It’s Not Illinois but You Can’t See It from Here

The plan was to ride from North Judson IN to Kankakee IL to tour some Frank Lloyd Wright houses with the misses. She preferred visiting with her friend in Valparaiso IN. So it was off to Valpo 17th state be damned.

At least the weather cooperated. It was beyond perfect. And the terrain was a pool table. In fact I’m pretty sure the roads around here are paved with felt.

If you’ve ever ridden in northern Indiana you know that there are two constants. First you’ll be riding among soybeans and corn and little else. Soy. Corn. Soy. Corn. Tofu and popcorn. The second is the grid. Roads are numbered from the centerline of each county. W 100 is a. north/south road 1 mile to the west of the centerline. It’s easy to navigate as long as you pay a attention to county lines. When you cross the county line the numbers go a bit haywire. 1200 W is followed by 1100 E. It’s like going through a wormhole.

I pedaled along oblivious to the map that Google gave me. I even found a marked bike route which seemed silly since every road is ridable.

A wind picked up from the west but my countless was legit northerly. I hid behind the 6-foot corn and rolled effortlessly. I could ride this pool table forever.

I made it into Valpo and rolled around a traffic circle. No worries. Local drivers gave me plenty of room, probably because they’d never see a Bike Friday before.

The center if Valpo has an impressive man drag with boutiques and interesting restaurants. It seems like a city on a roll.

Speaking of rolls, mine was coming to an end. I stopped at my brother-in-law’s house. Mrs Rootchopper’s friend’s house was about a Mike away. I chatted with my sister-in-law who warned me about the hills Campbell Street. I laughed having just ridden most of it. It was barely a false flat, imperceptibly uphill.

I arrived st the destination well before my wife. She showed up and we spent a couple of hours talking to her friends from high school. All during the conversation toe dogs circled round us. By the time we left my eyes were red and sore and my sinuses were a mess.

With Little Nellie in the boot we made our way back to her parents’ place stopping at a Target to get some antihistamines. By this point my eyes were a complete mess. Fortunately they seem to be responding to the medicines we bought.

It was a fun ride. Maybe I’ll do another one someday – on my way to the coast.

A Sunday Ride with The Impermanent Resident

Did you know peripatetic is a noun? If you look it up, you’ll see a picture of my friend Florencia right next to it in the dictionary. Would I lie to you? 

Flor and I have been doing rides together since we met on the 50 States ride in 2007. It doesn’t seem possible that seven years have passed since we met. We were going to do it again this year, but she has a conflict. Boo. Her friend Emilia is riding for the first time and is a little worried that she won’t be able to handle the 50 States course. So Flor thought it would be a good idea to get us together for a little shakedown ride.

Florencia at the Watergate
Florencia at the Watergate

It was a nice Sunday morning so I decided to bypass the Mount Vernon Trail and ride Fort Hunt Road to the streets of Old Town and Potomac Yards in Alexandria, Crystal City in Arlington, and (according to the sign on the side of the road) the Pentagon reservation. (Apparently the Pentagon was one of the little known tribes of the pre-colonial days.) I met up with Flor at the Jefferson Memorial. Emilia was a no show. Sad face. Flor later told me that the two of them are doing a 120-mile two-day ride in the weeks ahead. I do believe Emilia will drop me after about 10 states.

Flor and I soldiered on. We rode the Halfvasa route from DC to Potomac Village and back. We managed to survive the onslaught of tourists on bikes and idiots looking for parking spaces on K Street in Georgetown. The Capital Crescent Trail had little traffic allowing us to settle into a nice groove. At Fletcher’s Boat House we cut over to Resevoir Road managing to avoid several toddlers who seemed determined to die by under our front wheels. 

The ride up reservoir was long and slow. For me. Flor didn’t seem to be working with the same gravitational field. We rendevoused at the top and proceeded side by side out MacArthur Boulevard chatting all the way. The hill near the reservoir made us work a bit but we cruised over the top and enjoyed the breezy downhill on the back side. 

Flor Is a Way Better Photographer than I
Flor Is a Way Better Photographer than I

MacArthur has no shoulders making it hard to ride side by side so we took to the side path and chattered away. Yoga, rolfing, vegetarian food, being a proud big sister, DC condo values, riding motorbikes in Thailand, and Montessori education. She has a lot going on. She also gave me an update on our pal Richard who rode the 50 States with us in 2011. It’s good to hear that he’s still the kind of person who never has a down day.

Along the way, Flor yelled, “DEER!” There, dead ahead. was a young deer grazing in the grass next to the road. As we approached the deer bolted, thankfully away from us, and joined two others in the roadside shadows. 

We reached the dreaded hill at the end of MacArthur and slowly, ever so slowly, made our way up. The chatter stopped. The work was honest. We made respectable time. After a brief stop to discuss our route, we headed down Falls Road to Potomac Village. 

We chilled in the shade, enjoying iced drinks and continued the conversation. Once we were talked out, we headed back to DC via the Avenel neighborhood of massive houses. “They’re just boxes holding stuff. Once you get enough stuff, it owns you.” Life according to Flor.

We made our way back to MacArthur. Since Flor lives in the city uphill from the river and the memorials, I thought it would make sense to cut through Georgetown instead of heading downhill to the river. And so we did. 

Once we crossed Rock Creek Park, Flor took over navigation. She knew the best route to her place. Just before we got there she asked if I wanted to go to Meridian Hill Park and hang out. And so we did. 

We sat in the sun and talked with Jeff, a friend of Flor whom I met at a happy hour last winter. We talked and listend to the drum circle drummers until the sun wore us down. Flor and I headed to our respective homes. She got the better of the deal by about 15 miles. Or maybe not. Riding down 16th Street to the White House followed by ten miles along the Potomac River is a mighty fine way to go.

