Allison, My Aim Is True (Sorry, couldn’t resist)

The weatherman said that the morning commute would be wet. Fortunately for me, the rain left the area around 6 a.m. I felt a sprinkle now and then but I didn’t mind them one bit. It was a pretty nice ride. The post rain sunlight, no longer a sunrise due to the lengthening days, looked pretty on the Potomac at Dyke Marsh. Little Nellie posed for a picture,


The ride home was an entirely different matter. At four storms started showing up on radar. My office mates in Rosslyn sent my boss home because he picks up his kids by bike. I waited a while longer because the radar looked much worse than what I could see out the window which was light rain. By this time Allison, one of my co-workers, was in full freak out mode.

I hit the road at a bit after 4:30. There was only a sprinkle now and then. The cold raindrops were noticable in warm spring air on my body. The wind wasn’t too bad and I could see blue sky peaking through the clouds. The cars approaching on the GW Parkway did not have their headlights on. So I was pretty sure I was safe riding.

DSCN3706_837At the southern end of Old Town Alexandria things changed pretty quickly. I rode under the Wilson Bridge and could feel a blast of cold air. Not good. Heading south from the beltway on the Mount Vernon Trail I could see that the cars all had their headlights on. Looking down river a line of rain presented itself. And it was approaching fast. I stopped to take a picture and put on my rain jacket. These two things took maybe 30 seconds to do. By the time I had zipped up, I was in a downpour. I jumped on Little Nellie and headed into the maelstrom. The rain was so hard it hurt my skin. My shorts were soaked through and through within 15 seconds. Then the waves of wind gusts came, announced by the sheets of rain they sent directly into me. There was a distant rumble of thunder but otherwise I was unconcerned. I’ve ridden in much worse. Since I could see the gusts coming, I could brace for impact. As I made it to Belle Haven Park my concerned shifted from rain to falling tree limbs. Twice in prior years I have narrowly escaped getting clobbered by a huge falling limb.

By the time I cleared the park, the rain and gusts had stopped. Two minutes from start to finish. The rest of the ride home was actually nice.

Three hours later, all hell broke loose. Timing is everything. My aim is true.

Lloyd Bridges, phone home

I knew I should have worn my waterproof jammies. By the time I retrieved my newspaper from the end of the driveway, I was soaked.  I stalled my departure to no avail and headed out aboard The Mule for a nautical ride to work.  

There’s really no way to dress for this sort of thing. If I put on a rainproof jacket, I get all hot and sweaty. If I don’t, I get all wet and possibly cold. I opted for my illuminite vest and a cotton t-shirt. I packed a second t-shirt for the ride home.

I was squishy after one mile, but the vest kept me warm so that it was actually kind of pleasant. I wore my Bike Virginia 1991 cycle cap under my helmet to keep the rain out of my eyes. After twenty minutes it was saturated with water. Water was pouring into my eyes and mouth. I could taste the shampoo from last night’s shower. Yum. At least I had a tailwind.

I hit 32 miles per hour on the Park Terrace downhill. This would have been fun but for the car that pulled out 100 yards ahead of me causing me to ride my brakes. Not that they did a damn bit of good. Fortunately the car rolled through the stop sign at the bottom of the hill. Disaster averted.

At the GW Parkway crossing, the cross traffic was incredibly heavy. I waited two minutes in the deluge. Not a happy camper.

The Mount Vernon Trail was deserted. It would appear that most trail users eat quiche on a regular basis. The rain was coming down so hard that the Canada geese in Belle Haven Park were waddling next to the trail when they normally hang out at the river’s edge.

Once at the half way point the rain abated. French Braid Girl came rolling past, wearing no additional clothing to thwart the rain. Her sole concession to the elements was that she was not wearing her RayBan aviator sunglasses. She didn’t appear to be nearly as wet as I so there was hope for the remainder of the ride.

I started seeing people after Four Mile Run, commuters from Alexandria and South Arlington. Most people were plodding along. I passed more people than passed me, a highly unusual occurance.

On the ride up the steep hill to Rosslyn, I spotted two bunnies along the side of the trail. They didn’t seem the least concerned about me rolling past. The underbrush where they hide must have been flooded.

The radar on my pc said I’d be riding into nasty weather on the way home. It lied. It was actually a pretty nice ride. I saw the Nine Hour Lawyer riding up the hill to Rosslyn. The Mule and I headed down to the MVT with a light tailwind making this a two tailwind day. With no rain coming down, I could focus on the ride. The handling on The Mule seems to be very stiff. I don’t know what is going on. Maybe I need to fiddle with the headset a bit.

South of the airport, French Braid Girl made her northbound appearance. The aviators were back on. All was right in the world.

Under the Wilson Bridge, a father watched as his two little kids rode their bikes in circles. If you know anybody with a kid learning to ride or who needs a safe place to pedal, tell them to go to Jones Point Park and ride under the bridge. It’s shaded, protected from most of the rain, and the pavement is smooth as silk.

At Northdown Road crews were working on finally repairing the road. They were tearing out cobblestones along the edge of the road. This is going to take a while.

I arrived home to a swampy yard. I put The Mule and my snorkel away.

