Okay, let’s start again. 2020 sucked but at least I salvaged some decent bicycling. I managed to go 10,240.5 miles this year. My Cross Check edged out The Mule for most miles: 4,179.5 to 4002.5. The other 20 percent of riding was split between Big Nellie (my Tour Easy recumbent) at 1,458.5 miles and Little Nellie (my New World Tourist) at 600 miles.
My bikes now have a total of 145,082 miles on them. Either one of them break or I do.
End of Year
New World Tourist
The monthly distribution was kind of Bell curvy. (I took stats, can’t you tell?)
As a prize for finishing in first place, the Cross Check got a new look. People used to pick me out during events by my humongous Carradice saddle bag. No longer. I switched to an Arkel Tailrider. It kind of wrecks the all black look, but it weights a bit less than the Carradice. The bike still weighs a ton but that will be addressed when I replace the tires with something lighter.
Early in the year we heard word of a virus spreading from China. It was creeping around the world like an invisible Pac Man and would soon gobble up Italy and Spain and the UK and on and on. Friday Coffee Club continued undaunted until March, when it was no more. Snuffed out by the ‘rona. I suppose it was a good thing. They say if you hang out with people long enough you begin to look like them.
Then some people look just a little different.
Nothing says frustration quite like biking with brake pads rubbing against the rim. (I rode most of the way across the country last year this way.) No matter how many times I adjusted them the problem came back. Until I discovered the secret. The tensioning wire needs to be oriented so that the tail of the wire is in line with the adjustment screw. (If this doesn’t tell you what a zero 2020 was, I don’t know what does.)
In the Spring I toured the Congressional Cemetery on the east side of Capitol Hill. A burial marker seemed rather ominous.
George and Martha became off limits.
People stayed at home. Cars stayed parked. Planes too. The long term parking lot at National Airport was all but empty. I wonder whose cars these are. Note also the clear blue skies.
I did an awful lot of local bike riding. Once I could depend on access to certain necessities, I drove to places a few hours away and did day rides. One day I rode from Frederick Maryland to Gettysburg Pennsylvania.
I read a whole bunch. First there were the Christmas Books. Then I went on a Bill Bryson kick, followed by a let’s-re-read-John-McPhee jag. My wife and daughter loaded me up on Fathers Day and my birthday. With all this social down time, I wasn’t about to throw away my shot.
WABA put on the 50 States Ride. It was my 12th time. I normally ride with a posse of several people but this time Kevin (left) was my only companion. WABA’s Garrett (center) checked us in and none of us got infected. YAY. We ran into sidekick Michael B. and friend (right) at a pit stop in Anacostia Park. A couple of months later I did WABA’s Cider Ride for the sixth time. This one was solo. They were my only two event rides of the year. Fun, but no substitute for a tour.
The virus killed over a quarter of a million Americans. Near RFK Stadium in DC, an artist from Bethesda planted a white flag for each victim.
My daughter’s pal (she met him at the Irish embassy last year) was elected president.
The news of the liberation, I mean election, was met with huge celebratory crowds at Black Lives Matter Plaza near the barricaded White House.
Sometimes it felt as if the year had sucked the blood right out of me. Then it did when I donated blood for the first time.
One of my favorite people in BikeDC, Rachel (Don’t Call Me “Bob”) Cannon, left town for Oregon just after Christmas. We met at Friday Coffee Club years ago. Our paths crossed again and again. She sent me fritters when I was sick. She rode the 50 States Ride with me. She even sold me a bike. She has so many talents but her number one talent is kindness. As her dog Annie would say, she’s a good hoomun. I’m going to miss her. So will many others.
And, to end on a sour note because, after all, this is 2020, Whites Ferry closed after more than 235 years of operation. I think I did the Whites Ferry loop, over 100 miles, every year. The closing followed a decades long legal dispute. It turns out that ferry reaches the Virginia shore onto private property. Imagine closing a bridge for the same reason.
I do a list every year but this one is rather challenging. But here goes…
Knock wood. My family and I managed to avoid contracting covid-19. This includes my son who chose to stay in Thailand. Because of the strict shutdown procedures there, he was probably safer than if he had come home.
