Blood Clots Are What They Are

I write this blog post from my bed at Mt. Vernon hospital just down the street from my house.

Two days ago I was having dinner at a restaurant with my wife and kids. As the evening progressed a slight ache below my right shoulder blade became excruciatingly painful. I slept in a recliner because my back wouldn’t tolerate lying in bed.

Despite lots of ice and ibuprofen, the pain persisted. So we decided I should go to the emergency room last night. After X-rays showed no anomalies, I had a CT scan with contrasting dye.

I thought I had muscle spasms but boy was I wrong. Both my lungs had blood clots. “All over the place.” My right lung was significantly worse than my left. I also had pneumonia in my right lung despite having had a pneumonia shot a couple of weeks ago.

Next I had an ultrasound exam of my legs. My left leg had a big clot in it.

I was put on blood thinners and admitted to make sure I stayed still until the blood thinners could do their thing.

Not to be dramatic, A clot could break free and cause me to die from cardiac arrest at any time.

Merry Christmas to me.

I am scheduled for an echocardiogram (ultrasound of my heart) and CT scan of my abdomen and pelvis. My right ventricle, which pumps blood into my lungs is probably enlarged. The echocardiogram is to determine whether I need an operation to clear things up. The CT scans will be looking for a tumor which sometimes cause this sort of problem.

Readers of this blog know that I went to the ER about a year and a half ago with chest pains. They were diagnosed as an infection but the doctors now think it may have been caused by clots.

My hypothesis is that my 60+ hours of flying around the world in September 2015 may be the culprit.

I’ve already been seen by five doctors. Doctors love unusual cases.

So long story short, I could have had a heart attack at any time in the last two and a half years.

I attributed my crappy riding at bicycle events this year to age. Looks like age is the least of my problems.

In addition to two days of bed rest, I am pretty much banned from cycling for a few weeks. I am just 88 miles short of 10,000 miles for 2017. Sooo close!

To quote my wife’s oncologist “it is what it is.”

Dang.

Top Ten List for 2017

For a year that started out rather boring, 2017 did a fine job of recovering. In no particular order, here’s my top ten.

