Scrape, Ride, Paint, Ride, Level, Ride, Dig, Ride, Watch, Read, Ride, Rest

April was a mixed bag of work around the house and riding. Most days I spent a couple of hours on a project in the morning followed by an afternoon jaunt on my bike.

Projects

I finished two projects. One involved re-painting a steel stoop. It was in rough shape seeing as how the last time I painted it W was president. (Or was it Clinton?) Most of the work was prep. Scraping and grinding and sanding for hours on end. I thought it would go on forever. The actual priming and painting took only an hour or so each. The second project involved fixing some landscape timbers that had been undercut by a giant surface root from a volunteer silver maple. The timbers see saw if you stepped on them. I had the option of cutting the root or working around it. I ended up leaving the root alone and raising the timbers using some bricks I had lying around. It looks okay but will probably only last a year. This took only a few hours. mostly excavating and cogitating.

While this was going on, we had a tree company come and take down two trees, a diseased white pine and another silver maple. The tree crew also removed a couple of Russian olive bushes that were distressed. (They were growing sideways.) The tree folks ground the stumps leaving me the task of cleaning up the aftermath. This involves a great deal of digging and raking and even some root chopping. The soil is mostly clay so this turns out (I am still working on it) to be exhausting work, especially in the recent 80+ degree heat.

I began the month riding The Mule then switched to the Cross Check. After a week on that bike, I’ve moved back to Big Nellie, freed from her basement dungeon. It took a few rides to get my bent legs back but now I’m having a good time banging out one 30-mile day after another.

Miles

I managed to ride 862 miles, or just a tad under 29 miles per day. Last year I only did 772 miles in April so I feel like I’m improving a bit. Year to date I’ve ridden 2,891 miles compared to last year’s 2,906 (which included a leap day). Even though I am 397 miles off the pace for 10,000 miles I am well within reach of another 10,000 mile year, because the big mileage months lie ahead.

The Mule hit 61,000 miles during the month. That’s pretty good for a bike I was going to get rid of 21 years ago. Glad I kept it.

Watching

We watched The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I thought it was kinda meh. I did like Erin Kellyman as the chief baddie. We also watched Concrete Cowboy, a strange movie about horse riding in a poor black neighborhood in Philadelphia. Basically, we’ll watch anything with Idris Elba in it. This one literally put me to sleep though.

My Octopus Teacher won the Academy Award for documentary feature. Entertaining. Octopuses are pretty strange critters.

I also watched nearly all of the Washington Nationals games. I am still not comfortable with going to a game in person. The mostly cool weather only reinforces my reluctance. Klarence, who had yet to be vaccinated, went to one game and said it felt creepy being there with a socially distanced crowd. (She had her first shot a few days after.)

Speaking of shots, I received both my Pfizer shots in March and became fully immune on April 1. I am old enough to have had vaccines for smallpox, polio (one shot and one sugar cube, if I am not mistaken), measles, mumps, shingles, pneumonia, tetanus, and influenza. If vaccines were dangerous, I’d have exploded years ago. Go for the jab, dear readers!

Reading

I only read two books this month. One was a 730-page biography of Sam Phillips by Peter Guralnick. It was overlong and repetitive, not nearly as good as the author’s Elvis and Sam Cooke bios. Still Phillips was quite a force in modern music as he was the first person to record Sly Stone, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Charlie Rich. He also recorded Bill Justis playing the song Raunchy which is a guitar instrumental. John Lennon was so impressed with 14-year-old George Harrison’s version of Raunchy (played on the upper deck of a bus in Liverpool) that he brought him into the Quarrymen. Phillips’s recording techniques were crude but innovative. The rest of his life involved radio stations and such and wasn’t very interesting.

The other book was The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks. It’s a series of case studies of neurological patients with truly strange behaviors. I read this when it came out 35 ears ago and loved it. This time around it didn’t hold my attention.

