The Long Slog

If you thought riding across North Dakota and Montana was a slog, try riding during a pandemic. From time to time, I escape the roads near home and go somewhere else. This month I visited Kent County and Talbott County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Long, level riding is good for the soul.

Closer to home, in a manner of speaking, I rode the 100-mile White’s Ferry Loop. Level ground to be sure, but quite an undertaking. It also confirmed that Big Nellie, my trusty recumbent, aggravates my stenosis condition. (The pain went away after a couple of days.) My fourth long ride of the season was the 52-mile ride to Bethesda with a return through Rock Creek Park.

But mostly my riding has been confined to 30 to 40 milers near home. During my last full year of work I rode to and from the office over 130 times. I am beginning to feel that same level of monotony. It sure would be nice to point The Mule in a direction and ride far but that’s not going to happen this year.

For the month of July I rode 1,033 1/2 miles, taking two days off to refresh my legs. It’s the second month in a row over 1000 miles. I am now 115 miles ahead of the pace I need to hit 10,000 miles for the third year in a row, resting comfortably at 5,935 miles for the first seven months of the year.

Bike to the Beach update

My friends Mike and Emilia don’t know each other but they have each signed up to ride 100 miles in the rain today in support of Autism charities. You can help by throwing some cash their way. Just follow the links. Thanks.

Evening the score

A few weeks ago I drove to Easton, Maryland on the Eastern Shore to do a clockwise ride from Easton to Oxford to Saint Michaels to Easton, using a ferry to get from Oxford to Saint Michaels across the Tred Avon River. As luck would have it the ferry was not operating so I had to back track and take a land route.

The weather forecast for yesterday was promising so I decided to give it a second shot. This time I checked online to make sure the ferry was running. Not wanting to do things exactly the same I decided to ride the loop counterclockwise. This resulted in me riding all kinds of extra miles trying to get out of Easton.

Once on route the way to Saint Michaels was pretty straightforward. Highway 33 is a two-lane, 50-mph affair. The road lacks shade which turned out to be a bit of a problem as the day wore on. The road has huge shoulders with very little debris and the cars kept close to the speed limit.

After checking out St. Michaels, a very cool town with many old residences along narrow lanes, I decided to head further along US 33 to Tilghman Island. After passing a few golf courses there wasn’t much to see. Farms and estates lined the highway. Each had a long straight, tree lined driveway to a posh house. One exception to this style of homestead was a geodesic dome house next to the road.

Geodesic home sweet home

The only hill of any sort was the ten-foot rise on a drawbridge to get to the island itself. Not exactly Alpe D’Huez.

Waiting for the drawbridge. The woman in front of me was very fast.

Once on the island I kept riding until I reached a gate blocking the road near a U. S. Navy installation. The trip from St. Michaels turned out to be 16 miles. I took a few minutes to check out the Chesapeake Bay and have a snack before heading back the way I came.

The Chesapeake Bay south of Kent Island

After passing back through St Michaels, I turned toward the Bellevue-Oxford Ferry. The ride to the ferry was along a sleepy, windy, mercifully shaded country road. When I arrived at the ferry pier I saw no cars in line, indicating that I had just missed the eastbound ferry. No worries, with no cars in line, bicyclists and pedestrians are supposed to pull a rope to activate a simple signal to tell the ferry that you’re waiting. The signal is a hinged board painted yellow on one side. It opens when you pull the rope. (How they see this signal in fog is beyond me.) As soon as I pulled the rope, a car pulled up. It’s a bit like lighting a cigarette to bring a bus to your stop on a cold winter day.

Call signal deployed

The ride across the river was pleasant. The breeze off the water felt great. It grew stronger as we went. I looked over my shoulder back west toward the bay and saw why. As late afternoon approached a summer storm was building over the bay. No time to dawdle.

Crossing the Tred Avon River

As soon as I disembarked in Oxford, I hopped on the CrossCheck and rode as fast as I could directly toward Easton. This mean I was lopping off some of the route through farmland east of town, but the notion of being out on the road for a fierce summer storm did not float my boat.

