Yesterday promised to be another slog in the godawful heat and humidity that defines DC in August. I lit out on Big Nellie for a ride around the neighborhood, my 30-mile constitutional. Another ho-hum day riding around in circles awaited.
I made my way to Fort Hunt Park and rode the 1 1/2 mile circuit over and over. On my first lap I heard a siren outside the park. It was moving toward the nearby GW Parkway and Mount Vernon Trail. On my next lap I heard a helicopter. I immediately assumed that it was a medivac flight for some unfortunate trail user, the victim of heat exhaustion or a bike crash. As the helicopter crossed through a gap in the tree canopy I saw that it was a Fairfax County Police helicopter. They are used to search, often for ne’er-do-wells. Another lap later I saw the helicopter drop low over the Parkway and Trail, heading north fast. A pursuit?
I left the park and made my way through the neighborhoods immediately west of the Parkway and Trail. As I rode toward the Parkway on Waynewood Boulevard I could see police and fire department vehicles parked on the Parkway. There must have been ten assorted vehicles: fire engines, ambulances, police cruisers and SUVs – marked and unmarked. The focus of the assembled responders was on the opposite side of the Parkway where there was activity on the slope going down to the Potomac River.
I talked with some bystanders but no one had any information about what was happening. Clearly some kind of search was involved. After a few minutes, someone said that there were police boats in the river.
Today this notice was posted on the Park Police website.
I went back to the search site today just as a police vehicle pulled up with a search dog. Doesn’t look good.
It is times like these when I remember going for a walk with my friend Owen back in high school. It was a dreary night with low clouds. One of us said, “Nothing ever happens around here.” Within minutes a plane flew over our head, on the flight path to the airport six miles away. It didn’t look or sound right but the clouds and the darkness obscured it from view. We looked at each other then took off in the direction of the plane. THUD.
The plane had crashed into a house about a mile away.
The other day I was cleaning out my shed. In the process I came across an old map of a bike ride called The Bridges of Dorchester County. The map was a photocopy from the book The Washington Area Bicycling Atlas. The book is long gone mostly because I destroyed it making photocopies.
The ride aboard The Mule began at the Cambridge-Dorchester Regional Airport which was just off route. The first six miles were uneventful. Flat. Hot. Humid. Nice breeze. Soon I crossed a short, picture pretty bridge.
Soon I came upon an electronic road sign warning that the road ahead was closed. In my experience most road closures make the way impassible for cars but not bikes so I forged ahead. In short order I encountered a flatbed truck situated in the middle of the road and backing away from me. I pulled along side and asked the driver if I could get through. He said it was okay. A hundred yards later I came upon a motely road crew. Five guys in t-shirts standing around admiring their achievement. This appeared to involve tying off a large black tarp extending from a jersey barrier down an embankment into an overflowing creek. Well done boys.
I passed through with a minimum of chit chat, bewildered by what exactly these five knuckleheads were trying to accomplish.
Not a half mile later I came upon a detour sign. I ignored it, of course. Detours and road closures have the side benefit of keeping car traffic to a level only a tad above nonexistent. Good for me.
Next came a road sign that said “Bridge Closed”. Not having any idea how far away the bridge might be, I soldiered on.
From time to time, I crossed cuts in the road that were filled with hard packed dirt and loose gravel. There were about 20 of these. They spanned the road from one edge to the other and were about ten feet across. From what I gathered new culverts had been placed across the road to act as an outlet for the swollen creeks and drainage ditches that crisscross the area.
After about 15 miles or so the road bed began to deteriorate. The right side of the road was starting to cave in. There were small holes in the pavement that seemed to go down to nothing. In places half the lane I was in was shearing off. This didn’t cause me any trouble because the road was closed; I simply rode on the left hand side of the road.
Along this stretch a corporate jet came overhead. It was headed for a landing at the airport and was coming in hard and steep. I wonder who in this swampland has the money to afford a baby jet. In any case, I was thankful for the momentary diversion from the decrepit state of the pavement I was riding on.
Next up came a small group of goats munching on the grass and wandering in the road in front of a house. It occurred to me that being chased by a bunch of goats might make for a good story or an embarrassing demise. Alas, these goats were far more interested in leafy greens than white meat.
