Damn you, T. S. Eliot

April, it turns out, really is the cruelest month. Even an introvert could use a little personal interaction now and then. This is really getting tiresome. On the plus side, I’ve avoided being intubated.

Yes, our standards here at the Rootchopper Institute have reached a new low. In the real world, I actually know four people who are medical professionals and are on the front lines of the pandemic. To my knowledge they are all doing well. Knock wood. Cross fingers. Salt over the shoulder.

From personal experience, I know that tomorrow April actually will be behind us. In my college days in Boston, April was when the sidewalk glaciers melted to reveal months of frozen dog poo. Ah, those were the good old days.

These days I’m plugging along in the DC suburbs, no glaciers in sight. It has been an unusually cold April with much too much rain. It poured all day today. I could have donned my rain gear and ridden outside, but in a fit on common sense, I decided to climb aboard Big Nellie in the basement for a day of recovery after yesterday’s 60 miler.

To add to my self pity, I actually rode less in April than I did in March. Quiche for breakfast. Quiche for lunch. Quiche for dinner.

I covered 772 miles this past month. With the exception of 32 miles in the basement, I rode all of it outside within 30 miles of home. So for the first third of the year, I’ve covered 2,906 miles. If I’m going to break 10,000 miles in this godforsaken year, I’m going to have to pick up the pace big time in the months ahead.

The last few days have featured a troubling development; my stenosis pain is returning. Fortunately, a couple of months ago I had the foresight to make an appointment with Dr. Pain for next Monday. I really, really, really don’t want to have another spinal injection but, absent Virginia legalizing medical marijuana in the next few days, I don’t have much choice.

But as Longfellow once said, into each life some pain must fall. Or, as my friend George says, life’s a shit sandwich and every day we take a bite.

Long time coming

Back in my running days, half a lifetime ago, I learned that my body has a strange way of acclimating to long efforts. The first time I ran 20 miles, I nearly died. After a week, I could do the same 20 miles with a 2-mile kick at the end. No problem.

Today was the first decent weather day in months. It was time to reset my body for the long rides ahead. I hopped on The Mule and headed upriver. A tailwind gave me confidence.

After six miles I ran some errands in Old Town Alexandria. I dropped off some glass bottles in a recycling bin. Next, I hit the magic money machine at the bank. Finally, I swung by Old Town Books to pick up a purchase I made online. (Amazon may be inexpensive and convenient but it has all but killed the small book store. Book stores are one of the few places that I enjoy shopping in so I am going to do my part to make sure that this relatively new shop survives.)

Errands competed, I headed to DC. I hit 15 miles in Georgetown. Ordinarily I’d turn around and head for home but not today. I rode a few miles out the Capital Crescent trail slowing only to admire the Seussian cormorants perched in the trees overhanging the Potomac. Someone once told me that they feed on bass that are swimming up river to spawn.

At Thompson’s Boat House I climbed away from the trail to MacArthur Boulevard. The short hill put the hurt on me. I headed northwest on MacArthur. Traffic was unexpectedly normal. Don’t these people know about the pandemic?

The Mule managed the hill at the reservoir without too much distress. We went down the other side and out past Glen Echo Park and its magnificent art deco sign.

Just before the Capital Beltway I turned to climb up Persimmon Tree Road. I had convinced myself that this way would involve less climbing. Why? I was just going to head back home down another hill to this same point on the route.

The climb was gradual but it went on for a couple of miles. Modest homes (each worth a bit shy of $1 million, I’d guess) gave way to posh estates near Congressional Country Club Golf Course.

Trees were leafing. Dogwoods and azaleas were showing off their colorful blossoms. The rain had left all the lawns and the golf course a lush green.

After a few more miles I reached Potomac Village where the rich people pay $1 more per gallon and don’t much care.

I banged a left on Falls Road with a rather large SUV right on my rear wheel. As it overtook me I looked over to the driver and mouthed “What the f$&@?!”

A mile or two of rollers led me to the entrance to Great Falls Park. The park is closed but you can still access it by bike and on foot. I look unhappy in this picture but I was in need of calories, which a small granola bar supplied.

After the granola feastette, I headed down the long, windy, wooded hill back to the flat part of MacArthur.

Clear of the trees, the road took me straight into a headwind. Okay, just 29 miles to go.

I passed a bank sign in the Palisades neighborhood. 77 degrees. It felt much warmer but that’s just Winter Me. Instead of retracing my route to the Capital Crescent Trail I decided to ride across Georgetown. I made a navigational error and ended up on Canal Road. Under normal circumstances this would be suicide, but the traffic had lightened and I was headed against the covid-diminished flow of rush hour commuters.

