Baseball, Bike Shop, and an Invisible Totem Pole

The other night I went to the baseball game at Nationals Park with my daughter. She drove to the Metro; I rode my bike. On my way to the park I spotted three women approaching from the north on the Mount Vernon Trail. As we passed, the lead woman, who was wearing reflective sunglasses that obscured her face, looked startled, and smiled. Hmmm? It turned out to be my friend Emilia, who is back on the bike after a medical crisis. Seeing her, and her reaction when she recognized me, made my day.

The game was fun even thought the home team lost. Typically we try to go to games when there is no rain or sauna (DC summers, don’t you know) in the forecast. The weather on this night was perfect. The only sour note was an ongoing verbal scrum between a Nats fan seated in front of us and some Phillies fans off to our left. The Nats fan just wouldn’t quit carping at them and she really spoiled the end of the game for us. (They say you can complain to an usher but she was obviously pals with the usher who was standing nearby witnessing the entire thing.) No more Section 319 for me, even at $12 a seat. (For the record, we paid more to see the Class AA Hartford Yard Goats earlier in the summer.)

Nighttime at Nats Park

After the game I rode home in the dark. The Nationals traded away most of their star players last week so attendance was understandably low. That meant that post-game car traffic was light which made the first two miles of the ride not nearly as stressful as usual.

Once I got to the Jefferson Memorial it was all trails, mostly the Mount Vernon Trail, for five miles to Old Town Alexandria. After a mile through Old Town, I was back on the MVT for another five or six miles. Lacking street lights, the MVT makes for an interesting riding experience. I just follow the big white ball made by my headlight. There were no critters to deal with on this ride home but I’ve seen deer and bunnies (their bouncing eyes at least) in the past.

Today, I drove Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, back to Bikes at Vienna for some follow up work. It’s getting a stem riser which we hope will make the steering more like it was before the fork broke. Dr. Beth is on the case. She’s going to replace the front brake pads because the old ones are causing much noise and vibration. On the whole, I am quite happy that the bike is working so well.

As for Beth, she is recovering from a nasty crash on her recumbent. After a few days wearing a full leg splint, she has transitioned to a rather sturdy looking knee brace. She’s using a folding wheelchair to get around the shop, stylin’ in her bike shop cap. It was good to see her doing so well. I am sure she’ll be back to her old self in a couple of weeks.

After dropping off the bike I rode my CrossCheck into DC to see a totem pole that was recently shipped her from the Pacific Northwest. My friend Joe Flood posted a picture of a bird’s head from the pole which was awaiting assembly and had been placed in pieces in a park near the Interior Department. We are having a rare nice-summer-weather wave hereabouts so the ride to DC into a headwind was delightful. On the way I rode past Belle Haven Country Club. Along the roadside I spotted seven errant golf balls. Rich people suck at golf, apparently. I picked up five and left two that were hard to get to.

All the way to DC the sky was filled with puffy white clouds and an unusual amount of haze, no doubt from the wildfires out west. The weather and the ride were so pleasant that I didn’t even mind dealing with tourists who were wandering around the Lincoln Memorial like they were stoned.

I rode around and around the neighborhood near the nearby Interior Department passing the Federal Reserve, the State Department, the Institute of Peace, the American Pharmacists Association, the Pan American Health Association, the General Services Administration, as well as the headquarters of both the American Red Cross and Daughters of the American Revolution. Yeah, this is DC. Alas, there was no totem pole. Nor were there any totem pole pieces. The parks interspersed throughout the area were occupied by a few dozen tents housing homeless people. I thought about asking them if they had stashed the totem pole pieces in their tents then thought better of it. Maybe the totem pole is invisible.

Having failed to find the totem pole I rode past the White House. Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the president’s house has been milled and will soon receive some fresh pavement. Maybe then they can take away the remaining “bike rack” security barriers so that people can see the White House properly.

I rode down the 15th Street cycletrack to head back home. Police had stopped traffic near the entrance to the Ellipse (and the south side of the White House complex) to allow a motorcade to come through. There must have been a dozen huge black SUVs, one with a film camera and camera person on the roof. There was no way to tell if the vehicles carried real politicos or actors.

Before heading home, I took a spin around Hains Point. It’s 3 1/2 miles down to the point and back with hardly any traffic. On the return from the point I picked up a sixth golf ball that had been sent amiss by a duffer on the East Potomac Park course. Near the tennis courts, I passed up a tennis ball on the side of the road. Although I rode by some basketball courts later, I didn’t find any stray basketballs.

I like the yellow one.

