The Mule Comes Home

In Portland I dropped The Mule off at West End Bikes. They packed it in a box and, using BikeFlights.com, I had it shipped via FedEx to my local bike shop. (I’d mention them by name but their normal policy is not to accept these kinds of bike shipments. Given the fact that I’ve been a loyal customer for well over a decade, they agreed to accept the shipment.) The bike shop did a quick assessment and sent me a proposal listing work to be done on the bike.

After some discussion we replaced two chain rings, the cassette, the chain, the rear wheel, and the handlebar tape. They turned the work around in two days. So today, I took my baby for a shakedown cruise.

After 62 days and 4,300 miles of daily riding, my body and The Mule’s geometry fit like hand in glove. With no panniers or tent, The Mule took off at a gallop. I had it in my head to go really long. So I rode to the town of Purcellville, just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The cool thing about this ride is the fact that it was done almost entirely on trails. Welcome to BikeDC. Dang.

Purcellville is 57 miles by bike from home. The fact that I’d even consider doing this ride on a muggy day with storms in the forecast shows what bike tours will do to your mindset. My legs were flying. I felt completely at home on The Mule. My brain went to its happy place. For hours. So good to be back there.

The ride is gradually uphill with a few short rollers at about the 30 mile mark. Unlike before the tour, I was passing people on racing bikes. Ding. Mule on your left. Whoosh.

My quads and my knees were burning after 40 miles. I’d back off long before this point under normal circumstances but not today. So what if I get tired; I’ve got all day and all night if I need it.

I had no food with me – a mistake for sure. I made it 35 miles to Leesburg before I realized that my tummy was lonely. Rather than stop there, forged ahead to Purcellville. The gradual uphill can eat away at your confidence. Not today.

In Purcellville I noticed that many of the shops were not where they had once been. A bike shop was now a bakery. And, more importantly, Haute Dogs and Fries, a hot dog shop, was no longer in business. I headed to the bakery hoping to buy a sandwich but they only sold pastries. I inhaled an eclair. They make pretty awesome eclairs.

Then it was back on the trail, now trending downhill. In Leesburg I went to a gas station for fuel. A refrigerated sandwich, a candy bar, and cookies were all I could find. (The apples looked rather beat up so I passed on the fruit.)

With sammie in mouth, I was back on the trail. Then it started to rain. To avoid sammie sogginess I ate fast. With some fuel in my furnace, my speed increased. So did the rain.

After another ten miles I finished off my rolling repast. The rain intensified a bit. Lightning flashed. Thunder thundered. We’re havin’ fun now.

As the miles went by, my legs started to tire. My knees hurt. My lower back started to ache. My arms and shoulders were barking at me. Bear down, dude. The Mule didn’t care.

I made my way to the Mount Vernon Trail along the river. The storm seemed to increase in intensity. By this point I was already soaked. Once you’re wet, you’re wet.

Near home I decided to get off the trail out of concern about falling trees, because the ground here is saturated from so many days of rain. I chose a short, steep hill on a street rather than the gradual one on the trail. I deliberately opted not to use my granny gear just to see how my legs would react. They felt a bit like the top of Rogers Pass in Montana. Been there. Done that.

Ten minutes later we were home. 114 1/2 miles.  No major problems for The Mule or me.

I have a month until the 50 States Ride. I think I’ll be ready.

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Any Road Tour: Day 10 -Failure to camp (again)

Xenia Ohio is famous for being obliterated by tornados about 45 years ago. I was in no rush to stock around for any repeat performances.

Dinner was the all you can eat salad and soup bar at the local restaurant next door. I feel bad for these people. I should announce something Hulk-like like: “You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.”

I watched the hockey game last night and managed to stay up for the entire contest. Yay Caps!

This morning I intended to repeat my hooverization of the morning free hotel breakfast but it was sadly subpar food. Stale Cheerios can really mess with your whole meal. However, I persisted. Oink.

I was soon back on the rail trail heading for my planned destination, Richmond Indiana. Today’s tail trail featured my first snapping turtle of the trip.

There was also this attractive building on the trail.