I crossed the Key Bridge back to Virginia and was blasted by a strong cross wind, the same wind I had been riding into for 15 miles. I headed home on the Mount Vernon Trail. This was not a bad choice for the first three or four miles. Then came the madness. Between National Airport and Old Town there was an insane amount of trail traffic. I kept hoping it would abate but it only got worse. Add in the reckless pathletes out to prove their cycling awesomeness and you have a recipe for crashes. Somehow, someway none happened. I saw a dozen near misses though. Only a fraction of the people on the trail were using masks or other similar face coverings. And with all the traffic, there was little room for anything approximating social distancing.

I left the trail in Old Town and rode the streets. a wise choice. No longer was I encumbered by kiddies on bikes, dog walkers with 20 foot leashes, and alpha males in lycra. When I returned to the trail on the south side of town, I had left the madness behind somehow.

The ride from Old Town to the stone bridge took me through a tunnel of green. So relaxing!

As I neared home I saw that I was 1 1/4 miles shy of 60 miles so I did what any exhausted fool would do, I kept riding until I was that nice round number. It was the first time I’d ridden 60 miles in six months.

I hope that in a few days my body is ready for a repeat.

For now, I am grateful to finally get a nice spring day to get my bicycling yayas out.

When the Going Gets Weird…

Bad Hair Days

It’s been a strange week. Yeah, I know, the world is in lock down, except for barber shops in Georgia. Speaking of barber shops, I haven’t been to one in a while. Let’s just say that this is pretty much how my hair rolls these days.

Cover Your Face!

Note also the buff I am wearing as a face mask. I use it whenever I am on trail or in a crowded situation. I upgrade to one of my wife’s face masks when I go to the store. I do this about once every ten days and I spend the bare minimum of time inside.

I should point out that the compliance with the recommendation that people should wear a face mask when outside their homes is very low in the suburbs and on the trails. I can’t understand why. Any covering is better than none, yet folks around here won’t wear one, not even a bandana. Go figure.

Do What I Say or Your Mom Gets the Pictures

The week began with me receiving a ransom note in an email. The email was sent to a email account I rarely use anymore and the subject line contained a password I used to use for several websites. The email said that the sender had been following my activity on the internet for 155 days and has compromising pictures of me taken on my laptop camera. These pictures, the email said, would be shared with eight of my Facebook friends, chosen at random. The emailer warned that might include my family members, including my parents. He would cease distribution and destroy the pictures if I sent him $200 in bitcoins. There were two links in the email, one supposedly to prove he had pictures and another to pay for the bitcoins.

I asked a friend who is a legal expert on all things internet and another who was subject to a rather nasty doxing (stealing all sorts of personal information) and other related unpleasantness from some evil doers. My friends gave me some sound advice, including an FBI cyber crime address to send the email to.

I re-read the email. Clearly, the thing was intended to get me to click on the links. Not gonna happen, of course. Then I thought about the specifics of the email. Eight random Facebook friends? Why not 10 or six? Why just Facebook? The stalking had been going on for 155 days. Really? My stalker must be very organized to keep track of such an odd number. Or maybe they figured that I would worry that I did something untoward a few months ago and had forgotten about it – until now.

All of these odd details and a few telling spelling errors, led me to believe that this entire thing was concocted by a room full of scammers in a far away land, as my cyber expert friend had suggested. I felt like responding to the emailer by encouraging him to send the pictures to my parents. They can be found at a cemetery in upstate New York.

Some good came from the email. First, I found one web account of mine that includes the old email address and the password. I rarely use this account or website any more. Regardless, I changed both. Second, I realized that a good way to construct a password is to include some information that indicates what account the password is used for. For example, if it’s a password for Horse and Buggy, include H and B somewhere in the password. (Or, even better, some coded version of the same.) If another similar attack were to occur, I would know immediately where the breech occurred. Third, I changed the password on this old email account a month ago, but forgot what it was. As a result, the email wouldn’t work on my cellphone. In the process of looking into this matter, I figured out the mnemonic device I used when I made the new password and changed the settings in my cell phone. Now the email works on my phone again.

Alarming Developments

Yesterday morning another weird thing happened. I was sitting in my family room man cave at around 8 or 9 o’clock when suddenly an electronic sounding alarm went off. It lasted for a second or two and then stopped. It wasn’t a smoke detector because the smoke detectors in my house have a different sounding alarm. My wife was asleep directly above me. She heard it and thought it was part of a dream. Neither of us have a clue what it was.

