November 2022 – Crawling through Fall

The leaves are all but gone, save for the dreary brown ones on our oak tree. The helpful trees on the farm next door dropped a blanket on our backyard only after I “finished” raking for the year. Raking leaves beats shoveling snow, I suppose. More to do.

It was a long foliage season around these parts. We now look forward to weeks of gray and dark, and cold winds. Of course, it’s not like Saskatchewan or anything, but the contrast to the oppressive heat and humidity of July and August makes it seem so.

Biking (and Walking)

This month’s miles: I only rode 747.5 miles this month, my first sub 1,000-mile month since April. I took six days off. A couple of days to attend an uncle-in-law’s 70th birthday party in southern West Virginia. This past Sunday and today were rainy and gloomy, good for sleeping in and napping. My mileage for the year broke 10,000 on November 2. A few weeks later I hit 10,000 outdoor miles, a pointless point of pride, riding another 500+ miles to account for my cellar recumbent rides last winter. I’m at 10,713 miles and counting. My Cross Check turned 25,000 miles and The Mule turned 69,000 miles this month. My longest ride, 62 miles, was the day of WABA’s Cider Ride.

The Mule, my 1991 Specialized Cross Check, turned 69.

Fender benders: Somehow during my rides I managed to destroy both fenders on The Mule. The back one went first when I ran over a small fallen tree limb. A week or two later I ran over an even small branch, the kind I’ve ridden over countless times. It got sucked up by my front wheel and that was that.

Medical mysteries: I did a follow-up trip to my doctor to see if my dietary changes since my August physical had produced any measurable benefits. To my utter surprise, my blood cholesterol dropped 50 points. My weight dropped eight pounds to 190. I had hoped the weight loss would help with my back problems so I experimented with long walks. For a while my progress seemed promising. I managed to go four miles without back pain. Then, after Thanksgiving dinner, the joined the other overstuffed diners for a post-prandial walk around the hilly neighborhood. I felt completely fine for about 1/3rd of a mile but the second half of the walk was pretty unpleasant. I’ve tried to get a hold of the back surgeon that Dr. Pain recommended back in May but the helpful communications infrastructure at his office has thwarted me. I even looked into a different surgeon, one who practices in the orthopedic clinic down the street from my house. It turns out he is out of network for my insurance. Maybe the gods are trying to tell me something.

Speaking of doctors, I made an appointment for a colonoscopy next month. I’ll post the video next month.

Just kidding.

Next year’s tour?: My mind is already turning to thoughts of a summer tour. I guess my brain has forgotten about all those crappy motels last summer. To add to my motivation, I recently found two long-forgotten poly shirts in my closet. Man, I wish I had them this past summer.

I had planned to ride 400+ miles to my 50th high school reunion in upstate New York in May. Last Spring, I bought tickets to a September 2022 Crowded House concert (probably their last tour). The drummer injured his back (karma, no?) and the concert was rescheduled to the Sunday after the reunion. Ack. Now, instead of riding to the reunion, I face the prospect of driving 800+ miles in two days and missing half the events. It’s all a mess. Regardless, next summer’s tour will start May 23 or thereabouts. DC to Bar Harbor and back. There are many interesting route options.

Plan B is to do New Orleans to DC. That can actually happen next fall as the weather between here and there is likely to be ideal.

Watching and Listening

The Crown: We watched the fifth season. Maybe it’s my familiarity with the events but it was my least favorite season so far. Flashback scenes of Claire Foy as the Queen back in the fifties only reminded me of how much I enjoyed the earlier seasons. Maybe it was the writing but Imelda Staunton’s Queen didn’t hold up to either Foy’s or Olivia Coleman’s. Also, the impending death of Diana made me dread each new episode. (They saved it for season six. Oh, joy.)