It Was 20 Years Ago Today

This morning I was so absorbed in the TV coverage of a huge blizzard headed for New England that I was late getting out the door. No Friday Coffee Club for me. The ride in was miserable. One of the DC TV weathermen mentioned that his least favorite kind of weather is cold rain. Amen, brother.

The Blizzard of 2013 (which the Weather Channel insists on calling Nemo) was forecasted to bury Boston in what could be its biggest storm evah.  Get outta heah,I say!!! This week is the 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1978.  I was there and it was pretty damned amazing. Most people don’t talk about it but just a week or two before there was a massive snowstorm in Boston. This left all kinds of snow that had been plowed aside clogging parking spaces and widewalks. When the blizzard hit, there was no place to put the snow.  Oops.  I lived on the corner of a side street, Chiswick Road, and a major road, Chestnut Hill Avenue, that was a snow emergency route. A humongous front end loader came down Chestnut Hill. It was scooping up snow and dumping it into dump trucks.  Across from my window a car was double parked and covered with a fiit or two of snow. The front end loaded got its scoop underneath the car and with a prehistoric grunt lifted it up and dropped in on the car at the curb.  My roommates and I couldn’t believe our eyes.

A month or so later when the snow finally started to melt. I was walking in the street on Chiswick because the sidewalks were glaciers. Every car that had parked on the street had huge indents in the side from where the snow plows had smashed snow into them. Body shops must have been working overtime for weeks.

The first storm was not so bad. My girlfriend and I worked at a company in Allston. She used to commute from the South Shore by bus, light rail and trolley. It normally took her two hours.  At 9 a:30 a.m. I called her home to see if she had turned around. No dice. At about 10 a.m. my co-workers and I were told to leave work. So we stalled by helping our car-driving co-workers get their cars out of the snow. Then, reluctantly, we headed out. We walked down the hill toward the trolley line. A trolley car stopped, then pulled away. We could see something moving toward us. There was my girlfriend who had spent five or six hours on the road. We were snowed in together for several days. Good times.

She wised up for the blizzard and stayed home leaving me alone and bored senseless. Bummer. Her father, though, went to the Beanpot hockey tournament at Boston Garden. It was impossible for him to get home so he took a room at the Sheraton Hotel near the Prudential Center. The power went out so he, a man with heart problems, had to climb the stairs something like ten flights to get to his room. After several days of being in the same clothes, he made his way to his office building a few blocks away. He, a dignified executive, broke into the valet shop and made off with some fresh underwear. (He left a note and probably paid for the damage.) Desperate times call for desperate measures.

So as I watch the coverage on the news tonight, I am taken back to my days in Boston. I don’t miss the winters one bit.

And this whole nostalgia thing got me to thinking. 20 years ago this month I saw an add for a sale on a “commuting bike” at the Spokes Etc. store on Quaker Lane in Alexandria. I needed a bike that was more robust than my Trek 1200 which was not designed to carry a load. The bike was a Specialized Sequoia, priced at something like $600. It had fenders, a rack, and generator light system and 24 gears!  Today, I call that bike The Mule. It’s odometer reads 32,400 miles. If I put studded tires on it, it might even get me through a blizzard.

Okay, that’s crazy talk. Good bike though.


All good things must come to an end, but they sure started out nice. It was in the 50s this morning when I left the house so that meant only one thing: SHORTS!  Few things make a bike commuter’s day like shorts in January, unless, of course, you’re bike commuting in Auckland. 

Rain was forecasted for the evening rush so Little Nellie got the call. The strong southerly wind meant that we’d get a nice assist all the way to the office.  With such good conditions, I hit the road ten minutes early. 

Whenever I ride I first squeeze my tires to make sure they have proper pressure. The rear tire on Little Nellie apparently has a very slow leak. When I started bike commuting I only had one bike. Flats were a total hassle. Now, with three bikes, I can always switch in the event of a problem and fix it later. No worries though; this rear tire seems to hold air for several days.

Loverly ride, all the way in. The scary evening forecast kept the scardy cats off the trail. No bald eagles. No prehistoric garbage trucks. No idiot drivers. Nothing to get hung about. Strawberry fields forever.

Begining about two p.m. my officemates and I started obsessing about the approaching storms. The line of storms ran from central PA to the Gulf of Mexico. It was only a couple hundred miles wide and the doppler radar showed a long line of severe weather. It resembled the derecho that came through last summer except that it wasn’t tracking west to east. Instead it seemed to be drifting to the northwest.

My boss is a bike commuter. He bailed out at 4. He drops off and picks up his daughter during his commute. About 15 minutes later I decided to roll. The skies looked threatening. There was an intermittent drizzle fallling. 

I turned onto the Mount Vernon Trail and began the slog into the gusting wind.  The drizzle stopped after about 20 minutes. I unzipped my jacket and plodded along.  It wasn’t a lot of fun but at least that nasty storm was staying away. It was all very anticlimatic. I’ve ridden in much worse weather than this including a couple of tornado warnings. (In both cases I didn’t know at the time.)

As I turned off the trail and headed due west for home, the nasty storm was laid out before me.  Ten minutes later I had stashed Little Nellie in the shed and was inside. I checked the radar; the storm got hung up about 50 miles northwest of DC.

It’s a comin’.

As I type this we are under a tornado watch.

Send lawyers, guns and money. The shit’s about to hit the fan.