Lost in Shame

I hadn’t been awake but a couple of hours when the first food shaming comment hit my Facebook page. Eating turkey is morally bankrupt, utterly unnecessary. and an offense to the universe. Okay. I’ll just go for the veggies and other stuff. Then the next bit of shaming came in. Sweet potatoes are dug up by hand by migrant workers. This is back breaking and inhumane.

Pass the beer please.

So, I punted on the shame. I had some turkey and piles of non-animal foods. No sweet potatoes though. It wasn’t shame. I hate them.

Today, I took the day off from work.  It is apparently the thing these days to shame people into not shopping on what has come to be called Black Friday. REI closed its doors and urged its customers to go do something outdoors instead. They even created a hashtag for it: #optoutside

I could tell you that I chose to give in to this shaming because, after having eaten the turkey, I was riddled with guilt. The truth is I hate shopping even more than I hate the taste of sweet potatoes. To me, one day of shopping is like eating corn beef and cabbage every day for a month. And I don’t need REI or any other store to persuade me to go for a ride or a hike. So I went all in on the #optoutside thing today.

I waited until 11 to get moving. Mostly because the temperatures here in the DC area were rising through the morning. At 11 they were rising through the 50s. Time to boogay.

I decided to drive to Indian Head Maryland and ride their rail trail. I also took the cue sheet and map from a book of rides I have. The plan was to ride the trail one way then do the book’s ride that covers some of the same route as the Southern Maryland metric century.  Just by eyeballing the thing, I figured I’d be doing about 40 miles of riding.

Even though I’ve done the rail trail many times, I had trouble finding it. I eventually gave up and took the roads from the century ride. After about five miles this route intersected with the trail and I switched over to Plan A.

The trail was newly paved. Each time I do it some additional improvements have been made. It’s getting better every year. This time of year there is not much to see along the trail. A damned up creek forms a trailside pond. I spotted two bald eagles in trees along the edge of the pond.

The trail ends in a parking lot that continues on to scary US 301. This is a high speed, four lane, divided highway. I think driving it is unsafe so you can guess how I feel about riding it.

I backtracked along the trail and hung a left on Middletown Road, a lightly traveled two lane country road. Weee!

From the book map, I could tell that Middletown would soon meet up with the route in the book. And sure enough it did. At US 301. All I had to do was ride on this highway of death for 1/2 mile. I did and it was pretty scary.

The book route is a figure eight. I had already ridden half of one loop of the 8 now I was looking to doing the other loop before returning to finish the first loop. I noticed that this meant that I’d be going against the directional arrows in the book. No big deal…..

The route took me into La Plata Maryland. La Plata is the county seat of Charles County Maryland. Charles County used to be all about tobacco growing and casinos. Both are long gone, replaced by a bed room community. It is a distant suburb of DC and Annapolis.

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It dawned on me for the very first time that this town bears the same name as the hometown of an Argentinian friend of mine. Our La Plata has cinderblock evangelican churches. Their La Plata has a gothic cathedral. Our La Plata has a horrifically scary highway blasting through town. Their La Plata has tree lined boulevards that radiate from a central square. (Their street grid actually looks a lot like DC with boulevards cutting diagonally across a a grid of streets.) Our La Plata has the world’s best barbeque. (It said so on a sign so it must be true.) Theirs has world class padbol. (Don’t ask.) Our La Plata is a tornado magnet. Theirs not so much. Both, as it turns out, have Thai massage therapists. Whoda thunk?

I passed through our La Plata and kept going. Then I found out that going against the arrows was not such a good idea. The route took me back to 301. To stay on course, I was supposed to ride the shoulder of 301 against the traffic for 1/2 mile.

Not gonna happen.

So I crossed 301 and continued on the country road opposite in hopes it would re-connect me with the route. After 1 1/2 miles I came to a fancy gate. Very big and impressive looking. With keyed entry. The road continued through the gate and wound up a hill to a massive house overlooking acres and acres of carefully groomed land. Next to the gate was a sign that said “Private Road.”

Not gonna happen.

Frustrated, I turned around and decided to head back to La Plata. After back tracking halfway to town I decided to look at the map. Sure enough I could actually get back of course by riding a big circle to the east. It looked like about a five mile detour on country roads. Onward!

It actually turned out to be a mighty nice ride. There was one big downhill to a creek crossing and an uphill on the other side but the views were pretty and the traffic was light.  Then, about a mile from re-crossing 301 I came upon Rich Hill. Straight up. No messing around. I do believe they should change its name to Bitch Hill.

Finally, I re-crossed 301 and was back on course. Chapel Point Road is another lovely two-lane country road that meanders by farms and fields. At the top of a hill is a beautiful old church. It’s bell was ringing the three o’clock hour. Next to the church was a graveyard. Just beyond, the hill fell away and the Port Tobacco River could be seen down below bathed in the late November sun. I really should have taken a picture but I was worried that any more delays might leave me out in the dark. I didn’t bring any lights so this was a pretty serious consideration.

The road followed the drop off of the hill and wound up, down, and around small hills that overlooked the river. As the road nears Port Tobacco, it passes dilapidated tobacco barns. Then the remnants of the original settlement from colonial days can still be seen. The US Census says the population is 13. Quaint.

On the far side of the town of Port Tobacco is Rose Hill. I remember Rose Hill from all the times I rode the Southern Maryland Century. It winds up and gets steeper near the top.  What makes it hard is heat and humidity. There was little of either today so I managed to climb the hill without too much difficulty. Perhaps my ease in climbing was relative. After making it up Bitch Hill, Rose Hill wasn’t so bad.

The rest of the ride was rolling hills on country roads. I was worried that I’d get caught in the dark with temperatures falling so I kept plugging along. It was something of a relief to get back to the trail. The trail goes gradually uphill for 5 miles to Indian Head. This sort of false flat can really be discouraging, especially after you’ve already ridden farther than you intended.

Pedal. Pedal.

Soon I was riding under the archway at the trail head. I made it back to my car with plenty of daylight left and 53.5 miles on my odometer. I could feel the air cooling as I prepped for the drive home.