Once past the Jefferson Memorial, I had a tailwind all the way home. Just before reaching my house, I spotted a bicyclist coming my way in the middle of our quiet side street. He was riding along side a runner. As I passed them I could see that the runner was a teenaged girl in a serious running outfit. She was cruising and had perfect form. This kid obviously has talent! I yelled, “You’re flying!” as I rode by and she and the rider, who must have been her proud papa, gave me a big smile.

I added the golf balls to the bag of balls in my shed. I haven’t counted them in a while but I would guess there are 50 or 60 balls in the bag. Anybody want a dozen?

Step by Step, Inch by Inch – July

July is the month here in DC when your body learns how to embrace the three Hs: hazy, hot, and humid. I didn’t do any monster rides this month but I was consistent. I rode 27 out of 31 days, with two 60-mile rides. The rest of the rides were between 28 and 41 miles. Day in. Day out.

I rode all four bikes. Big Nellie returned to the fold after a near catastrophic fork failure. Sadly, the bike appears to be jinxed as Beth, the mechanic who worked on the bike, crashed her recumbent just a few days after I picked mine up at Bikes@Vienna. Luckily, she didn’t break any bones but soft tissue injuries aren’t any fun and I wish her a speedy recovery.

I started the month riding 125 miles on The Mule until it hit 62,000 miles on the odometer. I switched to my CrossCheck for another 598.5 miles. When Big Nellie returned I rode it for 239.5 miles. Despite needing a new cassette and a longer stem, I’m pretty happy with how it rides. My last bit of riding was a 3-mile ride to and from the auto mechanic on Little Nellie, my Bike Friday.

I rode to one ballgame, one happy hour, and two coffee get togethers. I have to admit that I am so used to not socializing that interacting with people feels awkward.

I did quite a lot of riding considering I had a cold for the entire month. It wasn’t Covid, just sinuses going haywire.

So that makes 957 miles for the month. I am now only 69 miles short of a 10,000-mile pace. There’s blood in the water for this mile’s shark.

I’ve ridden 5,579 miles this year.

August is sure to be a challenging month as it will involve moving my daughter to law school which will cost me a handful of riding days. Hopefully, I won’t mess up my back in the process.

When I wasn’t riding I read three books. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton was Groundhog Day meets Agatha Christie. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir was an entertaining follow up to The Martian, though not nearly as good. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (who wrote The Fault in Our Stars) is a young adult novel set in Indianapolis. I greatly enjoyed it. (Haven’t read a book of his I didn’t like.)

I also did some TV watching. I saw about 20 Nationals games before they collapsed in a heap and were blown up at the trade deadline. I watched the Loki series which I found disappointing, except for Owen Wilson’s performance. McCartney 1-2-3 was an entertaining 6-part conversation between Paul McCartney and Rick Rubin. It’s a must for any Beatles fan even if you’ve heard most of the anecdotes (which I had).

The rain has stopped. Time to go for a bike ride.

Crashes

My blogging buddy Brittany asked me a question about crashing on a recumbent versus a standard bike. It got me to thinking.

When I crashed on Big Nellie, my recumbent, I was rolling and turning toward a slight downhill to my left. I hit a root heave, a bump perpendicular to my line of travel. The impact of wheel on root caused my fork to break. The handlebars just sort of disengaged and the wheel turned all the way around to the left. The bike and me crashed to the right side.

Crashing on a recumbent is usually much less painful than on a standard bike, primarily because you have a much shorter distance to fall. When people crash on a standard bike, their instinct is to stick their arm out to brace themselves. This often results in a broken collarbone.

On a recumbent you’re usually on the ground before you can react. Sometimes recumbent riders react by putting their foot down. This is a bad idea. The downside to such recumbent crashes is something called leg suck. If one of your feet comes off the pedal, and you’re moving fast, your foot will be drawn (or sucked) under the bike. This can result in a rather abrupt broken leg. I’ve had my foot slip of the pedal at speed. It hit the ground with such force that it was very hard to avoid leg suck. I had to lift my foot straight up until the bike slowed. It was scary.

Sometimes you can tell you’re about to crash. On a standard bike you want to take the impact on the outside of your upper arm and roll when you hit the ground. Bicycle racers practice this. Me, not so much.

On a recumbent, you want to ride the crash out. Just keep your feet on the pedals and your hands on the handlebars and, Just before contact with the ground, stick your butt cheek out to absorb the force of the crash. I’ve done this a few times and it works amazingly well. When the fork broke this summer, however, I was on the ground so fast I couldn’t react.

