December Coping

I managed to make it a week into December before running out of gas. I woke up tired and with dead legs. I was expecting some snow to give me an excuse to take the day off from riding but alas the snow stayed to our south. Still with temperatures in the high 30s for most of the morning I gave myself permission to slag off for the day.

The day was not without it’s productive bits. I got some Christmas shopping and a load of laundry done. During the former I walked about a mile in Old Town Alexandria. There was some stenosis discomfort initially but it faded as I kept moving and I managed to walk a nice loop through Covided streets. Covided streets are nearly empty of people and full of odd tents outside restaurants. I felt bad for the lonely waiters. Not much lunch being served today.

I went to Old Town to shop at Old Town Books, a new independent book shop. There are only a couple of types of stores that I enjoy browsing in and bookshops are one of them. Amazon nearly killed the small bookstores off. Oddly, Old Town Books is located across the alley from the location of Olssen’s, a bookstore that Amazon killed ten or so years ago. I loved Olssen’s so I am going out of my way to give Old Town Books as much of my business as possible.

In addition to being tired, I have been famished all day. I think the brain confuses fatigue with hunger at times. Naps are like fuel for the system. I have become quite good at napping during the pandemic. Whenever tis nonsense ends, I am wondering how I will be able to bike tour without a nap.

I’ve also taken to reading obituaries over breakfast. I suppose it’s a way to thumb my nose at the fates over Cheerios and coffee. Anyway, there was an obituary of a local man who was down in Florida. He was on his bike, waiting at a red light. He was hit by a motor vehicle and killed. He and his bike were on the sidewalk at the time. It brought to mind the death of my friend Dave who was killed in a similar fashion about 18 months ago.

Gruesome coincidence aside, the Florida victim was a 77-year-old retiree who led week-long bicycle tours. I’m out there everyday grinding away in my mid-60s complaining about fatigue, sore knees, and headwinds and this guy was a decade older leading bike tours! There’s hope for me yet.

When I am not biking, I am either reading or watching TV with the fam, as they say. My book du jour is Daphne de Maurier’s Rebecca. I am reading it so the family can sit down and watch the original movie and the recent remake.

On weekends, my wife, daughter, and I have been watching three shows. The Crown raises the interesting question: with only fraction of the US population, how does the UK produce so many great character actors? If you watch enough episodes you may catch yourself saying things like: “One never knows, does one?” and “Extraordinary”.

We’ve also become big fans of The Child, known in most circles as Baby Yoda. The series is called The Mandalorian. It could easily be called “Have Ray Gun, Will Travel”, because it’s really just a space version of a western with a mysterious hero travelling around and righting wrongs every week. I half expect him to say “Hi Yo, Silver! Away!” at the end of every episode. The vibe is the thing.

The third series is Luther, a police procedural set in London. It stars Idris Elba as the titular Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, a sort of hulking, black Sherlock Holmes. Luther has all kinds of personal and ethical quirks which encumber and sometimes facilitate finding the bad guy. He wears the same clothes in every episode and investigates crime scenes with his hands in his coat pockets. He doesn’t carry a gun, preferring to talk suspects into submission, which doesn’t always work out particularly well. Oftentimes, he makes a Holmesian observation from seemingly innocuous evidence at the crime scene. “Our killer was in the service.” He has yet to say “The games afoot!” though.

Around My Neighborhood and My Mind in November

This pandemic riding is getting old. I went around in circles for another 855 miles in November, riding 26 of 30 days. I managed one event, the WABA Cider Ride which was 55 1/2 miles long. All the rest of my rides began and ended at my house. I long for the day when I can point my bike in a direction and not end up where I started.

Riding around aimlessly may be somewhat boring but the effort keeps the demon depression at bay. I have to say that riding long solo tours has really been a godsend for my longer term mental health, especially in the world of social distancing. I miss my friends but solitude can be a comfort if you learn to let it be.

Another aspect about these pandemic rides is the occasional odd memory that pops into my head. I recall camping in a town park in Illinois with two men my age. We went out to dinner at the town family restaurant (a diner without the stools). They were headed east and I was going west.

From time to time I’ll remember a place that I can’t, well, place. Where was that? What state? Nothing remarkable happened but the experience of being there was stored in some recess of my mind. Circle, Montana. Salem, North Dakota. A trailer park in the north woods of Wisconsin. Ducks waking me on the Erie Canal in west central New York, Lord, knows so many dusty near-ghost towns in Kansas.

9,510 miles down, 490 miles to go to reach 10,000. Because I am not getting up at before dawn to ride to work, I am not acclimated to cold weather. The coming week with daytime highs in the 40s will test my resolve to get out and ride with layers on. Time to break out the wind pants, the holey wool sweater, and shoe coverings. It’s really not so bad once you warm up. Self delusion is my middle name.