  1. Hey Bulldog – Daughter Lily grabbed her diploma with departmental honors from Butler University. The way she maxed out her college years put me to shame.
    • An entire junior year abroad split between Sydney, Australia and Stockholm, Sweden.
    • A double major and a minor, taking classes in the summer to make it all work.
    • An internship in the county DA’s office, working on student government, making community service trips out of spring breaks, and displaying infinite patience as an RA for two years.
    • Traveling to Russia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, the UK (London and Scotland), France, Belgium, Germany, Czechia, Poland, Latvia, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Italy, Vatican City. Monaco, Spain, Thailand, New Zealand, and undoubtedly a few more.
    • She’s now in London for grad school. Her passport must have burn marks on it.
  2. Call Me Johnny Paycheck – Mrs. Rootchopper threw in the towel on the work-a-day world in the spring. She immediately adapted to the new normal. I waited until my August birthday to get a 10 percent bonus on my pension. We are both very happy with our decisions. If, however, you want to pay us big money to quilt or ride bikes, we’d be interested in your financial offer.
  3. I’ll Take 50 States, a Century, and Break Some Cider, Hon – I rode only five event rides this year.
    • I traveled to Charm City to do the Tour Dem Parks, Hon ride and visit with Mr. Hoppy 100, John Roche, and his daughter Eleanor. (I think she’s swell.)
    • Carrie Ross is on the board of a local charity that helps homeless people get back on their feet. She’s also married to Greg Billing, WABA’s Executive Director. In a page right out of Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies, they put on a bike ride for the charity. Sadly, there was no tap dancing. Anyway, I rode it. Pretty darn good for a first time event. Not to rest on their laurels, Carrie and Greg brought a baby boy into this world a few months later. Congrats Mom and Dad.
    • In the late summer, I rode the Reston Century. I failed to understand that hilly rides are a bad idea unless you have itty bitty gears. I believe I was lanterne rouge.
    • This explains why, a couple of weeks later, I nearly died climbing to Cathedral Heights during my ninth 50 States Ride. I was aided and abetted by a great posse of #bikedc’s finest including Stephen, Rachel C., Kevin W., and my 2014 50 States Ride buddies Michael and Emilia. Ellos eran muy buenos.
    • In November I did the Cider Ride for the fifth time. It was cool, literally. I missed a few turns, but used the Google to get back on course. For the second year in a row, I was stung by a bee at the second pit stop. It was all worth it because the after party, as usual, was a winner.
    • In December I rode around in circles for 44 miles with something like 600 other people in support of WABA’s Women and Bicycles program at the Hains Point 100. It was an impressive turn out considering the fact that most people have crazy schedules this time of year.
  4. Let Me Help You with That  – For the longest time, I have avoided volunteering. I’m such a jerk. This year I volunteered at WABA five times. I learned that stuffing envelopes in the office is more comfortable than standing around in the cold  at the start/finish of the Vasa Ride. Do the math: free beer + pizza > hot blooberry soup. I also tried my ineffectual, introverted hand at bike advocacy by attending three events.
  5. March! – I attended some rather large marches in DC. The Women’s March was really the yoogest. I could not see the edge of the crowd I was in. When I got home and saw pictures of the throng I was shocked. There were at least a three dozen people I knew there. I didn’t see any of them. My guess is the crowd was at least 500,000. The Science March seemed inane. We’ve stooped this low in this country that we have to march to support science? I hung with the folks at WABA for the Climate March. I went to the Immigration Ban protest and left before it became a march down Pennsylvania Avenue.
  6. Riding to the End of the Road – Without a job to constrain me, I took off on a solo, unsupported bike tour. With cool weather approaching I decided to avoid the chill and head straight south — into a hurricane zone. I called it the No Way So Hey Tour. After hundreds of miles of rural poverty, cotton and peanut farms, friends old and new, and gale force winds pelting me with sand and rain, I rode through the hurricane ravaged Florida Keys. What a great feeling to stand next to the storm-damaged Southernmost Point buoy in Key West. I followed it up by riding Alligator Alley through the Everglades across central Florida. Along the way, I took side trips to Charleston, the Okeefenokee Swamp, and Savannah.
  7. Making the Most of a Sad Situation – Through Facebook, I learned of the death of one of my grad school roommates. Jim Burgess, whom we called Chet, was, as Mrs. Rootchopper said, “The nicest guy in the world.” He died of colon cancer. I drove to Providence for the wake and funeral. Afterward I went for a bike ride along Narragansett Bay. On the way home I stopped to ride Little Nellie around the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
  8. Why Life Nearly Doesn’t Begin on Opening Day – At the end of March, I was riding in the rain to a Nationals exhibition game when an SUV came out from behind a wall and hit me. How in the world I managed to get out of it without a scratch is beyond me. About 100 yards later, I learned that the game was cancelled.
  9. Lazarus in an Expos Hat – After surviving the exhibition demolition derby season, I attended about a dozen games. I even went to Baltimore with some co-workers for a Saux game. It was so wikkid we did it again at Nationals Park. I drove to a few more Nats games with Lily who likes the pregame happy hour about as much as the game itself. I also did a game with @BobbieShaftoe and her family. March 29, 2018 can’t come quickly enough.
  10. Take a Walk – As usual, I didn’t do nearly as much hiking as I intended to.  I managed to finish the Potomac Heritage Trail. In a planning blunder, I did the Ashby Hollow hike again. The hike to Raven Rocks was probably the best though. I have a fear of heights so there’s nothing like a hike to a cliff to keep things interesting. And in the spirit of Nigel Tufnel,
  11. Full House – Last night we had a full house for the first time in two years.  Mrs. Rootchopper spent days making fudge and baking cookies in anticipation. Daughter Lily flew in from London and son Eamonn came around the world from Phuket, Thailand. My hope is they both remember to drive on the right. Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, closeup and indoor

 

Hains Point 100

Six or seven years ago, Megan Jones had an idea, a wonderfully goofy idea. She’d ride the 3.3 mile circuit in East Potomac Park 30 times in a day to raise awareness and money for the Washington Area Bicyclists Women and Bicycles program. She called her 100-mile event the Hains Point 100, because the circuit goes down to Hains point and because… do the math.