I have had a fork break once before. I had taken my trusty old 1978 Raleigh Grand Prix out for a ride in Arlington VA. This bike had survived innumerable crashes and road salt from six New England winters. I rode it down a hill to the Potomac River, then, a while later, rode back up the hill. At the top, something felt odd about the steering so I stopped. Then I heard a CLANG! My right fork blade just fell off onto the pavement! I am very fortunate this didn’t happen going down that hill.

An odd feeling is typical of steel tubing. It gets squishy before it fails. A friend was riding a tour on the Natchez Trace when his bike felt funny. He stopped and noticed that his top tube had broken, metal fatigue caused by a crash. Eek. Unlike steel, aluminum tubing just snaps without warning. It can ruin your whole day.

Frame and fork breaks are pretty rare, thankfully. A more common cause of a crash is low tire pressure. I was riding home from work one day and started to turn onto a bike trail. In an instant, I found myself on the ground and in a world of hurt. My front tire had gone flat and, as I turned, my rim made contact with the pavement and I went down. Hard. Flat back tires are not so traumatic. Usually your back wheel starts to fishtail. This happened to me on the Mount Vernon Trail while riding Big Nellie. The back end started to wobble so I just started to glide and went straight off the trail onto a grassy area. I didn’t even tip over. Just a nice controlled stop. We all should be so lucky when we crash.

Check your tires before you ride. Every time.

Strange Digression: Long ago I interned at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regional office in San Francisco. I took an articulated bus home to my place in Berkeley one night. I sat in the rear of the bus, beyond the center hinge. We were on the old Oakland-Bay Bridge when the back end of the bus started to swing violently from side to side. My mind flashed to Def Con One: EARTHQUAKE!

Seeing as how the bay was waaaay dooown theeere, the other passengers, who, unlike me, almost certainly knew what an earthquake felt like, freaked out and yelled at the driver to slow down. The next day at the office I mentioned this episode to the staff, one of whom was an expert on tires. He said that the cause of the swaying was probably underinflated rear tires.

Hockey Tape, Duct Tape, Carbon Fiber and Beth

About a month ago, Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, broke. Literally. The front fork broke off. While I was riding.

This was not fun.

Easy Racers, the manufacturer, has apparently gone out of business. Long before that happened, they put out a recall on the fork on my bike. My fork had something like 30,000 miles on it. What me worry? Doh.

With little hope of success, I conducted a nationwide search for a replacement fork. After a few recumbent bike shops sent me regrets, I had just about given up hope when Peter Stull from Bicycle Man shop in Alfred NY told me he had just what I needed. To be sure that it would work, I had Peter talk directly to Tim Fricker, owner of my somewhat (23-miles away) local recumbent shop, Bikes at Vienna. They determined that the fork would work on my bike but I’d have to replace the headset and the stem. I took Big Nellie out to Vienna and dropped it off.

After the usual delays due to summer backlogs, pandemic supply chain problems, and such, repairs began. Beth, who like Tim and me owns an Easy Racers recumbent, worked on my bike. In addition to replacing the fork, I asked her to replace my chains (it’s a long bike) and the cassette. I also figured I might as well replace the grip shifters that were in very rough shape. For the last year or so, the rubber grippy part was worn off. I’d “fixed” them with hockey tape.

During her work, Beth discovered that my bike needed a whole bunch of other repairs. (Deferred maintenance is my middle name.) The middle chainring was bent. (How I could do this without bending the other two chainrings is a wonder.) One of the crank arms was also bent. My plastic rear fender mount was cracked. (How they could have an obscure part like this lying around is beyond me.) She replaced all three.

Beth also noticed that the brakes worked very poorly (don’t need them if you crash, is my motto) and that all the cables and housings needed to be replaced. I think they were all over 10 years old. Maintenance? Moi? Mais non!

Lastly, Beth could not get my 20-year-old bike computer to work. Considering the fact that it was literally held together with duct tape, I wasn’t surprised. I’ve been searching for a replacement for ages. Sure enough, the store had one in stock.

Before I went out to Vienna to pick up the bike, Beth advised me that it would take an hour to dial in the set up on the bike. The set up on Tour Easys is complicated. As it turned out, she needed to cut the grips on the shifters, replace my bar end mirror, adjust a limit screw on the front derailler, and tweak the handlebar position.

The handlebars need to be a bit higher to allow the bar ends to clear my knees and for my hands to be a bit closer to my body. Beth put in an order for a stem riser that will solve the problem.

I think we could have done what we needed to get done in 20 minutes but as the 43 emails suggest, Beth is rather loquacious. (In this regard and in physical appearance, she very much reminds me of my friend Klarence.) We talked up a storm about our bikes and bike touring. She wants to ride to Key West. I said, “No Way So Hey!” I also told her about my Erie Canal tour which I did on Big Nellie.

