Great Falls > New Tires

The plan was to put two new tires on The Mule. Then I walked outside. It was MUGGY. Then I looked at the old tires on The Mule. They looked acceptable. Sort of.

Then I jumped on my neglected Cross Check and headed to Great Falls Park in Maryland.

The first 13 miles was essentially my commute route, the Mount Vernon Trail and the 14th Street Bridge, to DC. Ohio Drive and some sidewalks masquerading as bike trails took me to K Street in Georgetown. I survived the half mile traffic gauntlet and made it to the Capital Crescent Trail.

I was making pretty decent time. This is attributable to three factors: a light tailwind, fresh legs, and, well, I’m a badass.

I switched over to the C&O Canal towpath at mile 18. The Cross Check loves the towpath. After a couple of miles, I had some solitude and it was bliss. Sweaty bliss but bliss nonetheless.

I rode past Widewater, a section of the canal just downriver from Great Falls. There were about 8 women sitting on stand up paddle boards in the canal. They were finishing, I am not making this up, a yoga class. Floating yoga? Really?

I stopped to check out the rapids at Great Falls. It rained heavily yesterday and the rapids were muddy and raging. If you’ve never been to DC, make sure you put Great Falls on your to do list. (I prefer the Maryland side because it has the towpath, a trail out through the rapids, and several really good hiking trails.)



After watching the water show, I headed out of the park on the access road. It’s a long up hill that leads to what is normally a fun, curving downhill. Unfortunately, the road surface is choppy and, even on the Cross Check, not a road I want to ride over 30 miles per hour on.

I survived the descent.

The ride back was a familiar one along MacArthur Boulevard to Resevoir Road, back to the canal. From there I retraced my ride out with the exception of using a new bike path through the park on the Georgetown waterfront. The path is nice enough, but on an oppressively hot day the pedestrians and tourists on bikes were annoying. They’d just stop and chat in the middle of the path.

I had the following conversation a half dozen times:


“Oh. Sorry.”

I have the patience of a Swede.

The ride home was uneventful. There were no Lance Mamilots to irritate me. Despite encountering plenty of families with little ones riding tentatively on the trail, I remained civil.

How unlike me.

When I arrived home, my odometer read


So I went inside and had this:



The Key Thing Is, I’m Not Senile

Today was chore day. I replaced a light bulb in a ceiling light. I researched 529 account reimbursements. I made two trips to the hardware store for a toilet repair that didn’t take. I ordered the proper toilet part online. I went to Home Despot for weed whacker twine. I repaired my Carradice Burley saddle bag.

When I got home I locked the car and put my purchases away. Then I realized that the key that I used to lock the car was not in my pocket. It was nowhere. I retraced my steps. Again. And again. And again. No keys.

I asked my wife and daughter where the spare key was. It was with our son. In Thailand. I am not making this up.

I searched the target area like I was looking for a downed aircraft at sea. No luck.

Finally, I decided the key had to still be in the car. I called a locksmith. He came withing the hour. He pried a gap in the door. Then he inserted a bladder and inflated it. This created enough space for him to insert his magic door opening tool. He had the door opened in two minutes.

I looked through the car. High and low. No key. And the alarm went off. We’re havin’ fun now.

After five minutes which seemed like an eternity, the alarm stopped.

I retraced my steps. On my hands and knees. No key.

I opened the car door to do another search. The alarm went off again. F meeee!

The last time I felt this bewildered about a car was when my car was stolen from a dirt parking lot near L’Enfant Plaza where I used to work. (The lot is now filled with expensive town homes.)  Did I park it somewhere else in the lot? Did I leave the door opened? Was I losing my mind?

Nope. My car was swiped.

Over the next few days I looked for it. I rode my bike through the parking lots at National Airport, the perfect place to drop a hot car. No luck.

The car finally showed up in a townhouse development in Franconia VA.

Nothing makes you fell like your mind is broken than something utterly unexpected happening. Like losing  your keys. Or having your car stolen. Or, not to be too morbid, when someone you know dies for some completely random reason.