Normally, I cruise along at 11 to 12 miles per hour. My ride from Oxford to Easton was more in the 18 to 20 mph range. As luck would have it the road I was on went directly back to where I had parked my car. After getting the bike and my gear configured, I drove a mile to a gas station convenience store. I was inside about five minutes. When I came out the skies opened with cold, hard rain.

The whole ride ended up being 65 miles, considerably longer than my previous ride here. Now that I’ve evened the score with the ferryman, I want to come back and explore some of the side roads in this area.

Reverse Winter

I grew up in the northestern US. I lived there for 28 years. Every winter we’d have a “cold snap”. If you lived away from the coast this meant that for two weeks the temperature would drop below 0 and the wind chill factor would make it feel like 10 – 20 below.

Frostbite in Albany

Over Christmas one year, my brother Joe and I got cabin fever while visiting my parents. We decided to bundle up and go for a run in sub-zero wind chill weather. We picked the 3-mile loop road at what was then called the State University of New York at Albany. I was running marathons in those days and Joe was not. We were doing about 9 minutes a mile when I put my hand up to scratch my ear. Joe slapped my hand down. “Don’t touch it. It’s frozen. We’d better get back to the car.”

I was a more than a little freaked out. I looked over at him and said, “Bye” and dropped the hammer. I guess I did the last 1 1/2 miles in about 9 minutes. No lie. I balled the jack. It took a few hours for my ears to thaw out. The Scotch I drank back at my parents’ house didn’t help much.

Heat Exhaustion in DC

Ever since I have had a healthy adversion to frostbite. Then there is the opposite situation.

Around the same time, I spent the summer in DC. At the time, it turned out to be the hottest summer on record. (It has since fallen to second place.) Like a whole bunch of other government interns I lived in a dorm in Foggy Bottom on the urban campus of George Washington University. I’d go out for runs after work and drop five pounds in sweat.

One Sunday I decided to jump on my ten-speed Raleigh and go exploring. I rode to a bank in Capitol Hill to use an ATM. (Yes, it was THAT long ago. ATMs were a new thing and ten-speeds was the most you could get on a bike.)

After my errand I reversed course and rode over to the C&O Canal. I rode out the canal about 20 or 25 miles. I had brought with me one 12-ounce water bottle because that’s all I ever used when I rode in Providence. By the time I had doubled back 10 miles to Great Falls Park I was wobbling all over the place.

I stopped and bought a (glass!) bottle of Coke at a refreshment stand. Drank it. Then I refilled it over and over and over again with water from a fountain.

Feeling a little better, I jumped on my bike and headed back to GW, a distance of about 16 miles. I honestly did not know if I would make it, but I did. Before going into my dorm, I bought three bottles of ice-cold Gatorade

In my room, I chugged the Gatorade, took a shower, then collapsed on my bed. For 16 hours.

The next day I went to work. I had to do some things at the old Interstate Commerce Commission on Constitution Avenue. In lieu of air conditioning, the ICC used huge fans. After about an hour I became nauseous. I found a pay phone (lord, this was a long time ago) and called the office to tell them I was going home.

Back at the dorm I drank all that I could and fell asleep again for another 12 hours.

In 2007 the 50- States Ride in DC was held in August. It was sweltering. I fell in with three people two of whom looked like they were at death’s door when we arrived in Rock Creek Park at about the 50-mile mark. One of our group decided she had “things to do” and took off. After my experience with heat exhaustion, there was no way I was going to leave the other two alone. One of them dropped out about three miles later as he neared his apartment. The other made it to the finish. As it turns out she was okay with the heat, but her back was killing her.

Reverse Winter

It’s because of these experiences, that I refer to summer in DC as reverse winter. When winter flexes its muscles in the north, you crank the heat up and hunker down with a book and some hot tea, In summer in DC, you crank the AC up and hunker down with a good book and some iced tea.