With bike repaired and new friend of the wheel acquired, I headed home.

Today, I took Big Nellie out for a test ride.

Sweet!

It needs a few more tweaks. There is an odd intermittent noise from the drivetrain that may have something to do with the cassette. When you replace a worn chain, you should also replace the cassette but, thanks to pandemic supply chain delays, a new cassette was not available. The noise may just be an issue of links and cog teeth meshing improperly. No worries.

The last time I rode this bike I crashed so my steering was a bit tentative. The new handlebar position isn’t terrible but I am looking forward to a more compact steering posture.

The quality of bike computers is generally lousy these days, but the replacement computer seems to be working fine. I’ll keep an eye on this one. (Beth, mindful of my ego, keyed in the mileage – over 45,000 – from my old computer.) I am pretty sure the wheel size is on the generous side but that’s something I can deal with.

Big Nellie back home. Note craptastic duct tape fender extension.

My plastic fenders, with duct tape extensions, are all about keeping my bike and me dry. They are ugly. Beth wanted to replace them.

I declined but in the course of the email conversation she learned that I had stashed in my shed an Easy Racers carbon fiber front fender. Beth owns a Ti Rush, the titanium version of my bike, that retailed for 2 and a half times the price of my bike. It is a thing of beauty and weighs nothing. It also has a stiffer seat back and can go faster miles and hour.

One of these days I’m going to steal it.

In the meantime, it needs fancy fenders. I gave her mine.

50 States – A New Plan

As most readers of this blog know, my favorite bicycling event is the Washington Area Bicyclists Association’s 50 States Ride. It involves riding 60 miles through the streets of DC on a route that includes the avenues named after the 50 States. I have done this ride a dozen times (2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020). This year’s ride is scheduled for Saturday September 11. Barring an onset of sanity, I intend to ride it.

T-shirts are awarded to finishers. I have worn mine all over the country and am often asked, “Wow. did you really ride in all 50 states?” Which begs the question “How many states have you ridden in?”

Emilia (R) and I posing with the 2017 t-shirt

Through no planning, between 1960 and 2019, I have ridden in 34 states: New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Montana, Colorado, Kansas, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Delaware, New Jersey, Vermont, and Pennsylvania.

I have had in the back of my mind the notion to ride the remaining 16 in five tours: New Hampshire and Maine; Alaska; South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska; Arizona, New Mexico, Texas. Oklahoma, and Arkansas; and Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Since they are not bunched together, this endeavor would take me several years.

I started my 2019 tour from Indiana to California with an ache in my left hip and left knee. The mountainous terrain and long days (made necessary by a lack of support services on the route) in Colorado, Utah, and Nevada beat my body up something fierce. The pandemic was a blessing in disguise, allowing me to get medical treatment (physical therapy, cortisone shots, and other therapies). Even now, however, I feel worn out. Perhaps this is father time’s way of telling me to change my approach.

The pandemic and scores of rides in mid-Atlantic weather these past 24 months, have conspired to make me proficient at another activity: napping. Today I rode 46 miles in suffocating heat and humidity to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in DC. At the garden I spent about an hour walking around in the hot sun. When I got home, I had some lunch, took a shower, and laid down on the couch to meditate. I woke up two hours later.

It occurred to me that maybe riding in all 50 States is a younger man’s game. Maybe napping in all 50 States is more my speed these days.

So how many states have I napped in already? It’s a difficult question to answer because, well, I was asleep at the time. I am pretty sure I have napped in these states: New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii. Texas, California, Oregon, Wisconsin, Michigan (on the ferry on the lake), West Virginia, Indiana, Colorado, Florida, and Arizona. I have 36 states to go!

Maybe I could establish the Washington Area Nappers Association.

I could have a t-shirt made: I Snored the 50 States.

June Bugs

The month of June was notable primarily for the Brood X (17-year) cicada invasion. It was surreal around here. The din started coming in spots then eventually became ubiquitous for about a week. It was like living in the Twilight Zone.

Covid restrictions for vaccinated people were lifted. So off came the masks. Not surprisingly I caught my first cold in a year and a half. I think I’m going to keep wearing a mask in crowds.

I did four social things this month which was four more than I did in June 2020. I went to a get together of grad school friends and to a happy hour of Bike DC people. I managed to drag myself out of bed to go to Friday Coffee Club, motivated by the fact that my friend Lis was back in town from another of her exotic overseas work adventures. Yesterday, I rode to DC to drop of a book of short stories at Klarence’s house. Klarence follows the author on social media. The author is married to a former colleague of mine. The book received stellar reviews but it’s appeal was lost on me. I hope I found it a better home.

