Winter Moments

Many years ago I taught at a college in Newport Rhode Island. The academic building was located on the cliff walk next to the famous summer “cottage” of the Vanderbilts known as The Breakers. Many times I would arrive just after sunrise and the entire school and all the mansions would be completely socked in by fog. A fog horn moaned in the distance.

This morning as I rolled out of my driveway I had a flashback to my Newport days. I can’t remember it ever being so foggy here in DC. I could not make out the main road that is only 50 yards from my driveway. I stopped to take a picture.

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The pickup truck is parked at the corner. The illuminated street light is on the opposite side of the main road.

I forged onward totally paranoid that the car drivers would not be able to see me. To add to the peril, the fog condensed on my glasses making it even more difficult for me to see. Fortunately, they were being careful and my route for the most part is on quiet side streets.

I figured by the time I reached the river the fog would have lifted. I figured wrong. Readers of this blog will know that I take sunrise pictures from a bump out in the wooden bridge that carries the Mount Vernon Trail over Dyke Marsh. Here’s today’s sunrise.

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Dang.

The ride to work along the trail was safe but spooky. The regulars were out. The hoppy runner. The mom pushing what must now be a 1 1/2 year old in a jogging stroller. If she keeps this up, she’ll be She Hulk in a few years.

I looked to see if there were bald eagles in the tree at the Belle Haven nest. I couldn’t see the tree.

Once I made it through Old Town the fog began to lift, only to be replaced by a persistent, annoying headwind. It was the kind of headwind that made me check my brakes to see if they were sticking against the rim. I stopped briefly to report the scofflaw parker blocking the bike lane at 420 N. Union Street. Again. (Apparently last night’s call didn’t result in a ticket. We should all be treated with such forbearance by the police.)

I was really looking forward to the ride home because the temperature was in the high 50s. That’s pretty sweet for January in DC. Then I rolled out of the garage and was treated to a nice surprise. Sunlight. It was still light out. Are you kidding me? Yes!

And it stayed light out for 15 minutes.

Bike commuting in winter does have its moments.

Deja Vu All Over Again

It’s only my fourth bike commute of the year and it’s already getting repetitive. Good thing I have only 7 months and 1 week to go.

Today was an especially good day because the sinus problems that I had yesterday were nearly cleared up. I used a nasal rinse gizmo (mine has a filter so I can use tap water) patterned after a neti pot twice last night and once this morning. And I took vitamin I to reduce swelling. Success.

So today my head didn’t hurt, the sun came up and it was beautiful. See for yourself.

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And just like last winter the untreated wooden bridges on the Mount Vernon Trail were icy menaces. I was warned by the hoppy runner who was turning around at the bump out where I took the sunrise picture. I was very careful to ride in a straight line and made the crossing of the Dyke Marsh bridge with my rubber side down.

North of Old Town I bypassed the bridges on the river side of the power plant, but decided to take a chance on the beaver bridge just north of Slaters Lane. A walker on the bridge heard me approach and waved me off. I dismounted and immediately realized that the bridge was very slippery. So slippery in fact that I could see two cyclists recovering from a crash. It took me few minutes to walk the football field long bridge. I saw several fresh gashes in the wood decking, most likely from pedals. I actually had to grab hold of the chain that acts as a railing along the side of the bridge because my feet were sliding out from under me. Several cyclists rode by. I didn’t hear any crashes. I don’t know how.

The concrete bridges near the airport were icy but passable. By the time I made it to the wooden Trollheim bride that passes beneath the TR Bridge into DC the ice on it had mostly melted. I rode across without incident.

It was 55  degrees when I started the ride home. It was downright pleasant so the squirrels in my head could run freely. Thoughts bounced around. Then the trance came. Big Ed blew by me without realizing it was me. He nearly took out a ninja runner in the process. I cracked up. So much for that trance.

I rode into Old Town and my old friend was back. The car illegally parked blocking the bike lane at 420 North Union Street was in its usual scofflaw position. I called the police and asked them to ticket it. Again. If this keeps up, I may ask for an accounting of the number of times police responded to my complaints, how often a ticket was issued, how many fines were collected, and such. What really gets me is the fact that nobody else on this block parks like this. They used to but stopped. It takes only one entitled millionaire to ruin a bike lane. Lest we forget, Alexandria is a certified Bicycle Friendly City.

