Big Nellie Update

On Thursday evening, I was riding Big Nellie, my long wheel base recumbent, home from a social event in DC, when the front fork (the part that holds the wheel to the steering mechanism) snapped off. The bike is a Tour Easy which was made by a company called Easy Racers. Easy Racers apparently went under a few years ago. Many of the components on this rather exotic looking machine are standard bike parts made by companies like Shimano and Grip Shifter. Alas, the fork is not one of them.

I posted a picture of my fractured friend online and tagged Bikes@Vienna, the shop where I bought the bike 20 years and over 43,000 miles ago. To my surprise, Tim, the shop owner, said he might have a replacement fork. I drove Big Nellie out to Vienna and dropped it off.

The next day I heard back from Tim and one of his mechanics. The forks they have are not the right size so Tim advised that I send an email to the man who last owned Easy Racers and cross my fingers.

I followed his advice but also sent emails to several well known (to me anyway) recumbent dealers all over the country. One immediately responded with a “no.” A few hours passed when I received an email from Peter at Bicycle Man in Alfred Station, New York. (I am a native of upstate New Your and had to look this up on a map. It’s between Elmira and Buffalo.)

Lo and behold he had a few original Easy Racer forks. After a couple of phone conversations made unproductive by my rank ignorance of bike components, Peter offered to call Tim and iron out a solution. As it turns out, the fork is incompatible with my stem and headset (parts that connect the fork to the handlebars) but that can be remedied by replacing the latter two components which are standard bike parts.

As I write, my new fork is on its way from upstate New York to Northern Virginia. I won’t see the completed bike for several weeks because this is the peak time for bike repairs, a situaiton exacerbated by the pandemic.

The bike also needs a new middle chainring, which was damaged during my crash somehow. And, since I haven’t done any maintenance on the bike in years, there is a laundry list of other repairs. For example, the Grip Shifters lost their tackiness a long time ago, an issue I have been remedying with hockey tape. And since the bike is in for work anyway, I am getting a new chain and cassette (rear gears). The chain is pricey because this bike uses three chains linked in one long loop.

I am not replacing the bar end plugs. I have plenty of wine corks which had a little panache.

So thanks to the interwebs and the brotherhood of recumbent bike dealers, I believe I’ll have Big Nellie back on the road in time for some riding later this summer.

When you get to a fork in the road, break it

This last week or so I’ve been getting out and about, almost like the before times. My daughter and I took in our first Nats baseball game since September 2019. The Nats were kind enough to reward our presence with a win.

On Wednesday, I returned to the ballyard alone for a day game. They won again. My seats were less than ideal. Half the stands were in shade. Sadly, I was not and my legs were fried by the strong summer sun even though temperatures stayed quite comfortable. My sunburn was not for naught; the Nats won again.

Section 317, Row A.

Thursday began with my first trip to a diner in over a year. Later in the day, I attended my first post-pandemic #bikedc social event with the return of Third Thursday Happy Hour. In an exchange on social media, my friend Miles mocked my recumbent. Big Nellie was offended and insisted on being ridden to the get-together. About 20 people assembled at the snack bar at the golf course in East Potomac Park. I haven’t seen so many golfers in one place in my entire life. It was crazy.

The bike crowd was in a good mood and the conversation flowed along with the beer. I did not partake of the brews because of last Saturday’s tummy issues. After a couple of hours I rode home.

All was going splendidly. About seven miles into the ride, the Mount Vernon Trail has a small curve to go around a wooded wet area next to the river. At the peak of the curve, on a slight incline, all was well. I banked Big Nellie to the left to continue down the incline. As my front wheel hit a sizeable bump from a tree root, I began my lean to the right to negotiate the next turn.

And then I crashed.

It happened before I could react. I realized before my right side hit the pavement that my hands, still on the handlebar grips, were in an odd place, off to the left instead of directly in front of me. I landed on the pavement. Ow. My right shoulder, hip, and elbow took the force of the fall. (Just scrapes. No broken bones.) I managed to scoot myself off the trail and onto the grass to avoid being run over.

