This bike looks suspiciously like a snow shovel

The year opened with warm weather. Nearly warm enough for shorts on the bike. So naturally I took The Mule out for a couple of rides, managing 62 miles to and from DC. The streets were eerily empty.

Then the storm hit. For the first time in three years we were socked with an honest to god snowstorm. By the time it ended we had 11 1/2 inches in our yard. Wet snow. Good packin’ snow as we used to say during my snowball fighting youth

.I broke out the Wovel and went to work on Monday. Neighbors kept remarking at what a clever invention it is. My back was happy. There is no lifting involved just pushing down and thrusting with the legs. The only drawback was that the was so much snow that I ran out of places to put it. After about three hours, I finished the task of freeing up the cars and went inside. My triceps were screaming at me. All that pushing down was like being in a gym on one machine for hours. I went inside, ate, showered, and hit the couch for a well deserved nap.

Madman with Wovel from 2014

On Tuesday morning I went out for round two. On Monday I moved nine inches or so. Tuesday I moved the rest. Same result. I was sore and tired afterward. I repeated my post-shoveling ritual: I ate, took a shower, and fell asleep on the couch.

Yesterday there was no snow to move. Time to ride! But there was no way I was going out on streets narrowed by plowed snow, covered in brine and sand and salt. So I took to the basement for my first bike/reading session of the year. I managed to last 1:48, what I guess is the equivalent of 19 miles. I did a ladder workout. Starting in the lowest gear, read a page, shift up. Go up to the top gear in that chainring then reverse. Next, shift to the big ring and go back up the ladder. I did two sets. My knees were screaming at me.

Big Nellie on a resistance trainer in the basement.

After my ride, I went upstairs and helped Mrs. Rootchopper and our daughter finish the 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle – an end-of-year tradition at our house – we had begun a few days earlier. Eduard Munch’s The Scream.

You’d scream too if you had to do this puzzle.

Today, I planned on going out to deal with the storm damage in our yard. A cedar tree in our back yard had split near the top. The debris came down and was sitting on the power line to our house. Mrs. Rootchopper cut off some of the lower part of the fallen tree top. This took some weight off the line. For the rest we called Dominion Power. They had a crew out in a couple of days. The crew left their cuttings on the ground. A redbud tree on the side of the house had split down the middle of its main trunk. A couple of other large branches were hanging off other trunks.

Top of tree resting on power line.

I first had to move a pile of snow to make way for the new branches. Next I moved a big pile of branches from my wife’s previous efforts out of the mouth of the driveway. Then I started hauling branches, cutting them so that they would stack neatly, then adding them to a huge pile. I planned on 30 minutes. I even put a load of laundry in. Alas, it took three hours. I slipped and fell twice. It was not a lot of fun.

When I finished I came inside and felt like someone had beaten me with a bat. Every muscle ached. My back. My legs. My hands.

So I ate, showered, and took a nap. And did more laundry.

I hope to ride again tomorrow. That may not pan out. There’s another storm coming overnight.

What I Watched in 2021

Aside from dozens of baseball games, I spent some time watching movies and TV series this year.

The Queens Gambit – A mini series about a young girl who is a chess nerd. Sounds dull but it was very entertaining.

Luther – A British TV series about a detective who can’t seem to play by the rules. Idris Elba plays the title character and he’s brilliant.

Midnight Sky – George Clooney is the last man on earth. Well worth watching.

News of the World – A young girl is kidnapped by the Kiowa. Tom Hanks plays the man who takes her home. Could have been a subplot in Lonesome Dove.

Nomadland – This won best picture in 2020. I found it depressing. A woman travels in her creaky van through the American desert searching for like-minded souls. The visuals reminded me of my 2019 bike trip across Utah and Nevada.

A Man Called Ove – The Swedish movie of the Fredrik Bachman novel. Spot on. Soon to be made into an American movies reportedly starting Tom Hanks as Ove. Don’t wait. Watch this one.

Wandavision – The bizarre mini series centered on the post-blip life of the Scarlet Witch character in the Avengers. Good acting. Truly weird story.

I Care a Lot – Rosamund Pike stars as a woman who bilks the elderly out of their fortunes. I’ll watch her in anything. This was entertaining but depressing.

Britt-Marie Was Here – A woman of a certain age gets divorced and moves away from the city to a small town where she becomes the clueless soccer coach for a bunch of ne’er do wells. Another movie based on a Bachman book. Casting nails every character. Nicely done.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Chadwick Boseman’s last on-screen film. Didn’t do a thing for me.

Mank – The story of how Herman Mankiewicz wrote Citizen Kane. Gary Oldham plays the title character even though it’s obvious that he’s 20 years too old for the part. Interesting for its historical aspect but not worth the time.

Pieces of a Woman – Vanessa Kirby as a woman who loses a baby in childbirth. Well acted but utterly depressing.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – A Marvel mini series about the new Captain America. It ain’t Shakespeare.

Concrete Cowboy – Inner city Philadelphia black kids ride horses. A snoozer that even Idris Elba couldn’t save.