So there is no shame in La Plata. What would you expect for a town that lived off of tobacco and gambling?

Time for some leftovers. My mama always said that it’s a shame to waste food.

 

 

Spring Training

We are training for spring. Today the temperature on my back deck reached 66 degrees. After weeks of freezing our asses off, the people of DC are all smiles. Except, perhaps, for the tourist I saw crashing on his Segway, but I am getting ahead of myself.

I started the day doing physical therapy for my foot. It was barely numb when I awoke but I decided to forgo yoga or my other exercises and just do what the PT people told me to do. Dang, it hurts. Raise this, lower that, keep your stomach and your butt cheeks tight. After about a half an hour our was done. My stomach muscles wanted to be traded to another body. And the lacrosse ball that is beating the knots out of my calves is seriously in danger of getting thrown out the window. Ouch.

After a morning of relaxation, I headed out the door on Big Nellie. I was bound for an everything bagel in Bethesda, about 24 miles away. It was 50 degrees outside. Yesss.

As I was waiting for cars at an intersection with Fort Hunt Road near my home, an SUV drove by and made friendly tooting sounds with its horn. I have no idea who it was but I waved at them

I made it to the Mount Vernon Trail which was not particularly crowded. In Old Town Alexandria I took South Washington Street. My physical therapist ran past. Small world.

The ride to the city was so peaceful I went on auto pilot. I stopped at Gravelly Point to watch a plane land overhead – easily one of my favorite free things to do.

Over the 14th Street Bridge I rode then up Ohio Drive to M Street to the Capital Crescent Trail. The long ride up to Bethesda took time. Recumbents simply don’t do uphills very well. And since I am not exactly a badass on two wheels let’s just say it took a while.

When I got to Bethesda Row I headed straight for Bethesda Bagels. Since it was well after noon there wasn’t a line. I picked up my everything bagel, toasted with veggie cream cheese and a sweet tea. I proceeded to inhale these comestibles with great vigor. Ah!

I rode the Georgetown Branch Trail over to the Rock Creek Trestle. The trail was somewhat muddy. Recumbents are the best mudders so it was a tense ride. I slipped this way and that several times. The view from the testle differs by time of year. The winter view is, of course, leafless but it’s always fun to be at treetop level with the world. IMG_20150208_142017

I reversed course then headed down into Rock Creek Park. All the climbing has its rewards and for most of the next 7 miles I was cruising downhill. The number of people on Beach Drive was impressive. Many families out riding bikes with their kids. I had to be careful not to hit any of them. They wobble and waver and dart out in front of you unexpectedly.

I got on the trail at Klingle Road. This was a mistake. The trail at this point is narrow and crowded and has numerous bumps from tree routes. Once I reached the zoo entrance, I took Harvard Street to climb into Adams Morgan. It’s a healthy climb, too. To recover from my exertion I took a very slow speed spin through Meridian Hill Park. There was a healthy number of people there, no one I knew though. I rode by the drum circle but there was only one man with drums so I decided to head back home.

I took 16th Street which is a nice straight downhill shot to the White House. Along the way I saw the indefatigible Ted a.k.a @MrTinDC.

I shifted over to the 15th Street cycletrack and got behind a long line of tourists on Segways. Normally, Big Nellie looks weird to people I pass but in a cluser of Segways, Big Nellie doesn’t get a passing glance. At the intersection with Pennsylvania Avenue, the Seqways stopped to regroup. One tourist’s Segway jolted to a stop throwing him to the ground with an audible SPLAT. Should’ve rented bikes.

I crossed back over the river and headed home on the Mount Vernon Trail. It was packed with people, most of whom were oblivious to the fact that some people were actually trying to make forward progress. At the south end of the airport I balied out, opting to cut through Del Ray.

I cut over to Old Town and rejoined the MVT at the southern end of Old Town. Mistake. This part of the trail was every bit as chaotic as what I had bailed out on.There was no point in getting upset about it. I slowed down and took in the madness that warm weather brings. And besides, by this point my legs were started to tell me that all that time off in January had taken its toll on my fitness.

I arrived home. Mrs. Rootchopper had opened the windows. The temperature was 66 degrees. (One degree off the record, so I am told.)

So I ended up riding 170 miles in seven days. Not half bad for winter. Tomorrow is a day off the bike as I am going to three doctors appointments.

We now return to our regularly scheduled winter.

Impending DOOM

Tonight, at approximately zero dark thirty, the Washington DC metro will become paralyzed with a dusting of snow. That’s right, supermarkets have been stripped of toilet paper, milk, and cilantro in advance of this cataclismic climatic event.

So I went for a bike ride.

(Truth be told, we should get a couple of inches over the next two days. Since the National Park Service refuses to treat the Mount Vernon Trail this will mean I won’t be riding until Wednesday. Hence the desire to get my two-wheeled ya-ya’s out.)

I took off on The Mule. I rode to my local bike store, Spokes Etc.  Unlike this blog they are not shy of a full set of spokes, or of bike knowledge. I asked them to look at the seatpost on The Mule and tell me if it is a setback seatpost. I have a Brooks leather saddle on The Mule and its rails, like all Brooks saddles, are short. This means I can’t push my saddle back farther which is, I thought, necessary for me to get ideal pedalling position. Not only do I already have a setback seat post but the store manager took one look at me on the bike and said, “You actually should be riding a bigger bike, but a simpler short term solution would be to raise your saddle because it is way too low.”

Doh.

So we raised the saddle about a centimeter (which is metric for “a little bit”). The saddle is connected to the seatpost which in turn is connected to seat tube. The seat tube is angled back. This means that raising the saddle also has the effect of moving the seat back. Genius.

Then I went for a 25 mile test ride. On the way I ran into Mr. TinDC of #bikedc social media renown. He was riding the Mount Vernon Trail with Rachel whom I had never met. We stopped to talk long enough to get cold. Then went our separate ways. My way took me over the Potomac River on the Wilson Bridge. I rode through National Harbor which continues to be the ugliest development I have seen in decades.  Then I rode up the long hill to Oxon Hill Road. The half mile+ ride was along side a massive construction site for a new casino. Personally I think it would be more usedful to have a giant Costco filled only with TP, milk, and cilantro but what do I know.

