Socially distant along US 1 in the soulless exurbs

After day riding in the basement yesterday, my soul couldn’t take it anymore. I hit the roads on The Mule. People on the Interwebs have been complaining about inappropriate crowding on the trails around here so I eschewed the trails and stayed on streets. I made my way across US 1 past WalMart and Cosco and the car wash and the trailer park and through the table flat streets of lower Hybla Valley. After five miles I was once again back to Route 1 where it passes through Fort Belvoir.

Fort Belvoir is an absolutely wonderful place to ride a bike but it has been closed off to civilians for many years. It seems our military can’t distinguish between a harmless old dude on a bike and a maniac intent on mass slaughter. (Hint: my frame pump does not have a bump stock attachment.)

Route 1 is a six-lane death trap that the geniuses at VDOT decided to put unprotected bike lanes on. They were so confident in their work that they put a wide multiuse path alongside the same roadway. Being a bear of very little brain I chose the bike lane. (You knew I’d do that, didn’t you.)

I made it all the way to beautiful Lorton, Virginia. According to one of my favorite DJs, Lorton rhymes with how Ralph Kramden pronounced “Norton!” (NAW-un, I think.) What a coincidence that it has all the style of a Brooklyn sewer worker.

Lorton is nothing but four lane roads and eyesores. It could be anywhere and feels like nowhere. Pharmacy. Car Wash. Bank. Strip Mall. Fake town square. Highway ramps. Endless traffic lights.

Once in Lorton I made my way further south on a road that follows the right of way of the main rail line to Miami and a buried natural gas line. These scenic parts are obscured by trash, scrub brush, and sumac.

After a couple of hills, I was back at Route 1 for a five minute wait to cross the highway at another forever traffic light. I rode past a gas station and a Seven Eleven, up yet another hill, and finally came to a stop at an unsignalled intersection. I was going to make a left but decided that it would be wise to yield to the endless stream of jacked up pick ups and SUVs that were clearly in a hurry to get someplace.

Funeral delayed, I took a left onto two-lane Old Colchester Road (Note to VDOT: no need for the “h”) and began a mile-long, shaded, winding downhill on brand new pavement. After 14 miles I was due for some decent cycling. There were modest homes on big, treed lots. One had horses in the yard.

After about four minutes I crossed a creek. There to my left was the one thing that can make an ugly sewage treatment plant uglier: construction of an even bigger sewage treatment plant. And, of course, it was back up a hill until I hit Route 1 again. At a light. A very long light.

Green! Off I went down hill on Telegraph Road through scenic small business parks. Table tops. Pest control. Landscape contracting. Pet food outlet. So much ugly to see. You could sell tickets.

Onward past Fort Belvior’s wee landing strip, up another hill, down a hill, up a hill, down a hill. Each hill was helpfully interrupted by traffic lights, strategically placed to steal your momentum. What made the traffic lights more annoying was that there was very little traffic to be controlled.

Down another long hill. My lovely little bike lane disappeared as I sped at 25 miles per hour into an ever narrowing roadway. Then I got a lane again to get through a new six lane intersection with two sets of traffic lights. Joy.

Once past all this it was up yet another hill. Red light at top, of course. Down again. Roadway narrows again until it expands into six lanes. Fortunately, all the drivers were home infecting each other. I cruised for a mile to Huntington Avenue, a four-lane road with no paved shoulders that goes past a Metro station. Empty.

Finally, I re-crossed Route 1 one last time, because what could be more fun. Yes, another traffic light. I made my way toward home, up two more hills on Fort Hunt Road.

Did I mention it was windy?

Did I mention that pollen levels were through the roof?

I arrived home after 30 miles, a couple of dozen hills, 212 red lights, and countless epic vistas of sub- and exurban ugliness.

The exurbs tried and tried to steal my soul but The Mule would not let them. The Mule abides.

I’m just sittin’ here doin’ time

After a couple of weeks, even introverts get a bit stir crazy. I am out of new books. Each day I browse the bookshelves looking for something to re-read. It’s really the perfect time to revisit a tome from long ago like Richard Adams’s Shardik or John McPhee’s Coming into the Country.