My Octopus Teacher – A documentary about a diver who makes friends with an octopus. I am not making this up. Can’t wait for the sequel, My Friend the Squid.

Without Remorse – A star vehicle for Michael B. Jordan. A real dud. I forgot the entire film within a day. Watch him in Friday Night Lights instead.

Lupin – A French series about a man who solves crimes by imitating a character in a 1920s series of kids’ books. Somehow it works. Hoping for another season soon.

Loki – Another Marvel miniseries that didn’t work for me. Owen Wilson, whom I don’t much care for, steals every scene he’s in.

McCartney 1-2-3 – Producer Rick Rubin chats with Paul McCartney about his music. Not much new here for me but it had it’s moments. It’s fun to see Rubin going all fan boy over one of his idols.

Black Widow – The solo outing for ScarJo’s Avengers character. Introduces some characters for future Marvel movies. Glad I didn’t shell out $$ for this at the theater.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – The origin story of a new Avenger, Shang-Chi which apparently means Grasshopper in Cantonese. The first half is totally stolen by Awkwafina. The second half is CGI battle porn. Good cast though. Simu Liu nails the lead. Michele Yeoh, Ben Kingsley, and Tony Leung are fun to watch in anything. First movie in a theater (albeit nearly empty) since the before times.

No Time to Die – Daniel Craig’s final outing as Bond. Kind of a big mess but like most Bond movies very entertaining with many nods to the Bond canon including On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (one of my favorites – don’t at me). Ana de Armas steals a big scene. She should get her own action movie franchise.

Worth – The tru-ish story of the team of people who doled out US government money to the families of 9/11 victims. Michael Keaton, Amy Ryan, and Stanley Tucci are all excellent.

Little Women – Greta Gerwig’s version of the Alcott novel. Not my cup of tea but Gerwig is quite a good director. A terrific cast that even includes July Johnson.

Passing – The story of two black sisters one of whom passes for white in the 1920s in New York. Got great reviews but I’ll be damned if I know why. I didn’t believe the “white” woman for an instant.

Into the Wild – Sean Penn’s movie based on the book by John Krakauer. It’s overlong but days later I could not get it out of my head. Lots of terrific performances.

The Power of the Dog – Benedict Cumberbatch as the bad cowboy brother. Jessie Plemons as the good one. Kirsten Dunst and Jodi Smit-McPhee are also excellent. Not bad except that the terrain of the south island of New Zealand ain’t Montana.

14 Peaks – A documentary about a Nepalese climber who bags the 14 tallest peaks in the world in less than six months, an unheard of feat. I was shivering watching this.

Hawkeye – Yet another Marvel miniseries that I thought didn’t work until Florence Pugh (playing the sister of Black Widow) makes her appearance.

Don’t Look Up – Very funny send up of the idiocy of the intersection of national politics and science. Great script and acting.

Jim Gaffigan, Comedy Monster – A one-hour stand up routine that is funny but not one of Gaffigan’s best.

Spiderman – No Way Home – Better title: Spiderman and the Kitchen Sink. Entertaining. Great to see Alfred Molina back as Doc Ock.

The Lost Daughter – Our choice for New Years Eve. What a downer. I’d watch Olivia Colman in anything though.

A Year on My Bikes – 2021

Well, stick a fork in it, so to speak. 2021 is over and so, too, is my bike riding for the year. After adding 768 miles in December, I finished with 10,333 miles. Bodacious.

Here’s a breakdown by month and bike. My biggest mileage month was September at 1,051 miles My shortest month was February at 547. I averaged 28.3 miles per day. I didn’t do a tour; my longest ride of the year was about 79 miles during a day ride on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

I split the year among three bikes, with my Bike Friday New World Tourist being used only incidentally.

Included in the total are 368 miles that I rode indoors on my Tour Easy recumbent in the basement. It’s set up on a resistance trainer. I impute the distance based on effort and time, assuming I’m riding 10 and 11 miles per hour.

I was consistent and persistent this year. I only twice took more than two days in a row off. In February I spent four days after an ice storm working on my tour journals. In May I spent three days checking out apartments and such for my daughter’s move to law school in Connecticut.

I ended the year with 155,189 miles on the odometers of my four bikes.

I’m on a pretty good roll since I retired in 2017, averaging a little over 10,588 miles per year.

On to 2022. As usual, I have no plans but I am hoping to do a tour. Or two.

What I Read – 2021

I read 26 books this year. It was a bit of an off year which is odd considering the fact that I was house bound for half the year. Anyway, here’s some of what my eyeballs did when not riding my bike in circles.

Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney. Two Irish women. Young. Talented. Witty. Wise. Lesbian, or not. This is a worthy follow up to Rooney’s debut, Normal People. The characters are not particularly likeable but the writing is first rate.

Just Like Us – Nick Hornby. Hornby’s novel about Brexit, bigotry, and May-December romance. I’ve never not liked a Hornby book. This one was no exception.