Healing up. I was grounded from bike touring this year. This turned out to be a good thing because I destroyed my body doing a tour from Indiana to San Francisco in 2019.
A Gimpy Old Man. Hiking has also been off the table this year as I have developed spinal stenosis. When I walk (and sometimes when I so much as stand) my lower left leg hurts. It’s caused by a pinching of my spinal cord. I received some cortisone shots in my back. They provided temporary relief but were incredibly painful. Oddly, stenosis does not affect my biking at all. In fact, one of the telltale signs of the condition is being able to bike and walk pushing something like a lawn mower without pain.
Popping. Once I realized I had stenosis, I modified my stretching routine. I tried yoga that didn’t work. Then Feldenkrais which was intriguing but not for the impatient, A search of the interwebs yielded several gentle physical therapy exercises. I do them at a very deliberate pace. As my spine loosens, it pops. Not audibly but I can feel it. Not only do they help with the stenosis in my lower back, they also free up my upper back which gets tight from reading and riding. As of this writing, my stenosis pain has greatly diminished. Fingers crossed.
Will He Go Round in Circles. Despite all this physical nonsense, I managed to ride 10,000 miles. Mostly I rode out and back rides from my home. A couple of these were over 100 miles. Once convenience stores (and public bathrooms) re-opened I drove an hour or two away from home to do day rides. Winners included several rides on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a trip between Fredericksburg, Maryland and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, two rides in and around Williamsburg, Virginia, and a handful of rides in Virginia hunt and wine country. One oddity so typical of 2020 in general is that I had more flat tires this year than in the previous four years combined.
Reading the Pandemic Away. I read way more than I have in recent memory. In the process I discovered authors Amor Towles and Madeline Miller. Notable books include Circe (Miller), A Gentleman in Moscow (Towles), One Day (Gene Weingarten), Alexander Hamilton (Ron Chernow), This Is Going to Hurt (Adam Kay), Labyrinth of Ice (Buddy Levy), The Body (Bill Bryson), and Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier).
50 States and a Couple of Mugs of Cider. In September, I rode my 12th 50 States Ride with Kevin W. as my lone companion. The Washington Area Bicyclists Association had to get creative to keep everyone Covid safe. They did a terrific job. I rode the WABA Cider Ride for the sixth time in November. This one was solo and a bit cold. Big thanks to the WABA staff and volunteers for pulling these two events off.
Take Me in to the Ballgame. One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to ride my bike to Nationals Park to watch baseball games. This year in a bizarre twist the season was shortened from 162 to 60 games, with no spectators allowed. I watched 59 of 60 Washington Nationals games on TV. They were all in the eastern time zone and limits to extra innings made this relatively easy. I listened to the end of the 60th game in the car on the way back from 50 States Ride. Sadly, the Nats were not particularly competitive this year. Opening day is April 1, 2021. Maybe.
Social Distancing to the Max: In March indoor gatherings all but ceased. This meant no Friday Coffee Club and no happy hours. Sad face. I quickly tired of Zoom get togethers, aided by a wonky mic on my laptop. Except for Kevin and the event volunteers and WABA staff, I saw only a handful of people all year. I avoided a social shut out thanks to Rocky, Chelli, Matt, Jessica, Leslie, and Charmaine.
The Year of the Child. With the assistance of my wife and daughter, I became a bona fide couch potato. Gaslight, 7500, Rebecca, a couple of Mission Impossible movies, Luther, The Crown, and Fleabag provided entertainment on shut-in nights. The Mandalorian brought us the Child. And because ten is not enough,
Tear Down That Wall! I avoided all the protests in DC. I was surprised to see that the massive crowds did not result in a huge increase in Covid cases. After the election I rode to DC to see people celebrating the Biden/Harris win. I look forward to the day in January when the disgraceful wall and fencing around the White House neighborhood comes down. How ironic that Trump wanted a wall and then put himself behind one.
After completing my bicycling goals for the year, I decided to do some volunteering things. I haven’t done much volunteering mostly because my last several volunteering gigs were not a lot of fun. For example, there was the time I volunteered to staff a Bike-to-Work Day pit stop 1.5 miles from my house. It ended up involving 90+ miles of bicycling over three days to fetch and return handouts from an advocacy organization.