The pain seemed to intensify as I stood and tried to upright my bike. Then I realized what had happened; both blades of my fork had incurred catastrophic failure. I had to drag the bike to the grass because the front wheel would no longer roll.

No bueno. Over 43,000 miles of wear and tear.

A runner saw the crash and came along to see if I was okay. I said “I want my mommy.”

Okay, I lied about that.

His name was Rob and he carried my bike about 200 yards to a parking area. Thanks, Rob.

Rob. Dead Bike Carrier Extraordinaire

My wife and daughter came to my aid and we drove the last 8 miles home.

I posted pix on the Internet and tagged Bikes@Vienna, the shop where I bought the bike, hoping rather desperately that he could help with a repair. The bike’s manufacturer is no longer in business and the fork is a rather exotic part. It has unusually long trail, which means it situates the front wheel well in front of the frame.

To my astonishment, Tim, the owner of the shop, texted me back saying that he may have a replacement fork.

This morning I rode The Mule to my first Friday Coffee Club since March 2020. My motivation was to see my friend Lis who has been overseas for most of the last couple of years. Lis and I didn’t get to talk much but I did manage to chat with several other people. The weather cooperated splendidly, dry and slightly warm with a soft, cool breeze.

On the ride home I managed to negotiate the curve of doom without incident. The Mule abides.

This afternoon I took Big Nellie out to Bikes@Vienna. Dr. TIm and his able assistant Igor (actually she’s Beth and somewhat disappointingly doesn’t have a hunchback) will take things apart and see what can be done.

My fingers are crossed that Big Nellie can be saved from the recumbent graveyard.

Sweet and Nasty

There are right ways and wrong ways to do a hilly bicycling event. I chose the latter.

On Friday night, I dined on a Texas chili mac with cheddar, beans, and onions, a true gut bomb. Saturday morning I ate shredded wheat for breakfast. Then I rode 15 miles to Nationals Park to take in a baseball game, my first since the before times. There I drank my June beers, two tall, bland, vastly overpriced lagers.

The Nats won and I left the ballpark happy. Well, most of me did. The combination of chili, shredded wheat, and beer was causing me intestinal distress that would make both a gastroenterologist and a volcanologist proud.

I made it home in one piece and felt a bit better after some time on the porcelain throne.

Fast forward to the wee hours of the morning. Rumblings within woke me and kept me awake all night. By six in the morning all was calm but I now had the brain fog of a sleeplessness to deal with.

After breakfast I rode The Mule six miles to Jones Point Park in Alexandria. The park is bisected by the massive Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Beneath the bridge was the starting point for the Washington Area Bicyclists Association Sweet Ride. I had chosen to do the 50-mile route despite the fact that the registration page warned that it was “a challenge” because it included 2,654 feet of climbing.

I have issues with climbing. Basically, I stink at it. I could get better if I rode up hills with some regularity, but my thinking is: why ruin a nice ride with pain?

The Sweet Ride route was merciful for the first ten miles, following flat streets and trails in Alexandria and Arlington before using the Mount Vernon Trail for a mile-long spin along the Potomac River.

Alas, the MVT ends at a switchback climb to the Martha Custis Trail. The Custis (nobody calls it the MCT for some reason) climbs out of the Rosslyn neighborhood for a mile or so. Then the “challenging” part begins.

The next nine miles traverses scenic (check out the landscaping, see the pretty Arts and Crafts McMansions) North Arlington. The hills seemed to go up forever until they plunged down to a stop sign, stealing riders of their reward for all that hard work going up. I was glad I had chosen The Mule for this event because it is equipped with a tiny granny gear that I purchased to climb over Monarch Pass in Colorado in 2019.

I stopped at a pit stop to refill a water bottle and say hello to Kristin, WABA’s development and acting managing director. I seem to see her only when I am zonked from riding. In any case it was the first time I’d seen her since 2019 so I didn’t mind the zonked part. That is until she said there would be more climbing in the miles ahead.

And there was.

Thank the gods for granny gears.