In Dayton I left the trail to check out the Wright Brothers Museum. I watched a film and thought about how great things come from obscure places like Dayton and Liverpool and a garage in Palo Alto. They were complete self-taught nerds who risked everything to solve a series of massive physics problem. Most of the buildings they occupied are long gone but you can get a sense of their little corner of the world at the turn of the 20th century from some of what remains.

Here’s a statue of Wilber on the sight of his last workshop. Note that even the greatest people in history end up with bird poop on their heads.

Next to the Museum was the site of the Wright Brothers bicycle shop. The bikes on display look remarkably similar to modern bikes.

I’ve been seeing goslings all along the way but today I saw my first babies. So cute, but camera shy.

I managed to tear the transparent plastic on my map case so I stopped at a post office to fix it with some packing tape. The window clerk also told me where the local eateries were. I stopped in Bob’s next to the trail for the buffet.

About 90 percent on the patrons were way older than me. Everything moved so slowly. I had soup and salad and dessert for $10 because that’s what every meal costs on this trip for some reason. Riding a bike this far makes me crave veggies.

I’ve been meaning to include some corn in this blog so today I’ll get that out of the way.

After Brookville my route took me in roads. There are very few cars to deal with so it’s nearly as peaceful but without any shade. I also had to contend with strong headwinds as the day wore on. I suppose it’s good practice for North Dakota, but ten miles of frustration was plenty. It wasn’t all bad. This covered bridge was pretty cool.

As I neared the Ohio-Indiana state line I thought my readers would like to know the score. It’s Columbus 88, Indianapolis 82.

Not long after taking this picture the sky started to darken. Ominous black clouds loomed. I saw that my maps were taking me on a meandering route to Richmond. I called an audible and turned around. The headwind became a tailwind as I made my way to a highway that went straight into Richmond. Zoom!

It started to rain. The sky was black. I kept slogging along, scanning the roadside for an emergency shelter. Porches, barns, extended waves.

I looked up and saw signs for hotels and restaurants and made a beeline for them. I had intended to camp but this storm was scary looking. I checked into a motel as the skies opened.

Any Road Tour mileage today: 62.5

Total tour mileage: 696.

The headwind made it a tough day but I’m still on schedule.

The Mule Abides – Again

After ragging about the mechanical delays in getting The Mule back on the road, I thought it would be a good idea to take it for a ride and see if the darn thing works.

Yup.

I rode to Arlington by way of Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood. The weather was splendid. The Mule and I get along about as well as bike and rider possibly can. All the shifts were true. All the braking was bueno. (I had severely toed-in my brake pads. They were silent, but they were rather lame in the stopping department. Now I have stoppage.)

I even gave the granny gear a good work out by riding up South Walter Reed Drive, a steep hill that never, ever ends. I took a couple of big gulps of water before I started up the darned thing. Bad idea. Nearly saw that water again near the top. For the last 50 yards all I could think of was “Who’s idea was this?” It would have been wise to take a couple of hits of albuterol but clearly my brain function was not at optimal levels. Near the top I was hurting so bad that I didn’t even notice any pain in my ribs.

(Ribs update: the exterior bruise is gone but the area is still sore to the touch. At least I can roll over in bed without pain waking me up. I think I will begin doing my back and physical therapy exercises again tomorrow – oh, how I hate them. They are yoga-ish. Also, Monday I have a date with the weight machines at the gym.)

The rest of the ride felt a little off. I had moved the saddle forward just a touch because I noticed that I was riding on the nose of the saddle during my tour. I addition to stretching the leather on the saddle, I was compressing a nerve in my perimeum causing sharp stabbing pains after about 30 miles. This doesn’t float your boat when your riding 80 miles in a day, believe me.

Today I rode 32 miles and had no pains but now my lower right back isn’t happy. My working theory is that moving the saddle forward resulted in a slight up-tilt causing my back to bow a bit. So I adjusted the nose down one click on the saddle adjustment mechanism.

I did notice one thing that was off about the bike. The stem (the piece that connects the handlebars to the bike) is on crooked. I probably knocked it off line when The Mule and I took a tumble in La Belle, Florida. It’s pointing about 5-10 degrees left of center. This is easy to fix, except that I need to loosen the stem but and the stem bolt is rusty. Won’t budge. I sprayed it with some oil. Maybe it will free up.