I have contacted my son to send us his car key. Tomorrow, weather permitting, I am renting a metal detector. I am not losing my mind.




My wife came home and did another search. She found the damned key.

She asked me “Where do Alzheimer’s patients lose their keys?” The answer is in the freezer.

She pointed to our refrigerator. I opened the door and there was the key.

I laughed my ass off.

Then, she told me she actually found the key in the grass near the front door to the house.

I’ve been punked.

But I’m so glad we found the key.



Ride with TinLizzie

My round trip normal bike commute is about 29 miles give or take an odometer and depending on my route. This isn’t the longest bike commute in the DMV (that’s local hipster speak for the DC area) but it’s plenty long if you are 60 years old. Trust me. Not that I’d ever own up to being 60 (unless it gets me a pity discount, then I’m nearly 61).

Today’s bike commute was only 4 1/2 miles. No, I didn’t move and, no, my office didn’t send me to work at the strip mall near my house. Today I took my daughter’s car to the mechanic for its 5,000 mile/2-year oil change. Basically, the car has been a curb ornament since we bought it. She was studying abroad for a year and Delta charges a fortune for small Subarus.

I drove her car to my mechanic in North Arlington, about 2 miles from work. Little Nellie was in the trunk. (Don’t you think “boot” is a better word than “trunk”?) After dropping the car off I took to the mean streets so that I could follow an unprotected bike lane all the way to my office. About 1/2 mile into this trek, I ran into (figuratively of course) Elizabeth who works for Arlington County in some sort of transit promo capacity. She is a bike commuter with a sewing habit. She writes about both in her blog  She’s infinitely more creative than me.

(Digression No. 1: Despite the fact that her blog title uses the name Lizzie, Elizabeth prefers not to be called Liz or Lizzie. She goes by Elizabeth. Which is only mildly confusing since there is a Friday Coffee Clubber named Elisabeth who goes by Lis. My fusiform gyrus hurts.)

(Digression No. 2: I should clarify that I took my daughter’s car to my mechanic not Elizabeth’s husband. She calls him “The Mechanic.” I don’t know if this is because he can fix things or because he looks like Charles Bronson. )

Elizabeth she works a couple of blocks uphill from my office so I did her regular commute with her. We talked a bit, as much as you can while dodging big metal things. Along the way, I was cut off four times my cars veering to or turning to the right across the bike lane. None of the four signaled. (Later, while driving home a driver with Massachusetts vanity plates – a sure sign of a Masshole – veered into my lane. I happened to be in the space he was veering  into so I was forced into the oncoming travel lane. I’ll keep my bike commute, thank you very much.) This was very unSwedish of them.

On my return trip to the mechanic, I chose to ride through the Intersection of Doom and take the Custis Trail rather than deal with the more direct route on Arlington’s streets. I did return to the streets for about a mile. A block from the mechanic’s I had to bail onto the sidewalk because a shuttle bus and a Honda SUV had made contact. The shuttle bus won. No one was hurt.

Tomorrow, I go back to the 29-mile grind. I won’t be seeing Elizabeth but with any sort of luck I’ll see one of my regulars: Chris M. or Lawyer Mike or Bob-Don’t-Call-Me-Rachel or Running Mom or the Trash Walker or The Hoppy Runner or the Three Step Runner or maybe even Nancy One-Shed Duley.

Making the Landscape Move through You

One day when I was in college, I drove my older brother around in a car. He was (and is still, for all I know) a skilled photographer. As he took pictures, I remarked again and again, “Why are you wasting film on that?” His answer was that what seems mundane to me may be fascinating to a photographer. “A photographer views his world differently,” he said. I didn’t really understand him.

Fast forward to about ten years ago. My eyesight was terrible. I had had two surgeries to repair a detached retina in my left eye. The result was that the vision from my left eye was blurry and far more nearsighted than my right. Given that my vision in my right eye was something like 20/400 this was a significant problem. To make matters worse, my post-surgery vision while passable was also severely deficient in depth perception. (Before the retina detachment, while wearing my glasses, I could see well enough to hit medium speed pitches at the local batting cages. After, I couldn’t put the bat on the ball if my life depended on it. Was I low, high, early, late? I just could not tell.)

