and towpath dust had caught up to me and my asthma was really giving me a hard time.  I  made it home in a bit of discomfort with 69 miles on the odometer. This was easily my longest ride of the year.  But for the asthma attack I could have kept going. Let’s see if I wake up with any back issues tomorrow morning.



Manassas Gap: A Short Hike on the AT

The floor refinishing job in our house is done. All that is left is the move back into the rooms which will happen on Thursday. In the meantime we are staying off the floors as much as possible. They look great but the air in the house is a tad stinky. (Not nearly as bad as I expected.) So getting out of the house was the plan.

I decided to use the perfect spring weather for a hike. I drove to Linden Virginia to do a solo 2 1/2 mile out-and-back hike on the Appalachian Trail. Last year I did a similar hike a few miles to the north at Ashby’s Hollow. It was pretty tough. That section of the AT is called the roller coaster for good reason.

This hike started 100 yards from I-66 and went up. And up. And up. Most of the climbing was done through as series of switchbacks. For the first half mile, I could hear the traffic on the interstate. Once I put the mountain between me and the highway I was good to go.

I stopped to take pictures as I went. Not because I was seeing anything particularly spectacular but to put space between me and two women who were hiking together. I followed a spur to check out an overlook. It was pretty but I’ve seen the view 100 times before from the highway below.

The trees are just starting to leaf. This allowed me to see a long way through the dense forest down the side of the mountain I was climbing. When I was little, I broke a rule about staying near home and went for a hike in the woods that began a mile away.  It seemed like I was walking forever. It was really only about a mile. There was a thick carpet of pine needles and the pine trees muffled sounds of the nearby roads and suburbs. For some reason, this hike called to mind that one.

The AT is very easy to follow. This section of the trail is well maintained (by volunteers, I might add). I had passed the two hikers before the spur. When I came back to the AT, they were a few hundred yards ahead. I fiddled with picture taking allowing them to get out of sight.

I wanted some space from people and things. My wife and I have been confined to two rooms that are crammed with furniture for the rest of the house. This and a week in the office including attending a retirement reception for our old boss, made my introverted self feel very much trapped.

I was alone. And Asian man, perhaps 50 years old, came bounding down the trail in my direction. He had a big smile on his face. Then I was alone again. Slogging up the hill. I’d smile too if I were coming down.

Then I head footsteps behind me. Within minutes a bearded hiker with a backpack came past. He was moving at a steady clip, much faster than me. We said our hellos and he was gone.

At times the trail flattened out and my pace picked up. This was not a race. I spent most of my attention on the rocky path in front of me. If you look away while walking you’ll trip for sure. So you have to focus on the task at hand. If that isn’t meditative I don’t know what is.

Eventually I came to a shelter built for AT hikers. A middle aged man, his teenaged soon, and the hiker who blew by me were talking. The hiker had begun his trek at the start in Georgia. He was nearly halfway to Maine. The boy aspired to hike the AT with his father. They were doing their first recon of the trail on the date that the boy had set back in December. (This is one determined kid.)  The hiker told us some tales. He wasn’t hiking for some great spiritual experience. He just like to hike and had the time and the money. Why not. He seemed like a totally normal bloke out for a 2,200 mile stroll in the woods.


After about 30 minutes I headed back down to the car. The going was much easier. No wonder the Asian man was smiling. I passed another northbound through hiker. I told him about the shelter and the through hiker I had met. “He’s my partner.”  No wonder he wasn’t lonely.

We went our separate ways. Two more Asian hikers came through. Maybe this was a coincidence. I had read that in Japan walking in the woods is held in high regard. Perhaps it was a cultural thing. Japanese researchers find hiking to be good medicine for the stress of urban life.

Another half mile and I came upon what looked like a husband and wife. They smiled but didn’t say anything. They were wearing ear buds. I cannot for the life of me understand why you’d wear earbuds in the woods.

After about two miles of downhill trudging, my lower back (which I had pulled a few days ago) was starting to rebel. To ease the strain, I broke into a trot. Of course, this made my knees angry. To take my mind off the discomfort, I looked through the trees down the mountain, trying to pick out the trail as it switched back and forth.

Back at the car, I ran into a man who was about to head up the trail for an overnight hike. He had no information so I told him about the shelter at 2 1/2 miles. Maybe someday he’ll just keep on going all the way to Maine.

The pix I took are over on my Flickr page.

I was thinking of driving to Philadelphia tomorrow to watch the Nationals play. I’ve never seen a game there. I tweeted the idea and none of my tweeps seemed he least bit interested in joining me. So I guess I’ll do a long ride somewhere. The Cross Check is itchin’ to get out.




