Two Seasons

I am a baseball fan. Before the start of the season, I thought the Washington Nationals had a great chance to win it all. Then the games started. Players became injured. I went to game after game and watched them lose over and over. My bike tour took me away from the wreckage.

But as Joe Garagiola said, baseball is a funny game. The season unfolded like all baseball seasons. Ebbs and flows, just like a long bike tour. Pre-season hopes gave way to harsh realities. A series of injuries gutted the lineup for a month. A relief pitcher coming off surgery on his throwing arm threw 100-mile-per-hour pitches everywhere but over the plate. Other relievers did little better. The injured players returned. Gerardo Parra was acquired and taught the team to just have fun. The team started to win. Max became utterly unhittable. Baby shark boomed from the speakers at the ball park. Strasburg and Rendon quietly, steadily evolved into elite players. Howie Kendrick, a part time player who had spent nearly a year off the diamond with an injury, hit like a monster. Eaton wore out pitchers and played with his hair on fire. Robles vacummed the outfield. Soto played like a veteran, even becoming a decent outfielder himself. The catchers, acquired over the winter to replace the disappointing backstops of 2018, became anchors. Max got hurt. The team kept winning. Astrubal Cabrera returned and hit like a beast.  The team kept winning. Aaron Barrett returned from a hideous arm injury to pitch again and inspire. Zimmerman came back from a long struggle with foot problems. And he hit. More winning.

By the time they squeaked into the playoffs they had become the elite team I had hoped for in March. Then, impossibly, they won five elimination games, the last being Game 7 of the World Series.

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Red wine. Black sweats. Can’t lose

In a way, winning the World Series doesn’t matter. The long arc of the season matters. Watching games on warm summer nights, sharing a beer or three with my daughter matters. Doing Baby Shark matters. Seeing friends at the game matters. Riding home from the ball park in the dark after a mid-summer night game matters.

Yes, we will celebrate for a few days. There will be a parade.  Enjoy it. Already temperatures have dropped. Winds have begun to howl. Big Nellie soon will take her place in the basement where I’ll spin and read all those books I’ve neglected for the last six months. It will be reading season once more.

Meanwhile, a new team will take shape. Hopefully, my body will follow suit. Then sometime next spring, a flag will be raised and a new baseball season will begin. Maybe I’ll ride somewhere far, hopefully on two healthy legs this time. As Nationals manager Dave Martinez mother told him when he was growing up, “Often bumpy roads lead to beautiful places.”

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One Lame October

October was a pretty decent month off the bike. A physical therapist confirmed what I have suspected for months, I’ve been riding on one leg. My right leg is pounding out thousands of miles while my left leg freeloads.

So in October I rode 861.5 miles. I spent 528 miles on Big Nellie, and split the rest between The Mule and my Cross Check. My long day was 68 miles which included the Great Pumpkin Ride. That was one of two events I did with Emilia whose introversion and riding speed match mine well.

A few weeks ago I went hiking in Shenandoah National Park. It was a fairly tough hike but the foliage was great and, after going straight up a gorge, the last 4 miles were on a pleasant and smooth fire trail.

During the month, I passed the 9,000 mile mark for the year. I sit at 9,186 miles. This gives me a decent chance at 10,000 for the year. I’ll take what I can get.

As usual my attempts at winning the Coffeeneuring badge have been pathetic. I simply don’t like coffee all that much.

Hopefully by the time I hit 10,000 miles my left leg will have joined the festivities. Next week I get electrostim and a bike fitting.

The Lopsided Bicyclist

During my bike tour (and ever since) I complained about a wonky left knee and hip. In addition to pain and discomfort, I felt as if my left leg was contributing nothing to my pedaling other than going round and round. Sometimes my left hip seems to be popping out of joint to the outside. Sometimes it feels like my left leg will lean then collapse to the outside. My left kneecap feels as if it’s disengaged.

I’ve had cortisone shots in both my knee and hip a few weeks ago. I’ve been doing physical therapy every day. The knee and hip felt better as I rode the Great Pumpkin Ride three days ago. I had very little discomfort other than some grinding under my kneecap.

Last night the wonkiness returned. Today it was pretty bad. My left leg felt like it was collapsing to the outside again. I rode to PT. My therapist’s mentor was there. She examined me, repeating and adding to my therapist’s previous examinations.  Among other things she noted that I stand with my left shoulder lower than my right. My left hip is sticking out. My shoulder blades are rounded forward.

