Mapping Bicycle Hell

I attended an event at the offices of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. The offices are located in the western part of Fairfax County, much too far to ride a bike to directly. That would be asking too much though. The most direct route to that section of the county cannot be traversed by bike because crossing the Beltway will get you killed. Fairfax County was designed for cars. From what I can see, it is choking to death on them.

It took me over an hour to drive there. I had lots of company. The entire time all I could think was people actually do this every day. They choose this. If I did this every day, I’d be a stressed out mess. (Okay, I’m a calm mess, but you bet the point.) Here’s my life coach advice for all you suburbanites. DON’T DO THIS!!!

Unbeknownst to me, Jeff G who lives a half mile from me came as well. He took Metro during Safe Track, a maintenance initiative designed to stop fires and other calamities on the system. Wind chills were in the teens. He stood on unheated platforms, transferred to a bus that got him close-ish to the event then walked the pedestrian-hostile streets in the dark. It was like a sequel to the movie Wild.

I took pity on the poor sod and drove him home afterward. He cried when he left the car.

At the WABA holiday party on Wednesday night, I met Gina who I have interacted with on the interwebs. Gina sold her house (with river access !) in Anne Arundel County Maryland. She moved to Arlington where she rents a duplex. She used to spend 3 hours a day commuting to work in DC. Now she rides her bike there in a fraction of the time. She got rid of her car. Gina is one happy camper.

It is safe to say that Gina will never live in western Fairfax County. I’m willing to bet that an awful lot of Ginas are turning their backs on places like Fairfax County. This does not bode well for the county. The people who run the Fairfax County government are gradually starting to realize this.

Fairfax County is updating its bike map. It is a vast geographic mess that no single person could actually get their arms around so the county Transportation Department invited bicyclists from all around the county to come and mark up street maps that Toole Design had drafted. It was a very productive session. (Alas, there were no doughnuts. Probably a good thing.)



Once the new map comes out, I will be able to look at all the places in Fairfax County that I would never live or ride in and be grateful that I had enough foresight to buy a house near the Mount Vernon Trail over 25 years ago. The MVT has its problems (tree roots, ninjas, no snow plowing, rambunctious wildlife) but I’ll take it any day over driving Lee Highway trhough Merrifield at rush hour.

The Freeze, The Moon, The Heron, The Nudge, and Blowing Up The Karma Bridge

The Freeze

We are preparing for the arrival of the polar vortex. Whoever is in marketing in the weather world is brilliant. POLAR VORTEX just sounds like DOOM. It’s right up there with DERECHO!!!

Basically, the polar vortex is a few days of cold air and wind. It’s not the end of the world, particularly if you grew up with this sort of thing. When I lived in the northeast we called it January.

So we endure.

As luck would have it there are three days of events coming up that will all but require me to drive to work. I haven’t driven to work three days in a row since last winter so this should be nerve wracking.

The Moon

Last night’s ride home featured a near full moon over the monuments in DC. It was a thing of beauty. I stopped to take a picture.


I wasn’t alone. Flogini, the erstwhile spiritual adviser to the Rootchopper Institute, has become a passionate bike commuter with her return to DC. Just like me she was stopped in her tracks by the sight and took a picture of her own. Proof once again that she is part of my karass.

The Heron

The ride into work was graced by another amazing sight. Unfortunately I did not have a camera at the ready. As I rode along the Mount Vernon Trail, a great blue heron flew just a few feet above the surface of the Potomac River near the river bank to my immediate right. The heron was going much faster than me. It buzzed a gaggle of geese bobbing in the water as it flew out of sight. A few minutes later I spotted it on the river bank. As I approached it took off in the opposite direction.

Did I say I love my bike commute?

The Nudge

Today after I “liked” Flogini’s DC moon picture on Facebook I received an errant private message from Gladys, the mother of her friend who was run over by a bus two years ago. This kind of “wrong number” has never happened to me before. In any case, I regarded it as a surreal reminder to go to the Rally for Rose tonight on the way home.

Thank you, Gladys.

Blowing Up the Karma Bridge

I rode to the market that Rose worked at to give my donation. A couple of folks were waiting by the door collecting. So I explained the story of the $140. (In retrospect the whole thing sounds a little Alice’s Restaurant. Perhaps I should have raffleforrosewaited for it to come around on the guitar.)  So it turns out that donations are rewarded with tickets to a raffle. They gave me about six feet of raffle tickets and sent me down the street to the barbecue place where the raffle was being run. There were several different containers to put your tickets in, each container representing a different set of prizes. It took a while to dispense with the tickets. Now my problem is this: if I win do I undo the karma from the donation? Have I blown up the karma bridge that I was crossing? If I win a gift certificate, do I put it on the street where the money came from? (Was I raised Catholic or what?)

