Did someone say cider? And doughnuts? And pie? And beer?

What a difference a week makes. The autumn that wasn’t put on a fantastic show today. Reds and yellows and browns and crisp breezes and puffy clouds.

Lucky for me there was a bike event to get me out into the glorious outdoors. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association’s Sixth Cider Ride was today. Somehow, someway the WABA weather curse failed. A storm front moved through the area last night bringing high winds and heavy downpours. A couple of hours before the ride began, the front moved eastward. I had come prepared for rain but made a last minute decision to change from rain gear (rain jacket and long pants) to cool weather gear (shorts with long wool socks, topped off with a pull over fleece). Perfect.

I also decided to raise the saddle on Little Nellie, my Bike Friday folding travel bike. Just a tad. Even minor adjustments can have big benefits or cause big problems. I guessed right, however. I rode about 2-3 miles per hour faster today than yesterday. And my back and knees didn’t bother me at all.

The ride started in Northeast DC just before 9 a.m., and took us on a ramble along the Anacostia River trail system. The trails were covered with wet leaves making the going a bit dicey. One unfortunate rider fell and had to be taken away in an ambulance. Elizabeth, the rider immediately behind him, couldn’t stop and crashed as well suffering a big boo boo on her left thigh.

I knew several of the riders. I rode initially with Leslie but she was riding as a course marshall and had to stop and render assistance to the injured riders. Before the crash we came upon Jesse whose bike had died a hero on the trails. Somehow her rear derailler had fallen off. She was forced to take the Uber of shame. (She had her bike fixed and actually did one of the shorter versions of the ride. She persisted!)

We left the trails and stopped at Proteus Cycles in College Park to partake of warm cider and apple slices. No wait. There’s doughnuts over at the next table. Ixnay on the apple slices. Bring on the junk food!

After achieving sugar nirvana, we headed on roads through the Beltsville agriculture research area. Here my tweak to Little Nellie’ saddle height paid off. I was riding 15-20 miles per hour through fields and stands of colorful trees. Clearly, the tailwind helped a lot but I was feeling very comfortable on the bike for the first time in weeks.

Did I mention that it was gorgeous outside?

I could have stopped dozens of times to take pictures but I figured one would do the trick. Light car traffic, the low angle of light, colorful leaves everywhere, and a road with some bikes receding in the distance. Dang.

The route took up to the Patuxent Research Refuge where we turned around to fight the wind for a few miles. Then we crossed back through the agriculture complex, over a hill,  and into Greenbelt. Here we stopped in a park for warm cider and pie. I went with the apple pie because pumpkin pie makes me gag.

I stayed long enough to hear more about the crash from Elizabeth, who showed me her  bruise. (Elizabeth, Dr. Rootchopper recommends red wine. It won’t help the bruise but you won’t care.) And I got a surprise hug from Laura. I am a fan of the hammy Instagram mini-movies she makes of her bike commutes and other shenanigans.

I left the rest stop and headed back toward DC. This part of the route was different from last year so I stopped frequently to avoid getting lost. I only went about 100 yards off course all day. (I missed the cue “Take a right at the porta potties.”) We rode back to the trail system by way of the College Park Trolley Trail in Berwyn.

Just before getting back on the Anacostia Trails I passed a rest stop where people were yelling at me. I learned later they were yelling “Mead!” I was in a nice flow so I passed up the offer to wet my whistle, choosing instead to make a crossing of a busy highway behind 20 other cyclists. Within minutes I realized I had goofed. This group was doddling along and I was in the mood to motor. After a mile of hanging off the rear, I started passing people. In five minutes I was alone off the front of the group and whizzing down the trail along the river. It was beautiful. The sunlight off the water was the perfect complement to the breeze and the colors.

The change in the course also involved going south along the Anacostia on the east side of the river for about a mile then doubling back on the west side. This portion on the ride featured a strong headwind off the water and was serious work. It appears that most other riders skipped this part. I can’t blame them. Perhaps the highlight was riding past dilapidated RFK Stadium. The stadium was one of many “multiuse” stadiums built in the 1960s. I looks ripe for implosion these days.

The last few miles were across Capitol Hill and up the Metropolitan Branch Trail. I rode most of the second half of the ride much harder than the first so I my legs were ready to call it a day. And soon I arrived at the finish at the Dew Drop Inn. There, after 55 honest miles, I tossed back a couple of Raven lagers and hung out in the sun with friends on the elevated deck.

And tonight we set the clocks back one hour. The extra hour of sleep is exactly what my tired legs need.

 

Some Ride/Hike Ideas for 2016

About a year ago I was admonished by a friend for sounding wishy washy regarding my 2015 vacation plans. “Stop planning. All we have is today” was her way of saying don’t plan, DO!  Irony alert: in January 2014 she told me of her plans to obtain certification to teach in DC schools and to open a business. She followed through on none of it, eventually leaving town. Even so, she had a point.