Yesterday I got back on the bike but it wasn’t as warm as last week and my effort was halfhearted. A friend drove down from DC and he and my wife walked the 1 1/4 mile circuit at Fort Hunt Park maintaining proper distance as they went, while I rode laps. They did three. I did ten or eleven. It wasn’t at all crowded and people, with one annoying exception, were keeping their distance. The exception was a chatty woman in a group. She had zero situational awareness. We all did our best to give her a wide berth.

I am still doing a couple of sessions of stenosis physical therapy each day. I put on my headphones and play some meditative woo woo music so that I focus on what I am doing and take it slow. Each session lasts between ten and fourteen minutes depending on how closely I am paying attention. And I do 20 to 30 minutes of meditation while lying on the couch. Occasionally, this morphs into a nap. My mind doesn’t much mind.

I am also a fan of crossword puzzles. I do the Washington Post, The Atlantic, the New York Times mini, the New Yorker, and the New York magazine puzzles regularly. I only pay for the Post so access is limited. The Times also has something called the Spelling Bee that I find amusing.

I mowed the lawn for the first time the other day. The grass isn’t doing much these days but the weeds and wild onion grass were going gangbusters. I bagged the clippings which didn’t do my back much good.

I am also listening to music online. There’s so much good content. My fave are the daily “broadcasts” of Neil Finn and his sons Liam and Elroy live from their homes in Los Angeles. (For the uninitiated, Neil Finn’s most well known song is Don’t Dream It’s Over but he’s written scores or maybe even hundreds of others.) These mini-concerts happen every night at around 6 p.m. east coast time on Fangradio on an app called Mixlr. Unfortunately, this has become so popular that the connection gets overwhelmed. This leads to buffering and loss of connection sometimes. Luckily, the Finns archive the performances daily at the link above.

Mr. Fangradio

One thing I like most about these online versions of the songs is that they are stripped down if not quite unplugged. In many cases I prefer these to the recorded versions. Liam and Neil did an album last year that I really didn’t much like called Lightsleeper. When performed on Fangradio, however, the songs take on new life and I really enjoy them.

Not to beat a dead horse, a few years ago Neil recorded an album live online over the course of four weeks. It’s called Out of Silence and can be found on You Tube.

Another place for performances is NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts. Many radio stations, often NPR affiliated, have similar content. And there’s the You Tube time sink. You can blow entire days wandering around there.

Well, it’s time to hit the floor for more fun with back exercises. Stay safe, you all. Eat your vegetables. Go easy on the TP. Call your mama. Make good choices.

Prapanca stay away from me

Today was my first day off the bike in a week. My legs were really tired yesterday. Oddly, after about 15 miles they seemed to come to life. I found myself cruising along at 18 miles per hour. This is the sort of thing happens on long bike tours. (It’s a good thing because, otherwise, you’d never get where you’re going.) If this crisis hadn’t come along, I’d be ready to tour in a couple of weeks.

I learned today that two people have tested positive in the building where I worked for 25 years in DC. I don’t know them but I still know quite a lot of people who work there. A description from one of the victims who is currently in the hospital in Maryland describes truly awful illness and extensive lung damage. That’s what worries me most; my lungs are already damaged from illnesses in 2016 and 2018.

Generally speaking, descriptions of the disease vary wildly. Some people get no symptoms at all, others get what feels like a bad cold, still others, like the victim above, have high fevers, coughs, and escalating pulmonary distress. The randomness of all this is enough to drive you insane. And, since it takes days for the symptoms to arise you or just about anyone you interact with could be infected and not even know it. One truly odd thing about the disease is that all the physical distress is caused by your body’s defense mechanisms going haywire as they fight off the invading pathogen.

I have a strong fear of suffocating. When I was a kid, I hated it when other kids held my head underwater. When I was in the hospital with a collapsed lung in 2018, I rolled over onto my good lung. It compressed my good lung and left me without the ability to draw a breath. Climbing my first big climb in Colorado last summer, I found myself leaning across the top tube of my bike on the side of the road in the Rockies unable to catch my breath.