Must Be Spring Fever

It’s been a weird week. I took Monday off to watch some large humans play house tetris. This is the moving of stuff from the top two levels of your house to the bottom two levels so that the floors in the upper two levels can be refinished. Our floors are 50 years old and have never been touched so we thought it might be time. Pro tip: if you are getting splinters when walking across your floors, you’ve waited too long. Although we had waited too long, we no longer have kids in the house so the disruption to our lives is only an 8 on the PIA scale.

The moving crew consisted of two people. They picked up some furniture that must have weighed in excess of 300 pounds. They moved these items around with apparent ease never touching a wall or a ceiling.

After they were done, I jumped on my Cross Check for a ride. It was a bit breezy and about 60 degrees, I could hear my Cross Check calling my name. I rode down to Mount Vernon. Along the way I spotted a trike with a red cargo trailer. The trailer had an American and a Chinese flag flying from the back. Words on the sides of 26125370960_b14afab962_mthe trailer said it h
ad been ridden over 140,000 kilometers and visited 23 countries on behalf of Olympic spirit and Jesus. If I had examined the trailer for a longer time I might have seen a reference to weight loss, autism, and MSG avoidance. The trailer was being ridden into the wind by an ancient Asian man who looked like a character out of Kill Bill. When he reached an incline he dismounted and pulled the trailer and trike with a strap.

On my way back from Mount Vernon I slowed as I rode past Fort Hunt Park. Near its nest, I could clearly see a massive bald eagle.  It was too far away for a picture on my phone but it seemed like the biggest eagle I’ve seen in a long time.

I continued on to Dyke Marsh. I spotted a photographer with a monster lens on his camera under the Tulane Eagle Nest. I hadn’t seen an eagle there yet this year, but he pointed out another huge bald eagle on a branch high above.

I parked at Dyke Marsh and did an out and back stroll on the trail. (No bikes allowed.) I hadn’t been on this trail in years but recent Instagram pictures from my friend Linel gave me the idea to check it out. Well worth the time.

I rode home and called it a day.

Early Tuesday the flooring crew showed up. We chose a stain and headed out to work. Little Nellie got the call because of rain in the area. I managed to get through 10 miles before the skies opened up. At least I had a tailwind.

When we arrived back home, nearly the entire floor on two levels of the house had been sanded clear. The finest coating of sawdust covered every surface. I spent an hour dusting and vacuuming. My sinuses were not happy.

Today, I rode Big Nellie to work. It was ten degrees colder and I had a headwind but I didn’t mind one bit. Riding in the daylight can do that to you. After work, I was pushed home by a steady tailwind. While we were at work, the crew stained our floors using something called, I think, a natural stain. Whatever it was it made the floors look pretty good. They also smell pretty bad. (I have a headache as I write this.) Tomorrow two coats of sealant go down. The joint may be uninhabitable.

At least it’s Spring.

P.S. Tomorrow my daughter turns 21. At the moment, she is living in Sweden which means, for her, it is already her birthday. She’s 21 and has visited 20 countries outside the US. Dang. When I was 21, I had been to five states and two provinces. I had been on a plane once. For about 30 minutes. Times sure have changed.




Miscellaneous Bikeless Sunday

It was a rather peripatetic Sunday at the Rootchopper Institute. Yesterday, winter returned with the biggest snowflakes I think I’ve ever seen. It was a clumpy dusting if that makes any sense.

Mrs. Rootchopper and I spent few hours playing house tetris. It’s really fun. You move your belongings out of the top two levels of your house into the bottom two levels so that the moving company can take on all the really heavy stuff tomorrow. Then the floor refinishers come in to do their thing for the rest of the week.

After the tetris was finished, I mowed the lawn in shorts and a long sleeve t-shirt despite the fact that it was a breezy 45 degrees outside. I simply refuse to give in to the idea that it’s still this cold outside.

Next up was watching the Nats game on TV. I could have gone to the game but nothing says misery quite like watching baseball and freezing your ass off. With the score tied, the cable company inexplicably started showing a cooking show for kids. This was followed by a PSA featuring realistic looking gangbangers. Yes, junior, finish off that banana oatmeal bread that we made from scratch while we watch these homies shoot up.

Finally, after the Nats had taken a three-run lead, the game came back on.

The Nats won 4-2 so I headed over to Huntley Meadows Park to check out the wetlands.  Huntley Meadows consists of over 1,500 acres situated in the Hybla Valley. The rest of Hybla Valley is suburban sprawl. It is bounded to the northeast by Beacon Hill. All the nasty stuff that comes off our cars or is sprayed on our roads of is spread on our lawns drains into these wetlands which act as a filter for the Potomac River. This sounds gross, I know, but the park is really just woods and a swamp. What’s coolest about Huntley Meadows is that it is never the same as the last time you went. It used to be that the wetlands were maintained by deliberate human intervention. Nowadays, it seems that the humans have backed off and let nature take over.