Stenosis Update

One would think that with all the digging and raking I’ve been doing that my back would be deteriorating by the day. Not so. My stenosis pain has been mostly in check. I do have to take stretching breaks during my digging/raking work but I have to say that I am rather shocked that I’ve made it this far without screaming pain in my back and legs. (The stretching I do is a simple runners stretch involving leaning against a wall and stretching my calves, hamstrings, and glutes. I think it also decompresses my discs.) I took the last day of the month off and went for a two-mile walk. After a quarter mile, my lower back started to ache a bit but the pain didn’t build and I managed to complete the walk without much difficulty.

Looking Ahead

May holds more of the same. Summer bike touring is on hold until I see how the pandemic plays out. Also, my daughter is moving to law school in early August so I need to be home to help with that. After that, maybe a week-long tour of sorts in August followed by a month-long tour this fall. (New Orleans seems like an interesting destination.)

A Lot Can Happen in 61 Miles

Today was my first ride over 60 miles since the last week of September. It was also my 19th day in a row of riding and 11 days in a row with over 30 miles. My weapon of choice was Big Nellie, my long wheelbase recumbent.

My travels took me about 30 miles northwest to Potomac Village, Maryland. Along the way I passed Old Town Alexandria, a decommissioned power plant, National Airport, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the Kennedy Center, the Georgetown waterfront, historic Glen Echo Park, and a series of neighborhoods that grew posher by the mile. So many gorgeous houses. So much stellar landscaping. A suburban aspirant’s wet dream.

Along the way on the Capital Crescent Trail I spotted a sure sign of spring in DC. A dozen or more cormorants were perched in leafless trees overhanging the Potomac River. They wait there to pick off bass that are swimming upstream to spawn.

For a couple of miles I rode the rolling hills past the famous golf course of Congressional Country Club. This course has hosted four grand slam events since 1964. I haven’t played golf since the Nixon administration but I know an elite course when I see one. Dang.

At Potomac Village I turned back toward the river on Falls Road. After a ten minute break to devour a peanut buttered bagel, I rode the winding, wooded downhill on MacArthur Boulevard, north out of Great Falls Park. On a recumbent this is pure street luge.

Lunch stop

I re-traced my route back to Georgetown. Along the Capital Crescent Trail I was startled by a beefy looking hawk that swooped down in front of me and cruised about 15 feet above the path until it flapped its wings and climbed up through the trees and back toward the river.

All day I was seeing vultures surfing the winds, turning long graceful arcs as they searched for carrion to feed on. Vultures are so beautiful in flight and so ugly up close. At one point I spotted an enormous vulture doing its acrobatics along the river bank near the power plant. It was being shadowed by a much smaller vulture, a young one learning the tricks of the trade.

One advantage of riding a recumbent is the heads up riding position. You see so much more than when riding a conventional bike. Near Dyke Marsh I searched the trees for the bald eagle nest near Belle View Boulevard. Before I saw the nest, I saw a huge bald eagle perched high in a tree. It was standing guard over the massive nest immediately below it in a crotch in the tree. Pity the squirrel that gets too close to that nest.

My legs were pretty well spent when I arrived at home. 61 miles in the books.

When I went in the house and walked downstairs my left knee gave me a stabbing pain and buckled. Oops.

Maybe I should take a day off.

Nah.

Spring Cleaning

Colors

It’s been an odd couple of days around here. Every day a new plant seems to burst into color. Crocuses, forsythia, daffodils. Cherry trees. Redbud trees. These have mostly come and gone but now we are in tulipalooza. I grew up in Ak=lbany NY, a former Dutch settlement. Every year there was a tulip festival. It was a big deal. Or so I am told. I never once attended. Around DC you can’t help but attend. Tulips are everywhere. The Pentagon Reservation (they actually call it that) and the Arlington Memorial Bridge are two places with tulips on display. The front of our house, and countless other houses in suburbia, are another.