Stress is sometimes useful. When it’s under control, stress can help you concentrate on an exam or get your adrenaline going for a burst of effort. It’s not useful when it just wears you down mentally and emotionally. What we all especially need to avoid is that runaway narrative in our heads that builds bad scenarios on top of each other. It doesn’t matter what your personal situation is; your brain can hijack your stress defenses and carry you away to a place of despair. Buddhists call this prapanca. Prapanca stay the fuck away from me.

Today did have a few de-stressing moments. Instead of riding, I mowed the lawn. Fresh air. Mindless. Repetitive. Not a bad combination. And no interaction with potentially infected, two-legged disease vectors.

Late in the day my wife did a yoga class online. Just as it was about to start a woman came to our door. It was one of her yoga class friends, a psychiatrist, bearing a gift in a black bag. It turned out to be a bottle of gin and and one of tonic.

Gin and tonic, the doctor recommended cure for prapanca.

Suburbs – self isolation made easy

For the last several years I have envied my friends in DC and other urban areas for their ability to walk out their doors and go to restaurants, bars, plays, the movies, and all sorts of other interesting places without having to drive for 30 minutes and deal with parking. Now that we are in a pandemic, I am not so envious.

It turns out that suburban single family homes are isolation pods. We have space in the house and plenty of buffer space outside. And we don’t even have to mow the grass. Yet. (That’s for tomorrow.)

I do escape the pod daily to go for a bike ride. Today I had dead legs, the result of riding for five days in a row. I decided to only ride 25 miles. A week ago I washed and put away the holey wool sweaters that I use for warmth during the winter. As a result, I was underdressed. I managed to get through 21 1/2 miles before running back inside and eating a bowl of hot soup.

I rode to Fort Hunt Park. The Mule posed for a photo in front of some of the ruins of the fort, which dates back to the early 19th century.

I rode the 1.25 mile circuit road in the park four times. I only saw one group that was not social distancing. They were talking to a park volunteer. Derp.

After riding in the park, I made my way over to Collingwood Road. There’s a double loop that goes from Collingwood to Alexandria Avenue and back and then back again. C to A to C. One leg of this is on East Boulevard Drive. Another is on the Mount Vernon Trail. The third is on West Boulevard Drive. The entire course is a little over three miles. I did it twice, once in each direction. I seriously needed a holey sweater so I came home and called it quits after 21 1/2 miles.

Finally, I reported yesterday that my niece and her boyfriend were ill with the virus. Her father, my brother, texted this morning that the two of them had a “miraculous recovery.” I suspect that these two northerners were struck down by DC’s nearly lethal levels of springtime pollen. Having been very sick from sinus afflictions on more occasions than I can remember, I gave up and started taking a 24-hour antihistamine daily, year round. And I still get runny eyes, a sore throat, headaches, and a sour tummy from time to time. The biggest culprit is shredded bark mulch. I used to spread this all over the flower beds in our yard until I got so sick I missed two days of work. No more.

Even with a Buff covering my nose and mouth I received a big dose of mulch dust during my ride today. People spread it this time of year. Ick.

Time for a nap.

Cherry blossoms and social distancing

Since it’s cherry blossom time and today is peak bloom, I decided to ride to DC to see the show. I did my best to stay as far from people as possible. If someone on the trail stopped, I stopped ten feet behind them. If I passed someone (or someone passed me), I held my breath until I was beyond them. (I even adjusted this for wind speed and direction.)

When I got to National Airport I was amazed at how empty the economy parking lot was. There were fewer cars than yesterday.

Out of frame to the right was yet more empty parking spots.

Rather than take the 14th Street Bridge directly to the Tidal Basin and the crowds, I decided to ride another mile to the Memorial Bridge and skip the Tidal Basin entirely. I did a big loop, thanks in part to very like vehicular traffic, and ended up in East Potomac Park where the main road, Ohio Drive is lined with cherry trees.

I rode to Hains Point along Ohio Drive. The road had very light traffic.

There’s a golf course to the right of this picture. I spotted a ball in the grass and passed it by. After a minute of thought, I decided to ride to Hains Point a second time and retrieve the ball. I know it’s been there for a few days and its been rained on so the odds of it carrying the virus were small. Still, I touched it like it might explode and placed it in the side pocket of my saddle bag. I rinsed my fingertips off with my water bottle. (And washed my hands with degreaser and with soap and water when I got home. Paranoia strikes deep.)

