Bearing Up – A Quality Shoe

In the Second World War, Allied bombers targeted a small Bavarian city named Schweinfurt. Located in between Frankfurt and Nuremberg, Schweinfurt was a center of ball bearing manufacturing for the Nazi war effort. No ball bearings means nothing made of metal will rotate properly. Bearings and the grease that keeps them from wearing out are little out-of-sight things that most people never think about.

Which brings me to bikes. A bicycle encounters three kinds of resistance: wind, rolling, and mechanical. Obviously, riding into the wind can ruin your whole day. Certain kinds of tires have higher rolling resistance than others. Puncture-proof touring tires keep you from getting flats but they increase rolling resistance. Personally, I hate changing flats so I opt for heavy, bomb-proof tires. Mechanical resistance comes into play when things that are supposed to rotate freely wear out.

I seem to have an aptitude for breaking bike pedals. Don’t ask me why; I seriously don’t know. A few years ago I decided to upgrade my cheapo platform pedals with expensive, fancy pants pedals from an online retailer. After about a year and a half, I found myself in Michigan, a couple of days away from finishing a solo tour of over 750 miles. My right foot felt odd as I pedaled. Suddenly, the welds on the pedal broke. Basically, the pedal disintegrated. As I rolled along, I was holding the platform part of the pedal onto the spindle using the force of my foot and ankle. Luckily I found a bike shop that stayed open late on a Sunday evening and installed new pedals for me. Cheap ones. (The fancy pedals were warranted for one year. I was out of luck.)

Every so often a pedal on one of my bikes goes bung in a more conventional way. The bearings wear out. The pedal starts feeling crunchy. Through the sole of your shoe, you can feel the workings of the pedal breaking down. A week ago, this happened to the cheapo pedals I had on The Mule. Supply chain problems being what they are, the aforementioned online bike place didn’t have anything in stock. I rode to the two bike shops nearest my house. They didn’t have anything either.

So, on a whim, I called Bikes at Vienna. The shop owner Tim said he had some MKS touring pedals. “I have them on all my bikes. They’re great.” I couldn’t help of thinking of the old Mark Knopfler song “Quality Shoe” about a shoe salesman describing his products. And they cost only about $10 more than the crummy pedals I had been using.

So I rode 23-ish miles to Vienna and bought a set. Beth, the mechanic (who also has these pedals on her recumbent and loves them) thinks they don’t come with enough grease in side so she opened the pedals and added grease to the bearings.

I picked one of the pedals up an spun it with my fingers. It was an obviously vast improvement over pedals on The Mule.

The next day I installed them and went for a ride.

The Mule’s new shoes

WOW. No way. What a difference. The Mule was very happy. I was very happy. So The Mule and I rode back out to Vienna and bought another pair for my Cross Check. After a 30-mile ride on that bike, I can confirm that these new pedals are the bomb.

Moral of the story: if you have a two-wheeled horse, you’re going to need a quality shoe.

November 2021 – Around in Circles

We had a mighty nice November here in the mid-Atlantic. The foliage seemed to last for weeks. There were no big, blustery storms to blow all the leaves off the trees. The red maples and a few yellow ones, and some stubborn ginko trees were hanging in there to the end. Well played, mother nature.

Riding

As usual, cooler temperatures led to a switch to long pants on bottom and layers on top. I added a key piece of clothing to my bicycling wardrobe and I am really happy I did. Junction Hybrid Cycling pants from REI are a cross between long pants and tights. They fit perfectly. And they seem to be good for a wide temperature range. So far I’ve ridden in wind chills down to 35 degrees F as well as temps in the mid to high 50s F and felt very comfy. The only shortcoming to these gems is a lack of pockets. I would have bought another pair or two but I had to give my daughter something to get me for Christmas. I hope she comes through.

The month began with the last cycling event on my calendar, the Washington Area Bicycling Association’s annual Cider Ride. I began the ride with Barney (real name Kevin). At the first rest stop, Gomer (a. k. a. Michael) caught up to us. (This must make me Floyd the Barber, I suppose.) The weather was mighty fine and so were the warm cider, donuts, and apple pie at the pit stops.