The Cold Millions – Jess Walter. An historical novel about the socialist labor movement in the early 1900s set in the Pacific Northwest. Industrialists backed by thuggish police confront upstart labor activists. Sounds boring but it’s filled with interesting characters and, to me, forgotten social issues that resonate today. I need to read more of Walter’s books.

Anxious People – Fredrik Bachman. A desperate thief tries to rob a bank that has no cash on hand. Oops. The thief escapes but ends up rather incompetently taking hostages at an apartment open house. If Nick Hornby were Swedish, his name would be Fredrik Bachman.

The Splendid and the Vile – Erik Larson. I’ve been to London three times. On my last trip I visited the Churchill War rooms. Once the tour was over I couldn’t stop thinking what it must have been like in England when the Germans bombed the country at the start of World War II. This book describes exactly that. Fascinating. It made me wonder how DC would react under similar circumstances.

Pretty Girls – Karin Slaughter. Modern gothic fiction in the style of Gone Girl. A very entertaining book with lots of twists and turns. Don’t trust anybody.

The Searcher – Tara French. French channels Robert B. Parker in this tale of a former Chicago detective living in rural Ireland where he gets involved in an unsolved local crime. The small town is filled with loquacious Irish characters who have secrets. I was half expecting Hawk to make an entrance halfway through the book.

State of the Union – Nick Hornby. This is a series of short teleplays written by Hornby for Sundance TV. The teleplays are nearly entirely discussions between a couple hanging out in a pub while waiting to attend their weekly session with a marriage counsellor. The scripts are wonderful in their own right but the performances by Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd in the miniseries turn them into gold. Watch the shows.

In the Garden of Beasts – Erik Larson. The true tale of the principled academic who is appointed American ambassador to Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. Career diplomats loath him and try to undercut him. His daughter carries on affairs with young Nazis who are rising through the ranks. An interesting companion piece to The Splendid and the Vile.

Sam Phillips – Peter Guralnick. If you want to know about rock and roll from the ground up, this book is for you. Phillips launched the recording careers of Ike Turner, Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and many others. After the ’50s, his life is considerably less interesting though. Guralnick’s two volume biography of Elvis and his single volume bio of Sam Cooke are better books, but I loved the fly on the wall feeling of being in the cramped Sun Studios as history was being made.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks. Earlier this year, I watched a PBS documentary about Sacks, a neurologist who revolutionized the field by treating his patients with uncommon empathy and compassion. His observations about the bizarre tricks the brain can play are fascinating. I read this book a long time ago and I am afraid it didn’t stand up to a re-read. I couldn’t get into his writing style this time around. His book Seeing Voices about deafness, sign language, and Gallaudet University is a better choice.

Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng. Another modern gothic novel, this time set in Shaker Heights, Ohio. A well-to-do family and the family of their house cleaner become intertwined. A house burns down. Not Mandalay.

We Were Liars – E. Lockhart. A young adult novel about a group of kids who summer together on an island near Nantucket. Another house burns down. Daphne du Maurier phone home. A body is found. Eek. Another modern gothic tale.

Ten Innings at Wrigley – Kevin Cook The true tale of an insane 1979 baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies that ended with the incredible score of 23-22. These teams were filled with stars some rising, some fading. Many of them are treated rather harshly by the author. Pity the pitchers.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton. An Agatha Christie murder mystery but with a plot driven by time travel. It’s weird. I’m not even sure it made sense. But I liked it anyway.

Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir. Weir wrote The Martian about an astronaut stranded on Mars. It was turned into a pretty darn good movie starring Matt Damon. This one involves a human who is cast off into deep space to find a way to rescue Earth which is under attack by a strangely lethal interplanetary virus of sorts. Almost certainly soon to be a major motion picture. A good book for the hammock.

Turtles All the Way Down – John Green. Another young adult novel by the writer who brought you The Fault in Our Stars. Teens solving a missing person mystery in Indianapolis.

The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett. Two adult black sisters are separated as one passes as white. White sister goes on to live a life of privilege in California while black sister gets by in small town Louisiana. The plot revolves around an improbably twist that just didn’t work for me.

The Premonition – Michael Lewis. How a cadre of U. S. scientists tried valiantly to stem the tide of the coronavirus pandemic. The fundamental problem of forensic epidemiology is that you have to use extreme measures like lockdowns to crush a virus before it spreads. If you wait until it gets established in the community, it’s too late. The public and politicians, not to mention the Centers for Disease Control, usually wait too long. Don’t we know it. Another gem from the author of The Blind Side, Moneyball, The Big Short, and more.

The Dictionary of Lost Words – Pip Williams. Scholarly etymologists are hard at work assembling the first Oxford English Dictionary. Their method involves tying words and their usage to published texts and periodicals. The daughter of one of the etymologists becomes a word nerd and starts collecting words from women and the underclass, who are ignored by the scholars. Loved it.

The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman. Four retirees get together every week to try to solve murders. Then a murder happens in their own community and they set to work prying their nose into the lives of land developers, farmers, priests, and the police. Who done it? This one is written by a British comic actor and will soon find its way to the screen. I hope the movie does it justice. I can’t wait to read his follow-up The Man Who Died Twice.