Once at the top of the hill, I turned around and rode back down because when it comes to designing lollygagging rides I am Mr. Creative.

Back over the river and through Old Town I rode. By this point I noticed that my left knee was not barking at me as usual. My arms were a little tense but otherwise the new saddle position seemed to be working out okay.

I made it to Four Mile Run and crossed over to Commonweath Ave. I rode through Alexandria and made my way back to the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County where I live on the incredibly coincidentally named Fort Hunt Road.

When I arrived home I was quite wet from perspiration. I checked the thermometer. It was 51 degrees. Not half bad for late January.

The skies are cloudy. The air is still. I await the doom.

Three Outings

I worked on Christmas Eve. Well, I intended to work. I rode Little Nellie to the office in the rain. It was not entirely unpleasant. I figured I’d have 5 or 6 hours for my stuff to dry out before the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come scared Mr. Scrooge into an early release.

About 2 hours into the work day all three of my phones range in succession. I figured it was all my fans calling to wish me a happy holiday. I figured wrong. It was my daughter calling from the eye doctor. After they gave her eye drops she became nauseous. Too nauseous to drive herself home. Mom was incommunicado. Son was dead to the world. So I had to go get her. I put on all the still wet clothing and headed out into the rain.

The eye doctor is on my commute route so it was no big deal getting there. I ran a bunch of stop signs in Old Town, including one in front of a police car. The police officer probably didn’t want to get wet so he let me ride on in peace. A Christmas miracle.

By the time I got to the doctor’s office, my daughter was over her crisis. Well, at least Igot an early start on Christmas Eve out of the ordeal.

Christmas morning began with 45 minutes of yoga while my peeps slept in. After about 2 hours of gift opening and a Wizards game on TV, Mrs. Rootchopper announced that we should go to Great Falls Park for an easy hike. Best gift of the day. I picked the Berma Road and the towpath, about a 2 1/2 or 3 mile flat loop.

Great Falls Park

Today I waited until it warmed up and rode Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, to  Old Town where I went to the Comfort Shoe store. My acupuncturist recommended a particular brand of shoe insert/soft orthotic. Since my doctor told me that one possible solution for my numb foot would be orthotics I deciced to try give my acupuncturists inserts a try. They were pretty expensive (over $70) but that’s much cheaper than an orthotic from a podiatrist. I put them in my hiking shoes and my feet went “Ahhhh!.”

After the shoe store I rode to Mount Vernon on the Mount Vernon Trail. Along the way I stopped to check out a house on West Boulevard Drive that is being demolished. The house must have cost north of $800,000 so I am interested in seeing what gets built in its place,

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I continued past Mount Vernon to US 1. I crossed US 1 and headed back home on back streets. After the ride my kids took me to buy a smartphone. We stood around for about an hour while the sales clerk did his thing. Normally my back and knees would be barking at me but they felt fine. Score another for the orthotics.

My numb foot seems to be getting better. At least it’s not numb all the time.

Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be wonderful. Hike, bike, nap?

A Truly Great Pumpkin Ride

I don’t much care for pumpkin pie.

Each year just before Halloween, the folks at the Fauquier Trails Coalition in Fauquier County, VIrginia put on their Great Pumpkin Ride. I’ve done this ride a few times before and it has always been a fun challenge. Last year’s ride, for instance, included cool temperatures and a constant headwind despite the fact that the route was a 45-ish mile circuit. The ride always gives back though. The scenery is classic Virginia Piedmont countryside and the food at the rest stops is always great. This year didn’t disappoint. In fact, it exceeded my expectations.

I began by picking my long-time riding buddy Lisa up in Hyattsville, Maryland. I managed to get lost going to and from her house which takes some doing, I suppose. We made it to Warrenton, Virginia where the ride starts and ends at around 8:45. The 68-mile riders were already heading out. We took our time getting ready. Chatted with Kirstin and Betsy, a.k.a Boots. They decided to ride the 68-mile course while Lisa and I were doing the 47-miler. While waiting I decided to shed my wind pants as the temperature was climbing into the high 50s.

Lisa and I went to get our shirts and maps and such. I was standing in line looking all about for familar faces when I realized that Reba and her husband Robert were standing directly in front of me. Doh!

Robert, Lisa, and Reba at the start

The four of us decided to ride together and we were soon on the road. We seemed to be a well-matched quartet rolling along at 15 miles per hour give or take. My legs were not happy with me since I had not had a day of rest from biking or hiking in over two weeks. In prior years the sky was gray and the foliage seemed past peak. This year we had beautiful blue skies with some pretty decent foliage to delight our eyes. At our first big intersection I took a wrong turn which is pretty much my new thing these days. Reba and Robert corrected me and we were soon in pursuit of Lisa who actually knows how to read a cue sheet. Ironically, Kirstin and Boots managed to miss this turn and screw up their route. They ended up doing the 47 miler about 30 minutes ahead of us. Considering the fact that I took Kirstin off route in this same area a couple of months ago, I felt a certain amount of vindication or, perhaps, camaraderie. There is comfort in shared stupidity.

This year’s route was slightly different than last year’s. For a start it was counter clockwise. For another there was a rest stop at 10 miles and it was a doozy. The stop was at the Old Bust Head craft brewery. They had (and I am not exagerating) pumpkin pie, Peanut butter and jelly sammiches, roasted soft pretzels, banana bread, coffee, hot apple cider, hot pumpkin soup, cookies, bananas, samples of pumpkin ale, and indoor bathrooms!!!  We ate and drank and basically didn’t want to leave.

Craft brewery

I appear to be one of the few people I know who doesn’t like pumpkin pie.My wife and kids are pumpkin pie addicts, but it just makes me gag. Last Sunday, after our hike, Flor told me about how pumpkin and apple pie are her Kryptonite.  So I decided to give a slice a try during the ride. It wasn’t half bad. The pie filling was mushy but firm and not overly sweet. The crust was moist. Not half bad. At a later rest stop, I threw caution to the wind and tried the pumpkin soup. Yeah, baby. You could freebase this stuff.

