Video Psyching

It’s cold outside. Snow is coming. I am hoping and dreaming of riding a bike tour this summer. To get myself psyched up, I have been watching videos of tours. I thought my readers might find them useful.

The French Sisters

On my 2019 tour I met two sisters from France in a cafe in Boulder, Utah. They were traveling from San Francisco to New York City. Despite having ridden up a 14 percent grade the day before, they were upbeat and smiling. They blogged about their trip. When they finished they made a video. Even if you don’t understand French, you’ll see what an epic trip it was.

The TransAm in 2019

This couple from Maryland rode the TransAm (or most of it, at least) from Oregon City, Oregon to Maryland. It’s a short video but it’s honest. Rain happens. So does exhaustion. But they had a blast.

Ryan van Duzer in Love

Ryan does adventure travel videos as a career. Good work if you can get it. He has dozens of videos of adventures over the last 20 years. A few years ago. he met Ali, another filmmaker, and fell madly in love. They rode across the US, using a route of Ryan’s devising. Along they way they asked people what “love” meant to them. I found this kind of odd but regardless the video is very well made. Ryan uses a ton of drone footage. (How he does this I’ll never know.) Try to keep in mind that bike tourists rarely see the spectacular vistas his drones do.

Cycling the Western Express

This guy rode the Western Express. It’s the route I took from Pueblo, Colorado to San Francisco in 2019. It wrecked me. Seems like it got to him too.

Two Years on a Bike

This is a series of videos of a man who rode from Vancouver, BC to Tierra del Fuego. There’s beaucoup drone footage. In the second video, he hooks up with a stunning fashion model in coastal Mexico. Funny how this happens to me, too.

Southern Tier, East to West

This guy rode the Southern Tier from Saint Augustine, Florida to San Diego, California. It’s pretty honest. He endured rain, scary lightning, and brutal headwinds.

Slideshow: Boston to Oregon

This guy made up a route from Boston to the Oregon coast. He linked up a bunch of rail trails and has tons of good advice. Frankly, riding and camping in Yellowstone kind of freaks me out. Call me crazy but wild buffalo scare the bejesus out of me.

There’s a nor’easter coming this weekend. Bundle up and take a virtual ride across the US while the storm’s a ragin’.

Timber!

Mrs. Rootchopper insisted that it was “nice and warm” outside so I decided to break out my holey wool sweater and take The Mule for a ride. I was overdressed for the first 15 miles riding north with a tailwind toward Alexandria, Shirlington, and Pentagon City. When I turned for home, comfort turned to chill. Dang.

Along the way I spotted a rather large red fox along the Four Mile Run trail. It was only a few feet away and seemed rather unimpressed with my passing. I think his size was an illusion caused by his fur being fluffed up against the cold.

On the way home, I took the Mount Vernon Trail for the second time since our big winter storm two weeks ago. It was my first time south of Tulane Drive (about a mile south of Alexandria). As I passed the site of a bald eagle nest I heard a piercing screech. I pulled over and looked up. Two adult bald eagles were perched side by side on separate branches way up at the top of a tree right next to the trail. Based on my viewings of the bald eagle cam at the National Arboretum in Northeast DC, I suspect that these two eagles are mating. Also, they were both smoking cigarettes.

I could see that a fairly impressive amount of storm debris had been cleared from the trail itself but much of the debris was left along the trail. (Farther south, I saw a lone volunteer piling storm debris next to a street parallel to the trail. He had a pick up truck, a small chain saw, and a hedge trimmer. Bravo.)

About a week ago I rode some of the trail and found the bridges covered in ice and snow. Today, they were clear. As I rode south, I was curious to see how much ice there would be in the shadows as the trail rose toward Northdown Road. Fortunately, there was no ice to speak of.

Along this stretch, two giant trees fell downhill, away from the trail in November 2020. Their root balls tore up a lane of the trail for about ten yards. On paper. the National Park Service owns the trail and is responsible for its maintenance. In reality, the Park Service quit doing maintenance years ago. Other than lawn mowing, the trail gets most of its maintenance from volunteers these days. Clearing these huge trees and repairing the trail damage are well beyond anything that volunteers can deal with. That said, a volunteer did put up some traffic cones and painted warning markings on the trail to alert riders about the hazard. To this day, as far as I can see, the Park Service has done nothing.

Aftermath of November 2020 Tree Fall

As you can see, there is one huge fallen tree to the right. What you can’t see is the second fallen tree behind the root ball and the tree that remained standing.