The alarm reminded me of a problem I once had with an electronic noise in my VW Golf. After about 90,000 miles, the car developed a loud whine that was super annoying. Strangely, it only happened when the car was moving. I took it to the dealer a number of times but they couldn’t fix the problem. A few years after I got ride of this car, I was listening to an episode of PBS’s Car Talk when a caller described the exact same problem. Click and Clack immediately diagnosed the problem. It wasn’t electrical in nature at all; it was a worn odometer/speedometer cable. The cable spins whenever the car is motion.

Bike Rides – Now with Smellovision!

Finally, one bit of good news is the fact that car traffic is way down in the DC area. As a result, the air is noticeably cleaner. You really notice this in two ways. First, if you look a long distance, say over the river, you get zero haze. Second, when riding a bike you smell things you’d never normally smell. I noticed this twice during today’s ride. I was crossing the 14th Street Bridge from DC to Virginia. The bridge is part of I-395. A car went by that was burning oil or maybe some antifreeze. In any case, it was clearly distinguishable from every other car on the road. Later, while wearing a buff over my nose, I rode past a stand of honeysuckle bushes. It smelled as if I had stuck my nose in the blossoms.

When it gets hot around here, the heat radiating off pavement can have a effect on the air near the ground. I wonder if this is the result of car emissions or ozone levels. It causes my windpipe to contract noticeably. Will it be less of a problem this summer? Time will tell.

Sports Music

Sunday’s Washington Post Sports section had a list of the best songs about sports. I found it rather disappointing. It included Centerfield by John Fogarty and Hurricane by Bob Dylan, and a couple of Queen songs, We Are the Champions and We Will Rock You.

They missed a bunch of good ones. I started surfing the interwebs for some good ones. Of course there are seventh inning stretch songs that they missed. Boston uses Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline which has always made me want to hurl. The Nationals use Take on Me by A-Ha. It’s very hard to sing unless you’ve had three beers. Then you can hit the high notes with ease (not that the people around you agree).

If you stretch the concept you get two Paul Simon songs, Mrs. Robinson and Papa Hobo. The former has the line “Where have you gone Joe Dimaggion. Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” The latter has the line “Detroit. Detroit. Gotta hell of a hockey team. Got a left handed way of making a man sign up on that automotive dream.”

No sports music list is complete without the greatest basketball song ever. Of course, I am referring to Cheech and Chong’s magnificent Basketball Jones . I had no idea until I search for it that the song features George Harrison on guitar.

Bicycling songs are few and far between, but there are two pieces of music that, along with excellent editing, make for wonderful sports songs. They both come from the movie Breaking Away. I first saw this movie before its formal release when I spent a summer in Berkeley a very long time ago. (I also saw Frank Langella’s Dracula and Alien in pre-release. The latter movie almost caused me to go to the ER as the woman next to me dug her nails into my forearm during a scary scene.)

Breaking Away is about a kid in Indiana who dreams of being a bicycle racer for the great Italian teams that he worships. In one scene, he goes out for a training ride after her learns the Italians are coming to his town, Bloomington, Indiana. During the ride, he drafts off a tractor trailer, going faster and faster to the tune of Mendelsohn’s Italian Symphony.

A bit later, he actually gets to ride with the Italians who turn out to be scoundrels. This scene, also filmed near Bloomington, is accompanied by Rossini’s Barber of Seville Overture.

(Sorry about the picture quality. It’s a must see movie. You’ll never hear the word “refund” the same again.)

And, finally, I don’t know if this qualifies as music but it’s even more intense live.

Maori All Blacks Haka – I mean these guys are huge and fierce. I’ve seen Maoris do haka dances in person. It’s intense, Why any other team would line up against the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team, after they do their Haka is beyond me.

Pool Noodles and Lizards

It’s cruel clockwork. Every few years someone I know dies unexpectedly. It’s part of life to bear witness to the aftermath of sorrow.

Dave Salovesh died on this day, Good Friday, last year. A day or so later I stood in front of the tree where he was killed. Friends started gathering. Telling stories. Crying. Hugging. Nearly all of them younger than me, probably dealing with this sudden death thing for the first time in their lives. Looking at me with tear-filled eyes. And all I could think was “I can’t fix this.”