Beautiful World Where Are You – Sally Rooney. I was really looking forward to Rooney’s third novel but unlike the first two, this one didn’t float my boat. One of the main characters is a very successful Irish author who provides numerous tiresome discourses on her dissatisfaction with the modern world. These seemed to be speeches from Rooney herself. Also sex scenes that, while well written, seemed excessive in number. By the third one, I was thinking “Not again. I have a headache.”

The Lincoln Highway – Amor Towles. Two young brothers head out on the road to California in search of a new life and a lost mother. All they have to do is follow the Lincoln Highway west from eastern Nebraska. A friend steals their car and heads east. And the adventure begins. This is the third novel by Towles and they just keep getting better and better.

Release – Patrick Hess. Two young adult novels in one. One about the revenge-seeking ghost of a teenage girl who was murdered; the other about a gay teenage boy who encounters a series of traumas in the course of the same day. Not for me.

Evicted – Matthew Desmond. A deep dive into the housing market for the indigent in Milwaukee told from both the landlords’ and the tenants’ perspective. It’s the ugly underbelly of life on the margin in the inner city and the trailer park. Truly a depressing book.

Sworn to Silence – Jim Tracy. The story, apparently self-published, of a serial killer in upstate NY in the early to mid 1970s. He was known to have committed four murders and eight rapes. He was suspected of many more rapes and murders. The title refers to the ethical dilemma his two attorneys faced: they knew of the whereabouts of the remains of two murder victims but couldn’t release the information because of the oath they had taken to maintain attorney-client confidentiality. The book could use a professional editor. None the less, the story is riveting and made my skin crawl.

Pictures of the Year 2021

I made the special opening day section of the Washington Post. Let’s go, Expos!
Big Nellie broke her fork. After much searching, I found a replacement. Drs. Daniel, Beth, and Tim at Bikes at Vienna did the surgery.
I found a c-note on the side of the road. It turned out to be movie money.
I also found over 125 golf balls. Know anybody who golfs?
I did some day rides on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. One trip involved lots of storm damage. The Mule and I made it across this bridge thanks to the strategically placed metal guardrail lying on the side.
A soybean field and sky full of cotton on the Eastern Shore.
Friday Coffee Club began anew when Swing’s re-opened its G Street NW location.
It was my 13th time riding the 50 States Ride in DC. Lisa and Mike once again turned their Tacoma Park home into a pit stop. Nice people. Mike even laughs at my jokes. What more can you ask for, really?
Kevin and Michael pulled me along for another Cider Ride in November. We had a round or two at the after party at the Dew Drop Inn at the finish line in northeast DC.

Saw a bunch of Nats games. They were disappointing. But the ride to and from the park and my daughter’s company made up for it.
Rode the length of the W&OD three times. It’s what every bike trail aspires to.
At the finish of the 50 States Ride.
DC had an exceptionally long and vivid fall foliage display.
My first Covid vaccination. I got vaxxed three times for Covid and once for the flu. Didn’t hurt a bit. Minimal side effects. GET THE JAB!
Bernie went to the Biden inauguration. Some neighbors took a meme and ran with it.
After it went missing for seven months, I found my wedding ring in my backyard.

Top Ten of 2021

It was the year of the jabs. And not a whole lot else. Our trip to Peru was put off until 2022 (at the earliest). My fall bike tour to New Orleans would have been the Tour de Covid, as the entire route went through the gut of anti-vax America. I stayed home and got a booster shot instead. Still, some good stuff happened and here’s a go at the ten best. (Assuming, of course, that nothing bodacious happens in the next few days.)

1. One L

My daughter, scholarships in hand, enrolled in law school in Connecticut. After a recon trip in May, we rented a U-Haul and moved her 350 miles in August. It being the case that I have spinal issues and my wife and I are both north of 60 years old, the wise move would have been to hire some help. Yeah, well. We managed to pull off the move and live to laugh about it. My back held up amazingly well, too. And the apartment that my daughter rented sight unseen turned out to be much better than her apartment in Rosslyn or any apartment I ever had in college or grad school

2. Going Yard

One downside to doing a series of long bike tours is that my yard became neglected. The backyard mysteriously started flooding. The lovely perimeter garden was a bed of weeds. The landscaped steps next to the house were a mess, The metal stoop at the side of the house had more rust than paint. And there were big muddy patches in various parts of our lawn from the removal of trees and some Russian olive bushes. In between bike rides, I attacked these tasks with mostly good results. Each task took two to three times longer than expected, mostly owing to my decrepit back. The yard is still a bit squishy after heavy rains, and one of the muddy patches didn’t quite take to seeding, but the rest came out as good or better than I had anticipated. I never got around to re-painting the shed, but there’s always next year.

3. Wait Till Next Year

The baseball season started with a surprise. I got in the paper! A special Opening Day section of the Washington Post included quotes by and pictures of Nationals fans. And one of them was meee, wearing a Montreal Expos (the former city and name of our Washington Nationals) cap and a 50 States Ride t-shirt.