At least the neighborhoods were interesting and the traffic was light. At mile 10, I arrived on the Custis Trail again. This led to a somewhat confusing meander through the Ballston area. I briefly lived in this area in the mid to late 1980s. I proposed to my wife at the miniature golf course and took my sister for her first Mexican food meal at a tiny place in a small wood framed shop. Those places are gone, replaced by fancy townhouses and mid rise apartment and office buildings.

Most of the riders I encountered during the event were using GPS cue sheets. I am old school and had a paper cue sheet attached to my handlebars. I couldn’t keep up with the mod crowd because I had to stop and turn the page of my cue sheet booklet from time to time. Also, I am old and slow.

We connected to the Bluemont Trail which I haven’t ridden in 25 years. This led to the Washington and Old Dominion Trail which was packed with families enjoying the lovely weather. In short order I pulled into the pit stop in Bluemont Park where I was greeted by old friend, Ursula, another WABA person, and generally all around great human. Once again this was my first time seeing her since 2019.

I briefly chatted with a man named Adam who kidded me that he thought I should be riding “out in Montana somewhere.” For the life of me, I have no idea how he knew who I was. My broken fusiform gyrus once again was paying me a visit.

Just before I was to begin riding again, Ed Felkerino, randonneur extraordinaire and co-founder of Friday Coffee Club, appeared at my side as if out of the ether. We chatted briefly, He wasn’t doing the event, just out for a bike stroll, probably headed for Cafe Amouri in Vienna. Yet another person from the before times. Maybe if this keeps up I’ll start to feel less pandemicy sometime soon.

I rolled away on the W&OD to the city of Falls Church where the route wandered past all kinds of smaller but finely designed homes. By this point, my landscaping envy was through the roof. How the heck do these people get such awesome hydrangeas, enormous bushes with blossoms that look like cotton candy. Mine just dry out and die no matter how much I water them.

After a five-minute wait to cross six lanes of US 50, scourge of my ride across Nevada, I found myself in the Lake Barcroft section of Fairfax County. Dang this is nice! I don’t think I had ever been through this area. Rolling hills and curving roads, not to mention the lake, made me not care too much about my now-all-but-dead legs.

Out of Lake Barcroft, the route traversed Bailey’s Crossroads and dropped onto the Holmes Run Trail. The last time I had used this entrance to the trail was in the Hoppy 100 ride. We descended to the trailhead in an absolute deluge. The trial runs along and across Holmes Run (run means creek in Virginia-speak). The downpour had caused the run to flood but we rode through the waters without harm. Today, without a recent downpour, some of the crossings were closed, evidence that this well intentioned trail is a bit of a mess.

The cue sheet said to take a left but it wasn’t clear to me that the left was the one that was directly in front of me or further on. I chose the latter and was wrong. I came out of Holmes Run about a quarter mile south of the route. The Google helped me remedy my error and I was back on track on the streets of Alexandria.

After a couple of easy miles, the streets led back to the Holmes Run Trail where I found the final pit stop, staffed by Anna, WABA’s events coordinator. The only time I ever seem to meet Anna is at pit stops, She’s now officially Pit Stop Anna. Anna informed me that the route has nearly the same elevation gain as the 50 States Ride. It sure felt like it but the 50 States gains about 3,041 feet in 60 miles compared to the 2,654 for this 50-mile ride. On a per mile basis, however, the Sweet Ride gains 53 feet of elevation per mile compared to 50 feet per mile for 50-States.

Anna is soon to be named WABA’s statistics coordinator.

The next several miles were along the trail and completely flat Eisenhower Avenue. I took a left on Mill Road and realized that the next few steps on the cue sheet didn’t work. Hmm. About a mile later I came to realize that Mill Road forms a U, curving back to Eisenhower; I had turned too soon.

No worries. I was now in the Carlyle neighborhood, familiar turf. The route took me up the final hill of the ride, a roughly mile-long incline on King Street headed west. I normally find this climb frustrating because it looks easy but it wears you out with its length. By this point though my legs didn’t much care. I just lowered my torso over the top tube, relaxed my arms and spun away.

The climb was followed by a lovely, curving downhill on Valley Drive through the Park Fairfax neighborhood. This led to the Four Mile Run Trail and blissful level ground. I took Commonwealth Avenue across Del Ray then continued through Old Town back to Jones Point Park.

