My Surly CrossCheck keeps truckin’ along. A couple of days ago it reached another milestone.
My Surly CrossCheck keeps truckin’ along. A couple of days ago it reached another milestone.
The new Eisenhower Memorial is now open for visitors. It is wedged rather creatively between the US Department of Education and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on Maryland Avenue SW in Washington DC.
The back of the memorial is a screen with a sort of camouflage netting. There are benches all around and large displays with statues. The displays are inscribed with Ike’s words, including a small excerpt from his remarks to the troops before D-Day and a piece of his farewell speech in which he warns of the military industrial complex.
His words are eloquent and his attitude humble. Whenever I see film of him reminiscing about the Second World War, I am struck by how truly saddened he is by all the deaths and suffering. This comes through in the words etched into the marble walls. Off to the side is a wall commemorating his postwar homecoming. He was just a kid from Abilene Kansas who aspired to a modest life as a policeman or a train conductor who ended up freeing millions from tyranny.
The ongoing tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic is overwhelming. We hear statistics day after day. Over 200,000 dead. Millions infected. They numb our conscience. So Bethesda, Maryland artists Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg acted. I asked her why and she said “We had to do something.”
So she designed an art project called In America. In a swath of grass 20 blocks east of the Capitol, she is planting row after row of white flags, one for each covid-19 death in the United States. She expects there to be about 240,000 of them from today until November 6.
The orderly flags remind me of the white headstones in military cemeteries like Arlington and Colleville-sur-Mer. So clean. So white. So much death. How could this happen in America?
To drive home the point, on the western front of the installation is a set of over 300 white flags. To the side are 26 more. The 26 flags represent the total covid-19 deaths in New Zealand. The 300+ flags show the covid-19 deaths that New Zealand would have had if it had followed the haphazard response that occurred in the United States.
There is something about this particular part of DC that draws the sad and the bizzarre. The last time I had ridden a bike to this space was to participate in a BikeDC event shortly after the attacks of September 2001. A massive crowd of bicyclists stood somberly. We were there to show that no matter what we would carry on. We sang God Bless America then rolled off en masse.
Three years before that I attended the Tibetan Freedom concert in RFK Stadium across the street to the east of the flags. In the middle of the concert I went to the concession stand. I heard a loud BANG. Lightning had struck a person some 20 rows or so below my seat. (She survived.) The concert was stopped and the massive crowd was told to leave the stadium in the middle of a raging thunderstorm.
And so here I was again observing another sad and bizzare moment in history.
Volunteers are welcome to come and install flags. Sadly, there will be about 1,000 new flags every day for the duration of the display. Wear a mask and observe social distancing, of course. Or just come and bear witness.
Wandering through DC
I am out of clever ideas for riding in this pandemic. On Monday I left home thinking I’d ride out the C & O Canal to Great Falls. When I got to the turnoff to pick up the towpath I decided not to turn. Instead I rode up Rock Creek Park for a mile and then exited up the short hill onto P Street.
From P Street I headed east until I spotted a statue. Must be someone important, I thought. It was the Bard of Ukraine. Yeah, well.
After checking out the bard, I moseyed over to Q Street where I found a statue of the man who united the Czachs and the Slovaks to create Czechoslovakia. He died a couple of years before the Nazis invaded. Timing is everything.
Next I started riding across town on Q Street. A cyclist rolled past. His bike was adorned with touring items, a set of front panniers, a rack bag, a tin cup hanging off the bag, etc. At the next stop light he turned and realized he knew me. It was Joe, a #bikedc friend. We had bonded over tails our our separate cross-country bike tours and the post-tour afterglow we both experienced.
Joe guided me across town through a chicane at Florida Avenue. He pointed out the gun sensor (used to notify policy of gunfire) and noted that we were in the neighborhood where the notorious drug kingpin, Rayful Edmond, ran his operation back in the days when crack was king. (Mr. Edmond was sent to the big house years ago.)