Seeing as how the road was literally falling to pieces, I was starting to get a little concerned about the bridge situation. I came to what appeared to be a low bridge over a narrow creek.There was a pile of concrete rubble on the right side of the road. And a large piece of road construction equipment parked on the left side. Hmmm.
Was this is the bridge that was closed?
A short while later I spotted a wooden decked bridge that arched up about ten feet from the roadbed. AHA! The games afoot!
Just before the bridge three jersey barriers blocked the road. I walked The Mule around the barriers and approached the span. The asphalt on my side of the bridge ended and some oddly white concrete spanned the gap to the wooden bridge deck. The concrete was about a foot below the end of the deck and looked like it was liquid. Having never seen white concrete like this on a road before, I tested it with my foot. Despite looking like malted milk, it was firm so I stepped on it and hoisted The Mule onto the bridge deck.
I walked The Mule over the deck which spanned 100 yards of water, part of the Chicamacomico River. I watched as two men in a small outboard fishing boat motored toward the span from the right. I figured that if I fell in for some reason at least that could pull me out.
At the far side of the span I encountered a bit of a problem. The decking ended. I could see the wooden support beams that ran perpendicular to the decking. They appeared to be about three to five feet above the river. Hmmm.
I could turn around and retrace my ride, turning a 30-ish mile ride into a 40-ish mile ride, or I could figure out how to get The Mule and me across the gap.
There were some metal guardrails lying on the deck. They had a convenient groove in them that was just the right size for a bike tire. On the side of the bridge was a series of low support pillars for the guardrails and a full length beam.
I placed The Mule’s tires in the guard rail groove and used the tops of the pillars as support for my left hand. Then I walked the ten-foot gap. Where the bridge met land on the far side of the gap was a steep drop off. The roadway was blocked by a loop of yellow police tape. I lifted The Mule’s front wheel over the tape and after a few snags, I had it on the roadway beyond. Then I stepped up and over the tape. Finally, I pulled The Mule’s rear wheel over the tape. Ta da!
No muss. No fuss. I walked The Mule around another set of jersey barriers and made notice of a large black pickup truck parked on the grass along the road. I reasoned that if the truck could get here, then I can get out. This was a good thing because the prospect of trying to cross the gap on the bridge from this direction looked considerably more difficult. (I later figured that I could work my way across the gap backwards. This kind of thinking would probably qualify me to be on a Dorchester County road crew.)
The roadway and one bridge for the last ten miles of the ride were perfectly enjoyable. This was a good thing because the 91 degree heat and oppressive humidity were starting to be a concern. The last few miles were vaguely familiar. I had ridden a short version of this ride about eight or nine years ago after a work meeting in Cambridge. I was on Little Nellie on that ride and had forgotten to bring a head light. I had one little white blinky light. It made for a creepy ride.
It’s a bit of a shame that the roads and bridges on this ride are in such poor shape. It’s an interesting place to ride. There are farms (mostly soybeans and sorghum), woods, swamps, and creeks. One home had dozens of purple martin houses in its backyard. I didn’t see any of these birds but there were quite a few vultures cruising in the sky, perhaps looking for a meal of dead cyclist. I hear they are quite tasty when left to rot on the asphalt in the hot sun.
The day finally came when we moved our daughter’s belongings to her apartment in West Hartford, about a mile away from the law school she’ll be attending. We didn’t know the apartment number or the access code to the building until a couple of days before we left so the prelude to the move has been a bit more stressful than expected. We also learned that her apartment is on the 3rd floor of a building without an elevator. What fun.
My wife and daughter loaded the 10-foot rental truck and the back of my wife’s Subaru Outback on Friday afternoon. I was spared this part of the work because my wife is the jenga ninja when it comes to packing stuff into cars and trucks. The truck was only about 1/2 to 1/3rd full, but everything was covered in furniture pads and jammed together so as to be stable in transit.
Just before 7 am on Saturday, I took off in the truck bound for Connecticut. My wife and daughter followed in the Outback about an hour later.
I was anxious about the drive, not having driven a truck of any sort since I moved to the DC area decades ago. No worries. Everything went smoothly for 40 miles when the tire pressure warning light came on. No bueno. I pulled into a truck stop and visually inspected the tires. They looked normal. I topped off the gas tank and hit the road. The idiot light came on and went off, probably a bad sensor. I checked again in Delaware then forgot about it.