Long story short, the bike is in pretty great shape. No additional work is needed. I might take Rando Mike up on his offer to install a generator hub/light system on The Mule. He’ll do the work. I pay for the parts. And buy the beer.

This could get expensive.

BCBD – Bike Commute Brain Dump

  • On the way to work a bicycle commuter riding behind me in Old Town yelled “Excuse me!” I though that maybe I had dropped something. Instead he asked me if he could borrow my pump. He had tried to use a pump located outside a bike store a few blocks back but it did nothing but let air out of his tire. We completed the task in short order but this reminds me to remind new bike commuters that you have a list of requirements
    • A bike (duh) – you can use bikeshare or buy your own
    • A good lock – make you bike less easy to steal than the ones next to it. (This is kind of like the old joke: Q: How fast do you have to be to outrun a bear? A: Faster that the slowest person you are with.) Go with (at least) a beefy U lock like a Kryptonite (I have 2).
    • Tire repair stuff
      • a pair of tire levers (I prefer steel but you can find plastic ones at any bike shop)
      • a spare tube or two (patches are time consuming)
      • a pump (preferably one with a hose like the Topeak Road Morph – the hose will keep you from tearing off the valve while you are in pumping frenzy)
      • A $1 bill – fold it over, cover the hole in your tire (this is called a tire boot) and then replace the tube. This keeps the tire hole from chewing a new puncture in your tube
      • A multitool – to tighten loose parts and adjust ill fitting things
      • a saddle bag to put this stuff in
    • Lights – it’s a terrific idea to see where you are going. It’s even terrificker that drivers can see you.
    • Clothing – do not bike naked. The police will ruin your whole day. Also, don’t wear old lycra bike shorts. They become translucent. And always cover your butt crack.
  • Further along on my morning ride, I saw a woman on a CaBi (the local bikeshare tank) come to a stop. She peered into the trees along the river bank. As I approached she turned to me and with a huge smile on her face said “That was a bald eagle. It flew right past!” and she gestured its flight path.
  • There is a man who walks on the trail each morning. He carries a big stick and wears a dark jacket with a fur lined hood. He looks like an Ewok. He hasn’t said “Yub, yub” to me yet though.
  • The Mule is going into dry dock. It has gotten me through a winter (sort-of) of bike commutes. It deserves a rest. I will switch over to the Nellies for commuting over the rest of March.

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The Mule at Sunset

  • I have felt terrible on the bike and arthritic off of it for the last two weeks. It’s kind of interesting how this goes away when I don’t wear over-boots and rain pants. I think they slightly alter my pedaling mechanics much like long pants messed up my running gait back in the day.
  • I am volunteering at the Vasa ride in DC on Sunday March 19. You should ride it. It is a rain or shine event. Since it is likely that I will be standing around a lot, I expect a tsunami on the Potomac River. It will be caused by WABA’s new secret fracking operation on Hains Point. Would I lie about a thing like that?

  • There are two bike-related happy hours in Alexandria in the next two weeks. They are both on my way home from work. I’ll probably go to at least one. Sadly, unlike the Kardashians I don’t get appearance money. You can buy me a beer if you’d like. I ain’t too proud to beg.
  • I rode past some work being done on the trail. A backhoe had turned some dirt up. The smell of overturned dirt made me happy. Sorry if that’s too woo woo for you but it is what it is.
  • My boss rides his kids to school on a cargo bike. It’s a big bike. It’s so big it needs a masthead. Teddy says “Hi.”

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Latest Sunrise, No – Rise of the Ninjas, Yes

I thought today was the latest sunrise of the year but I got it wrong. We’ve reached the earliest sunset. Sunrises get later until the end of the year. Yeah well. Here’s the picture I took of The Mule at Dyke Marsh on the Mount Vernon Trail.

On the ride home, I nearly hit 5 ninjas – walkers and runners wearing absolutely no reflective or light colored clothing. In addition to it being too dark to see them, they are also backlit by car headlights.Good luck you clueless ninjas. I hope I don’t hurt myself when I clobber one of you.