We made it through unscathed then took on the intersection of New York and New Jersey Avenues, the infamous Dave Thomas Circle. It’s actually not a traffic circle. It’s just one of dozens of places where avenues and streets intersect to form a traffic triangle. It gets its name (albeit unofficial) from the fact that there’s a Wendy’s in the middle of the triangle. City planners have promised to fix this mess for decades. I suggest a well placed explosive device would be a good start.
Joe guided me off road across the circle using curb cuts. I am impressed that he pulled this off without eliciting a single honk from drivers. We were fish on a reef swimming past the sharks. Back on Florida Avenue, we made our way into a protected bike lane. It had flexposts on the left hand side. This was great. It was filled with debris and park vehicles. This was not great.
To our left were several brand new high rise apartment buildings. Joe said his good byes and veered off to his posh abode. I continued on past Gallaudet University. A few blocks later I passed the ghost bike (a bike painted in white) that marks where my friend Dave was killed by a maniac driving a stolen van.
As depressing as the site is, I am always buoyed by think of Dave. He was a splendid human being.
Florida took me to H Street and Benning Road. I crossed the Anacostia River and took the Anacostia River Trail all the way to the South Capitol Street bridge. I rode on the side walk across the bridge and admired the new bridge being built to my left. They can’t finish it too soon. The sidewalk is falling apart.
Back on the west side of the river, I turned near Nationals Park. I managed to ride through a whole mess of construction, around Fort McNair, and down past the Wharf. This area is normally a beehive of activity but the pandemic…well, you know.
I decided to head for home and ended up riding 40 miles. Not bad for someone just wandering around.
Return to Yorktown
Yesterday, my wife, daughter, and I drove to Williamsburg VA so that my daughter could check out the law school at William and Mary University. We stopped in The Cheese Shop for sandwiches. The inside was very crowded. Everyone wore a mask but I still was very uncomfortable. We ate our sandwiches outside in perfect weather. Then I took off on my Cross Check for Yorktown.
It’s pretty easy to find. You get on the Colonial Parkway and in 13 miles you’re there. What’s the fun of that. I used the Google and found an alternate route. The first three miles were fine but for the next five miles I was on a four-lane highway with no shoulder, Not fun.
I complicated matters by missing a turn. Or two.
Thankful for my mirror, I boogied on until I saw a sign for Yorktown. Yay. I followed the sign then kept going and was rewarded with a placid two lane country road that led directly to the southern side of the battlefield.
As luck would have it I came upon the earthworks behind which the good guys had been positioned while starving the Brits in their encampment along the York River near the town.
It was near here (according to a road side sign) that Cornwallis surrendered his sword to Washington. (Cornwallis didn’t actually participate. He was sick. He send his second in command with his sword. The second in command didn’t know what Washington looked like so he tried to surrender to French General Rochambeau. Rochambeau set him right. Washington directed him to his second in command because protocol.
After this odd history lesson I rode past the victory monument, which is the eastern terminus to the TransAmerica bicycle route.
Using the Google again, I rode down to the beach along York River where so many cross country tourists have dipped their wheels.
I followed the river past the quaint town and along a bluff. This took me to the Colonial Parkway which made for easy navigation back to Williamsburg.
All of which is to say, if you don’t know where you’re going any road will take your there.
One of the very best things about living in the DC area is Rock Creek Park, a wooden canyon right down the middle of the city from north to south.
When I first moved to DC I signed up for a 10-mile road race in the park. It began at Carter Barron Amphitheater on the eastern rim in the middle of the park. I was unfamiliar with the park’s topography so I attacked the course with confidence. The course went down into the park then up the other side then down into the park then up the other side then down into the park… You get the picture. I was trashed at the finish.
Mostly I use the park for bike riding on the weekends when the main north-south road, Beach Drive, is closed to cars. I ride the Mount Vernon Trail to Georgetown where I pick up the Capital Crescent Trail. This paved trail takes me gradually uphill to Bethesda, Maryland. Then I ride east a few miles east before turning south into the park. For the next ten miles it’s gently downhill. The road follows the creek as it winds its way back to Georgetown.
The National Park Service operates the park. A few years ago they repaved Beach Drive. The smooth pavement makes for a sweet ride.