She put me on an exercise bike and stood behind me. The bike had a wide foam seat unlike my bikes. My right cheek was moving up and down as I pedaled; my left cheek stayed firmly on the seat. This confirmed to me what I had noted while riding this summer. All my power is coming from my right leg.

She also noted that I stoop while riding even an upright bike.

They added some more exercises to my routine. Next week I get electro-stim on my butt to try to get my left side to re-engage. They are arranging for a bike fit. Also, the mentor suggested checking out whether spacers on my pedals would help.

So my body is all lopsided and such. This is life when you get old. I am surprised body parts aren’t falling off in the road when I ride.

Somebody pass me a beer. It’s going to be a long winter.

 

 

Emilia and the Red Caboose

Yetserday, I rode the Great Pumpkin Ride in Fauquier County, Virginia with my friend Emilia. This was our fourth ride together. Our first ride together was the 2014 50 States Ride. She had a rough time. We did it again in 2017 and this time I had a rough time and she, despite missing several climbing gears, flew up the hills. She weighs about half what I do so it was reasonable to assume would bury my sorry old ass on a sod farm in the hilly Virginia Piedmont.

Lucky for me, the last ride she did was the New York City Century back in early September. Unlike me she skipped breakfast. So on an empty stomach and with legs that hadn’t spun a pedal in seven weeks, she insisted on riding the long, 67-mile route yesterday. She’s pretty tough.

We lined up next to the red caboose at the start/finish line. Soon we were off down a rail trail then onto country roads where we were treated to rolling hills, 60 degrees, calm winds, cloudy skies, and the occasional sprinkle as we cruised through the rolling terrain at between 12 and 13 miles per hour. The foliage was close to peak and every so often we oohed and aahed at natures show. The lifestock in the fields seemed utterly (pun intended) uninterested in our passing. I explained that during my ride across the northern plains last year, I could get cattle and horses to stampede. Their Virginia cousins were having nothing of it.

The police warned us not to ride side by side so Emilia followed close behind me for most of the ride. She rides a bit closer to the edge of the road than I prefer so there was little chance that we’d overlap wheels.

Emilia’s native language is Spanish. I take advantage by quizzing her about useful phrases that I typically forget. Mostly we just rode and listened to the voices inside our heads. It’s nice to have a riding partner who appreciates that.

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Just trees and hills and fresh air

 

Thanks to her layoff, we rode at exactly the same pace for nearly the entire ride. She’s a vegetarian and needed no prodding when we came to the first rest stop 19 miles into the ride. There she gorged herself on a thin slice of cinnamon bread and half of a banana. I noticed she had barely touched her water bottle. I thought “no bueno” but she was perfectly happy with her food and water intake.

 

We rode another 22 hilly miles before finding the next rest stop.  She was laboring a bit at this point so she gorged herself with a thin slice of pumpkin pie and a wee bag of potato chips. Then off we went.

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Emilia after pumpkin pie

The next thirteen miles were a bit hillier. I noticed at mile 50 she was laboring up a hill. Her thigh muscles were cramping. Her water bottle remained nearly untouched. No bueno. We slowed a bit and forged ahead. At an intersection with a busy highway she had trouble unclipping from her pedals and wobbled into the cross road. Fortunately no cars were coming but she knew that the little incident could have been bad news. I could see on her face that the layoff since early September was taking its toll. She was pretty tired.

The route to the final rest stop is out-and-back for about 2 1/2 miles. We saw riders returning from the rest stop turning toward the finish. Emilia did not have a cue sheet in front of her and got rather animated about following them. I briefly considered skipping the rest stop. That would have risked seeing her bonk all the way to the finish so I explained we needed to get some food in her and forged ahead to the rest stop at the Old Bust Head brewery.

Once there, she had pie, three small cheese quesadillas, a small portion of tater tots, a cup of pumpkin soup, and two cups of Gatorade. Smiles.

“Ok, John, I’m ready.”

Crisis averted. As we rode I counted down the next few miles.

12!

11!

Only tell me the single digits.

How do you say nine in Spanish?

Nieve!

Ocho!

She fell back on a hill, caught up, then fell back again.

Are we at seven?

No. Cinco!

You’re kidding.

No.

Big smile.

A few more hills and we found ourselves on the rail trail back into town. It always seems longer that it actually is. Emilia started looking for the caboose.

And there it was after 67 hilly miles.

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Emilia, her steed, and the caboose

Tired but todo sonrisas.

We hope to ride again next Saturday at the shorter and flatter Cider Ride in DC. There will be no caboose but the donuts and cider and pie will make up for it.