In time the tulips will shrivel and die back of course. Don’t despair; azaleas are about to go nuts! We have three azalea bushes that are ready to burst into color any day. Two other azalea bushes planted last year did not survive the winter. My theory of the case is that they were planted too far under the eave of the house and didn’t get enough moisture. If you want to get your azaleas on, there are two pretty cool places in the DC area. One is Bluemont Park in Arlington. It’s right off the W&OD and Custis Trails. The other place is the National Arboretum in Northeast DC. It’s a bit tricky to get to by bike but once inside the biking is grand.

My ungodly looking lilac bushes (they are more like skeletons) are starting to leaf out. Soon their aromatic blue blossoms will emerge, as long as my attempts to cut the bushes back last fall didn’t do them in. I love the smell of lilacs. They remind me of my grade school. I remember going out the door and getting hit with a wave of that glorious scent. Alas, the DC are a is too far south for serious lilac bloomage.

Taxes

Somehow, someway I did several things today that worked out right. The other day I e-paid my estimated taxes. I screwed up the Virginia filing and called the tax office in Richmond this morning to clear things up. After waiting less than five minutes, I talked to an honest-to-god human who told me that I would be fined $500 for my error.

Just kidding.

She was very helpful. She told me my error didn’t stop affect the payment and everything should be okay.

Changing

The other day I brought Big Nellie out of the basement – as sure a sign of spring as you’ll ever see. What you can’t see from this photo is the bald rear tire. It turns out that riding hundreds of miles with the rear tire contacting a resistance unit is not the best thing in the world for tread life.

I found an old Schwable Marathon Plus tire and decided to use it as a replacement. This tire probably has over 5,000 miles on it but you’d never know it. Marathon Plus tires are practically indestructible. And, better yet, they rarely get flats. This is especially good news because installing a Marathon Plus tire is a total pain. I have lost quite a lot of skin on my fingers getting one of these beasts mounted. To make matters worse changing the rear tire on a long wheel base recumbent is like wrestling a dolphin. The bike has a very unbalanced weight distribution. Trying to keep it in one place while working on it can be next to impossible.

So I decided to use my repair stand.

It took me three attempts to get the bike on the stand. The first try worked but I placed it on the stand with the chain facing the lever that clamps the bike to the stand. Not gonna work. So, I took the bike off the stand and turned it around. Picking the bike up was significantly harder because I am right handed. With the bike oriented in this direction my weaker left hand had to pick up the heavier rear end of the bike. I managed to get it into the stand but somehow in the process of applying the clamp the dolphin came loose. Eek. I fed the bike a fish (just kidding again) and tried again. This time the bike stayed on the stand and I closed the clamp. Now I could tilt the bike so the front tire was on the ground and the rear tire up in the air right at the ideal height for swapping out the tire.

The old tire came off with only minor assistance of a set of tire irons. Now came the hard part. I started working the Marathon Plus onto the wheel. I worked my way around the wheel, pushing the tire bead over the rim wall. After only one attempt, the bead popped over the top of the rim. Then I turned the tire around to work on the other side. Somehow, some way I had managed to install that side too. Do you believe in miracles? I flipped the tire around to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. In another few minutes the wheel was back on the bike and I was good to go.

Practice

I have participated in the Chasing Mailboxes Errandonnee every year except last year when it was cancelled because of the pandemic. (I suppose it could have been held but it would have had to be renamed the Infectionnee, or something like that.) The Errandonnee is a friendly challenge to do errands on your bike (or by foot or scooter or some means other than an gasmobile). Errandonneuring is not for the faint of heart. It takes determination and focus.

This year’s Errandonnee starts April 15. I suppose you could just jump right in to the event. With all the good weather we’ve been having, well intentioned errandonneurs often end up with errands undone. You just ride right past the store and end up doing a tour of tulips. There is only one way to avoid a failed Errandonnee.

Practice.

Yes, I know Paul Hornung and Allen Iverson made fun of practice. Let the record be clear: neither Horning nor Iverson ever completed an Errandonnee.