Flor and I took some pix.

 

 

The Haute Dog 100

Lisa is a busy person, multitalented and goal oriented. After riding 137.28 miles last month she decided it was time to ride a century, 100 miles in one day. Gradualism is not one of her strong points.

Lisa recruited some #bikedc friends, Ryan, Justin, Ted, and me) to ride from DC to Purcelville on the W&OD Trail. Once in Purcelville our plan was to have liunch at Haute Dogs and Fries.

The ride was set for Saturday July 5 at 7 a.m. We would be at the intersection of the Custis and W&OD trauls in North Arlington. Since this is 15 or 16 miles from my house this meant getting up at 5 a.m. Fortunately, we all agreed that 8 a.m. was as early as anyone could tolerate so 8 a.m. it was.

After waking up and daundling I left the house ten minutes late. I chose to ride Big Nellie. my Tour Easy recumbent, to save my back. I rode as fast as I could to the start stoppoing every 15 minutes to adjust my front fender. The fender stay was rubbing against the side of the ture making an annoying buzzing sound. (On the fourth try I realized that the screw holding the stay was loose. One tunr with a screw driver and peace and tranquility returned.

I arrived at the starting point to see Ted and Ryan. Ted was actually shivering. It was in the 60s. I opted for a long sleeve shirt but Ted was wearing a sleeveless shirt and paying for his miscalculation. Justin showed up. Also sleeveless. What did they thing it was July or something?

Lisa rolled in about 8:40. We decided not to kill her.

Off we went on the ever so gradual uphill ride to Purcelville. As we got underway, we spread out. I found that Big Nellie was in the mood to roll so I was going faster than my usual 12 mile per hour trance speed.

In Vienna we stopped for coffee and pastries. My bagel was filled with EPO, Once we got underway, Justin and I were rolling along in the high teens. A MAMIL in a Discover jersey rode by somehat agressively. Justin and I were letting him pull us all the way to Reston where we waiting for the Ryan, Ted and Lisa.

We kept rolling along in one configuration or another, stopping in Herndon and Lessburg. Then we made the final push for Purcelville. The W&OD gets slightly steeper for its final 10 miles. The leafy canopy shading the trail offer a welcome break from the bright sunshine. The uphill grade, however, is a bit of a morale buster. As Ted, Ryan, and Justin sped away, I hung back wondering what happened to Lisa.

She had Fourth of July legs. She was pedaling away but the bike gods were denying her speed.

She made it to the end of the trail with a smile on her face which is pretty much the point of the exercise.

A passerby took my camera and had us pose for a series of photos under the Purcelville sign at the restored train station.

Lisa and the Boys
Lisa and the Boys

Then we rolled through town to Haute Dogs where we made short work of an array of hot dogs. I had the Fenway Dog because it is made exactly the way I make a hot dog at home. I also drank mass quantities of Coke which topped off my sugar and caffeine stores.

Nom Nom Nom
Nom Nom Nom

After a brief visit to a nifty bike and coffee shop we headed back to the trail. Justin, Ted, and Ryan led the way. Lisa decided to save her legs and glided (glid? glud?) as much as the grade and tailwind would allow. I stayed with her and,at one point, actually rode two miles without pedaling. I could have done more but for some congestion on the trail.

We met up with the three amigos at Leesburg. Ted, Ryan, and Justin all had to speed away to family obligations so Lisa and I rode the long trail back to North Arlington. We stopped for drinks, bannas, and ice cream along the way. (We also passed two breweries who had signs on the trail. I’ll have to come back for a taste some other time.)

Lisa took the Custis trail into town and I headed down the rest of the W&OD to the Mount Vernon Trail. I rolled into the driveway after 111 miles. I decided not to have a shower beer so as not to be a bad influence on my impressionable children: one of whom made mojitos for our guests on the Fourth, the other was drinking beer while watching the Red Sox/Orioles game from atop the green monster in Fenway Park. (If a parent sets an example and nobody sees, does the tree make a noise?)

Thanks to Lisa for setting this up. Her account of the festivities is here. My pix are here.

I’d ride a century for a Haute Dog

During the week, I am a mild mannered bike commuter. On four day weekends, I am El Velo Loco. I am also bent, as I am riding Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent.

Yesterday, I decided to go exploring in southeastern Fairfax County. I spent about five hours riding up and down hills. I had intended to ride to Clifton Virginia, cross the Occoquan River and make my way home through Prince William County. I missed a turn. I rode by a prison. It’s been closed for ten years but the guard towers and walls are still there. I can’t imaging living near something like that. I ended up riding down to Mason Neck, an isolated part of Fairfax County. In the process, I rode down an old road that used to cross over the main railroad line on a single lane old wooden bridge. Nowadays, the bridge is blocked off. I went around the barricade and walked my bike over the span. The wood was weathered with ruts where car tires once drove. Southeastern Fairfax County used to have several one lane bridges, twisty roads with blind curves and hills.

Temperatures for this hill-fest topped out at 88 degrees and it was muggy to boot.  I was pleased with my riding though. I never felt uncomfortable and I had no trouble breathing.

Paul is a friend from grad school who occasionally does bike rides when he’s not playing hockey, softball, selling used CDs, DJing, or going to concerts. Oh, and he has a day job too. Paul told me about a new eatery called Haute Dogs and Fries that specializes in hot dogs (and fries). They have one location in Old Town Alexandria and another in Purcellville Virginia. The former is seven miles from my house; the latter is 55 miles away. Guess which one I rode to?

Aw, you’ve read this blog before have you?