Despite these four events, I feel completely numb to the idea of socializing. I can’t remember ever feeling so disconnected. It doesn’t bother me at all either. I suppose I’ll gradually return to my old ways. Someday.

I read only two books this month. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is another YA (young adult) fiction book from my daughter’s stash. I liked it a lot. For some reason YA books seem to lean toward the creepy. This one certainly had that aspect. The second book was Ten Innings at Wrigley by Kevin Cook. It’s about a 1979 baseball game between the Phillies and the Cubs that had a score of 23-22. The account of the game takes up only about a third of the book. The first third describes the strange and often pathetic history of both ballclubs. The last third tells of the fates of some of the key players in the game including Dave Kingman, Bill Buckner, Pete Rose, and Donny Moore.

As for movies and such, we watched the second season of Lupin, about a gentleman bandit in Paris. Worth your time. And we began watching the Loki series. I think Owen Wilson (who I generally don’t much care for) stole the first two episodes. He wasn’t in the third and it did nothing for me. Three more to go.

I went to a couple of Washington Nationals games. One with my daughter. The other solo. Both times the heat and humidity made watching very uncomfortable.

Bike riding had it’s ups and downs. I rode 1,004 miles, my first four-digit month since July 2020. My CrossCheck hit 20,000 miles on June 2 and went into the shed for a hiatus. I switched to The Mule (my Specialized Sequoia) for 870 miles, interrupted by 51 miles on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent. Speaking of interrupted, my ride home from the happy hour on Big Nellie was interrupted by a catastrophic fork failure. Fortunately I was going slow at the time and was on a trail so I didn’t get run over by car after I fell. I have since returned to the scene of the crime. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a large bump across the trail caused by a tree root. The trail is rapidly becoming hazardous as these root bumps emerge in clusters on every section of the trail. Now that the National Park Service has taken a pass on maintaining the right of way, I fear that my crash will be the first of many.

I did five rides of over 50 miles. The last one of these was a couple of days ago. I was intending to ride 100 miles on Maryland’s Eastern Shore when heat. humidity, and illness convinced me to turn back after about 30 miles. I got lost in the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, thanks to Verizon wireless’s spotty service and a paper map showing an apparently non-existent road. I checked Google maps on my laptop later and saw that I had missed a turn and ended up separated from the road by swamp. My recovery turned a 55-mile bailout into a 62-mile slog.

For the year, I have ridden 4,782 miles, about 26.6 miles per day. I am on pace to ride 9,697 miles this year. Gotta up my game to get the 10,000 mile prize. (There isn’t one.)

Perspective

The most recent issue of Adventure Cyclist arrived in the mail the other day. The front cover is a photograph by someone named Chris Hytha. It’s the kind of picture I will never take because I do not have the gene for this sort of thing.

Where is this? I wondered. The Nullarbor in Australia?

Nope. It’s the Utah State Highway 21 between Milford, Utah and Baker, Nevada. The rider in the picture isn’t me but it could have been. In 2019 I rode (and walked) this stretch of desert, part of an 84-mile day with no services. No food. No water. No humans. No shade. Just the bike and me and a road that goes on forever.

Photography and videography of bike tours often show spectacular landscapes like this. Sometimes drones are used (why you’d want to carry a drone and all its supporting doodads is beyond me). When you are in the landscape, your perspective is entirely different.

I didn’t recognize this picture. To me that day was all about three mountain passes and the basins between them. I didn’t remark about how the road seemed to stretch out forever because I was too concerned with the 100 feet in front of me. On and on and on. Grinding along at 10 miles per hour for most of the day. It can be meditative or, perhaps, mind numbing is more apt. At one point, I sped down one pass and crossed a cattle guard (metal bars perpendicular to my line of travel) at 30 miles per hour. That’ll wake your ass up in a hurry.

Fortunately, the road didn’t go on forever. The dusty town of Baker seemed like a movie set. A crossroads. A few buildings. The kind of place that fits the phrase “Wherever you go, there you are.” To get to where you are, just take the road to the vanishing point in the distance.

Big Nellie Update

On Thursday evening, I was riding Big Nellie, my long wheel base recumbent, home from a social event in DC, when the front fork (the part that holds the wheel to the steering mechanism) snapped off. The bike is a Tour Easy which was made by a company called Easy Racers. Easy Racers apparently went under a few years ago. Many of the components on this rather exotic looking machine are standard bike parts made by companies like Shimano and Grip Shifter. Alas, the fork is not one of them.