As someone who’s ridden WABA’s 50-State Ride nine times, I can attest to the magnetic draw of silly bike event gimmicks. Who the heck would want to ride around in circles for hours just to say they rode 100 miles? Who’d do it in the middle of December?

It turns out that LOTS of people would. Over 600 people signed up for today’s spin around the point. And from what I can tell, most of them showed up.

We had a blast. I rode with different people on each of my 13 loops. If you do the math, you’ll see that I didn’t ride 100 miles. Most people don’t. You don’t have to. You can ride 100 miles combined with your friends. Or 100 kilometers. Or 100 minutes. I rode 100 McEntees. According to the Hungarian Bureau of Standards, a McEntee is that unit that converts your miles to 100. This year each 0.44 miles I rode was 1 McEntee. If I had ridden further, it wouldn’t be Prudence.

The weather was about as good as one could hope for. Temperatures rose from freezing when I started at 9 a.m. into the high 40s when I quit at 1:30. Winds were calm. There was no precipitation.

For those of you who are quick on your little math feet, you’ll have figured out that it took 4 1/2 hours for me to ride 44 miles. And your probably saying to yourself, what a pathetically slow rider. Which is normally correct. But today I spent well over an hour in the pit area talking to friends. Adding in chatter time on the bike, I should get additional credit for talking 100 blue streaks.

Another aspect that I enjoyed was the fact that for the first time since my bike tour I felt strong on my bike. In the early going I was comfortably riding at 17 – 18 miles per hour which is unheard of for me. I even joined a massive group of about 20 riders for a while. We were clipping along at about 20 miles per hour. Whee! Pretty good for an old dude on a heavy bike.

On one of my laps I (sort of) rode alongside Kevin W. who had borrowed a Jump electric- assist dockless bike. These bikes are big and heavy but the motor more than makes up for that. Kevin would kick in the motor and instantly and smoothly accelerate away from me. Kevin was having a pretty good time showing me up. Again. (He took me to the cleaners at the 50 States Ride and two off-road rides earlier in the year.) My take on this little adventure is that these bikes are going places. I’d use one all the time if I were living in the city.

Another highlight was to see my friend Mike with his son who has developmental issues on a tandem. The two of them ride just about every weekend. Mike had expected to do one lap and then go home owing to his son’s low tolerance for long cold rides but the two of them were there for at least two hours. They are what love looks like.

Then there is the exuberance of youth. Rachel is about half my age.  She rode six and a half miles to today’s event with no gloves on. Suffice it to say, this was a reeeeeallly bad idea. (I spent the first 28 years of my life in the frozen north. Been there. Done that.) After riding some laps with me, she disappeared. I saw her a while later in the pit area. She had tears on her face and she was bending over, nauseated. Her fingers were nearly purple. Ugh. I gave her my mittens. She protested! She’d actually rather get frostbite than cause someone temporary discomfort. Raaychulll!!! She did reluctantlyeventually take the mittens. This is a good thing because I was about to smack her upside the head. Then Kevin came up with some spare gloves. Then we found a heater. It took a while and some chemical hand warmers but she got her hands thawed out. (Head hits table.)

There were so many other people there: Ryan and Ursulla and Leslie and Colin and Inez and Greg and Carrie (and their new baby) and Katie B. and Nelle and Jeff and Sam and Rachel II and Viola and Ed (thanks for the cupcake) and Kitty and Mary and Ted and Katie Bee and Chris N. and Laura and Adam and Michael and Mark and Jeanne and Finn and at least a half dozen others whose names and faces are lost in the voids of my brain.

I found out later the McEntees were there. Taking their measure of things.

Long story short: I had a blast.

I didn’t take any pictures but there were cameras everywhere. In a day or two there will be literally hundreds of still photos and videos posted to the interwebs.