I suck at advance planning. Somehow I managed to do a bike tour, a non-bike trip around the world, nearly a dozen day hikes, half a dozen bicycling events, and take in a bunch of Nationals games. So with that in mind I began thinking about things to do in 2016.

I anticipate one non-biking vacation (to Sweden and thereabouts) to visit my daughter.  (A return to Thailand in the dry season would be nice but I can’t face the 18 hours of flying right now. Maybe 2017.) That will leave plenty of vacation time. So here are some ideas I am tossing around in my head.

Hiking: there are still many, many hikes to do in the Shenandoah National Park. Also, I have barely scratched the surface of hiking in nearby Maryland and Pennsylvania along the Appalachian Trail. One possibility is to gear up and do some overnights. I have never done this and it would be an interesting extension of my day hikes (not to mention save on driving home after a day’s worth of hiking).

Biking Events: WABA swears that it’s going to offer a century ride this year.  If it works into my schedule, I’ll definitely do it. Then there are the usual events: Vasa, Cider, 50 States, Backroads, and Great Pumpkin. I’ve done all of these several times, but the Backroads course was moved to West Virginia this year. I was in Australia and missed it. I can’t wait to do the new version. Two more that I keep threatening to do are RAGBRAI and the Five Boro Ride in New York City. Both of them are cattle drives. Both offer logistical challenges. Some of what follows are a lot easier to do.

Bike Trails: There are all kinds of cool trails around here that I haven’t ridden. Here’s a list of Virginia trails:

  • The Virginia Capital Trail goes between Williamsburg and Richmond. This could be a fun 2-day deal or a long single day ride.
  • High Bridge State Park down near Farmville and Appomattox looks really cool with a long, high bridge.
  • The Virginia Creeper Trail is a bit of a drive from DC. It’s only 34 miles but could be a beast of an out and back ride.
  • The New River Trail is a 57-mile trail that looks really promising with 30 trestles and bridges and two tunnels. This is a two-day ride with camping I think.

In Pennsylvania the Pine Creek Rail Trail runs 63 miles through the Grand Canyon of the East. Looks like a good overnight camping round trip to me.

Bike Tours: Right now I have eight possibilities on my list. All in the Eastern U.S.

  • Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway: This is a monster tour, 578 miles from Front Royal, Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina. How the hell I’d get back is anybody’s guess. It’s also super hilly so I figure I’d be lucky to average 45 miles per day, 13  days of riding. This could be beyond my physical abilities. (Never stopped me before.)
  • The Natchez Trace: This 444 mile road is truck free. Tack on another 90 miles or so and the route would go from Nashville to New Orleans. Logistics on this one is a bit pricey (two bike flights). Bike Friday to the rescue?
  • Figure 8 in Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York: Adventure Cycling has two routes that form a figure 8. One loops around Lake Champlain, the other does a lap of the Adirondack Park. This one would be logistically pretty easy as I have family in the Albany area where the Adirondack route begins. The total distance exceeds 700 miles. The riding in Vermont and upstate New York is incredibly nice. Also weather up yonder is pretty much perfect for cycling in June – August.
  • La Route Verte: There are over 5,000 kilometers of marked bike routes in Quebec. The possibilities are endless. Then there is the interesting prospect of conversing in my horrid, mostly forgotten high school French. The idea of cycling to Quebec City, which I have never seen, or around Montreal is pretty intriguing. Getting there is a bit of a haul, but c’est la vie.
  • A New Kind of Rail Trail – North: Amtrak now has roll on bike service on the East Coast. Theoretically (relying on Amtrak is always an iffy proposition) I could take my bike on a trail and ride to Brunswick Maine, then ride up to Acadia National Park and ride all or part way home.
  • A New Kind of Rail Trail – South: Alternatively, I could take the train to Florida, ride to Key West, ferry to Tampa and ride across the state to Amtrak in Miami. Or just ride home.
  • Around Lake Michigan: This one starts in Monroeville, Indiana, one of the most bike touring friendly small towns in the US. It heads north through lower Michigan into the Upper Peninsula. Then across to Wisconsin and returns by crossing Lake Michigan on a ferry.  It’s 1,100 miles. Logistics would be simplified by using my in-laws house in north central IN as an alternative starting point.

In the increasingly likely (yet still somewhat improbable) possibility that I retire there is this:

  • The Trans Am/Western Express/Northern Tier Cross Country Ride: There remains a faint possibility that I might retire this year. If so, adios, amigos! I don’t know which route I’d take but the possibilities are numerous. The Trans Am is the classic route from Yorktown to the Oregon coast through Yellowstone. The Western Express shortens the Trans Am by taking a b-line across Utah and Nevada for California. The Northern Tier goes close to the US-Canada border.

Once I find out when the WABA Century and the Sweden trip will happen, I’ll pick two of the tours and as many events and hikes as my aging bones can handle.