I headed out to P’ville at 8:30. It was comfortable outside but I knew that would change. I lucked out with a strong breeze out of the east. I rode the Mount Vernon Trail to the Four Mile Run trail. On the way, I passed Nancy Duley who was veloworking again.

The wind pushed me along Four Mile Run until I picked up the Washington and Old Dominion Trail near Shirlington. 45 miles of mostly gradual uphill is a little like riding a false flat for 4 hours. It looks flat but there is a persistent incline most of the way. I spun away through Arlington, Falls Church, Dunn Loring, Vienna, Reston, Herndon, Sterling, Ashburn, Lessburg, Clarks Gap, Hamilton Station and finally P’ville. Along the way I stopped and topped off my water bottles at every opportunity. At 33 miles, I re-applied sun screen. I brought some snacks and munched away at them whenever my energy felt a little low,

The trail was surprisingly uncrowded. This might have had something to do with the heat and humidity. The temperature peaked at 91 degrees, but it was a wet heat. It was not a lot of fun when the sun broke through the clouds.

There were several stretches where the trail tilts downward as it goes west. I would crank it up to 20 miles per hour. By Leesburg, it was apparent that the tailwind was now coming from my left side. No worries. Pedal, pedal.

I arrived in P’ville around 1:30. After a stop in a bike shop where I inhaled a Gatorade, I made my way to Haute Dogs, in a new strip mall in town. There are several dogs with heavy toppings like chili, cheese, and hot peppers. After 5 hours in the heat, these did not sound appealing so I ordered a Fenway Dog (with relish, mustard and onions I think) and fries. The dog came on a grilled bun and the fries had some sort of seasoning. It was way good. So was the ice cold Coke. Nom nom.

Image

Back on the bike, I found that I now had a tailwind! Woo hoo! It varied a bit, but there was no doubt I’d get an assist most of the way home.

And that gradual uphill was now a gradual downhill. Suffice it to say, I spent a lot of time in my big ring. I continued to stop now and then for cold water and snacks. (I had a chocolate chip ice cream sandwich at a trailside barbecue place in Ashburn. Nutrition is important, you know,)

I’ve been riding the W&OD for a couple of decades. It’s amazing how much it has changed. It used to pass through woods and farmers’ fields beyond Reston. Now, more and more of these rural scenes have been replaced by housing developments and highways. Nature still makes an appearance along the trail though. I saw a huge black snake, a black squirrel, a bunny rabbit, and an indigo bunting during my travels.

Despite the heat, I was doing pretty darn good on my ride home. Around mile 80, my knees started complaining. The only thing I could do was to focus on spinning in low gears and keep on pedaling.

When I finally made it back to the Mount Vernon Trail, I was greeted with a headwind for the last nine miles home. At least, along the river, it was a little less hot (cooler just doesn’t do the trick here).

On the spur of the moment I took the US 1 connector path instead of the MVT south of the beltway. Car traffic getting on to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge across the Potomac River was backed up for over a mile. I rode past the line of forlorn drivers thinking that I was so glad to be on a bike heading in the opposite direction. The drivers’ misery nearly took my mind off the hill I was climbing. This was followed by a bigger hill where Fort Hunt Road crests Beacon Hill. It took a while and my knees were barking but we made it without much drama. The downhill on the backside was so much fun I decided to add one more hill on Sherwood Hall Lane. This made for a final mile that was all downhill. Ahh.

Next time I go to Haute Dogs, I will visit their Old Town location. Because it’s there.

Big Nellie Naked

]I had intended to go for a monster ride today, drive out into the country, take Big Nellie off her leash and let her rip. I stupidly didn’t get my butt in gear until 10 so the opportunity for  a century an hour drive away was lost. Instead I went into my basement looking for a cue sheet for the Southern Maryland Century, which starts in Indian Head MD, only 20 minutes from my house. During my search I found a cue sheet for a metric century (64 miles) in eastern Prince Georges County MD 30 minutes from my house.

So I took off Big Nellie’s fairing (a windshield made of Lexan) and plopped my long wheel base recumbent on my bike rack. And off I drove.

When I pulled into the park where the ride began, I saw a couple hundred cars parked. What are the odds that I would randomly pick this cue sheet on the day of this year’s ride? I felt a bit like a gate crasher. Riders on fast bikes were finishing as I was getting my bike ready, so it was unlikely that my ride would overlap with anyone’s in today’s event.

As I went to put Big Nellie’s fairing back on, the Lexan around one of the mounting holes snapped off. I have literally had this fairing duct taped for a couple of years so this wasn’t really a surprise. It has taken an incredible beating for ten years and nearly 30,000  miles.  So we rode naked. (Good thing, too, because halfway through the ride the mounting hardware broke!)

Kaput
Kaput

The fairing helps a lot when riding in windy conditions. It adds a couple of miles per hour on descents. And it weighs down the front wheel, balancing the weight distribution of the bike. Riding without it, however, makes the bike feel completely different. The front end feels lighter. The bike climbs a little better because it is lighter. On a warm day, the breeze across my body feels great. The biggest benefit was entirely unexpected: I could see the road. The fairing had been scratched so badly that I could no longer see through it. I have been compensating by braking a lot and leaning to the side to get a better view of the road surface ahead of me. No more.

The ride does a big figure eight along the Patuxent River, which separates PG County from Calvert County. I doubt the terrain gets more than 200 feet above sea level. Never the less there is quite a bit of climbing because the rest areas are the banks of the river. Every rest is rewarded with honest work.

The first twenty miles were a blast. My legs were fresh and I was trucking. I had fun waving to the event riders coming my way. I did quite a bit of hill hopping, screaming down one hill and using my momentum to blast up the next. I knew I’d pay for my early speed later in the ride but I didn’t care. I was zipping along at over 20 miles per hour, something I never get to do during the workweek.