At the finish, my starting place was now a pit stop for riders who had begun their ride at a second starting point five miles away in Crystal City. The stop was staffed by my friend Monica who seemed elated to learn that I was not passing through but had just finished the route. I was about to ride home when she asked me whether I wanted a vegan, vegetarian, or chicken lunch, I had forgotten that lunch was included in the registration fee.

The food came from Nandos. Lord did it hit the spot. This was the best ride food on a WABA ride in a long time. The grub included a wrap, a bag of chips, a brownie, and a Capri Sun. Sugary drinks taste like champagne after a long slog on a bike.

Other goodies for riders included a bandana with the pattern used on the cue sheet above and a black drawstring bag from Nandos.

After lunch it was time to call it a day. I rode the six miles home on autopilot. I arrived home weary and ready to watch the end of the Nats game on TV, (They won 5-0.)

This was my first Sweet Ride. I missed the first three because of bike tours and the pandemic. Today’s ride makes WABA’s return to more or less normal ride protocols. Aside from masks being worn at pit stops, this seemed like old times.

A final note: I wore my blue 2014 50-states ride shirt today. That year I did a ride with a bunch of 50-States rookies. One of those rookies, my friend Emilia, completed the ride with defective gearing. She didn’t have her lowest gears but managed to ride the distance anyway. (She rode it again with a properly geared bike and kicked my butt.) She proudly held up her shirt at the finish party. I call the shirt my Emilia shirt.

Emilia, who is normally the picture of health, recently had a medical emergency. She posted a couple of pictures on social media of her in a wheel chair. I was pretty upset to see her like this. (It serves me right because I have posted pictures of me in states of medical duress in the past which have resulted in reprimands from friends and family.) After a few days, she contacted me and said she is home from the hospital and on the mend. Get well soon, amiga. The 50-States Ride is in three months!

It’s Swinter. Or Wummer.

I spent my first 28 years living in upstate NY, Boston, and Providence. Each winter, usually in January, there are a couple of weeks where the outside temperatures are so cold that you just give up and stay indoors. You can tell it’s time to surrender when you can feel the inside of your nose freezing.

Temperatures in the DC area rarely get into the single digits Fahrenheit, so we don’t experience these winter doldrums. Instead, we get a sort of inverse winter or swinter or wummer. It gets so hot and muggy outside that you simply shelter in air conditioned place for a while.

I’ve still been riding my bike but doing work in the yard is out of the question. After five minutes you’re drenched in sweat. It’s totally gross. Today I spent ten minutes pruning a lilac bush and I thought I was going to die. I can’t imagine working on a road crew or roofing in this weather.

I suppose we could look at the bright side. The South has this weather for months on end. Here, at least , it comes and goes.

Our air conditioner had been conking out every few months for the last couple of years. It was over 15 years old and, to make matters even worse, sounded so loud that we couldn’t sit on our deck for the noise. So a couple of weeks ago, we replaced it, along with the furnace and the water heater. (My wife’s childhood bedroom was in the basement. One evening the water heater burst. Let’s just say she has water heater PTSD.)

The new AC is so quiet I sometimes don’t know that it’s on. The new furnace has a blower on it that blasts the cold air out of our air ducts. It’s super comfy in our house.

Another way you can tell it’s oppressively hot out is the cicadas. Their activity level increases with the air temperature. I was standing outside waiting for my wife’s car to be emissions inspected today. I was hit by cicada after cicada. I wasn’t anywhere near a tree. They were just bobbing around in the air, totally stoked by the hot air.

I think the 17-year cicadas are very cool but I am getting tired of feeling like the smooth side of velcro.

The forecast calls for a high temperature of 69 on Friday. Then it’s swinter again.

Pass the ice cream.

One Way on the WOD

I’ve really been cooking with gas on my bikes lately. It always takes me a few months after winter departs to get my mechanics working right, but the last week I’ve been riding like a boss. After ten consecutive days of riding over 30 miles a day, I popped a 52 mile ride on my Surly CrossCheck. My route took me up to DC where I rode up Rock Creek Park to Bethesda. After a couple of miles of connecting roads, I hooked up with the Capital Crescent Trail for the return. Beach Drive. the main drag through Rock Creek Park, is closed to through auto traffic in the upper half of the park. This is a positive pandemic dividend. I hope the National Park Service continues this policy because it’s a beautiful ride.