Apparently, the January 2022 storm took care of the surviving tree. Unlike the other two, this one fell uphill, across the trail.

I have no idea who cut the gap in the tree but I’m grateful. Clearly what remains is an unsafe situation.

My Favorite Rides

Being stuck at home is no fun but it got me to thinking about my favorite rides ever. These could be event rides or parts of tours or whatever. Here are a few that come to mind.

  • Maui Downhill – On our honeymoon, my wife and I rode from the rim of Haleakala at 10,000 feet to the ocean at the town of Paia. A little over 30 miles. I pedaled only a few times to get started after a mid-ride break for breakfast. My hands and forearms were sore from breaking as we followed countless switchbacks through the wasteland near the top of the mountain to the paradise of the lower slope of the north face of the volcano.
  • The Erie Canal – I rode from Niagara Falls to Albany back in 2004. I can still see in my mind’s eye the early mornings on the Erie Canal from Freeport to roughly Syracuse. Fog. Ducks and geese. Packet boats gliding in the waterway. Pleasant temperatures with blessedly low humidity. And not a hill in sight. (Okay, there were two but they were not very big.)
  • The GAP Trail – The Great Allegheny Passage connects Pittsburgh with the C & O Canal towpath at Cumberland Maryland. I’ve done the entire trail twice, and major portions of it several times. Trestles, tunnels, waterfalls, massive wind turbines, scenic vistas of mountains and farmland, dense forest. If you live anywhere near Pittsburgh or DC you really need to check this out.
  • Washington Pass – The Northern Cascades in Washington State are pretty darn spectacular. Heading west from near Winthrop, Highway 20 took me up a long, arduous climb that included an amazing switchback from which I could see waaay down there where I had been. (I climbed THAT?!!!) Once over the top it’s downhill for dozens of miles with absolutely amazing views. The turquoise water of the streams and the lakes and rivers behind Diablo Dam just bowled me over.
  • The Florida Keys – During my 2017 tour to Key West I rode from Key Largo to Key West in one go, 100 miles. The road is level except for a few bridges. My ride was right after hurricane Irma wiped out parts of the lower keys. Instead of dolphins and sea turtles I saw immense heaps of storm debris for miles and miles. And about a million iguanas. The Seven Mile bridge is quite a cool thing to ride over. You end up at the Lowest Point in America buoy for the perfect ride ending photo op. Half the paint on the buoy had been scoured off by Irma making my arrival even more memorable.
  • 136 Miles in a Day – From Morehead, Minnesota to Gackle, North Dakota is surely not on anyone else’s favorite ride list but for me it was an amazing adventure. When you are in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do and nobody to do it with, you might as well keep riding. And so I did, bypassing my planned destination at a campground on the Little Yellowstone River. I took my time at the start of the ride by touring Fargo and chatting with east-bound bicycle tourists. This meant that I spent the last two and a half hours in complete darkness but for the white circle of my head light. It was magical.
  • 50 States in a Day – Anybody who knows me knows that the Washington Area Bicyclists Association’s 50 States Ride is my jam. I’ve done it 13 times and it never gets old. 60 miles of hills and stop signs and traffic lights winding all through the District of Columbia so that riders cycle on the avenues named after each of the 50 states. You are guaranteed to meet people all day and every last one of them should have their heads examined for doing this loony ride. The cue sheet is about 10 pages long. If you use a GPS you’re cheating. Getting lost is part of the adventure.
  • Westcliffe to Salida – I rode across Colorado on my 2019 tour. The first massive climb from Wetmore to Westcliffe went from 6,000 feet to 9,000 feet in 13 miles. It totally wrecked me mentally and physically. The next day I rode north along the eastern base of the Santa Fe Mountains and then west on the Arkansas River to Salida. Scenery out the wazoo. An amazing mile-long descent in the middle of the ride was a welcome relief from the previous day’s brutal climb.
  • Monarch Pass – After a rest day in Salida, I took on Monarch Pass. This was my first and only time over 11,000 feet. The Pass is on the Continental Divide nearly twice as high as Rogers Pass in Montana where I crossed the divide in 2018. The ride down was insane, made better by seeing hundreds of riders slogging their way up the mountain as part of the Ride the Rockies event.
  • Caples Lake to Sacramento – Words fail when I try to describe the sheer glee of realizing that after riding hundreds of miles up and down across Colorado, Utah, and Nevada and climbing over Carson Pass in California that my climbing days were nearly over on my 2019 tour. Not to be cheated, I began the day by climbing a few hundred feet over each of three more passes but after that it was downhill for about 80 miles. An overdose of evergreens gave way to windy roads through wine country.
  • A Day in the City – Long ago I was an intern at a government agency in San Francisco. One Saturday I took my bike on BART into the city to explore. I rode all over the place, including a brutal climb up Russian Hill. I descended through the Presidio back when it was still a military base then over the Golden Gate Bridge and down to Sausalito. I took a ferry across the bay between the Gate and Alcatraz Island. Perfect.
  • Night Baseball – Nationals Park is a 15-mile ride from my house. There is a bike valet at the ballpark so no need to worry about bike security. Games typically end between 10 and 11 pm. The ride home in the dark involves about two miles of urban riding then eleven miles on the Mount Vernon Trail which has no lighting. On a cool night with a slight breeze, this ride is bliss.