The first rest stop was deserted so I took a quick look at the river. A park employee commented on my bike. We chatted and she told me about kayak and canoe rentals. The river looked inviting but I had riding to do.

I kept trucking, perhaps a bit slower than before. I chalked it up to bigger hills and headwinds. About a mile before the next rest stop,  a car pulled along side me and the driver asked me if I was okay. Weird. Then it dawned on me that he was the sag wagon, looking for stragglers from the event. At the next rest stop, the volunteers were loading all the food and drinks into cars. I parked a discrete distance away. One of the volunteers came over and offered me some food and drink. Don’t mind if I do.

The ride up from the river was considerably harder than before. I was slightly over half way. No problemo. It was, however, getting hotter and the humidity was rising too. Pedal, pedal.

A guy on a fast looking road bike blew by me on a hill. He stopped at the top. I later found out that he was waiting for a friend. The two of them volunteered at a rest stop and were getting some miles in after their good works. We talked a bit at the next rest stop. His friend gave me some pretzels and I took some pictures of them with their camera. They loaded their bikes on two cars and I rode off. Uphill. Ugh.

The route diverted into Charles County for a few miles. I saw a vulture in the middle of the road. Do I look that bad? No, he was busy with some road kill.

The last few miles back to the start were flat or downhill. I finished strong but was plenty pooped. 64 miles. Naked. Big Nellie didn’t blush once.

And Don’t Call Me Yertle

I love my Ortlieb panniers. They are simple to use and take a ton of abuse. I loathe my Ortlieb handlebar bag. Like the panniers, it has one compartment and it is waterproof. Unlike the panniers, it is a beast to open and close, even when you are not in motion. If you can’t get to your stuff inside the bag, it’s useless. It’s a bag in serious need of a redesign.

I ordered an Acorn handlebar bag a couple of weeks ago. It’s a pretty interesting design. Unlike the Ortlieb’s red denier nylon (which is admittedly pretty sharp looking), the Acorn bag is made out of heavy canvas. It has four compartments. The front two compartments are covered by a big flap. The main compartment under the flap is intended to stay closed while you ride. It has a zipper that runs the width of the bag. In front of that and still under the flap, is a smaller pocket that looks perfect for snacks. On the back, there are two small compartments, just the right size for a phone and a camera. They open very easily which means I can finally get at my camera.

I had to move my bell and my bike computer around a bit, but I think this Acorn bag is going to work out just fine.

New Bag Front
Acorn Bag on Little Nellie: Front View
New Bag Rear
Acorn Bag on Little Nellie – Rear View

I have two mounts for the Ortlieb bag, one for Little Nellie and one for The Mule. The Mule’s bag mount has a reinforcing cable on it. Once you take off the cable, odds are you won’t get it back on. So I put the Acorn on Little Nellie.

Little Nellie and I went for a ride to tweak the new set up. It was 80-ish degrees and muggy. T-shirt weather. We cruised over to the Mount Vernon Trail. I could hear all kinds of big birds cawing above the tree tops, but I couldn’t see them. I peeked at the Morningside bald eagle nest; there was no eagle action. About a half mile later ,I came upon a big snapping turtle just to the right of the middle of the trail. I stopped to check it out. Soon I had company as we waved other trail users around the beast that was about the size of a Frisbee. I have seen snapping turtles laying eggs on the side of the trail in the past, so we assumed she had just done the same here. (The turtles brace their front arms on the edge of the trail and flail away in the dirt with their legs, digging a hole to deposit the eggs into.) We could see a couple of patches where the dirt on the side of the trail had been freshly disturbed.

Snapper
Yertle before the move

 

Momma turtle was not wearing track shoes this day, so one of the cyclists who stopped gingerly picked up her up and placed her on the side of the trail. She was not amused, but he was quick and gentle. (Do not try this at home. If you don’t know what you are doing, you could lose a finger. These suckers bite.)

Digression No. 1: when our kids were little, we used to take them to the Virginia Living Museum down in Newport News. (If you have kids, I guarantee that they will like this place.) There is a small river that runs along the back of the building. We were walking on the boardwalk along the back and watching a momma duck swimming a hundred feet away with her ducklings all lined up behind her. Suddenly, one duckling disappeared under the water. It popped back up. Then, as if yanked from below, he went back under, fanny first. I do believe he became a turtle snack.

I stood around to see what the turtle would do. She was pretty pissed off at being moved, but ten seconds later she calmed down. Calm turtles not being really exciting, Little Nellie and I left.

The rest of the ride was pleasant and unremarkable. I rode up to Crystal City then back along Army Navy Drive where I lived when I first moved to DC. I had read that some new bike lane-age had been put it at the intersection with Joyce Street. It looked like, um, paint. Some bike geeks get worked up about these things. I ain’t one of them.

Digression No. 2: What I did notice was that the street was riddled with embedded wires so that cars can trip the light and reduce waiting time. One day when I lived up the street, I convinced the future Mrs. Rootchopper to buy a bike. I’d ride to the bike shop and she’d walk and take Metro.  I came down the hill aboard my Raleigh Grand Prix on Army Navy Drive toward Joyce Street. The road was wet from a recent rain. I hit my brakes just as I rolled onto one of the embedded wires. To embed the wires a thin cut is made in the asphalt. Later a sealant is applied. Unbeknownst to me, the sealant is like ice when it is wet. I went down really hard and slid into the intersection. People jumped out of their cars to tend to me. My left side was bruised pretty badly from my thigh up to my armpit. I turned around and headed for home. The future Mrs. Rootchopper was walking down the hill. Suffice it to say, I was not exactly the poster boy for the joys of cycling. She eventually bought a bike, but hated cycling. It’s slow. It’s buggy. You have to eat while doing it so you can’t lose weight. Basically, she found it useless. She quilts instead.