Today, the park was dotted with beaver lodges. One of them was actually built into the boardwalk that goes out into the swamp. Another seemed to tower five feet above the waterline. I could clearly see beaver dams in various places and the high water that was building behind them. Canada geese, coots, and a couple of great blue herons were visible. Soon there will be turtles and snakes and other critters. The only downside to the park is that it is becoming increasingly popular. Ten years ago I could walk the two-mile trail and see only a couple of people. I probably saw 20 or 30 today.

When I came back home, I turned on the TV. The Nats came was being shown again. As luck would have it, I got to watch the part of the game I missed. We still won.

Tomorrow is an off day so that I can supervise the moving crew. In about a week we get to play house tetris in reverse. If you are nice, you can come over an play. It’s fun. Really.

Time to go take some pain killers and muscle relaxants.

Here are some pix from the park.



Three Little Things

Thing One

The last few days have had some interesting moments. The other day I was riding Little Nellie to work. I didn’t feel so well but I had to go to work so that I could go to see Santana in DC with Mrs. Rootchopper. (It’s her real name. I swear!)

About 2 1/2 miles from home, I drop down a steep hill. I can easily hit 30 miles per hour on this one. After that I have about 1/2 mile to go before I come to the crossing of the busy George Washington Parkway. Car and bus commuters use the same intersection. The car commuters generally are turning north to head to Alexandria and DC and the bus commuters are crossing to catch the north-bound bus.

The cars queue up, often ten deep. I suppose I could join the line, but typically I ride carefully past the cars on their left hand side. On this day I saw that there was ample space between the edge of the road and the left hand side of the cars so I decided to squeeze by them to the right. This is not a good idea. I noticed a passenger side door crack open and hit my brakes. I came to a stop at the rear fender of the car just as the shotgun seat passenger hopped out right into my line of travel. He was getting out to run for the bus. I may have yelled something. He looked at me and said “sorry” as he closed the door on his back to let me pass unharmed.

My brain went into immediate aggressive mode and I barked some angry words back at him as I rode by. After about three minutes and well beyond the crossing, I realized that he was actually not at fault. Anytime you squeeze by a car on the passenger side, you are asking to get doored. This passenger had no reasonable expectation that a bike would be there.

Still I hope my harsh words will make him think twice the next time he opens a car door.

Santana was entertaining but we didn’t get on the road (with Little Nellie in the trunk of my wife’s car) until 11:30. By the time I got to bed it was clear that I was dying a slow death at the hands of the Pollen Beast.

I slept until 10 the next morning. I NEVER do this. By Friday I was back in action.

Thing Two

On my ride home last night, I diverted from Union Street, the mainline of the Mount Vernon Trail through Old Town. Instead I rode up Royal or Fairfax Street. There is a stop sign at the end of each block. There were cars and buses about so I was being careful and stopping at each stop sign. I was passed by an Alexandria City police vehicle, an SUV. I followed it up the street and watched as it rolled through two stop signs. The driver was in no hurry, he or she just did what everybody else does. My only problem is that APD goes out of its way to give tickets to cyclists who do the very same thing in Old Town. I waved a mittened hand at the cop. He waved back. Have a nice day.

Thing Three

Today is Saturday. The Nationals are scheduled for a 4 pm game. It’s April 9. And it’s snowing outside. The biggest flakes I’ve seen in a long time. And it’s sticking. And the wind is blowing. And it’s cold.


They postponed the game. I am staying inside. Until May.



Teach Your Children Well

Nelle Pearson of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association is collecting stories of parents, especially in Northern Virginia, who taught their kids how to ride a bike and didn’t have a good place to go.

I learned on a dead end street in Albany NY. There were no curbs, just lots of grass for crashing. On my first solo, I rode the length of the street and t-boned a passing car. For the record, my brother Jim, who is one year older, swears it was him who did the t-boning. Either way it was a hell of a start.

Jim and I used training wheels but my sister Margaret who is 2 1/2 years younger than I learned how to ride the hard way. While I was in school, she pushed my bike down the driveway, jumped on and rode it up the neighbor’s lawn across the street until she crashed. Then she’d get up and do it all over again. She would not be denied.

I watched a friend’s son learn to ride on a tennis court. He was determined to shed his training wheels while we were visiting. He got on, rode a few feet and crashed spectacularly. After a few sniffles, he got on again and Voila! he was free!!!