 

 

 

47 Miles for a Cup of Cider

The WABA Cider Ride is one of the last DC bike events of the year. In its first two years it was held in early December. From where I sit, holding a bike ride in December in DC is like holding World Series games in November in Boston. You’re just asking for trouble. Last year trouble arrived in the form of cold temperatures and rain. Even before the ride began I was feeling plenty depressed which only made a bad day suck more. Let’s just say it was not a whole lot of fun. I swore I’d never ride the Cider Ride again. (I also said this after the 2010 50-States Ride and then went on to ride the event four more times.)

Then someone at WABA got a pretty darn great idea: they decided to move the ride up to mid-November. So I signed up to ride the 47-mile option.

The ride began (and ended) at the Dew Drop Inn. This bar is located along the Metropolitan Branch Trail and immediately next to railroad tracks. It is an old building with a shipping container attached. I think one could say it has character.

I arrived about 40 minutes early thanks to non-existent traffic. Michele, the WABA events coordinator, was working with a scruffy crew of unscruffy women (including Sarah, another WABA employee, and volunteers Leslie and Sam) getting the ride’s check in area set up. I helped a little, got my cue sheet and headed out.

The course took us on city streets through middle-class Northeast Washington and into neighboring Mount Rainier, Maryland. Soon we were on the Northwest Branch Trail which follows the northwest branch of the Anacostia river. We traveled north-ish. I had my fingers crossed. Every other time I’ve ridden this trail system I’ve gotten lost. Thanks to many, many well-placed arrow signs, I managed to get only mildly confused a couple of times. One of these befuddlements came because a sign had been blown down. Did I mention it was windy. Well, now you know.

We followed the trail and the arrows. It was not encouraging that course marshalls were stopping to get their bearings. It wasn’t their fault. The directions are almost comical:”Bear left up big hill. Over bridge. Through the woods. Bang a left at Grandma’s house.” At times I was expecting to turn the page and see “HA HA!”

But I didn’t.

We kept following the trail  and the occasional road mostly through College Park until we were all dropped on the outskirts of Greenbelt Maryland. There are hundreds of acres of agricultural land used for research purposes by the Department of Agriculture. The roads are pretty darned nice for cycling. So we cycled.

We rode into the National Wildlife Federation property for a two mile loop through the woods with hardly any auto traffic. This was sweet. We returned through the Ag complex and into Greenbelt. From Greenbelt we wended our way back to College Park for a short ride on the very nice Trolley Trail. Next up was my big goof of the day. After the Trolley Trail we jumped on Route 1 and I took a right onto the Northwest Branch Trail instead of a left. After about 1/2 mile I came upon a course marshal. He told me I was off course and led me back to the point of my mistake and soon I (and the dozen other people who also goofed) was on my way to majestic snow covered Mount Rainier Maryland. (Just kidding. No snow. Just can’t figure out why this town has such a peculiar name.) The rest of the ride was an approximate retracing of the first four miles of the route.

The Cider Ride route is almost as complex and mysterious as the 50-States Ride. This is an incredible achievement made possible only by WABA’s proprietary RRGS (random route generation software). I have heard that NASA is considering using it for a mission to Mars.

There were two pit stops along the route. The first stop was at the 12 mile mark outside Proteus Bicycles in College Park They had warm cider and a ludicrous amount of granola bars and donuts. I felt health conscious and had a cup of cider and a Boston cream donut as I walked to Nelle from WABA. Nelle was in her usual good spirits despite the fact that the wind was threatening to blow her entire pit stop away. She reminded me as I parted that getting lost on a ride this complex is inevitable. You just have to go with the flow.

The second stop was at a park in Greenbelt. Here I selected the healthful choice of hot cocoa and apple pie. I spent a few minutes talking with Colin another WABA staff person. Colin’s bike is an touring bike that seems to have been set up by Dr Frankenstein. Or, considering its ability to carry thermoses, Juan Valdez.

The circuitous route made it hard to tell when you were going to get a tailwind, headwind or crosswind. I assumed that anytime I was going more than 20 miles per hour it was because of a tailwind. I assumed that because my legs were dead right from the start. They were the only legs I had so I did the best I could.

There was an after party at the Dew Drop Inn. There was beer. I drank some. There were chips. I ate them. There was a burrito. I ate it. There were many people I knew from #bikedc. I didn’t eat them.

Just before entering the bar, a young man with a clipboard asked me if my name was on “the list.” I was somewhat surprised to learn that it was. What was this list, I thought? It was the list of people who were given this really nifty mug.

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So another Cider Ride is in the books. Many thanks to WABA’s Greg Billing, Nelle Pierson, Colin Browne, and Sarah Katz-Hyman for a great event. Thanks also to the many volunteers who helped out along the course.

Extra special thanks to WABA’s Michelle Cleveland. These events take a ton of time to set up and pull off. As my father said when he was particularly impressed or proud of one of his kids: “You done good.”