Near the end of yesterday’s ride, the CrossCheck hit 20,000 miles. As is my practice, I am now switching over to other bikes for a while.

Today, The Mule got the call. My wife and daughter drove me out to Purcellville, Virginia where the Washington and Old Dominion (WOD) trail has its western terminus. I bid them farewell and headed for home.

The WOD is about 45 miles long. (A few detours here and there add about a half mile by my odometer). Since it starts at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains the ride loses about 545 feet along the way. The decline isn’t constant, but there are long stretches of gradual downhill that allow for riding at a respectable clip.

A couple of hundred feet from the start of the ride I noticed that my riding position on The Mule is much less aggressive than my position on the CrossCheck. I decided to try an experiment. I adjusted the tilt of the saddle down just a bit. At first it felt strange to have additional weight on my hands. And my butt seemed to have been raised much more than it actually was. After about three miles, I didn’t notice the difference at all and I seemed to have much better power transmission to the pedals.

Dang was I riding fast. I think I had about a 2 mile per hour increase in cruising speed.

To be honest, making a tweak to your riding position before riding 50 miles is not a particularly good idea. But for me. it work out okay.

The more I rode, the more my body liked the new position. Cruising along at 20 miles per hour is not at all normal for me. I blasted through a tunnel of green for ten miles before stopping at Leesburg for a Mule photo op.

As I rode the din from the Brood X, 17-year cicadas was my constant companion. From time to time I heard other summer bugs such as the annual cicadas. The Brood X sound is a low pitched drone coming from the tree tops; the annual bugs make a higher pitched sound that seems to be only a few feet over your head.

The best part of the WOD is the ten miles from Purcellville to Leesburg. After that, development encroaches on the trail corridor. For those of us who remember when much of this area of the corridor was farm land, this change in scenery is a bit depressing.

It is what it is so you just keep rolling along. I past a few turtles in the Ashburn. Later I east of Vienna I saw a deer eating grass on the fringe of the trail. No worries.

Trail traffic was light probably because of severe weather that had raised the humidity noticeably since yesterday.

I booked along through Sterling and Herndon and Reston. Vienna came and went as did Falls Church where some major trail work caused a half mile on-street detour. It brought to mind the fact that I have very little idea what this area looks like beyond eye sight of the trail corridor.

I ran out of WOD in Arlington and stopped for a couple of other photos, one of the trail sign and the other of the Weenie Beenie, an Arlington culinary institution for decades.

With the WOD conquered. I switched to the Four Mile Run Trail which took me three miles further east to the Mount Vernon Trail at National Airport. Turning south on the MVT, I made honest work of the last nine miles. My pace had slowed but by this point my brain had shut down and The Mule and I were on autopilot. Every few miles I had that how-did-I-get-here feeling.

Did I just ride 110 miles in two days? Why am I not crippled? A month ago I would have sworn that my 65-year-old body couldn’t stand a bike tour anymore. Now, it’s telling me “You still got it, kid.”

May Riding

Somehow I managed to ride 887 miles during May. I took four days off, three for a trip to Hartford with my family. I started the month on Big Nellie, then switched to the Cross Check when Nellie reached 45,000 miles on the odometer. I would have ridden much farther but for the many hours I spent working in the yard.

My longest ride was 57 miles, a one-way ride from Purcellville Virginia to home on bike trails. Now that the warm weather is here I’m sure to pop a few longer rides.

For the year I’m at 3,778 miles. That’s 359 miles below the pace I need for another 10,000-mile year. I have to admit I am surprised I am that close because I haven’t been feeling very good until recently. Among other things, I’d been coughing up mucus for weeks . Last week, I quit taking a daily 24-hour antihistamine at the recommendation of my pulmonologist. On my own, I stopped taking my daily asthma medication. After five days I feel so much better. Go figure.