This bike looks suspiciously like a snow shovel

The year opened with warm weather. Nearly warm enough for shorts on the bike. So naturally I took The Mule out for a couple of rides, managing 62 miles to and from DC. The streets were eerily empty.

Then the storm hit. For the first time in three years we were socked with an honest to god snowstorm. By the time it ended we had 11 1/2 inches in our yard. Wet snow. Good packin’ snow as we used to say during my snowball fighting youth

.I broke out the Wovel and went to work on Monday. Neighbors kept remarking at what a clever invention it is. My back was happy. There is no lifting involved just pushing down and thrusting with the legs. The only drawback was that the was so much snow that I ran out of places to put it. After about three hours, I finished the task of freeing up the cars and went inside. My triceps were screaming at me. All that pushing down was like being in a gym on one machine for hours. I went inside, ate, showered, and hit the couch for a well deserved nap.

Madman with Wovel from 2014

On Tuesday morning I went out for round two. On Monday I moved nine inches or so. Tuesday I moved the rest. Same result. I was sore and tired afterward. I repeated my post-shoveling ritual: I ate, took a shower, and fell asleep on the couch.

Yesterday there was no snow to move. Time to ride! But there was no way I was going out on streets narrowed by plowed snow, covered in brine and sand and salt. So I took to the basement for my first bike/reading session of the year. I managed to last 1:48, what I guess is the equivalent of 19 miles. I did a ladder workout. Starting in the lowest gear, read a page, shift up. Go up to the top gear in that chainring then reverse. Next, shift to the big ring and go back up the ladder. I did two sets. My knees were screaming at me.

Big Nellie on a resistance trainer in the basement.

After my ride, I went upstairs and helped Mrs. Rootchopper and our daughter finish the 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle – an end-of-year tradition at our house – we had begun a few days earlier. Eduard Munch’s The Scream.

You’d scream too if you had to do this puzzle.

Today, I planned on going out to deal with the storm damage in our yard. A cedar tree in our back yard had split near the top. The debris came down and was sitting on the power line to our house. Mrs. Rootchopper cut off some of the lower part of the fallen tree top. This took some weight off the line. For the rest we called Dominion Power. They had a crew out in a couple of days. The crew left their cuttings on the ground. A redbud tree on the side of the house had split down the middle of its main trunk. A couple of other large branches were hanging off other trunks.

Top of tree resting on power line.

I first had to move a pile of snow to make way for the new branches. Next I moved a big pile of branches from my wife’s previous efforts out of the mouth of the driveway. Then I started hauling branches, cutting them so that they would stack neatly, then adding them to a huge pile. I planned on 30 minutes. I even put a load of laundry in. Alas, it took three hours. I slipped and fell twice. It was not a lot of fun.

When I finished I came inside and felt like someone had beaten me with a bat. Every muscle ached. My back. My legs. My hands.

So I ate, showered, and took a nap. And did more laundry.

I hope to ride again tomorrow. That may not pan out. There’s another storm coming overnight.

What I Watched in 2021

Aside from dozens of baseball games, I spent some time watching movies and TV series this year.

The Queens Gambit – A mini series about a young girl who is a chess nerd. Sounds dull but it was very entertaining.

Luther – A British TV series about a detective who can’t seem to play by the rules. Idris Elba plays the title character and he’s brilliant.

Midnight Sky – George Clooney is the last man on earth. Well worth watching.

News of the World – A young girl is kidnapped by the Kiowa. Tom Hanks plays the man who takes her home. Could have been a subplot in Lonesome Dove.

Nomadland – This won best picture in 2020. I found it depressing. A woman travels in her creaky van through the American desert searching for like-minded souls. The visuals reminded me of my 2019 bike trip across Utah and Nevada.