Andor: We watched the remaining episodes of Andor, a Star Wars prequel miniseries. I liked it a lot. Diego Luna, Stellan Skarsgard, and Andy Serkis are superb. The good guys are bad. The bad guys are evil. It lacks the cartoonish aspects of all the other Star Wars products. No Yodas, Grokus, light sabers, or wide eyed Jedis-to-be.

Ultra: I finished listening to this podcast. It’s the forgotten history of the politics of white supremacy in the United States in the 30s and 40s and how the Nazis infiltrated American politics. It is not American politicians’ finest hour. Well worth listening to.

Also, I finished watching the World Series. No more sports for me for a few months. Maybe I’ll watch the World Cup final and the Super Bowl.


The Young Terrorist by Nabil Khouri. This is a (I think) self-published memoir of how a Lebanese boy somewhat miraculously escaped the chaos of the middle east in the 1970s and realized the American dream. He was hardly a terrorist, just a misguided (and often terrified) 11-year-old boy who signed up with a Palestinian militia group in his hometown in Jordan. With a facility with mathematics, dogged persistence, and some lucky breaks, he made it to a college and a peaceful existence in the U. S.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I read this a long time ago and just couldn’t get into it. It’s depressing as hell. McCarthy description of a father and son making their way through a post-apocalyptic landscape (presumably American) is chilling. I couldn’t help but picture the barren areas of the U. S. West (particularly the forest burn zones and the high desert of Wyoming) that I’ve ridden through on my last three bike tours as I read McCarthy’s description of the landscape.

The Naked Mule

The Mule seems to be attracting a lot of road debris this year. On my bike tour in Oregon, the rear fender trapped a chunk of truck tire tread. The tread worked into my rear tire and caused my first flat in ages.

Fast forward to autumn. The winds are blowing and tree branches are falling. The smaller stuff seems to end up on the shoulders of roads. Last week I was riding along lost in my typical riding trance when I came upon a small tree branch on the pavement ahead. I had no pavement to my right and cars to my left so I rode over the branch. Just like the tire tread, the branch managed to clear my front wheel without a problem but it became caught up under my rear fender. The force of the impact tore the bottom off my rear fender. I managed to ride with it on for a while but the damage was so extensive I had to remove the fender.

The Mule had a bare bottom for the first time in its life. Eek.

Today I was riding through a park on the Mount Vernon Trail when I came upon what looked to be a small tree branch no more than a few inches long. Alas, it was just long enough to get sucked up under my front fender. Can you say instant replay? Well, I was going to have to buy a new fender set anyway so it’s not much of a loss. The Mule is now naked front and rear.

Second fender trashed in a week. The Mule is naked.
Front wheel of The Mule with removed broken front fender.

I suppose it could have been worse. Neither fender incident resulted in damage to the wheels or the tires. Speaking of tires, the Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour tire in the picture above has well over 5,000 miles on it. I suspect it will last at least another 3,000 miles.

Medical Mendoza

Mario Mendoza was baseball player about a generation ago. He embodied the description “Good field, no hit.” In nine seasons, the light-hitting shortstop failed to bat above .200 five times. The number 200 has been known ever since as the Mendoza line.

When I had my physical back in early August, I discovered that my weight had fallen below the Mendoza line. I weighed in at 198 pounds, a result of riding 3,500 hilly miles during my bike tour during the previous two months. Unfortunately there is another Mendoza line for total blood cholesterol. My cholesterol level came in at 277, far above any previous test result.

My doctor told me to come back in three months and he’d re-test me. In the meantime I was to eat certain foods known to lower cholesterol including salmon twice a week. I am no fan of salmon so that wasn’t going to happen but I did cut out lots of other bad stuff. I substituted nuts (especially almonds) for chips. I ate less red meat. I cut out cookies and ice cream. And had fewer than ten alcoholic drinks. I call this my SEC (Stop Eating Crap) diet. In the week before my re-test, I started eating Brazil nuts (just three or four a day) as they are supposedly the bees knees when it comes to lowering cholesterol.