I posted a picture of my fractured friend online and tagged Bikes@Vienna, the shop where I bought the bike 20 years and over 43,000 miles ago. To my surprise, Tim, the shop owner, said he might have a replacement fork. I drove Big Nellie out to Vienna and dropped it off.

The next day I heard back from Tim and one of his mechanics. The forks they have are not the right size so Tim advised that I send an email to the man who last owned Easy Racers and cross my fingers.

I followed his advice but also sent emails to several well known (to me anyway) recumbent dealers all over the country. One immediately responded with a “no.” A few hours passed when I received an email from Peter at Bicycle Man in Alfred Station, New York. (I am a native of upstate New Your and had to look this up on a map. It’s between Elmira and Buffalo.)

Lo and behold he had a few original Easy Racer forks. After a couple of phone conversations made unproductive by my rank ignorance of bike components, Peter offered to call Tim and iron out a solution. As it turns out, the fork is incompatible with my stem and headset (parts that connect the fork to the handlebars) but that can be remedied by replacing the latter two components which are standard bike parts.

As I write, my new fork is on its way from upstate New York to Northern Virginia. I won’t see the completed bike for several weeks because this is the peak time for bike repairs, a situaiton exacerbated by the pandemic.

The bike also needs a new middle chainring, which was damaged during my crash somehow. And, since I haven’t done any maintenance on the bike in years, there is a laundry list of other repairs. For example, the Grip Shifters lost their tackiness a long time ago, an issue I have been remedying with hockey tape. And since the bike is in for work anyway, I am getting a new chain and cassette (rear gears). The chain is pricey because this bike uses three chains linked in one long loop.

I am not replacing the bar end plugs. I have plenty of wine corks which had a little panache.

So thanks to the interwebs and the brotherhood of recumbent bike dealers, I believe I’ll have Big Nellie back on the road in time for some riding later this summer.

When you get to a fork in the road, break it

This last week or so I’ve been getting out and about, almost like the before times. My daughter and I took in our first Nats baseball game since September 2019. The Nats were kind enough to reward our presence with a win.

On Wednesday, I returned to the ballyard alone for a day game. They won again. My seats were less than ideal. Half the stands were in shade. Sadly, I was not and my legs were fried by the strong summer sun even though temperatures stayed quite comfortable. My sunburn was not for naught; the Nats won again.

Section 317, Row A.

Thursday began with my first trip to a diner in over a year. Later in the day, I attended my first post-pandemic #bikedc social event with the return of Third Thursday Happy Hour. In an exchange on social media, my friend Miles mocked my recumbent. Big Nellie was offended and insisted on being ridden to the get-together. About 20 people assembled at the snack bar at the golf course in East Potomac Park. I haven’t seen so many golfers in one place in my entire life. It was crazy.

The bike crowd was in a good mood and the conversation flowed along with the beer. I did not partake of the brews because of last Saturday’s tummy issues. After a couple of hours I rode home.

All was going splendidly. About seven miles into the ride, the Mount Vernon Trail has a small curve to go around a wooded wet area next to the river. At the peak of the curve, on a slight incline, all was well. I banked Big Nellie to the left to continue down the incline. As my front wheel hit a sizeable bump from a tree root, I began my lean to the right to negotiate the next turn.

And then I crashed.

It happened before I could react. I realized before my right side hit the pavement that my hands, still on the handlebar grips, were in an odd place, off to the left instead of directly in front of me. I landed on the pavement. Ow. My right shoulder, hip, and elbow took the force of the fall. (Just scrapes. No broken bones.) I managed to scoot myself off the trail and onto the grass to avoid being run over.

The pain seemed to intensify as I stood and tried to upright my bike. Then I realized what had happened; both blades of my fork had incurred catastrophic failure. I had to drag the bike to the grass because the front wheel would no longer roll.

No bueno. Over 43,000 miles of wear and tear.

A runner saw the crash and came along to see if I was okay. I said “I want my mommy.”

Okay, I lied about that.

His name was Rob and he carried my bike about 200 yards to a parking area. Thanks, Rob.

Rob. Dead Bike Carrier Extraordinaire

My wife and daughter came to my aid and we drove the last 8 miles home.

I posted pix on the Internet and tagged Bikes@Vienna, the shop where I bought the bike, hoping rather desperately that he could help with a repair. The bike’s manufacturer is no longer in business and the fork is a rather exotic part. It has unusually long trail, which means it situates the front wheel well in front of the frame.

To my astonishment, Tim, the owner of the shop, texted me back saying that he may have a replacement fork.