 

TLC for The Mule

Given the fact that I’ve been riding The Mule 90 percent of the time since November, it’s not surprising that this bike is beat up. All that sand and salt and crud has taken a toll. I took in to my local bike shop for some TLC. Here’s what the to do list:

  • Replace the bent handlebar, brake levers, and bar tape  (damaged in a crash last winter)
  • True both wheels
  • Clean and adjust brakes (front caliper was sticking)
  • Replace the pulley wheels in rear derailer (they squealed like crazy. One has teeth that were worn to points)
  • Replace bottom bracket (I could feel crunchiness every time I pedaled)
  • Replace chain and cassette
  • Tune up whatever is left to tweak

Fortunately, the shop’s winter service deals were still going on so I got a break on the labor. I also put my WABA membership to use to get a ten percent discount on all the new parts. (Basically, the membership just paid for itself.)

The bike will be ready next weekend.

In the meantime, Big Nellie will do service as my bike commuter. Fortunately, we will be having a spate of springlike weather for the next several days. Just the thing for a little laid back riding.

 

40,000 Miles for The Mule

I read the other day that some fitness experts say it is a bad idea to keep track or your workouts. What balderdash.

I like numbers. By keeping track of my workouts I learned a lot. I learned that after 400 miles, running shoes (at least the ones I wore back in the day) that looked like they were in good shape lost the cushioning in their midsoles. If you rotated your shoes, they’d last a lot longer. And if you felt sore and listless, there was a good chance you hadn’t taken a day off recently. Finally, I found out that for me running 60 miles a week gave me the same or better running performance as running 70 miles per week.

You can get carried away. I became obsessed with running 3,000 miles in a year. Let me tell you the last month was a bitch. But I made it in the last week of December.

When I switched to bicycling, I had to figure out what was worth keeping track of. I counted the number of commutes each year, which bike I rode, how far I rode, and any other incidental information. I was a much more intense rider in the early years. Now I really don’t care much about the stats. But every so often a big one hits and it’s cause for celebration.

The odometer on The Mule hit 40,000 miles on my ride home from work25167767542_42cc5f4bd2_m. I have had this bike since 1991 so I’ve been averaging 1,600 miles per year on it. In the beginning, I rode a Trek 1200 for a few years. I sold that and rode The Mule exclusively until the early 2000s when I bought Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent. I then started using The Mule as my back up bike. I bought Little Nellie and The Mule was ridden even less. And my Cross Check was added to the stable last summer. Somewhere along the line, I came full circle and The Mule became my go-to commuter once again. All together, not counting the Trek, I have about 96,000 miles on bikes since 1991. That’s 3,840 miles per year over 25 years.

The Mule has taken me to work hundreds of times and carried me on two bike tours. It’s slow, it’s weighs a ton, but it won’t die (knock wood). All that remains of the original bike are the frame and fork, the seat post, the cranks, and the rear rack.

So it gave me a sense of satisfaction to write 40,000 in my training diary today. I was 2 miles from work on the Mount Vernon Trail when 39,999 gave way. I had a strong tail wind.

The Mule goes to my local bike shop for some TLC. The pedals feel crunchy, oil refuses to stay on the chain, the handlebar is bent and plastic bits have broken off the brake levers (both from a crash last winter). It’ll cost some $$$ but maybe I’ll get another 40,000 miles out of this bike.

Big Nellie hits 38

Big Nellie is my Tour Easy recumbent. I bought it somewhat reluctantly in the fall of 2003. I had wanted to buy a conventional touring bike to supplement what I have come to call The Mule, my 1991 Specialized Sequoia. I couldn’t find any touring bikes to test ride so, with my gimpy back, I decided to test ride recumbents. The Tour Easy was the clear winner. I have since ridden it to north central Indiana, across New York state, and on hundreds of bike rides around the DMV. Today, we reached 38,000 miles. 17036292357_a5a6ae2002_z

I still have The Mule. Its odometer recently hit 37,000 miles. Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist, is a baby with nearly 14,500 miles.

I am planning on going on a tour in a couple of weeks. I will probably take The Mule, unless I can get my act together and buy a new bike before then.