I was stunned and felt helpless when Patricia died. And Arthur. And Lorena. And Dave. It really doesn’t get any easier, this sudden death thing.

All we can do is remember them with fondness.

Dave was such a truly lovely human being.

I miss him.

Last summer, an out of control driver nearly killed me on the side of a road outside Saint Louis. My mind immediately flashed to Dave. A couple of weeks later I was in a cafe in the tiny town of Toronto, Kansas. The cafe was called Lizard Lips. The proprietor gave me a little plastic lizard and I zip tied it to my bike.

Every bike tour needs a mascot.

I named mine Dave.

All this and tornadoes too

First came the virus of doom. Lord knows when we’ll be able to go back to a normal life. Overnight a massive storm came into the DC area. It provided a delightful 4 a.m. thunder clap that shook our house. Rainfall has been biblical. The worst of the storm has passed but lines of smaller, nasty storms are passing through every hour. We just had a tornado warning to the south of my house. If the virus doesn’t get you, the funnel cloud will.

In between these bands of harshness is some really nice riding weather, warm with some summertime humidity. I’ve been tempted to get out on the bike but I don’t want to find myself cowering on some stranger’s front porch as a funnel cloud descends.

The last few days have had decent riding weather. Either the virus or the social distancing is starting to get to me though. The other day I saw a man walking his barbell down the street. I wonder what other indoor exercise equipment he takes for a stroll. Yesterday, Easter Sunday, I saw a big white Easter bunny riding through Old Town Alexandria on the back of a motorcycle. If it was an hallucination it was a good one because the bunny waved at me.

You’ll have to take my word on these things. I don’t have a fancy pants camera mounted on my helmet.

While I was paying attention to life threatening things, I almost forgot about my knee and hip woes. I know I am jinxing things by saying this but they are all but gone. My stenosis is also pretty much under control but my new normal means I can’t walk long distances or carry heavy things. Also, I have to do my physical therapy exercises every day.

All of which reminds me that under normal circumstances, this is the time of year when I get serious about planning a bike tour. It may seem like this would be a good time for a solo bike tour but even riding solo requires frequent interactions with people in stores, restaurants, and motels. It’s just not feasible

It would be fun to be out there, somewhere far away….

Rolling Psychotherapy in the Time of the Coronavirus

As the weather warms, I am grateful to have my two-wheeled psycotherapist to turn to each day that we spend social distancing. On Sunday, I broke free and did my first 40-mile ride in a couple of months. All it takes is a day off the bike and a switch to my CrossCheck and I’m all rambunctious. I think wearing shorts helps too.

The best part about Sunday’s jaunt was the fact that I could ride on roads that normally would be filled with cars piloted by maniacs. One segment of the ride involved taking Washington Boulevard from the Pentagon to the Memorial Bridge, counterclockwise around the Lincoln Memorial, down Constitution Avenue past the Capitol then back along Independence Avenue to the Memorial Bridge. If I had done this during any normal time period, I’d be posting this from a morgue.

I had so much fun on that ride that I rode another 40 miler on Monday. This one took me south to beautiful Lorton, Virginia. Once home to DC’s prison, Lorton now is filled with townhouses and strip malls. I am uncertain if the new Lorton is an improvement over the old one. The ride was filled with hills but my legs somehow didn’t care. Along the way I spotted this interesting bit of timely lawn adornment.

On Tuesday, I made myself useful by mowing the lawn. I followed that up with a 20-mile ride which involved some shopping along the way in Old Town, Alexandria. I ordered a book for “contactless pickup” from a new independent book seller called Old Town Books. (Ironically, it is across a alley from the site of one of my favorite book sellers (Ollson’s) which is now a saloon.

On the way home I passed under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on South Royal Street in Alexandria. I wish I had my phone out to take a picture of the weight lifter walking his barbell. I kid you not. The thing had two massive weight plates on either side. He was pushing the bar with his foot. It rolled along like he was walking his dog.

Today was a weather masterpiece. Just perfect riding. Off I went to DC this time via Rosslyn, Virginia. Instead of taking the Mount Vernon Trail I opted for Route 110, a four-lane divided highway that is normally filled with speeding traffic. The very wide paved shoulder gave out just before the turn off to the Iwo Jima Memorial. Piece of cake.

A block after passing my old office building in Rosslyn, I was stunned to see the months-long reworking of Lynn Street at the Intersection of Doom. The renovations include restricted parking in the block preceding the intersection. At the intersection itself there is a new bike lane (alas unprotected) and a much wider side walk.