This morning I rode The Mule to my first Friday Coffee Club since March 2020. My motivation was to see my friend Lis who has been overseas for most of the last couple of years. Lis and I didn’t get to talk much but I did manage to chat with several other people. The weather cooperated splendidly, dry and slightly warm with a soft, cool breeze.

On the ride home I managed to negotiate the curve of doom without incident. The Mule abides.

This afternoon I took Big Nellie out to Bikes@Vienna. Dr. TIm and his able assistant Igor (actually she’s Beth and somewhat disappointingly doesn’t have a hunchback) will take things apart and see what can be done.

My fingers are crossed that Big Nellie can be saved from the recumbent graveyard.

Sweet and Nasty

There are right ways and wrong ways to do a hilly bicycling event. I chose the latter.

On Friday night, I dined on a Texas chili mac with cheddar, beans, and onions, a true gut bomb. Saturday morning I ate shredded wheat for breakfast. Then I rode 15 miles to Nationals Park to take in a baseball game, my first since the before times. There I drank my June beers, two tall, bland, vastly overpriced lagers.

The Nats won and I left the ballpark happy. Well, most of me did. The combination of chili, shredded wheat, and beer was causing me intestinal distress that would make both a gastroenterologist and a volcanologist proud.

I made it home in one piece and felt a bit better after some time on the porcelain throne.

Fast forward to the wee hours of the morning. Rumblings within woke me and kept me awake all night. By six in the morning all was calm but I now had the brain fog of a sleeplessness to deal with.

After breakfast I rode The Mule six miles to Jones Point Park in Alexandria. The park is bisected by the massive Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Beneath the bridge was the starting point for the Washington Area Bicyclists Association Sweet Ride. I had chosen to do the 50-mile route despite the fact that the registration page warned that it was “a challenge” because it included 2,654 feet of climbing.

I have issues with climbing. Basically, I stink at it. I could get better if I rode up hills with some regularity, but my thinking is: why ruin a nice ride with pain?

The Sweet Ride route was merciful for the first ten miles, following flat streets and trails in Alexandria and Arlington before using the Mount Vernon Trail for a mile-long spin along the Potomac River.

Alas, the MVT ends at a switchback climb to the Martha Custis Trail. The Custis (nobody calls it the MCT for some reason) climbs out of the Rosslyn neighborhood for a mile or so. Then the “challenging” part begins.

The next nine miles traverses scenic (check out the landscaping, see the pretty Arts and Crafts McMansions) North Arlington. The hills seemed to go up forever until they plunged down to a stop sign, stealing riders of their reward for all that hard work going up. I was glad I had chosen The Mule for this event because it is equipped with a tiny granny gear that I purchased to climb over Monarch Pass in Colorado in 2019.

I stopped at a pit stop to refill a water bottle and say hello to Kristin, WABA’s development and acting managing director. I seem to see her only when I am zonked from riding. In any case it was the first time I’d seen her since 2019 so I didn’t mind the zonked part. That is until she said there would be more climbing in the miles ahead.

And there was.

Thank the gods for granny gears.

At least the neighborhoods were interesting and the traffic was light. At mile 10, I arrived on the Custis Trail again. This led to a somewhat confusing meander through the Ballston area. I briefly lived in this area in the mid to late 1980s. I proposed to my wife at the miniature golf course and took my sister for her first Mexican food meal at a tiny place in a small wood framed shop. Those places are gone, replaced by fancy townhouses and mid rise apartment and office buildings.

Most of the riders I encountered during the event were using GPS cue sheets. I am old school and had a paper cue sheet attached to my handlebars. I couldn’t keep up with the mod crowd because I had to stop and turn the page of my cue sheet booklet from time to time. Also, I am old and slow.

We connected to the Bluemont Trail which I haven’t ridden in 25 years. This led to the Washington and Old Dominion Trail which was packed with families enjoying the lovely weather. In short order I pulled into the pit stop in Bluemont Park where I was greeted by old friend, Ursula, another WABA person, and generally all around great human. Once again this was my first time seeing her since 2019.

I briefly chatted with a man named Adam who kidded me that he thought I should be riding “out in Montana somewhere.” For the life of me, I have no idea how he knew who I was. My broken fusiform gyrus once again was paying me a visit.

Just before I was to begin riding again, Ed Felkerino, randonneur extraordinaire and co-founder of Friday Coffee Club, appeared at my side as if out of the ether. We chatted briefly, He wasn’t doing the event, just out for a bike stroll, probably headed for Cafe Amouri in Vienna. Yet another person from the before times. Maybe if this keeps up I’ll start to feel less pandemicy sometime soon.