February by the Numbers

I thought February was going to be a big bust but it turned into a halfway decent month. I rode to work eight times, the same as January. All my commutes were done in the first half of the month on The Mule because the National Park Servcie steadfastlt refuses to plow or treat the Mount Vernon Trail. Their policy is that it is also for use by cross country skiers. This is bogus because cross country skiers rarely use it and it becomes unski-able once the snowpack turns to ice or starts to melt.

The most eventful thing that happened was my fall on the 10th. Also I was sick twice this month so I have excuses. (Lame.)

Oh well. I also did a 48 1/2 mile ride on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent. Other than that there was were a couple of long hike/walks including yesterday’s in Arlington Cemetery. And an interesting evening of Thai massage and Reiki.

The total for the month was 439 1/2 miles. 247 was from commuting. 99 miles were done on Big Nellie indoors.

For the year I stand at 812 miles with 16 bike commutes. Little Nellie, my Bike Friday New World Tourist, has barely been used. Only 18 miles in a single weekend ride so far. The Mule is doing the lion’s share of work, covering 572 1/2 miles so far. Big Nellie is taking up the slack with 131.5 outdoor miles in addition to the 99 miles in my basement.

After the March 1 ice storm and Monday’s doctor’s appointment, I hope to up the mileage a bit. March offers the Pi ride. (On 3.14 there are two rides for pie. This is math humor. I intend to eat some apple pie for a friend who is on a retreat that does not allow pie. Oh the humanity!)  The Vasa ride is on 3/15 and I will do my usual 31 miles. I have never done the long ride, prefering to do the more social and less hilly medium length ride. (I will do neither ride if it is icy.)

On to spring!

Impending DOOM

Tonight, at approximately zero dark thirty, the Washington DC metro will become paralyzed with a dusting of snow. That’s right, supermarkets have been stripped of toilet paper, milk, and cilantro in advance of this cataclismic climatic event.

So I went for a bike ride.

(Truth be told, we should get a couple of inches over the next two days. Since the National Park Service refuses to treat the Mount Vernon Trail this will mean I won’t be riding until Wednesday. Hence the desire to get my two-wheeled ya-ya’s out.)

I took off on The Mule. I rode to my local bike store, Spokes Etc.  Unlike this blog they are not shy of a full set of spokes, or of bike knowledge. I asked them to look at the seatpost on The Mule and tell me if it is a setback seatpost. I have a Brooks leather saddle on The Mule and its rails, like all Brooks saddles, are short. This means I can’t push my saddle back farther which is, I thought, necessary for me to get ideal pedalling position. Not only do I already have a setback seat post but the store manager took one look at me on the bike and said, “You actually should be riding a bigger bike, but a simpler short term solution would be to raise your saddle because it is way too low.”

Doh.

So we raised the saddle about a centimeter (which is metric for “a little bit”). The saddle is connected to the seatpost which in turn is connected to seat tube. The seat tube is angled back. This means that raising the saddle also has the effect of moving the seat back. Genius.

Then I went for a 25 mile test ride. On the way I ran into Mr. TinDC of #bikedc social media renown. He was riding the Mount Vernon Trail with Rachel whom I had never met. We stopped to talk long enough to get cold. Then went our separate ways. My way took me over the Potomac River on the Wilson Bridge. I rode through National Harbor which continues to be the ugliest development I have seen in decades.  Then I rode up the long hill to Oxon Hill Road. The half mile+ ride was along side a massive construction site for a new casino. Personally I think it would be more usedful to have a giant Costco filled only with TP, milk, and cilantro but what do I know.

Once at the top of the hill, I turned around and rode back down because when it comes to designing lollygagging rides I am Mr. Creative.

Back over the river and through Old Town I rode. By this point I noticed that my left knee was not barking at me as usual. My arms were a little tense but otherwise the new saddle position seemed to be working out okay.

I made it to Four Mile Run and crossed over to Commonweath Ave. I rode through Alexandria and made my way back to the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County where I live on the incredibly coincidentally named Fort Hunt Road.

When I arrived home I was quite wet from perspiration. I checked the thermometer. It was 51 degrees. Not half bad for late January.

The skies are cloudy. The air is still. I await the doom.