A Man Called Ove – The Swedish movie of the Fredrik Bachman novel. Spot on. Soon to be made into an American movies reportedly starting Tom Hanks as Ove. Don’t wait. Watch this one.

Wandavision – The bizarre mini series centered on the post-blip life of the Scarlet Witch character in the Avengers. Good acting. Truly weird story.

I Care a Lot – Rosamund Pike stars as a woman who bilks the elderly out of their fortunes. I’ll watch her in anything. This was entertaining but depressing.

Britt-Marie Was Here – A woman of a certain age gets divorced and moves away from the city to a small town where she becomes the clueless soccer coach for a bunch of ne’er do wells. Another movie based on a Bachman book. Casting nails every character. Nicely done.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Chadwick Boseman’s last on-screen film. Didn’t do a thing for me.

Mank – The story of how Herman Mankiewicz wrote Citizen Kane. Gary Oldham plays the title character even though it’s obvious that he’s 20 years too old for the part. Interesting for its historical aspect but not worth the time.

Pieces of a Woman – Vanessa Kirby as a woman who loses a baby in childbirth. Well acted but utterly depressing.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – A Marvel mini series about the new Captain America. It ain’t Shakespeare.

Concrete Cowboy – Inner city Philadelphia black kids ride horses. A snoozer that even Idris Elba couldn’t save.

My Octopus Teacher – A documentary about a diver who makes friends with an octopus. I am not making this up. Can’t wait for the sequel, My Friend the Squid.

Without Remorse – A star vehicle for Michael B. Jordan. A real dud. I forgot the entire film within a day. Watch him in Friday Night Lights instead.

Lupin – A French series about a man who solves crimes by imitating a character in a 1920s series of kids’ books. Somehow it works. Hoping for another season soon.

Loki – Another Marvel miniseries that didn’t work for me. Owen Wilson, whom I don’t much care for, steals every scene he’s in.

McCartney 1-2-3 – Producer Rick Rubin chats with Paul McCartney about his music. Not much new here for me but it had it’s moments. It’s fun to see Rubin going all fan boy over one of his idols.

Black Widow – The solo outing for ScarJo’s Avengers character. Introduces some characters for future Marvel movies. Glad I didn’t shell out $$ for this at the theater.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – The origin story of a new Avenger, Shang-Chi which apparently means Grasshopper in Cantonese. The first half is totally stolen by Awkwafina. The second half is CGI battle porn. Good cast though. Simu Liu nails the lead. Michele Yeoh, Ben Kingsley, and Tony Leung are fun to watch in anything. First movie in a theater (albeit nearly empty) since the before times.

No Time to Die – Daniel Craig’s final outing as Bond. Kind of a big mess but like most Bond movies very entertaining with many nods to the Bond canon including On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (one of my favorites – don’t at me). Ana de Armas steals a big scene. She should get her own action movie franchise.

Worth – The tru-ish story of the team of people who doled out US government money to the families of 9/11 victims. Michael Keaton, Amy Ryan, and Stanley Tucci are all excellent.

Little Women – Greta Gerwig’s version of the Alcott novel. Not my cup of tea but Gerwig is quite a good director. A terrific cast that even includes July Johnson.

Passing – The story of two black sisters one of whom passes for white in the 1920s in New York. Got great reviews but I’ll be damned if I know why. I didn’t believe the “white” woman for an instant.

Into the Wild – Sean Penn’s movie based on the book by John Krakauer. It’s overlong but days later I could not get it out of my head. Lots of terrific performances.

The Power of the Dog – Benedict Cumberbatch as the bad cowboy brother. Jessie Plemons as the good one. Kirsten Dunst and Jodi Smit-McPhee are also excellent. Not bad except that the terrain of the south island of New Zealand ain’t Montana.

14 Peaks – A documentary about a Nepalese climber who bags the 14 tallest peaks in the world in less than six months, an unheard of feat. I was shivering watching this.

Hawkeye – Yet another Marvel miniseries that I thought didn’t work until Florence Pugh (playing the sister of Black Widow) makes her appearance.

Don’t Look Up – Very funny send up of the idiocy of the intersection of national politics and science. Great script and acting.

Jim Gaffigan, Comedy Monster – A one-hour stand up routine that is funny but not one of Gaffigan’s best.

Spiderman – No Way Home – Better title: Spiderman and the Kitchen Sink. Entertaining. Great to see Alfred Molina back as Doc Ock.

The Lost Daughter – Our choice for New Years Eve. What a downer. I’d watch Olivia Colman in anything though.