Then I got lucky. I got cataracts.

Before the surgery my lenses were cloudy. This made it very hard to see at night and put a yellowish tinge on everything I saw. The surgery (which takes ten minutes per eye under light sedation) involves removing your lens (one eye at a time) and replacing it with a man-made lens. Since your lens is being replaced, you can replace it with a lens of a different power. So a more powerful corrective lens went in my bad, left eye than the lens lens that went into my right eye. The result was literally awesome.

(Digression: my father was an ophthalmologist. Often when walking in a shopping mall or other public place, someone would walk up to him and thank him profusely. I thought these people were bonkers, but now I had a first hand understanding of where they were coming from.)

The replacement lenses got me to 20/100 or so in both eyes so I still wear glasses, but my fully corrected vision is, well, eye opening.

One day, after getting my new glasses, I was standing in the opening to my shed facing the yard. A passing shower was dropping rain on my back yard but half the sky was clear allowing the evening sun to strike the raindrops at an angle. My new eyes saw these raindrops as shining silver droplets; they seemed like tinsel falling through the air. I had never seen anything like it.

Normally, when we move through a landscape we focus broadly. We see everything as a whole. We correctly perceive ourselves passing through the landscape as things we see leave our focus and move behind us.

Lately while riding my bike I’ve started playing with how my eyes focus on the world I am passing through. I pick out an object like an tree limb overhanging the trail and focus my attention on it. This causes the limb to take on a separate place in the visual field, not unlike the 3-D effect of a Viewmaster. The rest of my visual field is slightly out of focus. I notice that when I do this eye trick as I ride, it seems like the landscape is moving and I am staying still. As if, the landscape is moving through me.

My commute is really beautiful, but I have ridden the Mount Vernon Trail to and from DC several thousand times. I can practically ride it with my eyes closed. Now, however, my little perception experiment is opening my eyes to an entirely different perspective.

I can’t help but wonder if I would have been able to pull off this visual stunt with normal, healthy eyes.




Words from the B Side

Like the B side of Abbey Road, here are some loose fragments thrown together.