Riding My Life Away

I haven’t been doing much biking these days. Well, by my standards anyway.

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It’s Fall, y’all

I rode 15 miles to the start of the Tour de Mt Vernon, a local ride sponsored by our district supervisor, Dan Storck. (Roughly speaking, he’s the mayor of Mt Vernon.) He an avid cyclist. I also have a state senator, Scott Surovell, who rode his bike across the country either before or after law school. It’s nice to have elected officials who treat bicycling seriously.

The Tour route went into Fort Belvoir. The base security folks demanded that we provide them with our social security number and drivers license numbers as well as our date of birth. I found this to be obnoxious. The base used to be open to the public with just a valid government issued ID, but base security was amped up to Defcon ∞ in recent years. God knows, two wheeled evil doers must be everywhere.

On the way to the ride The Google was drunk and guided me onto a mountain bike trail. It was a fun little ride but took me in a big circle. The ride began at a former prison that now holds artists’ studios. The first riders were horrible escapees, taking a wrong turn after 0.1 miles. Because of my privacy protest, I rode about 27 miles of the 32 mile route. It was very hilly.  Down to the river or the bay back up. Repeat. For the ride home, I relied on my own bikey instincts. It all made for a 57 mile day.

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Love in the morning
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Guard tower for escaping cyclists

A couple of days later I came down with a sore throat which morphed into a head and chest cold. You know, a cold. Still, I stayed up late to watch two World Series games and rode to a physical therapy appointment. I also did a few rides just to keep my sanity. There were pretty leaves too.

Yesterday I rode to the Kennedy Center to check out The Reach, a new set of performance and practice spaces connected to a couple of bike trails. There was a dance rehearsal going on outside. It was modern dance. I understand modern dance about as well as understand poetry which is to say not at all. There’s also public art.

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Playful art at The Reach
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More art at The Reach

Today I rode to Friday Coffee Club. We sat outside because we are stubborn. I froze. Kathy showed up for the first time in ages. She’s a federal retiree like me. She told me about the ins and outs of retirement funds distributions and Medicare. Since I turn 65 next year I got some financial calculations to do. (I may have to take a bunch of money out of my retirement fund earlier than planned. Life is hard. Then you die.)

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On the way to Friday Coffee Club along the Potomac River

 

 

Coffeeneuring – Part Deux

On alternate Thursdays my wife and I go out for breakfast. Today we chose the Crystal City branch of a Northern Virginia institution, Bob and Edith’s Diner. As is usually the case, I had mucho cups of coffee with my meal.

Place: Bob and Edith’s Diner, 23rd Street S., Arlington VA.

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The Crosscheck made use of this fantastic bike rack.

Date: October 17

What I drank: one gallon of their drip coffee (not half bad I must say)

Ride Details: The forecast was for strong winds out of the WNW. With temperatures in the low 50s, I dressed in layers. Long rain (actually wind) pants, a short sleeve base layer, a t-shirt, a wind breaker jacket, a buff, and a headsweat. I was ready to put on long sleeve gloves over my mesh biking gloves. For the first seven miles I baked because the winds were moderate and at my back. Then, the wind changed. I got hammered. My clothing fit the bill. On the way home, I rode over the Memorial Bridge into DC and let the wind push me along Ohio Drive where I briefly chatted with #bikedc’s Randomduck (a.k.a Rudi). On the way hope I stopped to admire this just north of Old Town on the Mount Vernon Trail.

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Distance ridden: 30 miles.

 

Little Devils Stairs – Not exactly a day off

After 14 days of bike riding in a row, I decided it was time to take a day off. What better way than to do a hike in Shenandoah National Park.

My friend Chelli and her daughter signed up to climb 19,000+ foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. To get in shape, Chelli assembled a team of grad school friends to do day hikes outside DC. Most of these hikes were done while I was on my bike tour but I joined the team when I came home.

We did two hikes on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. After that, Chelli and her daughter went to Africa and conquered the big one.

Chelli called us together again for a Columbus Day hike. I chose Little Devils Stairs in Shenandoah National Park. According to the website HikingUpward.com this hike is rated at the same level of difficulty as the Sugarloaf hike.

I’d done Little Devils Stairs once before and remember it as challenging and fun. Somehow in the intervening years the trail became much steeper. I blame plate tectonics.

A full moon and fog on the river were indications of a beautiful fall day emerging on the way to Chelli’s house in Arlington. Chelli took the wheel of her car and we drove to the park, After about 40 miles the highway leaves the ugly urban area and enters splendid Virginia countryside.