When I went into the doctor’s office this week I had two expectations: higher weight and not much difference in cholesterol. Weight gain is all but inevitable after a tour ends. Cholesterol is notoriously difficult to reduce because 80 percent of your cholesterol level supposedly is determined by genetics.

I stepped on the scale in the examination room with trepidation. I fully expected to weight 205 or more. Was I ever shocked. 190! I haven’t weighed 190 since my son was born 31 years ago. I thought the scale was wrong. Today I tried on some clothing that had fit rather snugly recently. They fit with room to spare. My son bought me a cycling kit (jersey and matching shorts) for Christmas many years ago. The jersey and shorts were laughably far too small so I put them in a drawer and forgot about them. Today I tried them on. They are still rather snug but I got them on. I’d wear them to ride but I look like a balloon about to pop, such are the sartorial limitations of 67 year-olds.

The lower weight also helped with my lower back problems. I managed to do several walks around home last week without leg pain. My back isn’t close to 100 percent but at least I can walk a mile without crippling leg pain.

Today, I got the results of my blood test. I was surprised to see that my cholesterol level dropped to 229. a decline of 18 percent. (My LDL – the so-called bad cholesterol – also dropped 18 percent.) I wonder if the 277 result had been skewed by my bike tour diet which was heavily dependent on gas station food. Or maybe there was some sort of metabolic trauma from riding so much for two months.

My medical journey continues next month with my sixth or seventh colonoscopy. It’ll be like Fantastic Voyage, alas without Raquel Welch.

Cider Ride 2022 – Celery and Donuts

Last Saturday was the final event of my bicycling year, the 60-mile Cider Ride. This event is run annually by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA). I’ve ridden all six Cider Rides.. The first two were held on suburban roads in December. Riding in 40-degree weather on roads with impatient Maryland drivers did not make for a fun time. The second Cider Ride also featured rain. Woo boy. Thankfully my friend Reba’s chain broke about 13 miles into the event. We spent about a half hour in the cold rain trying in vain to fix it but we had neither the parts nor the expertise to get her rolling again. Cold and wet, we called for the WABA sag wagon and Gina picked us up in her blissfully warm van.

Ever since that lovely day, the event has been held in early November. This year’s event featured light breezes and 75 degree temperatures.

I rode in a group of ten riders. Michael, Kevin, and Chris and I have been doing WABA events together for several years. We rode the 50 States ride together in September. Chuck, Catherine, Jonah, and Sara who were also part of our 2022 50 States posse joined us for this ride as well. Our 50 States alums welcomed Jean and Domitille. It was a coincidence that they are both French. I seem to be making a habit of meeting French bicyclists after chatting with the French sisters in Boulder, Utah in 2018 and to two separate French riders in close succession this summer near the Oxbow, Oregon this summer.

Domitille only recently moved to DC so she was not at all familiar with where we were going. And she expressed uncertainty about her ability to make it beyond 30 miles. Little did she know that we at the Rootchopper Institute specialize in the care and support of newbies – such as Chris and Katie (Cider Ride), and Shane, Veronica, Richard, Tito, Jeremy, Emilia, Larraine, Jeannie, Elizabeth, Lisa, and Kristen (50 States Ride).

At about 9:15 we were off. The ride took us through middle-class, residential Northeast DC into Mt. Rainier, Maryland. There we jumped on a succession of bike trails along the Anacostia River and it’s northeastern tributary. Occasionally we’d ride under a canopy of trees with leaves floating down like giant puffy orange snowflakes. Near College Park we passed through a running event. Here I was surprised as I passed my old biking friend Lisa running in the opposite direction. Hi Lisa

Around the University of Maryland campus and the College Park airport we spun. Michael who knows these trails and the course by heart, led the way, keeping a steady 12 mile per hour pace. We arrived at the first pit stop at Proteus Bicycles in College Park. Warm cider and donuts! Yes!

Domitille pulled out a bag of personal healthful snacks and pulled out a stalk of celery. Domitille, you got some learnin’ to do. The truth is that the food table included healthful things like bananas and apples but they were right next to the icing-covered chocolate donuts. Mon Dieu!