My volunteering gig this month was to help scrub the gunk off a wooden bridge on the Mount Vernon Trail. This effort is being spearheaded by the Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail. The National Park Service of the U. S. Department of Interior owns and is supposed to maintain the trail but they have been grossly underfunded for many years. One needs only visit East and West Potomac Parks in DC to see evidence of this. There’s the collapsing sea wall that lines the Tidal Basin and Hains Point for a start. Then there is the Jefferson Memorial jersey barrier farm. A security perimeter was put in after 9/11 but they ran out of money to put in proper, permanent protection (as they did with the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument) so the Jefferson Memorial is surrounded by jersey barriers. America, if you want nice things, you have to pay for them.
End of rant.
The Friends have been working on removing kudzu that was obstructing sightlines on a bridge in Alexandria. Other efforts, more like the one that I volunteered for, involved clearing the gunk from wooden bridges on the trial in Alexandria and Arlington in preparation for the application of grip paint. (That appears to be what it is actually called.) The paint hopefully will keep bicyclists on the trail and out of the emergency room.
My first MVT bridge crash was on what is now called Bridge Number 1. This is the bridge closest to the Mount Vernon terminus of the trail. (There used to be a bridge even closer but it was so dangerous, the Congress ponied up money to re-route the bridge after the wife of a senator crashed on it. That same bridge also claimed Mrs. Rootchopper as a victim.)
Bridge Number 1 took me out in 1989. I suffered a smashed bike, a dislocated left knee cap, and a cut on my left forearm that went to the bone. Gross.
So volunteering for this effort was a no brainer. Plus it was only three miles from home. I think we did about 2 hours of work and one hour of portaging the tools and water in large heavy bladders to the bridge which was 1/2 mile from the nearest parking lot. Thankfully, the younger volunteers carried the water.
I applied oxygen bleach and scrubbed it in. A power washer was used to finish things off. The power washing was a bit of a Rube Goldberg affair. Water was poured into a multi-gallon bladder. Gravity pulled the water through a hose to the power washer. Somebody had to hold the bladder up. Somebody else had to constantly refill the bladder to allow for continuous operation of the power washer. Water is heavy. There was spillage. Long story short, several of us had wet pants by the end of the event.
We did about half the bridge before we ran out of battery power. Good enough.
After three days of low mileage cycling, I took today off. Today was also the day our housecleaning service came so my wife and I cleared out. Normally, we go to a diner for breakfast but lately we haven’t been all that interested in biscuits and Covid so we both went over to the Bloodmobile at the hospital down the street and donated blood. My wife has donated gallons over the years but today was my first time. Other than some annoying administrative glitches the donation went smoothly.
We each received a festive t-shirt that gives ugly Christmas sweaters a run for their money.
If you’d like to help with the Mount Vernon Trail efforts, you can make a donation here or sign up to volunteer here.
My next volunteering effort will involve removal of cookies and fudge from our kitchen. Something has to be done.
Indiana Jones once said. “It’s not the age; it’s the mileage.” Don’t know if I agree with him. I bought my Specialized Sequoia nearly 30 years ago. I almost gave up on it twice but a mechanic named Paul (now at Bicycle Space in DC) fixed a vexing problem with the headset about 20 years ago. When I complained about five years ago that he bike had too many miles on it to be trustworthy on long tours, my rando/touring/mechanic-y friend Mike told me not to worry. The Mule’s old steel frame would last a lot longer.
So here we are. At 60,000 miles. The frame, fork, seat post, rear rack, and wheel skewers are original. I fully expect to one day get on the bike and have it disintegrate beneath me. Until then, The Mule abides, baby.
By the way, if you’re thinking of getting a bicycle computer, don’t get the Cateye Padrone. It has never worked properly but I bought it at the start of the pandemic and returning it was fraught with peril.
Three years in a row. And very nearly four but for some nasty blood clots in my lungs in December 2017.
It was mentally much harder to do this without a tour or rides with a purpose. From 2017 to 2019 I’ve done 9,000 miles on tours. Riding to Friday Coffee Club is worth about 1,000 miles a year. And Nationals games are another 900 miles or so. In 2017, when I missed 10,000 miles by 89 miles, I did 3,912 miles just riding to and from work.
I’m not done yet. I am chasing one more milestone in this godforsaken year.