  • Joy: Few things give me as much joy as going to a Nats game with my kids.27865781243_74774b377e_m
  • Gratitude: My father was an ophthalmologist. In my life I have had severe myopia, two retinal detachments, cataracts in both eyes, secondary cataracts in both eyes, and glaucoma. I am thankful my father was not a psychiatrist. Or a proctologist.
  • Vagina: I was riding home on the Mount Vernon Trail this week. As I approached the Memorial Bridge underpass, a male passenger in a car passing on the George Washington Memorial Parkway yelled “VAGINA!” at me.
  • Sting: Riding to work yesterday at my usual 10 mile per hour pace along Union Street in Old Town Alexandria, a pedestrian said hello and told me that the police were ticketing cyclists up ahead. A block later, another pedestrian warned me. I was given three more warnings by pedestrians until I finally saw the police. I pulled over and laughed. This had to be the lamest stop sign sting ever.
  • Safety: The police are trying to make Old Town safer for pedestrians in the morning. The pedestrians don’t seem all that worried, mostly because pedestrian safety is not a problem on Union Street in the morning. It’s in the evenings when drivers are randomly wandering looking for parking spaces or trying to rush home and the Lance Mamilots are speeding through stop signs. Ticketing harmless early morning commuters just pisses people off to no purpose. It also does wonders for citizen/police relations.
  • Blind: I pointed out to the police officer that homeowners routinely park illegally blocking sidewalks and bike lanes in Old Town. He said, “If you call it in, we’ll come and ticket them.” Apparently, seeing the violations (they occur on virtually every block down near the river) is not enough to get them to act. You could probably rob a bank in Old Town during a cell phone outage.
  • Doom: A similar police response occured in Rosslyn, near my office. I was nearly hit by a red light runner in the fabled Intersection of Doom this week. I complained to the Arlington police via Twitter and they said that the county cut their funding for enforcement in this intersection but that they “will investigate” any traffic violations that I call in. Seriously. They actually said that.
  • Cut: If only I could get a 10 percent cut of all the traffic and parking violations I see on my bike commute each day. I could buy a new bike. Next week!
  • Disrespect: Apparently, many drivers think the Mount Vernon Trail is a turn around lane. Several times each week I have to stop while a car does a three point turn across the trail. Why can’t they just use some other part of the road or a driveway? It’s as if they go out of their way to treat trail users with disrepect.
  • Wave: When I yell at a driver who does something blatantly illegal like run a red light or turn across a crosswalk with bikes or pedestrians in it, the driver usually waves. Sometimes with a cell phone in hand.
  • Being: I cannot understand how anyone can sit and meditate for long periods of time. They probably can’t understand how I can ride a bike for hours at a time. Doesn’t much matter since our minds get the same result.
  • Friend: When you tell a friend, “We’ll get together soon enough” you really ought not wait six months then invite him to an event with 40+ other people. You don’t want a friend, your ego wants an audience.
  • Irony: I haven’t been to Friday Coffee Club in months. The new location is farther from my line of travel in the mornings. I miss the people but I don’t miss getting up a half hour earlier on a Friday so I can ride bleary eyed to get a cup of caffeine.
  • Busy: This has been the busiest three months I can remember. All of these things have happened since May 1:
    • An event ride in NYC
    • A ride in an ambulance to an ER (okay, not planned but still…) followed by a week of recovery
    • Three bike events in one weekend
    • A two-week trip to four Scandinavian countries
    • A two-week bike trip in northern Wisconsin and Michigan
    • More baseball games than I can remember attending
    • A family reunion
    • Hanging with my kids who were both home for a week for the first time since last May.
  • Busier: I have even more stuff on my calendar through the middle of August. So if you live in DC and you haven’t seen me in a while, we’ll get together soon enough. Doh!

Sticky, Wet, and Grumpy

This morning was a rude re-introduction to biking to work in DC. It was incredibly muggy. I was sweating before I pedaled once. Ick.

I rode Big Nellie to ease my way back into reality. It was a smooth fast ride to work. A fellow bike commuter passed me without warning with inches to spare near Porto Vecchio just south of Old Town. I yelled at him to give a warning. He passed a man walking a dog again without warning. I rang my bell and passed the man who proceeded to yell at me for not giving a warning. I said I gave a warning and rang my bell again. “You have to do it louder!”

I can’t win.

I miss the peaceful riding with logging trucks going past at 60 miles per hour.

At the north end of Old Town, a resident had parked his car completely obstructing the sidewalk. Did you know that Alexandria’s city motto is “Where pedestrians come last.”?

I managed to avoid any more unpleasantness until the evening commute.27782018774_13c91636c0_m

My co-workers started warning me about a very nasty storm approaching from the west at about 3:30. (I had the radar on my screen already.) I timed it too tightly and managed to find myself a mile from work or shelter in a downpour. The tailwind was nice but the visibility was almost nonexistent so I pulled over beneath the 14th Street bridge to wait it out.

After 15 minutes the rain abated and I headed out. Within a mile the rain began anew so I pulled over under the National Airport access bridge near Crystal City. I had some company including a dad and his toddler son in a Bakfiets. The boy was upset, not because of the rain but because he had lost his bottle.

The r27782018834_bec4af58b7_mains abated again, this time for good so I headed home. Of course, old difficulties came in Old Town. Three cars pulled u-turns in front of me (two were in intersections) without signaling. A car was parked across the bike lane on North Union Street. Rather than take a picture and report it, I gave the house the finger as I rolled by. Going in the opposite direction was an Alexandria police cruiser. They didn’t bother to stop and ticket the car. They never do. It is days like today that I really believe that the League of American Bicyclists should rescind Alexandria’s bicycle friendly city status.

South of the Beltway the Mount Vernon Trail was strewn with branches and other tree debris. I managed to get through without a problem.