In mid-month I did a one-way, 57-mile ride on the Washington and Old Dominion and connecting trails. The rest of the month included all too many loopy rides on area streets. I did get to check out the extensions to the 15th Street cycletrack in DC however. Earlier in the year it was extended from Pennsylvania Avenue to Constitution Avenue. In November, in a matter of days, a further extension was added across the Mall from Constitution to the Tidal Basin at Maine Avenue. No more dodging tour buses and taxi cabs near the Museum of the African American, the Washington Monument, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Sweet.

For the month I rode 846 miles, mostly on Old Nellie and the Cross Check. For the year, I have ridden 9,564 miles, nearly evenly split among those two bikes and The Mule. The odometer on Old Nellie hit 47,000 miles along the way. If I can manage to average a little over 14 miles per day during December, I’ll hit 10,000 miles. Pedal, pedal.

Off the bike I raked a helluva lot of leaves. This left my body achy. After Thanksgiving dinner in North Arlington, I joined the other feasters on a hilly, half-mile waddle around the neighborhood. My back and legs were screaming at me the entire time. The next day a few friends reconvened for a short hike in the woods at Scotts Run Recreation Area in Mclean, Virginia. I used trekking poles and had absolutely no pain issues. My body is a mystery to me.

Watching

When pondering my medical woes, I watched a few movies on the tube. Worth was pretty interesting. It’s about how 911 victims’ families were compensated after the attacks. As someone who did wrongful death economic analyses as a side gig in graduate school, I brought an unusual personal perspective to the movie. Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci (who’s in more movies: Tucci or Samuel L. Jackson?) and the rest of the cast was terrific.

Next up was Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. I am not big on period chick flicks so it’s no surprise that this one wasn’t really my cup of tea but the acting, set design, and direction were top notch. It has an all-star team of young actors (including Saoirse Ronan, Timothee Chalamet, and Florence Pugh) and July Johnson, er, Chris Cooper that is (who I’ll watch in anything). So don’t let my meh reaction put you off.

A few weeks ago I read The Vanishing Half, a best seller about two black sisters whose lives diverge when one decides to pass as white. The movie Passing explores similar themes and received decent reviews. I found it to be a disappointment. For the movie to work, you have to be willing to accept that one character passes as white. I never bought this for a second. It seemed cheaply made too. Thud.

Get Back, the Peter Jackson documentary about the Beatles is a technical tour de force. The man can do miracles. His World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old is amazing. He restored 90-year old documentary film. colorized it, added sound including voices (in various appropriate British dialects) synced to the images, and other magic tricks. Being a big time Beatle fan, I couldn’t wait to see what he could do with their film and audio archive from the 1969 Let It Be project. Get Back is every bit as technically amazing as Jackson’s other work. His team “de-mixed” monaural audio to extract conversations and re-produce musical rehearsals with impressive aural clarity. The film is visually crystal clear too. I wish Jackson had done brief film about how he pulled all this off as he did with his WWI film. The tone of Get Back is nowhere near as dark in tone as the old Let It Be film. The Beatles decided to write and record an album live, with no overdubs, on a three-week, self-imposed deadline. What could go wrong? Ultimately, they bring in Billy Preston on keyboards to get around their ban against overdubbing and his joy infects the band. As a five-piece, the band gels instantly. All the while, it’s obvious that this is the end of the line for the group. At about eight hours Get Back is quite an endurance contest for the viewer. If you watch it, break it down into 60- or 90-minute viewings.

Reading

I only managed to read two books. Release by Patrick Ness is a young adult novel about a sexually active, gay teenage boy, the son of Evangelical parents, going through various traumas over the course of a single day. There’s a side story about the spirit of a recently murdered girl. Neither story line worked for me.

A much better book is Amor Towles’ The Lincoln Highway, a novel about the misadventures of teenagers on a road trip to better lives in the mid-1950s. With so many plot twists and calamities, I was impressed that Towles held it all together. Loved it from beginning to end.

Family

My daughter came down from Connecticut for Thanksgiving. She was happy to get away from the grind of her first semester in law school. We visited with my son in Thailand via Facetime. I vaguely remember when my brother Joe called us from Paris in the early 1970s. That was exciting. Facetiming from Thailand seems oddly so routine.