With today’s storm in the mid-Atlantic bicycling outside was out of the question. I took advantage of the foul weather to change the rear tire on The Mule. The screw (likely a drywall screw) that caused the flat had a sharp point on one end and was about 1.5 inches long. I am surprised the tube didn’t explode. It had a ragged hole in it a bit smaller than a dime. The screw put a nice precision hole in my tire too. I actually had to use a screwdriver to get it out. It was in pristine condition. My tire not so much.
I tossed the tire and tube in the trash bin and installed a new Schwalbe Mondial tire. I was expecting to spend a half hour getting it on as Schwalbe tires are notorious for mounting difficulty.
To my surprise the Mondial went on without much fuss at all. I did change my technique a bit. I started mounting the tire from the valve end. (I usually start it opposite the valve.) When I got to the frustrating part where the last bit of the tire bead wouldn’t go over the rim, I let air out of the tube and pushed the valve end of the tire against my thighs. This created plenty of slack and the bead popped over the rim.
Of course, once I had it mounted the tire I realized it had a directional tread. And, you guessed it, I put it on backward. So I re-installed it. It took about a minute.
Tomorrow, after allowing for the roads to be safe, I’ll take The Mule out and see how it rolls.
Yesterday I said that the last 200 miles of my quest for 10,000 in 2020 would be harder.
About 2 1/2 miles into today’s ride, The Mule got screwed in the rear. Tire, that is. (Sorry. Couldn’t help myself. I’ve been watching Fleabag.)
It’s been an odd year for punctures. From 2015 to 2019, I toured with 40 pounds on my bike for 10,000 miles without a single flat thanks to my Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. This year, despite using the same brand of tires and carrying lighter loads, I’ve had at least four flats.
Today’s flat happened after I rode through some debris in the roadway. I know my rear tire hit something because there was a metallic sound and the back of my bike deflected to the right. A half mile later I started hearing a loud click with every revolution of my wheels. Then the rear end started moving sideways. I hopped off the bike and saw that my rear tire was flat. I initially thought the culprit was a roofing nail. On closer inspection I realized it was a screw of some sort. I’m pretty sure that it gradually worked its way through the tread. I suspect that the tire is kaput. I put it on 3,500 miles ago.
In late summer I bought a Schwalbe Mondial tire. It’s lighter weight but not as puncture resistant as the Marathon Plus. With tomorrow’s storm I’ll have plenty of time to install it.
After getting a lift back home from my wife, I took my CrossCheck out to continue my ride. I rode an additional 32 miles. The only time I felt remotely uncomfortable was when the sun started to set and the temperature dropped.
I ride 5 miles to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Then I go over the bridge and down a fun spiral ramp that takes me further down to a cove near National Harbor. Just before the harbor, I turn east through a corrugated steel tunnel and climb a half mile past the MGN casino complex and up Oxon Hill.
At the top, I bang a right on Oxon Hill Road and ride through three roundabouts. They do a good job of calming traffic and they make you feel like a little kid for some reason. Whee! There is an bike lane, sometimes protected, often with glass and other debris. (Not the greatest design but at least a B+ for effort.) After my rotary service, I take a right on Fort Foote Road for three miles of rolling suburb. This takes me back to Oxon Hill Road. A right turn begins a fast descent off the hill to Livingston Road where I take a right. This road isn’t very pleasant but I’m only on it for a mile or so when I take a another right onto Fort Washington Road. A half mile later the PHT turns right on Riverview Road for a tour of a pretty fine suburban neighborhood. Many of the homes face the Potomac River. (There are a few big houses down long access drives. I think they are safe houses or owned by mobsters. Feel free to check this out on your own.) I go past a marina and over Swan Creek.
Next it’s time for some golf. The PHT winds through a golf-based development for another mile or so before returning to Fort Washington Road where two short but challenging climbs bring me to the gates of Fort Washington Park. I ride to the fort and, if I am in the mood, take some time to check out the view of the river. (Fort Washington is directly across the river from Fort Hunt. Riders on the Mount Vernon Trail can get a good look at it.)
After reaching the fort, I retrace my steps. There are only a couple of nasty hills, one leaving the park, and one going back up Oxon Hill.
