A Fine Day for a Wrong Turn

The weather here in the DC area is about as close to perfect as it can get. 70 degrees. Nice breeze. Low humidity. Even the pollen seems to be down. Where’s my hammock?

I went for a ride to close out the month and get away from the nonstop stress machines of TV and Twitter. I chose Charles County, Maryland because it is only a half hour from home by car and pleasantly rural.

The ride I did is called the Portside Pacer and traces a figure 8 through the Port Tobacco and La Plata areas. A few days ago I did a different ride in this area. Today’s ride did not involve the Indian Head Rail Trail or a climb up Rose Hill. Instead, I stayed entirely on roads and rode down Rose Hill. When I got to the bottom I got confused ending up on the wrong side of the Port Tobacco River. I rode about 3 1/2 miles before I clued in. (I should be heading east, shouldn’t I? Dang.)

No worries. The weather was so amazing that I didn’t mind the extra distance.

The ride does involved several short climbs but I was on The Mule with it’s ultra low granny gear. I didn’t really need it but, by using it, I can be assured that my left knee won’t wake me up at 3 a.m.

The short climbs also mean some short descents. The smooth, curvy roads made these joyful.

Of course, I did have to return to the start but the route goes more or less around Rose Hill so instead of climbing straight up I had a long gradual roll.

One thing I have noticed in recent days is how my body is almost completely healed after over a year of aches and pains. My pedaling is much, much stronger than it has been since my 2018 cross-country trip. My hip doesn’t hur893.t any more. I can get on and off my bike without feeling like my leg is giving way. I still have some soreness under my left kneecap but it’s not nearly as bad as a month ago. Unfortunately, my back still refuses to let me walk long distances but I am hopeful that it will calm down over time.

So I closed out May with a 40-mile jaunt. That brought my monthly mileage to 893, my biggest month since August 2019. (It’s nearly 500 miles less than last May, but I’m not on tour this year thanks to the pandemic. I’ve ridden 3,799 miles so far in 2020. If the news continues to be stressful, I may double that by September.

Stay safe. Deep breaths. Wear a mask. Call your momma.

Flat is not a dirty word

According to Ed, a very accomplished cycling friend of mine, using the word “flat” to describe terrain on a bike ride will doom you to a puncture. Yesterday I rode in Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore Maryland. If an area can be more than flat, this is it. Over the course of four or five hours on the bike, I think I climbed less than 100 feet, and never more than ten feet in any one place.

Many years ago I did an early spring ride with my friend Heather. It was a shorter alternative to the Six Pillars Century. The six pillars refer to the six pillars of character. I can never remember them so I suppose one of the pillars is “recollection.” I used the map of the 56-mile Eagleman triathlon course as my guide.

The ride begins and ends in Cambridge Maryland, a small town on the Choptank River. The route makes a 56-mile loop mostly through Whitewater Wildlife Refuge.

Within a mile or two of town, I was pedaling past farmers fields. The farms reminded me of the Midwest, huge flat spaces with alternating crops. Most of the fields had yet to be planted though.

One curious thing about the ride is that nearly every road is bordered by a draining ditch. In the past they’ve been filled with croaking frogs but on this day the ditches were quiet. Sadly, they seem to be collection points of trash like beer cans (Natural Light seems to be a local favorite) and fast food soda cups.

Winds were light so I was pretty much under my own power for the entirety of the ride. Without hills to shake things up, I sat for the entire ride. After three hours of being in the same position, my buttocks began to complain. That’s the only bad thing I can say about this ride. It seems strange to say this but this was an easy 56-mile ride, quite a contrast to my recent 44 1/2 mile hillfest in Virginia.

The refuge is vast, allowing the waterfowl to spread out. I typically see more waterfowl on the Mount Vernon Trail than I did here. There were some noisy birds lurking near the road to keep me entertained. I disturbed one snowy egret in the ditch along the road. It rewarded me by taking off and flying back and forth across the road in front of me.