I rode back home and made sure to check on Yertle. She was nowhere to be found.

Big Nellie Gets Populaire

The weather forecast for today was pretty darn awesome: 60s, sunny, breezy, low humidity. I had a choice: go for a bike ride or lie in an hammock all day. It was a tough decision, but since I don’t have a hammock, I decided to go for a bike ride.

I wanted to ride the full Vasa ride. This is a metric century (100 kilometers), mostly in eastern Montgomery County and Northwest DC. This is upscale suburban territory. I looked high and low for my cue sheet for that ride and came up empty. During my search I found the cue sheet to a Populaire ride that was held in January. (Populaires are rides that randonneurs do to entice otherwise sane people into their cult of long distance bike riding.)

This particular Populaire was also a metric century but it started five miles further from my house. I decided to go for it; I could always turn around if I was feeling overwhelmed. (Yeah, like I have that much common sense!) The Populaire goes into western Montgomery County which has more wooded areas and much more farmland. It’s also pretty darned hilly.

Which bike should I take? Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, is super comfortable which is perfect for long rides. The only problem is that it is not very good on hills. Come to think of it neither am I. Big Nellie got the call.

Off we went, taking hilly Fort Hunt Road to Alexandria to get acclimated to the art of spinning up a hill. (Recumbent riders have to spin like maniacs to climb hills. They can’t get out of the saddle like riders of conventional bikes nor can they use their arms to muscle their bike.)  Once in Alexandria, I took the Mount Vernon Trail all the way to the 14th Street Bridge. It was well before 9 am and a little chilly so traffic on the MVT was mercifully light.

We crossed into DC on the 14th Street Bridge. Winds were blowing hard from the northwest raising white caps on the Potomac River below. Normally, this would irritate me since we were heading directly into the wind for 50+ miles, but today I took it in stride. We came upon a police barricade along Ohio Drive. It was part of the preparations for Rolling Thunder, the Memorial Day descent of a bazillion motorcycles on DC. It was early so the police didn’t protest when we rode around their sawhorses.

As we passed the Watergate, some geese were milling about at the rivers edge. They had a nice brood of goslings so I stopped to take a picture. Then onward to the Capital Crescent Trail. In a tree between the trail and the river, I spotted several cormorants. They look like Seuss birds.  We left the CCT and encountered a group of 20 cyclists blocking the bridge to cross the C&O Canal. They spotted me coming and parted with hellos. They must have known we were bound for glory.

We continued through the Palisades neighborhood of DC on MacArthur Boulevard. I stopped at a Safeway for a big bottle of water. I had packed two Ziploc bags with peanut M&Ms. (I got the idea of eating nuts on a bike ride from my friend Florencia. She once did the 50 States ride on a brutally hot day, eating nothing but almonds. Everyone around her was suffering as she did the ride with little apparent distress. Could it be the almonds or the fact that she is a fitness goddess? Since I am not a fitness god, I decided it was the almonds. So I decided to use peanuts. The chocolate was a bonus.)

We rumbled along and left the flats of MacArthur for Persimmon Tree Road, which begins with a  bumpy uphill section. I decided to ditch my pride and dropped into my granny gear, so named because even my grannies (both of whom died in1965) could pedal it. We rode past Congressional Country Club and through Potomac Village. The modest hills combined with the headwind were making for an honest day’s work.

West of Potomac Village, the climbing gets serious. River Road is a series of half mile downhills followed by half mile uphills. The uphills won. After eight miles of this foolishness, we left River Road for farm roads of western Montgomery County. Sugarland Road had a concrete center with all kinds of potholes. The transitions to the asphault  edge of the road were nasty and would have caused me to crash so we stayed on the concrete.

We road past Poolesville Maryland toward Boyds. The scenery became more wooded and hillier still. I started having doubts about that hammock. Somewhere along the line I missed a turn. I ended up on Clopper Road, a road that I have heard of but that was not on my cue sheet. After checking the map on my phone, we were back on course, after climbing a half mile hill. (At least the pavement was smooth.) I had heard that Peach Tree Road was a hilly bitch, but I found it to be anticlimactic in that regard. It did deliver some of the nicest country riding I’ve done in years. My northwest passage ended up at a diner where I stopped for lunch. The burger and fries were no match for my appetite.

Peach Tree Road - Not Too Shabby
Peach Tree Road – Not Too Shabby

The course doubled back from this point and I found that the headwind was now a tailwind, albeit one with the occasional swirl that made high speed descents a little unpredictable The big advantage of Big Nellie’s long wheel base is the fact that it tracks like it’s on rails on fast descents. I liken riding downhill on this bike to street luge.

We luged our asses off. When we weren’t luging the tailwind pushed us along a long flat section of Peach Tree, which we stayed on for many more miles on the return trip. I even saw some peach orchards, a nice bonus.

Poolesville with its ugly little residential developments was a bit of a shock after so much bucolic loveliness. I didn’t stay to check the real estate listings. We bombed along through farmer’s fields and past a wild life sanctuary or four. My return route put me back on River Road a few miles to the west of where I had left it earlier. We banged a wicked looey and headed for Potomac Village. I was dreading the long hills, but Big Nellie used the tailwind to full advantage. I rode my brakes on most of the descents, one of which had us going 40 miles per hour (at least that was what the speedometer said before I didn’t dare take my eyes off the road).

We stopped at Glen Echo Park to celebrate the finish of the Populaire with another baggie of M&Ms. Nom. Nom.