During the second trip to the point, rain began falling. Temperatures and the humidity felt more like mid May than mid March so the rain felt good. An added benefit was that it cleared out most of the tourists near the Tidal Basin. This allowed me to take the 14th Street Bridge back to Virginia.

I must say that people seem to be doing a great job of social distancing. I only saw one cluster of people with more than three or four people in it.

Finally, I learned just before leaving for my ride that one of my nieces and her boyfriend are sick. They live locally and are in their twenties. He interacted with someone who tested positive when he was at a party out of town. So presumably they are both infected with the coronavirus.

I

You got another what?

I managed to get 8 1/2 miles on The Mule with no problems. As I was accelerating through a suburban intersection I heard a clang sound on the ground. I thought that my pump had fallen off my bike for some reason so I pulled over and checked. The pump was still on my frame. I started down a long hill when my back tire started feeling squishy. I pulled over again knowing full well that I now had my second flat in two months.

I had gone over a year without a flat so I suppose I was over due for this, my second flat in two months. It took me over 15 minutes to find the source of the flat. I found a tear in the tire’s casing that was so smooth I didn’t feel it or see it when I searched. I only found it after I found the hole in the tube and matched the tube to the tire. I couldn’t find any debris in the tire at all. I must have hit a sharp piece of metal that did it’s thing and left the scene of the crime.

I covered the hole on the inside of the tire with a $1 bill and put a new tube in. As I started back up I could feel a lump in the rear wheel with each revolution. I stopped and took the wheel off to make sure the tire was properly seated under the rim of the wheel.

Back on the road I decided that rather than ride my planned 40 miles, I would head back home. I took the long way making sure to check to see how far gas prices had fallen in the last 24 hours. To my surprise the same gas station was now charging 38 cents more, $2.15. Stranger still, the gas station next store was charging $1.99.

I rode to Mount Vernon, still deserted, of course, then back toward home taking several loops around neighborhood streets to pad my mileage.

After 25 miles I called it quits. I then changed the rear tire again, tossing out the damaged one and replacing it with an old one I had in my basement. As I was checking to make sure the tire was properly seated I spotted a fracture in the rim of the wheel. No bueno. This sort of thing is a ticking time bomb that can destroy a ride and leave you stranded.

Off I went to Conte’s Bike Shop in Old Town Alexandria. As luck would have it they had a wheel that would fit my needs. (It was not a wheel they normally carry. They had it on hand because they goofed on a previous order.)

I was pretty wary about going to the shop but they were all business as far as hygiene was concerned. No one stood close to me, except for the handing over of the wheels. The mechanic wore surgical gloves and used a Clorox wipe on the credit card scanner. Then he let me select a couple of wipes for my use.

As I left I checked out the people sitting outside a restaurant celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Nobody seemed like they were having much fun. Customers were in groups of two or three and separated by a few feet from other groups. Lethal viruses are a buzzkill, dude.

So tomorrow I will remount the tire and fiddle with the rear brakes to make sure everything works properly. Tonight I am going to order some new tires. These last ones were a rip off. They only lasted about 6,000 miles.

Return to Dr. Pain and other adventures

Yesterday, in anticipation of my appointment with Dr. Pain, I walked 3 1/2 miles. I experienced some discomfort in my left leg but it never amounted to much. In fact, several times I stopped using the trekking poles. I also found that I am no longer walking on the balls of my feet, which is really awkward. Oddly, I seem unable to walk slowly. My body is full of mystery.

I had a minor, split second twinge of pain in my lower back when I was taking off my shoes but I haven’t had any symptoms of nerve pain shooting across my lower back for a week.

I almost cancelled the appointment out of an abundance of caution about the coronavirus but decided to go and be super careful. No one was in the waiting room. I used hand sanitizer three times while in the office.

After a short wait in an examining room, Dr. Pain came in and sat as far from me as physically possible. We discussed what I’ve been doing (e.g., riding a bike like a boss, walking more than a mile, physical therapy exercises twice a day) and she said that she wasn’t giving me any more shots for now. “That first shot has allowed your body to heal itself. Don’t stop what you’re doing.”