I had to drive I-95 most of the way to Hartford because the rental contract penalized rather severely for extra mileage. Also, many of the alternative routes were for passenger cars only.
I was cooking with gas until I made it through the toll booths at the GW Bridge into New York City. That’s when I encountered a 60-mile traffic jam. Deep breaths. After two hours of stopping and going, I lucked out. The last 60 miles all the way to Hartford were uneventful. The Google, however, guided me to the address of my daughter’s apartment in Hartford. Luckily the actual destination in West Hartford was only a couple of miles distant.
After a little over 7 hours I arrived. Having had nothing but snacks to eat since leaving home, but wanting to avoid driving the truck, I skipped lunch and started to unload. Having parked about 100 feet from the door, I was pretty pleased to have packed a hand truck from home. This allowed me to shuttle batches of small items to the base of the stairs. I then carried the items up the 5 half-flights to her apartment. Over and over and over. Bicycle legs and lungs for the win.
I had made the last-second decision not to wear hiking boots for the move. Instead I pulled some old Hoka running shoes that my doctor had recommended to mitigate stenosis pain. With their absurdly thick midsole, they feel like pillows. They worked amazingly well. I didn’t have the slightest bit of back trouble during the move.
The building is old but her one-bedroom apartment has an updated kitchenette and bathroom. And the place is huge. After making 20 or so trips up and down the stairs I barely put a dent in filling the place.
I was pretty gassed by the time my wife and daughter showed up and we began the process of moving the heavy stuff. We had one full-sized mattress, the pieces to a platform bed (it disassembles), two book cases, a table, a heavy box or two, and five boxes for a yet-to-be assembled Ikea dresser. We made relatively fast work of things and in a couple of hours finished getting it all upstairs. At this point we were all exhausted.
My level of exhaustion was close to that from my ride across Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California in 2019. My body had nothing left. I was doubled over in fatigue.
We took the truck to our assigned drop off facility, 11 miles away in Manchester. It was closed. My daughter tried to follow the website instructions to do an after-hours drop off but was stymied by the software. I tried on my phone and scored a generational triumph as I managed to get the software to work. After 20 minutes of cussing, answering questions, and taking photos that would have made Officer OB proud, we bid the monster farewell and left for our hotel, sore and utterly knackered
After showering we drove to a pizza place in downtown Hartford and had a wonderfully greasy pepperoni pie. We would have eaten anything to be honest but it was staggeringly good.
Desert was cheesecake and Advil.
On Sunday we drove to the Quaker Diner in West Hartford and hoovered us a fine breakfast. Then we made a Target run and went back to the apartment for more fun with assembling the dresser and setting things up. The dresser turned out to be your basic Ikea disaster. Two pieces were damaged in the process so they would make the trip back to home for replacement.
After a few hours we needed more shelving paper so I returned to Target and searched for lunch. Whole Foods was a fail. The bagel shop next door was a fail. Finally, I settled for a Subway a mile from the apartment. It was staffed by two young men who were either stoned or had the IQs of zoo animals. They messed up the order twice. I played supervisor and they finally got it together.
After eating we finished setting things up and with the two broken dresser panels in hand we left the apartment at 6 pm. An apartment this big needs a sofa so it was off to some furniture stores. At the second store we found a sectional sofa that would make it through the narrow doors of the building. It will be delivered thank god.
At 7 pm. we hit the road for home. In the rain. Near Southport our journey slowed to a crawl again. This time for about 45 miles. At least we were in the Outback on the truck-free Merritt Parkway. Once into Westchester County the traffic abated. Still, the old parkways of this area of New York can be nerve wracking, especially in the dark and in the rain. We lucked out and drove across the Bronx and onto and across the GW Bridge without the slightest back up. The rest of the drive home involved minimal traffic delays even in the mixing bowl in Delaware. We made it home before 1 am. Suffice it to say, traffic from Newark to DC moved well above the posted speed.
I was a zombie from driving. Despite taking two Advil PMs I couldn’t fall asleep. I finally conked out around 3:30. After five hours I woke up. Groggy and sore everywhere. It may just be that moving is a young man’s game.
I ate breakfast then, naturally, went for a bike ride. I was so out of it that I actually became disoriented riding on familiar neighborhood streets. Three separate times I literally had no idea where I was. Somehow I managed to ride 30 miles without colliding with a tree. It’s a wonder that I found my way back home, I showered and slept for three hours. Dead to the world.