On to December. I have a 46-mile ride on tap for tomorrow.

Autumn

The DC area does a pretty darn good job of falling. Here’s some examples.

Foliage

It always seems to take longer than last year, but the fall foliage around these parts, while not in the same league as Vermont, isn’t half bad. My vote for tree of the year is this one, located near the Virginia side of the Memorial Bridge.

Stopped me in my tracks

Cider

The last bicycling event ride of the year, at least for me, is the Cider Ride. It is staged by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. There are three routes of which I picked the longest, 55-mile one. The course winds its way up and down the branches of the Anacostia River and spends about ten miles meandering around a United States Agriculture Department research facility and its adjacent suburban neighborhoods. On the return the course passes through Greenbelt (which I always confuse with Beltsville). The three pit stops had dozens and dozens of donuts (I had one with white frosting and sprinkles), apple pie, and, of course, warm cider. (The Greenbelt pit stop also includes yellow jackets which find cider irresistible.) Normally I don’t like cider but on a cool autumn afternoon, warm cider is just about the perfect drink.

Kevin W. contacted me the night before and we rode together from the start. At the first pit stop about 13 miles into the ride at Proteus Bicycles in College Park we were joined by Michael B. These two gents have been the anchors of my last several 50 States Ride posses and are the best riding companions. They wait for me at turns because I am old and they are not. At the end of the ride we indulged in libations. A pleasant time was had. As you can see, the weather was splendid.

Kevin (L) and Michael at the after party

A big thanks to the folks at WABA who spend many hours planning this event. On the day of the event they get up way too early and resist the temptation to eat all the donuts. So thanks to all the WABA staff Garrett, Ursula, Kristin, and, Anna (as well as any I haven’t met or didn’t see), and the scads of volunteers. Somehow volunteer Dana got assigned pie duty at the furthest pit stop from his house in Arlington. Hope you didn’t get stung. And a big shout out and thanks for the hug to Monica, the queen of merch at the after party.

Floods

Although not strictly limited to autumn, the flooding of the Potomac River is always an interesting thing to see. A week ago, we had the highest water since the epic storm surge from hurricane Isabel in 2003. This picture of the lower end of King Street (the main tourist street) in Old Town Alexandria was taken several hours before the high water mark. News reports showed a couple canoeing here.

Fall Back

We just switched back to standard time this weekend. One annoying aspect is that I have to reset all four of my bike computers. Of course, I have three different kinds, each it its own sequence of buttons to be pushed. My big worry is that when I start futzing around with the buttons I’ll accidentally delete the mileage on the odometers. So, before I start, I take a picture of all four computers’ odometer settings. I’m a bit over 155,000 miles on these four bikes. This means I ride a lot and I, and my bikes, are old. (This does not include mileage from my Raleigh Grand Prix and my Trek 1200, both of which left the stable decades ago.)

Clockwise from top left: The Mule (Specialized Sequoia), Big Nellie (Tour Easy recumbent), Little Nellie (Bike Friday New World Tourist), and my Surly Cross Check.

Welcome to the El Norte Zoo

It has now been over two years since the Irish government received my application for citizenship. (My paternal grandmother was born in County Mayo.) Between Brexit and the pandemic, the delays have become rather frustrating. I guess I’ll have another Guinness while I wait.

My experience is not uncommon so I get chuffed when I learn that someone I know has been granted U. S. citizenship. The latest is my friend Peter’s wife Ona. I confess that I barely know her but it’s quite obvious that Peter is an hombre con suerte. Ona became a US citizen over the weekend. I saw her at the Cider Ride after party and she was still beaming. Congratulations, Ona.

Biketober

One of the nice things about living in the DC area is that the weather during the first half of autumn is pretty darn good for bicycling. I took advantage by riding 29 out of 31 days for 970 miles. My longest day was the Great Pumpkin Ride, which worked out to 68 miles on my bike computer. It was harder than I recall and it took me a couple of days to recover.

I reached 63,000 miles on the refurbished Mule. It now has a new bike computer and a front brake that doesn’t habitually stick to the rim. Thanks Daniel and Beth at Bikes at Vienna for the wrenchpertise. The Mule will get some much needed rest for the next few weeks as I switch over to my Cross Check which has been in dry dock since it hit 21,000 miles a couple of months ago.