Clanking along the Anacostia

Sunday was the sixth Cider Ride, an event put on annually by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. The first two Cider Rides were in December. This proved to be rather unpleasant, especially the second which was held in a cold (and I mean cold) rain. I’ve ridden all six rides but DNFed on the second. My friend Reba broke her chain. We stood in the cold rain for 20 minutes trying to fix it to no avail. I took the sag wagon back with her.

The Cider Ride has three lengths, the Candy Apple (10 miles), the McIntosh (30 miles) and the Honeycrisp (55 miles). Normally, these rides are held on the same day, but this year the shorter rides were held on Saturday to allow for social distancing. I rode the Honeycrisp.

I checked in at the Dew Drop Inn registration desk where I picked up a cue sheet and a Cider Ride tin cup. The cup has a carabiner built into its handle. I attached the cup to my saddle bag so that it could clank as I hit the bumps along the route.

Before setting off on The Mule, I made sure to partake in my favorite fall energy snack: warm apple cider and a doughnut. Having shocked my pancreas, I followed the route along neighborhood streets through Northeast DC and into Mount Rainier Maryland. Here, the route switched over to trails along the Anacostia River and its tributaries up into College Park Maryland.

Lake Artemesia

At about 13 miles, I hit the first pit stop at Proteus Bicycles in Hollywood. I had another cup of warm cider but, mindful of my health, I resisted the urge to snarf another doughnut and ate a banana instead.

Cider Ride 2020 pit stop in College Park

Back on the bike, the ride followed roads and entered the USDA’s agricultural research facility. The research area was nearly traffic-free through fields and woods along Beaver Dam Road. You know you’re in nerd heaven when you cross Soil Conservation Road.

After a mile on Springfield Road it’s on to Powder Mill Road. This road is a two-lane highway, but has wide, smooth, paved shoulders. The Mule and I were cruising along with robust celerity thanks to my amazing fitness and a strong tailwind. A turn into the Patuxent Research Refuge began a three-mile bit of wooded Zen on winding Scarlet Tanager Loop Road.

After the loop, my pace slackened as I backtracked into the wind on Powder Mill Road. So much for Zen. We continued past Springfield Road until we hung a looey onto Research Road.

Research Road climbs over a ridge into Greenbelt. The half-mile-long hill was manageable. The headwind was not a particularly welcome addition to the festivites, however.

In Greenbelt I passed a socially distanced outdoor church service before hitting pit stop number 2 staffed by WABA’s Colin Browne. Few riders had come through so there was an abundance of cider and doughnuts. I did my best to remedy the situation. Burp.

Cider Ride 2020 Pit Stop in Greenbelt

After another mile or so on the roads, I followed the route back onto a trail. Here I encountered a chain link fence with a big, open gateway through which the trail passes. Bounding along the side of the trail were two deer. They saw me and flinched at cutting in front of me to use the gateway. I slowed in case the deer bolted across my line of travel which could have made for a rather unpleasant collision.

Free of the deer, I made my way down the trail then onto some residential streets into beautiful downtown Hyattsville Maryland. This town is loaded with shops and restaurants and watering holes. Many of these are located on route along the Trolley Trail. I was sorely tempted to stop at a trailside open air eatery for a beer and a hot dog. With profound inner strength I pedaled onward.

I followed the route to return to the Anacostia River about a mile later. From here I crossed over the river to Bladensburg Waterfront Park, and pit stop number 3, staffed by WABA’s Jeff Wetzel. Jeff and his volunteers were sitting facing downriver into the wind. They too had abundant supplies of doughnuts and cider. Having survived the caloric temptations of the Trolley Trail, I succumbed to my dietary fate and washed a doughnut down with a cup of cider.

Back on The Mule, I put my 10-page cue sheet away. From here I rode the Anacostia River Trail downriver eight miles into a headwind before taking the 11th Street Bridge across to the west side of the river. Next, we followed the west bank ART upriver past RFK Stadium. A left turn took us around the stadium and through Capitol Hill to the First Street Cycletrack at Union Station. A mile later we picked the Metropolitan Branch Trail. A tailwind pushed The Mule and me all the way back to the start where more cider and doughnuts awaited us.

Cider Ride mugs

I hope this doesn’t cost me

I had my hair cut in February. Then the pandemic hit. I decided after a few months to let it grow until the election and then cut it off. Then I decided to wait a few more days. It’s the longest my hair has been since college. Maybe longer

It’s an obvious improvement, but it’s the closest I’ve been to people outside my bubble in months. I hope my mask (and that of the barber) did it’s job.