I’ll figure something out.

In all seriousness, there were several other people with big cables of raffle tickets. The restaurants that participated in the fundraiser were packed too. (If you ordered certain menu items, all proceeds from the purchase went to Rose’s fund.)  And the gofundme website is making real progress as well.

And once again the city of Alexandria is pledging to get serious about pedestrian safety. It’s too late for Rose Cruz, but maybe some good will come of this tragedy.




A Benjamin for Rose

Everyone who runs or walks or bikes knows that they see the world differently. Sometimes this yields a found treasure. I found a $5 bill while out running in East Providence RI one day many years ago. To a grad student $5 was serious good fortune. Since then I have found tools, a bra, gloves (usually not in pairs), blinkie lights, and other oddities. I did not take the bra home, in case you are wondering.

For the last 15 months I have been carrying a secret in my wallet. It is a $100 bill that I found on the street in front of my house one morning 20923385870_b033e3058b_z-1in September 2015. I found it along with two $20 bills. Since 20s are routine occupants of my wallet, I spent them, but the $100 bill stayed put. This isn’t my money. It probably fell out of the pants pocket of a worker on a paving crew that went through my neighborhood that week. There was no crew around this particular morning so there was no way to re-unite the money with its owner.


So I kept it. For 15 months the $100 bill has served as a reminder of what incredible good fortune I have in life. And I have felt oddly obligated to find a proper place for it ever since.

Six months before finding the money Klarence, someone whom I barely knew, came into my life out of the blue and picked me up when I was down. I am not a religious person. Nor am I prone to bouts of spiritual mumbo jumbo. Still I think of these two random events this way: God or the Universe or Fate or some other woo woo thing bigger than me is telling me how lucky I am to be healthy, to be free from need, to be loved.

As longtime readers of this blog are aware, I know of a disturbing number of people who have been hit by motor vehicles. One is Mrs. Rootchopper, who, like perhaps a dozen other friends of mine, survived the ordeal with months of painful recovery. Another person, the best friend of a friend of mine, was not so fortunate.

And then, last week, it happened again. This time to Rosemarie Cruz, a mother of four. She was struck and killed by a driver who “failed to yield to a pedestrian.” WhatDel Ray Businesses to Host Fundraiser for Rose Cruz, Mother Hit by Car in Alexandria a dispassionate way of saying that the driver ran her over.

I didn’t know Ms. Cruz, but ever since I heard about her I’ve thought of that the $100 bill I found in the street. I believe it has finally found its purpose. I am swinging by the Del Ray fundraiser, Rally for Rose, Tuesday night so I can donate the money to the support of her daughters. (The fundraiser link above has a link to an account for donations.)

Now here’s what you can do. Make a resolution in 2017. If you find money during your self propelled adventures, set it aside. Then, when the moment is right, donate it to someone less fortunate than you. It won’t be all that much, but you never know what happens when you throw a few pebbles  in the water.


Old Town Bike Stroll

After 150 miles of cold bike commuting, I was going to take the day off. I lazed around the house until I couldn’t stand my boredom. Then I remembered that the Washington Area Bicyclists Association was doing some sore of work at Jones Point Park, about 5 1/2 miles from my house. I decided to go there and lend a hand.

I rode Deets, my Surly Cross Check. It was the first time in two or three weeks. Without loaded panniers, I cruised along at 3 miles per hour faster than The Mule. I felt like I was flying.

There was some ice on the edges of the river. Yes, it’s really winter now. Temperatures were just a bit above freezing. I pedaled along with little effort. When I arrived at Jones Point Park, there was nobody there. I checked social media and learned that WABA had plenty of help and made fast work of their project.

So I decided to cruise through Old Town looking for stocking stuffers for the ladies of the house. I spotted a vintage fire engine in front of a fire house. When I went to take a picture I saw that Santa and an elf were posing with kids.


After that I made my way to the farmers’ market at City Hall. The vendors were packing up for the day. I noticed a  harpist bundled against the cold. From the looks of her donations box, it had not been a particularly fruitful morning. I tried to engage her in conversation but she had on her cloak of introversion. I left her a dollar and rode off.


I made it to the new outpost of the Italian Store on East Wythe Street. Word of m
outh says that this place makes awesome sandwiches. I had to walk down the street and up the next to find something to lock my bike. Then I walked back to the store. Inside I found that there was no seating, only chairs on the patio. Not wanting to freeze I decided to come back in the spring when I can get a sandwich to eat outside.