I’ve signed up for an event ride in June, my first since November. It involves 50 miles and over 2,000 feet of climbing.

I only read one book this month: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Original. Reminded me a bit of A. M. Homes.

And I watched only one movie (baseball season): Without Remorse, star vehicle for Michael B. Jordan. Don’t waste your time.

The Great Connecticut Road Trip

My daughter is enrolled in the law school at the University of Connecticut for the fall semester. The school in located in Hartford which is allegedly a six hour drive from our house. Last Thursday we drove there to scope out the school and the nearby rental properties.

The easiest way to get there is to get on I-95 for 300 or so miles to New Haven then drive 50 miles to Hartford on I-91. I hate I-95 in Maryland so we used US 50 and US 301 through the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware. This alternative route is much prettier, has less traffic, and avoids two tolls. Or so we thought. As we crossed into Delaware we encountered a brand new Hwy 301. Unlike the old highway it was limited access, had a 65-mile-per-hour speed limit, and had very little traffic. It also had a brand new $4 toll. Oh well.

We rejoined 95 past the Delaware toll plaza and crawled through concrete spaghetti to the Delaware Memorial Bridge and into New Jersey. We then took the Turnpike toward New York City. Just outside of Woodbridge NJ we took a break at a rest stop. Wanting to avoid 95 through much of New York and lower Connecticut, I turned on the Google and submitted to its routing wisdom. Strangely the Google routed us off the Turnpike, over the Gowanus Bridge, then up US 1 and 9. Not really knowing why we were routed in such an odd direction we slavishly followed the instructions.

After an hour of stressful Jersey urban traffic the Google put us back on 95 and we crossed the George Washington Bridge. After a half hour of crawling the Google sent us up through Westchester County and eventually across Connecticut on I 84. All the while we were stuck in traffic jams. After nine stressful and perplexing hours we made it to Hartford.

I later discovered that my Google Maps app was set to “No Tolls”. This explains the bizarre routing.

After checking in to our hotel we needed some thing relaxing to do. As luck would have it, our hotel was a short walk from Dunkin Donuts Stadium, home of the Hartford Yard Goats AA minor league baseball team. It was a beautiful park and the seats were cheap. We sat behind home plate for $17 per person. The game was a blowout, 11-1 in favor of the visiting Somerset Patriots. The beer selection was decent and the junk food hit the spot.

Our appreciation for major league baseball players was greatly increased by our AA outing. Players in the big leagues make difficult plays look routine. We did see one fielding play, the final out, that was exceptional though. The Patriots second baseman caught a line drive to his left side with a deft sideways leap.

The next day we drove to the UConn Law campus in Hartford’s West End neighborhood. The five buildings all were done in collegiate gothic style. They, and the absolutely perfect grounds, made for a gorgeous campus. Easily in the top ten percent of campuses I have seen (and I’ve seen over 50).

After walking around a bit (all the buildings were closed), we started driving around looking at neighborhoods and rental buildings. There are some mighty nice homes nearby. Curiously, the nice places gave way to once-nice homes that had been neglected seemingly at random from one block to the next. The main commercial road nearest campus seemed to cater to the poor and inebriated. After driving around aimlessly, we took a tour of one apartment building. It was priced right but the neighborhood was sketchy.

We drove around some more and checked out West Hartford, the adjacent suburb to the west. This was much less gritty and reminded me of Bethesda, Maryland.

After a dinner at a downtown Italian restaurant, we crashed at the hotel.

Saturday we toured two more apartments. One was in a cluster of old buildings near campus. The other was a brand new place in West Hartford. For about $400 per month you get seriously nicer housing with a five to ten minute car commute.

It was too early to sign a lease but we at least accomplished getting the lay of the land and the housing market. Afterwards we headed to Guilford Connecticut near Long Island Sound. We had lunch in a deli on the town green. Ah New England! After lunch we drove to Jacobs Beach a few miles away. The beach is relatively small but uncrowded. A nice place to chill after so much driving.

We headed back to Hartford on back roads. It was an hour of immersion in postcard New England. I had forgotten how beautiful this part of the country is. It must be amazing in the fall.