The plan going forward is for me to come back to see her in early May, but only if I have pain. Otherwise I am good to go on my annual bike tour, coronavirus willing. One thing is very clear, I am riding much stronger than I have since my 2018 tour.

After the doctor’s visit, I went to the drug store to secure some shaving stuff and paper products. They had a few shaving things. I decided to buy the expensive stuff thinking the cheap stuff was more like to have been handled by virus vectors. (Great name for a sports team!) There were no paper products. Big surprise.

When I checked out, I didn’t let the clerk (who was wearing gloves) to touch my items. It pays to be paranoid.

Then I took off for parts north. I rode the Mount Vernon Trail 15 miles to Rosslyn and crossed the Key Bridge into Georgetown. Traffic on the adjacent GW Parkway was light as it was on the bridge. Georgetown lacked its usual chaos. Mostly, the people I saw were alone or in groups of two or three. I rode past the White House and made my way through Lafayette Park. There I encountered three teenage boys on scooters as I entered the west side of the park. When I prepared to use a curb cut to leave the east side of the park, the scooter boys cut in front of me. No problem. Then I let three people on Segways, a guide and two tourists, also go in front of me. As the third person started down the curb cut she turned and sneezed over her shoulder.

I had been keeping my distance and I am glad I did. Still I waited a few seconds before proceeding into her germ cloud. I saw no point in lecturing her about her hygiene as I was pretty sure she sneezed as she did to avoid losing control of the Segway on the curb cut.

I rode the 15th Street cycletrack back toward the Potomac River. At the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance to the Ellipse I saw a group of at least 25 tourists walking across the street. Normally there would be dozens of similarly sized groups all over the tourist areas but today they were the only big group.

At the Washington Monument, DC’s famous cherry blossoms were starting to put on their show. A few trees at the Tidal Basin were also putting in a decent effort. Here’s a view looking back toward the Washington Monument across the Tidal Basin.

As I began crossing the Potomac on the 14th Street Bridge I spotted a whopper of a cherry tree in bloom. This tree is quite old and, for some reason, seems to be the first to reach peak bloom. The ramp to the bridge puts you right on top of the tree. You could go snow blind looking at it.

The ride home was uneventful. When I got home I put my clothes in the washing machine just in case Madam Segway was packing coronaheat.

Greetings from Elbownia

Here at the Rootchopper Institute we’re social distancing our butts off. Of course, my preferred SD method is to ride my bike alone. I’ve been grinding away at it for nine days in a row. Rather than getting worn out, I’ve been getting stronger. This is exactly what happens on a bike tour. It makes no sense either on tour or at home but it is what it is.

Yesterday’s ride took me over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, down the corkscrew ramp on the Maryland side, and up the long hill past the casino complex to Oxon Hill Road. From there I made my way into DC via the streets of Anacostia. I rode past the derelict buildings of Saint Elizabeths (no apostrophe) Hospital and down MLK Jr. Boulevard. Eventually, I made it to the Anacostia River and took the Anacostia River Trail to Benning Road. There I crossed over to the west side of the river, rode south between the river and the rotting hulk of RFK Stadium all the way to the Navy Yard. Soon I was passing Nationals Park, Audi Field (soccer), and the Wharf eventually making it down to Hains Point to check out the not-ready-for-prime-time cherry blossoms. (I did managed to shag three golf balls from the rusty spring hackers on East Potomac Yard course.) Then it was up the Potomac River past the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, across the Memorial Bridge to the Mount Vernon Trail and back home. A nice 43-mile spin in 70-degree temperatures.

Today’s ride was a recovery ride. I made it six miles, nearly to Old Town Alexandria, before I realized that I had forgotten my water bottles. I used the Wilkes Street tunnel to turn back home. On the way I passed my local bike store. The plan had been for the store to re-open in March, but from the looks of things it’s going to be quite some time before that happens.

Within a mile or two of this bike shop there have been two other large fires in the last month. And sometime in the last few months a hotel was struck by lightning. Coincidence?