Once it warmed up, I rode to some baseball games. Alas, it was a lackluster year until the Nationals gave up entirely and traded away many of their star players to replenish their farm system, depleted by years of trades that led to their 2019 World Series victory. The last two months of the season the team was pretty dreadful, but tickets were easy to get and inexpensive. At one game I sat a few rows behind the Nationals dugout and felt like a kid in a candy store.

During the spring law school recon trip to Hartford, we attended a AA minor league game. The home team is the Hartford Yard Goats. They play in Dunkin Donuts Park.

4. Baker’s Dozen and Other Events

I completed my 13th 50 States Ride this year with the help of a posse of charming gents. Michael, Kevin, Peter, and Chris made the journey a pleasure. Historically, the hardest part of the ride had been the climb through the Palisades up to Cathedral Heights only a few miles from the finish. This year the start and finish were moved to the low lying area of DC known as Near Southeast. Those killer hills now came 45 miles into the ride instead of 58 miles in. No problem! The after-party even included some surprise guests one of whom just moved back from Brazil (hello, Kitty).

I did three other event rides in 2021. The Sweet Ride is relatively new spring ride which, like the 50 States, is a production of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA). The very hilly course goes places in the near suburbs that I had never ridden. I’m not a big fan of climbing so it’s one and done for this one.

The Great Pumpkin Ride is one of my favorites. It’s held in autumn in the Virginia Piedmont when the air is crisp and the foliage is starting to turn. This year I rode it alone and passed on the beer at the final pit stop. I did the long 60+ mile route and I was finished at the finish.

The WABA Cider Ride in early November featured a slightly altered course. I started with Kevin and we added Michael at the first rest stop. The three of us had a great time together and I am grateful that my amigos waited for me several times when I couldn’t maintain their pace. I may be old, but I’m slow.

5. Riding East and West

The Eastern Shore of Maryland is a pretty cool place to ride a bike. It’s flat-ish. Traffic is relatively light. And I was sick of riding around home. So I drove over and did rides in Dorchester, Kent, and Cecil Counties. On one ride I kept seeing signs saying “Road Closed” and “Bridge Closed Ahead”. I ignored them, of course. Then I came to a bridge that had been damaged in a flood. I managed to walk across the bridge thanks to some strategically placed guard rails and traffic barriers.

On three other occasions my wife drove me to Purcellville, Virginia where the Washington and Old Dominion Trail has its western terminus. Each ride from there to home was about 57 miles long. One way. Gradually downhill, for the most part.

6. Big Nellie Reborn

I was riding Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, on the Mount Vernon Trail one day in June when my front wheel hit a root heave and my fork snapped off. I was fortunate that I was not on a road in traffic when this happened. (Of course, if I had been on a road, there wouldn’t have been a root heave to begin with.) A passerby saw my crash and portaged the bike to a nearby parking lot where I was rescued by Mrs. Rootchopper. Easy Racers, the company that made my bike, is no longer in business. The fork was made specifically for this bike so my fear was that Big Nellie was a complete loss. I emailed the owner of Easy Racers and didn’t receive a reply. Then I sent hopeful emails to bike shops across the country and Peter, owner of The Bicycle Man in Alfred New York, replied that he had what I needed. I put Peter in touch with Tim at Bikes at Vienna, my local recumbent shop. They figured out a repair plan. With the able help of Daniel and Beth, mechanics at B@V, Big Nellie was made good as new.

7. 10,000 Miles to Nowhere

At the start of the year, I told myself that I would not get caught up in another year of mega mileage bike riding. A few months later I found myself well off the pace for a 10,000-mile year. Then the weather took a turn for the better. Fast forward to the end of summer and I found myself chasing down that 10,000 mile bogeyman for the sixth year in a row. (I failed in 2017 because I became gravely ill with fewer than 200 miles to go.) By year’s end, I had ridden over 3,000 miles on three different bikes and bagged my 10,000-mile prize.

8. Jab Me

As someone who is over 65 and has a recent history of ideopathic (fancy medical speak for “dunno”) cardio-pulmonary disease, my anxiety over the Covid pandemic was at Def Con One in January. In February, after many fruitless internet searches, I signed up for my first shot of the Pfizer vaccine at my local Safeway. A month later I had my second. Five months later I went in for a flu shot. After another month I was Covid-jabbed for the third time. Boosted! In total I had the following side effects: a sore arm for one day after all four shots. From my second Covid shot, I had mild fatigue which I cured with an afternoon nap. I know others who had some more significant side effects, but none that came within a fraction of the impact of acquiring Covid.

In 2019 and 2020 I finally resolved chronic pain issues by getting cortisone shots in my hip and knee. Next I turned my attention to a growing concern, spinal stenosis. A narrowing of the pathway through which my spinal cord runs had been causing me increasing amounts of pain. At one point I had trouble walking a hundred feet. Finally, I received cortisone shots directly in my spine. The shots sent momentary electric shocks down my legs. It was extremely painful but it did ameliorate my pain. The pandemic kept me from returning to my pain doctor so I started a course of physical therapy that I found in various YouTube videos. It seems to be working. Somewhat. I had all but given up on hiking, however, but a short two-and-a-half mile hike the day after Thanksgiving was pain-free. I am now experimenting with, how should we say, plant-based analgesics.