Along the way I saw a small red pickup truck on the side of the road. It was next to a ride on lawn mower. The driver of the pickup was talking to the rider of the mower as the driver tried to push the pick up, which was oriented perpendicular to the edge of the roadway. The driver was awkwardly positioned, pushing on the open door of the cab. He was perhaps 60 years old, round, in overalls, is white hair making a circle around his bald spot. He was not exactly the kind of person one would expect to be pushing a pick up truck, at least not with any success. Not surprisingly, as I approached, I could see the driver struggling as the pickup began to roll backward. In a few seconds the rear of the truck dropped into the roadside ditch as mower person looked on. As I rode past, another pickup came from the opposite direction and pulled over to help out the ditched pick up. Dorchester County, where excitement lives.

I brought along some munchies and snacked as I rode. I never once felt strain in my legs. When my mind drifted I’d drop down to 10 miles per hour, but mostly I was cruising along at 13 mph with very little effort.

As I came back into town, retracing the first few miles of the route, I decided to push the pace. I increased my pedaling tempo as farms gave way to houses. I was having such a good time that I missed my turn. Doh!

Missing the turn gave me the chance to meander through a residential section of town. It looked like Anytown, Indiana. Small, level lots with one-story houses.

When I finished, I was tired but not the least bit sore. This ride was just what my body was looking for: lots of miles and the reassurance that my old bones weren’t done with this bicycling thing yet.

Some impressively dense woods along the road
There were scores of inlets like this along the road
Swamp road
Look to the right to see the egret I spooked
Fields of yellow outside of Cambridge MD

I am happy to report no tires were punctured in the making of this bike ride and blog post.

Back to Hunt Country

After screwing up my ride in hunt country earlier this week, I decided to go back out and finish the job.

I rode The Mule, partly because two of my bikes are out of commission. Another reason is that The Mule has a granny gear (a wee gear that makes grinding up hills a bit easier to take, especially on the knees). And the granny gear is super low after I had it replaced in Salida, Colorado last summer.

Unlike my recent attempt which started in Middleburg, I switched my ride start to The Plains. The reason was that I knew that the route from The Plains to Middleburg climbs Bull Run Mountain. It made sense to get the hard part out of the way while my legs were fresh.

And so I ride a few rolling miles before turning up the mountain. The ride up wasn’t so bad. The overcast kept me from overheating and the views of the farms and estates diverted my attention away from the huffing and puffing.

I turned and started to descent. The pavement had a thin layer of loose gravel on it. As I sped downhill trying my best to avoid the gravel, the rush of cool air brought tears to my eyes. Everything was a blur. The road was bunpy. The ride down was downright scary. I feathered my brakes hoping not to skid at 30 miles per hour.

Of course, it wasn’t a straight downhill. The road climbed back up the hill a few times. Then back down. Then back up. The ups were rather steep so I called granny and she helped me out.

The road ended in Middleburg where I picked up the ride from where I started last time. After a few minutes on busy US 50 (yes, the same one that’s called the Loneliest Road in America out in Nevada). I turned on to Zulla Road. Rolling hills through horsey country made me smile. Stone walls, nearly all in pristine condition lined the road. Sometimes they were replaced or accompanied by brown board fences.

I turned right onto Frogtown Road, a truly great road name if you ask me. Three and a half miles of mostly downhill led me to Rectortown Road. I stopped at the T for a snack of pretzels and nuts. Refueled, I headed north through Rectortown, an old 18th century town. After that came a curvey ride through grassy, rolling hills.

At Rokeby Road I stopped for more snackage as the energy bump from my previous nosh had expired. Onward I rode over hill and dale. Fences and fields and stone walls. Then a deceptively long uphill. As I climbed I spotted a woman running up the hill near the top. She seemed strong. After about five minutes I passed her. She didn’t seem to be working all that hard. Tough stuff!

At US 50 (again), I headed east for a couple of miles before turning off at Atoka where I spotted this odd sign, perhaps erected by fans of Get Smart.

Foxes and hounds and horseys, oh my.

Atoka Road took my back, nearly to Rectortown. Oddly, it seemed nowhere near as hilly as Rokeby Road despite running parallel to it.

Along the road I spotted a huge vulture in the road. It looked to be almost the size of a dog. As I approached it didn’t even flinch, too busy tearing at a possum carcass. Another vulture was perched on an adjacent rock wall. A car passed me and the road vulture launched. He barely cleared the front of the car and banked high into a tree.