After fetching my water bottles I made my way down to Mount Vernon, home and burial place of George and Martha Washington. I can’t remember the last time I saw it closed, but such are the “circumstances” these days.

My ride home took me to Route 1. As I waited at the traffic light I took note of the remarkable fall in gasoline prices since the financial and commodity markets went haywire.

There were long lines at this station and the one next door. Of course, the handles on the pumps may be a fine place for the Covid-19 virus to hang out but you take your chances when you can save 40 cents a gallon.

The ride home was brisk. I don’t know what got into my legs lately but I was accelerating up small rises in the road and I didn’t have a tailwind.

After the ride, I spent 20 minutes scraping loose paint from an exterior wall on the house. During dinner, I had a slight and very brief twinge of nerve pain in my lower right back. Oddly, this is good news. I am scheduled to have a new kind of injection in my lower back on Monday, but I haven’t had the slightest bit of pain in six days. Tomorrow I go on a six-mile hike. If that doesn’t bring about some serious pain in my back or my left leg, I am declaring myself cured and cancelling the injection.

Now if only I could do the same for the coronavirus. I guess I’ll just have to keep bumping elbows for a while longer.

Introvert’s Delight

Ah, social distancing. It’s right up my alley. I can ride for hours all alone and know I am doing the right thing for my community.

img_2983-1

Sadly, this pandemic didn’t happened while I was working. It would have put an end to the extroverts trying to push everyone into this meeting or that. Brainstorming get togethers? Not any more! Three-day office retreats. Fuggetaboutit! Teambuilding exercises. Pshaw!

I do feel like I’ve fallen into a creepy science fiction movie. Here I am riding along on the prairie when I stop for food. Is the clerk at the register infected? Do the old men sitting around the table at the truck stop carry the dangerous contagion? Will I get out of this gas station alive? AYYY!

I am one of the high risk folks. I have compromised lungs in three ways. I have mild persistent asthma. I have had a lung infection in the last five years. And let’s not forget those lovely pulmonary embolisms. Also, I am 64. Take me out to the ballgame? I think not.

Meanwhile, my stenosis pain is in rapid retreat. Lord knows why. I am scheduled to be treated for lower back pain next Monday but that pain, too, is gone. Do I even bother with the treatment? I even tested my lower back by riding Little Nellie, my wee wheeled Bike Friday, yesterday. Normally, this bike beats up my back. Today, no pain.

The only problem I am having is a sore left knee that woke me up at 7 this morning. I have lowered the saddle on all my bikes and I suspect this is the culprit.

My thoughts are with Gio and Cristina, the Italian bike tourists I met on the side of the road in Eureka, Nevada. They are back in Italy. Stay well.

As for the rest of you all, don’t panic. Exercise good hygiene. Bump elbows. This too shall pass.

 

Igor and the Dead

I went back to Dr. Pain today. I only dealt with her assistant Igor. We talked about 20 minutes. We decided that my left leg is in reasonable shape, but that a more pressing issue is the random, sharp pain I’ve been getting across my lower back. So rather than get another set of injections for my left leg, I am getting a different kind of injection for the lower back pain. Igor assured me that this injection will be significantly less painful.

The process has three steps. I get an injection next Monday. Wait a couple of weeks and, if it helps, I get another. Then if that works I get one final injection.

There is no guarantee if any of these injections will work or, if they do, how long the relief will last.

(Note: I am totally kidding about Igor in the sense that my doctor’s assistant is not some deformed man who says things like “Yes, master” and “Brains!” Igor is in fact a not-at-all deformed woman in her early 30s (a guess). She’s smart, conscientious, and considerably better looking than Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant. )

After the appointment I jumped on The Mule to enjoy the 70-degree weather we had today. I rode to the Congressional Cemetery on the east side of Capitol Hill. It’s an old cemetery that is still accepting new permanent guests, so to speak. It also is a bit of an oasis for Hill East residents who jog, take a stroll, or walk their dogs there.

I wandered around for about a half hour. One thing that struck me is that no matter how important you may have thought you were in life, in death you end up in the same place as a clerk at the 7-11, pushing up daisies. You likely will be forgotten no matter how ostentatious your grave is. That said, here are a few pictures.