You don’t really feel the pain of an extraordinary physical effort until the second day afterwards. Tuesday morning came and everything hurt. Now I could have taken a nap but I am after all a few spokes shy of a wheel. I decided that it would be a great idea to do some yard work in stifling heat and humidity. Perhaps the move damaged my brain.
I began by building up a sweat by trimming some bushes in the yard. Then I mowed my crabgrass and zoysia lawn that had grown incredibly dense in less than two weeks. The lawn was so thick that the mower bogged down several times. I was not having fun.
After trimming and blowing, I spread weed and feed on the lawn. This will confuse the lawn because it’s mostly weeds. (Do we grow or die? What does this jerk want? Let’s give him more crabgrass.) By the time I was done, my clothes and skin were covered in sweat and weed and feed. They don’t show you this on the TV ads for do it yourself lawn care.
After a quick shower and lunch I realized that my body needed more abuse so I went back outside for a bike ride. I was no longer groggy but my legs felt like lead, Normally I loosen up within a couple of miles of riding but on this day it took me 15 miles before my legs had any pop to them at all. With the heat index well over 100 degrees F, I rode another 15 miles. Along the way I downed four large bottles of water. My tummy was sloshing the whole way.
Years ago we visited some friends at their townhouse in Maryland. They had a new deck. I asked if they built it themselves. One of them replied, “Oh no. That’s why God invented money.”
The other night I went to the baseball game at Nationals Park with my daughter. She drove to the Metro; I rode my bike. On my way to the park I spotted three women approaching from the north on the Mount Vernon Trail. As we passed, the lead woman, who was wearing reflective sunglasses that obscured her face, looked startled, and smiled. Hmmm? It turned out to be my friend Emilia, who is back on the bike after a medical crisis. Seeing her, and her reaction when she recognized me, made my day.
The game was fun even thought the home team lost. Typically we try to go to games when there is no rain or sauna (DC summers, don’t you know) in the forecast. The weather on this night was perfect. The only sour note was an ongoing verbal scrum between a Nats fan seated in front of us and some Phillies fans off to our left. The Nats fan just wouldn’t quit carping at them and she really spoiled the end of the game for us. (They say you can complain to an usher but she was obviously pals with the usher who was standing nearby witnessing the entire thing.) No more Section 319 for me, even at $12 a seat. (For the record, we paid more to see the Class AA Hartford Yard Goats earlier in the summer.)
After the game I rode home in the dark. The Nationals traded away most of their star players last week so attendance was understandably low. That meant that post-game car traffic was light which made the first two miles of the ride not nearly as stressful as usual.
Once I got to the Jefferson Memorial it was all trails, mostly the Mount Vernon Trail, for five miles to Old Town Alexandria. After a mile through Old Town, I was back on the MVT for another five or six miles. Lacking street lights, the MVT makes for an interesting riding experience. I just follow the big white ball made by my headlight. There were no critters to deal with on this ride home but I’ve seen deer and bunnies (their bouncing eyes at least) in the past.
Today, I drove Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, back to Bikes at Vienna for some follow up work. It’s getting a stem riser which we hope will make the steering more like it was before the fork broke. Dr. Beth is on the case. She’s going to replace the front brake pads because the old ones are causing much noise and vibration. On the whole, I am quite happy that the bike is working so well.
As for Beth, she is recovering from a nasty crash on her recumbent. After a few days wearing a full leg splint, she has transitioned to a rather sturdy looking knee brace. She’s using a folding wheelchair to get around the shop, stylin’ in her bike shop cap. It was good to see her doing so well. I am sure she’ll be back to her old self in a couple of weeks.
After dropping off the bike I rode my CrossCheck into DC to see a totem pole that was recently shipped her from the Pacific Northwest. My friend Joe Flood posted a picture of a bird’s head from the pole which was awaiting assembly and had been placed in pieces in a park near the Interior Department. We are having a rare nice-summer-weather wave hereabouts so the ride to DC into a headwind was delightful. On the way I rode past Belle Haven Country Club. Along the roadside I spotted seven errant golf balls. Rich people suck at golf, apparently. I picked up five and left two that were hard to get to.
All the way to DC the sky was filled with puffy white clouds and an unusual amount of haze, no doubt from the wildfires out west. The weather and the ride were so pleasant that I didn’t even mind dealing with tourists who were wandering around the Lincoln Memorial like they were stoned.