As I type this, it is 99 degrees here in DC. The heat index is 111. I rode 33 miles in the relative cool this morning. (It was well over 80 degrees when I left the house.) I ain’t going out there. No way. No how. Time to hunker down.

White’s Ferry Loop

One of the long rides I try to do every year is the White’s Ferry Loop. This ride links up several trails in the DC are for a 90-mile circuit. Including the 9 1/2 miles to the loop from my house brings the total mileage to 99. Typically, I add a mile somewhere along the way for the full century.

I chose to ride clockwise because the forecast called for heat and humidity. This would put me on the shaded C&O Canal towpath for the hottest part of the day.

I boogied along for 23 miles taking streets and two trails (see below) before stopping at the Vienna train station building to refill a water bottle. Then I was back on the W&OD Trail all the way to Leesburg, about 47 miles from home. Whenever I could I topped off my water botlles. To be on the safe side, I carried five bottles, two on the bike and three in a pannier. I also brought snacks. Peanut butter on bread, pretzel sticks, and a couple of old chewy granola bars.

I rode on King Street through Leesburg, which had many tempting places to eat. In fact, if you stopped at every microbrewery along the way you’d pass out before the ferry.

North of Leesburg is the sketchy connection to US 15, a busy north south highway. I lucked out as there were no cars coming. The highway has a big shoulder along this part (because bicyclists were hit and killed several times in years gone by).

After a half mile , I turned onto Whites Ferry Road for another 1/2 mile of quiet country road to the ferry. If cars are coming toward you, you can take your time, because the ferry is crossing back to Maryland. I arrived at the ferry and waited in the shade for the trip back. As ferry trips go, this one is pretty calm. It only takes five minutes.

The store on the Virginia side is up an embankment. The exterior of the building has marks with dates next to them showing the high water marks for major flood events. Suffice it to say, Hurricane Agnes did a number on this river valley back in the early 70s.

After some ice cream, Gatorade, and a port-a-potty break I headed south on the C&O Canal towpath. The double track of the past is gone, replaced with an unpaved smooth surface. For five miles, that is, until it’s back to the bumps. Riding a recumbent means you feel every bump because you cannot easily lift your butt off the seat.

Near Seneca Creek the towpath is muddy. I was slipping and sliding but I didn’t fall.

From time to time, I saw deer, squirrels, herons, and large ominous looking birds. Mostly I was just trucking along and enjoying the shade. I particular like the sections where you can see the river with all the large rocks randomly poking above the water line and the places where the canal is filled with water and bordered by ominous rock walls.

After 32 miles I switched back to pavement on the Capitol Crescent Trail. This brought welcome relief to my back. The bumpy towpath was messing with my stenosis and I was constantly dealing with achy feet and an achy butt.

The CCT leads to the nifty Water Street cycletrack which connects to a side path that runs past the Watergate and the Kennedy Center along the Potomac River. After passing the Lincoln Memorial I switched over to Ohio Drive, which is the epicenter of the Cherry Blossom Festival in the spring.

At the Jefferson Memorial, I crossed over the river on the 14th Street Bridge which connects to the Mount Vernon Trail and the 12-mile ride home.

All aboard!
Waiting for the ferry
Imagine water well above the treetops. It happens every so often
The White’s Ferry Store serves food and sells snacks.
Groomed towpath is a big improvement
Rocks in the river
Cliffs, canal, towpath
Little Falls Dam northwest of DC

Here’s a cue sheet. Most people just do the loop starting and ending at Step 3.