Once Atoka Road gave out, I was backtracking for about five and a half miles. It turns out that Frogtown Road is mostly a hill. From this angle, the road descends to the base. As I was flying down the hill, a silver, two-seater Mercedes pulled up along side me. I was having trouble seeing because my eyes were tearing up so I really didn’t need a car riding next to me at nearly 30 miles per hour. The passenger side window was down and the driver was asking me something. The wind in my ears made hearing him an impossibility. He dropped back then came forward again. I waved him away. He dropped back and tried again. WTF! Finally, I yelled, “I can’t hear you!” and motioned rather demonstrably for him to pass. At last, he roared ahead. I recall that he had a handicapped vanity plate. I have no idea what he was after but I was glad he was gone.

I started the climb and, after 10 minutes, spotted a man in a wool cap walking a dog on my side of the road. I moved to the far side of the road, nodded, and the man smiled and said in a refined British accent, “Almost to the top.”

Liar. It was another mile of climbing but I appreciated his optimism.

At the end of Frogtown I turned south. Four more huge vultures awaited. They didn’t bother me as they were feasting on a small deer lying quite dead on the side of the road.

I turned onto Milestone Road, another beauty. A shiny, beign antique truck was parked inside a small garage made of weathered wood. It looked like a painting.

I continued on with one more hill to climb. My legs were beat. I cussed them then looked up to see a gray haired lady walking her dog. Sorry for the profanity.

Soon I arrived at highway 55 with its welcome smooth pavement. This took me one more mile into The Plains where my car awaited my return.

I’ve done this ride every few years for the last 25 years or so. The hills appear to be getting longer and steeper. I can’t imagine why.

I think my next long day ride will be on the mercifully flat Eastern Shore of Maryland.


Last week, I changed the tires on The Mule. The next day I inflated the front tire and it exploded. Okay, so I made a wee little mistake installing the new tube.

Yesterday, I misplaced a cue sheet during a bike ride on my Cross Check. I ended up only riding 28 miles instead of my planned 44 mile route. During the ride, I noticed that the right shifter cable had begun to fray where the cable exits the shifter.

Today, I rode Big Nellie. I was tired from mowing the lawn so I rode in circles in a park close to home. Eight miles into my ride my front shifter cable split in two. Obviously it had started to fray a long time ago but I didn’t notice.

Lucky for me my local bike shop burned down last year and is still closed.

My back up bike shop won’t answer the phone. I am not making this up.

I have one more bike that is still intact. I dare not touch it.

Clearly, the bike gods want me to take a nap.

Always eat the snacks during the ride

The plan was to use an old cue sheet that I photocopied from a book of rides called The Washington Area Bicycling Atlas. The cue sheet is a turn-by turn guide through Virginia hunt country. You know, the horsey set that Hugh Grant pretends to write about to get to interview Julia Roberts in Love Actually.

So I drove to Middleburg ready for anything. I had the cue sheet for this 45-mile ride. I did not have the corresponding map for the ride, but having done it a few times back in the 1990s and 2000s I figured I’d have no problem navigating.

I arrived in Middleburg after driving by a few dozen stone mansions on vast greenswards and past tony shops where you can buy things made of wool or shepherd’s hooks hand crafted out of wrought iron. They probably sell chaps and riding crops too. And proper tea sets. Cheerio.

I left the car with a single pannier on my rear rack, loaded with extra water and snacks. Off I rode following my cue sheet. Once off US 50 it was all rolling hills, tall grasses, and stone walls. I was being shoved along by a tailwind that I only noticed when it gusted above 30 miles per hour.

Stone wall, brown fence, rolls of hay, and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background.

About five miles into the ride I noticed that the cue sheet stopped at 13.7 miles. Hmmm. Then I realized that I only had the directions for the first third of the ride. Rather than turn around and add ten miles to my effort, I decided to follow the directions all the way to the end then use the Google to see if I could recall the rest of the route.

Up and down, around the bends, past the quaint farm houses and the massive estates. I took Zula Road to Frogtown Road, knowing to turn onto Frogtown even though the road sign gave it another name. (I missed the turn for this very reason the first time I did this ride 20 or so years ago.)

I made my way in a big square ending up back on US 50. All of this was familiar. A few miles on 50 would take me to the general store at Atoka where I would check the Google to see if I could conjure up the rest of the route.