Back in Hartford we ate dinner al fresco at a downtown Mexican restaurant. The food was quite good. The margaritas were too.

The next morning we headed back to DC. This time we re-set the Google to “Tolls” and had a much shorter trip. I-91 to a cars only highway that became the Merritt Parkway. Just before New York we stopped to partake in New England communion at the Dunks at a rest stop.

The Google routed us to the GW Bridge where we encountered the usual traffic snarl. After a 20 minute delay we were back on 95 speed southward. Occasional delays notwithstanding we made good time to Delaware. The temperature was in the 90s so we decided to avoid the beach traffic on 301 and took I 95 instead. One massive back up and 100 mind numbing mile later we arrived at home.

In case you are wondering, a yard goat is the slang term for the engine used to push rail cars around in a rail yard. Even though my grandfather was an engineer and my father and uncles worked a bit in the yards, I had to look it up.

The Mulch Gymnasium

My yard looked like hell. Not surprising considering I have spent the last four years riding a bike 40,000 miles. So with cool weather and, until recently, uncertainty about doing anything involving humans, I decided to spruce things up a bit.

My first project involved repainting a metal stoop. Next up was reworking some landscaping timbers that had been undermined by a massive tree root. After much deliberation, I raised the timbers to avoid cutting the root. The tree owes me one.

A tree company came and took down some trees and ground the stumps. Stump grinding results in a big pile of useless mulch mixed with dirt. I did my best to separate the shredded wood from the dirt and redistributed the shredded wood as mulch in the perimeter garden in the back yard. This project also involved digging up and chopping (of course) some roots from previous tree work. If you take roots out of the soil there is nothing to hold the dirt in place and it becomes a quagmire.

The timbers that I worked on were part of series of six steps that cascade through a garden on the side of the house. The steps are filled with pine nugget mulch. The mulch hadn’t been changed in a few years so I dug it out and replaced it with fresh mulch. As with the stump mulch, I distributed the old mulch in the perimeter garden.

The perimeter garden had once been separated from the lawn by brick pavers. These had been absorbed by the lawn years ago allowing the garden to be overrun with grass and weeds. I dug up about four dozen pavers and manually edged the garden. This created some left over dirt which I put in the stump holes and the tree root quagmire. I later augmented this fill dirt with several 40-pound bags of topsoil.

The final step was to spread dozens of bags of mini pine nuggets on the perimeter garden. On part of the garden I simply buried the invasive turf grass and weeds. On the rest I scraped all the undesired vegetation out of the garden. Ill be interesting to see if the extra work was worthwhile. Finally, I spread the mulch.

All this work took me about a month. At the start of the project I learned that my local hardware store stopped delivering mulch so I had to make multiple runs to the big box hardware store. Seeing as how my car’s trunk holds about eight bags of mulch, this process added several hours. I also have back issues so I made sure not to work more than 2 1/2 hours per day. Finally, rain caused me to skip entire days. I can’t complain because the weather was cool.

The end result looks pretty decent.

Who needs a gym, anyway?

It would suck to be a cow in Cuba

Today’s Washington Post had a story about a large Chinese rocket booster that is expected to fall to earth in the coming days. The story, written by Christian Davenport and Matthew Cappucci, explains that the odds of space debris hitting people are very low. The earth is 70 percent water. And most of the land is sparsely occupied. There has never been a reported incident of a person being hit by falling space debris.

The story does point out that “a cow in Cuba did lose its life in 1961.”

Dang.

Scrape, Ride, Paint, Ride, Level, Ride, Dig, Ride, Watch, Read, Ride, Rest

April was a mixed bag of work around the house and riding. Most days I spent a couple of hours on a project in the morning followed by an afternoon jaunt on my bike.

Projects

I finished two projects. One involved re-painting a steel stoop. It was in rough shape seeing as how the last time I painted it W was president. (Or was it Clinton?) Most of the work was prep. Scraping and grinding and sanding for hours on end. I thought it would go on forever. The actual priming and painting took only an hour or so each. The second project involved fixing some landscape timbers that had been undercut by a giant surface root from a volunteer silver maple. The timbers see saw if you stepped on them. I had the option of cutting the root or working around it. I ended up leaving the root alone and raising the timbers using some bricks I had lying around. It looks okay but will probably only last a year. This took only a few hours. mostly excavating and cogitating.