In her defense, Domitille did explain to us how celery, in addition to being nutritionally beneficial, is every bit as good at cleaning your teeth as a toothbrush and toothpaste. Oh, give me some of that dental goodness! On my next event ride I’ll be sure to pack some Colgate.

All kidding aside, she was holding up quite well and having a good time so who am I to deny her such utterly healthy habits.

With full tummies and clean teeth, we headed off towards the Greenbelt USDA research farmlands. At the pit stop, I had assured Domitille that there was only one bad hill on the entire course. Sadly, I had forgotten about the four miles of rollers along Beaver Dam Road. It’s a wonder she didn’t whack me with a celery stalk.

Once clear of the farm land we rode into the Patuxent Research Refuge. It was a lovely three miles out and back through the woods. The turnaround had a pit stop of sorts: no food, just bathrooms. As we rode back toward the farm area we split off to the right, riding a big circle through a suburban neighborhood. I somehow caught my stride and sped clear of the group. They reeled me in after a mile or so. Back at the farmland we used Research Road to cross our outbound path. Now we had a noticeable headwind just in time for the day’s big climb. (At this point I was hoping that Domitille did not have a knife in her food bag.)

We all made it up the hill and around a couple of annoying gates designed to keep drivers from cutting through the Greenbelt neighborhood ahead. A mile of so later we arrived at Buddy Attucks Park and our second pit stop. There was more cider. More donuts. Snacks. And pie! Pumpkin or apple. Or, as Sara was to discover, BOTH! Also, there were lots of bees buzzing about. I made sure to check my cider cup before drinking.

By now we had gone about 35 miles. Domitille was holding up fine. Maybe there’s something to that celery thing after all. We headed back toward DC. Our route took us around Lake Artemsia which we had skirted a few hours earlier. Down the Northeast Branch of the Anacostia, the route took some streets through Hyattsville to ride the Trolley Trail. It was hard not to stop at the gastropubs along the trail but somehow we managed. (Did you know that IPA makes an excellent mouthwash?)

Back to the NE Branch Trail we crossed the Anacostia at Bladensburg and stopped for our last rest stop. I ate an apple. Domitille ate a donut. Will wonders never cease?

The next ten miles involved a ride down the river on the Anacostia River Trail (ART). We rode past an athletic field where a high school cross country race was underway. I must say some of the runners look quite unhappy with the heat and humidity. At Eleventh Street, we crossed back over the river and headed north to the RFK Stadium complex. We rode around the hulking decrepit concrete hulk, Joe and I reminisced about separately attending the Tibetan Freedom concert where lightning struck a young woman. (It was in my seating section. I was getting some liquid refreshment on the concourse above when I heard the BOOM.)

D to 14th to C Streets Northeast took us to and around Lincoln Park. After a brief spin along Massachusetts Avenue we rode around Columbus Circle and up the 1st Street cycle track to M Street. M took us to the Metropolitan Branch Trail which we rode a mile or so back to the finish at MetroBar.

We celebrated with a group picture and some snacks and liquids. We all made it in great shape. Celery and donuts for the win!

Kevin, Jean, and Domitille on the ART in DC during the 2022 Cider RIde
Kevin and Domitille following Jean on the Northeast Branch Trail
Me on Beaver Dam Road during the 2022 Cider Ride
Me, powered by donuts on Beaver Dam Road.
Catherine leading along the ART on the 2022 Cider Ride
Catherine leading Domatille on the ART
Jonah bringing up the rear on the ART during the 2022 Cider Ride
Kevin, Me, Michael, Jean, and Jacob on the ART
At the FInish: Our 2022 Cider Ride Crew minus Chuck plus Monica
Chris, Kevin, Jean, Michael, Monica (our finish line greeter), Me, Jonah. Domitille, Sara, Catherine and Joe. All smiles after nearly 60 miles of riding. Not pictured: Chuck (who finished as well, see below).
Chuck capturing us re-hydrating at the 2022 Cider Ride finish at Metro Bar
L-R: Chuck, Me, Micael, Domitlle, Joe, Sara, Kevin, and Jonah at Metrobar after the ride

Riding and Rutting

The weather around the mid-Atlantic has been unreal lately. Warm. Gently breezy. Not at all typical of early November. The good weather resulted in an extended fall foliage season, a real feast for the eyeballs.