I rolled away on the W&OD to the city of Falls Church where the route wandered past all kinds of smaller but finely designed homes. By this point, my landscaping envy was through the roof. How the heck do these people get such awesome hydrangeas, enormous bushes with blossoms that look like cotton candy. Mine just dry out and die no matter how much I water them.

After a five-minute wait to cross six lanes of US 50, scourge of my ride across Nevada, I found myself in the Lake Barcroft section of Fairfax County. Dang this is nice! I don’t think I had ever been through this area. Rolling hills and curving roads, not to mention the lake, made me not care too much about my now-all-but-dead legs.

Out of Lake Barcroft, the route traversed Bailey’s Crossroads and dropped onto the Holmes Run Trail. The last time I had used this entrance to the trail was in the Hoppy 100 ride. We descended to the trailhead in an absolute deluge. The trial runs along and across Holmes Run (run means creek in Virginia-speak). The downpour had caused the run to flood but we rode through the waters without harm. Today, without a recent downpour, some of the crossings were closed, evidence that this well intentioned trail is a bit of a mess.

The cue sheet said to take a left but it wasn’t clear to me that the left was the one that was directly in front of me or further on. I chose the latter and was wrong. I came out of Holmes Run about a quarter mile south of the route. The Google helped me remedy my error and I was back on track on the streets of Alexandria.

After a couple of easy miles, the streets led back to the Holmes Run Trail where I found the final pit stop, staffed by Anna, WABA’s events coordinator. The only time I ever seem to meet Anna is at pit stops, She’s now officially Pit Stop Anna. Anna informed me that the route has nearly the same elevation gain as the 50 States Ride. It sure felt like it but the 50 States gains about 3,041 feet in 60 miles compared to the 2,654 for this 50-mile ride. On a per mile basis, however, the Sweet Ride gains 53 feet of elevation per mile compared to 50 feet per mile for 50-States.

Anna is soon to be named WABA’s statistics coordinator.

The next several miles were along the trail and completely flat Eisenhower Avenue. I took a left on Mill Road and realized that the next few steps on the cue sheet didn’t work. Hmm. About a mile later I came to realize that Mill Road forms a U, curving back to Eisenhower; I had turned too soon.

No worries. I was now in the Carlyle neighborhood, familiar turf. The route took me up the final hill of the ride, a roughly mile-long incline on King Street headed west. I normally find this climb frustrating because it looks easy but it wears you out with its length. By this point though my legs didn’t much care. I just lowered my torso over the top tube, relaxed my arms and spun away.

The climb was followed by a lovely, curving downhill on Valley Drive through the Park Fairfax neighborhood. This led to the Four Mile Run Trail and blissful level ground. I took Commonwealth Avenue across Del Ray then continued through Old Town back to Jones Point Park.

At the finish, my starting place was now a pit stop for riders who had begun their ride at a second starting point five miles away in Crystal City. The stop was staffed by my friend Monica who seemed elated to learn that I was not passing through but had just finished the route. I was about to ride home when she asked me whether I wanted a vegan, vegetarian, or chicken lunch, I had forgotten that lunch was included in the registration fee.

The food came from Nandos. Lord did it hit the spot. This was the best ride food on a WABA ride in a long time. The grub included a wrap, a bag of chips, a brownie, and a Capri Sun. Sugary drinks taste like champagne after a long slog on a bike.

Other goodies for riders included a bandana with the pattern used on the cue sheet above and a black drawstring bag from Nandos.

After lunch it was time to call it a day. I rode the six miles home on autopilot. I arrived home weary and ready to watch the end of the Nats game on TV, (They won 5-0.)

This was my first Sweet Ride. I missed the first three because of bike tours and the pandemic. Today’s ride makes WABA’s return to more or less normal ride protocols. Aside from masks being worn at pit stops, this seemed like old times.

A final note: I wore my blue 2014 50-states ride shirt today. That year I did a ride with a bunch of 50-States rookies. One of those rookies, my friend Emilia, completed the ride with defective gearing. She didn’t have her lowest gears but managed to ride the distance anyway. (She rode it again with a properly geared bike and kicked my butt.) She proudly held up her shirt at the finish party. I call the shirt my Emilia shirt.

Emilia, who is normally the picture of health, recently had a medical emergency. She posted a couple of pictures on social media of her in a wheel chair. I was pretty upset to see her like this. (It serves me right because I have posted pictures of me in states of medical duress in the past which have resulted in reprimands from friends and family.) After a few days, she contacted me and said she is home from the hospital and on the mend. Get well soon, amiga. The 50-States Ride is in three months!