While this was going on, we had a tree company come and take down two trees, a diseased white pine and another silver maple. The tree crew also removed a couple of Russian olive bushes that were distressed. (They were growing sideways.) The tree folks ground the stumps leaving me the task of cleaning up the aftermath. This involves a great deal of digging and raking and even some root chopping. The soil is mostly clay so this turns out (I am still working on it) to be exhausting work, especially in the recent 80+ degree heat.

I began the month riding The Mule then switched to the Cross Check. After a week on that bike, I’ve moved back to Big Nellie, freed from her basement dungeon. It took a few rides to get my bent legs back but now I’m having a good time banging out one 30-mile day after another.

Miles

I managed to ride 862 miles, or just a tad under 29 miles per day. Last year I only did 772 miles in April so I feel like I’m improving a bit. Year to date I’ve ridden 2,891 miles compared to last year’s 2,906 (which included a leap day). Even though I am 397 miles off the pace for 10,000 miles I am well within reach of another 10,000 mile year, because the big mileage months lie ahead.

The Mule hit 61,000 miles during the month. That’s pretty good for a bike I was going to get rid of 21 years ago. Glad I kept it.

Watching

We watched The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I thought it was kinda meh. I did like Erin Kellyman as the chief baddie. We also watched Concrete Cowboy, a strange movie about horse riding in a poor black neighborhood in Philadelphia. Basically, we’ll watch anything with Idris Elba in it. This one literally put me to sleep though.

My Octopus Teacher won the Academy Award for documentary feature. Entertaining. Octopuses are pretty strange critters.

I also watched nearly all of the Washington Nationals games. I am still not comfortable with going to a game in person. The mostly cool weather only reinforces my reluctance. Klarence, who had yet to be vaccinated, went to one game and said it felt creepy being there with a socially distanced crowd. (She had her first shot a few days after.)

Speaking of shots, I received both my Pfizer shots in March and became fully immune on April 1. I am old enough to have had vaccines for smallpox, polio (one shot and one sugar cube, if I am not mistaken), measles, mumps, shingles, pneumonia, tetanus, and influenza. If vaccines were dangerous, I’d have exploded years ago. Go for the jab, dear readers!

Reading

I only read two books this month. One was a 730-page biography of Sam Phillips by Peter Guralnick. It was overlong and repetitive, not nearly as good as the author’s Elvis and Sam Cooke bios. Still Phillips was quite a force in modern music as he was the first person to record Sly Stone, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Charlie Rich. He also recorded Bill Justis playing the song Raunchy which is a guitar instrumental. John Lennon was so impressed with 14-year-old George Harrison’s version of Raunchy (played on the upper deck of a bus in Liverpool) that he brought him into the Quarrymen. Phillips’s recording techniques were crude but innovative. The rest of his life involved radio stations and such and wasn’t very interesting.

The other book was The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks. It’s a series of case studies of neurological patients with truly strange behaviors. I read this when it came out 35 ears ago and loved it. This time around it didn’t hold my attention.

Stenosis Update

One would think that with all the digging and raking I’ve been doing that my back would be deteriorating by the day. Not so. My stenosis pain has been mostly in check. I do have to take stretching breaks during my digging/raking work but I have to say that I am rather shocked that I’ve made it this far without screaming pain in my back and legs. (The stretching I do is a simple runners stretch involving leaning against a wall and stretching my calves, hamstrings, and glutes. I think it also decompresses my discs.) I took the last day of the month off and went for a two-mile walk. After a quarter mile, my lower back started to ache a bit but the pain didn’t build and I managed to complete the walk without much difficulty.

Looking Ahead

May holds more of the same. Summer bike touring is on hold until I see how the pandemic plays out. Also, my daughter is moving to law school in early August so I need to be home to help with that. After that, maybe a week-long tour of sorts in August followed by a month-long tour this fall. (New Orleans seems like an interesting destination.)