This time of year is the best time to ride in the park. The angle of the sun is low. The trees are turning. Leaves are falling like snow flakes. And the cool temperatures mean that you don’t end up a dehydrated mess (which is pretty par for the course around here in the summer.)
The park was quite busy today. I saw dozens of families with little kids picnicking near the creek, biking on the road, and hiking the trails.
Today, for the first time, I decided to ride with the big dogs. Normally, I get off the road near Pierce Mill, a mile or so north of the National Zoo. From here south, cars are allowed on the roadway. Today, however, I stayed on the road all the way to Georgetown. Traffic was light and the downhill grade helped me maintain 18 to 20 miles per hour.
About halfway to Georgetown, Beach Drive widens from two to four lanes. No worries. The light Sunday traffic left me with a lane all to myself for about two miles.
At the K Street overpass, cars were backed up from a traffic light near the Watergate complex. I diverted to the side path to avoid the wait. As I did I saw a tall red-headed woman running toward me. She looked familiar and sure enough it was my physical therapist. I didn’t ID her until just as I was passing her. She didn’t recognize me because she was focused on getting across an intersection without being hit by cars, scooters, bikes, runners, baby strollers, etc. Also, between my helmet, sunglasses, and Buff, my own mother could not have identified me.
The 15-mile ride home along the Potomac River was pretty splendid, even with a headwind. Having taken yesterday off from the bike, I managed to ride 51 miles today without the least bit of difficulty.
Time for a nap.
Today was the first day since the before times that we allowed our bi-weekly cleaning service back into our house. This meant that my wife and I didn’t have to spend a good part of the day cleaning. It also meant that we needed to get out of the cleaners’ way. Normally, we would go to a diner then a library. With that off the table (or booth) my wife made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. “Why don’t we drive someplace, I’ll drop you off and you can ride your bike home?”
Sounds like a plan to me.
So we jumped in my dusty Accord and drove to Purcellville, Virginia at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I would ride east 45 miles on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail back to Arlington. There I’d pick up the Four Mile Run Trail for a couple of miles before turning south on the Mount Vernon Trail.
With the pandemic still in evidence, the drive to the start was uneventful. I left my wife to check out the bakery at the trailhead. (Thumbs up on the eclairs, she reports.)
I expected the ride to be mostly downhill. It is. Purcellville is at 575 feet whereas the low point of the ride near National Airport is at 15 feet. Of course there are a few long grades both up and down along the way, as well as a few abrupt rollers to keep things interesting.
What I wasn’t counting on was the headwind. Having an invisible hand on my chest put a damper on my speed. I did do a few miles at 18 to 20 miles per hour but not as many as I had hoped.
The trails were not crowded at all, except for one group of eight old folks out for a meander. Old people suck. Oh, wait….
Anyway, a few minutes delay is not much to complain about.
I had two small energy bars left over from my 50-States Ride goodie bag. That’s all I ate. I was surprised that I didn’t bonk. I also drank two large water bottles. Maybe my modest intake is to blame for the cramps that came on during my post-ride stenosis physical therapy session.
Outside Purcellville I saw a momma and a young deer. They were too shy to be photographed. Later I saw a Dad with his daughter examining a box turtle that had inched onto the trail. My final critter of the day was a rather large groundhog that was standing at attention a foot off the trail in Vienna. It seemed not the least bit concerned about me as I rode past.
The trees are turning. I had hoped for more reds but today offered more browns and yellows. One big leaf decided to hitchhike on my front wheel causing a racket when it got stuck between my tire and fender.
I was sorely tempted by the breweries and brew pubs along the trail. There seems to be one every five miles or so. You could get a serious buzz on if you stopped at each one.
East of Vienna the trail is undergoing work. There’s a detour that I couldn’t quite figure out but once I got straightened away, I found it: a on-road protected cycletrack (two lanes, one in each direction). Well done. In Falls Church city, the trail is being doubled to accommodate traffic. (I wonder if people opposed the trail when it was being built, thinking nobody will use it. Can’t imagine what they’re thinking now.) The detour around the construction is on road and unprotected. There’s hardly any car traffic so no worries.