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Even better than the soup though were the roasted soft pretzels. Sweet mother of god are they good. Follow them up with some hot apple cider or some pumpkin ale (really pretty tasty) and you have yourself a reason never to get back on the bike.

Somehow we did. We were off and riding and my legs wanted nothing to do with it. I persisted and they came around. Soon we were crusing into rest stop number 2. Here I found a table with brown bags of goodies for people on gluten free diets. This ride is organized!

Speaking of organization, all troublesome intersections were staffed by sherrifs with their lights flashing. These law enforcement officers could not have been more helpful or polite. What a shame Backroads doesn’t have this type of cooperation.

We rolled along past houses, farms, and fields. Then we heard a train whistle blow. Reba entertained us with her version of Johnny Cash railroad songs. During Folsom Prison Blues, she even threw in some air guitar. Somewhere Carl Perkins smiled.

Lisa and me and the road ahead

As we approached the third and final rest stop, Robert started to habe cramps in his legs. This looked painful. He ulled out a tube of cold stuff that was supposed to relax his muscles. After our final stop, we decided that Lisa and I would forge ahead while Reba and Robert would take it slow to the finish.

We alll made it. And wouldn’t you know it there was more food at the finish. And a pretty decent three-piece rock band. And food. We decided to move our party indoors and headed to Molly’s, an Irish-themed pub in the historic center of town. Lo and behold there were Kirstin and Boots doing shots with a motorcycle gang.

Okay, actually they sitting alone having a post-ride lunch. (For the record, the Irish stew that Boots was eating looked amazing!)

We merged our tables and had us a  nice little after party. Since we had been to their brewery, Lisa and  I tried the Bust Head Porter. I found it waaaaay better than pumpkin pie. I do believe we may have to take the Hoppy 100 west next year!

My thanks go to the folks who planned this ride, to the volunteers who seemed to be everywhere, to the sheriff and his staff for doing a terrific and cheerful job of keeping us safe, and to the people of Fauquier County who put up with 1250 bicyclists for a day. I look forward to eating my way through the Piedmont again next year.

As usual my (and some of Reba’s) pix of the ride can be found on my Flickr page.

Lisa writes more better than me. Here‘s her account of the day.

Ultracenturygirl Goes Long

I’ve signed up for the Backroads Century three or four times before this year. I have always ended up riding the metric century, 100 kilometers or 62 miles, instead of the 100-mile version. Kirstin, aka Ultrarunnergirl, persuaded me to ride the 100 miles this year. So we did.

Backroads is the annual big event of the Potomac Pedalers riding club. The ride starts and stops in Berryville Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley. To say that this area is pretty is to do it a gross disservice. Numerous times during the ride my jaw dropped open at the beauty of the hills and farms (I am a sucker for a field filled with big rolls of hay). The terrain is also damned near perfect. The hills, at least for most of the ride, are perfect for hill hopping, speeding down one hill and using the momentum to ride up the next. The narrow roads curve around farms and through corn fields and, well words don’t do them justice.

The Relentless Ultrarunnergirl
The Relentless Ultrarunnergirl

The weather was damned near perfect. I wore arm wamers and a vest for the first 25 miles, then put them away for the rest of the day. Temperatures rose throughout the day. Just as they seemed to get oppressive, the skies opened up for a two-minute cool down at mile 95. The weather gods could not have timed it better.

I’d never ridden most of the first 50 miles which wind their way north from Berryville into Jefferson County West Virginia in the eastern panhandle. The ride was hilly but I had fresh legs so they didn’t bother me in the least. Kirstin wore the teeth off her granny gear spinning like a fiend. Once, much later in the ride,  in a burst of insanity she actually got out of the saddle and attacked a hill. For a few brief moments she was flying. Lordy!

For much of the time we rode separately, but I’d soft pedal or wait at a turn on the top of the hill to bring us back together. She had a light on the front of her bike which helped me pick her out among the long line of cyclists.

On the way to the first rest stop at mile 25, we were past by Rudi, a Friday Coffee Clubber. Rudi broke his femur earlier in the year so it was great to see him zipping along. He had a huge smile as he greeted me in passing. Joy. Next came Lawyer Mike, another Friday Coffee Clubber, resplendent in his Dartmouth kit. Lawyer Mike was all business, all sweat and determination. Not messin’ ’round, dude.

We rode back to the start to finish the first half. Kirstin went to her car to get her lunch; I went to mine to get new batteries for my camera. We reconvened at the rest stop across the street where we ran into Elizabeth, fresh off her rookie triumph in the 50 States Ride. She somehow had ridden the same 50 miles as us but we never saw her on the road.

After lunch Kirstin and I went back out for another 50, this time south of Berryville. We had both ridden this course before in previous years. I recalled it as hillier than the first 50 and I was right. The hills and the increasing temperature made for more determined work but we were up to the task at hand. Bigger hills meant less hill hopping and more grinding it out.

Never Be Afraid to Look Silly When You're Going the Distance
Never Be Afraid to Look Silly When You’re Going the Distance

The second half has three rest stops. One had potatos boiled in salty water. Another had tomato and cucumber sammiches. Ride? Do I have to?

We were plodding along, feeling pretty confident of completing the ride despite the now uncomfortable heat. I spotted a sprinkler on the side of the road and then heard a popping sound all along the road. Enormous raindrops were falling from the only cloud in the sky. Big sloppy drops going splat on the road. What a perfect cool down! I was comfortably wet as I rode under a leavy canopy across the road when the road began an upbrupt ride. It was the steepest, hardest hill of the day. Riders up the road struggled. Been here, done this, got this. No problemo. I waited for Kirstin at the top. When you have infinite cardiovascular capacity, you smile as you crest the hilly beast!

Our reward was a fast glide down to the Shenandoah for a brief riverside cruise. Every down has its up and we climbed away headed for the finish. Once clear of the hill a tailwind pushed us home. My guess is that we rode our fastest miles of the day from mile 96 to mile 98.