20+ miles to go. Even with a tailwind this was work. The trails along the river were packed with people enjoying the weather. We weaved our way at low-ish speeds, frustrated that we were wasting a tailwind. Near the cormorant tree, a police helicopter came roaring past over the river, He was about level with the tree tops and banking into a turn to follow the river. Of course, it was possible that Broderick Crawford was riding shotgun, but I digress.

We plodded along, stuck behind one runner or cluster of slow riders after another. Back on Ohio Drive we rolled along amid the thousands of motorcycles parked all over the place. Suddenly, I was hit by a cloud; a car on the side of the road must have been the bongmobile.

The ride across the river on the 14th Street Bridge was a bit of a balancing act. The winds were stronger than ever pushing us to the left as I checked out the even bigger white caps below.

Normally, this kind of wind makes for a fast ride down the MVT to home but this was a Pleasant Valley Sunday and the trail was just a mess of people. I managed not to hit a single one, but the effort cost me the benefits of a tailwind. Not to be cheated, a young woman in full racing kit blew past me without warning as I was passing two pedestrians. I yelled at her, my only outburst of the day. (Digression no. 1: I refrained from cussing out the driver of a black Mercedes who laid on his horn as he came upon me on MacArthur Boulevard. Instead, I jumped onto the side path as we came to a stop sign. You, Mr. Asshat, can stop for the sign. I am now exempt.) (Digression no. 2: It’s a beautiful spring day and you are driving a $100,000 automobile. Can’t you just appreciate it for what it is without pissing other people off?)

South of Old Town I spotted three people under a tree fixing a flat. It was John (@dirteng) from Friday Coffee Club. We’ve done 2 centuries together, both involving John’s other past time, enjoying craft beers. John was repairing his friend Alex’s flat while John’s wife Kate looked on. Alex’s tire was a super tight fit, not unlike the tires on Little Nellie, my Bike Friday. John tried and tried. Then I had a go using the tricks I have been forced to adopt in order to change Little Nellie’s tires. Usually, it takes me 15 minutes to get the last bit of tire bead over the rim, but this time it only took few minutes. (John loosen it up.)

Having done my good deed for the day, I rode on. South of Old Town, we rode past a little kid with an ear-to-ear smile riding his new bike with training wheels. You’re doing great kid. (He probably hasn’t crashed yet. That will wipe that smile off his face. Life is like a bike ride, kid.)

For my last hurrah, I left the MVT and climbed the short steep hill on Park Terrace Drive. It put hair on my chest. Okay, the hair was already there, but it did manage to put a hurt in my knees.

I made it home with over an hour of daylight to spare. To celebrate our 107 mile adventure, I took out the trash, fed the birds, and watered my tomato plants.

Tomorrow, I’m buying a hammock.

A Monumental Idea

I am a sucker for a gimmick. Last year’s gimmicks included the Hoppy 100, a 100-mile bike ride that hit three microbreweries en route. Leave it to John, the father of the Hoppy 100, and a micro brew lover with a cycling habit, to come up with another gimmick that I couldn’t pass up.

John learned that a bicycle organization in Baltimore was staging a ride from Baltimore’s Washington Monument to DC’s Washington Monument. They call it the Monument to Monument ride. They should call it the Monument to Monument to Monument ride because you have to ride back to Baltimore. John asked for the directions and reversed them, so that we in DC could partake without traveling to Baltimore.

The Mule and the Monument - Start
The Mule and the Monument – Start

Using the power of Twitter and his blog, John organized the DC start. John, Tim, Justin, Alex, Kevin and I met at the DC monument around 8 am. It was a lovely day for a bike ride, assuming it was February. Sadly, it was Cinco de Mayo, a date that does not go hand in hand with the words “wind chill”. Undaunted, we headed out for points north, into a biting headwind.

I chose to ride The Mule for only the second time in months. This turned out to be a mistake of sorts. I was comfortable riding but could not find a riding rhythm for the life of me. I’ve ridden with John, Alex and Kevin before and had over 2000 miles in my legs since the start of 2013. It wasn’t that they weren’t riding fast or that I was undertrained.

I was lagging behind everyone from the get go. We headed up the Metropolitan Brach Trail, then zig zagged through Northeast DC and Mount Rainier before jumping on the Anacostia River Trail system. I have always found this particular trail system to be confusing. I lost contact with the group and then got off track completely. At this point, I figured that even if I couldn’t find the group, I could still get a fun ride in.

Somehow I righted my wrongs and found the group hanging alongside the trail near Lake Artemesia somewhere near Greenbelt. We chatted for a few minutes and then set off again. By this point, I had another problem. My allergies were going berserk. I couldn’t stop coughing up mucus, my eyes were watery, my nose was running, and increasingly my windpipe seemed inflamed and sore.

On to Baltimore!  The group dropped me again near the Agriculture Department farm near Greenbelt. We started seeing riders from Baltimore passing our way on the opposite side of the road. We would see dozens more as the day progressed. Out of the blue, Rod appeared and joined us on our northward trek. I became his project du jour. Each uphill was as struggle. He advised me to go easy on the uphills and bomb down the downhills. My only problem was that I was having trouble going easy on the flats!

We took a shortcut and joined the group at the top of a hill. From this point on, we were more or less together. At some point, Mike showed up. Mike is a randonneur. He has more energy than most thermonuclear reactors. In MikeWorld, hills do not seem to exist. Conversation has no end. He smiles so much that I’d swear he gets paid by the tooth. He brought the group energy. His constant chatter kept my mind off my struggles. And he had the good sense to laugh at my jokes. He found it particularly amusing when, as we spotted Baltimore in the distance, I called it Shangri La.

