Looking Backward 2012

In a lot of ways, 2012 was a very difficult year. My mother passed away of old age, my wife worked hard to recover from being hit by a car in 2011 only to have to endure cancer surgery, radiation treatments and a long slow recovery that is still ongoing. My son cut his leg open in an accident at work. Somehow the lightning bolts missed a direct hit on me.

Exercise is my coping mechanism. When I don’t ride (or, in the past, run) stress wears on me. It’s probably a blessing (and no coincidence) that I cranked out 7,350 miles in 2012.

Where did I go? What did I see? Who did I meet? Here’s a list:

Bike Commuting: With my daughter driving herself to school and limited school functions to deal with, I rode to work, a lot. 162 times, in fact, I figure that I did somewhere near 4,800 miles just getting to and from the office. I saved around $650 in gas. Other than family commitments, I missed only a handful of opportunities to ride.

Odometers Gone Wild: The odometers on my bikes are getting insane. I broke 32,000 miles on The Mule and 31,000 on Big Nellie. I am almost at 9,000 miles on Little Nellie. That $650 in gas savings will go toward lots of bike maintenance this winter. I do tires and brakes. I’ll leave the new drive trains for the pros.

Bike Crashes and Calamities: During the late winter, I was running errands on my bike in a fierce wind. I put my head down and, in an amazing act of stupidity, I proceeded to ride The Mule into the back of a parked car. A few weeks later I lost control of Big Nellie on a slick section of bike path and wrenched the heck out of my right knee. (I still have a big red welt just below my knee cap.) I was nearly run over three times by red light runners while riding through the Rosslyn Circle of Doom. In separate incidents, I broke the chain and had the rear tire blow out on Big Nellie. I bent the derailleur hanger on Little Nellie. I also had the usual array of flat tires but that’s pretty much it. All things considered, not a bad year.

Friday Coffee Club:  Ed is an espresso junkie. He and his stoker/spouse Mary started going to Swings coffee house near the White House on Fridays before work and invited others to join them. Word of mouth and Twitter took it from there. I started going and was welcomed into a motley crew of cycling ne’er do wells comprising journalists, economists, lawyers, graphic artists, librarians, university administrators, students, bike sellers, police officers, bike advocates, Segway tour guides turned bike rack installers, and policy wonks. We even have a naval meteorologist. We are still looking for some arc welders and lobstermen to join. Long story short, it gets my ass moving on Friday mornings, the people are impossibly nice, and the conversation is always interesting.

Rides with Friends: About 15 years ago I hired a guy to paint the house. About two years later, the paint was peeling off. I thought, “I can do better.” Over the course of the next decade I did two laps around the house. And the paint is still peeling off. Fuggit. Riding on the weekends is infinitely more enjoyable than futile house painting. Suffice it to say, my next expensive bike-related purchase will be a vinyl siding job.

So you might ask, “Where did you ride when you should have been doing something productive around the house?” Here’s a list:

  • The Utilitaire of Ignominy: The Utilitaire Challenge was the brainchild of Mary the Mad Randonista. As a willing participant, I rode trips to the store, the barbershop, the car dealer, the dry cleaner, and, as mentioned above, into the back of a parked car. Fail.
  • The Quest for Blueberry Soup: Every March WABA and the Swedish embassy collaborate on a ride that culminates in a cup of warm blueberry soup. My name is Rootchopper and I’m a soupaholic. I did a little over 30 cold miles and had 2 cups of hot soup.
  • Default Day:  Most people call it Bike to Work Day. I feel a bit like W.C. Fields on New Years Eve. Still, it was nice to see all the newbies out on the trails and roads. As a bonus, I ran into Ed, Mary, and Laura (and her buddies) at the Rosslyn pit stop.
  • Bike DC: There is something about this event that is always FUBAR. This year was no exception. I wasn’t expecting much and I got what I was expecting.
  • The Hoppy 100: Friday Coffee Clubber and craft beer lover John Roche designed a route that would traverse 100+ miles of hill and dale, a ride on a cable ferry across the Potomac, and some snorkeling through torrential rains all for a few cold glasses of craft beer. The man is brilliant. Kevin, Chris, Crystal and Lisa, Coffee Clubbers all, joined in for the day-long festivities.
  • The Indian Head 100: I did this metric century alone and it made me realize that it’s not the rides you do, it’s who you do the rides with that makes them memorable. Still, the route is an interesting one and it’s the closest rural ride to my house.
  • The 50 States Ride: I used to have a love hate relationship with this ride. I’ve grown to love it. It’s hard, but, what can I say, I am a sucker for a gimmick. There’s no better way to understand the place you live than to ride it on a bike.  This ride proves it. And, as usual, the company was excellent.
  • The Backroads Century: This was a tough one. This metric century is my favorite ride around these parts. Unfortunately it was the day after the 50 States and the 5 a.m. wake up call didn’t help. After some logistical snafus, I ended up riding with Lisa from the Coffee Club, her friend Jane and their hubbies.
  • The Tour Du Port: This is Baltimore’s intracity bike ride. I planned on doing it solo but, thanks to the SharrowsDC pin I bought from Coffee Clubber Brian, I was id’ed by Bec and Alex, two DC-based cyclists. We rode together for most of the ride, got lost, and experienced lots of underfunded bicycle infrastructure.
  • The Great Pumpkin Ride: Another early morning wake up for a ride in the exurbs. I met Veronique, an old friend who works at a bakery in Warrenton, then rode 70+ miles of the Virginia Piedmont alone. It was quite a slog, but the late autumn scenery was so pretty. After the ride I met up with Friday Coffee Clubbers Rachel and Kate, and their friend Katie Ann for vittles and grog. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed the after party as much as the ride.
  • The Coffeenuering Challenge: Not content to nearly get me killed with her Utilitaire Challenge, Mary the Mad Randonista drew up another cycling contest. I managed to survive this one intact by riding to eight coffee shops for coffee and cookies and one kick ass muffin.
  • Hubs and Pubs – DC has recently given birth to three microbreweries. My friend Crystal decided to organize a social ride that connected three of the breweries. Although I only made it to one of the breweries, it was fun to ride to DC and see areas of the NE quadrant of the city that I had never seen before. Oh, and the beer was tasty, too.
  • Chocoride – Beer isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak. So Crystal and Lisa put together a ride within DC that rode from one hot cocoa place to another. The ride took place on December 30 nearly guaranteeing cold temperatures would lead to warm liquid refreshment. It was a blast, and so was the wind. This was my fourth ride of the year with Lisa, so she wins the Rootchopper Sidekick Award for 2012. He prize is she gets to call me Kemosabe for all of 2013.

The Woodrow Wilson Bollard Farm: Bike commuters and other users of the Mount Vernon Trail endured one dangerous detour after another during the rehabilitation of Jones Point Park and the MVT underneath the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. As the project was about to be completed, it became obvious to frequent users of the trail that the final result was an incredibly dangerous design featuring an obstacle course of poorly placed black bollards, sharp turns, and high curbs. After much bitching, local advocacy groups stepped up and got some very useful last-minute modifications made. Thanks to Mark Blacknell and Shane Farthing of WABA and Jonathan Krall and the other folks at the Alexandria Bike/Ped Advisory Committee for their efforts. Ironically, the rest of the project turned out to be pretty darned awesome.  

Car Hell: I spent a week driving my daughter among six colleges in the Los Angeles area. I have seen hell on earth and it is Los Angeles. Over 30 years ago, I spent a week in Davis CA. Even back then, Davis had bike infrastructure out the wazoo. I am very happy to see DC and Arlington making major strides to support the use of bikes as transportation with bike sharing, cycle tracks, bike lanes, and, most importantly, an evolving attitude.

Be Careful Out There: One of the most experienced bike commuters/riders I know, Charmaine, was run over by a pickup truck while riding to work. If it can happen to her, it can happen to anybody. Here’s wishing Charmaine a speedy and complete recovery in the new year. As for the rest of you, may the odds be ever in your favor.

I thought about including links to all these events in the blog but ran out of gas. It was a busy year.  You can find posts about all these things in the list on the right. Or if you’d rather look at some pix, check out the bike-related sets on my Flickr page.

See you in 2013. And thanks for reading.