And just for historical reference a shot from when I was 19. The glasses were provided by the Massachusetts DMV.

Draining the Swamp

Well, it was time to get these big old creatures out of the swamp so they stuck them in an appropriate place, the parking lot at decrepit RFK Stadium.

Big Nellie posed with a few. There were dozens but the event was not yet open and the dinos were behind a long chain link fence.

Seeing a full sized T-Rex and other big dinos made Big Nellie feel like an hors d’oeuvre. My favorite was the baby dinos.

Liberation!

Four years ago, Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to Donald Trump. Nearly every woman I know was devastated. Hillary was the speaker at my daughter’s high school graduation. There’s a picture of the two of them shaking hands on stage. We kidded her during the campaign that she had a picture with the future president. Understandably, my daughter took the election results hard.

Fast forward a few years. My daughter was an intern at the Irish embassy in Washington. Joe Biden came to the embassy for an event. Lily was hanging out with Biden’s chauffeur. At the end of the night, the chauffeur let Biden know that someone wanted to meet him. After a bit of a wait Biden’s rather chatty), the former VP came over and posed for some pictures and chatted. You can imagine how she felt when the news broke that he’s going to be the next president.

As a parent all I can say is “THIS IS TOTALLY COOL.”

Big Nellie and I took advantage of awesome weather to ride to the White House to check out the celebration. The Mount Vernon Trail was packed. I was stuck in line after line of as many as ten bikes heading north.

Finally I made it across the river, around the Jefferson Memorial, and up to the Washington Monument. There were hundreds of people joyfully celebrating. Among them were a few Trump diehards. My advice to them, not actually given, would be “When in Boston, take off your Yankees cap.” (I once went to a Sox-Yankees game at Fenway. The idiot next to me wore a Yankees cap and was very vocal. Suffice it to say, I was covered in peanut shells, popcorn and beer by the time the game was over.)

Constitution Avenue was gridlocked. Cars were honking. I walked my bike through the wall of cars and rode up 17th Street. After a few empty blocks thanks to a police blockade, I came upon some more traffic. Nobody was moving. Kids were sticking out sun roofs. Horns were honking. People were waving banners out their car windows. Partay!

I managed to make my way over to Black Lives Matter Plaza (16th Street) It was absolutely jammed with people celebrating. I was wore a mask and a buff, doubled over. I could barely breathe. Just to be safe, I left to avoid too much contact. On my way out of the area, I could see hundreds of people walking toward the celebration.

There and back again

Today was perfect riding weather. I rode The Mule to the county recycling center in Lorton, Virginia to dispose of some old motor oil and insecticide. The recycling center is next to the old Lorton Federal Prison and the massive mountain of trash at the county landfill. The prison was closed a few decades ago. The landfill keeps growing.

Yesterday I rode to Fort Washingtonin Maryland, It was a ride that involved several tough hills. Not surprisingly, my legs were not amused by today’s climbs on the way to the recycling station. A couple of the hills reminded me of the long grinding climbs that I did last summer in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. Thankfully, I am near sea level hereabouts so I had no problem with oxygen debt.

I made it in one piece and did my civic duty, pouring about a half gallon of used lawn mower oil into the Vat of Grossness.

The recycling place is on an interesting road.

Maybe they should call the mountain of trash at the landfill Mount Doom.

For the record, Mordor has some of the biggest speed bumps you’ll ever see. They are more like tectonic bulges. You can really get a nice bounce out of them. The giant semis and garbage trucks practically moan when they go over them at 5 miles per hour.

For the record I didn’t call The Mule “My Precious” once.

My reward for a good deed done was the mostly downhill ride back, partly along Old Colchester Road. For about a mile, the roadway, newly paved, descends in a series of curves through a wooded area. 30 miles per hour through a tunnel of fall foliage. Ahhh.

The weatherman is calling for more near perfect weather for the next several days. My legs are going to fall off.

Ford vs. Trump

I spent the summer of 1973 watching the Watergate hearings on TV so I know a skunk when I see one. Knowledge in hand, I have been perplexed why, after such a train wreck of a presidency, Donald Trump has received 67 million votes as of this writing. What are these people thinking?

Then it occurred to me. Trump voters are like my father and Fords.

Sometime in my very early life, my father started buying Ford station wagons. We’re talking about the late 1950s here. My father’s car buying philosophy was simple: keep the car until the warranty expires then trade it in. This was important for two reasons.