Tomorrow I get to do this again. The day after I may have my head examined.


UP Bike Trip: What Hit Me?

It has been a few days since I finished my bike trip. The short version is I rode 833 miles in 11 days on my 25-year old Specialized Sequoia touring bike. I camped out five nights and moteled five nights. Here are a few random thoughts now that I have had time to reflect:

  • I often talk about what my friend Flogini calls my meditation, that is, when I zone out on my bike commutes. The middle part of this bike trip, roughly from Days 2 through 7, was a rolling meditation retreat. I felt none of the stress of daily life. I didn’t think about work, friends, not-so-friends, family, or any obligations. I only thought about my legs spinning, my lungs breathing, and where The Mule and I were on the Adventure Cycling map segment of the moment. I sang songs, sometimes out loud. I gazed at the lake or the trees or the ferns or the lichens or the critters. I felt at peace. I wish I could bottle the feeling.


  • Speaking of breathing, I have mild persistent asthma that, when left unattended, can bloom into some serious breathing problems. The air in the north woods of Wisconsin and on the UP of Michigan was incredibly clean. I had no asthma symptoms at all for most of the trip.
  • I entered this ride with worries about whether my 60-year old body could take the stress of so many miles (and three ferry rides) in so few days on a conventional (non-recumbent) bike. I even padded my schedule with a 12th day to be sure. Unlike tours in my younger years, I didn’t become noticeably stronger during this tour. This may be because the last three days were the hilliest and had the most consistent headwinds. I am now confident that I can ride 60-mile days on end, which is to say, as far as my bike will take me.
  • Last year I told Mike, a.k.a Rattlingfender on Twitter, that I needed a new touring bike because mine was 24-years old. He scoffed and said that the fact that I am still riding The Mule means that it is a reliable machine. Mike was right. Even after 25 years and over 41,000 miles, The Mule abides.
  •  I had relatively few physical problems.
    • My left tricep started hurting after about a week. This is because I am right handed. I would take pictures or eat with my right hand leaving my left hand to steer The Mule. The stress took a toll on my upper arm.
    • My bottom was not happy at all. Despite my trusty Brooks Champion saddle with its cushioning springs, the flesh where my inner right leg met my pelvic area was super sore most of the last week. It’s a guy thing. It has to do with how my personal parts interact with the nose of the saddle. I had to consciously twist my seating position to the right on the last three days. I don’t quite know how to fix this in the future but I will need to figure it out. It’s a bit like a swimmer needing to learn to breath from both sides.
    • I can’t sleep worth a damn in a tent. Sleep is incredibly important when you are riding so many miles.
  • It took me a full day to stop thinking about my speed once I turned south into the headwinds on the lower peninsula. When touring on Big Nellie, I used to cover the speedometer with my map. Unless you are adhering to a strict schedule (which I do not recommend), forget about speed and miles. Just ride with the flow of the day. A good example was Day 9 when I ate dinner in Traverse City. After dinner I had renewed energy and the weather was absolutely perfect for riding, so I reeled off another 18 miles.
  • As much as I hate sleeping in a tent, I love the flexibility that having camping gear along for the ride affords me. Without camping gear, I probably would not have added the 18 after-dinner miles, but I knew there was a campground a mile beyond Suttons Bay so I went for it.
  • Trail angels are the best.
    • The folks in the bar in Wrightsville, Wisconsin who served me three ice cold beers in frosted mugs. For $1 each.
    • The  man at the gas station in Freedom who pointed me to Rico’s diner where I had mass quantities of food for breakfast on the Fourth of July.
    • The retired truck driver and his friend who helped me out at the campground in Tilleda Falls, Wisconsin. And the other camper who gave me a huge bag of shrink wrapped trail mix.
    • The Little Pine Motel owner in Hiles, Wisconsin who handed me a bottle of ice cold water, then a can of ice cold beer when I checked in.
    • The westbound tourist who told me about the campground at Lake Pentoga, Michigan.
    • The three bike shop people who fixed my rear hub at Mr. Bike  in Escanaba, Michigan while I waited.
    • The two gas station clerks who practically pulled me out of the pouring rain in Manistique, Michigan.
    • The pizza shop workers and customers who gave me so much encouragement in Naubinway, Michigan.
    • Toby, the man who explained the Bliss Festival to me, over lunch at a gas station picnic table near Bliss, Michigan.
    • The folks at the Bahnhof Sport Shop in Petosky who stayed open on a Sunday evening and replaced my broken pedal.
    • The campground manager at the Wild Cherry Resort near Suttons Bay, Michigan who also stayed open to get me situated in a campsite.
    • Holly and Kristen who gave me much info about the biking and moteling in and around Arcadia, Michigan.
  • I am still flabbergasted by the size of food portions in Northern Wisconsin. Cheeseheads can pack it away!
  • Accents were a pleasant surprise. I went from “Da Beahs” to “Fargo” to “Hosers” in the course of the first week. Eh.
  • I had read an account of a bike tourists who rode across the UP on US 2. He really felt uncomfortable with the logging trucks blowing by him. Now that I have ridden to work twice since returning and I’ll take logging trucks over the drivers of DC any day.