At the eastern end of the Falls Church construction is a new bridge that will take the trial over North Washington Street and do away with a dangerous at-grade crossing. It looks like the bridge is nearly done. It’ll be a huge improvement.
Back on the street near home, drivers weren’t allowing me to move over to make a left-hand turn. I kept riding straight and overshot my turn. Before doubling back I could see the line for early voting at the government center down the street. Yesterday the line extended nearly a half mile along the sidewalk. Today, it was considerably shorter but my wife says that’s because people were a bit more bunched together. These two days brought to mind the lines at the polling place on election day 2008 when the prospect of the first black president brought an incredible turnout.
It’s been a while since I did a point-to-point ride, the stuff of bike tours. DC-area trails are limited in coverage and connectivity but if you play your cards right you can ride 57 miles and do 54 1/2 of them without a big metal thing breathing down your neck. Not a bad way to avoid a cleaning crew if you ask me.
Numbers. They seem to crop up over and over today. So let’s begin.
Banking gone bonkers
I had an 18-month CD mature yesterday. I forget what the interest rate was but it was definitely more than the bank is offering for an 18-month CD now. So I went to the bank to see what my options were. As it turned out, the best deal I could get was for an 11-month CD at 0.6 percent. Give them your money for longer and they penalize you. Hmmm.
This is quite a shock to someone who saw rates of 20 percent on six-month CDs at Rhode Island savings and loans in the early 1980s. Brown University had a policy whereby it would loan students money interest free for six months. So enterprising students would get their free loan, walk down College Hill to downtown and buy a 20 percent CD. Easiest $1,000 they ever made.
The tale does not end so well. State chartered S & Ls were insured by a bogus state insurance fund. The fund went belly up and the S & Ls (and their share holders) went belly up with them. The Reagan years had their charms.
The biggest mail day of the year
Did your mailbox seem unusually full today? Ours did. We had 26 pieces of mail, 17 letters and nine catalogues. I’ll bet you didn’t know that the day after the Columbus Day holiday is the Postal Service’s biggest volume day of the year. (With the well publicized disruptions in service this year, the jackpot in your mailbox might be distributed over the next few days). I felt really bad for our letter carrier. He’s going to need some serious pain relief tonight.
This reminds me of how my mother, who grew up in central New Jersey, used to “take care of” the mailman and the newspaper delivery boy and others at Christmas time. “Take care of” is New York City jargon for giving them some cash at the end of the year.
You’ll like our dentist. Or not.
Our daughter has been grousing about her dentist. He seems to try to sell her things (e.g., a mouth guard, Invisiline braces) that she doesn’t want. It really stresses her out. My wife and I love our dentist so we told her to check him out.
Today was the day. After her cleaning and x-rays, the dentist examined her mouth. Then they had a chat. “Why did you leave your old dentist?” My daughter explained getting stressed out by his up-selling. Our dentist then explained that he never does that. If you want to discuss products or services, he’ll happily do so, but he doesn’t believe in hard sell tactics. Then he broke the news. He found five cavities. Derp.
Why I wear a mask while riding
I know that the odds of getting covid (or any other disease) is tiny when I am riding my bike. Being in several high risk groups, I wear one anyway just to be on the safe side. Today I found a second reason to wear a mask.
Back when I was commuting or riding to night games at Nationals Park, I would ride home in the cool of the evening or nighttime. The ride along the Mount Vernon Trail from DC to my home in Mount Vernon is usually pretty splendid, but, when conditions are just right, I can find myself riding through clouds of midges. Billions of them. Midges are tiny flying black bugs. They get in your hair, eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. They also stick to your arms and your clothing.
You’re riding along enjoying the cool air when suddenly
ACK, SPIT, AYYY, GAG!!!!!
You struggle to maintain control of the bike. You have to wipe the bugs out of your eyes and brush them off your arms and legs and clothing. And then you take a swig of water from your bottle and rinse out your mouthful of the little beasts.