9. Nature Is Weird

We were treated to another nearly snowless winter. We now seem to have only light, pretty snow falls, called “conversational snow”. It’s as if the entire area has been moved south 200 miles. Not that I am complaining. After all, I moved here to get away from winter. Little did I know that, unlike the northeast, this area is invaded by creepy flying bugs every 17 years. And 2021 was the year of the 17-year Brood X cicada bloom. For about three weeks in June we were treated to life in the Twilight Zone. It’s hard to describe the eerie sound of billions of flying insects mating like there is no tomorrow, because, for them, tomorrow is in 17 years. Some neighborhoods had massive infestations with piles of cicada shells lying under old trees. Others had next to nothing. Our yard had conversational cicadas. The fall brought one of the best foliage shows in many years. The colors just kept on coming.

10. Lost and Found

I found over 125 golf balls on my rides around DC this year. I have no idea what I am going to do with them. Nobody I know golfs much these days. I looked around at local public golf courses hoping to find a kids’ clinic or something that I could donate them to.

I also found a $100 bill on the road. I was stunned. A few years ago I found $140 on the street in front of my house and thought I’d never see anything like that again. Well, I did…and I didn’t. This year’s c-note was fake, movie money. How it ended up on the side of a busy suburban road is anybody’s guess.

But the big find was my wedding ring. I took my ring off when I was doing all that yard work in the Spring. One day after working in the yard and going for a bike ride, my ring vanished. After months of searching and even renting a metal detector, I gave up hope. Then, seven months later, it appeared in the dirt near my shed.

And we have one more thanks to Nigel Tufnel:

11. Hold My Guinness

In mid December after a long wait because of Brexit and Covid, my application for Irish citizenship was accepted. My name is now included on the Registry of Foreign Births of the Republic of Ireland. The entire process took over three years. Once the papers arrive from Dublin, I’ll be able to get my Irish EU passport.

Athbhliain faoi mhaise duit!

It’s Not the Last Place You Look

There’s a snarky old saying that you always seem to find a lost item in the last place you look. Unless you’re me.

Last spring I was doing work in my yard. Whenever I am using yard tools with long wooden handles, I inevitably get blisters. The worst ones are on either side on my wedding ring where it contacts the handle.

I routinely take my ring off and set it aside in a place that I am sure to see it. This spring I was in the habit of putting the ring on the padded seat of my recumbent bike.

After finishing my yard tasks on May 13, I took my recumbent for a relaxing 30-mile bike ride to DC. Back home, I was hanging out before my shower when I realized that my wedding ring was not on my finger. Hmmm.

Uh oh. It was on the seat of the recumbent. I went out and looked everywhere. On the seat. In the space between the seat pad and the seat back. All over the floor of the shed. In the lawn across which I rode the bike to get to the street. No ring.

For the next six months, every single time I walked into my back yard I looked down on the ground, thinking that maybe the ring fell off the seat when I left the house that day. No ring.

I overturned landscaping bricks. I emptied the shed. I raked the lawn using a metal rake. No ring.

My finger felt strange. When I went to turn the ring around my finger as I had the habit of doing, the ring wasn’t there.

My sister and brother-in-law came to visit in early July. My brother-in-law told me how he lost his wedding ring while raking leaves in his yard. He rented a metal detector and actually found his ring in a humongous pile of leaves.

I kept looking then decided after a few more weeks I rented a metal detector. I detected this way and that way. I found screws and nails and odd metal siding hardware. I found metallic rocks. No ring.

At that point I figured it had fallen off the seat of my bike during that bike ride to DC. I gave up looking.

A couple of days ago, I was walking away from the backyard shed when I happened to look down and… damn. There, embedded in top of the soil in a bare spot in the grass, was my ring. I had walked over it at least 300 times. It had been rained on, raked, mowed, and ridden over repeatedly in the past seven months yet there it was. I guess it had fallen off the seat after all.

Now it’s back where it belongs.

Riding a Bridge to a Far Away Land

Yesterday was the big day. I woke up with only 29 1/2 miles to go to reach 10,000 miles of bicycling for 2021. As it turns out, the distance from my home near Washington, DC to County Mayo, Ireland, the place of my paternal grandmother’s birth, is about 3,333 miles. So if there were a bridge between here and there and you rode a bike across it you could do one round trip and then ride back to Ireland and hit 10,000 miles.

One of my little projects when I retired was to apply for Irish citizenship, which you can do if you can prove that one of your grandparents was born in Ireland. And so I set about tracking down official documents (with embossed seals and such) to prove my lineage.

I needed official copies of her birth certificate, marriage license, my father’s birth certificate, his and my mother’s marriage license, my grandparents’ death certificates, my parents’ death certificates, my birth certificate and my marriage certificate. My siblings had a few of the documents, some official, others photocopies. Thankfully, one of my brothers had the hardest one to get: my grandmother’s birth certificate from rural Mayo in the 1880s. Most of the rest I had to find on my own. It took over a year but I was finally ready to send my package off to Dublin.