We finished after 90 percent of the riders had left. Kirstin somehow found some chips and quac. I found my ride t-shirt and all was right with the world.

If you are thinking about doing this ride, I’d recommend it with one reservation. The people of Clark County,Virginia clearly do not welcome this event. They scowl at you. They drive agressively past you well within the legally required three feet. The sheriff all but declared war on cyclists rolling through stop signs. (Yes, it’s illegal but he could just as easily have directed traffic to allow participants’ safe passage.) It’s surprising to me that they don’t raise a banner in town that says “Cyclist go home!” The contrast with the people in Jefferson County, West Virginia was obvious. They waved and seemed genuinely happy to see us out on the road.

Congratulations to Ultrarunnergirl for completing her first century.

Here are some pix I took.

A Ride with the Rookies: 50 States in a Rainy Day

The Fifty States Ride is an event put on each September by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA). The ride covers every nook and cranny of Washington DC so that participants can ride their bikes on every street named for a state. I’d done the ride six times: 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. In 2006 and 2007, the ride was held in the sweltering heat of August. WABA moved the ride into September but the 2010 ride had all the heat and humidity of the August rides. Last year it poured buckets for the last hour. No matter what the weather, riders have to be prepared to climb a dozen (probably more, I lose track) hills. Every few blocks, riders come to a stop sign or red light, making for sore hands from so much braking.

When I lived in Boston, I drove a cab during the sunmers. The only part of the city my college friends knew, was the half mile around the subway stops they used. The same happens in every city. DC-area residents know the area near work and home, and a few other often frequented parts of town. The rest is a mystery. Riding the Fifty States ride gives a cyclist the chance to experience the entire city, warts and all.

Getting to know the city is a plus, but the real secret to the Fifty States Ride is the fact that all the starting and stopping all but forces riders to sociallize. I’ve met dozens of people because of this ride and they represent an incredible breadth of humanity. Students, writers, scientists, lawyers, educators, police officers, librarians. Black, white, asian, latino. Young and old. Incredibly fit and not so much.

A Plan Falls Apart

My friend Florencia and I have never done the entire ride together, In 2007 she abandoned me in the oppressive heat of Rock Creek Park. In 2011, she took off after we reached the lunch stop. So the plan was to ride the entire route together. Then life interceded and she had to cancel. Sad face. As it turns out, her friend Emilia had signed up but didn’t know anybody. So I agreed to ride with her.

Family Planning

I drove to my office in Rosslyn and rode the 3 1/2 miles to Adams Morgan in DC for the ride start. While waiting for Emilia, I started talking with Lorraine, a first-time rider who was having some anxiety about getting lost. I invited her aboard the Rootchopper Bike Bus. Next I spotted Emilia. As I introduced Lorraine, she said she was my “daughter” so I introduced Emilia as my wife. Instead of adopting a son, we added Jeremy Cannon, the son of Bob (Don’t Call Me Rachel) Cannon. Bob was marshalling the shorter 13 Colonies ride. I did the Great Pumpkin Ride with Father and Son Cannon last October. Then we added rookies Kristen and Elizabeth with whom I did the Backroads ride last September. Up stepped John Roche, Mr. Hoppy 100. Dave Salovesh, man with the Green Bay Packers bike, joined in. (It had belt drive. You gotta have belt drive in your group!)  We tried to draft Rachel (Don’t Call Me Bob) Cannon, but she had commited to riding with Ursual Sandstorm who was a volunteer ride marshall and her friend Jordan. So we went into the draft and picked a ringer: Friday Coffee Clubber, Michael Brunetto a man who knows DC like the back of his bicycling gloves. From my pix, I can see we were joined by a tenth rider, a woman in green, whose name I neglected to get.

Leading Is Overrated

Kristen decided that we should leave before the formal ride start.  This turned out to be a great idea because it meant that we avoided the usual congrested roads for the first 10 miles. Since I was the grizzled veteran I was dubbed the point man for our group. I nearly missed the first turn, so Michael grabbed the reins and off we went spiralling through DC neighborhoods and downtown.

Making Progress

Despite gray skies, there were smiles all around as we picked off states in quick succession without much effort. We skirted a 5K race near the Mall, and zipped over Capitol Hill and into Southwest DC. The route took us to East Potomac Park where the friskier riders among us sped away. We regrouped at a public restroom and headed for Maine, crossing the path of the riders who had started after us.

Smiles - Before the Hills
Smiles – Before the Hills

We rode past Nationals Park where Emilia proudly told me that three of her Venezuelan countryman (Ramos, Cabrera, and Lobeton) were on the ballclub. Go Nats! Go wife!

I led the posse through the confusion of near Southeast, through an alley, and over the Souza Bridge. We hit the pit stop in Anacostia Park, chatted with some friends and headed out for the first hills of the ride. We climbed Martin Luther King, Junior Avenue. It was a bit of a shock as the climbers among us got their ya yas out. All I could think of was: this ride is going to suck if I don’t get my legs in order. The next climb came a mile later on Stanton Road. By this point my legs were loose and I made a decent showing of things. Our climbing contingent – Elizabeth (QOM), Justin, Michael, and Jeremy- put us to shame but they kindly waited at the top for the rest of us.

On the way to Texas a woman riding ahead of us almost took a wrong turn. It was the first of many wrong turns we witnessed and thwarted throughout the day. We zoomed down Massachusetts Avenue (a real thrill on the 20 inch wheels of Little Nellie, my Bike Friday) and headed back to Anacostia Park.

My peeps were pretty happy to arrive at the Eastern Market rest stop for lunch. Our rookies were smiling so we knew that the pace was reasonable. We took our time and steeled ourselves for the second half.

Staying Off Track

The route took is through the eastern side of Capitol Hill which combined flat roads with numerous turns. As we headed northward, we encountered a closed road. I took us down H Street which has trolley tracks right where we would be riding. At the next cross street, I dismounted and walked across the tracks, fearful that our entire posse might catch a rail and fall. (This is not a good road design, folks!)