I rode Big Nellie, my long wheel base recumbent. over 400 miles this month. That’s pretty unusual. I doubt it’ll see much more outdoors activity because it’s rearward weight distribution makes it rather crash prone on wet leaves. Then again, at some point in December Big Nellie will take up residence in the basement where it will become my reading platform.

My goal for 2021 is one last 10,000 mile year. I’m on track. I finished October at 8,718 miles. I think I can do 1,282 in 61 days.

In non-biking activities I watched three movies: Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and No Time to Die. After reading several positive reviews about Black Widow, I was disappointed. It just didn’t float my boat. Shang-Chi was much better, particularly before the obligatory CGI pornfest in the last 45 minutes. I was unfamiliar with Awkwafina but I liked her performance in the first half of the movie when the characters are developed. No Time to Die was a pretty classic Bond film, better than most Bond movies. The references to the much derided On Her Majesty’s Secret Service were welcome. (I am one of the few people who think IHMSS is one of the best bond films.) I expected Daniel Craig and the actors in recurring roles to be good (and they were) but I was pleasantly surprised by Rami Malek and Ana de Armas who both owned their scenes with Craig. And while I’m at it, Geoffrey Wright is my favorite Felix Leiter.

My other passive entertainment was watching the baseball playoffs. All the displaced Nationals (other than Dusty Baker) were vanquished in the first two rounds which left me with no strong interest in the World Series. Still, the thought of no baseball for five months means I’ll watch the Braves vs the Astros anyway.

I managed to squeeze in two books this month. The first was The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. This a fun read, a bit of Nick Hornby meets Agatha Christie. The second book was Beautiful World Where Are You, the third novel by Irish author Sally Rooney. I found it disappointing, lurching between the main plot and emails between the two main characters. The emails struck me as a lazy writing trick through which Rooney could make personal remarks about the writing life and the crummy state of the world. Her first two books were much better. She also seems obsessed with writing sex scenes. She’s a talented writer but by the fourth sex scene I wanted to have a cig and go to bed.

Paper Restaurant

My daughter is a big fan of John Green, an author of young adult novels. He lives in Indianapolis where she went to college. Green’s most well known book is The Fault in Our Stars which was made into a pretty good movie a few years ago.

My daughter liked his books so much that I started reading them. One of his books is Paper Towns, which introduced me to the mapmaker’s concept of a paper town. A mapmaker will put a nonexistent town on his map as a marker for copywrite infringement. It makes the case against a plagiarist easy to prove. I often see this same thing in print when an obvious stray word or misspelling is used. Perhaps this is done so that scanning software used in academia can detect a cheater.

Tonight I was goofing around with Google Maps when I stumbled upon a paper restaurant. The restaurant is The Abyss and it is located outdoors behind our local elementary school. Using street view one can clearly tell that the restaurant is located where some swing sets are.

The Google Map entry even includes several customer reviews. Many of the reviewers’ names are comical (Dippy, Alden’s Got a Dumpy, for two). All but one of the reviews are 5 stars.

As you can see from the screenshot, the “restaurant” is between the school and some tennis courts. The entire surrounding area is suburban neighborhood.

Maybe someday I’ll ride over and have a paper meal.

Peace

Lord knows as someone who had ridden the 50 States Ride 13 times, I love a good gimmick. Me and my 650 states can’t hold a candle to the accomplishment of Lynn Salvo.

I first heard about Lynn from a blog reader during one of my tours. She was riding her bike across Canada. It had something to do with a peace sign.

Lynn who is six years older than me rode the Southern Tier route from San Diego to Saint Augustine in 2015. It was her first big tour. She was, by my math, 66 years old. A couple of years later she came up with a crazy idea. Why not trace out a peace sign with her bike tours. Across Canada and up and down both coasts would be the circle, with a dove’s foot down the center of the US from Canada to Wichita and then on to intersect her Southern Tier route to the south, southeast, and southwest.

The peace sign project is a labor of love. Lynn’s older brother John died when his plane crashed in Laos during the Vietnam War.