As I was about to send in my application I found that I had misplaced my grandparents’ death certificates. I turned the house upside down to no avail.

I went to the website of the Vital Records Office of New York State where my grandparents died. It said I needed to appear at a hearing with legal representation to get the documents. I was ready to give up.

Mary Mother of Gawd.

To obtain my parents’ marriage license, I called the town office of Freehold, New Jersey where they were married. Talking to a human greatly simplified things so I decided as a last resort to call the New York Vital Records Office and beg for mercy. When they learned what I was doing and the fact that my grandparents had been dead for decades, they told me to send copies of the documents demonstrating my relationship with my grandmother and they would gladly send me the missing papers.

After a mess up on my part (and a 3,000-mile bike tour), I finally received the documents I needed. I sent everything off to Dublin with my application to be added to the Registry of Foreign Births, a process that normally takes three to six months.

After a few weeks, in August 2019, Dublin sent me an email saying they had all my documents. Alas, Brexit happened. Dublin was inundated with applications. This would lengthen processing time considerably.

Then the pandemic hit and the office closed.

Last month, I received an email saying that Dublin was once again processing applications. Yay. They would be processed in the order they were received. Applicants could expect to wait up to two years to hear about their status. Boo.

Yesterday morning, I opened my email and was stunned to learn that my application had been processed. Accordingly, my name had been added to the Registry of Foreign Births. I was now officially an Irish citizen.

I celebrated by going for a 30-mile bike ride. My body rode to DC and back. My mind rode across a bridge to a far away land.

Bearing Up – A Quality Shoe

In the Second World War, Allied bombers targeted a small Bavarian city named Schweinfurt. Located in between Frankfurt and Nuremberg, Schweinfurt was a center of ball bearing manufacturing for the Nazi war effort. No ball bearings means nothing made of metal will rotate properly. Bearings and the grease that keeps them from wearing out are little out-of-sight things that most people never think about.

Which brings me to bikes. A bicycle encounters three kinds of resistance: wind, rolling, and mechanical. Obviously, riding into the wind can ruin your whole day. Certain kinds of tires have higher rolling resistance than others. Puncture-proof touring tires keep you from getting flats but they increase rolling resistance. Personally, I hate changing flats so I opt for heavy, bomb-proof tires. Mechanical resistance comes into play when things that are supposed to rotate freely wear out.

I seem to have an aptitude for breaking bike pedals. Don’t ask me why; I seriously don’t know. A few years ago I decided to upgrade my cheapo platform pedals with expensive, fancy pants pedals from an online retailer. After about a year and a half, I found myself in Michigan, a couple of days away from finishing a solo tour of over 750 miles. My right foot felt odd as I pedaled. Suddenly, the welds on the pedal broke. Basically, the pedal disintegrated. As I rolled along, I was holding the platform part of the pedal onto the spindle using the force of my foot and ankle. Luckily I found a bike shop that stayed open late on a Sunday evening and installed new pedals for me. Cheap ones. (The fancy pedals were warranted for one year. I was out of luck.)

Every so often a pedal on one of my bikes goes bung in a more conventional way. The bearings wear out. The pedal starts feeling crunchy. Through the sole of your shoe, you can feel the workings of the pedal breaking down. A week ago, this happened to the cheapo pedals I had on The Mule. Supply chain problems being what they are, the aforementioned online bike place didn’t have anything in stock. I rode to the two bike shops nearest my house. They didn’t have anything either.

So, on a whim, I called Bikes at Vienna. The shop owner Tim said he had some MKS touring pedals. “I have them on all my bikes. They’re great.” I couldn’t help of thinking of the old Mark Knopfler song “Quality Shoe” about a shoe salesman describing his products. And they cost only about $10 more than the crummy pedals I had been using.

So I rode 23-ish miles to Vienna and bought a set. Beth, the mechanic (who also has these pedals on her recumbent and loves them) thinks they don’t come with enough grease in side so she opened the pedals and added grease to the bearings.

I picked one of the pedals up an spun it with my fingers. It was an obviously vast improvement over pedals on The Mule.

The next day I installed them and went for a ride.

The Mule’s new shoes

WOW. No way. What a difference. The Mule was very happy. I was very happy. So The Mule and I rode back out to Vienna and bought another pair for my Cross Check. After a 30-mile ride on that bike, I can confirm that these new pedals are the bomb.

Moral of the story: if you have a two-wheeled horse, you’re going to need a quality shoe.

November 2021 – Around in Circles

We had a mighty nice November here in the mid-Atlantic. The foliage seemed to last for weeks. There were no big, blustery storms to blow all the leaves off the trees. The red maples and a few yellow ones, and some stubborn ginko trees were hanging in there to the end. Well played, mother nature.