  1. Three Miles of suburban streets to the Mount Vernon Trail
  2. Mount Vernon Trail north 6 1/2 miles through Old Town Alexandria to Four Mile Run Trail.
  3. Four Mile Run Trail west 3 miles to the W&OD Trail
  4. W&OD Trail 35 miles to South King Street in Leesburg
  5. Right on South King to US 15 north of town, about 3 miles
  6. US 15 to a right on Whites Ferry Road, 1/2 mile
  7. White’s Ferry Road 1/2 mile to the ferry
  8. Ferry across Potomac ($2)
  9. Go 100 yards up the hill on the Virginia side
  10. Take a right on the C&O Canal towpath and ride 32 miles to Thompson’s Boat House
  11. Switch to paved Capital Crescent Trail and Water Street in Georgetown for 3 miles
  12. Right onto Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway path to Ohio Drive (1 mile)
  13. Ohio Drive to 14th Street Bridge (1/2 mile)
  14. Cross bridge to Mount Vernon Trail (1/2 mile)
  15. Take a right on the trail. Go 9 miles.
  16. Re-trace suburban streets home. 3 miles.

Finally, if you do this ride, bring water and snacks. There are pumps along the towpath but these may be turned off. Also, the National Park Service treats the water with iodine. The store at White’s Ferry has limited hours so I assume it’s closed. On this day it was open.

Rock Hall Ramble

The Washington Area Bicycling Atlas included a ride on the Eastern Shore of Maryland called the Rock Hall Ramble. I lost the book but used the Google to find a cue sheet to the ride online. And off I went.

The ride through Kent County begins in Chestertown, Maryland. Founded in the early 18th century, Chestertown is a quaint place with just over 5,000 residents on the Chester River. The town is filled with lovely eateries and old buildings, as well as Washington College, a small liberal arts college founded in the late 1700s.

The ride makes its way southwest on quiet country roads to the town of Rock Hall on the Chesapeake Bay. Here you can dine like a proper Maryland savage by ripping crabs limb from limb. Ick.

Heading south from Rock Hall, the route enters the Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge. I saw a deer and a rather humongous vulture, as well as bunches of noisy ospreys. The road dead ended at a rather drab field so I turned around and checked out a historical marker. It was a memorial to the dead son of a colonial landowner. The son it seems died at sea captaining a ship during the Revolutionary War.

On the way back to Rock Hall I stopped at Bogles Wharf for another view of the Chester River.

Once through Rock Hall the route became rather disappointing. The road was flat but the scenery did not inspire. Basically, this is a highway to the town of Fairlee.

Then it’s back to Chestertown. The town closed High Street, the main drag, for a farmers market in the morning. It was re-opened when I arrived after my ride. As I was leaving I noticed it was closed again. Moving traffic barriers is a full time job here.

All in all the ride was not half bad. Low traffic. No hills worth mentioning. Decent views of the Chester River and the bay. A respectable place to pedal 52 miles.

A fine ship in Chestertown
Soy left. Corn right. Clouds up above. Works for me.
The dock of the bay in Rock Hall
Lost at Sea
Mural in Rock Hall

This Pandemic Bites

The other day I was on the Facebook reading about the dental woes of my friend Sam. Sam has recently learned that she needs dental implants. Despite the fact that she has two kinds of dental insurance the implants will cost her $5,000 out of pocket. A real kick in the teeth, don’t you agree?

I once had four fillings start to break down. I needed crowns for all four teeth. I discovered this in November. In December during open season for insurance for federal employees, I signed up for dental insurance. In January, with the dental insurance in effect, I had the work done. The following November I canceled the insurance. I think I save something like $2,000.

As I was typing this insurance anecdote in a reply to Sam on the Facebook, one third of a veneer crown on one of my front teeth sheared off. I am not making this up.

The vaneer was about 30 years old so I am not complaining. In fact about ten years ago, the vaneer on my other front tooth fell off entirely as I was trying to pull the plug off the top of a water bottle on my ride home from work.

So I went to the dentist today. I was more than a little anxious about this because I’d have two people in my face for over 30 minutes during the procedure.

I pulled into the parking lot and it was empty. So far so good. I put my Washington Nationals mask (hand crafted by Mrs. Rootchopper) on and went in. The waiting area was empty. The receptionist used one of those Star Trek thermometers to check my forehead temperature. 98 degrees. Then she gave me a coronavirus quiz. It was a Yes or No test. My answers were: No. No. No. No. No.

Jackpot. The dentist will see you now.