The climbers took off up the steep hill on Mt. Olivet Road. They waited for the rest of us to pull up the rear. We crossed over the railroad and US 50 in pursuit of scary North Dakota Avenue. The gray skies had given way to a light rain. I was grateful that the traffic was light and we made it unscathed to Taylor Street. Soon we were riding busy Michigan Avenue and lucked out again with light traffic.

After riding past Catholic University we were treated to Hawaii Avenue, another big climb. We plodded on undaunted. The rookies were holding it together. The rabbits were humoring by waiting at the top of each climb.

Hail Rootchopper!

Zig, zag, pedal, pedal. We made good work of long stretches in Northwest, as the rain started coming down hard. Jackets came on. Lorraine and a bunch of other riders from other posses headed back home. The rest of the crew plowed ahead, thankful to reach the Tacoma rest stop at the home of Mike and Lisa. For some reason, Mike gets a kick out of my Twitter name, Rootchopper. Last year he stood on his porch shouting ROOTCHOPPER as I rolled in. This year, he had a banner up that said “Hail Rootchopper!” It’s nice to be loved.

Hail, Rootchopper!
Hail, Rootchopper!

As I walked around at the rest stop, a funny thing occured to me: this is the best I have felt after 50 miles of biking ever. I felt like I could have ridden for hours and hours more. This soon would fade into memory.

The Rookies Start to Work

After the rest we climbed to Alaska and flew down into Rock Creek Park. On Beach Drive we saw a woman rider on the ground with several riders looking on. They had called an ambulance so we left her in their hands.

On the west side of the park we rode into Chevy Chase, the high rent district. Yes, there were more hills. The Rookies were starting to ask, “Are we there yet?” Shut up and climb.

The route differs from year to year. One of this year’s new wrinkles was 36th Street. It is a pretty little windy street with dense tree cover. And bumps. And a steep hill. Ugh. My wife wanted a divorce. When she reached the top of the hill she had a big smile on her face, but then she said “My legs were gone.” Fortunately, the final rest stop had coffee which seemed to revive her. For the climb up Wisconsin Avenue. Ugh.

Is Arizona a State?

After riding past American University, we rode downhill, picking up newly paved Arizona Avenue, and giving up all our climbing work from 36th and Wisconsin. After a flat stretch on MacArthur Boulevard, it was payback time. With five miles to go we rode up Ashby, up 49th Street, then up the sadistically steep Garfield Street. My wife had given up pn divorce; instead she wanted to kill me in my sleep.

After recoveinrg, we forged ahead. This neck of the woods is called Cathedral Heights. To get there you have to go….up. Emilia was one hurting unit but still she climbed. What a warrior. Finally, we crested the heights and made the gradual ride back down to the start. Of course, it wouldn’t be loads of fun without riding on busy Connecticut Avenue. A ride marshall (Rod Smith, perhaps) had taken the left lane in preparation for the left hand turn onto Calvert Street. We followed his lead.

Happy Campers

We arrived at the after party with big smiles on our faces. We were triumphant. Photo ops with our hard-earned ride shirts were taken. Beer was imbibed. Other riders arrived. Rachel and Jordan and Ursula appeared with had big smiles. Fists were pumped. Riders were hugged. Faces wore satified smiles.

Acknowledgements

Very big thanks to the folks at WABA, especially Michelle Cleveland, who works for months putting this ride together. Thanks to the volunteers, especially Mike and Lisa, who literally opened their home to us.

Thanks to Flor for getting me to ride this again. I missed you.

Thanks to the posse. To Lorraine, Dave, John, Justin, Kristen, Elizabeth, and Jeremy. Thanks to Michael who refused to let me get us lost! And special thanks to my new friend Emilia, mi esposa por un dia. Muchas gracias, senorita.

Emilia Shows Off Her Trophy
Emilia Shows Off Her Trophy

Stuff to Do: Squeezing in 46 Nearly Perfect Miles

Kirstin and I had stuff to do in the afternoon. Sunday stuff. The kind of stuff that just has to get done. There was no time for riding a bike all day. The was no time for getting lost. So we decided to do the a ride as part of the Southern Maryland Century festivities.

The Southern Maryland Century is put on by the Oxon Hill Bicycle and Trail Club. I’ve done the metric century (100 kilometer) ride many times but never the 100-miler. The weather today just begged for a long ride but there was the aforementioned stuff to do. Kirstin and I decided to ride the 46-mile route.

The morning was cloudy and cool. We took off from Indian Head following the freshly painted green arrows on the road. This time we also had a cue sheet. Cue sheets are really useful when you don’t want to get lost. We tried to get lost but alas we done failed.

We spun along the country roads. Cars and pick-em-up trucks gave us plenty of room. The roadside alternated between soybeans, wildflowers, and modest rural houses. Along the way we passed a topiary horse (what every front lawn needs, if you ask me), a box turtle on a rail trail (saved by fearless Kistin), a hill of kudzu that was trully impressive, and a very noisy pileated woodpecker.

(Did you know that Saint Kirstin is the patron saint of defenseless animals? It’s true. You could look it up, because, if you did, you’d find out what a liar I am.)

The wind seemed to be at our backs for much of the ride but this makes no sense on an out and back route. We joked about how we are suckers for a tailwind. Normally I am a hill hater down to my chamois but this time I took to the few challenging climbs without complaint. Kirstin did all but one of them without resorting to her chainring of shame. And not a howl did she shout.

The only really negative aspect of this ride was the simple fact that it was too short. Witrh such perfect conditions the two fo us could have ridden for hours longer, but stuff calls.

We answered.

Some pix from a pretty darn nice day on the bike can be found on my Flickr page.

What’s an Extra 20 miles between Friends?

Kirstin, a fellow bike commuter, blogger, and Friday Coffee Clubber, signed up for the Backroads Century next month. She is a little worried that she doesn’t have enough bike miles in her legs so she asked me to go for a ride with her this weekend. I picked out a 43-mile ride that I did on the Great Pumpkin Ride last fall. I wanted to check out the area around Warrenton, Virginia when the air was warm and the winds weren’t howling. Kirstin is usually accompanied by her Hubz but alas he is on the DL and she had to go it alone.