Reading about the recently completed, last leg of her peace sign down the west coast of the US blew me away. She’s 72 years old and that route sounded HARD. So many hills. So much wind. She even rode her bike on the bridge between Washington State and Astoria Oregon. When I reached Astoria in 2018, I took one look at that sucker and said “No way!” Aside from the fact that it’s a brutal climb, it’s a two-lane highway with no shoulder and the cross winds are insane.

And then there was that mountainous wildfire detour she had to take along the coast of central California. Eek.

14,500 miles over six years.

Dang.

I lifted this map from her blog. I’m pretty sure she won’t mind.

If you can get past the firewall, here is a Washington Post story about her.

Congratulations; Lynn.

Balls

My rides around the DC area involve passing three golf courses. As any duffer will tell you, balls that are abandoned in the weeds beyond the course are fair game. Finders keepers and all that. I have made a habit of picking up golf balls when I spot them on the side of the road. When I get back home, I toss the balls into a cloth bag and forget about them,

Yesterday I rode on Fort Hunt Road for the first time in a few weeks. The road surface has been milled for repaving. This makes for bad riding (especially if you manage to hit an exposed manhole cover). Not having ridden by Belle Haven Country Club, there was an unusual bounty of balls along the road. I passed on the first one I saw because it was in an intersection. Then I saw another, and another, and another….eleven in all. I felt like turning towards the golf course on the opposite side of the road and yelling, “Hold your fire!!!”

The eleven was a sort of personal record for a single ride. I normally find multiple balls in the spring when the ground is hard and the golfers are rusty. Yesterday’s haul may be evidence that the pandemic has caused a secondary pandemic of lousy golfers.

In any case, I decided to empty the bag and see how many balls I have found this year.

123 and counting

Restored – Grand Staircase – Escalante and Bears Ears

My 2019 tour took me through some breathtaking scenery in central Utah. One of the highlights was a hair raising ride through Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. The day before I had ridden just south of Bears Ears National Monument. The pictures I took don’t begin to do this area of Utah justice, of course. It is beautiful but harsh terrain.

I took a break in Grand Staircase at a highway overlook. I was standing at a railing taking in the sights when a van pulled up behind me. A little old lady (I’d guess she was 80, at least) carefully stepped out of the van. She looked out at the landscape with an expression of awe on her face. “This is so beautiful!” she said to me.

She was wearing a MAGA cap. She had no idea her beloved president had recently downsized the two monuments to 228,000 acres from it’s previous size of 3 million acres.

National Monuments can be created by executive order. And executive orders are modified at the will of the president in power. Thus, the size of these monuments was reduced. Today, the White House announced that the two monuments would be restored to more than 3 million acres. I don’t know if the MAGA lady is still alive, but I wonder if she has the slightest idea that any of this happened.

As for me, I am thrilled. This area of the country has a surreal beauty that just blew me away. To think that it would be open to development and artifact hunters was really depressing. We owe the preservation of these lands to our descendants.

September 2021 – Big Nellie and The Mule Go Long

Another month of aimlessly riding in circles is in the books. Early September brought the usual extension of summertime, but the month ended with day after day of absolutely perfect weather. It was my highest mileage month of the year, clocking in at 1,051 miles. The newly refurbished Big Nellie carried me 598.5 miles. The balance of riding, but for one mile on Little Nellie, was on The Mule.

It took me a while to regain my confidence on Big Nellie. This is normal considering the fork broke off back in June, landing me in a heap along the Mount Vernon Trail. After a while I started feeling like I was part of the bike. I even rode it to a Nats game, to Friday Coffee Club, and on some explorations all across DC. (I am extra careful riding Big Nellie in traffic. Drivers and other bicyclists don’t expect to see me when I am so low to the ground. Oddly, the opposite is true in the country; drivers stare at the weird bike and tend to steer at me. Mirrors are life savers. Caveat Bentor.)

One highlight of the month was my 13th 50 States Ride. As with my two 80-ish-mile rides on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I did this one on The Mule. The Mule does hills better than Big Nellie. And I wasn’t really keen about driving across the Bay Bridge and its crosswinds with a huge recumbent tailfin on the car. (I needn’t have worried. I once drove back from Indiana with Big Nellie hanging off the back of my Accord.)