Little Nellie and I would not make the same mistake. Today, I rode my trusty Bike Friday to Walmart to pick up my glasses at the Vision Center. We made use of the fabulous bike parking at the shopping cart return. Walmart ain’t exactly woke when it comes to Errandonneuring. We were not to be deterred and finished the errand in fine fashion.

Then I went for a ride to look at the tulips.

The Errandonnee is open to the public. That means you. You can achieve errandonneuring greatness.

The Mule Turns 30 and 61

It was 30 years ago that I gave up trying to commute on my Trek 1200 and bought a commuter bike. The Specialized Sequoia that I bought came with a generator lighting system that was wired through the metal fenders. The lights were lame (3 watts as I recall) and the generator contacted the tread of the tire and wore tires out.

Over time I replaced everything but the frame, fork, seat post, and rack. The bike was priced to move, at $300 off list because, back in those days, people shied away from heavy bikes. What I didn’t know was that this bike was the best selling touring bike in Europe.

It is an awesome touring bike. Stable. Comfortable. Dependable.

For a while I stopped riding it when I switched to Big Nellie, my recumbent bike. Nerve problems in my legs eventually drove me back to the bike I have come to call The Mule.

Today The Mule turned 61 as in 61,000 miles. Still going strong.

Getting Stooped

Anytime you ride 40,000 miles in four years, something has to go by the wayside. I have neglected my house and yard now for a long time and it shows. I have so many projects to do in the months ahead there is no point in making a list.

The first job on my backlog is to re-paint the metal stoop outside our kitchen. I last did this a couple of decades ago> I did a poor job and the paint never looked good. It’s been a rusty mess with lots of chipped paint for years.

Last week I spent three two-hour sessions washing and scraping and sanding and grinding away at the mess. I also fixed some rusty holes using some epoxy. I did the best I could before saying “no mas”.

Next up was priming. The weather here was absolutely perfect for bike riding but alas I was back at the stoop. It is a cruel coincidence that perfect riding weather is also perfect painting weather.

First, I taped off the area. Next I rode Little Nellie to the hardware store for primer, a mini-roller and a brush. The last time I painted the stoop I used a brush. It was a frustrating mess. This time I started to prime with a small roller and was shocked at how much better the roller worked than that old brush. The horizontal surfaces all have a texture to them supposedly to impeded slipping. Getting paint on all sides of the textured surface was impossible with a brush but it was super easy with the roller.

As I primed I could see cracks in the paint that I had missed during prep. I did what I could to fix these. No doubt I’ll be re-doing some of this later in the year.

Unfortunately, I ran out of primer so I jumped back on Little Nellie and returned to the hardware store. The upside to this misadventure was that I now knew how much paint to buy for the top coat. So I bought that too.

The rest of the priming took about 20 minutes.

Priming and painting are infinitely more rewarding than prep. I had spent about six or seven hours doing prep and felt like I had accomplished nothing. After an hour or so of priming I felt like I was cooking with gas.

Today was the last step, the top coat. Last time I used black gloss paint. It was slippery and didn’t adhere well at all. The hardware store paint guy said that black satin would be a better choice and would not be as slippery, so that’s what I used. It took no time at all to paint the stoop. The only problem was the fact that the daylight was such that I had trouble seeing where I had failed to completely cover the primer. So once I had painted the entire thing, I walked around and looked for spots where I could see primer peeking through the top coat. After 15 minutes of this I declared victory.

All that’s left is to take off the painter’s tape.

In celebration The Mule and I went for a ride among the blossoms in Alexandria and Arlington. Cherry trees are fading. Red Buds are taking over. After that come lilacs and azaleas. Also, the deciduous trees are leafing. Soon the Mount Vernon Trail will be a tunnel of green again. This will obscure the three bald eagle nests between my house and Old Town Alexandria. Two of these nests are quite active. The third seems in need of a tenant.

My next project involved a big tree root. No chopping though. Stay tuned for all the excitement.