I made my way back towards home. Old Town was not at all crowded. I took the Wilkes Street tunnel for the first time in over a year. Something about it is inviting.


I had about 6 1/2 miles to go. With 4 miles left my toes started to ache from the chill. Instead of focusing on my toes, I thought about how I could modify my toe clips with some neoprene toe warmers. Maybe I can use zip ties to attach a toe warmer to the cage. Hmm…..



Leave It to Beaver – Not

Every once in a while I see critters on the way to or from work on my bike commute. Sometimes I don’t see the critters themselves but I see signs of their presence. Such was the case a few days ago when I saw this small willow tree with a big chunk gnawed out of it. The tree was between the Memorial and Theodore Cleaver, I mean Roosevelt, Bridges.


A few days later the job was complete.


Sadly, the beaver’s hard work was undone by the National Park Service. A crew came by this morning and took the felled tree away.  It’s hard out there for a beaver.

How Not to Go Christmas Shopping

I had a pretty good plan going into Saturday. I was supposed to go Christmas shopping but that went out the window with the tie rod thingies. Let me explain.

The day began with a trip to a garage to have my son’s car inspected. This usually takes 1/2 hour. The car failed the inspection because the tie rod thingies on the right front wheel were failing. (The thingies are called “ends” which isn’t terribly descriptive. The tie rod is a metal rod with threads on either end that are screwed into the thingies. The whole thing attaches the wheel to the steering mechanism. The bad thingies made the right front wheel wobble. If the thingies fail, the steering fails. If the steering fails, you blame a bicyclists for getting in the way.

So I walked 1 1/2 miles home.

Then I pulled The Mule out of the shed and rode it to my local bike store. Last week, the mechanics there had installed a new cassette (the gears in the back) and a new chain. The chain was skipping all week. A mechanic adjusted the cable tension and turned a screw and the skip was gone.

I rode onward to Old Town Alexandria where they were having the annual Scottish Walk. This is a parade that wanders over a route the shape of the letter “P”.  The parade is an interesting mix of Brownies, rescue dogs, business people, bagpipe marching bands, and drunken men in kilts. The crowds were enormous. This was not good because I needed to get to my bank which was inside the P. Alexandria law enforcement people told me to ride around the route and come at it from the far side, where the parade had yet to reach. This worked like a charm but left me with the prospect of being trapped. I made an effort to watch the parade from behind the crowds lining the street, but gave up, and headed home. I escaped the P by riding to the start of the parade and finding where the staging areas ended.

Once at home I pulled out the lawn mower to drain the gas in the tank. This was done by, clever me, mowing the lawn until the mower conked out. I thought this would take 10 minutes. Somehow gas lasts longer in the winter and I ended up mowing the lawn 1 1/2 times. (Our lawn looks pretty darn OCD right now.)

While mowing, the garage called. My car was ready. I pulled Deets out of the shed and rode to fetch the car. The car was indeed ready except the steering wheel now pointed to 10 o’clock. So I drove back to the garage and they  made three attempts to fix this. It is now permanently 11:15 aboard the flight deck of the Millenium Falcon. Note to self: never use a mechanic on US 1 in Fairfax County.

Back to home I went where I pulled a ladder out to check the gutters for leaves. The gutters are usually jammed with leaves but this time they were clear.

Back inside I scoured my laptop, Facebook, and Flickr pages for pictures of my family and me for the infamous Rootchopper family Christmas mass mailing. We send Christmas cards to over 100 people. Many of the cards contain a photo montage and the annual two-sided FOMO Christmas letter. (Which is not to be confused with this blog’s annual top ten list and top ten photos posts which are well underway.)

Once the pictures were acquired, I managed to track down addresses for three local friends.

Then I did the Crossword puzzles from the newspaper, ate dinner, and drank some wine.

Very little of the day went according to plan but I just went with the flow and I have to admit I am surprised that I enjoyed the day despite all its ups and downs.

In a few minutes I am heading out to do some Christmas shopping. Just goin’ with the flow to the Home Depot.


Latest Sunrise, No – Rise of the Ninjas, Yes

I thought today was the latest sunrise of the year but I got it wrong. We’ve reached the earliest sunset. Sunrises get later until the end of the year. Yeah well. Here’s the picture I took of The Mule at Dyke Marsh on the Mount Vernon Trail.

On the ride home, I nearly hit 5 ninjas – walkers and runners wearing absolutely no reflective or light colored clothing. In addition to it being too dark to see them, they are also backlit by car headlights.Good luck you clueless ninjas. I hope I don’t hurt myself when I clobber one of you.