My brain told me to head north. I don’t know why. I remember riding to the south on Atoka Road but for some reason I was sure that the route must go to Saint Louis to the north. I also decided that even though I was nearly halfway through the ride that I would save the snacks in my pannier for later.

Off I rode. I took St. Louis Road to Foxglove Road and I can’t say I was disappointed in my choice. It was green and rolling and winding. And windy. Dang, was it ever windy. Of course, now that I was lost, the wind would be in my face. And the gusts were intensifying.

We’re having fun now.

Foxglove descends to a creek and I rode along that for a meandering mile. By this point my brain was off in the clouds, which, come to think of it, was entirely appropriate on this overcast day.

Foxglove headed south past hunt clubs (the Horse and Hound kind). I didn’t see Hugh Grant. In fact, I only saw a couple of anonymous humans. One was an old man in a facemask walking with a pronounced forward lean on his way down his driveway to his mailbox. I stopped and we did the secret dance of the Stenosis Society.

Okay, I lie.

The headwind and the hills were beating me up pretty good when I spotted a water tower a mile or two ahead. Foxglove led me right back to my car.

28 1/2 miles. I decided to see if I could find the missing part of my cue sheet. Curiously, it was not in the car.

Oh well, I guess I’ll have that snack now.

I opened the pannier and there, on top of my snacks, was the cue sheet. I had the damned thing the entire time. And, of course, the route actually went south from Atoka to a town called The Plains. (No, Fantasy Island jokes please. Ironically, this is actually the home of Robert Duvall.)

I decided that to recover the missed part of the ride would involve at least 27 more miles of windy riding. Not gonna happen.

Now I can look forward to doing this ride again properly. Now for a brisk cup of piping hot tea.

Biking to “Work” with a Bang

I was feeling proud of myself after yesterday’s bike maintenance trifecta. Today promised to be the first warm, summer-like weather of the year so I was ready to take The Mule for a peaceful celebration of Bike to Work Day out in the country.

When I’m not riding it, I hang The Mule by its front wheel. When I took it down this morning, the front wheel, inflated to 80 psi yesterday, didn’t thud when it hit the floor. I squeezed the tire and found it to be soft. Odd. The valve seemed to be slightly open so I assumed that was the problem.

Using a floor pump I raised the pressure in the tire back to 80 psi. As I leaned over to pull the pump head off the valve, the tire exploded!


I removed the tire from the rim and took one look at the tube. It had a three-inch tear in it. Using a new tube, I had the thing back in working order in five minutes.

There was no way to tell whether the explosion was caused by a damaged rim. a bad tire bead (the part that seats under the lip of the rim), or a doofus improperly installing the tube.

Rather than take a chance that the thing would explode again. I decidded to switch to my CrossCheck for today’s ride.

I drove to Indian Head, Maryland where I have done several event rides. I kept the cue sheet from one year’s rides. This sheet included a 60-mile ride on one side and a 43-miler on the other. I was feeling crabby about the tire explosion. Also, it’s been a couple of weeks since I rode a conventional (non-recumbent) bike. So I chose the 43-mile route.

After three mostly downhill miles, my legs started to feel un-bent. The roads had very little traffic. The busier roads had wide paved shoulders. The smaller roads were little more than country lanes. Nearly every road was lined with trees so I rode almost entirely in the shade.

My only incident with traffic came about six miles into the ride. I was riding up a small hill on a shoulderless country road when a big black pick up truck came up behind me. The driver decided to pass. Just as his rear bumper passed my front wheel, a white SUV came over the hill from the opposite direction. I was certain they’d collide head on but instead the pick up veered hard to the right, directly in front of me.


Except for that one incident of vehicular madness, I was having a rather blissful go of things. I could hear the wind in the trees, the birds singing, the frogs croaking. Laundry was drying on the line. Creeks were burbling (or maybe they were gurgling.) Lord how I have missed the open road.

During the first ten minutes of the ride, I felt a twinge of pain across my lower back. Just my lumbago checking in. It decided to take the rest of the day off.

The route had three hills of some difficulty. The third was Rose Hill, an infamous 1.5 mile slog that gets steeper in the middle. The shoulder is a six inch ditch filled with litter (Icehouse beer appears to be popular.) and mud. I did this ride with my friend Kirstin a few years ago. She did not like Rose Hill at all.