A few weeks ago I participated in a part of what came to be known as the Hubs and Pubs ride. It was a ride from one microbrewery to another in NE DC and adjacent areas of MD. The ride was organized by Crystal, a new friend who fearlessly commutes by bike from DC to Tysons Corners in VA. Tysons Corner is traffic hell so this is an amazing accomplishment in my book.

As a sort of non-alcoholic follow-up to Hubs and Pubs, Crystal and Lisa, another FOB (friend of the blog), decided to organize a ride among shops selling hot chocolate. This ride would go from Dupont Circle to Penn Quarter to a newly developed area of SE DC to the spanking new Union Market in NE DC. It came to be known as Chocoride.

I woke up to find the wind blowing pretty hard with temps in the 30s. I had planned to drive to DC, but with the fierce headwind, I decided to ride  instead, proving beyond a doubt that I have very little common sense.

As it turned out, The Mule and I had no trouble riding the first six miles. I hadn’t ridden in two days and my legs were fresh. I rode The Mule because it’s the easiest bike to lock up, being more or less conventional in design. I tried riding Washington Street through Old Town but the width of the road allowed the headwinds to slow me down. And the red lights didn’t help much, either. I bounced over to some side streets and made good progress. Just north of Old Town I rejoined the Mount Vernon Trail. In the sections near the river, the headwinds were challenging.  I was expecting this, especially in the open area just north of the airport where treeless playing fields border the river.

I put my head down and spun my legs off. I actually had to unzip my jacket to dissipate some of the body heat I was generating. I did a U-turn to get on the ramp up the 14th Street Bridge. The inclined seemed not to be there. What a tailwind! Unfortunately, on the bridge itself, the wind was a crosswind hitting me from about 10 o’clock. It was all I could do to keep moving forward and stay upright. 8 miles per hour was the best speed I could make. Runners coming from DC were leaning to stay upright. They held their right hands on the upwind sides of their faces. As each one passed, our eyes met as if to say, YEEEHAAA! (Or, maybe, I’M A MORON!)

I took 15th Street all the way to Massachusetts then Mass to Dupont Circle. The group was meeting at a hot chocolate shop but I couldn’t see them so I checked my Twitter feed and saw that the shop was on Connecticut Avenue which passes beneath the circle. Which way should I go? I picked south and didn’t see a group of chocolate obsessed cycists so I backtracked and headed north. There they were just a block or two from the circle.

Five minutes later we were underway. Our first stop was a shop in Penn Quarter near the Verizon Center. Along the way we rode the new L Street Cycletrack. It’s a little quirky but I liked it. I could imagine how useful it is at rush hour. I had a hot chocolate with milk. It was JUST PLAIN AWESOME. I hadn’t had real hot chocolate in ages. WOW.

Back on the bike, we headed via Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill then south into SE DC. We stopped at another shop near the new skating rink. Here I had an Americano which was pretty mediocre. It was, however, warm and that’s pretty much all I cared about.

Next we headed up 6th Street through Capitol Hill and the gentrifying neighborhoods of DC. This city is really on the rise. House after house had been renovated and spiffed up. After a few miles we arrived at Union Market, a newly re-purposed market space that was abuzz with activity. Speaking of buzz, I had more coffee, And an orange and cranberry scone.

We dawdled for a long time. Looking out the window I could see a U.S. flag stiff in the wind. We were heading into the teeth of that to get back to our starting point. Crystal and Lisa took us on a seemingly random path that ended up purposefully at the Metropolitan Branch Trail. We took the MBT north to R Street and followed the R Street bike lanes all the way back to the start. The buildings shielded us from the worst of the headwinds so the ride back was not nearly as difficult as expected.

After hugs and thank yous, I head back home. The wind was now relentlessly pushing me. Even the ride across the river was easier since now the wind was hitting me from 4 o’clock. Once on the MVT, I cruised at 16 or 17 miles per hour with little effort. South of Old Town I left the trail earlier than usual.  This entailed riding up a big hill, but with the wind at my back the ride up was no problem.

I pulled into the driveway with 42.5 miles on the odometer. Not half bad for a cold Sunday in December. What a nice way to end a year in the saddle, riding and hanging out with my new friends from the DC biking community. Many thanks to Crystal and Lisa for organizing and leading this ride.