UP Tour Pix

I used my phone to take the pictures in my earlier blog posts about my Tour into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I also had a dedicated point and shoot camera with me. Today I uploaded all the camera pictures as well as the phone pictures. They are on my Flickr page. Check them out.

June Lite

I somehow managed to salvage a respectable amount of riding in June.  I rode 594 miles, 78 percent of which was riding 16 times to and from work (and the car garage and Nats games).  131 miles were from weekend rides, all but 1 1/2 miles of which was on my Cross Check. I commuted to work three times on Big Nellie. Most of my rides were intentionally on upright bikes, to prepare for the July tour of Wisconsin and Michigan.

For the first half of the year I rode 3,371 miles. 2,517 came from 85 bike commutes. My oldest bikes still get the most work. I’ve ridden The Mule 1,216 miles. Big Nellie had 923 miles.

I also hiked up Hogback Mountain. Only one hike. I’ll get on that soon.

UP Bike Tour Day 11: Finished with a Day to Spare 

My motel turned out to be just fine so were my two tall boys and bag of Munchos, dinner of champions.

I hit the road after 8 and had nothing in my legs. The wind was in my face and was surprisingly strong for early morning.

A half mile out of town I started up another dune. It was nowhere near as bad as the two whoppers yesterday. The ride down the backside really woke my ass up.

Just before Onekama I climbed another dune. These dunes, by the way, are forested so there is at least some shade. On the way down hill to Onekama I saw a fully loaded cyclist on his way up. He had a big smile on his face. The ignorance of youth. A second tourist was not far behind but he only had rear panniers. Cheater.

In Onekama I stopped at a cafe. The yogini owner (she dropped the word yoga every minute) made excellent scones and coffee. I had one of each but they didn’t put a dent in my hunger.

A customer and friend of the owner came in and started chatting with me. She asked where I was staying during my trip: “Camping? Golden showers?  Motels?”

It was one of those moments when you wish you had a witty retort. Somehow I managed to not react to her malapropism. (She meant “warm showers” an online resource for sheltering bike tourists.)

I rolled out of the yoga java shop with a caffeine buzz but not much belly fuel. I immediately rode past two places serving actual sustenance.  Can’t stop now. On to Manistee 14 mikes south.

Lake. Woods. Farm. Hills up. Hills down. Headwinds.

Pedal pedal .

I stopped at Manistee Beach because The Mule wanted to pose in front of Lake Michigan again.

I missed a turn outside Manistee. When I realized my error I back tracked and stopped at The Captain’s Restsurant. These folks served me a proper breakfast. Actually it was the size of two proper breakfasts. (I actually qualified for their senior breakfast deal, but the menu said the portions were smaller. Forget that!)

The last 25 miles to Ludington seemed to take forever even though I was riding considerably faster with some food in my engine.

Then I saw the ferry. And my car. And it was over. 50 1/2 miles today. 833 for the 11-day trip.