Ford Country Squire - Wikipedia

First, we lived in the snow belt. If you ditched the car after a couple of years, the inevitable rust was someone else’s problem. Second, American cars of that era were, to use a technical term, crap. Let me give you an example. Around the early to mid 1970s, my father had a Country Squire station wagon. Andy Rooney once ridiculed buyers of this car as idiots because they paid extra, big bucks for the optional wood grain finish. This was actually a big piece of contact paper surrounded by $5 worth of plastic trim. Another feature of the car was that it got something like 8 miles to the gallon in the city and 13 on the highway. I am not making this up. It had an enormous engine that took forever to warm up on cold days. It accelerated like a manatee on land. The kicker was the dashboard.

I grew up in Albany NY (coincidentally, Andy Rooney’s hometown. He also went to my high school, but I digress.) The record low in Albany is -28F in January 1971, my sophomore year in high school. It is not unusual to have a few weeks of sub-zero temperatures every winter. Been there. Done that. One morning my father went out to warm up the car. As the interior heated up, a jagged crack formed right down the middle of the dashboard. Quality is job one.

We had to have a big car because we had seven kids and my father was a gardener. When the “wayback” was not filled with blocks of peat moss and shovels and such, it had huge cushions and a kid or three. (Seatbelts? You must be joking. My mom used to let us stand on the front seat of the car when we were little. I am not making this up.)

Another feature of this piece of automotive dung was the fact that it was so bulky that it was nearly impossible to parallel park. Guess which car I took my driving test in? The night before my test, my father set garbage cans up on the street and I practiced parallel parking between them. Clang! Clang! During the test, I put the car in reverse, looked over my shoulder and prayed. Perfect! I couldn’t do it again in 100 tries.

Day after day for my entire childhood my father would bitch about his crappy Ford station wagon. Yet every two or three years when the warranty expired, he’d trade his car in for another Ford station wagon that was, incredibly, even crappier than the one he had. (In the mid-1960s he bought a two-door Mustang instead. He kept it for a few months. We kids loved it but you couldn’t get a block of peat moss in it to save yourself. So he traded it in on another wagon.)

So why did he keep buying these shitboxes? My theory is that he bought Fords one after the other because lord knows Chevrolets and Plymouths could actually be worse. Sometime after I left home, he threw caution to the wind and bought a Chevy wagon. It was a vast improvement.

Now he may have been onto something. My younger brother once bought a VW Golf. Its transmission died the day after the warranty expired. I am not making this up either. (To its credit, the dealer honored the warrantee anyway.)

If you are under 30, I promise you that you have no idea how lucky you are Even the worst shit box on the road today is infinitely better than Fords on the 1960s and 1970s.

Which brings me back to the Donald. Why would people vote for him even after nearly four years of demonstrating that he is indisputably the worst president in U. S. history? I mean, I bet his hair cracks in half at -10F. People vote for him because they are afraid that any alternative is likely to be worse. I mean a new president could have hair that cracks at +10F. We can’t have that, now can we? It’s a variation on what Milton Friedman called the tyranny of the status quo.

Aren’t you glad the election is almost behind us.

For the record, I am a Honda man.

Riding nowhere – October

Another month, another 913 miles of riding around in circles. Except for a single one-way 57-mile ride on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail that is. It’s inane to be doing this but it’s that kind of year, isn’t it.

After putting 676 miles on my Cross Check (which passed the 18,000-mile mark) and another 51 miles on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, I switched rather cautiously to Little Nellie, my folding travel bike with little wheels. Little Nellie has been known to beat my lower back to a pulp so I have been avoiding riding it. I was considering selling it until, on a whim, I tweaked the saddle height and found a sweet spot. I can now ride it pain free. So it’s been my ride of choice for final 186 miles of the month.

So far this year I’ve ridden 8,655 miles. Getting to 10,000 is going to require some determination and a whole lot of help from the weatherman.

I also bought some new bike junk. I have a set of rechargeable blinky lights that are reasonably useful. They are be-seen lights, meaning they improve my visibility to others. The headlight will keep me from rear ending a parked car but I will use one of my more powerful Light and Motion headlights for nighttime navigation.

I also picked up a wind vest. It is bright yellow and has a big dorky reflective arrow on the back. The arrow points to the left. (The manufacturer makes a version for left side driving countries too.)

I also bought an Arkel Tailrider bag. This probably will replace my Carradice LongFlap , a huge saddlebag. The LongFlap uses leather straps that are a pain to open and close and it weighs a ton. The Tailrider is lighter and has zippers. I will give up some carrying capacity but I rarely maxed out the LongFlap. The rack on my CrossCheck has two levels which means I can use the Tailrider on the top of the rack and still attach panniers if I need to.

On to November. Brrr.