Watchin’ the Wheels

I’ve been retired almost four months now. I have been asked “How’s retirement?” dozens of times. In a way it’s a bit of a pointless question. If it sucked I’d be unretired.

Last night this exchange happened several times at a holiday party I attended. I gave a flippant response until I found Klarence.

As readers of this blog may recall, Klarence is a pseudonym for a friend of mine who “fixed” me two and a half years ago. After dealing with depression for months and months, I sat down with Klarence for a drink after work. (Klarence had no idea that I was troubled.) It led to a four hour, brutally honest, one-on-one encounter session. Along the way, Klarence made me laugh and nearly brought me to tears. When we parted, I felt like she had lifted an enormous burden from me. I don’t think she had intentions of doing this; she was just being her true self. I walked away flabbergasted by my good fortune. And forever grateful to her.

We met three years ago at the same holiday gathering. So I made it a point to look for her last night. I almost walked right past her until she called my name. (Ironically, it was also Klarence who told me about my malfunctioning fusiform gyrus, a part of the brain that deals with facial recognition.)

We hugged our usual fierce hug (because that’s what you do with somebody who saves you from months of absolute misery) and then she asked with a serious look on her face:

“How’s retirement?”

It hit my mind like a club. It staggered me. I was tongue tied.

I don’t even remember what I said in response.

From day one, Klarence has had an effect on me. Her bluntness and honesty somehow compel me to ponder her words.

And I pondered.

Suppose you asked a kid “How’s childhood?” He’d say “Okay, I guess.” In a sense, retirement is like childhood; it is what it is. It’s an endless stream of Saturdays. You can read the paper in the morning. You can sleep in. You can do what you want, when you want. You can wear your jammies all day long. All of this is pretty damned sweet.

Of course, my earnings dropped by 70 percent but you can’t have everything – especially now! This aspect is a little unsettling, but I live a very modest life.

There is a sense that asking someone “How’s retirement?” is a bit like asking a Ph. D. student, “How’s the thesis?” Or a 21-year old, “So what are you going to do with your life?”

AYYYYYY!

It brings on a sort of performance anxiety. Especially for someone like me who has lived with imposter syndrome his whole life.

I have another friend who used to give me unease because she seemed to want to fill every second of every day mindfully accomplishing something that would bring her happiness and be somehow meaningful for humanity. I don’t socialize with her anymore. She was stressing me out.

So here’s an answer that maybe is a little more honest than the inarticulate response I gave to Klarence last night.

Retirement is being free of working on projects that suck your soul.

Retirement is not having to work to arbitrary deadlines that shift with the wind.

Retirement is not having to ride to work when it’s dark and rainy and 33 degrees with a 15 mile per hour headwind. (Yes, this happened a few times every year.)

Retirement is setting your own schedule. Answering to your own inner boss. Filling your day with things you find personally fulfilling and that are true to who you are like:

  • Riding my bike in the daylight.
  • Taking care of my aging carcass by lifting weights.
  • Taking care of my mental health by meditating for 20 or 30 (or, like today, 45) minutes and not feeling guilty.
  • Trying rather comically to learn a little guitar (and avoiding tennis elbow in the process).
  • Reading books without interruption. (Current book: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins)
  • Spending two days in court to lend moral support to some friends – who introduced me to Klarence three years ago. (This is called paying it backward, I think.)
  • Volunteering and attending bicycling advocacy events.
  • Planning the next big thing. (How hard is it to ride to the Pacific anyways?)

Where does this all lead? Does it accomplish a big thing? Does it make my life worthwhile? Will I make a big ego-boosting mark on the world so my life will be one big selfie? Is it okay not to give a flying fuck?

For now, I am content and truly grateful to abide by the words of John Lennon:

I’m just sittin’ here watching the wheels go round and round. I really love to watch them roll.

And to say, once again, thank you, Klarence.

 

 

Pictures of the Year – 2017

Kind of hard to top this. I rode solo to Key West. Over 2,100 miles on two wheels for a little over a month. The middle keys were still in the midst of recovery operations, so I had to run the keys, riding 100 miles from Key Largo to Key West in a day. The buoy marking the southernmost point in the continental US states was the finish line. It too was ravaged by hurricane Irma.