Beware the MVT
On Sunday I did my 35-mile route up to the Arlington Triangle, and back. About 26 miles of this ride are on trails. The 60-degree weather brought out all kinds of people making the ride truly annoying. Twice I came to a dead stop because traffic backed up behind a slow mover. Then there were the people who stopped and chatted on the trail. (Lovely day. Look at all the bikes. Those riders look upset. Can’t imagine why.) Must not kill. And there was the one guy walking his dog with a friend. He decided to do a crazy Ivan (a quick, no-look turn around into oncoming traffic). Something told me to be ready. Good thing I had my hands on my brakes.
I have come to expect that trail users who are chatting as they go filter out audible warnings from passing riders. That’s what happened in this case. I just missed taking Ivan out. He said he was sorry. Would have been a lot sorrier if I hadn’t been paying attention.
In Rosslyn I passed the site of a hotel implosion earlier in the day. It was an immense pile of rubble. I pulled over to the left to take a picture from the side of the trail. A pathlete zoomed by me without warning. I yelled “Passing on your left!” sarcastically.
Later the ride included getting stuck behind seven riders going at a crawl. (Try passing seven bikes at the same time.) During the delay we came to a cluster of people blocking the trail. It was a group of seven walkers. Three were blocking the left lane. Four had just crossed a busy road to our right. One of the four, a toddler, decided that now was a good time to flop on the ground and whine. With mom and dad distracted, their six year old was darting back and forth across the trail.
Once I cleared all this humanity, I found my self speeding along with a tail wind. The ride home was not half bad, except for the running of the tourists in Old Town Alexandria. The passage under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge just south of tourist central was scenic relief. (This picture was taken at the same time of day on Friday.)
Fed up with trail chaos, I left the trail and climbed the Park Terrace hill. This beast is exactly 20 yards higher than my legs will go. I stood and pounded away at the pedals. My thighs felt like they were on fire. All I had to do was to get past the parked Volvo at the top. Not gonna happen. I had to sit and use my granny. Dang.
The End of the Line
Today featured cold rain. We’re back to December. The last 100 miles will be tough. Tomorrow I’ll ride in 40- degree weather. I don’t wanna! Then we expect snow for Wednesday. After that I’ll pick and choose my last three days of cold riding. Temps will top out around 40 for the remainder of the week. Nothing like having a polar bear on your back.
Barring a catastrophe (don’t laugh, it happened three years ago), I should be at 10,000 miles by Sunday or Monday. On Saturday, I am joining the indefatigable Judd Lumberjack who is organizing volunteer work crews to do maintenance on the Mount Vernon Trail. Our assignment is to clean and nail down boards on infamous Bridge No. 1. I crashed on this bridge about 30 years ago. I cut my arm to the bone, dislocated my left knee, and nearly destroyed my bike. Vengeance will be mine.
Next up, on December 23, I am going to the Bloodmobile down the street to donate blood. Maybe I can throw them a clot or two. In all seriousness, I am ashamed to say that I’ve never donated before. I picked a good time to donate because I think they give a covid antibody test to all donors. Can bears get covid? Seems only fair.
About a mile and a half into my ride today I came upon a full grown fox. He was just ambling along in someone’s yard. No worries. Never even turned his head in my direction as I rode past.
Fast forward about 12 miles. I am riding south along the Dyke Marsh area on the Mount Vernon Trail. The area to my left is filled with trees along the edge of the marsh. I hear a barking sound. Another fox. It’s off a ways. I can’t see it, but I can hear it clear as day. As I ride the sound follows along. It gets louder. I am half expecting the fox to pop out from behind a tree. After a half mile, the barking stops and I pedal onward.
I continue south on the trail. I am about 3/4ths of a mile from the trailhead at Mount Vernon when there is a burst of activity immediately to my left. It’s a bunch of vultures, perhaps 8 or 10, packed together. I startled them and several of the beasts flew up into the air, two directly in front of me.
Not wanting to crash and become dessert, I focused on keeping on the trail and never did discover what the vultures were eating. My guess from the number of birds is that it was a deer. Ew.
I did a little research. It’s a good thing I didn’t stop to further investigate the wake (that’s what you call a group of vultures eating together) because vultures have been known to puke on people who upset them.