We met up in Old Town Warrenton and headed out, she on her Surly Long Haul Trucker (My Precious) and I on my Bike Friday New World Tourist (Little Nellie). After a mile or so on a rail trail, we found ourselves riding winding country roads at a conversational pace. Split rail fences, fields of soy and corn, and even the sight of a biplane cruising overhead made the first ten miles a breeze.

We were following the yellow route on a map I used during the Great Pumpkin ride. After a while we noticed that yellow arrows were painted on the road at every turn so we decided to use them as our guide. What could go wrong?

Every so often the country roads would penetrate a wooded area. A couple of times, we saw turkey vultures soaring up into the trees waiting for us to pass. They are graceful flyers but butt ugly birds.

Speaking of butt ugly, did you know that longhorn steers think I am a whole mess of ugly? We came upon a small herd of longhorns in a field. Several of the steers were looking over the fence along the side of the road. We stopped for a photo and the steers turned and ran. When they reached the rest of the herd the whole lot of them took off.  Well, I got one thing to tell them: those horns look ridiculous.

Go ahead. Run.
Go ahead. Run.

Kirstin and I have different hill climbing styles. I HATE hills and take every opportunity to hill hop: speed down one side to use the momentum to carry me up the other. She rides hills like a recumbent rider. She gets down into her lowest gears and spins like a crazy person. This makes maximum use of her incredible stamina; she recently completed a very hill 100-mile ultramarathon. They don’t call her Ultrarunnergirl for nothing. As she approached each hill she’d let out a howl and get down to work. At the top, she’d take a couple of breaths and then her breathing would return to normal. Hills? What hills?

As we rode along, a cyclists pulled up along side us. He started chatting and told us how he was training for a century in Fredericksburg in a week. I figured he’d already ridden a long way of he was from Fredericksburg. After a while he sped off.

Not long afterward we passed a sign indicating we were entering leaving Fauquer County and entering Stafford County. Funny. I didn’t recall riding in Stafford County on the Great Pumpkin Ride. We kept riding and following the arrows and enjoying the scenery and quiet country roads. Then we rode past the Spring Hill Farm. This farm went on for what seemed like eternity (It’s actually over 1,900 acres). Funny, I didn’t recall seening such a large farm on the ride last fall.

We rolled along chatting about the Nationals, crops, Whole30 diets, recovery from endurance events, and animal sex. Kirstin says you know you’re on a long ride when animal sex comes up. No, we were not discussing zipless monkey sex. What kind of blog do you think this is, anyway? You see Spring Hill Farm has a sign indicating the road to its foaling stable. Which got me thinking about the mating stable at the Morgan Horse Farm in Vermont. Morgans are big and expensive. So they are brought into a controlled environment for mating to reduce the chance of injury. Really. Would I make this up?

After this discussion, we stopped for a cigarette.

No,  just kidding. We stopped when we reached a crossroad and I announced that I was pretty sure we were off course. Out came the smartphones. We were not off course. We were WAAAAYYYY off course. We were closer to Fredericksburg than Warrenton.

Lost? No problemo!
Lost? No problemo!

Kirstin seemed pleased. More riding for MEEEEE!.  After she ate some baby food (Whole30 diets are interesting), we headed north-ish with the hope that the roads would be merciful and kind. We were in luck; they were every bit as lovely as the roads that came before. Up until this point clouds had kept us out of the sun, but now the sun was burning through. We came to Dodds Corner which is an intersection with a country store and nothing much else. The sign on the door said “No public restroom,” but Kirstin thought she could get the old man behind the counter to offer her the use of the facilities. No dice. That’s the last time I buy an iced tea from you, sir!

Back on the bike we now felt confident of our ability to finish the ride comfortably. After another five miles we came upon another country store with a porta potty. Yay! Take that you old codger!

We stopped and did the rest stop thing. As we were about to leave a wide-eyed couple in their late 20s walked up. The woman asked us if it was safe to ride bikes “around here.” I responded, “We rob banks.”  I kid. We reassured her that she was in bicycling heaven. She and her man looked at us with amazement, said thanks, got in their car and drove off. Even with a day to think about it, it was a weird conversation.

Back on the bikes, we were now miraculously back on the route. The clouds came back to give us some shelter from the hot sun. The trees along the road added some shade. The cows and horses and corn gave us some bucolic stuff to admire. I turned down a lane that wound through a field of soy, across a stone bridge and up a hill to a stone house. It was a restaurant that served as the last rest stop on the Great Pumpkin Ride. Alas, there was no hot cider and pumpkin soup but Kirstin admired the charm of the place as she munched on a cricket bar. Yes, made from insect flour. In my day we lived by the expression, If you wanna go fasta, you gotta eatta your pasta. So much for the wisdom of the ages. Fartlek anyone?

Crickets! Yum!
Crickets! Yum!

As we started the ride, I told Kirstin that the ride out of Warrenton was a gradual downhill not unlike the start of the Backroads Century. Now we were on the last miles into town. Hills got hillier. The flats were slightly uphill. No worries. We slowed a bit but kept trucking along.

In short order we rolled into town past the caboose at the finish. Our unplanned tour of Stafford County had added 20 miles to our 43-mile route. A metric century by accident.

We went to a nearby watering hole for food and drink. We toasted our good fortune with club soda (she) and a showerless pint of Harp. Cheers!

And so it came to pass that Kirstin gave notice to the hills of the Berryville countryside that she is indeed ready to take on the Backroads Century. Hell, she could probably run the bloody thing.

Here are some more pix from the ride.

Wetting My Whistle – The 2014 Hoppy 100

The curse is on us. 

The Hoppy 100 is the invention of John Roche, craft beer enthusiast and bicycling masochist. It was his idea to combine a 100 mile ride with visits to local craft breweries. It worked out pretty well until the monsoon hit. The second Hoppy 100 was toned down a bit. Instead of 100 miles, John designed a route that was 100 kilometers. And instead of a monsoon, we had a steady drizzle. And a medical emergency involving blood. And a Pythonesque trip to a police station. So it was with a mixture of excitement and dread that I threw my helmet into the ring for the third Hoppy 100.