I was shown back to an examination room by a technician wearing a mask and a hair covering. Along the way I passed several other examination rooms, all of which were empty.

The technician gave me a mouthwash to rinse with for 30 seconds. Then she took an x-ray and made a mold of my front teeth for use in making my temporary crown. After that she put a Q-tip with vile tasting numbing stuff onto my front gum. The dentist came in wearing two masks and gave me some novocaine. Ow. Ow, again. He then examined the mold and found it not to his liking so he made another.

Then the carpentry began. The rest of the old vaneer had to be removed. Then the tooth itself had to be shaved down to a fang to accept the crown. This took a good 20 minutes and involved lots of suction and fluids and noise. For this part the technician and the dentists wore face shields. I felt like I was in a science fiction movie.

The face shields and drilling made it hard to hear what they were saying. The dentist kept telling me to lower my jaw, even pushing my head down from time to time. I thought this was odd but in retrospect he was doing his best to keep me from spraying saliva and rinsing water all over the place.

Once the tooth was fanged he made another mold for the final crown. Then he put on a temporary crown and shaped it. He’s pretty good at this carpentry stuff, because ten hours later it feels like a real tooth.

The dentists picked some color samples out and we played matchy matchy with my other front tooth. My new crown won’t match exactly partly but it is made of zyrconium, a stronger material.

If I get covid from this dental visit it won’t be because the dentist didn’t do everything he could to be safe. Taking my temperature. The screening quiz. One patient at a time. Masks (in his case two). Face shields. Hair coverings. And that odd bit about keeping my jaw down.

I go back in two weeks.

I like my cigar…

There’s the old story about Groucho Marx. I heard it as the reason his TV show was taken off the air. The details vary in the telling. While interviewing a man/woman/couple that have been married for 10 (or more) years, they related that they have 12 (or more) children. Hearing this Groucho says to the husband, “I like my cigar but I take it out once in a while.”

It never happened. But it’s a good story.

Well, I’ve ridden my bike for 22 days in a row. I woke up today and decided that I like my cigar, but it’s time to take it out.

Instead of riding I mowed the lawn in suffocating heat and humidity. Then I did about an hour of light yard work. I wore a t-shirt, sun sleeves, and swim trunks in anticipation of a sweat fest. When I was done, I was soaking wet. My sun sleeves were so wet they slid down to my forearms.

After a snack and a rewarding nap, I am ready for another string of bike rides. I am in striking distance if getting on a pace to ride 10,000 miles this year, but I need to bang out a few longer rides. Lately it has been so hot and humid that I haven’t dared to try to ride over 50 miles.

I found a bunch of rides online in Kent County Maryland. The shortest is called the Rock Hall Ramble. It’s about 50 miles but can be easily expanded to 70 miles by riding a spur into the Chesapeake Bay. Two other rides are over 80 miles. All three start and end at Washington College in Chestertown. I’ll probably do the ramble and save the other two rides for another day. All of these rides are ideal for a recumbent but cross winds on the Bay Bridge make me weary of hanging Big Nellie off the back of my car. Getting blown into the Chesapeake can ruin your whole day.

Time to fill some water bottles and make some snacks!

Heat Wave

At this time in each of the last three years, I was riding somewhere far away. In 2017, I was crossing the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In 2018. I was in the Idaho panhandle. In 2019, I had finally left the high mountains and landed in San Francisco. This year I am in hell.

We are in the midst of a heat wave here in the mid-Atlantic. Temperatures have been in the 90s for days on end. Humidity is stifling too. Today, at the end of my bike ride the temperature was 97, but the effect of the high relative humidity made it feel like 108.


I managed to crawl 21 miles on Big Nellie before throwing in the figurative towel. Too bad it wasn’t a literal one; I was dripping wet, as if I had fallen into a pool.

Yesterday, despite the brutal heat, I rode to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. In July, water lilies, lotuses, and a few other types of flowering plants bloom. The Gardens has a series of ponds separated by walking paths. The lotuses were showing off. The water lilies were being shy. Riding there was a 23 mile jaunt. I brought a trekking pole to help my back handle the walk around the ponds. What I really needed was a parasol. I managed about 30 minutes blossomy zen before heading home.