Another highlight of the month was the return of Friday Coffee Club at Swings House of Caffeine on G Street NW. I have to work on the getting-out-of-bed aspect though. I am no longer accustomed to waking before dawn.

I did attend three Nats games, the last one with my daughter. I’d like to say these were major league baseball games but the Nats are pretty much a AAA club with a couple of ringers (Soto and Bell). If they had a bullpen, they’d be on the verge of mediocrity. There are three more games against the Red Sox. Despite the fact that I lived in Red Sox Country for 11 years, I am not planning on going to the games.

For the year, I have ridden 7,748 miles, on pace for over 10,300 miles.

Oh, and one last thing, I had a Covid vaccine booster shot a couple of days ago. Other than a sore arm for a day, I haven’t had any side effects.

Get the jab, y’all.

Challenging Rides in Kent and Cecil County, Maryland

Last summer I found a website with three rides all starting in Chestertown, Maryland on the Eastern Shore. I did the shortest of the three last summer. This past month I went back to knock off the two 80–ish mile rides.

The first ride, called the Historic County Loop actually covers much of the ground of the shortest ride. Still I managed to make a wrong turn or two and stretch an 81-mile ride into 86 miles. It’s a talent.

To be honest the maps and cue sheets are old so it’s not surprising that I got lost. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I mean your talking about somebody who did the 50-States Ride in DC 11 times and still missed the first turn on his 12th ride.

The roads in Cecil and Kent Counties are in good shape. Higher speed roads have very wide paved shoulders. There’s a bit of truck traffic probably because these routes are close to US 301, a major divided highway running north and south. Most of the roads I was on are marked as bicycle routes so local drivers are used to seeing bikes on the road.

The Historic County Loop travels through miles of farmland and diverts now and then to the Chesapeake Bay. To be honest, I’ve seen better bay views in a dozen other places. The farms appear to my city-dweller eyes to be corn and soybeans. If you spun a Hoosier around they would swear they are right back home in Indiana. If memory serves, Indiana farms are much bigger, but these farms will do nicely for visual purposes.

I did the second ride, called the Pump House Primer, a couple of days ago. This one is a bit more interesting. Once again I encountered corn and soy but over the line in Cecil County the terrain became more rolling and the farms were a bit more diverse. One farm had a stand of hops (they grow on wooden poles). Another had some sheep. The most interesting farms were stud farms for breeding thoroughbred horses. These farms look very much like those in central Kentucky. Unfortunately, I couldn’t manage a decent picture of the horses. They are beautiful beasts.

One highlight of the route is the descent to a drawbridge over the Sassafras River. The bridge connects Georgetown in Kent County with Fredericktown in Cecil County. The drawbridge has a metal grate for a surface so rider beware, especially when it rains.

The northern most point of the ride is at Chesapeake City on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, which connects the Chesapeake Bay in the west to the Delaware River to the east. Years ago I rode on the Canal trail which is worth doing if you’re in the area and aren’t already mashing out 80 miles on the roads.

The ride back from Chesapeake City makes a small loop. The route then starts another small loop, or so the cue sheet and map say. Alas, one of the roads on this loop is closed. I checked it out and found a barrier across the road and woods beyond. From the age of the trees and underbrush, I suspect this route map is more than a decade old.

Using my phone, I improvised a course correction and managed to screw that up. I back tracked and found a road on the cue sheet. Following the route, I rode 19 miles back to Chestertown, going back over the first 19 miles of the ride. I ended up riding 78 miles with a nice tailwind for the last 14 miles. As it turns out, the part of the Pump House Primer route I lopped off was on the Historic County Loop route so I actually didn’t miss a thing.

Grateful for Rock Hall
Your Basic Soybean Field
Weird How the Road Just Goes into the Bay
Another Soy Bean Field
One of Many Scenic Water Spots
Chesapeake City Bridge
Ruh Roh!

I did these rides on The Mule but need to try them again on Big Nellie. Level and gently rolling terrain is what recumbent bikes are made for. All I need is a repeat of the amazing weather I had for these two rides.

If you are interested in these rides, plan to spend some time wandering around Chestertown, Chesapeake City, and Georgetown. They are small towns with buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.