Once I cleared Old Town and headed down the trail in the dark the trance came back. I honestly lost track of where I was on the trail. I must have ridden two miles before I had that how-did-I-get-here moment.

 

 

 

 

Sun Does a Huey

This morning at 5:44 the sun did a huey. I caught it in action. Sort of. It wasn’t moving particularly fast. It was obviously further downriver, south, that it was a month ago. I know colder days lie ahead. I know, somewhat counter intuitively, later sunrises do too. (Something about the tilt of the earth, the sun greed of the Maoris, and voodoo. Trust me, I know science.) Looking on the bright (pun intended) side, opening day is 103 days away.

solstice

So The Mule posed for a picture with the sun just a couple of hours after it changed course.

Facebook sent me the perfect reminder of the winter solstice: a picture of two friends hanging out at a rest stop during my second 50 States Ride in August 2007. Huh? They look pretty good in the picture but the heat soon did Paul in. Flor, who seemed immune to the elements, rode like she had wings. It was one of the hardest bike rides I can remember. It got hotter and more humid as the ride progressed. A rider I met afterward cooled off by jumping in Rock Creek.

paul-and-flor

It was good that I looked at the picture before I left for work. It took the edge off a cold December morning.

How Does Bri Do It?

Bri writes a blog about winter bike commuting in rural upstate New York. It’s the snow belt and it gets fiercely cold. She looks forward to winter. Bri is a few spokes shy of a wheel.

Bri makes me feel like a wimp.

On Saturday afternoon a cold front came through. The wind howled and howled on Sunday. I was not looking forward to riding into that gale this morning.

When I fetched the newspaper from the driveway the winds were light-ish and the residual warmth from my PJs kept me comfortable. An hour or so later I stepped outside to ride the Mule to work.

Dang. It was cold. And it was colder still once I got underway and rode with a wind out of ten o’clock for the first 11 miles. I knew it was blowing hard when I took the Park Terrace downhill. I normally reach 32 miles per hour. Today I could only make 27.

There were no photos today. Just put your head down and pedal at a depressingly slow speed.

At Gravelly Point the trail turns to the east for 100 yards. Relief! Then when it takes a 90 degree turn to the north the crosswind nearly blew me off the path.

I managed to make it to work in about 90 minutes. About 15 minutes slower than normal.

The ride home was revenge. I had a strong tailwind the whole way. I saw a friend (I think) who hates cold weather riding toward me on a bikeshare bike near the Humpback Bridge across from the Jefferson Memorial. She had on a black parka with a hood drawn tight around her head.  It framed her face. Her jaw was set and her normally joyful demeanor was locked somewhere between determined and miserable.

The rest of the ride home was not half bad. It made up for the craptastic morning commute.

More of the same tomorrow, minus about 5 or 10 degrees.

 

 

Three Little Things

Thing One

The last few days have had some interesting moments. The other day I was riding Little Nellie to work. I didn’t feel so well but I had to go to work so that I could go to see Santana in DC with Mrs. Rootchopper. (It’s her real name. I swear!)

About 2 1/2 miles from home, I drop down a steep hill. I can easily hit 30 miles per hour on this one. After that I have about 1/2 mile to go before I come to the crossing of the busy George Washington Parkway. Car and bus commuters use the same intersection. The car commuters generally are turning north to head to Alexandria and DC and the bus commuters are crossing to catch the north-bound bus.

The cars queue up, often ten deep. I suppose I could join the line, but typically I ride carefully past the cars on their left hand side. On this day I saw that there was ample space between the edge of the road and the left hand side of the cars so I decided to squeeze by them to the right. This is not a good idea. I noticed a passenger side door crack open and hit my brakes. I came to a stop at the rear fender of the car just as the shotgun seat passenger hopped out right into my line of travel. He was getting out to run for the bus. I may have yelled something. He looked at me and said “sorry” as he closed the door on his back to let me pass unharmed.

My brain went into immediate aggressive mode and I barked some angry words back at him as I rode by. After about three minutes and well beyond the crossing, I realized that he was actually not at fault. Anytime you squeeze by a car on the passenger side, you are asking to get doored. This passenger had no reasonable expectation that a bike would be there.

Still I hope my harsh words will make him think twice the next time he opens a car door.