I took the picture above from a protected bump out. It used to be a through lane mostly filled with taxis and ubers. The travel lanes are normally stuffed with cars and buses.

Just ahead in the picture is Key Bridge, the Potomac River crossing into Georgetown. I rode in the street and exited onto Whitehurst Freeway. Weee!. Unbothered by the eight cars that passed me, I continued into downtown on K Street. This would be suicide on any normal day but today it was fun. I even rode the tunnel under Washington Circle.

Eventually I turned off K and headed home. I took 11th Street to the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. Backtracking to 15th Street, I came upon a DC city work truck cutting across the bike lanes. It turned, stopped atop the park-it barriers that protect the bike lanes, then rumbled across. The driver had to know it was illegal. Light traffic means bad driving: illegal turns, speeding, weaving across lanes. Riding in light traffic is fun but you have to have your head on a swivel.

While riding home I passed the economy lot at National Airport. The lot holds something over 2,600 cars. Today I think there were ten or fifteen using it. It was eerie looking.

A mile or so from home, I stopped at the drug store to get my asthma medicine refill. I bought some odds and ends (the store had two other customers so no worries about distancing) along with the medicine. When I got home, I noticed that the store clerk had left some shaving cream I bought out of my bag. I was pretty gassed after another 40-mile day but I rode back to the pharmacy to get the missing item. I arrived home knackered after a 42 1/2 mile psycotherapy session.

I am getting a rebate on my car insurance thanks to the shut down. I wonder if my health insurer will cut me a break for reduced therapy claims. No. That’s crazy talk.

Blowin’ in the Wind

I had acquired a gallon of exterior white paint for my little paint project. I bought it at my local hardware store. It was appallingly expensive but pandemics have a way of making our demand for things rather price inelastic. This hardware store thrives on people like me who will do almost anything to avoid driving through the US 1 traffic sewer to shop at a soulless big box store.

Once I returned home, I started to set up. A rowdy wind gust blasted me. Then another. And again. I checked my phone. The forecast called for more bluster all through the day and well into tomorrow. Not wanting to make a mess of things, I postponed the painting project until Saturday.

In a few minutes I had changed out of my scuzzy painting togs and into bicycling gear. After admiring some tulips near my front step, I rolled on down the street.

I managed to get about 100 yards from home when another blast hit my from the side, nearly knocking me off my saddle. It occurred to me that I might still manage to make a mess of things! Things being me.

Undaunted, I pedaled away. The Park Service had closed all the parking lots near the Mount Vernon Trail so the prospects for using the trail and maintaining proper social distance were greatly improved.

I managed to ride 25 miles. The first half of the ride was north through Old Town Alexandria into a very frustrating headwind. At one point a wind-aided rider came toward me down a slight decline with a curve at the bottom. He overshot the turn, careened into my lane and nearly went flying off the trail. I anticipated his ineptitude and slowed to watch his crash. He recovered control and quickly returned to his side of the trail. “Sorry.” Dude, now is not the time for a visit to the ER.

I was quite zonked after struggling along for 12 miles and was happy to turn back toward home. This was much more like it. Zipping along. No effort, wind at my back, sun shining in the sky.

As I pulled into my yard, The Mule turned a milestone.

One Long March

We (most of us anyway) made it through March in one piece. It’s been a nerve wracking month, especially for friends who know or live with people who are sick.

I’ve been social distancing as much as possible. Yesterday was my first day in a store or office in two weeks. I went to the hardware store to but birdseed. We need goldfinches and cardinals at the feeder. They help keep us sane. While at the store, I bought primer and painter’s tape so that I can make myself useful by repainting a wall on the back of the house. I’ll go back once the priming is done for a couple of gallons of paint.

As for bike riding, I gradually have begun avoiding trails. It’s just too crowded with people who are thoughtless. The roads are empty but that, too, can be a problem. As we in DC know, about a year ago our friend Dave was killed by a driver going over 70 miles per hour in the city. One reason he could attain this speed was the fact that traffic levels were very low because it was Good Friday. So keep you head on a swivel.

I managed to ride 793 miles in March which is not bad by my standards. The Mule did most of the heavy lifting, 751 miles. Somewhere during the month I broke 2,000 miles on the way to 2,124 miles, almost 2,000 out of doors. Warm weather beckons and I will begin packing on the miles soon, perhaps bringing Big Nellie out of the basement a week or two early.

The lock down on the DC area allows exercise. Make use of it for your health and sanity. Stay safe.