I rode around and around the neighborhood near the nearby Interior Department passing the Federal Reserve, the State Department, the Institute of Peace, the American Pharmacists Association, the Pan American Health Association, the General Services Administration, as well as the headquarters of both the American Red Cross and Daughters of the American Revolution. Yeah, this is DC. Alas, there was no totem pole. Nor were there any totem pole pieces. The parks interspersed throughout the area were occupied by a few dozen tents housing homeless people. I thought about asking them if they had stashed the totem pole pieces in their tents then thought better of it. Maybe the totem pole is invisible.
Having failed to find the totem pole I rode past the White House. Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the president’s house has been milled and will soon receive some fresh pavement. Maybe then they can take away the remaining “bike rack” security barriers so that people can see the White House properly.
I rode down the 15th Street cycletrack to head back home. Police had stopped traffic near the entrance to the Ellipse (and the south side of the White House complex) to allow a motorcade to come through. There must have been a dozen huge black SUVs, one with a film camera and camera person on the roof. There was no way to tell if the vehicles carried real politicos or actors.
Before heading home, I took a spin around Hains Point. It’s 3 1/2 miles down to the point and back with hardly any traffic. On the return from the point I picked up a sixth golf ball that had been sent amiss by a duffer on the East Potomac Park course. Near the tennis courts, I passed up a tennis ball on the side of the road. Although I rode by some basketball courts later, I didn’t find any stray basketballs.
Once past the Jefferson Memorial, I had a tailwind all the way home. Just before reaching my house, I spotted a bicyclist coming my way in the middle of our quiet side street. He was riding along side a runner. As I passed them I could see that the runner was a teenaged girl in a serious running outfit. She was cruising and had perfect form. This kid obviously has talent! I yelled, “You’re flying!” as I rode by and she and the rider, who must have been her proud papa, gave me a big smile.
I added the golf balls to the bag of balls in my shed. I haven’t counted them in a while but I would guess there are 50 or 60 balls in the bag. Anybody want a dozen?
July is the month here in DC when your body learns how to embrace the three Hs: hazy, hot, and humid. I didn’t do any monster rides this month but I was consistent. I rode 27 out of 31 days, with two 60-mile rides. The rest of the rides were between 28 and 41 miles. Day in. Day out.
I rode all four bikes. Big Nellie returned to the fold after a near catastrophic fork failure. Sadly, the bike appears to be jinxed as Beth, the mechanic who worked on the bike, crashed her recumbent just a few days after I picked mine up at Bikes@Vienna. Luckily, she didn’t break any bones but soft tissue injuries aren’t any fun and I wish her a speedy recovery.
I started the month riding 125 miles on The Mule until it hit 62,000 miles on the odometer. I switched to my CrossCheck for another 598.5 miles. When Big Nellie returned I rode it for 239.5 miles. Despite needing a new cassette and a longer stem, I’m pretty happy with how it rides. My last bit of riding was a 3-mile ride to and from the auto mechanic on Little Nellie, my Bike Friday.
I rode to one ballgame, one happy hour, and two coffee get togethers. I have to admit that I am so used to not socializing that interacting with people feels awkward.
I did quite a lot of riding considering I had a cold for the entire month. It wasn’t Covid, just sinuses going haywire.
So that makes 957 miles for the month. I am now only 69 miles short of a 10,000-mile pace. There’s blood in the water for this mile’s shark.
I’ve ridden 5,579 miles this year.
August is sure to be a challenging month as it will involve moving my daughter to law school which will cost me a handful of riding days. Hopefully, I won’t mess up my back in the process.
When I wasn’t riding I read three books. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton was Groundhog Day meets Agatha Christie. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir was an entertaining follow up to The Martian, though not nearly as good. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (who wrote The Fault in Our Stars) is a young adult novel set in Indianapolis. I greatly enjoyed it. (Haven’t read a book of his I didn’t like.)
I also did some TV watching. I saw about 20 Nationals games before they collapsed in a heap and were blown up at the trade deadline. I watched the Loki series which I found disappointing, except for Owen Wilson’s performance. McCartney 1-2-3 was an entertaining 6-part conversation between Paul McCartney and Rick Rubin. It’s a must for any Beatles fan even if you’ve heard most of the anecdotes (which I had).