Image may contain: plant, flower, sky, tree, outdoor and nature

On the way home I cut through Capitol Hill. The streets on the eastern part of the hill were littered with piles of spent fireworks and snacks., the detritus of a night of prodigious DIY celebrating. Whoever lives in this area spent thousands on fireworks.

My return route took me to Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill. The park is a square awkwardly bordered by city streets. It’s a beautiful oasis filled with green grass and majestic old trees. The Emancipation Statue in the middle of the park has been the subject of protests; it depicts Lincoln standing tall and a freed slave on his knees looking up at his liberator. Right now it is surrounded by a series of jersey barriers which are surrounded in turn by a chain link fence, to deter protesters from trying to take the statue down. You may have seen all the ruckus about the statue on the news recently. You probably didn’t see what I saw as I rolled past: folks from the neighborhood relaxing on the lawn, hanging out in the shade. DC is an interesting place.

Last Day of June

The longest six months ever came to an end yesterday. Despite the pandemic, or maybe even because of it, my beat up body is finally starting to feel normal again. I am hoping that Indiana Jones was wrong when he said, “It’s not the age; it’s the mileage.” Then again, at my age, I doubt there’s much difference.

I closed out the first half of the year with a 66-mile ride on The Mule from Potomac Village to Glen Echo to Heightstown and back to Potomac Village. All in Maryland west of DC. The route was designed by the DC Randonneurs, those crazy people who ride hundreds of miles in one go. For fun. I think they need professional help.

This route is what the Randos call a Populaire. It’s a sweetener intended, I suppose, to lure riders into doing longer randonneering rides. God help them.

The ride is supposed to start in Glen Echo but I decided it would be easier to park in Potomac Village and make a figure 8 out of the route. Glen Echo is near the Potomac River so the first five miles were downhill. From there I headed back to Potomac Village and on to Heightstown, not far from Frederick. The outbound route is uphill in the form of a series of unrelenting rollers.

It was a typical DC day, hot and humid. I’d put a lot of miles in my legs recently, including 13 yesterday with a lawn mowing job thrown in for bad measure. Suffice it to say, my legs were not fresh and I could tell by the 22-mile mark. My thighs were wobbly going up the steep rollers. I normally would stand and ride over these but I resorted to granny gearing. Over and over again.

The route passed through some very scenic countryside, much of it thankfully in shade. There were many curvy country roads which makes for fun riding. At 22 miles, I ate half a bagel and hoped for a bit of a bounce from the calories. The next 14 miles were more up and down riding. Bounce or not, I was pooped by Heighstown. I stood in the shade and finished the other half of the bagel then headed back.

Lucky for me the next 12 miles over a different set of roads were mostly flat. I made a pit stop in Poolesville for some panther piss, an Arnold Palmer, a Snickers bar, and a water bottle refill.

My liquid break made the next few miles a bit sloshy. It was a good thing that these were also level riding. Finally, I arrived at River Road for the last ten miles beginning with the biggest downhill of the ride. I was flying until the road surface became a series of small moguls. This was not a lot of fun at 38 miles per hour. All I could do was relax my arms and hope I didn’t get bounced into a passing BMW.

After the bumps, I endured nine miles of huge rollers and speeding cars. The sun was frying my back. I was very happy to see the parking lot in Potomac Village.

As hard as this ride was, I once did it from my home on Big Nellie. How I rode up the steep rolling hills is beyond me. It was 113 miles. I can’t even.

I was so focused on not dying that I only took one picture. A simple field of grain at mile 50.

The ride also marked the end of June. I rode 1,102 miles in the month. For the first half of the year I’ve pedaled 4,901 miles. I think I have a decent shot at 10,000 miles for the year.

Since it was the last day of June I recommend some Finn therapy.

Here’s to a better second half. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Wear a mask. Call your momma.