Santana was entertaining but we didn’t get on the road (with Little Nellie in the trunk of my wife’s car) until 11:30. By the time I got to bed it was clear that I was dying a slow death at the hands of the Pollen Beast.

I slept until 10 the next morning. I NEVER do this. By Friday I was back in action.

Thing Two

On my ride home last night, I diverted from Union Street, the mainline of the Mount Vernon Trail through Old Town. Instead I rode up Royal or Fairfax Street. There is a stop sign at the end of each block. There were cars and buses about so I was being careful and stopping at each stop sign. I was passed by an Alexandria City police vehicle, an SUV. I followed it up the street and watched as it rolled through two stop signs. The driver was in no hurry, he or she just did what everybody else does. My only problem is that APD goes out of its way to give tickets to cyclists who do the very same thing in Old Town. I waved a mittened hand at the cop. He waved back. Have a nice day.

Thing Three

Today is Saturday. The Nationals are scheduled for a 4 pm game. It’s April 9. And it’s snowing outside. The biggest flakes I’ve seen in a long time. And it’s sticking. And the wind is blowing. And it’s cold.

Really.

They postponed the game. I am staying inside. Until May.

 

 

Errands Numbers 4 and 5

One thing I like about the Errandonnee is I get credit for riding to work. So chalk up an easy one for Big Nellie and me. I started riding with temperatures in the 30s. I w24965491973_afc39dff93_m.jpgas comfy in my winter get up but by the time I got to work it was pretty warm in all those layers. Dressing is going to be a bit of challenge for the next few weeks. When I got to work somebody had locked a road bike to the floor bike rack. There are 18 hanging racks for wedgies (conventional bikes) and 2 spaces on the floor for unconventional bikes like my boss’s Yuba Mundo and Big Nellie. I was tempted to put a note on the bike explaining that he/she was commiting a bike room faux pas. Mais non.

My second errand of the day was to ride my bike to a happy hour with my co-workers. Admittedly this was a two block ride but we must show the Errandonnee flag whenever we can.

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Tonight I drive back to work to pick up some boxes. Boxes > Allison. We are having our wood floors refinished in a month so we have to move all of our stuff from the top two levels of our house.

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Errandonnee Control Card Entry No. 4

Category: Work

Distance: 29 miles round trip

Observation: Big Nellie used admirable restraint in not crushing the fool who took her parking space today.

Entry No. 5

Category: Social Call – Office Happy Hour

Distance: 1/2 mile (if that)

Observation: Riding through the Intersection of Doom after drinking two pints of ale is a sobering experience.

Signs of Spring

Winter must be vanquished. Thankfully, it appears the gods are doing their job quite well. You can tell spring is almost here because:

  • Spring training started (duh). And I am totally stoked for the regular baseball season to begin.
  • The crocuses and daffodils are emerging.
  • The forsythia is starting to bloom.
  • I have finished reading my winter stack o’books. Mrs. Rootchopper gets me a couple of books every Christmas. Plus I add a few. This keeps me from doing insane things like riding my bike on icy roads.
    • An historical novel set in the 2nd World War.
    • A biography of Stonewall Jackson
    • An account of the sinking of the Lusitania.
    • A memoir of a solo bike ride around the world.
    • A biography of Sam Cooke.
  • I have a big pile of unread magazines that stacked up because of all the books.
  • I can now ride to work much faster because I am not carrying a 600 page book.
  • The Mule has been treated to its post-winter TLC at the bike shop.
  • Big Nellie is on the streets. I don’t ride my recumbent in sub-freezing temperatures because its front wheel slides out on slippery surfaces.
  • The wovel is looking forlorn and forgotten.
  • Lance Mamilstrong is out on his bike with all his clones.
  • The lawn mower has been prepped.
  • The Errandonnee is underway.
  • The Vasa ride is only a week away. (You should sign up. When you finish you get some soop.)
  • Birds are making a serious amount of noise before sunrise.
  • I have to refill the bird feeder much more frequently.
  • My pants have done shrunk. (Need some long rides and hikes soon!)
  • My allergies have knocked me for a loop.
  • I want to feel sunlight on my face in a big way.
  • The weatherman says there will be three 70-degree days this week. (Tears of joy.)

Did I miss any?

 

The S Word

I am told that Monday was the end of meteorological winter. Who the hell came up with that idea?