Before we set eyes on Baltimore we pedaled our way up Brock Bridge Road and Race Road. These roads are excellent for cycling and had surprisingly little car traffic. There are also horse stables and prisons. Let me tell you, if you want to have a kick ass time on a bike you need to get your own self to Laurel Maryland.

Mike took us off route onto the BWI airport bike trail.  We stopped with a view of one of the runways. High on a hill. With the wind in our faces. And Baltimore nowhere in sight. I started to wonder if we’d ever get there. Then, it appeared. Nothing says paradise quite like a smokestack from a sewage burning facility and a spaghetti bowl of elevated highway ramps.

Once we arrived at the monument, Baltimore showed us its charm. The monument is on top a small hill in the middle of a cobblestoned circle. A beautiful old church stood to one side. And a neighborhood that looked reminded me of Lewisburg Square on Beacon Hill in Boston extended a block to the west.

The Mule and the Monument - Baltimore
The Mule and the Monument – Baltimore

After some picture taking, we made our way to the Alewife brew pub and restaurant for lunch. Tim took off for home. He missed some fine vittles.

We headed back with an intermittent tailwind. Once we cleared the city, I got my legs working. Unfortunately, my nose was running like a faucet. And my wind pipe was so sore I could not get a deep breath.  For the second time during the ride I tried some albuterol. It had little effect. Despite these problems, I found myself occasionally in the lead of the group. There is no truth to the scurrilous rumor that I put Vicodan in everyone’s drinks at lunch.

We stopped for Rod to repair a flat. It seems pretty amazing that with about 800 miles of biking among us, we had only one flat. Alex had some problems with her shifting (she was riding a brand new bike) but it seemed to resolve itself.

The next 20 miles were actually quite easy, especially considering my allergy and asthma woes. Mike peeled off near Greenbelt. Once we jumped back on the Anacostia River trails, the group speeded up considerably.This was odd because the trail was swarming with people. Nevertheless there were no close calls and smiles all around. Somewhere along this stretch Rod veered off and headed for home. We were now five. Kevin, Justin, and Alex apparently could taste their end-of-ride shower beers (it’s an Alex thing). John and I lost them somewhere near Catholic University. John had a trip to Meridian Pint on his mind. I lost contact with him somewhere along the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

My last four miles were done on impulse power. The warp engines were toast. So was my wind pipe. I rolled up to the Washington Monument and celebrated with a photo op.

The Mule and the Monument - Finish
The Mule and the Monument – Finish

I drove home, stopping along the way for a Fat Tire Amber Ale. I bought six, drank two. They tasted monumental.

Check out the rest of my pix on my Flickr page. And some more on Justin’s.

Here’s John’s ride summary.

Springtime Meander in A Bicycling Friendly City

After three days off the bike, I took a short ride in the wind to get my legs back.  Before heading out I stopped to check out the flowers and blossoms in my yard. Mrs. Rootchoppers flower garden is going great guns and my lilac bush is blooming. I have to walk past the lilac bushes to get to my bikes. I walk through an invisible wall of lilac fragrance. Love it.

I rode to the Mount Vernon Trail and stopped at the Morningside bald eagle nest. An eagle was perched on a branch in the tree. About a half mile of wind later, I stopped to check out a big nest that seems to be getting bigger on a tiny island in Dyke Marsh about 100 yards from the trail. This area is getting crazy crowded with bald eagles.

I made my way to South Royal Street in Old Town. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge underpass was clear but the part of the trail that swerves around the security barrier on Royal was obstructed by a fallen tree. The League of American Bicyclists designated Alexandria a bicycling friendly city a few years ago. They must not have high standards.

I made my way to a park off the Holmes Run Trail in Alexandria. The trail is an old one, and could use a lot of work. That’s okay, because Alexandria is a bicycling friendly city. The park was the site of Alexandria’s earth day activities. They were over by the time I got there. I headed back home. At one point the bike route was blocked by some construction equipment. Instead of using back streets I was forced to ride on busy Duke Street.  That’s okay because Alexandria is a bicycling friendly city.

Dead End

After getting back on course, I decided to check out the southern end of Payne Street. It dead ends at the underbelly of the US 1/I 95 concrete circus. There’s a paved trail at the end of the street. A sign warns that the trail dead ends in 1/4 mile. It occurred to me that only an idiot would build a trail to nowhere so I had to verify that it did, indeed, go nowhere. Sure enough it does. But that’s okay because Alexandria is a bicycling friendly city.

I rode home slowly with a nice strong bicycle friendly tailwind.

Check out my pix on my Flickr page.

Could It Really Be Spring?

The weather report called for temperatures in the low seventies. I prepared by taking yesterday off the bike, mowing the lawn and doing a number of chores. I waited until I saw a 5 and a 0 on the digital thermometer in our house.

Off I rode on Little Nellie and felt very strong. It was obvious that I had a tailwind. About three miles from home, I passed the Morningside nest and spotted a white head. Hopefully, we’ll have some eaglets soon (if we don’t have them already). A mile further on I looked left as I crossed the Dyke Marsh boardwalk.  The pair of geese I saw earlier in the week were still waddling about. It was a bit troubling that papa goose was on the far side of the Parkway. It would suck if he became roadkill.  (My wife and I once saw a black SUV mow down a mama duck and a few of her ducklings as they tried to cross the Parkway. The surviving ducklings were a sad sight, waddling around in a panic.)

The Mount Vernon Trail was very crowded, which is typical of a warm, sunny weekend day. The tailwind made passing easy. I cruised to the city with surprisingly little difficulty. At Gravelly Point, a plane came in for a landing. A man transfixed by the plane wandered directly in front of me looking up. “YO!” He came back to reality and hopped out of the way.