Dry weather meant that the unpaved road to the parking lot made for easy driving. We parked and headed up the trail. Basically, this trail goes straight up a gorge along Keyser Run. The trail is rocky, increasingly so as we ascended. There were perhaps 8 creek crossings but these were trivial because the drought in this area reduced the creek to a trickle.

At one point in a particularly rocky section we lost sight of the trail blazes. No worries. We forged ahead and soon found the trail again. At a few points the hike became a rock scramble. I was huffing and puffing. We took some stops to gather ourselves. Then moved on and up.

The gorge was beautiful. The creek with a trickle of water, trees just beginning to take on their fall color, and sheer rock walls. I stopped a few times to appreciate how steep the trail was.

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After the rock scrambles there were some switchbacks. An Hispanic family of about eight people came down the hill toward us. One of them was carrying an unopened bag of tortilla chips. Somehow I refrained from assaulting him with my hiking poles.

Soon thereafter we reached Fourway, the intersection of four hiking trails. We stopped to eat lunch which Chelli had packed. Veggie burgers, crackers, and watermelon.

We were burning up on the way up the 2.2 mile climb, but now that we were sitting the cool breeze across out sweaty clothing brought a chill. Time to boogie.

We took a fire trail all the way back down the mountain. 3.8 miles. I was wearing new hiking shoes that were a half size bigger than usual. The extra room in the toes kept my feet happy.

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Along the way we passed an old graveyard. Several of the headstones indicated deaths in 1918. I speculated that the Spanish flu was the cause. Imagine being sick with that horrible disease up this mountain far from medical help.

As we left the graveyard the Hispanic family came hiking by.  Hiking down that gorge must have been tough but they seemed like they were having a good time. Their ten-year old boy was running up the trail. Don’t you just hate youth?

Walking downhill for several miles can really deaden your legs. We managed without too much difficulty. My wonky left knee and hip did reasonably well. I felt a pain in the side of my hip most of the way down the hill but my knee tolerated the descent without much discomfort.

Normally, getting out of the car at the end of a hike makes me feel like I’m 90 but today I felt okay. New shoes, cortisone, and PT to the rescue.

Not a bad day off.

 

No Pizza. No Problem.

One of my favorite local rides is a 50-mile loop from my house to Bethesda, Maryland and back. The first 12 were on the Mount Vernon Trail on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. I then crossed over to DC on the 14th Street Bridge. I rode along the river to Georgetown.  (I passed the new extension of the Kennedy Center which will merit a return trip.)

In Georgetown I took the Water Street cycletrack. This was great except for the school bus that off loaded 30 high school girls on the cycletrack. Did you know that when you’re off loaded into the cycletrack you absolutely must chat for a minute with five of your BFFs before moving to the sidewalk?

At the end of Water Street I picked up the Capital Crescent Trail which took me sveral miles straight to Bethesda Row where every person in Montgomery County was ambling slowly about at a closed streets art festival.

I went to Bethesda Bagels to get a slice of pizza. Don’t ask me why a good bagel shop has good pizza. Sadly, I am not the only one who knows this as the line out the door and across the sidewalk.

I decided that spending 20 minutes waiting in line or a slice of pizza was a waste of  a beautiful fall day. I got back on my bike and rode north to pick up Jones Bridge Road. This was necessary because the Georgetown Branch Trail has been demolished while a new light rail line is being built.

I had heard bad things about Jones Bridge Road but I’ve ridden on much worse. And traffic was very light.

Jones Bridge Road led me to Beach Drive. Here I turned south to head home. Beach Drive runs straight through Rock Creek Park. Whoever decided to put a linear park in a canyon in the middle of a city was a genius. Even better is the fact that the National Park Service which owns the park shuts down large sections of Beach Drive to cars on weekends and holidays. Better still is the fact that the road has been reconstructed and the pavement is smooth. (A couple of roller bladers looked super happy.)

I about a week these trees will be bursting with colors.

After several miles of pothole-free bliss, I had to take a paved trail that the Park Service apparently overlooked when working on the roadway. Essentially this is a goat trail that ducks under two roads with barely adequate head room for bicycle riders.

I survived the low clearances and two 90-degree right-hand turns onto narrow bridges. At one point I had to come to a stop because untrimmed shrubs had overtaken my side of the trail. Your tax dollars at work. Or not.

Once out of the park I was back along the Potomac where I rode to the Memorial Bridge. There I crossed over to Virginia. Near Arlington Cemetery I came to a stop behind three tourists one of whom was in a motorized wheel chair. I called out to them to see if they were lost. They were. They were headed to the cemetery but were turning the wrong way. I set them straight but wondered why there aren’t wayfaring signs.