Dis. Gus. Ting.
Did I say how gross this is? The best you can say about the experience is that midges are free flying protein.
Today, I was buzzing along on the MVT when I rode into a swarm. A few got in my eyes. Dozens stuck to my shirt. My mouth, however, was saved from the onslaught by my face mask. Pandemic for the win!!!
Somehow the weather in the DC area has been nearly perfect for about two weeks. Temperatures in the 60s. Low humidity. Sunny days with puffy white clouds (mostly). You’d think that I’d be out riding sixty-mile days one after the other but you’d be wrong. This is perfect sleeping weather. Having endured over 8,000 miles of bike riding so far this year, my body is making full use of the opportunity to re-charge itself.
Still, I’m out there nearly every day, spinning away for three or four hours. I’ve pretty much carved a rut in the roads and trails near home. I’ve been watching the trees closely. Only now are the leaves starting to turn. There are a few showoffs here and there but green still predominates.
Today was pretty typical. I rode my Cross Check across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge (I-95 and I-495, or more familiarly the Beltway) into Maryland. Then a half mile up Oxon Hill. Once at the top I turned to the south and rode a bike lane through three small traffic circles. I get my thrills wherever I can find them. Then I did two 4 1/4 mile loops on Fort Foote Road. It’s middle America suburbia. Nothing to write home about but it has nice rollers and a few fun curves.
On the way back across the bridge I heard some people up ahead looking over the railing, clapping and yelling “YAY!!” I stopped to check out the scene. The people on the bridge were applauding a wedding down below on a pier. By the time I got my phone out the deed had been done and the bride (in a faded pink gown) and groom were making their exit. That’s them just after they stepped off the pier in the picture.
When I get home from these excursions I shower, eat snacks, and settle down to read. My daughter has been supplying me with books, nearly all novels, all summer. I left this biography for last. It’s about 740 pages of small print. It’s going to take a while. Chernow is a wonderful writer but the bike rides and the weather are conspiring to knock me out every 10 or 20 pages or so.
I read Chernow’s Grant biography last year and loved it. So I have no doubt that this book will be worth the effort.
In case you were wondering, I saw the Kennedy Center production of Hamilton last year. And I saw the Disney+ filmed version a couple of months ago. I’m not really big on musicals but the stage production of Hamilton is mindbogglingly good.
I have always been fascinated by creative people, musicians especially. They spend a decade or so absorbing all kinds of influences and then there’s an eruption. Stevie Wonder in the early 1970s is a good example. How Lin Manuel Miranda went from the book which is a straightforward biography to a hip-hop musical is beyond me.
Well, it’s time to get back to Mr. Hamilton. When I’m done with this I’ll be moving back to novels. The new Nick Hornby and Fredrik Bachman books are calling me.
Since nearly every other thing I planned to do this year has gone bung, I have decided to keep one simple goal in sight: riding 10,000 miles for the third year in a row.
I found motivation and physical wellbeing to be in somewhat short supply this month. Still, with the help of the 50 States Ride and a string of 30 to 40 mile rides around town, I managed to grunt my way through 887 miles. It should have been far less because we had planned to go to Peru on vacation, but, well, you know. I would have ridden more but I wanted to watch as much Nationals baseball as possible. (I saw 59 out of 60 games and listened to the end of the 60th in the car on the way home from the 50 States.)
For the year, I’ve ridden 7,743 miles. So I have to average 752 miles per month the rest of the year. I’d say my chances are about 50-50.
After a day of riding 65 hilly miles, my legs felt like concrete. Yesterday I was walking around like Frankenstein. In a fit of sanity, I took the day off.
Today my legs felt much better. I decided to go for a spin but before I began I raised my saddle a smidgen. Small changes to saddle height and other bicycle settings can make an enormous difference in comfort. Just a couple of millimeters was all it took to calm my sore left knee. I had no pain at all during my 35-mile ride up to DC and back. The change also seemed to help my lower back.
About a mile from home, I pulled The Mule over to take a picture..
I am beginning to wonder whether The Mule will outlast me.