The tailwind became obvious when the trail curved along the river bank. Little Nellie was a happy camper.

I turned to ride up the ramp to the 14th Street Bridge. Now with the wind in my face, it was time to work a little. Bikes were coming down the ramp in a long line. There was a fence on the left and a highway ramp on the right. There were three bikes in front of me. They stopped. No warning. The two women in front were having a conversation. The guy in the back said nothing. I veered to the left (thankfully there was a little room) and stopped with my front wheel next to his rear wheel. For some reason I blurted out “What the fuck are you doing?” It was louder than intended, perhaps because my expectations of a smooth ride to DC had been dashed. The guy turns to me, objects to my remark and starts explaining the situation (as if it wasn’t self-evident) . While he’s jabbering, I look up and two cyclists are coming down the hill, passing the long line of bikes, straight at me. I turn to my new personal friend and yell, “Move your god damned bike NOW!”

I think this blows my chances at the Cherry Blossom Festival Mr.Congeniality award. And I am sure he thought I am a total asshole. He has a point. I don’t care. Safety comes first.

On the DC side of the bridge, chaos. I weaved through the buses and tourists. I could see that the trees along the Tidal Basin were nowhere near full bloom so I headed for East Potomac Park. Into the wind.

I saw a few nice trees but the whole experience left me frustrated. If I hadn’t lived here for decades I’d swear that this whole cherry blossom thing is a hoax.

A Lonely Bloomer on Hains Point

I rode upriver to the Lincoln Memorial, crossing Constitution Avenue through one epic traffic jam. I spotted a Park Service employee helping people cross the street. He just laughed. It was so bad that there’s nothing he could do.

I back tracked on the opposite side of the Mall and past the White House. Pennsylvania Avenue was not very crowded. Cherry Blossoms, even disappointing ones, trump the leader of the free world.

I don’t much like cycletracks but on this sunny day it seemed like the most civilized way to ride through town. All but one turning car yielded to me so I felt safe. At Meridian Hill Park, here were no drums to be heard and no acroyogis or hula hoopers to watch so I plodded up the hill and kept on keeping on. The cycletrack dies out at 16th Street so I took for a ways. At a four way stop, a car behind me went through the intersection out of turn. The car that had been slighted laid on his horn and followed the offender up 16th, passing me. He stayed on his horn for a block until he pulled up next to the offenders who were obviously lost. They exchanged words. The offenders turned onto a side street out of which came a DC police cruiser. The cop pulled over the SUV driver, apparently for making a public nuisance out of himself. I felt bad for him. He won’t win Mr. Congeniality either.

I turned off 16th and found 14th with a bike lane. It ended at a T on Aspen Street. A left turn and soon I was cruising down a series of S curves into Rock Creek Park. This road is part of the 50 States Ride so I have ridden it several times. It is the bestest.

At the bottom of the hill I turned right and headed for Chevy Chase (the neighborhood not the actor). I spent a few minutes on Rock Creek Trestle The creek is way down there.

Reversing course, I made for Bethesda Row and its fine array of eateries. After crossing a busy street the trail makes a hard left turn. The woman cyclist in front of me was wearing the full bike rider kit (matching lycra top and bottom). She clipped into her pedals and seemed to be going at a snail’s pace. As I was about to pass her, she waved me by with her left hand. In her hand was a lit cigarette. Carbon makes bikes go faster, or so they say.

I ate at Bethesda Bagels because it’s good and I am boring. I always eat there when I bike to Bethesda.

Instead of dealing with the Capital Crescent Trail crowds I headed out on the quiet side streets of Bethesda. A right hand turn put me on Bradley Boulevard, normally a busy road but not I had PEDs in my pedals. After passing through Avenel I picked up Falls Road. A left on MacArthur Boulevard had me descending through the woods of Great Falls Park, The windy road is flawed only slightly by the bumpy pavement, otherwise this one rivals the downhill into Rock Creek Park.

I was headed into the wind but the descent made me unaware. At the Old Anglers Inn, I jumped on the C & O Canal towpath for the ride back to DC. Now that I had slowed down, the headwind was annoying. Little Nellie’s short wheel base does not make for a comfortable ride on rough surfaces. I bounced along slaloming among the walkers and runners. I spotted a big great blue heron standing still on a log over the canal. Even with the bumps, the ride on the C & O Canal is a thing of beauty, Except for the gnats swarms. For about four miles I encountered clouds of flying black bugs They don’t bite but they get into everything, your mouth, eyes, hair, ears.  And your whole body gets covered in them. Ick.

After switching over to the paved Capital Crescent Trail, I looked at the Seussian Cormorants perched in the trees along the Potomac. They do this every year, feeding on the fish swimming up river to spawn.

Back in the city, I decided to avoid the cherry blossom scene and the Mount Vernon Trail, I took the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge to the MVT for about a mile then crossed over to the Pentagon. With a stifling headwind, I followed roads past the vast Pentagon parking lots and Long Bridge Park, through Crystal City and Potomac Yards. In Old Town Alexandria I followed Columbus Street, several blocks from the touristy madness. After waiting at a stop light, I started pedaling when it turned green. The car opposite me starting coming through the intersection too. A green taxi coming from the cross street blew through the light. I think the light must have been back lit for the driver. If I had had a tailwind instead of a headwind, I’d have been roadkill. The taxi missed us both.

South of Alexandria, the Mount Vernon Trail wasn’t crowded so I hopped on it and slogged into the wind.

At home, I took inventory: my hands hurt. my back hurt. my arms hurt. my knees hurt. My face and thighs burned.

Spring is here.

For some pix check out my Flickr page here.