It was damned cold here this morning. I was ready with my chemical toe warmers and layers and such. The ride to work was comfy although I had to switch from Big Nellie to Little Nellie. It was a footwear thing. Big Nellie has clipless pedals and my clipless shoes are not good for cold weather. So I put on my hiking boots and rode Little Nellie which has pedals and toe clips.

The only problem I had was when I fell into my trance approaching the Memorial Bridge. I hit a section of the trail covered intermittently with black ice. Eek!

I rode over some of it then swerved over to the grass for the rest.

Winds were light-ish today. You can now discern the buds on the trees. The willows have a light green tinge to their cascading branches. Soon we’ll get some leafy protection from the wind.

The ride home was a piece of cake. I noticed that Arlington County had sprayed brine on the trail connecting the Custis Trail to the Mount Vernon Trail. Arlington County rocks. Too bad the National Park Service doesn’t follow suit.

About a mile from the house, snow flurries started swirling about. Sorry to use the S word in meteorological spring. The flurries were pretty. We may get and inch or two overnight.

The slushy mess we will have gives me an excuse to work from from home tomorrow .I rode five days in a row this week for a total of over 155 miles.

I think my legs are ready for spring.

 

 

 

It Had to Happen Eventually

A couple of weeks ago I shoveled snow for more than ten hours over the course of several days. I was shocked at how well my back held up. I attributed my good fortune to new exercises I have been doing to strengthen my lateral back muscles.

Yesterday I shoveled five or so inches of snow. And went snowshoeing for an hour. Ever since I have been feeling electrical shocks in my lower right back and hips. I don’t have any muscles spasm yet but it won’t take much to put me in a world of hurt.

Since the roads were an icy mess this morning, I opted to drive to work. Combined with tomorrow’s teleworking day I hope to be back in the saddle on Thursday. Fingers crossed.

 

Of Wovels and Snowshoes

It’s Presidents Day, the holiday we really don’t much need but are stuck with. We had Christmas, New Years, MLK, and Presidents Day in quick succession then bupkiss. Who’s in charge of this calendar really? The long march to Memorial Day begins. Thank god baseball starts up in a month or so. Hell, I’d swap one of these holidays for opening day in a heart beat.

As luck would have it, we are having a cold spell combined with a winter storm. I think we had five or six inches here in Mount Vernon Virginia. It was just the right amount of snow for woveling. I woveled and shoveled for about 90 minutes this morning. The snow kept falling. The snowplows kept plowing my cars and driveway in. I kept woveling. I won.

After a late breakfast and some lying about I decided to drive to Fort Hunt Park for some snowshoeing. IT seemed awfully cold outside but once I put on my bike commuting gear I was perfectly comfortable.

When I arrived the park was empty except for a giant SUV doing donuts in one of the unplowed parking lots and a pickup truck plowing the park loop road.

I waved to the SUV people who were having a blast and headed off into the powder. Except for some cross country ski and critter tracks the snow was untouched. It was remarkably quiet too. Just me and my breath and the crunch of the snow under my snowshoes.

Breathe. Crunch. Breathe. Crunch.

I made a big circuit of the park.  Park of the park’s road system is blocked off so I checked it out. The snow was clinging to the trees. It looked like a giant donut baker had sprinkled powdered sugar on everything. So pretty.

The closed section of road comes back to the main loop road so I veered off down a path into the woods. I tried a steep section. I was stiff legging it, afraid I’d fall down despite the grippy teeth on the snowshoes. No problem. Sweet. Some of these trails are used by high school cross country runners so they are perfect for snowshoeing.

I was getting close to the GW Parkway. It was lightly traveled on this snowy day. I knew I was near a big bald eagle nest. I found two. One was in an evergreen tree. The greenery was only present at the top and the nest was just beneath. It didn’t look like the nest I have seen from the Mount Vernon Trail so I kept looking and soon found a nest made of large branches. This had to be it. (I managed to screw up the picture so you’ll have to take my word on it.) There were no eagle about so I kept slogging ahead.

After making it back to the main loop road I noticed something in a tree on the far side of the road. The underbrush kept me from getting close but it certainly looked to be the size of a bald eagle. It wasn’t moving though.

As I made my way back to the car, the snowplow came around the loop again. He slowed and waved to me. We were the only ones in the park.

Maybe Presidents Day isn’t so bad after all.