With a forecasted high temperature in the high 70s I was planning on driving away from the city and doing a long-ish ride, maybe on the C&O Canal or on the eastern shore of Maryland. I turned on the TV to confirm the forecast. It was then I learned that the cable TV remote wasn’t working properly, which is to say at all. No bueno.

So I contacted tech support at the cable company. There is probably a way to get a knowledgeable human on the phone but I couldn’t find it on the Cox Communications website. So I used the company’s online chat feature. This involved two minute lags between questions and responses that dragged on for an hour, at which point the technical support person advised me that my remote was kaput. (This all could have been done in ten minutes on the phone but that’s so 1990s!)

The hour that I spent “chatting” would have been spent driving somewhere bucolic but, thanks to Cox Communications, that idea was dead and gone, kind of like my remote. So what’s a bicyclists to do? Ride to the cable store!

The closest retail store to my house is in a development called Kingstowne. This area was designed and built about 20 years ago. The roads have no shoulders and no bike lanes. There are paths meant for an evening spin around the townhouse developments but there are no wayfaring signs on them. On the way I had to ride on South Kings Highway, a car sewer with two steep hills. The county bicycling master plan had included a flat trail on the perimeter a wildlife preserve that would have allowed me to avoid this hellscape. Alas, the trail – which would have followed an existing utility easement – was removed from the plan at the last moment because it supposedly would have disrupted the wildlife. (If you want to go to this pristine environmental area you have to drive. Wildlife just love oil, gas, and other toxic fluids, Who knew? Welcome to Fairfax County, Virginia.)

So, I made it to the cable company office without being run over by a big metal thing and headed home. On the way I stopped at a big box hardware store to pick up some paper bags for leaf disposal. They were all out. It seems that our super nice fall weather caused a community-wide rake-o-rama.

Another mile or so later across the car rapids of U. S. 1, I arrived home. To my surprise the new remote worked so I wouldn’t have to go back through car hell to get another. Yay.

Noon time. I snarfed down a PB&J. Then I headed out on the CrossCheck for some more miles in my neck of the woods. After about eight more miles the CrossCheck turned 25. Woot!

My CrossCheck turned 25 today
Happy birthday to my CrossCheck

I headed for Fort Hunt Park. This park has a loop road lined with trees that, up until this weekend, were a riot of fall colors. There is a half-mile bulb out along the loop road on which cars are prohibited. It’s a favorite of walkers. I took the bulb out and came upon a few people walking their Fidos. One of them said “Look at that buck! He’s an eight pointer!” I stopped and after a while and with some help from the Deer Spotter I saw the buck about 50 yards into the woods off the pavement. Wow. “There’s another. And another. And another.” Deer Spotter had great eyes because these deer were seriously camouflaged. Only when they moved could I see them. The eight-pointer was the boss. He was shooing the other three buckaroos to the right. Deer Spotter said that there were some does lying in a swale to the left. Only their heads were visible but I couldn’t see them. This time of year is mating season, the rut, for deer around here. Eight Pointer was having himself an orgy.

If I had gone out into the boonies on my bike I’d might have missed quite a show close to home. As I write this I can hear through an open window a fox barking outside. It’s a jungle out there.

Ready for the Rut in Fort Hunt Park
Mr. Big.

Tomorrow promises more abnormally good weather. After I pick up the leaf bags (a new shipment arrives at the hardware store tonight) I’ll see about going somewhere with fewer cars and big horny critters.