Riding

As usual, cooler temperatures led to a switch to long pants on bottom and layers on top. I added a key piece of clothing to my bicycling wardrobe and I am really happy I did. Junction Hybrid Cycling pants from REI are a cross between long pants and tights. They fit perfectly. And they seem to be good for a wide temperature range. So far I’ve ridden in wind chills down to 35 degrees F as well as temps in the mid to high 50s F and felt very comfy. The only shortcoming to these gems is a lack of pockets. I would have bought another pair or two but I had to give my daughter something to get me for Christmas. I hope she comes through.

The month began with the last cycling event on my calendar, the Washington Area Bicycling Association’s annual Cider Ride. I began the ride with Barney (real name Kevin). At the first rest stop, Gomer (a. k. a. Michael) caught up to us. (This must make me Floyd the Barber, I suppose.) The weather was mighty fine and so were the warm cider, donuts, and apple pie at the pit stops.

In mid-month I did a one-way, 57-mile ride on the Washington and Old Dominion and connecting trails. The rest of the month included all too many loopy rides on area streets. I did get to check out the extensions to the 15th Street cycletrack in DC however. Earlier in the year it was extended from Pennsylvania Avenue to Constitution Avenue. In November, in a matter of days, a further extension was added across the Mall from Constitution to the Tidal Basin at Maine Avenue. No more dodging tour buses and taxi cabs near the Museum of the African American, the Washington Monument, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Sweet.

For the month I rode 846 miles, mostly on Old Nellie and the Cross Check. For the year, I have ridden 9,564 miles, nearly evenly split among those two bikes and The Mule. The odometer on Old Nellie hit 47,000 miles along the way. If I can manage to average a little over 14 miles per day during December, I’ll hit 10,000 miles. Pedal, pedal.

Off the bike I raked a helluva lot of leaves. This left my body achy. After Thanksgiving dinner in North Arlington, I joined the other feasters on a hilly, half-mile waddle around the neighborhood. My back and legs were screaming at me the entire time. The next day a few friends reconvened for a short hike in the woods at Scotts Run Recreation Area in Mclean, Virginia. I used trekking poles and had absolutely no pain issues. My body is a mystery to me.

Watching

When pondering my medical woes, I watched a few movies on the tube. Worth was pretty interesting. It’s about how 911 victims’ families were compensated after the attacks. As someone who did wrongful death economic analyses as a side gig in graduate school, I brought an unusual personal perspective to the movie. Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci (who’s in more movies: Tucci or Samuel L. Jackson?) and the rest of the cast was terrific.

Next up was Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. I am not big on period chick flicks so it’s no surprise that this one wasn’t really my cup of tea but the acting, set design, and direction were top notch. It has an all-star team of young actors (including Saoirse Ronan, Timothee Chalamet, and Florence Pugh) and July Johnson, er, Chris Cooper that is (who I’ll watch in anything). So don’t let my meh reaction put you off.

A few weeks ago I read The Vanishing Half, a best seller about two black sisters whose lives diverge when one decides to pass as white. The movie Passing explores similar themes and received decent reviews. I found it to be a disappointment. For the movie to work, you have to be willing to accept that one character passes as white. I never bought this for a second. It seemed cheaply made too. Thud.

Get Back, the Peter Jackson documentary about the Beatles is a technical tour de force. The man can do miracles. His World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old is amazing. He restored 90-year old documentary film. colorized it, added sound including voices (in various appropriate British dialects) synced to the images, and other magic tricks. Being a big time Beatle fan, I couldn’t wait to see what he could do with their film and audio archive from the 1969 Let It Be project. Get Back is every bit as technically amazing as Jackson’s other work. His team “de-mixed” monaural audio to extract conversations and re-produce musical rehearsals with impressive aural clarity. The film is visually crystal clear too. I wish Jackson had done brief film about how he pulled all this off as he did with his WWI film. The tone of Get Back is nowhere near as dark in tone as the old Let It Be film. The Beatles decided to write and record an album live, with no overdubs, on a three-week, self-imposed deadline. What could go wrong? Ultimately, they bring in Billy Preston on keyboards to get around their ban against overdubbing and his joy infects the band. As a five-piece, the band gels instantly. All the while, it’s obvious that this is the end of the line for the group. At about eight hours Get Back is quite an endurance contest for the viewer. If you watch it, break it down into 60- or 90-minute viewings.

Reading

I only managed to read two books. Release by Patrick Ness is a young adult novel about a sexually active, gay teenage boy, the son of Evangelical parents, going through various traumas over the course of a single day. There’s a side story about the spirit of a recently murdered girl. Neither story line worked for me.

A much better book is Amor Towles’ The Lincoln Highway, a novel about the misadventures of teenagers on a road trip to better lives in the mid-1950s. With so many plot twists and calamities, I was impressed that Towles held it all together. Loved it from beginning to end.

Family

My daughter came down from Connecticut for Thanksgiving. She was happy to get away from the grind of her first semester in law school. We visited with my son in Thailand via Facetime. I vaguely remember when my brother Joe called us from Paris in the early 1970s. That was exciting. Facetiming from Thailand seems oddly so routine.

On to December. I have a 46-mile ride on tap for tomorrow.