The new pedals on my CrossCheck served me well. Rather than mashing down on them as I climbed, I imagined I was riding clipless pedals and concentrated on unweighting each foot at the bottom of the pedaling stroke. Not only did this help me get up the hill but my feet didn’t feel all beat up when I got to the top.

The last ten miles after Rose Hill were a snap. I’m pretty sure I could have comfortably ridden much farther but I decided to quit while I was ahead. There will be many more solo rides in the boonies.

I think my next excursion will be to Virginia hunt country or Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Spring Comes for Mr Fixit

Spring finally arrived this week. Temperatures were still a little below normal but the sun was out, the air was dry, and the breeze was breezy.

One hallmark of spring is the arrival of gosslings. I saw my first clatch the other day along the Mount Vernon Trail across from the Jefferson Memorial. There were plenty of adults standing guard and from the looks of things they’d been eating more grass than a Lawn Boy.

This year’s models

A quarter of a mile away I passed a vulture hiding behind a bush about to chow down on a decent sized catfish. The bush was about 20 yards from the river. Generally, vultures eat carrion so I wondered where he could have gotten the fish. A few seconds later I saw three fisherman on the opposite side of the bush. I wonder if the vulture picked their creel.

The next day, over near Arlington Cemetery I saw a turkey. Is it the cleaner air or the reduced traffic of all sorts that is bringing these birds out?

In the last couple of weeks I have switched to riding Big Nellie, my recumbent. It’s generally more comfortable but it does take a while for the body, specifically the legs, to adapt. I rode 220 miles in the last seven days and this morning my legs felt like they had ossified. Also, something about this bike is really messing with my left knee. So despite the beautiful weather I took the day off from riding.

Instead I did some deferred maintenance on my bikes. First up was Little Nellie, my Bike Friday. The last few rides on this bike have been hard on my back. Today, I changed the saddle from a Brooks Flyer (a standard smooth leather saddle with springs for suspension) to a Brooks B67 (a textured leather saddle with a wider rear and springs with a bit more travel). Changing saddles can be a total pain but I pulled this off in about five minutes. I started by taking off the saddle bag so I had room to work. Next, I loosened the bolt that attaches the saddle to the seat post. I stopped just before the bolt came free of the fixing nut on the underside of the saddle. The old saddle came off and the new one went on without a hitch. I tightened the bolt and I was done but for some tweaking of the tilt and fore/aft position.

Brooks B67

I ordered a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires this winter for my summer tour. The pandemic has put the tour on hold so the tires sat in my shed, making forlorn saddle noises.

Today, about one year after the start of last year’s tour, I put the new tires on The Mule. These tires are notoriously hard to get over the rim but I took my time and had no trouble. I put a tire on the front wheel then, after mounting the wheel on the bike, I noticed I had put the tire on backwards (with the tread pointing to the rear). It really doesn’t matter much but I know it would bug me so I took the tire off and remounted it with the tread in the proper direction.

Next I worked on the rear tire. I put the chain on the small cog and small sprocket to give me slack. Then I popped the wheel off. The new rear tire needed a bit more persuasion that the front for some reason, but I got the job done, with the tread properly oriented.

New rubber with clean sidewalls.

In the course of mounting the tires, I had to undo the brake cables. So, I managed to get a bonus brake tune up after I was done with the tires. This, too, went without a hitch.

Finally, I gave my CrossCheck some TLC. I realize I ride a lot of miles but I seem to be very hard on pedals. I have twice had pedals break on a tour. One time the welds on the cage of a platform pedal failed. The pedal disintegrated. Usually, though, the pedal breaks by sliding off the spindle. That’s what was going wrong with the pedals on the CrossCheck.

The trick to replacing pedals is using a proper pedal wrench. I have a Park Tool PW-4. It has a long padded handle. The mouth of the wrench, the part that goes around the pedal nut, is angled. Somehow this gives the wrench exceptional leverage. Both nuts popped off without the slightest problem.

Park PW-4

Once I was done with surgery, I took Little Nellie for a short stroll around the neighborhood. After about five breezy miles it started to sprinkle. Time to head for home and declare my day off the bike a success.

Heat and humidity are scheduled to arrive tomorrow. It was a nice few days, Spring. Sorry to see you go. My bikes are ready for whatever you have in store.