My son was another mighty determined learner. Our street is part of a loop of streets in the neighborhood connecting to a main road. The main road is a busy two-lane nightmare born of Fairfax County’s thoughtless housing policies of the 1960s – 1980s. My son stayed mostly on the sidewalk and, with supervision, in the street in front of our house. We would take him to the local school parking lot where he could ride with less precision. Finally, we took off the training wheels and ran after him as he wobbled down the middle of our street. After running ourselves ragged, we posted one parent here and the other there and, with a starting shove, he rode between us.

His first solo ride happened after he begged me to ride around the neighborhood on the sidewalk. Mom was inside so I made him promise to stop at every single driveway. He promised. Off he went. Soon he was out of view. Mom came out. “Where is he!!!!!?????” “No worries.” Minutes seemed like hours. Soon he re-appeared around the clubhouse turn. You never saw a prouder kid when he stopped in front of his mom. A few years later, on a single speed bike, he rode BikeDC (in the rain) and the Tour de Port in Baltimore with me.

My daughter wanted nothing to do with crashing. It was totally undignified and would mess up her pretty dress. At one point she was riding down the street and careened toward the curb. Down she went. She slid head first right into the storm drain. Her helmet lodged in the opening as she came to a stop. This may be why, these days her favorite bike is a Subaru.

Teaching a kid to ride a bike is one of the great joys of parenting. Here are two bits of advice.

First, my sister had the right idea. Training wheels are a waste of money and actually make learning to ride harder. Think about it. The number 1 hardest part about riding a bike is learning to balance. Training wheels defeat this. Also, with training wheels your kid has to master steering, balancing, braking and pedaling all at once. This is overload. So either get a balance bike (the kind with no pedals) or make one. Just take the pedals off your kid’s bike and push the seat way down so your kid can duck walk the bike. As he/she gets more confident raise the seat. Once they have mastered balancing, put the pedals on.  There are tons of how to videos too like this one.

My second words of advice are DO NOT TAKE YOUR KID TO THE LOCAL BIKE TRAIL!!!! I live near the Mount Vernon Trail. My kids did not ride on it until they had been riding without training wheels for two years. Bike trails are narrow. They have bridges and cross streets and trees and other obstacles. And other trails users fly by at scary speeds. Trust me, this is the last place a new bike rider wants to be. Instead, take your kid to a local school parking lot. Let him or her ride far away from any cars or other obstacles. Even better, if you live in or near Alexandria, take your kid to Jones Point Park. It’s right next to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge at the south end of Old Town. Under the bridge there is all kinds of space to ride around in circles. There is also a water fountain and a bathroom. And playgrounds nearby for when Junior has maxed out on the biking thing.

Your kid is going to crash. It’s part of the process. Kids are made of rubber. Really. They heal incredibly fast too. Back in my day we learned how to ride without helmets or pads. We did not die. Your kid won’t either. Boo boos can be treated with hugs, mom spit, bandaids, and popcicles.

If you are the kid of parent that transmits DOOM whenever your kid falls down, pay somebody to teach your kid to ride. Sounds crazy? We paid a swimming instructor to teach our kids to swim. Miss Bonnie didn’t let them drown, not even once. Your kid will survive.

I guarantee you one thing: watching your kid ride a bike on his or her own for the very first time will stick in your head for the rest of your life. It is one of life’s most joyful moments. Even without t-boning a car.


Opening Day Is a Tailwind

Spring is a time of optimism. Stuff is growing and blooming. The sun is high in the sky. My skin is tanned. (Okay, we’ll leave out the part about the nagging, pollen-induced cough.) With warm air coming in, I often get a tailwind for the ride to work.

I am such a sucker for a tailwind. I’ve been riding a bike for over 50 years and I still let a tailwind convince me that I am in great biking shape. What an idjit!

Opening day is a tailwind. The home team looks utterly invincible. Look at all that talent. NOBODY can beat my team.

Then they start playing and you realize that the other team can hit and pitch and field too. Soon reality creeps in. There are all sorts of unpleasant things that can happen. You are reading the words of a man whose 12th birthday coincided with the beaning of Tony Conigliaro. Ugh. It’s hard to stay in the moment when you have that hideous picture of 22 year old Tony C.’s face with a massive bruise in the form of  a baseball over his left eye.

But all is well. The Nats won. It took 10 innings but they got it done.

Opening day isn’t really about baseball. It is about optimism. It’s just going to be a great summer. I KNOW it. As I watched today’s Nats game I was giddy with the feeling that every day will be warm. There will be hikes and bike rides and summer days in the ballpark and vacations with friends and family. Life is a tailwind, baby.

The forecast for tomorrow morning calls for temperatures near freezing and a strong headwind.

Who’s in chahge of the weathah around heah? Bucky Fuckin’ Dent?