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Before leaving for Florida I did the 50 States Ride in DC for the ninth time. Emilia who rode with me in 2014 came along for the ride again. She joined an awesome posse inlcuding Michael, Rachel, Kevin, and Stephen. Emilia is a much stronger rider now. Me, not so much. Pasando a tu izquirda.

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Missing gears. No problem! Way to go Emilia. Let’s do it again.

Michele used to run WABA’s events. Most of the rides she organized seemed to be designed to kill me. Michele left WABA earlier this year, but, to keep the tradition alive, Colin invited me to do a ride in Montgomery County Maryland. The ride included single track, basically narrow dirt paths strewn with rocks and tree roots. I’d never ridden single track before. What could go wrong? It was nearly the end of me. (We tried again in the fall on Mason Neck. I did no better, and maybe, worse.) At least there was beer and chips and salsa.

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She’s an educated Bulldog! My daughter Lily poses after graduating from Butler University. She maxed out her college experience including spending her entire junior year abroad in Australia and Sweden.

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Everyone went eclipse crazy. Many of my friends went to places where the eclipse reached totality. I took the partial eclipse in in on my back deck with goofy eclipse glasses. Next time I’m going for the real deal.

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Photo op art has become a thing. I went to the National Building Museum to check out The Hive.

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I rode a bike trail along the Narragansett Bay on a trip to Rhode Island. I stopped for frozen lemonade because when in Rome….

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On the way home, I stopped in New Jersey to check out the Pine Barrens. As this sign attests, it is less barren than when John McPhee wrote about it 40-odd years ago, but it’s still an island of calm in the madness of New Jersey.

Pine Barrens

Mrs. Rootchopper and I went to a thing called the Women’s March. A few hundred thousand other people came too. It was one of four marches I attended. (Women’s, Climate, Science, Immigration Ban.)

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Mrs. Rootchopper has tried to find the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens several times. If you are coming by car, good luck. It’s tucked away in a neighborhood in Northeast DC. The signs need some work. But bike riders can take the Anacostia River Trail there. Yay bikes! We drove anyway. It was well worth the aggravation.

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I didn’t do a lot of hiking this year but the climb to Raven’s Rock on the Appalachian Trail on the Blue Ridge was fun.

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I went to a bunch of baseball games this year. On the way to a spring training game I was hit by an SUV. I managed to survive the experience without a scratch. Go figure. I went to several games with Lily. To celebrate Lily’s graduation we bought some good seats behind the Nats dugout.

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And this is from my last Bike to Work Day. I retired three months later.

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Yeah, It’s Winter

You can hold out hope for only so long until it becomes futile. Yesterday I finally pulled out some of my serious winter gear. The holey sweater is an old wool sweater with holes in it that I between my base layer and my jacket. My neoprene overboots go over my bicycling shoes. I rode over 20 miles yesterday (with a stop at the gym) and was pretty comfy the whole time.

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The tools of ignorance

Today, not so much. It’s snowing here in DC. We have had about an inch or two but most of it melted on contact with the ground. The roads were treated with brine so there is no slipping and sliding to deal with. So out I went. My backyard looked like this.

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I think we can put away the lawn mower now

Fug.

It’s bloody cold. (Whiner!) The snow coated my lobster gloves making them all but useless. With temps above freezing, the snow that landed on my boots melted and eventually gave me wet feet. As the ride wore on, the snow became crystallized. It was somewhere between sleet and fluffy snow. (Where’s an Inuit when I need one? They surely have a word for this.) I’d occasionally get a pellet down my wind pipe and gag. A few times one of the little beasts went into my eye.

Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty and fun but every time I turned into the wind my toes and fingertips said, “Hey moron, take us home.”

So I surrendered after getting 20 miles riding in.

While I was riding it occurred to me that I actually prefer riding in a gale force wind during a six-day tropical depression than to riding in winter. Pick your poison.