Some pictures from recent days

Sadly, no cake.

There’s a meditation center about a mile from my house. The other day they put these banners up.

Are rocks animals?

Lately, people have been doing a lot of decorating with rocks. These ones have animals painted on them. Pandemic boredom, I suppose.

Hockey tape fixed my Grip Shifter

An unfortunately blurry shot of the right hand Grip Shifter on my Tour Easy. All the gippy stuff came off which left a slippery hard plastic shell. I put cloth friction tape (top half of picture) on it. Works like new. I hope it doesn’t get all messy when the hot weather comes.

Why lock it to a post when they give me this big special parking space?

I’ve been running a lot of errands lately. I went to the grocery store yesterday. It doesn’t have proper bike parking. Big Nellie has a free standing kick stand. I didn’t bother to lock it. I figured who’s going to steal it anyway? They’d probably crash within ten feet.

My hair appears to be infected

Well, the coronavirus hair situation is getting pretty crazy. This is actually the neatest it has looked in a couple of weeks thanks to the head covering I wore in today’s March weather. Too bad it’s May. Anyway, I have permanent bedhead.

Catching Up with Myself

  • 180 miles in nine days + clouds and rain = day off. That’s the math.
  • I went to see Doctor Pain on Monday. Two days before the appointment, my pain subsided. I conclude that my back is afraid of the good doctor’s needles.
  • I went for a walk on Sunday, a day before the appointment, to see how my lower left leg would respond. It did fine, but my lower left back stiffened up even though I used a cane. Doctor Pain said there is a treatment she could administer but it would involve the approval of my insurance company. In the end, we decided to leave it alone. I asked if ibuprofen is okay to use. And she said the concerns about it making people more susceptible to coronavirus infection is overblown.
  • Doctor Pain seemed quite anxious about potentially exposing patients to the coronavirus. Her office follows strict disinfecting procedures and other protocols (e.g., masks for staff and patients, touchless disinfecting lotion dispensers everywhere) but there is always a chance that someone could transmit the virus. When I was checking out the receptionist advised me to wash my clothes when I got home as a precaution. I did.
  • I went for a walk today without a cane. I made it 1 1/4 miles and had only minor discomfort. In fact, I broke into a jog a few times just to see how my back and leg would respond. The discomfort, which was in my lower left back, went away, replaced by some stiffness in my lower right back.
  • A few days ago I brought Big Nellie, my long wheel base recumbent, out of the basement. It’s rather cumbersome so I was concerned that pushing it up the stairs (a half-flight of steps) might cause my back to go whacky. No problem.
  • Three of my last four rides were “bent”. I ended up riding over 90 miles on Big Nellie. My back and legs felt great afterward. My left knee not so much. I think I may be mashing the pedals too much. Riding a recumbent requires different techniques than a regular bike. One difference is that you can’t stand and use gravity and your upper body muscles to climb. This means that your legs have to work exceptionally hard when climbing hills. A second difference is that using high gears (the ones that are tough to pedal) can trash your knees. It takes a few weeks to adjust to spinning little gears. I’ll get there soon enough.
  • One odd effect of recumbent riding is that my walking gait is much more comfortable. Back in my running days, I found that running immediately after riding a bike is awkward. My legs didn’t want to function normally. (How triathletes deal with this is beyond me.) My quadriceps muscles (in the front of the thigh above the knee) were tight and I tended to bounce a bit as I ran. After riding a recumbent, my stride feels much freer. Pedaling a recumbent seems to distribute the workload more evenly among calf muscles, quadriceps, and hamstrings.
  • I retired in August 2017. Over the next 22 months, I did three bike tours carrying 40 pounds of gear and covering over 9,000 miles on The Mule, a conventional touring bike. From 2017 through 2019, I rode 30,000 miles, far more than I had ever done before, and only about ten percent of it was on Big Nellie. I think maybe the best treatment I can give my back and leg is to ride my recumbent for t he next month or so.
  • Finally, a shout out to fellow blogger Brittany. She’s an American who has been living in Bavaria for a little over a year. One year ago today, she bought a bike to explore the area around her new home. Mostly these have been modest rides of 10 or 20 miles. Today, she went a bit nuts and rode 55 hilly miles. She loved it. I fear she has contracted the cyclovavirus. Fortunately, there is no cure.