Now this year’s version was designed to be about 45 miles. In order to get it up over 100 kilometers, I decided to ride Little Nellie to the start at the Washington Monument. There I met Casey (@waterfroggie) wearing a bike jersey from a Belgian brewery. Casey had come from Annapolis via bike and Metro to participate. Obviously Casey was hardcore.  Kevin U. (@bicyclebug) showed up to ride his third Hoppy 100. Next came Avery and Kevin-the-Second, a thirsty couple from Arlington (I think).  Our starting group was rounded out by the arrival of Rachel “Don’t Call Me Bob” Cannon (@rachelcannon), Peter (@jopamora) and our main man, John Roche (@dirteng).

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All Smile on Hains Point

After introductions we were off in search of brunch. To warm up a bit, we took a ride down to Hains Point, a spit of land along the Potomac River opposite National Airport. It became immediately clear that this was a chatty bunch in no need of beer to loosen our tongues. We crossed over the river on the 14th Street bridge and took the Mount Vernon Trail to the Four Mile Run Trail south of the airport. About a mile later we came upon a barrier forbidding our passage. This was literally as sign that this Hoppy 100 would go just about as smoothly as the first two. Uh oh.

 

Being very familiar with the trails in these parts, I routed us without delay across Four Mile Run via the US 1 bridge to a parrallel trail. After re-crossing the Run about a mile later (and encountering a man dancing rather erratically to his own jam in the middle of the bridge) we reconnected with the Four Mile Run Trail and sped hungrily to Shirlington. In Shirlington, we encounted a street festival of sorts but the assorted crafters and dog people were no match for our hunger and thirst. We met up with Kathy (@arlingtonrider) who conveniently lives in Shirlington and reserved brunch accomodations at Busboys and Poets. We were joined by Bob “Don’t Call Me Rachel” Cannon (@Rcannon100) and his wife Elizabeth. 

We ate and talked and talked and ate. Rachel, just back from a summer interning at a museum in Alaska, told many tales about the resourceful and eccentric residents of Haines. She is still adjusting to life in the lower 48, particularly when it comes to prices of food. She could be the only person I have ever heard say, “Food is so inexpensive in DC!!!” (When we first moved to DC, whenever we drove out of town, my wife and I would buy groceries there because food is so costly here.)

Stuffed and caffeinated, we headed out on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail. A light drizzle began to fall but we were not deterred. We knew that in just a few miles we would be tasting a fine pint of beer. Ahh.

Elizabeth bid us godspeed and with Bob in the fold we left the W&OD and began our ride through North Arlington. We rode up. And up. And up. And up.  There were a few downs in between but the ups won out. The crew did itself proud on the hills with Peter easily taking the King of the Mountains. (I suck at hills. How much do I suck? Rachel hadn’t ridden a bike in three months and she whupped my ass.) At Glebe Road, the high point of our time in Arlington, Kathy turned around and headed back to Shirlington.

After another mile of spining  we found ourselves looking down at a narrow switchback that gave way to a scary steep side street that took us to Chain Bridge. All this hill is missing is the slalom poles and some snow. We were but one brake failure from certain death. Rachel’s front brake was not working so we all stood by and cheered as she plunged to her doom.

I just made that up so that her parents would freak out. (She’s fine. Really. Just some surface wounds and a mild concussion.)

We made it safely to the bridge and across the Potomac River. The skies were gray and depressing. 

We took the unpaved C&O Canal Towpath to the Capital Crescent Trail. The CCT was our route up to Bethesda. Normally, the CCT is thick with exercisers but not on this misty, gray day. After some confusion in Bethesda Row, we found the unpaved Georgetown Branch Trail. The rain had turned the GBT into a slippery mess, and Little Nellie’s wee tires were not very happy skidding this way and that. Helpfully, the rain intensified a bit. 

In Silver Spring Maryland we went through a maze of streets until we found Denizen’s Brewery. It was 2 o’clock. Denizen’s didn’t open until 3. Fail.

Peter and Casey headed for their respective homes. The rest of us decided to ride on and, leading the way without a clue, I took a wrong turn. We stopped to regroup and the skies opened up. We huddled under an awning and comiserated, with the emphasis on miserated. We decided to ride a few blocks to the Fire Station restaurant and seek refuge from the deluge. 

DSCN3286_425
Note Rachel and Avery Are Freezing. We Were Wet and Sitting under a Ceiling Fan

The service was slow but they had beer. Yay. And hot soup. YAY! We ate and talked and checked the radar on our smartphones and talked etc. After 3, we decided to backtrack to Denizen’s where we found Peter hanging out with his wife and kids. They were on their way to get ice cream because nothing slays a gray, drizzly summer day like ice cream

DSCN3285_426
In Which We Learn that It’s Not Open

Except beer. The folks at  Denizen’s were exceptionally nice and so was their beer. We huddled in a non-air conditioned corner drying our outsides out and wetting our insides. I should point out that we only had a couple of drinks at each bar so we weren’t getting drunk. Except for Rachel who was useless after her 8th pint. (I totally made that up. Sorry Mr. and Mrs. Cannon.)

After an hour of hanging out, the rain turned into a light drizzle. Avery and Kevin-the-Second headed off to the Metro. Bob reversed course to head back to his home in North Arlington. John, Rachel, Kevin, and I headed back into DC. We decided to skip the last two breweries since the evening was nearly uponus. We took the Metropolitan Branch Trail. For about half it’s distance, the MBT is just some signs on streets. During this bit, Kevin U. veered off for home. Near Catholic University the MBT becomes and honest-to-Jesus bike trail. (Was the Pope in on this?)  It is gradually downhill, the rain had stopped, and we had a tailwind. Bike joy was had.

Rachel turned off to head for a dinner date with friends. John and I rode to the end of the trial and parted company. 

From there, I headed home. Once across the Potomac I was treated to an empty Mount Vernon Trail and a persistent tailwind. I arrived home just before nightfall with 70 miles on the odometer.

Many thanks to John Roche for designing the route and recruiting such a fine crew. 

Here are some more pix from the ride.