I spent the first 27 years of my life living in the frozen north of upstate New York and southern New England. Let’s just say I never quite embraced the whole frost bite thing. I moved to the DC area to get away from winter. Today’s DC “cold” would be chamois shirt weather in Boston. I still have one, but I long ago got rid of my Michelin Man winter parka.

I have hopes of reaching 10,000 miles this year. I am about 250-ish miles short with 22 days to go. But we are now getting into the holiday season. I have social and other events for the next five days. Then my kids come home. And who knows what the weatherman will bring. Time will tell.

 

 

Work? No, Thanks. I’m Busy.

I received a job offer yesterday. I think I’ll pass. I am busy being retired. My typical day goes something like this:

  • Read newspaper over breakfast. Defeat Sudoku and the crossword.
  • Play on social media sites.
  • Do one productive thing such as go to the doctor, get the car inspected, get my haircut, mow the lawn, volunteer, etc.
  • Go for a bike ride.
  • Go to gym (three days a week) or do physical therapy (basically, a short yoga session).
  • Meditate for 20 – 30 minutes.
  • Practice guitar. (I just started. By the time I am 110 years old I’ll be able to play The House of the Rising Sun.)
  • Read. (My family bans me from buying books in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Father’s Day, and my birthday. So I raided my daughter’s bookshelf.) I am currently reading Water for Elephants.
  • Listen to a Podcast once or twice a week. I follow 10 Percent Happier.
  • Write an insipid blog. (You are reading it.)
  • Write in my journal. (You are not reading it.)
  • Watch something on TV or Netflix. Or listen to music.

Back under the Mendoza Line…

After my return from Key West, I noticed that I was much thinner than when I left. No surprise there, despite following a seefood diet and drinking beer nearly every night. So I have made a concerted effort to maintain my new weight. This involves not snacking on junk and avoiding alcohol, which I was sick of anyway. (I’ve had five beers and two glasses of wine since arriving in DC from Florida in mid-October.) I didn’t weigh myself when I came back but most of the clothes that fit me tightly last summer are rather saggy these days. I think I have gained a few pounds back.

Today I went to the doctor for some asthma drugs. (Don’t get asthma. As Bob Gibson used to say, “It’s bad news.”)  In addition to the drugs, I asked for flu and pneumonia shots. And, as usual, I was weighted.

197 pounds. Fully clothed. After breakfast.

Dang.

I am below the Mendoza line for the first time in four years.

Afterwards I celebrated by getting my haircut. You might say it was time. I always hate my haircuts but this one I like. My barber is not a bicyclist but he was fascinated by the fact that I rode a bike alone to Key West.

 

Then I went for a bike ride to the gym. It’s four miles from home. I took the long way and got there after 17 miles. Then I rode another seven miles home. I’m not lost. As John Lennon said, “Some kind of happiness is measured out in miles.”

 

November Cool Down

After two months of over 1,000 miles, I took it easy in November. Fewer miles. Less weight, on the bike and the engine. (Riding to Key West will help with weight loss, just sayin’.)

For the month I rode 762 miles. 710 miles were on Little Nellie, my Bike Friday. I ended the month by hitting 19,000 miles on the odometer. Pretty good for a bike I was going to get rid of after the first year I owned it. The other 52 miles were on my Cross Check. One ride of a little over 30 miles was another Colinfest, in which Colin shows me that I am not a single track rider. (Not his fault. It was a very interesting course in the woods on Mason Neck.)

My longest ride on the month was the Cider Ride. I did 53 miles, because I missed a couple of turns.

I also started lifting weights three times per week. I keep the weight low. I’m no Hulk but you still wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. I don’t much weighst but I can’t deny that my back feels a lot better and a little extra strength comes in handy.

For the year, I’m at 9,516 miles. I’m pretty sure I’ve never ridden this much in a year. I should be able to hit 10,000 miles. I have to average a little over 15 miles per day.

I do hope I can fit in a day hike or two somewhere in December, too. Even if it’s just a quick one in Carderock or elsewhere in Great Falls Park.