As I approached Old Town Alexandria a very strange thing happened. Water started falling from the sky. Lots of it. I was getting actually wet. And cold. It was the first time I’d been rained on while riding since early June in Kansas. Dang.

About five miles from home I came upon a man riding with his daughter. She was on a little beginners bike. One speed. Pink. She was pedaling hard and barely making 8 miles per hour. When Dad, on his hybrid beside her, noticed I was coming up behind them he gently put his hand on the center of her back and started accelerating. I thought she or both of them would crash for sure. After a couple of wobbles she got the hang of the higher speed and cruised.

After about 1/4 of a mile, I passed them with a thumbs up.

I continued on. Wet and chilled but unworried. It was actually kind of nice not to be baking in the sun for a change.

50 miles. 0 pizza.

We had pizza for dinner.

Yes.

Coffeeneuring 2019 – Cup the First

For the eight straight year, the Coffeeneuring Challenge is back. This is a friendly event in which people ride, run, walk, scoot, or somehow otherwise propel themselves to a coffee establishment for a cuppa joe. Or tea. Or mate. Or cider. Or hot chocolate.  The rules are pretty flexible but it’s one cup per week at least two miles from wherever you start for seven weeks. You have to document your activity and say something insightful about the experience.

Just be forewarned. I always fail at coffeeneuring. Basically, I go out to coffee once per week to the same place, Friday Coffee Club at Swings at 17th and G Streets Northwest in DC. The rules state that you have to go to seven different coffee places. I have been to four in the last three months. So unless I get super creative, I’m going to have a big L on my forehead when this is over. (Okay, no comments about how the L was there all along.)

So here is my first stop.

Place: Friday Coffee Club at Swings at 17th and G in DC.

Miles: 30 (Kinda crushed that, didn’t I?)

Date: October 11 (duh)

Random Semi-insightful Observation: Friday Coffee Club has parking for all kinds of mega bikes. (That’s Big Nellie in the foreground below.) Oh, and we let people on normal bikes come too. Some of these people aren’t really normal, but that’s okay.

What I drank: Swings High Mountain drip coffee.

Begging and Rehabbing

Today I began the road to recovery. My wonky left knee and hip have been giving me fits all year so I rode Big Nellie to the physical therapist in Old Town, Alexandria. I’ve been there before for back and shoulder problems.

On the way I saw something I have never seen before. Just south of Old Town there is a large condominium building on the Potomac River. The access to the river cuts across the Mount Vernon Trail. It is at this intersection that I was hit by a driver too impatient to stop before making a right turn on red.

After complaining about it last year, the city changed the sign at the intersection to a No Turn on Red.  Based on my observations since returning from this year’s bike tour, I’d say that about half of the drivers leaving the complex comply with the new sign. (I saw one ignore it yesterday.)

Today, on the way to physical therapy, I rolled toward the intersection. A car was waiting at the light. Then I saw something I’ve never seen before. Anywhere. The driver got out of her car and walked over to the pedestrian beg button and pressed it. “I do this all the time,” she said with a big smile on her face.

Needless to say, I cracked up.

The physical therapy session went well. Logan is my therapist. For twenty minutes she had me talk about my hip and knee and took extensive notes. Then she examined me nine different ways to Sunday, taking various measurements as she went.

She found:

  • I have a leg length discrepancy.  My left leg is shorter than my right.
  • My back is slightly curved. (The result of hefting an extension ladder a few days ago, no doubt.)
  • My quadricep muscles are about as flexible as your average cinder block.
  • My hamstrings are too.
  • Most of the muscles in my upper left leg and left hip are significantly weaker than my upper right leg. (I suspected this going in but to see her isolate each muscle in her examination was quite eye opening to me.)
  • My upper body is also inflexible.

How the heck I managed to ride a bike across the country with my left leg this messed up is beyond me.

She recommended a set of exercises that a trainer walked me through. Sadly, one of them involves taking a foam roller to my upper legs. Foam rollers are the WORST! When I used it on the outside of my left leg, it was not fun.

During the bike tour, I rode across Kansas with Mark and Corey. Mark used a massage stick every night on his leg muscles. His legs were more better than mine.

The entire set of exercises probably takes 20 minutes to do. I’ll do them daily and start adding elements of my old stretching routine.

I am hoping for a reasonably fast recovery.  I’d cross my fingers but they aren’t all that flexible either.